The Wrath of Sabellian (pt. 9)

Anduin and Left search for Wrathion when the Black Prince escapes Lion’s Landing after succumbing to the Sha of Despair. Meanwhile, Sabellian finishes his sleeping potions intended to be spent on the entirety of Lion’s Landing.

“This won’t be easy.”

Anduin and Left hid behind one of the open archways that led out into the courtyard outside. The air was alive with the screams of bombs, the clashing of metal, and the firing of guns; the battle between the factions was heavily underway, and only continued to grow closer and closer to Lion’s Landing.

The skirmishes at the mines had risen in intensity until the Horde had finally decided to do a pressing assault on the Alliance fort as Anduin and Left had been unconscious.

It wasn’t good for the Alliance – their King was still in Ironforge – and it wasn’t good for Anduin and Left, who needed to get to the stables that were dangerously close to the defensive lines to get Anduin’s gryphon.

The prince flinched as one of the bombs exploded closer than the others had, maybe just outside on one of the towers. He couldn’t be sure with his position.

How were they going to get out of here, unseen and safely?

More importantly, how had Wrathion gotten out of here, if he had at all?

Anduin forced down his nerves and paranoia, still distressed at Wrathion’s sudden corruption. The Black Prince had stormed his way out from the top level, two-on-one with the guards, though the match was uneven and unlucky for the two humans.

Of course Wrathion had managed to somehow evade the battle, Anduin thought, trying to reassure himself – the dragon could have simply flown over.

He rubbed at his throat, which was beating with a sore pain from where Wrathion’s sha-touched hand had clutched it. A brown and blue bruise had already formed there, ugly and spotted.

Left was watching the empty courtyard intently. They hadn’t run into anyone when climbing down the stairs - everyone was scrambling outside to man the defenses.

“We can dodge out through here, then make our way through at a quick pace, keeping behind the battle lines if we can. I will be using some of my training to keep myself hidden - my skin will give myself away if I don’t. I will be ahead of you, so if I disappear, do not assume I’ve left you behind. I will be right there,” Left said. She glanced at Anduin’s right leg and cane, then back up at the courtyard ahead. “ Though you will have to walk fast, and keep up. I’m not falling behind for you.”

Anduin frowned. “How do I know if I’m keeping up if I can’t see you?”

“Just – follow my first pace before I disappear. Got it?”

Anduin sighed, but nodded soon after. He had no argument. The prince would force himself to keep up, regardless of the pain in his leg - he wasn’t about to let some physical weakness force him to stay behind when Wrathion was in trouble as it had threatened to do so in the cave at Kun-lai.

“Let’s hurry,” Anduin said. Who knows how far a start Wrathion had? Left didn’t remember quite when she’d been knocked out – she kept shaking her head, and Anduin knew her bruise was bothering her, though every time he’d offered to heal it in the past half hour they’d both been awake the orc had said she was fine – and Anduin didn’t recall what time it’d been when Wrathion had smashed him against the wall, only that it’d been around dusk.

It was night, now – they knew that much. The Black Prince was easily hours ahead, and each minute they spent wasting as they hid behind this archway was another minute that Wrathion had to hurt himself or sink deeper into his Despair.

Left huffed. “As if I don’t know that we need to hurry,” she grumbled. “Very well. Keep up, prince.”

She ducked out from underneath the archway and started out into the empty courtyard. Anduin was fast to follow, his limp heavy.

The orc hadn’t been lying when she said she was going to walk at a fast pace. Already Anduin felt his leg begin to cramp as they brisked their way out of the keep and into the open.

The moon was new and black, but the Alliance and Horde made up for the darkness with blazing fires and bursting magics that shot about the defense lines that had been set up near the other military building farther up. The towers outside Lion’s Landing were heavily manned, and gryphon riders dived down on the skirmishing Horde, the animals shrieking with war cries that had the same intensity as the wailing arcane spells that were being thrown back and forth, along with arrow and bullet.

Anduin had little time to take in the situation – his mind was already stretched thin with stress from Wrathion, and seeing the Alliance, his Alliance, being attacked was just making him feel worse – before Left vanished in front of his eyes, as she’d said she would.

Anduin ducked his head and hunched his shoulders as he walked, trying to keep the pace Left had had, as he headed towards the stables. The building was just outside the docks, which were relatively untouched. He prayed no one would see him. Dozens of soldiers, heroes, and other champions rushed back and forth, but no one seemed to notice the slim-bodied blond teenager in the chaos of battle.

His leg began to burn. Anduin grimaced and looked up through his bangs. The stable was just ahead. From this close to the defense lines he could feel the sizzle-hot of the fires and smell the stench of death – Anduin wanted to help… but what could he do? The prince was no fighter, and his skills as a priest were needed elsewhere.

But still – he’d seen the battles from the beach up in his room as he recovered and had watched them bitterly. Being right next to one was very different, and he wished he could help in some way, just as he wished he could be with his father in Ironforge. Why couldn’t he help everyone? Maybe if it was at another time –

“Prince Anduin?”

The blond flinched. He glanced to the side, and a human warrior had stopped mid-step to stare at him, his large iron sword smeared with blood in his metal-clad hands.

“Uh – hello, hero,” Anduin said. He didn’t stop walking, though his aching, screaming leg was begging him to. It shook with every step.

“You shouldn’t be out -!”

His head jerked back as a dent appeared in his rusty-colored helmet.

In nearly the same instant, someone grabbed Anduin by his tabard and started almost dragging him, the tips of his boots making lines in the sand, to the stables. Anduin yelped in surprise.

“Don’t talk!” Came Left’s voice. “Don’t even move!”

Anduin relaxed once he realized it was the orc, but tried to find where her invisible hands were. “I can walk!” He retorted. His fingers collided with an unseeable mass – Left’s hand – and he tried to awkwardly pry her fingers from his tabard, though her grip was rock solid.

He was so focused on trying to get her to stop dragging him that he hardly noticed that they’d made it to the stable. Left let go, and he stumbled, catching his balance by striking his cane out quickly on the ground and looking up.

Most of the mounts were gone – now out in the defense, no doubt. Left shimmered back to existence in front of the prince.

“Where’s your beast?”

“Follow me.”

Anduin quickly walked down the empty stalls. While they were inside a structure, the noise outside was just as violent, and the wood walls shook with each bang from the battlefield. A horse left behind whinnied nervously from somewhere unseen.

Anduin grinned as he made it to his gryphon’s stall. The bird was sitting, her leg freshly bandaged, on the straw, nibbling at the marrow of a bone in her talons. She quorked upon seeing the prince.

“Hello girl,” the prince said, then unlocked the gate and went inside. He put his cane to lean against the stall’s side and grabbed the saddle from the rack.

The gryphon dropped the bone and got to her feet lazily. She pushed her white-and-blue head into the prince’s chest. With his free hand, Anduin smoothed back the crest of feathers at the top of the gryphon’s head, before rounding around and getting her tacked.

It was mechanical and second-nature for him, and the work was almost meditative as he strung up the girdle, tightened it fast, and worked at the stirrups; it allowed him to focus and relax, a starkly different mindset from the jumbled panic he’d been trying to rein in from seeing Wrathion. The chaos from the battle silenced in the prince’s head. Left stood guard outside.

“Alright. Come on,” Anduin murmured, as he finished slipping the gold and leather harness over the gryphon’s face and grabbed the reins. He tugged back on them, but the gryphon refused to budge. She was beginning to look at him distrustfully.

He sighed and let the reins loosen.

“There won’t be any dragons today, I promise,” Anduin said, and pet the gryphon’s blue-tinted beak. She chortled.

Something smashed with a crack - Anduin jumped and looked around, and saw Left straightening from a duck, a mace impaled on wall next to her.

“Blasted orc! How did you passed the lines?!”

A human soldier in Stormwind-like regalia appeared from behind the wall and hurdled himself at Left. The rogue ducked again, twirling behind him with a dancing gracefulness. She slashed her hand out and cracked him in the back of the neck with a snap of her palm. The soldier crumpled.

Anduin pulled on the reins again, hard, his moment of meditation gone, and thankfully the gryphon responded and surged from the stall, as if picking up on her master’s sudden shift in mood.

“Please tell me you didn’t kill him.” Anduin looked down at the soldier sprawled on the floor.

“No. Get on the gryphon -”

An arrow whizzed passed Left’s head.

It only just missed her ponytail, but took a few strands of her black hair with it. Both the orc and the prince looked over at the opening of the stable – a night elf hunter with an enormous summit tiger had found them, and the elf was already reloading his bow again, aiming at Left, his eyes flicking over at Anduin.

It must have looked like the Blacktalon was cornering the prince. Behind the night elf stumbled in the human warrior Left had smashed in the head, his forehead bleeding.

Before the prince could say stop, it’s alright, I’m fine, Left grabbed him by the back of his tunic and slammed him down on the saddle, and was quick to hop on in front of him, grabbing the reins in her hands as her heels kicked hard at the animal’s sides. The gryphon leaped forward at a running start, barreling through the last stretch of the stable to the other open end, as another arrow shot passed.

Anduin latched his arms around Left so that he wouldn’t fall off and glanced behind, only to see the tiger gaining on the gryphon, its large paws outstretched and its teeth in a snarl. It jumped -

But so did the gryphon as she made it to the opening, the night sky revealed, and her wings caught the air quickly. The tiger’s teeth snapped at air and it fell back to the ground of the stable.

Anduin panted hard and looked away. They’d gotten out.

Left swung the mount in a heavy curve out to the sea; flying right above the skirmish was foolhardy, so curving around it was the smarter option. Slowly, the sound of battle fell away behind them. Soon they were above the large canopy of the Wilds, with only the buzz of insects as company. Anduin reined in his beating heart.

“I wish I could have helped,” Anduin mumbled, mostly to himself.

“Help what?”

“Oh -” He didn’t know Left could hear him. “-… with the skirmish.”

The orc snorted. “What could you have done?”

Anduin shook his head, frustrated. “I don’t know. Something.” He wanted to change the subject. “They’ll probably think that an orc’s kidnapped the prince of Stormwind, now,” he said with a humorless laugh.

“Mm. Hopefully we’ll return soon, and you can try to lie yourself out of this situation.”

Anduin said nothing. Wonderful, he thought. Another lie to tell his guards. When was it going to end?

“I’m flying aimlessly. Where are we going?” Left’s tone was gruff. “You said you had some idea where he might go?”

Anduin nodded. His focus sharpened. No – he couldn’t help with the skirmish, but he could help with Wrathion, and no other problem that presented itself and needed his attention would stop him from assisting the Black Prince.

“I think he might be going to the Veiled Stair.”

“… The Veiled Stair.”

“He mentioned it when he was -” He struggled to find the right word; Anduin didn’t want to say ‘possessed’ or ‘corrupted.’ The heavy information about the Old God’s ties with the Sha was thick on his mind. “-… Sick.” Anduin frowned. “He said it was his home. I know it’s destroyed, but maybe that’s why he’s going there.” The Sha of Despair was terrible and goading… if it was drudging up all of Wrathion’s worst feelings and fears, forcing him to look at them in the face, it might push him in the direction of his destroyed tavern, just to make him suffer worse. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. Where else would he go?”

Unless, of course, Wrathion was wandering aimlessly in the Wilds below, or somewhere completely different. Anduin tried not to think about that; he was worried enough for the dragon.

I’m not a very good Prince, Anduin Wrynn.

But you will only die anyway, won’t you? Mortals live such little lives.

There’s no… purpose, is there?

The memory was sudden and forceful. Anduin scrunched his eyes closed. Quickly he tried to will them it away – the image of Wrathion, his hands claws, his eyes white, his desperate, sad, voice, was bright in his mind’s eye, a searing burn across his head - though try as he might it continued to stick to the back of the prince’s mind, unyielding, refusing to be forgotten.

He swallowed hard. Getting to the stables through the skirmish had occupied his mind, but now his worry about Wrathion, the terrible memory of his corruption, was once again intense in his mind as it had been when he’d woken against the wall in his room. Anduin’s chest constricted sourly.

He hoped he was right. Wrathion may have had a head start, but the gryphon was fast.

And then, Anduin could purge the corruption from the Black Prince, could heal his despairing heart and head, could tell him he was going to be alright -

“You could be right. We’ll see when we get there.” Left shifted the gryphon in the right direction of the Tavern.

“Now. You said you’d sleep on the gryphon, so sleep on the gryphon. I won’t have His Majesty’s security fail again because you were too tired to deal with him.” The orc’s words were harsh, but she paused, then added, “And I won’t let you fall off.”

Anduin’s eyelids, almost on their own, began to close at the mere mention of getting a chance to sleep. “Okay. But wake me up if you need to sleep, too, or -”

The orc scoffed. “Just go to sleep.”

Anduin closed his eyes. His arms tightened around Left’s waist again so he wouldn’t fall. Already his head began to droop.

And though Wrathion’s sha-white eyes were bright against his head, Anduin soon fell asleep.

—-

Wrathion collided against the ground. His twitching wings went askew, his claws fanned out, curled and white, his horns hit hard against the rock.

He stumbled to his feet instantly, driven by a manic force, and stumbled once, breathing hard, his legs giving out from underneath him again.

There was a sharp pain, pain in his front leg, in his chest, in his head, everywhere, pain, everywhere a sludge, a sigh, a gripping, terrible sadness that choked him. It tore at his eyes, it forced the screaming whimper from this throat as he got to his feet again, as black ooze and smoke drooled from the sides of his mouth, his eyes, his eyes which felt wet, dripping. Everything was terrible, everything was loss, everything, everything -

He stumbled forward, his wings limp. His chest was cold and sharp, twisting, he was cold, he was -

He wanted to lay down. He wanted to not get up. But he had to – he had to see – he had to see it -

His form grew till he stood as a human, and he clutched his terrible clawed hands at his hair and yelled, a cry at the back of his throat, and felt pinpricks of pain across his scalp, felt a wetness fall against his bare skin.

The pain only reminded him of the pain at the tavern, the tavern, his home, his destroyed, home, he needed to see it -

Everything was gone. Everything. Please. He wanted to lay down. He pulled at his hair. He wanted to go home. He wasn’t strong. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t good. What use was he? What use was he if he made mistakes? Useless. An abomination. He was an abomination. An experiment. He was nothing. He was useless. He couldn’t save anyone.

What was the point? Everyone – everyone would die. The Horde and the Alliance would kill themselves even when the Burning Legion came. What chance did they have? What chance did anyone have? The world would die. He would die. Seas of blood, the sky aflame.

He couldn’t do anything to stop them. Try as hard as he had, he still could do nothing. How they fought and fought and fought and fought

And he could do… nothing… to make them… stop…

No hope. There was no hope for any of it. For anything – not just the Burning Legion.

His claws raked into his arm. More warm wetness, like in his hair, sprang there. He hardly registered the pain. He’d felt pain before. Pain at the tavern. Pain in the cave. Terrible, unspeakable pain. Even then he could do nothing. Couldn’t save himself. Useless. Useless. Pathetic.

Sabellian’s burning orange eyes appeared in front of him and Wrathion shot his head back with a startled cry. No, please, no more pain, please. Please make it stop.

A mere toy…

I feast on suffering…

Whose voice was that? It wasn’t his voice. Who was – who was that -

He’d realized there was no point to it. One slip and everything was tearing out his heart, bleeding. His eyes were heavy. His body shook. He was tired. He was sad.

Please, he wanted to lay down and disappear -

He couldn’t even save himself. Couldn’t defeat his brother. His own brother. Long lost brother. He was pathetic -

Anduin. Anduin Wrynn. Where was Anduin Wrynn? Was he dead? Had he died? He would die. He’d die. Even if the Burning Legion was fought back, he’d die. Everyone would die.

Lonely – please, he didn’t want to be lonely again -

He stumbled forward, nearly falling, and a choked sob hiccuped from his throat. He wanted to go home. He needed to see it. He needed – he needed -

Wrathion shifted and, clumsily, took into the air again.

—-

Anduin awoke with a start as the gryphon jostled hard underneath him.

He looked down groggily. Though it was dark below – the moon was new – he could make out the yawning fields of the Valley of the Four Winds, still and quiet in the darkness. The very landscape seemed to be frozen in time, as if in amber, and the only sounds were the gentle whoosh of the wind across the prince’s face and the flap of the white gryphon’s wings.

The prince looked away, yawning. His arms were draped loosely around Left’s waist, now, and his bangs were stuck to his face from leaning his head against the orc’s back. He bit the inside of his cheek, embarrassed - he hadn’t realized he’d fallen asleep against her.

Anduin pulled one arm away and rubbed his eyes, which felt full of grit.

“How long do we have to go?” Anduin mumbled, ruffling up his stiffened bangs. A thought occurred. “Have we heard from any agents about him?”

“A while. And no. Go back to sleep.”

Anduin sighed. The wind ruffled at his hair.

He looked back down at the plains again, his eyes lidded. He’d managed to get some rest, which was good – he already felt stronger and much more alert – but he knew he needed more. When he’d purified Chi-ji from the Sha of Despair, Anduin had been ready and able, despite how unkind the wilds of Krasarang had been to him. With Wrathion, he needed the same energy.

Quietly, he mulled to himself as they flew. Something Left had said before they’d left was bothering him, but he hadn’t had a chance to ask about it before he’d fallen asleep.

“Left,” he started, and the orc made a low, aggravated noise the instant the prince spoke, as if annoyed he hadn’t fallen back to sleep. He ignored it and continued. “What you said at Lion’s Landing – about… about the possibility killing Wrathion. Why would you ever do that?” She was the Black Prince’s guard. Even if Wrathion fell to the Old Gods – Anduin shuddered just thinking about the terrible possibility – why would Left pull the trigger so fast?

The orc said nothing for a long time. Only the wind answered him, low and gentle.

It must have been at least ten minutes before Left spoke.

“There is one command His Majesty gave Right and I,” Left said. “A kill command.” She went silent again before continuing. “If he was to fall to the Old Gods, we would kill him as quickly as we could. It is as simple as that.” Her voice had become emotionless.

Anduin locked his jaw. He’d thought as much, considering her initial comment about Y’shaarj at Lion’s Landing, but knowing that Wrathion himself had put such a command in place…

His throat constricted. He looked down at the Valley again. Wrathion’s ego was great, and so was his independence - Anduin knew how important that was to him. He’d seen it in the bitter, terrible anger in the red of Wrathion’s eyes when the Black Prince had spoken of his hate of the Reds in one fleeting conversation the two princes had had over their pandaren board game one night – had seen it deepen as he explained how they’d tried to bar him away like some sort of hatched pet.

“The mighty Red Dragonflight couldn’t control me. And no one else will.” Wrathion looked back up at Anduin from the board, and his sudden intensity melted down to a sly grin. “I believe I’m winning the game, Prince Anduin.”

Of course Wrathion would be such a command in place, Anduin realized. The Old Gods had taken his father’s free will and had turned the great Earth-warder into their servant, a destroyer of a world he’d once protected, and had manipulated all of his kin to do the same.

Anduin thought fondly of Wrathion’s love for Azeroth, then. No - Wrathion would never allow such a thing to happen to him, to be twisted into a slave and forced, like his father, to wreak havoc on a world he was trying so hard to save.

But still – this was something completely different. Maybe the Sha were connected to a dead Old God – emphasis on dead, he told himself – but it was a large jump simply from being possessed by the Sha to be corrupted by the legendary Old Gods. Wrathion may have been a black dragon, but what did that matter, if Anduin looked at the situation plainly, with a critical eye? He was uncorrupted; it was like saying that if Anduin himself was possessed by the Sha, that he would be corrupted by the Old Gods… and the prince had never seen madness in those who had befallen the Sha at all – only the corresponding, negative feelings that went along with whatever Sha had taken them.

The more he thought about it, the better he felt. No – Left was just being pessimistic.

“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary,” he said with confidence.

“Yes, alright, you said that much back at Lion’s Landing, prince,” Left replied. “But as I said before, we’ll see how the Sha is affecting him – and if it happens that somehow the Old Gods have found him through this possession, then I will not hesitate to do my duty.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. “And if you get in the way, I will not hesitate from killing you, too.”

Anduin stared at her. Left looked at him, a warning in her eyes, before turning back forward.

The prince cleared his throat after a couple of minutes had passed. “Perhaps you shouldn’t be so pessimistic. You should try to have a bit more h-”

“And perhaps you should shut your mouth and go back to sleep,” Left snapped. “Do you assume I want to kill my Prince? No. I will do my duty if need be, and if you start rambling on about hope and peace and kindness, so help me, I will shove you off the back of the gryphon.”

Anduin bit his lip and forced back his glower.

They were silent for a long time before Anduin spoke again. “Do the other agents know about the Kill Command?”

Left shook her head. “No. Only Righ-” She stopped, then started again. “Only I do. Seek and Capture is the command I gave to the agents. They’re not supposed to harm him.”

Anduin only nodded. That was good, at least.

He could tell Left was finished with the conversation but how her shoulders were hunched, how she glared forward. Anduin sighed. Apparently he wasn’t going to be able to convince the bodyguard against even considering the command.

The prince cast his eyes downward, and tried to go back to sleep.

—-

Father should have been back by now.”

The night had enveloped Blade’s Edge Mountains. Neltharaku, the leader of the Netherwing, sat quietly on one of the mountains many cliffs, and overlooked the deep canyons below.

Across from him stood Samia, Sabellian’s eldest daughter. She was staring at the nether-dragon intently, a glint of a glare on her scaled face by the way her brows sloped down above her yellow-orange eyes. The fins atop her spine were stretched high, a showcase of annoyance.

Neltharaku said nothing. His ethereal, teal-blue body glowed in the darkness, as neon as the far-away streams of nether that encircled the sky above. He was as see-through as a ghost, and yet as palpable as Samia herself.

The nether-dragon had arrived a day ago to speak to Sabellian. The demons of Shadowmoon had begun to grow strangely restless, and were threatening to encroach upon the Netherwing’s territory. Samia had greeted him and explained the situation the Black Dragonflight had found themselves in, and Neltharaku had offered to stay a day more… and now here they sat, looking over the barren lands.

“He may have found complications,” the nether-dragon said after a moment. His voice was an echo, as ghost-like as his own body.

Samia scoffed and fluffed her wings.

“I should have gone with him,” she muttered. But no – he had left her behind, taking only two drakes with him. Granted, Talsian and Nasandria were the two strongest drakes in the remaining Flight, but Samia was fully grown, and much more powerful… and Sabellian had left her here.

“And the hatchlings and other drakes would have been left defenseless,” Neltharaku echoed. He turned his head to look at her, a gentle wake of nether streaming behind his gentle movement. “He was wise to leave you behind, niece.”

Samia snorted, but she could not argue. Her uncle was right, she supposed.

“He could have asked you to watch them,” she retorted, then. “You made the alliance with him so that our Flights could protect one another.”

Neltharaku stared at her before looking away. “So we did. Yet I was in Shadowmoon when my brother left for the Dark Portal, unable to be asked.”

Samia nodded offhandedly.

“I feel your restlessness, Samia. But do not fear for your father. He is very powerful. And this hatchling is only a hatchling.” He paused. “Though I still find myself… frustrated with the sacrifice of my two nether-drakes.”

“They went on their own accord.”

“So they did.” Neltharaku sighed, and swirls of nether curled from his nostrils. “But I know Sabellian. He is as a protective a father as I am. To use another’s children rather than his own to satisfy his own ends is less than unsavory.”

Samia scowled. “They volunteered. Be bitter as you wish, Neltharaku. But here you sit doing nothing about their deaths while my father has risked everything by going back to Azeroth to take care of this… child before he harms us again.”

She had not been there to see the gore of Ryxia’s assassination, but had been at her funeral pyre and had personally eaten half of the blood elf that had killed the younger drake.

The pang of a sibling’s death, however, was familiar to the dragon – she had been part of the same clutch of Sabellian’s elder children that had ended up impaled upon the rocks by the great gronn Gruul. Samia was lucky to have survived the onslaught.

Yet still, despite the familiarity of the pain, it did not stop the dragon from being very, very angry at the hatchling who had killed Ryxia, and frustrated that she could do nothing while Sabellian left her.

Neltharaku didn’t answer her. Samia shook her head. Sabellian had spoken his ill-thoughts of the Netherwings before – They are cowardly, Samia. Perhaps they were black dragons in the egg, but they lack a certain… intensity – and she saw it in the Netherwing leader now.

She looked back down at the canyon. She could just make out the arakkoa’s territory off to her left, patches of grass and large trees peaking through the sharp rocks.

“I just don’t know what’s taking so long,” she repeated. “What kind of… complications could there be?”

Neltharaku shook his head. “I do not know. All you and I can do, niece, is to await his return and hope for his success.” The nether-dragon sighed. “You Black dragons have your own problems, but I have mine. I do not understand why the demons are moving. They have been quiet since Illidan’s defeat until now.” His pearl-like claws tightened then loosened against the rock. “I may have to move all of the Netherwings.”

“Well, you can wait here with me to discuss that with father.”

“Indeed.”

They went quiet. Below, Samia could make out Alacian, one of the younger hatchlings, hanging out to the tail of one of the black drakes as the drake spun around in the air.

Samia snorted, and wished, again, for Sabellian’s safe return, as she watched her siblings play.

—-

The Veiled Stair was just ahead.

Anduin watched, silent, as Left eased the gryphon up to the tall, flat mountain, and the mists were quick to reach out and envelop them, cold and wet against Anduin’s face.

It was very quiet atop the peak. The orc landed the panting gryphon in front of the destroyed Tavern, behind the black husk of the great white tree that had once stood in front of the steps. As Left slipped from the mount’s back, grabbing the reins, Anduin surveyed the Veiled Stair with a frown. It was difficult to see in the night – though the darkness of the sky was gently beginning to peel away as dawn approached – but Anduin could make out the remains of the devastation, as fresh as he’d remembered. The smoke, like the fires that had created it, had died. There was no movement - not even a wind traveled here anymore. The only sound was the delicate twinkling of water up near the saurok cave, hardly audible, from the waterfall.

“Come on. No use staring.”

Anduin shook his head and blinked hard. For whatever reason his eyes had begun to prickle, threatening tears.

He grabbed his cane and slid from the gryphon. A plume of dusty dirt puffed from underneath his boots as he landed. The gryphon pawed at the ground, digging at the black, burnt grass.

“Do you see any signs of him?” Anduin asked. His voice was quiet. Left was turning her head back and forth, her blue eyes narrowed, across the destroyed landscape. She shook her head.

“No.”

Anduin swallowed. Left loosely draped the reins over one of the tree husk’s branches, which reached out at Anduin like a burnt cadaver’s hand, then shifted her crossbow from her back, into her arms. There was a metallic click as she loaded it.

He looked around as she loaded the crossbow – something caught his eye near the burned kite’s stand. Anduin walked toward it curiously – then blinked in surprise as he realized what it was.

The prince leaned and grabbed the white cloth, dirty and a bit scorched, from the ground. The red and gold band was cracked in one part, and the bright red gems were dull and scratched, but Wrathion’s turban, which he’d lost, here, obviously, was still in halfway decent shape.

The dragon would be glad to see this, Anduin thought with a small smile.

If he would be ever glad again at all. The prince immediately hated the thought, shook his head, and bundled the white cloth in a tight fit at the satchel at his belt.

“Come on. Let’s look.” Without waiting for her, Anduin started forward towards the Auction House. He’d caught more sleep on the ride, and was well-rested and ready, and very alert.

That did not stop him from being anxious, however. No amount of sleep could stem his worry.

The eeriness of the place wasn’t helping either. It was so quiet Anduin could hear his own clothes ruffle, even hear Left, who was usually as silent as a shadow, walk behind him.

Slowly, the two searched the Veiled Stair. Every glance, every lingering look, only to find nothing, made Anduin’s worry heighten, his heart beat faster. Had he been wrong about Wrathion coming here? Had he guessed incorrectly?

“Nothing,” Left murmured again, as they rounded around the Black Market House, coming back from looking along the peak. “I don’t know if His Majesty is even -”

Something flickered at the corner of Anduin’s eye. He looked over. His eyes widened.

“Left.”

The orc looked where the prince was. At the side of the mountain, on one of the rising rocks that built upon one another that made the rise up to Mason’s Folly, was a scorch-mark of oozing black energy. Grey-blue smoke rose from the small crater there.

Wrathion was here.

Anduin swallowed again, though it was hard to, for his throat was tight. He took a deep breath to center himself.

“Mason’s Folly,” he murmured. Of course. Wrathion’s favorite place on this mountain was that rise.

Left grunted. “Good places for me to hide up there. The rocks are craggy.”

Anduin glanced back at her. “Hide?”

They were talking in whispers. Why there were, Anduin didn’t know, but perhaps it was because of the silence of the mountain, or the danger of the situation.

“Mhm.” She wasn’t staring at him, but at the steps. “I am better in the shadows than I am in the open, prince. It is you who will be purging His Majesty, not me.” Left snorted at the look on his face. “I won’t abandon you. I will be right there – though you won’t be able to see me.”

Anduin bit his lip. He knew, too, why she was going to hid herself. “Left – about the Kill Command -”

“My duty is my duty. I will see what the Prince’s state is, and so will you. Remember what I warned you.”

And if you get in the way, I will not hesitate from killing you, too.

Anduin set his jaw. He nodded.

This was very delicate.

At least, he thought, he had enough energy for a purging spell now.

After a moment’s hesitation, the two started towards the steps. Anduin had climbed these before, mostly to prove to Wrathion he wasn’t as weak in his right leg as the dragon had poked fun at him to be, and it’d been painful. While some time had passed since then, and his leg had healed somewhat, Anduin still wasn’t looking forward to it again.

Nonetheless, they made their way up, Anduin forcing back his pain, shielding it behind a barrier. The Light was strong in his chest, calming him, focusing him, goading him onward. He accepted the gift graciously.

Anduin noted the trail of Sha energy that was scattered across the carved stairs whose steps – hardly steps, really, but huge mounds of carved-out rock - were chiseled from the very earthen rock itself, half-finished and forgotten. The Sha pools were almost like a trail of blood.

Anduin paused. Strangely, his leg wasn’t bothering him. The Light was with him, he reminded himself. Despite his odd sense of calm, that hissing sense of worry in the back of his eyes was still there, prickling, needle-like. A couple more steps around one of the rocks, blocking their view of the paved rise, and they’d be at the top.

He glanced back – but Left was gone, hidden already.

Anduin frowned and looked back around. She wasn’t going to abandon him, or her Prince.

The Prince of Stormwind closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and made his way around the bend and up the top of the stairs. The rocks to the side fell away, and the rough stone flattened out into smoothed surface of rock. A large tree, untouched by the flames, fanned out to Anduin’s right. Ahead was the balcony, crude but oddly beautiful in its elegant simplicity, and square, slightly-lifted platform carved with geometric shapes seemed to almost grow from the rock floor.

And, standing at the balcony, was Wrathion.

His back was to Anduin. The dragon’s hands, black and white and curled with Sha claws, were spread, propped up along the bannister as he hung his head down. His shoulders jutted out, angular.

And along his spine jutted spikes, one for each vertebrae. They were tiny at the small of Wrathion’s back, but grew in size and in width the farther up along the spine, black and glowing and tipped with the same ethereal Sha-white that was one Wrathion’s claws.

A faint, glowing darkness surrounded his form, as gentle as the Veiled Stair’s mists – but it looked sickly, and curled off of Wrathion in twisting circles.

Anduin ground his teeth. Wrathion had just gotten worse.

But Anduin had gotten his rest. He was ready.

“Wrathion,” Anduin called out. His voice was strong, but calm, and not provoking. “I’m glad we found you.”

Despair was killed with hope. Anduin had gone over what he was going to say to Wrathion, how to combat the dragon’s overwhelming sadness, and had decided to act like he normally did around the Black Prince – maybe it would comfort the dragon, or reach into the still-sane and coherent part of him.

But this was very, very delicate. One wrong word and Wrathion might snap as he had in Lion’s Landing, when he’d thrown Anduin against the window.

Wrathion tilted his head. He rose slowly from his heavy slouch against the bannister and turned to Anduin, the Sha energy that whisked around his form leaving a hissing wake. His head remained cocked to the side – it looked like he didn’t even have the willpower to hold it upright.

The Black Prince sighed and regarded Anduin vacantly white his white, glowing eyes. The shadows that surrounded the eyes themselves dripped and curled from behind the sockets.

“Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion said. Again his voice was a sigh, sad. “You’re surprisingly still alive.”

Anduin kept the frown off of his face. He found himself wondering why the dragon thought he’d died at all, but he was quick to recall Wrathion’s ramblings in the keep, about Anduin’s lifespan in comparison to the Black Prince’s. He forced a smile.

“Yes, I am.” Anduin took a careful two steps forward. The Light moved from his chest, down to his left hand. Just one powerful purging spell, and Anduin could rip the Sha from Wrathion.

But he needed to be close.

Wrathion watched him. He tilted his head.

“Why are you up here?”

“To see you.” Anduin smiled earnestly at the dragon.

Wrathion laughed – a short, hiccuping, hollow chuckle that was more of a sob than anything. The black shadow about him pulsed.

“To see me. I’m of no use to you, Anduin Wrynn.” He eyes unfocused. “Nor am I of use to anyone.” Wrathion’s gaze flickered behind him at the steep drop.

“Of course you are,” Anduin replied, then took one small step forward. He’d adopted his slightly playful, slightly teasing, tone he often used with the Black Prince. “Who else would I have to argue with over everything?”

Wrathion stared at him. For a moment, his brows furrowed, and he looked confused, lost – but the vacant dreariness was soon back on his face.

The dragon shook his head, then rose a hand and pulled at his hair, almost like an afterthought, before trailing his claws down the side of his neck, leaving gently bleeding marks. Anduin bit his lip and forced himself to stay put.

“Besides, I don’t really think Azeroth has any chance against the Legion without you,” Anduin added quickly. Maybe if he could just tap into Wrathion’s ego -

“We don’t stand a chance at all,” Wrathion groaned. He looked at Anduin in exasperation, his eyes wide. “I explained this, didn’t I? Or do I have to explain how much of a failure I am again, Anduin Wrynn? Must I have to go into detail about everything?” The dragon hiccuped.

Anduin paused. He continued, choosing his words carefully. “I remember what you told me, Wrathion. But I couldn’t say what I wanted to tell you.” He took another step. Wrathion only stared, eyes lidded, his face a mere mask of sorrow and pain. “You said there wasn’t any purpose -”

“There isn’t -!”

“- But there is.” Anduin interrupted. “Wrathion, you know there is.”

“Maybe I did,” Wrathion hissed. “Not anymore.”

“Because you’re possessed by the Sha, Wrathion! You’re not yourself.” Wrathion only shook his head, not understanding. Anduin sighed, but pressed on. “You love Azeroth. You know the Burning Legion is coming. You want to protect it. That’s purpose for – for living enough.” He hesitated, then continued. “And mistakes – they’re natural. Maybe you didn’t know about Sabellian, and maybe he – did destroy your home, but you have people who care about you and who are going to make you it better. Like me. And your Blacktalons.”

Wrathion stared for a moment. He laughed then same sobbing laugh, then, and pulled at the ripped sleeves of his white tunic, which was bloodied. Anduin noted slash marks across his upper forearms, bright red against the dark skin that had not been touched by the same sticking blackness that had crept up and transformed Wrathion’s lower forearms.

“You should hardly care about me,” Wrathion replied. He disregarded everything else Anduin had said. “I’m – worthless. And I’m an abomination.” His unfocused eyes began to sharpen on Anduin again. “The experiments – I – they -” He scrunched his eyes closed and let out a low, painful whine.

“Wrathion -”

“I’ll only – I’ll become just like him,” Wrathion murmured.

“Like who?” Anduin asked, confused.

“My father,” Wrathion responded, louder. “My father.” He looked up at Anduin sharply.

“I can – hear them.” Wrathion’s eyes went wide. He looked at Anduin desperately.

The prince froze. He couldn’t mean -

He thought of Left hiding; the Kill Command. No – she couldn’t shoot him. Anduin locked his jaw. Wrathion could… could mean anyone

But he knew who Wrathion meant. And surely so did Left.

He pressed on, panicked. He prayed Left wouldn’t do it, would let him have a chance. Just a couple more moments with the Black Prince – please, just let the prince have a chance to heal him.

“Wrathion, I know you’re scared, but -”

“I am not SCARED.” The Black Prince shook his head back in forth, his hair flicking around his face. He stopped suddenly, then mumbled to himself. Anduin could make out the words pathetic and failure.

Anduin walked a step closer as Wrathion distracted himself. His heart was hammering.

This was his chance. The Light already manifested in his arms began to grow and strengthen, curling down to his wrist and then to his hand, to his palm, to his fingertips.

“You’re going to be alright, Wrathion,” Anduin said. His hand began to glow.

Wrathion’s eyes shot down to the light. His lips began to curl back over his sharpened, lengthened teeth.

Anduin didn’t give him the chance to move. The Light shot from his hands in a near-fiery arc, right at Wrathion -

The dragon blurred. Anduin eyes widened. Wrathion came back in focus – all the way to the side of the platform and the purging spell slammed and dispersed with a hiss against the bannister.

The speed was inhuman – even if Wrathion was a dragon, there was no way he could have moved that fast if he wasn’t possessed.

“You are trying to hurt me!” Wrathion yelled at him. There was that bobbing, desperate tone in his throat, hoarse and high-pitched. “YOU are!”

Anduin hadn’t taken into account Wrathion’s intensified reflexes from the Sha. “I’m trying to help -!”

Wrathion snarled. Before Anduin could even think, the dragon had grabbed him and flung him back into the tree that grew to the side.

The bark cracked and splintered from the sheer impact. Anduin’s back went alight with pain, electrifying and white-hot. He blinked his eyes hard, momentarily stunned, and the blue sky greeted him as his vision focused.

The tree groaned and began to lean back – it was going to fall off the edge.

Anduin scrambled forward. He could see Wrathion advancing again, his demonic hands loose at his sides. The tree gave another creak, and the dragon was nearly on him -

Left burst from the opposite side of the platform and slammed into her Prince. Wrathion yelped, and the two went falling to the floor with a crack.

Anduin managed to scramble from the falling tree, nearly collapsing as his feet struggled to find purchase on the stone floor. He only just got his balance when the tree cracked backwards.

Wrathion and Left were struggling with one another. The dragon had managed to stand, but Left grabbed him and slammed him down into the floor once more. The Black Prince snarled and swiped at her face, but Left jumped to her feet.

But so did Wrathion. They were moving so fast Anduin couldn’t safely shoot off his spell, in fear of hitting Left.

Wrathion managed to find purchase on Left. He shoved her into the rock she had jumped behind.

The Black Prince whirled to face Anduin – and Anduin let loose the second purge.

This time, it hit. It burst against Wrathion’s chest, searing up his neck, and the dragon yelled out in pain. Some of the Sha-smoke shot from his form, fleeing – but not all of it.

Anduin scowled. He’d have to do it again; Wrathion’s corruption was too deep for only one.

He ducked as Wrathion leaped forward, recovering too quickly, sweeping a claw at the blond’s face. Wrathion didn’t stop trying to hit the prince; he kept coming at Anduin, his moves clumsy, jerky, mechanical, reminding Anduin of the drake’s movements in the Kun-lai cave, in his panicked desperation fueled by the remaining Sha. Anduin dodged twice more before his thoughts came to him again and he slammed a shield around him.

The dragon’s claws swiped harmlessly once against the bubble of Light. An unearthly wail not his own escaped Wrathion’s throat, echoing and demonic.

“I don’t wish to kill you, Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion groaned. “But I have to. I need to – I need to – end this - please-”

Wrathion stumbled back. Anduin went to summon another purging spell, but the dragon saw.

The shield flickered away. Anduin was distracted by making the spell. The Black Prince surged forward at him, and, out of instinct, panicked at the charge, the blond struck his cane out.

It cracked Wrathion across the face. The dragon stumbled, stunned.

Ow!” The Black Prince, for the briefest, fleeting moment, sounded like himself.

Anduin took the opportunity. “Wrathion, listen to me - I’m trying to help you!”

Wrathion stared at him, dazed – but like it had before the despair swept back up his face like an ooze.

“You can’t help me, dear prince,” Wrathion retorted. The sigh, the sadness, the corruption, had quickly come back to his voice.

He snatched Anduin before the prince could move, twisted, then pushed him against the bannister; the rock was hard and painful against Anduin’s already-injured back.

Wrathion put his face close. “I am an abomination, Anduin Wrynn.” The Black Prince’s hysterical anger was gone. “I can never be helped. I’ll end up just like him, won’t I?”

His claws were digging into one of Anduin’s shoulders.

“You’re not your father, Wrathion,” Anduin said, his voice struggling to keep back the pain. The Light bloomed in his chest, and he was able to push passed the agony in his shoulder. He looked up at Wrathion with a nearly smug smile.

“And I think you can be helped.”

Anduin shoved his hand up. His palm went flat against Wrathion’s chest and it surged with bright, shining Light, seeping quickly into the dragon’s white tunic, into his skin, his muscles, his blood. Wrathion arced back with a cry, mixed with the same haunting, echoing wail, and went to tear himself away from the blond, but Anduin dropped his cane and snatched onto the dragon’s leather sash and pulled him back down, baring his teeth. The powerful energy of Light was bounding and twirling up Wrathion’s shoulders and down his arms, forcing the Sha from his skin, where the corruption bounced away like oil against water.

It was hurting the Black Prince – Anduin saw as much in the way the dragon was trying to pull away, how his muscles were tense but shaking, how his teeth, which were beginning to slowly shrink down to their normal point, were bared back in a snarl as he yelled in agony. But the prince of Stormwind couldn’t let go. Determined, he pressed on, the Light ashine in the whole of his hand, vibrant and pulsing. He needed to destroy all of the Sha – if only a fraction was left, the deep possession would latch on again.

Wrathion’s claw, which was still twisted by the Sha, pushed into Anduin’s shoulder, deeper into the flesh. The pain was acute and hot – Anduin’s head nearly seemed to shake with it. But Anduin kept up his spell, though it flickered for a moment, even as Wrathion’s claws continued to dig.

But the pain was weakening him. Wrathion, in his own pain, even seemed to notice. He tore back quickly, and Anduin could not keep his grip on the Prince’s sash.

Wrathion stumbled back as Anduin forced himself, blood dripping from the wound and staining the blue cloth at his shoulder, from the bannister. He pushed back the ache – the ache in his shoulder, in his back, and the ache that had returned from his leg from the stress of the situation.

The smoke was curling off of the Black Prince in thick wakes, now, white and grey and haunted. Wrathion’s shoulders slouched, his arms hanging loose at his sides, as the Sha continued to flee from his body – the black corruption itself was wailing in that same terrible, haunting echo as it dispersed.

Tears – from pain, or from the sadness being ripped from him, which no doubt made all of the despairing feelings worse – were slick against Wrathion’s face.

Anduin panted hard – but this wasn’t over yet. The Sha was starting to slow its run from the Black Prince’s body, and Wrathion’s bloodied claws had yet to transform back to their healthy forms.

Anduin lurched forward. He grabbed Wrathion by the shoulders, and saw that the spines at Wrathion’s back had gone. The Black Prince looked up at him, the glowing white of his eyes wide and desperate, pleading.

Help me.” The black around the glow had disappeared as well, but Anduin could see it struggling to surge forward again, struggling to grip back onto Wrathion’s pain and despair.

Anduin wasn’t about to let that to happen. He moved his hands closer to Wrathion’s cold neck and the Light, which had briefly flickered out when the pain in his shoulder had gotten too intense, was quick to come back into his fingers again.

“It’s okay, Wrathion. It’s okay.”

The glow intensified. It sunk down to wrap around, vine-like, at Wrathion’s arms. Anduin could see, from the corner of his eyes, the Light brushing away the Sha from Wrathion’s arms; the sludge began to peel off and disappear, starting from Wrathion’s spiked elbows, revealing Wrathion’s sable skin and natural arm underneath. The Light continued donward, and still the Sha fled once again, until the claws had shrank and had gone completely.

But Anduin wasn’t really looking down there. He was looking at Wrathion. He directed the Light up towards the dragon’s face, felt the Black Prince shaking underneath his touch, felt the dragon’s pain, felt the reflection of the despair Wrathion felt.

The dragon’s skin seemed to glow as the Light sank underneath it. Wrathion cried out, then stumbled back – Anduin fell with him, and the two collided hard on their knees at the stone platform, and even Anduin, who had been composed the entire time, let out a cry of pain of his own as his right knee hit the hard surface, sending a numbing shock up the entirety of his leg.

Wrathion stopped yelling abruptly. His head was lolled back, his throat bared. Anduin panted. He moved his hands, cautiously, from Wrathion’s neck to his shoulders again.

The Black Prince’s breath was labored. It was quiet for a long moment. Anduin was tense, his fingers near to twitching, as he readied himself for the possibility of the Sha coming back. He could hear his own heart beat; it was as quiet as it had been below Mason’s Follow.

Wrathion groaned. Slowly, he lifted his head, though it just sank back down so his chin was nearly resting on his chest. Anduin locked his jaw so hard the muscles there began to grow numb.

The dragon lifted his head up. He opened his eyes, dazed, and blinked hard twice, before he focused on Anduin with some confusion.

“Prince Anduin?” Wrathion croaked. His voice was tired, surely, but he spoke in his normal, smarmy lilt, and not in the despairing sigh.

Wrathion’s eyes were red. And they were glowing.

Anduin grinned widely.

“You’re okay!”

And then all at once, the stress, the pain, the panic, the worry, fell away, replaced by simple happiness.The Sha was gone.

Anduin’s hands slid up swiftly, a quick, jerking movement. They moved as if on their own to Wrathion’s neck again, coming to rest just below his skull -

And before he could really think, Anduin pulled, nearly shoved, the Black Prince into a forceful, happy kiss.

Wrathion’s lips were cold against the blond’s, but Anduin found himself uncaring, his fingers curling back to grip onto Wrathion’s hair the same moment Wrathion returned the kiss.

They kissed for a moment longer, lingering, before Anduin pulled away. His heart and breathing weren’t thumping from panic, anymore, but rather something else.

Wrathion smirked at him, lazily. Anduin laughed once, quickly, and kissed him again, but pulled away a second later.

“Are you feeling alright?” Anduin asked, then, though his head was still blurred from the kiss.

He glanced over the Black Prince. He didn’t look alright… he looked pale, but not ashen or grey, like he had with the Sha infestation.

“Oh -” Wrathion’s frowned, blinked lopsidedly, and furrowed his brows. “I feel – ohhhh.”

He finished his sentence with a groan and his head fell flat against the blond’s shoulder. All of the dragon’s weight leaned into Anduin as well.

Anduin’s own body was leaning back with the extra weight, but he grunted and pushed them back up to a parallel position.

“… I guess I’ll take that as ‘bad,’ then,” Anduin said. The Sha had certainly gone, but Wrathion was still cold against him, though was not shaking – not yet. The disease was still there.

But Anduin couldn’t shake the relief, the eager happiness, despite that.

Wrathion was okay. He wasn’t corrupted anymore.

Anduin combed his fingers through the back of Wrathion’s hair, where they were already intertwined.

“Seems you were successful.”

Anduin turned his head. Left stood his side, looking down at the crumpled Black Prince. Her blue, black, and brown uniform was torn at the back from being crushed against the rock, and her bruise from Lion’s Landing was more evident and blacker now.

Anduin smiled at her and nodded. Left’s lips twitched, briefly, in a small of her own, before it disappeared from her face.

“Good. I was glad I didn’t shoot him.”

Wrathion, his face still buried in Anduin’s shoulder, grunted.

“My apologies for offending you, your Majesty,” Left added, though didn’t sound sorry. The orc looked at Anduin. “Are you alright?”

Oh – the wound at his shoulder. He’d nearly forgotten.

“I will be,” Anduin replied. “But first we need to get Wrathion stable. He’s still ill.”

“We can’t go back to Lion’s Landing.”

“What?” Anduin looked back at her sharply. “Yes, we can.”

“Have you found a good lie to explain the hallway and your room, prince? Or me ‘kidnapping’ you?”

Anduin faltered. “Well – no. But I will.”

Left snorted. She hesitated for a moment, considering, before saying a quick “fine.”

Anduin curled his hand in Wrathion’s hair more than they already were. He frowned.

“We could stay here,” the prince said. He looked around, but tried not to jostle Wrathion too much as he did so. “The Black Market House is untouched. We could rest for a while. I don’t think Wrathion’s ready to move, yet.”

The dragon mumbled. Anduin took that for a yes.

Left was looking down at the Auction House. She nodded. “Alright. We’ll set up there and wait until His Majesty is strong enough to travel.” The orc looked back at Anduin. “I can carry the Prince if -”

“No. I can walk him there.”

Left paused. She glanced at Wrathion, looking unsure for the first time, before grunting, her face masked again. Anduin watched her quietly.

“I will meet you there, then,” the orc murmured, and made her way down the steps, soon disappearing beyond the rock.

Anduin smoothed his fingers out from Wrathion’s matted black hair. Already the Black Prince was growing colder against him, the smooth skin on his face like chilly marble as it rested near the blond’s neck and jaw.

“Can you stand?” Anduin asked. Asking the dragon to shift was a stupid idea. Wrathion hardly had the energy to speak, and assuming he had the energy to change his entire form wasn’t exactly wise.

He tilted his head, the angle awkward, in an attempt to look at Wrathion at his shoulder. The dragon had opened his eyes, but was glowering, weak-gazed, downward at nothing in particular.

Anduin took that as a ‘no.’

“Alright. I’m going to help you stand up.”

Wrathion flicked his eyes up to Anduin and narrowed them.

The prince moved his arms so they were wrapped around the dragon’s waist. His right leg began to tense in anticipation for the strain.

Anduin strengthened his hold and made sure it was tight enough where Wrathion wouldn’t slip between his arms, and slowly, he rose from his kneeling position, hauling the Black Prince up with him. His right leg shook and locked, but he grimaced and forced himself through the whining pain.

Wrathion was limp. Anduin exhaled loudly, a hiss through his teeth.

“You need to help me, here,” the blond grumbled, his voice thick with strain.

The Black Prince didn’t move – but soon his legs shifted, shaking as much as Anduin’s right one was, and his feet found purchase on the stone. The dragon growled, but the extra leverage was all Anduin needed to push them both up to a full standing position.

Wrathion took that for incentive to go limp again and his entire weight began to lean forward on Anduin. The blond put out his left leg to keep himself up, and struck his cane out in front for more hold.

“Wrathion, I’m going to fall over if you don’t work with me!” Anduin said. He pushed Wrathion back, so that not all of the dragon’s weight was pushing into the blond prince, and moved himself so he was at Wrathion’s side, his left arm wrapped rightly around the dragon’s upper torso.

Wrathion’s head was hanging, his hair falling around his face, but the dragon was watching him. He looked a bit annoyed.

“You’re too heavy for me to carry you,” Anduin explained when he saw the look, rolling his eyes, as he made sure that he could hold onto Wrathion while still holding himself up with his cane. The position seemed sound, but it was going to be difficult to go down the steps. He was beginning to regret sending Left away.

Wrathion huffed. It was odd, Wrathion not speaking as often from being so weak – but even then, Anduin could hear all the words the Black Prince would have said, just by the dragon’s sideglances and grumbles.

“Ready to walk?” Anduin raised a brow at Wrathion.

The dragon bobbed his head up and down once. His eyes became trained on his own feet.

Slowly, Anduin started walking. He kept the grimace off of his face as his right leg registered the stress, the extra weight – the prince’s limp was heavy. Wrathion dragged behind him for the first couple of strides, but soon the Black Prince was walking, just as slow as Anduin.

“I don’t think you should make fun of my mobility after this,” Anduin said, raising a brow at the dragon. Wrathion rolled his eyes.

“Hilarious,” the Black Prince grumbled. He coughed once after speaking, then scowled at himself before going silent again.

They made their way off of Mason’s Folly and down to the Black Market House.

Anduin wanted to tear off his right leg by the time they got to the untouched building. It felt like it’d be thrown in a fire.

Wrathion, too, was shaking hard. He’d grown even colder since the walk, as if the gentle drain of energy from talking the trip down had sucked out the warmth from his skin.

Anduin led the Prince inside. It was darker in here, cooler. Wrathion sighed.

The blond turned and set Wrathion down on the counter. The dragon slouched.

“Left? Are you -? Oh.” The orc had appeared from the back room of the small building.

“It’s secure. Anyone who pilfered this place seems to have left already.”

Anduin frowned. “The items have been stolen?”

“You can see for yourself when you get in the back room. His Majesty can rest inside. It’s dark.”

The prince turned to the dragon. “Just a couple more steps and you can go to sleep.”

Wrathion looked up at him blearily.

Anduin sighed in mock-exasperation. “Come on.” He put his arm around Wrathion again and hauled the dragon to his feet. The Black Prince hissed.

Left came forward and flanked the other side of Wrathion, and like Anduin, put her arm around the Prince. Anduin was glad for the help. The two moved him passed the counter and through an open door that seemed to be made to look as if it was part of the wall, and into the back room.

It was dark, as Left had said. Shelves were lined across the sides… but there was little left there, anymore, save for a handle of items that hadn’t been stolen. Anduin glanced around as they led Wrathion to the back corner. He wondered again what had happened to Madame Goya and her Exchange Guards.

Gently, the orc and the human set Wrathion down. The dragon leaned back against the corner and closed his eyes instantly.

Left and Anduin watched him quietly for a moment. The prince glanced over at her.

“Thank you, Left,” the prince said, quietly. The orc sideglanced him. She understood what he was referencing – when she’d saved him from Wrathion, when the dragon had tossed him into the tree. The orc nodded.

“I’ll be outside. Let me know when the Prince is ready to travel, Anduin.”

She turned and left without another word. Anduin watched her go. It was the first time she’d called him by his name.

Anduin looked down at Wrathion again. He sighed. The Sha had left him, but that didn’t mean the disease had; he shook and quivered as badly as he had at Lion’s Landing.

When was this nightmare of the Black Prince’s going to end?

The prince ran a hand over his face, then combed back his hair. At least the SI:7 was tracking down the dragon in the Jade Forest, Anduin mused.

“Hmm.” Anduin turned his head, then swept his eyes around the emptied room. It was quiet inside – the only sounds were Wrathion’s ragged breaths and the faraway buzz of the waterfall behind the Tavern – and so very peaceful. Hopefully it wouldn’t take long for Wrathion to fall asleep, but one thing would help a bit more.

Anduin smiled brightly when he found something that would suit. He limped over. It was a large, square blanket, gently quilted and patterned. Anduin recognized what it was immediately – a horse’s throw-over for winter weather. He set his cane aside so he could grab it from the rack it was held over.

It still smelled like horse, but it was big and warm – what huge a horse had this been used for, Anduin wondered – and would suit his needs.

His shoulder began to ache as he lifted the blanket from the rack. Anduin grimaced – his back was to Wrathion – and set the blanket back down.

The prince looked at his shoulder, peeling back his blue poncho, which stuck fast to the white tunic because of the blood. He eyed the deep puncture marks, which still bled.

He should heal himself before Wrathion could see it – he hadn’t yet. Quickly, Anduin raised a hand and began to do so.

“What could you possibly be doing over there?”

Wrathion sounded impatient and tired. His words were a groan, only just intelligible. Anduin glanced over his shoulder at him, and saw the Black Prince leaning slightly, trying to look around Anduin to see what he was doing.

“Nothing,” Anduin called back, then looked away, knowing he sounded distracted.

The wound was quick to close, but it was still sore. Anduin dropped the bloodied poncho back over the place where the holes used to be, then turned his attention to the blanket again. Now that he’d taken care of himself, he could focus on taking care of Wrathion. He grabbed the blanket.

Anduin went back to Wrathion, who had closed his eyes again, and, gently, his own leg still aflame from walking down Mason’s Folly, he eased himself down next to the Black Prince, using the wall behind him as leverage so he wouldn’t fall on his face.

One of Wrathion’s eyes flickered open as Anduin situated himself next to the dragon. The blond sprawled out his legs, sighing with relief as the stressed muscles in his right joints popped and relaxed. He twisted his ankle around in a gentle circle, then stilled it, bringing the blanket up.

“Here. This might help,” Anduin said, his voice a near-whisper, as he draped the blanket over Wrathion, leaving only a sliver for himself. The dragon wrinkled his nose. Anduin laughed quietly. “Sorry. I know it smells like horse. But it’s warm, isn’t it?”

Wrathion grumbled. He closed his eyes again, curling in on himself, but Anduin was happy to note his intense shaking had lessened somewhat.

Anduin smiled and made himself comfortable against the wall, though he could feel the chill from the dragon to his side radiating off despite their shared blanket.

“Wrathion?”

“Mm.”

Anduin paused. This has happened so quickly – Wrathion being wholly possessed to the Sha to being right next to him in the darkness of the Black Market House. It was a bit dizzying… but how dizzying could it be for Wrathion, who had been the one corrupted?

“Do you – I don’t know. Do you want to talk about i-?”

“No.”

“Are you sur-”

Yes.

Wrathion opened his eyes to glare at the blond, a warning, before they flicked back closed. He grumbled something under his breath before going still again – or as still as he could with the quivering.

Anduin frowned, but decided to let it go. Maybe he would try again later.

He sighed and closed his eyes, relaxing. His mind drifted to the kiss. His body was aching, and the darkness and silence was beginning to take hold of him.

Anduin must have partially fallen asleep when something moved in front of his eyes. Groggy, Anduin opened one of his eyes a the smallest of slivers.

One of Wrathion’s hands was in front of his face, the claws still tipped with his blood. The dragon’s fingers waved shakily again.

The dragon was testing if Anduin was asleep.

Anduin swallowed back a smile. Wrathion didn’t seem to see that the prince had woken up from his very brief slumber – the blond’s eye was hardly opened at all, save for the slightest, smallest crack possible. Anduin slowly set his eye sideways to watch the Black Prince.

Wrathion had his head tilted. He was uncomfortably slumped against the very corner of the wall – he must have shifted from his original position – with his shoulders hunched in on himself and his legs curled up awkwardly. The Black Prince frowned, then dropped his hand before casting a suspicious, red-eyed gaze to Anduin. He squinted hard at the prince, tilted his head the other way, and furrowed his brows.

What was he doing? Anduin almost laughed. His inspecting, searching look was as if he was glancing over a toy.

After another quiet minute of inspection, Wrathion shifted. Anduin watched quietly as the dragon pushed himself up from the uncomfortable corner, his back shaking, his teeth pulled back in a painful scowl.

Wrathion moved so his side was leaning against Anduin’s. The dragon’s skin was cold against the blond’s, despite Anduin wearing his thick white tunic.

Wrathion eyed him again, then poked the side of Anduin’s face with the tip of his claw.

Anduin didn’t move.

Satisfied, Wrathion tilted his head so it was resting against Anduin’s, then closed his eyes.

Already Anduin could feel the heat from his own body leaving – Wrathion had wanted Anduin for warmth, it seemed - but he didn’t mind. It was hard not to smile. He opened his mouth to poke fun at the dragon, but the words sizzled away and he closed his mouth again.

He leaned back against Wrathion and went back to sleep.

—-

Sabellian flew high above the clouds, his great red wings stirring the air around him.

It was a only just morning, and the sun had risen from the horizon with all of its pinks and oranges and reds, utterly ignored by the black dragon. He’d been sleeping, as he had done beforehand during his small but informative stay in the Jade Forest, upon one of the tall green peaks, high enough where only the curious cloud serpents could see him. The dragon had thought to wake earlier… but had ultimately decided to treat himself to an extra hour or two of rest, well-spent and well-needed, for Sabellian was very pleased with himself.

The potions, carefully concocted in a hastily erected alchemist’s worktable with all of the vials and burners and ingredients, had completed their transmutations.

And they were perfect.

Sabellian smiled to himself, smug. They were placed in his raptor-hide bag, which he’d padded with extra lining of thick cloth for their safety, and shared the room with the mechanical whelp. He had not yet heard from Nasandria, but had not expected to, yet. It was a hard flight from Pandaria to the Badlands.

The satchel was tied along one of his horns; he had tried tying the damn thing around his wrist, only to discover the strap was not big enough to go the entire way around.

Perhaps he looked a bit foolish, but Sabellian found himself uncaring. His drifting flight was almost lazy, his legs loose. He had but one more stop to make before swooping back around and making his way directly south to Lion’s Landing.

Speaking to the mortals had been incredibly enlightening. He’d learned more than enough about Wrathion’s two-faced schemes, and turning them against the Black Prince, using the little whelp’s own plots against him, had been very enjoyable. Mortals were quick to find offense – just like dragons, Sabellian supposed.

He tilted his wings to curve around one of the Jade Forest’s larger mountain-hills that jutted out in front of him, then straightened out to get back on his initial flight path.

Information about his devious little brother had not been all he’d learned, however. The last ingredient Sabellian needed was a binding agent, the final drop that would strengthen the multiple potions. In elixirs such as the one the elder dragon was making, it was the most important; the wasp poison and other elements he’d burned and boiled together were needed to make what the potion was – a sleeping potion rather than, say, an actual poison or something else entirely – but the binding was what made it weaker or stronger. The last sleeping draught he’d made had knocked out a gronn - the binding agent had been his own draconic flame. It had been very strong, but perhaps not strong enough to set an entire Alliance fort into slumber.

What he needed was something better.

One of the mortals had mentioned, offhandedly, about a Vale – something about the water. Sabellian had pressed them for information, curious, keeping in mind about the last ingredient, and had found that the reason the animals and crops he’d seen at the Valley of the Four Winds, which had looked absurd, was because of the water streaming from the cliff-face from somewhere called the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.

Clearly the water was enchanted. It was intriguing – and exactly what Sabellian needed.

If the water could make a simple crane in the Valley larger than a horse, if it could make the crops larger than houses, then what could it do to his sleeping draughts?

The elder dragon squinted. Through the hazy clouds he flew through, partially to hide himself from the unsuspecting mortals below, he could make out the green peaks merging together to form an actual mountain, tall and grey. As he flew closer, he noted a large waterfall cascading with a gentle roar down to the river below.

Sabellian snorted. It was the Veiled Stair.

He’d have to fly at it, then above the mountains, to get to the Vale.

The mists were hard to see through as he began to fly over – Sabellian was still flying high – but he could see the smoldering remains of the Tavern, the Auction House, the burned foliage, the overall devastation. He slowed his flight for a mere moment, as he bent his neck to look around at his handiwork. It made his mood even better than it was already in to see this for the third time.

Pleased even more with himself, the dragon finally tilted his wings again, and the wind carried him up and over the large mountains higher up. He passed over an interesting golden archway, easily spotted among the brown-gray of the rock, but had little time to think about it; he was already over the mountain tops.

The gloominess of the destroyed Veiled Stair fell away. Ahead of him, curling out in a white-gold sheen, was the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.

Sabellian had not really known what to expect from the Vale. He’d heard it was beautiful, a paradise, and all of that other nonsense, but as he flew above it, immediately turning and making his way to a massive architectural structure of gold and white, its multiple roofs curved, a large stairway rolling out towards a gazebo-like structure in the center of a small, shining lake, he concluded that – yes, it was rather beautiful, indeed. He idly compared it to the dustiness of Blade’s Edge - where his home had an unwelcoming sharpness, a barren quality to it, this Vale was lush with life. The gold of the grass, the trees’ leaves, seemed to shimmer. There was an ancient magic here; Sabellian could nearly feel it tugging at his chest, like a forgotten reminder.

He was nearly at the lake. The dragon turned his head, his orange eyes seeking signs of mortals close by – but there seemed to be none.

Nonetheless, Sabellian was cautious. He snapped his wings against his sides and dived hard at the gazebo, shifting to human form at the last possible second to land on the outer edge, one of his arms spread out to hold his balance so he wouldn’t fall into the water. Hopefully, anyone who had managed to see him emerge from the clouds would have only seen a blurred streak of black that had quickly disappeared, a mere smudge on their vision.

Sablemane looked around again, suspicious. No – no one was around. He was alone among the lake, save for the skittering water striders that sluiced across the surface of the water. It was certainly peaceful. But now that he was down at the water, the tug of ancientness he’d felt earlier had somehow… shifted. It, vaguely, felt unnerving.

He snorted at himself and brushed aside the tingles at the back of his neck.

The satchel with his potions had been strung around his neck as he’d shifted. Annoyed at the tight strap, he loosened it, moving it around so that it was slung across his side, before reaching in and grabbing a larger empty vial.

Sablemane eyed the water. It looked rather plain, he thought, other than its iridescence. He sighed loud through his nose, scowling. If this turned out to be a complete waste of time and he was putting regular water as a binding agent in his potions, they’d be weaker even this his regular draughts.

However, the lush life of this place couldn’t be denied,and nor could the oversized abundance of it in the Valley, either. There was something to this.

Sablemane filled the vial. The water glowed in its new glass container, and as the elder dragon straightened, corking the mouth, he eyed it with a certain sense of hungriness.

Waters like these – waters that gave such life – it was almost reminiscent of the Well of Eternity, the gift from the Titans. Such power

Sablemane narrowed his eyes. He shook his head back and forth, frowning at himself.

He put the vial back in the satchel and snapped it closed. He had the waters. Good. Fine. The dragon was quick to shift back into his normal form. The sense of peace, he noted, had somehow… left him. He went to spread his wings, vaguely unnerved -

A low, faint grumbling shifted at the very edges of his mind. Sabellian was so startled he lurched forward, his wings flailing, and only managed to catch himself at the last moment from falling into the lake.

The grumble was a laugh. A very old, very faint, laugh.

A mere… toy…

The voice was as low as the laugh, as faint, but just as terrible – a whisper, a growling, the words sliding against one another like rocks -

Sabellian gripped hard to the edge of the gazebo. His chest rose and fell in short, near-gasping breaths, and his angled head whipped back and forth – with fear.

Incoherent, vague echoes bloomed in the back of his head. Sabellian whipped his tail around, nearly panicked, and part of the gazebo splashed into the lake.

He stood frozen for a moment – no, no, no, no, NO -

The dragon flushed open his wings in a frenzied movement and shot up into the sky, as quick as any firework.

Release… me…

The voice – the terrible voice – it was akin to the same that had reverberated from Talsian’s, before Sabellian snapped his neck.

Sabellian hardly remembered to flap his wings, he was so panicked. He dove then lurched back up again, tail swinging, his claws tight in balled fists.

He shot out of the Vale as quickly as he could, nearly colliding with one of the enormous mogu statues, and aimed towards the south. The whispers died as he left the paradise behind him.

—-

Anduin eased himself off of the back of the gryphon, his boots thumping against the wood floor of the stables.

Lion’s Landing was quiet… eerily so. They had met no resistance upon flying in – Anduin had at least expected the usual gryphon riders wheeling above, though there had been none – and settling into the stable had been easy. The towers outside in the military building were scorched and bruised, the marks where bombs and other magics had exploded against them more than evident, and the walls of the archway that opened up into the harbor were pocked and smoking, as well.

Though there were no bodies, Anduin had seen smears of red across the bright white sand, and had forced himself to look away before he upset himself further.

The skirmish was over, it seemed, and the Alliance had pushed back the Horde, if the quiet lack of activity was to be any indication. Anduin was glad that it was done with -… but worried over the death toll as he shifted Wrathion, in whelp form, into the crook of his arm so he could hold the dragon while at the same time use his cane.

“Wait – hold still.” He leaned his cane, then himself, against the wall behind him as Left led the tired gryphon into her enclosure.

Wrathion watched him, one red eye peering up. He’d slept the entire flight, and had only just woken up upon landing. Wrapped around his small form was Anduin’s blue and gold Alliance tabard; the prince of Stormwind had insisted on it before leaving the Veiled Stair after Wrathion’s intense shaking from his chill had returned once they’d taken the horse blanket off.

Anduin almost smiled thinking back on waking up. Wrathion had woken before him, but had positioned himself back in the corner, off of Anduin, trying to fool the blond that he’d stayed there the entire time.

The prince of Stormwind wanted to call him on it, but perhaps not when Wrathion was sick.

When he was better? Yes.

The blond readjusted the the tabard. He wanted to make sure that Wrathion’s black scales weren’t showing - they were stark against Anduin’s white tunic, the only thing the prince wore, now, besides his purple sash. He’d stashed his bloodied blue poncho in his satchel for cleaning.

“I’m covering your face,” Anduin murmured. He didn’t wait for an okay – he took a bit of the cloth and draped it over the whelp’s snout, then made sure to ruffle the folds there in the tabard to hide the obvious bumps from Wrathion’s horns. The Black Prince made an unhappy grumble, but otherwise stayed silent.

“Ready?” Anduin looked over. Left was watching him, impatient. The prince nodded.

Like the last time the trio had snuck into Lion’s Landing, Anduin led the way and Left followed, using the same path they’d used previously, aiming to climb back up the same stairs up to the third floor of the fort.

Like flying in, they met little resistance.

The quiet was truly unnerving now. The only sounds were the loud cries of the seagulls that wheeled above, the close crashing of the waves against the beach, and the creaking of the ships from the docks. Left didn’t even seem to have to use her Blacktalon tricks to keep them hidden as they entered the courtyard.

The battle must have taken a worse hit on Lion’s Landing than Anduin had initially thought.

There was a loud groan. Anduin glanced down at Wrathion instinctually. But it hadn’t been the dragon.

The prince frowned and looked around. It must have come from one of the rooms that the stone courtyard of the building led into.

Anduin stopped. Careful to keep himself hidden behind the wall, he peered his head just around the open archway and saw, his jaw locking, that the inside of the keep had been transformed into a second infirmary – white sheets had been hurriedly placed around the floor where Alliance soldiers were being treated as priests, shamans, druids, and other healers milled about.

Anduin had little time to think about it – Left pushed him forward towards the opposite end of the courtyard, towards the stairs they needed to climb. He shot her a glare. She motioned to Wrathion, then to Anduin, then raised her brows suggestively. Anduin ground his teeth and looked away; he understood the look.

It’s either them, or him.

The prince hesitated… then shook his head and started towards the stairs.

He couldn’t save everyone, as bitter a truth it was to swallow.

Besides, he tried telling himself – there were many healers in that room. One more wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

And Wrathion needed him more right now.

Left reached out and opened the door over Anduin’s shoulder and, quietly but quickly – or as quickly as they could with Anduin’s leg – they made their way up to the third level.

The orc opened the last door – but froze when she creaked it open.

Anduin glanced back at her, alarmed. “Wha -?”

She shoved him through the opening, then closed it behind him, staying in the stairwell.

Anduin stumbled, catching his balance. He whipped his head back over to the door with a glare, and was just about to open his mouth to make some angry retort when -

“Anduin Llane Wrynn.”

The prince stiffened. His feet became stuck to the ground.

Oh no. Anduin scrunched his eyes closed and grimaced.

Left shoving him out into the open to hide herself made sense, now.

He took a deep breath and was quick to compose himself, his face dropping the sense of alarm and becoming even and calm. He didn’t smile; smiling always gave him away to the person standing behind him, but that didn’t stop him from inwardly berating himself.

Wrathion tensed a moment in his arm before going still again. The blond squeezed the dragon a bit closer to his chest, trying to make him stop moving, before slowly turning on his heel and facing the voice, straightening his back and rolling back his shoulders in the process.

King Varian Wrynn stood with his arms crossed, his dark eyes locked down on his son with a suspicious, critical look. His blue and gold armor was scuffed and in need of cleaning, and Anduin found himself wondering why that was – what had happened in Ironforge? - before his thoughts focused back on how much trouble he was about to be in.

“Hello, Father,” Anduin said with the utmost politeness. He paused – perhaps he was putting it on too thick. He tried to sound more casual. “I’m glad you’re alright. What happened in Iron -?”

The king dropped his arms, took only two strides forward, then grabbed Anduin’s shoulders with his hands. Anduin went shock-still as his father leaned down and squinted at him, his eyes looking his son up and down; the prince said nothing, only bit the inside of his cheek, as the King looked him over for any signs of injury. The king’s eyes locked on the mottled bruise at Anduin’s throat.

“Father, I’m fine.”

Varian let go with an unsatisfied huff. His eyes lingered on the bruise for another moment before they flicked back up to Anduin. The prince was relieved he didn’t seem to question the bundle in his arms – yet.

“Where were you?”

He did not sound happy. Varian gestured to the destroyed hallway. “And care to explain what happened while I was gone, son?” His tone was serious and scolding. “I came home to a skirmish only just won, you gone, a trail of destruction across this floor, and some champions claiming they’d seen an orc stealing you on a gryphon. I was just about to send them to find you!The King took a deep breath as he struggled to control his temper. “I thought the Horde may be using you as leverage.”

Anduin’s words died in his throat. He closed his mouth. He’d expected to lie to his guards, try to convince them that he indeed had not been kidnapped by an orc, that he’d only be out to visit the Black Prince again, but now that he’d found himself in the worst possible situation – his father back and catching him – all of the excuses Anduin had come up with began to shrivel. Anduin knew that his father was aware of when his son was lying.

He shifted his weight once. Maybe Varian was quick to pick up on a lie, but Anduin could still try to tell one - the prince wasn’t about to spill the whole story about Sabellian, Wrathion, and the Sha to his father. He’d never be able to leave his room again if he did.

“I was visiting the Black Prince,” Anduin said. It wasn’t… exactly a lie. The first time he’d snuck out, however many days ago, was to see Wrathion before he’d found the Veiled Stair in disarray. The second time he’d snuck out was to see Wrathion -… or, rather, find Wrathion. But he knew the comment didn’t cover what had happened with scorch marks and holes in the hallway.

Varian stared at him. His mouth was skewered back in an unhappy frown, an expression that was no stranger to the King’s scarred face.

“Anduin.”

“Father.”

The King gave him a hard look. “I’ve told you before that you can only visit the dragon if you were with your guards.” His voice was scolding, but Anduin stared at him evenly. “This is the fourth time you’ve gone on your own -”

“Father, my guards are scared of him. They’re too restricting -”

“Your guards are there to protect you.”

“I don’t need protecting from Wrathion.”

“You need protecting from other threats – like whatever happened here,” Varian retorted. He ran a hand over his face, then pinched the bridge of his nose with a low grumble before letting his hand fall back to his crossed arms. “You know my stance on the black dragon.”

Yes, Anduin knew too well. Varian was more than wary of his son visiting a dragon – especially a black dragon, considering the Wrynn’s history with the Flight. When the King of Stormwind had ordered the prince to stay in the Vale, away from the dangers of warfare at Lion’s Landing, and away from other dangers like the Black Prince, Anduin had immediately disobeyed his father and had gone to meet Wrathion however long ago it was, two of his guards trailing behind him.

After that, Varian seemed to realize that at Lion’s Landing, he could do nothing himself to stop the rebellious prince from doing what he wanted – so he agreed that fine, yes, Anduin could go again if he wished… but only with the guards, and only if he came to Lion’s Landing so the King could keep an eye on his son, skirmishes-be-damned.

That did not quite stop Anduin from sneaking away from said-guards to go the Veiled Stair on his own - as Varian had pointed out.

The King paused, then looked at Anduin with a suspicious gleam. “Did he do this?”

Oh – the scorch marks. Anduin paused – long enough for Varian to think of his hesitation as a ‘yes.’ The King bristled, his stance straightening.

“If he laid one hand one you -” He looked at Anduin’s neck and scowled. “If that was from him -”

“Father, I’m fine. It wasn’t Wrathion.” The lie was quick and easy. His father narrowed his eyes, but Anduin didn’t waver. “I don’t know what happened up here. I’m sure one of the Horde may have gotten inside, or something must have smashed through the glass. The skirmish was very -”

Varian put up a hand. He was looking at Anduin with the usual expression he used when he knew his son was lying – his brows sloped down, his eyes lidded. Anduin sighed and stopped talking. If those champions hadn’t seen him, this lie would have been much easier.

“You left Lion’s Landing twice, I’m told. Once before the skirmish, and one during, in the span of a handful of days.” Varian shook his head. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing, Anduin, but I’m hoping you’ll give me answers soon. Truthful answers.” The king dropped his arms from their stern cross against his chest and sighed. “I’m just glad you’re alright – somewhat.” Again his eyes found the bruise. “I was about to go to a meeting with Troteman and discuss our losses after I sent champions after you – but I don’t need to do that now. So, son.” He fixed Anduin with a look. “Think carefully about what you’re going to say to me when I come back.”

“Of course, Father.”

Anduin tried to keep the breathy relief from his voice, and partially succeeded. He began to relax; he had perhaps an hour or two to situate Wrathion and think of a good story while Varian was -

“And what’s that in your arm?”

Anduin hesitated. His relief fled. “… My tabard.”

Varian raised a brow at him. “Why aren’t you wearing it?”

“It was hot.”

“Anduin, Krasarang is only a little worse than Stormwind in terms of weather.” The king’s stern parenting voice had been replaced by something akin to humor.

Anduin shrugged weakly. Wrathion was cold against his chest. “It’s humid, too.”

Varian was staring at the tabard now, and Anduin shifted his body sideways to try and make him look away-… realizing only at the last moment he’d made a very bad mistake in doing so as the king’s eyes narrowed.

Anduin had given away that he was hiding something.

Before Anduin had time to block him, Varian snatched the tabard and pulled it back from Wrathion’s face. The whelp groaned, eyes scrunching from the light, and quivered.

Anduin held his breath. Varian stared hard at Wrathion for a long, tense moment, before he dropped the cloth from his hand, where it pooled down across Anduin’s forearm.

“Explain. Now.”

Anduin took a quick, deep breath. This had gotten bad fast; there was a absolutely no option for lying his way out of this anymore.

“Wrathion was hurt,” Anduin started quickly. “He was attacked by an enemy of his.” Varian watched the prince intently, with a vague frown. “When I went to visit him – the first time I left – I found him like this.”

Anduin warped and simplified the story with ease, conveniently omitting Sabellian, the destruction of the Tavern, the cave rescue in Kun-lai; it was the truth, but not a complete truth.

He did not want his father to worry more than he should, and he did not want to give away the secrets he was keeping, either.

Varian said nothing, only gave his son a look that prodded the prince to continue.

“I couldn’t leave him. He needed healing -”

“And you brought him back to Lion’s Landing,” Varian interrupted. He fixed his son with a warning eye. “I allowed you to visit the Black Prince, but I never said you could bring him home like some sort of injured kitten.”

Wrathion shifted around once at that,too weak to retort, but Anduin strengthened his hold on the dragon to keep him from squirming. He didn’t take his eyes off of his father’s.

“Yes, I brought him back. As I told you, he needed healing, and I wasn’t going to abandon him.” Anduin was almost glowering at Varian. “I know you’re distrustful of him, but that’s no excuse to assume I would leave him, my friend, when he needed me.”

Anduin was glowering now. Varian glowered back.

The two stared at each other for a time. Anduin could hear his own hurried heart beating.

Finally, Varian broke eye contact. Anduin relaxed his shoulders. The king glanced at the dragon again, scowling slightly, before looking back up at Anduin.

“Then he is involved with whatever happened here,” Varian said after another moment of silence.

Anduin said nothing. The second part of the story was much harder to lie about.

Oh, yes, Father, Wrathion was corrupted by the Sha and tried to toss me out of a window before nearly succeeded in flinging me off of a balcony.

Varian sighed in aggravation when Anduin didn’t answer him.

“You can answer that question when I come back from Troteman. I don’t want the dragon in here, Anduin. He’s a liability the Alliance doesn’t need right now – or that you need right now.”

“I’m sorry, Father, but he’ll be staying.”

Varian’s glower returned. “Anduin -”

“I’ve healed his wounds, but he’s still sick.” The prince softened. “I won’t let him leave my room, and he can hardly move. Please, just let me heal him – then he can leave.”

Varian squinted at him. Again the king looked at Wrathion before turning his eyes to his son.

“… Alright.” He put up a hand as Anduin’s face lit up with a smile. “Don’t look too happy - I’ll be stationing new guards up here to make sure you don’t make more trouble. And you won’t be leaving your room.”

Anduin nodded, hardly taking in what he was hearing.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Mm.” The king put his right hand on the ornate hilt of Shalamayne, where it hung at his side. “If that dragon stirs trouble, or puts you into more risk, I won’t hesitate to react accordingly. Are we clear?”

Anduin nodded again. The prince eyed his father; he recalled, then, that Varian hadn’t told him about Ironforge.

“What happened at Ironforge?” Anduin asked, not caring at the suspicious change of subject. He honestly did want to know what had transpired… and taking any more focus off of the whelp in his arm was good, too.

“I suppose you’ll find out when I found out what happened to you.”

Varian smiled at him cheekily. Anduin sighed, aggravated, through his nose.

“Fair enough,” the prince grumbled.

“Good. Go to your room. I’ll be coming by after my briefing to ask about your.. adventures you’ve gotten yourself in.” The king paused. His stern face softened, as Anduin’s had a moment ago. “Do you need help getting to your -?”

“No, Father, I’m fine,” Anduin grumbled. “I can manage a couple of steps, I think.”

Varian nodded. The king hesitated, as if unsure of what to do now that his scolding was over.

“I’ll be back. And rest your leg,” Varian added, before walked passed his son and heading to the stairs.

Anduin closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief when Varian had gone.

That could have gone a lot worse.

He smiled and opened his eyes. At least he’d managed to convince his father to let Wrathion stay. The guards the king had promised were hardly important. It wasn’t as if Anduin was going to leave the room, anyway.

And now he didn’t have to worry about hiding Wrathion from his father… though admittedly, Anduin still had to think about a good story for what had happened to the hallway, and why he’d left Lion’s Landing a second time.

“Very charming,” Wrathion managed to grumble, hardly understandable. Anduin sighed, shook his head, then made his way to his room, eager to be alone. He assumed Left would follow him; she’d probably heard the entire conversation.

He opened the door with his elbow – his hands were full – and went inside.

Someone had cleaned up the shards of glass from the floor and set a curtain against the empty window. The room smelled like the sea, sharp and warm.

“Welcome back,” Anduin said. Wrathion said nothing; maybe the singular comment about Varian had sapped his energy. The prince placed the dragon on the bed.

The Black Prince curled a bit more into the tabard, which was still around him, and his horned head lolled out against the blankets. He didn’t shift. Anduin didn’t mind; there were no wounds for him to look at.

Anduin thought to himself as he sat on the edge of the bed, a strange sense of deja vu overcoming him. It’d been more than half a day since the SI:7 had left… they were probably at the Temple by this point, now, if everything was going well.

Oh – he hadn’t told Left or Wrathion about the dragon that might be joining them. Anduin shook his head to himself. He’d bring it up later.

The prince watched Wrathion shiver, then reached out and adjusted the actual blankets of the bed so more of the bundling was around him.

He could do nothing else. It felt odd to just… sit there. Anduin shifted his weight. Well, perhaps he could recast Wrathion’s arm; the sha had ate away at the gauze, though thankfully the bone hadn’t cracked again.

Maybe he’d do that later, though, when Wrathion wasn’t asleep.

He hoped the SI:7 would be back soon.

—-

Amber Kearnen watched the cloud serpent hatchlings nudge small rubber balls to their waiting trainers as she stood, arms crossed, in the courtyard of the Temple of the Jade Serpent.

The main building of the temple rose up in front of her. Its greens and reds were bright and pleasing to the eye in the afternoon sun, its curled, elegant architecture artful and noble. Two large jade stone serpents, large speckled orbs in their paws, flanked the side of the temple’s doors, and flanking the colonnades of the courtyard were teal-green banners emblazoned with a golden cloud serpent; they twisted lazily in the gentle breeze, and the warmth of the air was, thankfully, not stifling for Amber’s leather SI:7 uniform.

It was altogether a peaceful but lively place; cloud serpent trainers milled about to and fro, followed by their chosen hatchlings or other students.

Sully trotted up next to the sniper. He seemed unaffected by the heat, as all dwarves were.

The dwarf saw where Amber was looking. “Aww. They’re cute, eh?”

Amber huffed and looked away, resuming her previous brief look-around of the temple. “I guess.”

“Jus’ don’t shoot ‘em like ye’ did Gizmo. I don’t trust ye’ with wee little animals anymore.”

Amber rolled her eyes. “Sully, I told you before – I didn’t shoot your raccoon.”

“Well, I don’t see who else coulda’ -”

Amber gave the mechanic a scalding look. Sully put his hands up defensively, but said no more.

The sniper shook her head, then looked away to glance over the Temple again. It was an ornate area – the entire Temple of the Jade Serpent was not just the main temple that stood proudly in front of them, its large carved doors closed. It was more like a walled-in community. There were other buildings and tucked-away places in this large place, such as the library, and winding, open-ceiling hallways and ramps led to different areas of the Temple. Amber spotted one of the ramps that could just be made out behind some of the playing hatchlings.

Though the two SI:7 agents had made it here quickly, finding the dragon Prince Anduin had asked for was another task altogether – and while Amber wanted to get away from Krasarang Wilds as long as she could, this mission was not something she could delay and make the most time out of. The look of desperation that she’d seen in Prince Anduin’s eyes had been enough for the sniper to realize that this was urgent.

Besides – Amber took her job and duty seriously. She wasn’t about to slack off because she was beginning to hate staying at the beach.

“Alright. Let’s hope that his dragon’s here.” She eyed the winding ramp. “We’ll go up there, first, then work our way around and ask the pandaren if they’ve seen anything.”

While the SI:7 was usually more … subtle about gathering information, Sully and Amber had decided to be a bit more upfront when asking around for the dragon. They had little time to waste, and being sneaky was something that made everything go slower – though they weren’t going to simply tell those they asked why they were looking for the dragon, of course. That was classified.

Amber enjoyed the change of pace.

“Aye. ”Cuse me miss, have ye’ seen a large, fire-breahtin’ reptile’?”

“Funny, Sully.”

The dwarf chuckled. Amber readjusted the green scope across her eye, then started towards the ramp, her gun shifting at her back with every step. Maybe they would have luck in the library – dragons liked knowledge, didn’t they?

Some of the Pandaren serpent riders gave the duo curious glances, but otherwise ignored the foreigners. The SI:7 agents did the same to them.

They were beginning their walk up the ramp when Sully clucked his tongue. Amber glanced at him.

“Looks like we have a follower.”

Amber glanced behind her shoulder. A young pandaren child was behind them, her hair bound in two blue bonnets and her hands behind her back. A white flower was perched behind her ears. She smiled at Amber when the agent saw her.

“Hello!” The child said. Her eyes were pink. Amber raised a brow at her.

“Hey, kid,” the sniper replied. She stopped walking. “Need something?”

The small pandaren smiled again.

“You look very serious. I was going to ask if you needed anything.” The girl’s voice was bright and cheery, but something in her eyes was a tad bit mischievous.

Amber glanced at Sully, who shrugged, then at the pandaren. “Yeah. We’re looking for someone.”

The child tilted her head. “Oh! Who? I know a lot of people here.”

“A female dragon. Not the cloud serpents – I mean a dragon from where we’re from.”

The pandaren was looking at Amber curiously, now. The agent sighed.

“You probably don’t know what I’m talking about. They’re usually pretty big, but they can look like us – like mortals.”

“I know,” the pandaren said. There was that mischievous spark in her eye again. Amber raised a brow at her. “I think I can help you.”

“’You think?’ So the dragon’s here?”

The pandaren said nothing. She studied Amber for a moment, her smile gone but her face still kind, and, strangely, the SI:7 agent felt like something had shifted in the child’s eyes. She looked closer, and saw in the inner iris a band of bright green, where there had only been pink before.

Finally, the child smiled again, and the green evaporated into pink. “Come on. I can show you.”

She walked passed Amber and Sully with a near skip to her step. The dwarf and human looked at each other before following.

The child led them up the ramp and into the library. It was a large room with two separate floors, and they found themselves on the second level. Shelves upon shelves of books, all of different colors, all of different bindings, lined the walls. Stacks of rolled parchment were placed reverently in other pyramidal piles, and tall ladders stretched up high to get to the tallest peak of the shelves, higher even than the level the three stood now. It smelled of dark wood and musty book pages; the scent reminded Amber of the Stormwind library.

The pandaren glanced back to make sure the two were following, then walked down the stairs to the lower level.

An older pandaren male was standing at a slim table, overlooking a scroll. He looked up, saw the child, then nodded his head at her with a strange sort of reverence that Amber found odd. The child smiled and waved at him before leading the agents to another section of the library partially hidden by the bookshelves. Amber and Sully followed. The sniper wondered if this little kid was just messing around with them, and frowned in annoyance.

The fleeting idea fell away when Amber looked ahead.

There, sitting comfortably on a large wooden chair at the corner of the small steal-away, was a tall woman, her head gently bent over a large tomb sprawled out in front of her with ancient, near-see through, pages. Her hair was a bright crimson, which fell in a gentle curve down to her shoulders and held back from her face by a metal headband encrusted with three purple stones. Small bangs drifted down to end right above her long, thin, elf-like eyebrows. She wore a carmine silk robe embroidered with golden cloud serpents that curved close to her lithe body, gently accenting her curves, and its sleeves were pulled up to her forearms to reveal metal gauntlets of gold and pinkish red, similar in color to her skin.

The woman looked up as the three approached. She smiled at the pandaren, then cast her orange-red eyes over at Amber and Sully.

“I’ve brought some friends,” the child said.

Amber straightened – this was the dragon.

“So you have,” the dragon said. She studied the two agents intently.

The pandaren looked at Amber and Sully. “I’m gonna’ leave now. I know you’re nice – I’ve seen it in you – but please stay that way, okay?”

I’ve seen it in you. Amber gave the child a strange look and recalled the green of her eyes.

The pandaren tilted her head at her.

“Of course,” Amber responded. Something made her bow her head slightly to the child, as the older pandaren had done, before she looked back at the red dragon.

The dragon and the pandaren shared a quiet look before the child walked off, leaving them alone.

“How may I aid you, mortals?” The dragon smiled slowly. Her voice was pleasant but strong, and somewhat authoritative.

“Hiya, miss,” Sully said, grinning politely. “Hopefully yer’ not too busy ta’ help us lil’ mortals. We got a problem with a sickness.”

The dragon tilted her head. Her very movements were slow, gentle. She looked at Sully and smiled again.

“I would be glad to help you, young ones. Please – tell me about this sickness. I have much time to spare.”

—-

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