Warcraft Fanfiction: World of Whatcraft - 10. Angor Fortress
The fire raged hot and hard beneath the beams of the overhead sun, the corpses of the gryphons and Feralda the source of fuel for the flames to consume. The crew surrounded the blaze, even a few of those that had been on the brink of death just hours ago, their features solemn, and not a soul dared to speak. Emilia especially refused to speak, for she felt that this was her fault. And she was not alone in her thoughts. Though the crew had not spoken them aloud yet, those looks they gave her, cutting and damning and full of sorrow and fury, they told their own tales. There would be a revolt soon, she felt.
Much as she wished it not, Emilia Battleborn felt that this was a punishment earned. She should have never been put in this position; never should these men and women have been place under her command.
Command. That word in it of itself sent lightning up her spine. She’d always wanted to lead and direct people, to wield authority of some sort. To dominate (which also told tale of her peculiar sexual appetites). It had made up the core of her personage ever since she was a little girl, looking over the world from atop her father’s mount, imagining those people that looked like ants were under her influence. Like her father did in the Second War.
I should have never been given command, she thought dourly, her eyes kept firm on the funeral pyre.
The name Battleborn was well earned by her dwarven kin. They were the protectors of Thundermar, gryphon riders of great prestige; some of them having served as commanders of the Wildhammer gryphon units over the years. Her father too was first cousin to the Battleborn patriarch and was thus always welcome at their table for stout and story. A great man he was, and Emilia was glad to proclaim him her sire.
Her mother’s case was quite a different circumstance. Emilia’s own circumstances were even more contrite.
Emilia’s mother had been a human, a mapmaker come to Thundermar to update cartographical details in the middling of the First War; marking warzones and camps and other tactical detailings as befit her station. Her connection with her father was not one of romance, but instead was of a mutual itch scratching. Falling pregnant had not been the intention, but they followed through regardless. Nine months in, two years into the war, and Emilia had been born. Both of her parents had their own duties to the Alliance, and she was left in Thundermar to be raised by the locals.
It was lucky that those locals were kind to her. The adults, in any case. Though it was not as looked down upon as it once had been, halfbreeds were not given the best of receptions. Even still with their kindness, she was not spared such with her peers. Children were cruel to those that were not the same as them, and bullying made up a commonplace part of Emilia’s childhood. They would fight her, steal her things, and mock her existence. It was not all bad, certainly not! Emilia felt her childhood was quite blessed all things considered, but there was no denying that some parts of her upbringing were trying.
Some adults had felt sorry for her, offering her food and lessons and distractions to keep her mind off of her tormentors. One such adult, a legless and elderly ex-enforcer of Explorers League, went so far as to teach her how to throw a decent fist. Decent enough to make those berk kids stop, at the very least.
Things settled for a while. News of the war was sparse from their little hamlet, but news came through all the same. The Battle of Hillsbrad, the Defense of Gnomeregan, the Burning of Quel’Thalas, the Siege of Blackrock Spire… the Destruction of the Dark Portal. In between these, she received letters from her father and the rare visit when the vanguard marched near. Her mother had sadly gotten caught up in a skirmish of some sort, and had been killed when Emilia was seven. That was the letter in particular from her father that cut her the hardest.
But one letter in particular brought her joy anew. Joy and worry both.
The war had finally ended, it said; Stormwind City had been reclaimed from the Horde and the orcs were to be pushed back in finality. She was barely fifteen years of age when that blotty inked letter told her such. The rest of the missive brought about a new sort conundrum, though. Her father, battle scarred and world weary as he was, intended to hang up his guns and retire from battle and see his only child wed.
There was one problem with this though; time had turned his little girl into something he’d not anticipated.
Emilia believed herself a fighter, one who lusted for adventure; a woman that would not settle. Few dwarves were interested in taking her to wife, and those that were were of no interest to Emilia. Thin bearded folk; cripples; those known to stray from beds. That was what awaited a scrappy halfling. She would not take them, and no cajoling would convince her of such. Fortuitously, there was another option to be had.
The dwarf that taught her to fight had also given her a way out, prior to the arrival of her father. He’d granted her his reference, and she took it and left her village in short order, intent on seeing the world. In a twist of fate, the last time father and daughter saw one another was atop gryphons, one heading to Thundermar, the other away.
She was quickly taken and trained up by the League, and the years were kind to her. The world was grand, and vast, and fun. She saw the troll ruins of Stranglethorn, the remnants of Kharazan, the fires of Blackrock; she was even given the chance to take in the Dead Scar cutting a grim line through Quel’Thalas.
The Badlands dig was her next advent. Initially, she’d hoped to go to Kalimdor; to see the old lands, pristine and untouched for thousands of years, just as Bran Bronzebeard did. But Fulmer, a friend she’d made during her work in Stranglethorn, who was to be the foreman presiding over Uldaman, had asked her along by name. She could not refuse.
I should have, Emilia believed. I should have refused. I should have just stayed in Thundermar and wed as dad wanted. Mayhap this could have been avoided without me.
Fulmer’s death still rattled her harshly. As did his decision to promote her to his position; his last command; his last wish. Emilia took to her command as best she could, but with no real territory to their name, an unideal position, and wounded men, her command had quickly become a mess.
Then came that healer human with the fancy eyes. Might be he was a halfling as well, though he was too tall to have dwarf blood running his veins. Maybe Night Elf? No, that didn’t make sense. The Eastern Kingdoms barely knew they existed up until a few years ago; there’s no chance a halfling was born of their stock that old. Richard Kowlen was his name, the cat-eyed wonder. Their salvation.
Admittedly, she’d not really gotten that good a look at him. Drunk in misery and embarrassed of the state he’d caught her in as she was, she’d been more focused on the fact that he flew in over anything else. When she took over and claimed Greenbeak for her own purposes, he was busy healing their wounded. When the crew were partying away and celebrating their good fortune, he was still busy healing their wounded. A good man, she thought.
And now he was gone.
Emilia couldn’t even blame him, not really. Nobody sane would want to stick around. That he looted some gear was disheartening, but lots of the gear they had was left over from dead mercs, so there was still plenty to go around for their own use. It was just disappointing. This whole circumstance was disappointing.
She startled as the ground began to shake, like the aftershock of an earthquake. Only it grew stronger and stronger, as if something were approaching.
What if something was?
“FORM UP!” Emilia cried out, palming her knife. The crew looked at her in derision, confusion, and incomprehension. None followed her order. “FORM UP! Something’s coming!”
“I don’t see nothin'” said Desmin, a burly, black-bearded guard that looked over supplies. “Nothin’ but a fool. Doubt these lot’re seein’ much else neither.”
“I don’t care Desmin,” Emilia snarled. The quakes were growing stronger, she could feel it. But from where? “I’m the head here, and I said form up.”
“Some’a the boys an’ I have been talkin’, lass. We’re thinkin’ that yer not the head. Not no more.”
She whirled on him. “This is not the time.”
He chuckled darkly, walking towards her. Tall for a dwarf, his brow reached her chin. “Oh, I think it’s the perfect time.”
“Desmin, it’s really not the-“
“See.” He said, cutting her off. “We’re plannin’ on jus’ leavin’. Take’r chances wit’ the mountains, maybe find us a pass out. Ain’t no point in hangin’ around a sinkin’ ship, y’know? Ah, what’m I sayin’? A’course ye don’t know. Yer the one that stuck out here in the first place!”
Emilia had expected this to happen sooner or later, but she had a twisting feeling in her gut telling her something was not as it should be. “Desmin, I stuck around because I held out hope that everybody could get out of here.”
“And now none of us will.” He spat. “Not with you at our helm. Fulmer was a daft moron; should’a never trusted no halfbrat with the lead.”
At least he was calling her out due to blood status. Had he been mad that she was a woman, Emilia would have been pissed.
She was still pissed all the same, but that would have pissed her off more.
That quaking sound was growing louder, small pebbles rattling around their positions. She gave them a quick glance, and then swerved her head towards the north. There, in the distance, vague though the sight was, she could make out some sort of dust cloud approaching.
“Oi!” Desmin barked. “Pay attention when I’m talkin’!”
“Or you could pay attention.” Emilia countered.
“That.” Email said, pointing towards the cloud. It was growing, coming closer, though still seemingly far enough away to not be noticeable.
“There ain’t nothin’ there.” Desmin scowled. “Yer jus’ tryin’ ta waste me time. I won’t have it! We’re leaving, girl. And yer gonna be-“
“INCOMING!” Shouted one of the injured, hobbling into a ready position with the butt of a spear. The crew looked around in consternation, trying to pinpoint where whatever was coming was coming from, and when they saw the cloud, the readied their own weapons. Those that weren’t armed quickly fled behind bouldered rocks and cliff-face passages.
They waited, patiently and worried filled, but it was also with a sense of finality. This could be their last stand, whatever this was, and a good number in the crew had settled their grievances.
Desmin was not among that number. He was well armed, as were his own little sub-crew, but they had run fast and far, east of the camp, trailing their own little cloud of dust. Emilia hoped the fools came across an ogre encampment, or even a dragon. They were no Fulmer, no Kowlen; they hadn’t done anything worth a damn. They were more pests then people at this point.
The storm approached, a cloud focused on a single individual, it appeared, running with speed and strength that were greater than should be possible. A beast, or mayhap a demon blood influenced creature. Whatever it was, it could not be natural.
It grew larger and larger, that cloud. Emilia’s crew formed a barricade of bodies, their weapons and shields held out in a semblance of readiness.
And then, when the individual whose journey created the cloud of dust was finally visible, she felt confused.
It was Richard Kowlen, clad in his stolen armor. Water twirled along his shoulders, and his cattish eyes were glowing a forest green. Rocks and pebbles and grains of sand were danced around his feet, as if happy to be in his presence.
Was this what Amara meant, when she said he was a shaman? A mystic that used the elements?
Emilia certainly felt it unlike any magic she’d seen in her life, and she’d seen plenty. Mages that wielded ice and fire like a warrior a blade, warlocks that commanded demons to fight in their place, priests and paladins that bade the Light for aid and were not ignored.
This was different, she knew. Different, and interesting.
“We thought you’d left us.” Emilia called out, still holding a ready position. She did not know him. Why would she trust him, when he’d apparently been hiding power?
The cloud seemed to dissipate, or at least was becoming less conspicuous. “I made to treat with the earth elemental to the north, to find you all a way out.” He shouted.
Emilia knew best not to hope now. She had to face facts and had to keep her head and heart coordinated. “And?”
He approached, his steps rattling the ground. And as he crept closer and closer, a dark grin former, his green-lit eyes sparkling with malicious intent. “He was stolen from. He wants what was stolen back. And that means we’re going to take a bit of revenge. Guess who took it?”
Richard was now only a scant few yards away. The water hovering over his body twisted as if in glee, and the earth that rose up with his body seemed to be of a similar station.
“I’ve got a few guesses…” Emilia said, only really having one. Looking side to side at her crew, she noted that they too were catching on, if their angry red faces were anything to go by.
“Let me narrow it down then.” Richard said, shifting his attention to everybody. They looked on at him with bated breaths. “How would you lot like to sack Angor Fortress?”
The roar that followed was loud and heady, drowning out the crackle of flame, near covering the scent of burnt flesh.
Emilia could not help but join in.
Kowler looked on at the fortress keep with a ready sort of wariness, oxymoronical though such a thing sounded.
Two days had passed since his return to the Uldaman camp. The League crew were more eager than anything, and coupled the explanation of Anathemus, they were ready to spill blood. Anything to get some proper medical aid and supplies. From there, they created a warband of sorts. Comprised of seventeen peoples: thirteen dwarves, including the triplets; two humans, Amara and that paladin; Emilia, the only mixed race there was; and Kowler himself. They set their positions and verified their roles, and then set off for loot and plunder and revenge.
A day and a half did it take to make the trek. The warband had not stopped for rest, relying on Amara’s potions and Kowler’s waters for recuperation instead. Through the night they traveled, and it was now the dusk before the dawn, and they were ready to fight. The fortress was in range.
Angor Fortress was less a fort and more a castle. Half-wrought into a mountain cliff, a gate of black iron topped over with sand-stone watch-tower pillars made up its entrance, spanning at least thirty yards from the rocky floor to the open sky. Lit by howling flames in all its thick glass windows, it was a stark sight in the night. By way of his stronger vision, Kowler was able to also make out Dark Iron guards fanning a perimeter, walking with axes and swords and pikes, the occasional gunner visible as well through those watch tower posts.
Kowler counted them. There were thirty-two outer guards in total. They were tired, monotonous, bored; easily vanquishable. It wouldn’t even be hard. But should he?
He’d not ever had the chance to do what he was about to do. His morals, shaped from his previous life, were loosened and cleared of much of their difficulties. To survive his childhood, that was a must need. No longer did he balk at the sight of carnage; no longer did he care about theft; no longer did he offer much thought on the occasional murder on his part.
But to massacre an entire base? Possibly a genocide on a clan offshoot?
Was he ready for this?
Emilia saddled up to his side, her movements quiet yet purposeful. “We’re in position. On your mark.” The men behind her nodded their agreement.
It wouldn’t matter if he was ready. It was do or do not.
And Kowler would do what he promised.
Astreamor’s waters slowly swirled their way out of his canteen, as if a tube pulled it out, and then it split into two pair, sliding through Kowler’s fingers. His hands were not idle either, coated in what frost magic he could summon, turning the water into spikes that then hovered all around. One, two, ten, twenty… An even fifty spikes of ice hovered in the wind.
Ice Spike was a spell that Kowler could not use. It was an advanced piece of magic that required a mage to simultaneously conjure water, freeze it, levitate it by way of the Arcane, and shoot it with precision accuracy. It was a tricky bit of magic, and due to the separate mindsets required, often could only be performed under strict planning, and rarely could an individual create more than a handful at a time. The mental strain was individual, and thus often difficult to progress.
Kowler, however, had found a loophole, and further found that it was wholly his own; none but he could use it to his understanding. At least, he hoped that was the case. Astreamor’s water was Astreamor’s body, and their contract allowed Kowler full access to Astreamor’s body provided that he refilled it with unclaimed waters and offered more over time. His stint in the Stockades and his travels through the Wetlands near tripled what Astreamor was able to produce all its own, and thus Kowler was given even more water to use with no fuss at all from his elemental companion.
And Astreamor’s water, even when frozen, was still Astreamor’s water. Its body. A living, breathing (technically, at least) thing. Meaning that Kowler was able to ignore the need for conjuration and arcane levitation and focus purely on the spikes. With only one magic to really focus on, for his manipulation of water was instinctual by this point, he could make as many spikes as he wanted.
More than that, he could control those spikes better than a normal mage could hope to do.
Quietly, they trailed away from his body and headed towards the Dark Iron’s patrolling the area and manning the towers. They neared the skulls of those folks, and then with a jerk of his hand, they plunged into the backs of their fleshy necks.
It was a mass occurrence. At once, all of them fell to their knees, clawing at their necks. Some of the patrollers willed yellow-white magic into their hands, making to heal themselves with the Light. Kowler summoned more spikes towards them and drilled into their bodies further, giving them no chance of rejuvination.
Minutes of silence passed, and bit by bit, body by body, the fell over, dead for all to see.
Kowler turned to Emilia, eyeing her openly. Her mouth was open wide, but no words escaped her. She looked as if she could not understand what she just witnessed. The crew were wearing similar looks, though some were grimly smiling at the scene.
That action, the deaths he just caused… He felt nothing. Nothing, save for a want to get on with his task. With will and guile and magic alone he committed a slaughter, and all he felt was impatience?
He did not know what to think about such a thing.
“There’s your signal,” growled the disguised gnoll. The spikes that remained were twisted to mist and then returned to his flask. “We’re off. Pick up the guns and shields, the more firepower and defense we have, the better.”
“Why can’t you just do that to the rest of them?” Emilia asked, her eyes not leaving those fallen forms.
“Anathemus’ ring was stolen by a fire elemental. I want to conserve my water as much as I can for it. Your men will have to take on the rest.”
“Right,” Emilia mumbled. “Right. Boys, grab ’em!”
They approached the fort entrance, bold as brass. The crew looted the bodies for weaponry, some even dug through pockets in order to find coin and valuables. When they were situated properly, Kowler approached the gate. It was closed, and he did not know where the mechanism was to open it, nor did he know how such a thing worked.
So, he called on the earth magic Anathemus had broadly blessed him with and forced it ajar.
This action took nearly the whole of his strength to do. Those doors were thick, heavy things, and they were unwilling to give in to the strength of a mortal. But Kowler’s strength was currently being amplified by a nigh immortal creature of the earth, and thus, budge though they did not want to, budge they did.
The opening of the gate was loud. It creaked a shrill rattle that echoed the valley, groaning with each forced inch. As Kowler opened it, he was hit with a wave of warmth, the interior of the fortress far more hospitable than the cold nights of the Badlands. Dwarves of dark skin and fiery eyes milled about in comfort, wearing small clothes and drinking ale of strong stuff. They, as one, looked towards Kowler.
Kowler picked up a rock and threw it hard enough to cave a skull in.
“CHARGE!” Emilia shouted. Hollering, the crew filed in, and were not shy with their gunfire.
Chaos was all that this could be called. Guns blazed and bodies fell. Just as this branch of dwarves caught the Explorer’s League with their pants down, so too did the Explorer’s League catch them in a similar state. Armor and weaponry lined the walls, and yet the band were quick enough to not allow them to gather such. To the crew, these were not dwarves, these weren’t even living creatures; they were enemies. Plain and simple.
“Fan out!” Kowler thundered when the entryway fell, time likely not on their side. He pointed towards a quintet of dwarven fighters; three gunners along with two shield toting defenders with heavy axes strapped to their sides. “You five, head to the upper levels. Clear it out, root and stem. Watch your backs and don’t leave your group until they’re all dead.”
“Will do!” One of them said, black haired and scraggly braided beard; the speaker of the group. Hefting their weapons and shields, they traversed towards the upper steps, nasty grins hidden behind their beards.
“The rest of you,” Kowler said. “Take what weapons and armor you need and head to the lower levels with me. We don’t know what’ll be down there; better safe than sorry.”
“Aye,” crowed Eric Stoutskin. “Let’s git it boys!”
They grabbed whatever they wanted. Say what one would about the Dark Irons, but their metal was of fantastic make. Better than common steel, certainly. The crew trudged around the armors and weapons and guns lining the walls, plodding through the puddles of blood with an air of satisfaction, and suited up as needed. Most grabbed a firearm, for there were not many available on the outside, and the rest went for shields and spears.
Surprisingly, and certainly useful, there were more weapons to be found. A box of supplies sat in a corner, seemingly ordinary, and yet its interior was filled with heavy bombs.
Grinning, Kowler grabbed the box with a careful sort of poise and made for the back of the vanguard.
Kitted out and geared, the group of twelve perilously delved the lower levels, Emilia at the lead. Stone alcoves of natural make lined the levels, studded by metal sheets and sentried pillars of hardened slag. They passed bedding areas and recreational commons, all conspicuously quiet, and trekked a steady beat further down. No dwarf was in sight, but it made little sense to assume that there were no more to be found. Certainly a base of this size wouldn’t house so few numbers.
Emilia was not playing games. Every step the band took, she was three ahead, sneaking her head low and keeping her breathing quiet. She was both leader and lookout, and it was her duty to prepare the crew for whatever may come. Hells, she’d gone so far as to command Amara to mask their sounds and scents with the Arcane, a piece of spellwork that drained the enchantress something fierce.
It was when they passed a third level that Emilia held up her hand, making to the halt the group. They did as motioned, still and quiet.
“They’re down there.” She whispered. “Didn’t want to risk anything, but there looked to be fifty down there. That fire elemental too.”
“Have we a plan?” Amara quietly asked.
Emilia nodded shortly. “Richard’ll toss the bombs down the stairs on my mark. Amara, you’ll light them up the moment it touches ground. By that point, they’ll probably start running for us. We’ll take the second floor and hold it.”
Nodding, the trio waited for the rest of the group to back as far away as they could, leaving only Kowler and Emilia and Amara at the ready. With a jerk of her head, Emilia nodded to the pair and too followed up with the rest.
Kowler lifted the box and heaved it down. Spherical bombs of black material rolled out from the confines as if great and deadly marbles in play, and as the sounds of muddled confusion jumbled about from the lower level, Amara whipped out her wand and shot a solitary bolt of flame at a bomb.
It was instantaneous. The explosion that boomed through the fortress, smoke and an acridic sour smell musking from the lower level. Shouts and squeals of dismay reverberated all around, and Kowler and Amara were not content to stay for their revenge. The pair ran towards the rest of the warband, and fell behind their field of spears and shields that surrounded the stairwell.
From there, Dark Irons emerged. Some were horribly hurt, burns and bits all around. Some were blackened with soot, their very beings blotted in an inky darkness. And some were just fine and dandy, with little to nothing hampering their further survival; likely having been able to use some of those more damage bodies as shields. But their states of interest mattered not. The smoke had dampened their senses, the explosion had damaged their ears and blinded their eyes, and they were not prepared for the death that was set upon them from above.
One by one, as they ran and crawled and hobbled their way up those stairs, they were set upon by spears and shields and revenge-addled wrath.
One by one, they fell and died like pigs to the slaughter.
Kowler did not participate in their demise; all too willing to allow the warband further revenge. He had counted them though, tallied their foes. Thirty-six bodies there were, stacked atop one another towards a corner. Emilia was off with her estimate of fifty. Or perhaps the rest had been felled from down below?
Minutes passed, silence now overtaking the room, save for the sounds of heaving chests and nerve-wrought laughter. When it became apparent that no more dwarves continued onward, the crew released an exhale they’d not known they were holding in.
One dwarf, Fjorgud was his name, was the first to speak. And do more. “That’s that!” He crowed. “Now let’s get the rest!” With that simple statement, he rushed down the stairs.
“No-!” Kowler started, only to falter as two more dwarves he did not know the name of continued after him. They were quick and the stairs were near. Nobody’s voices reached them.
The crew shuffled. “Should we go after them?” Amara asked.
A harsh ozone smell was her answer, as were blotted screams curdled with pain. Heat swelled from below, and grew stronger and stronger with every moment.
“Back away!” Emilia called out, vaulting in the opposite direction of the sweltering growth. The crew followed her lead, whether due to her command or due to their own variants of common sense, it could not be said. Regardless, they were now huddled along the back of the space.
It was lucky that they had done so.
A golem of stone, techno-magical sentries of ancient make, commonly repurposed by the Dark Iron clan from titan facilities to act as guardians of their wicked creations, was thrown as if a ragdoll from inside. Its heavy body, charred and blackened and burnt all over, veritably sank into a walled alcove, arcs of mana and electricity sputtering from its form, before a heave of sound ruptured from its body and it capsized onto itself.
The heat grew even more oppressive as a claw of molten flame emerged from the stairwell. A body was pulled out from the inside, great and large and without continual form. Flame was its skin, magma its bones. A mane of flickering yellow sparks imitating fur overtook much of its body, and though it made to imitate a humanoid form there was no true distinguishable trait to this elemental save for the great band of green stone wrapped over its body like a sash and the trail of still-lit ash sourced from the lower third floor reminiscent of a gunpower trail meant to light a line of C4.
Coals for eyes narrowed, and it looked over the warband restlessly. “I wondered… Who would be so foolish as to challenge me? In mine own home, claimed of conquest and spite?”
It snuffed the air. “But now… Now I know. I know that stench. Water and Earth. Housed in Flesh and Fur and Bone. A beast? No… Slivers of power, remains of my kin and enemies alike… A shaman, are you? Come to negotiate with my benevolent self? Then let it be. Come forth, little medium. Make barter with Lord Infernus.”
Kowler did not dare speak, and he did not have the intention of moving. Infernus was far larger than he’d anticipated, and it held a deadly sort of intellect. He was, much as he did not want to admit it, scared.
Sadly, he did not have the choice. Olaf Stoutskin boldly shoved him forward, and stumbling, Kowler approached the creature of flame, shooting a glare towards the dwarf all the same.
Infernus mimed the raising of a brow, the smile of a sadist; only the brow was made of cinders and the teeth of charcoal pellets. “And so he approaches. The shaman. Why do you come before me?”
“I was beseeched by Anathemus to the north, Lord Infernus.” Kowler said, his voice low. “To retrieve his ring and slay the dwarves you serviced to steal from him.”
“And you have succeeded in one of your goals.” The fire elemental praised. It circled Kowler, leaving trails of soot and ash in its wake. “My servants, those dwarves. They are dead. The sparks I fed them had been snuffed; their lives forfeit. A worthy sacrifice to gain an audience with mine austere self.”
“There need be no battle, great spirit.” Kowler proclaimed. Infernus was far larger than Kowler had expected and he was unsure of whether or not he’d be able to best it. “All of this can be behind us. Allow me the ring, and let us leave in peace. Return to the Firelands with song and story of your conquest, as so shall we of your venerable form.”
Infernus’ form trembled, orange fires turning yellow then white. “Do you know what the ring is? Do you know what it does, little shaman?”
“It was borne of the body of the Stonemother. It allowed Anathemus to travel as he pleased.”
“It does more than that. It gives its wielder power, protection; potency. With it, I can not only travel Azeroth as I please, but also make way to Deepholme. Tell me, little fool, what do you think my lord would give for such a gift? What manner of benevolence would he bestow upon me for such a present?”
Kowler made to speak, but Infernus interrupted him with a cackle. Or was it a crackle? “Titles! Glory! The world as my kindling! A Baron in mine own right, just as my master Garr and his partner Gedon were elevated with the fall of the Wind Prince. I might even be raised to Majordomo! To make war with the Earth once more, to turn it into living flame… Ragnaros would reward me well.”
Its eyes narrowed, its hand snaked out and caressed Kowler’s chest, lovingly, almost as if it were from a lover or a parent, and its voice was but a whisper. “You think I would trade such a thing for a paltry song?”
Then, with a jerking motion, the hand left Kowlers body, wielding the oblong remains of the fire elemental from the Mosshide pack.
Kowler panicked for a moment and dug his hand into his satchel, only to realize that it was burned through. His moneys had fallen onto a mound of cloth leavings, his hand of jerky had been lost into the material, and the bag was ruined throughout.
Infernus physically ate the shard. Though it came from the body of a weaker fire elemental, it still offered nutrition of a sort to the higher being, and its body bulked with the consumption.
Then a click sounded from behind Kowler, and the blast of gunfire rang through the room. Infernus’ face imploded with the attack, only to reform quickly, coaled eyes now red with rage.
With a roar of “BASK IN LIVING FLAME!” the fire elemental’s body encompassed the room, a ring of its essence surrounding the warband, and there was nowhere to run.
Without need of direction, they began their assault. Amara whipped trails of conjured water borne of her mana at all sides, the paladin that Emilia claimed as a lover, nameless to Kowler though he was, summoned hammers of light and domes of healing onto the group, and the rest shot and shielded as best they could. Fire held no true form, and yet they were able to keep the flames back.
But it was a temporary measure. Infernus was playing at them, and as was expected, fire played unfairly. Its body was malleably like that of clay before a child, and though it held a humanoid form for the purpose of speaking, the whole of its body was the equivalent to a hand. It would snake tendrils of its bones, of thin magma, against those shields of dark iron, and such an action caused their wielders to heave, for though the material was mined and purified inside the sill of an active volcano, it was not mean to hold against that primal flame for long.
Kowler knew that soon enough, Infernus would overtake them. Strategies were hard held against a foe such as this one, but elementals were bound by their weaknesses: their source. Infernus was no exception.
He summoned forth as much of Astreamor’s water as he could, and with a heave of his body he fought his way towards Infernus.
“The fuck are you doin?!” Emilia cried out.
“Keep it busy!” Kowler rebutted, forcing his way through. Though his polymorph was flesh and blood, he could still feel the fur of his natural form burn away. “I know what I’m doing!”
Astreamor and Infernus fought. Infernus was stronger, able to turn the weaker water elemental to steam for the air to claim should it so choose, but Infernus was also spread thinly in its circling of the warband, and could not focus its attentions well onto the water elemental’s presence. Ardently, Kowler and Astreamor, coupled with Anathemus’ boon of strength, clawed their way through this circle, falling a heap down the stairs of the third level as they broke through the barrier. Much as Kowler wanted to soothe his bruises from the fall with his water, he knew it smarter to save it for further confrontations, and so he righted himself, wincing at the sharp feeling his left leg gave, and made for the room.
The third level basement space was as big a mess as he’d expected it to be. Bodies and mangled body parts lined the floors, a half-destroyed golem twitched and spasmed the most basic of movements, and stone had given way to pressure, boulders and slabs of all sorts haphazardly fallen onto the seems of the room. And there, sat along its center, was one last stairwell, half leading into the ground where a great brazier of thick fire stood a stark vigil. It was massive, some twenty feet deep, and deep in its interior lay a sphere of red-hot power.
No elemental could escape this. Even with Therazane’s ring, they were bound by their laws; the ring only offered the chance to leave their natural bodies. It did not say anything about losing its core.
The elementals that shamans contracted with were often-times weak things; thus willing to share their cores with the shamans in question. Anything for the chance to grow more powerful. It was a risk; for if the shaman fell, so too would the elemental.
That Ring of Therazane held a similar property of risk was a risk its own to believe. And yet, that was Kowlers deduction. For what else could allow something not born of the earth to travel as if it were a child of the earth?
He ran towards a ruined wall and used his strength empowered Anathemus to heave a pair of boulders over his shoulders. His leg flared with pain, amplified by the heavy weights he held, and yet he continued. Kowler threw them, tossing them into the brazier, and continued to do so with each second he had available. The brazier, large though it was, was snuffing itself with each stone thrown into its confines.
When it was filled near to the brim, Kowler summoned as much water as he could and thickened it as broadly as was possible. Then, he twisted the liquid over the brazier, and dropped it onto the flames.
Overhead, Infernus screamed. It was an unpleasant, hateful sound, and yet it also told Kowler that he was doing the correct thing. Steam rose from where water once was, and Kowler once more twisted it until it was water again, thinner and lessened in quantity though it may be.
The process repeated, over and over, until finally Infernus returned to the room with wroth making up its being. It was smaller now, smaller and more manageable, its flaming skin darker and its magmatic bones hardened and less malleable. The color made the ring of emerald wrapped over its torso all the more entrancing.
“You dare.” It said. This was no question, only a statement filled with hate.
“I do.” Kowler retorted, willing another layer of water onto the brazier. Infernus hissed. “I gave you a choice. You rejected it.”
“I will enjoy ending you.”
“No.” Kowler smiled, his hands coated in frost. The brazier was still warm, still burning with flame. But Kowler could reach inside now without risk of losing flesh, and he lifted the core out from its home. “You won’t.”
Crazed with worry, Infernus rushed Kowler. In return, Kowler pushed as much mana as he could into the core. Infernus screamed, physically growing smaller before the gnoll, and as it made to desist Kowler’s ministrations of its origin, Astreamor slapped those flaming tendrils away.
They fought hard and harsh, those elementals. Each blow was heavy, the will or magic and might beating atop one another like a drum cadence. Water and fire turned steam and ash. However, steam gave way to more water, as did the remains of Kowler’s usage of frost magic, leaving Astreamor in a far better position than Infernus was. Each second changed the battle; Infernus was at first stronger, then they were on even ground, and then, beyond all manner of reasonability, Infernus was smaller and weaker and falling.
With one last push, his mana straining, stamina waning, Kowler forced as much of his magic into the core as he could. Wisps of ice coated the sphere, melting and melting, only they melted slower and slower, until finally the core lost its coloration and the ice remained hard.
Kowler looked up and delighted in the scene. Astreamor was small. Infernus was gone. All that remained of the fire elemental was a skeleton of hardened magma, in the faux shape of a humanoid of some sort.’
That, and the ring.
Kowler placed his trophy, the remains of Infernus, onto the hard ground, and approached the emerald inlay. Or at least, he made to approach it. Adrenaline still coursed through his body, but that did not do anything to halt the pain in his leg. Hobbling, Kowler asked Astreamor over and soothed the torn and damaged muscles and bones in his body.
When he felt it enough, he once more approached the ring. It was a hard piece, bearing an ancient sort of energy. Heavy inlets of amethyst veins ran rivers through the work, and with a heave, Kowler lifted it. He could feel the magic in the item sing with the empowerment Anathemus had gifted him, and all felt right.
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