Only the Strong is a sequel to For Those Who Remain, which was an alternate timeline project. It will resolve the status of Stormwind and resolve plot that was introduced in chapter 3 of FTWR.
The main premise of this story is that the Scourge succeed in their pre-LK assaults on Stormwind and Orgrimmar. In this situation, displaced fighters from different factions and races band together in Stranglethorn to survive the scourge onslaught. For the purposes of this story it's assumed that the horde and alliance characters have no problem conversing between each other as they all speak common. The horde and alliance not being able to converse is for solely gameplay reasons anyway.
Only the Strong
Sprizz Nobbet clamored on top of the box pyramid next to the sign-up desk he had had his bruisers build for him. He surveyed Booty Bay from his high vantage point and entertained his dreams of one day managing everything that went on here and all the income he would derive from being the master of the lucrative port. There was no such thing as a free lunch though. He would have to put a good amount of work if his dreams were to come true. It didn't help that the scourge were now descending from Duskwood into northern Stranglethorn Vale. The trolls would keep them occupied in for a while, but then again trolls made good zombies too.
Sprizz Nobbet smiled to himself though, as he had all the resources he needed to accomplish his goals milling about in the port below him. In recent months survivors from the lands around Stormwind, and also refugees from the abandoned horde base camp nearby, had gathered in Booty Bay because of the food and protection it alone now provided. They had always been enemies of the Scourge and now they had more of a bone to pick with the Lich King then ever. All they needed was a little push and some leadership. And Sprizz Nobbet was just the goblin for the job.
Sprizz lifted a conical tube to his mouth to project his voice across the port. "The Lich King has taken your homes and your loved-ones, but in every situation there is always a profit to be had! My friends, all of us here together are very suited to come to an agreement of mutual benefit. If we all band together we can fight back the scourge that is invading Stranglethorn this very minute. We can reclaim our lands and tell that tyrant in the North that he can't mess with us any longer! Step right up! Step right up my friends! Just sign your name and together we'll fight those undead back! Free food! Free beer! Free Honor! Free Glory! Just step right up and sign on the dotted line!" He continued to shout words of encouragement out over the bay as former members of both the horde and the alliance stepped up to the desk next to Sprizz Nobbet to sign their membership into the new army.
Railen Kindheart hated and loathed who he was. He was the worst kind of person. A coward. When the undead had attacked all the other watchers of Darkshire had stood their ground. They were strong and valiant and they had died good deaths with honor. Railen had ran. He remembered it as if he was outside his body, or somehow not in control. Railen and fled and left everyone to die. He had betrayed his oath and everyone he had known.
And he had a problem now; he was still alive. He had tried at times to kill himself, but his courage had failed him. No one else knew, but his shame ate at his soul. It had to stop, and now it all would. It was a strange sort of hope that filled him up as he signed himself into the army. People always died in battle. He knew it would all be over before long.
Railen made his way from the sign-up table to the inn and the solace of a bottle. It numbed him and made his nightmares go away. Every chance he got he threw away his money on booze. It was another measure of hope. If the next day was his last then he wouldn't need any more money.
"Woh there laddie!" A dwarf approached the Railen at the bar. "Ya sure know how ta down 'em!"
The dwarf waved to the barkeeper, "I'll take what he's 'aven!" The barkeeper placed a stein of grog in front of the dwarf. He took a gulp. "Oh aye, they sure do put anything in tha drinks 'ere!" The dwarf worked his mouth trying to get the taste out, then took another gulp anyway. "My name's Graffen Ironheart! 'ow 'bout yurself?"
"Railen...Kindheart." Railen managed to murmur half drunkenly, and half not caring.
"Nice ta meet cha!" The dwarf took another gulp. "I'm an adventurer myself. Going wherever tha sights are ta be had! First time in an army though...." Graffen looked over towards Railen. "Don't say much do ya?"
Railen sighed and started to respond, but Graffen cut him off. "Would ya look at that. She might not be a dwarven lass, but I'll be a gnome's cousin! That's the most beautiful woman I ever seen in armor."
Railen looked over towards the woman in plate that Graffen had indicated. She was dressed in the finest plate armor and radiated an air of prestige. She finished her drink and yelled at Railen, "Hey! Who's calling me a gnome's cousin!"
Railen ignored her and took another gulp of his grog. He just wanted go away. Why wouldn't people just leave him alone. Railen closed his eyes and grimaced.
The woman came over and shoved Railen, spilling his drink across the bar. "Hey you got something to say to me, you say it to my face. Got it!"
Railen didn't turn around. He just grimaced and wished the woman would go away.
"Hey I'm talking to you! You want to take this outside Mr. I'm-too-important-to-INSULT-PEOPLE-TO-THEIR-FACE!"
"Would you just leave me alone." Railen murmured pitifully.
"Uh, lass, we don't mean to offend here. Think the drink be doing some of the hearing for ya." Graffen said.
"The beer is talking to me?" The female paladin said in contempt to Graffen.
"Oh Aye! Aftah drinkin for a couple uh days I start hearing all sorts uh things! One time I coulda sworn ma long dead mum was talken ta me. I was walken around tha bar with two steins on ma ears!" Graffen chuckled. "Oh that was a fun 'un. Aye." Graffen took a long gulp to emphasize his point.
The paladin's face contorted with anger and it looked as if she would take out both Graffen and Railen in one swift blow. Then suddenly she laughed so loud the rest of the patrons started to take notice as she held her sides together with her arms. "Dead mom... ear steins! Oh by the light, that's too funny! I've got to hang out with more dwarves."
"Ey! 'ave a seat!" Graffen offered. "I'm Graffen, an' this 'ere's Railen." Graffen pointed to Railen. "'e don't say much, but 'e sure knows 'ow ta drink!" Graffen patted Railen on the back.
Sandris sat down at the bar and ordered another drink. "Well hi to the both of you! My name's Sandris Kindheart. Uh, sorry about the thing before... Maybe I have had a couple to drink, heh." Sandris sat down next to Railen. "So the strong silent type huh?" Sandris poked Railen. "Where are you from?"
"Duskwood." Railen replied gloomily.
"Yeah I was there too." A cold sweat over took Railen and he dared not move. Had she been their for his failure? Did she know? "Got in and got out as quick as I could. The whole place was infested with undead long before the scourge arrived. You did good to get out of that death trap too." Railen mentally heaved a sigh of relief.
"Yeah." Railen replied meekly.
Sandris patted Railen on the shoulder. "I know you're not in good spirits. Who is these days really? But we'll get them. Those heartless things will get back everything they gave us and then some. We'll wipe them clean off the face of the world. You can take solace in that." Sandris said thick with hatred for the scourge.
"I'll drink ta that." Graffen agreed.
Sandris finished her drink. "Well I've got to be off boys. You two are in the army right?"
"Good. Stick close by the other alliance races. We all know who our friends are." Sandris left the inn.
Staerg had been in many battles, but had never fought a death knight before. He studied his opponent carefully. The death knight used one large sword and was equipped with plate armor. That posed no problem to Staerg. He had faced warriors and paladins before and obtained victory. This one would be similar to those others.
Staerg needed to move in quick and stay mobile. He imbued his offhand weapon with frost and selected the totems he would be deploying. The death knight would be slowed and ultimately that would be his undoing. If anything got bad, Staerg could simply move away and attack at range. His opponent would not be able to follow.
Staerg stepped into the ring to signal his readiness. The death knight did the same. They both stared each other down. Neither bowed or nodded, but fought each other with their eyes. As if fate had chosen the moment, Staerg suddenly rushed forward, his axes at the ready.
The death knight stood his ground. He held his sword out in front of him in a balanced stance. He was ready and watching for Staerg's attack. Staerg felt confident that the death knight's defensiveness would be his undoing in this battle. He threw a frostshock that hit the death knight and dropped an earthbind totem.
They met in a clash of blades. The death knight parried Staerg's first blow, but his second got through and slashed at his opponent's side. Staerg pivoted around to strike the death knight from behind and he was rewarded as the power of the wind flew with his blade into the knight's back. Staerg grinned and then quickly stepped back as his opponent spun to face him again. He was out of reach and threw a earth shock to spite his enemy then readied up a lightening bolt. The death knight threw his own spell and Staerg winced as he was was hit with unholy energy. His lightening bolt went wide.
Staerg started to rush in again, but suddenly found himself rooted in ice. The death knight seemed to be working up another spell, so Staerg quickly hit him with a wind shear. Then the death knight summoned up what felt like the pure spirit of death around Staerg. He moved out of it, and suddenly found himself flying through the air to rest directly in front of the death knight. Staerg cursed and found himself rewarded with a hard sword strike.
It was time to turn on the heat. Staerg summoned two feral spirits to distract his enemy and then summoned his ultimate spell. He felt his blood beginning to burn and he went at his opponent with renewed ferocity.
The death knight grunted and then reached out with his hand. Suddenly Staerg found his neck contracting. Breaths came hard, and speaking was impossible. He still had his axes though, and his opponent's armor was starting to wear. Gouges were present in the places where armor did not cover.
Suddenly, as if the death knight had been waiting for the right moment, he struck Staerg and the shaman was knocked off his feet and thrown back. He tried to get up but the hands of the dead reached up from the ground and held him down. The Death Knight walked slowly up towards Staerg. "You are defeated. Yield."
Staerg groaned. He had not come this far only to loose. The winner here would go on to lead the Stranglethorn army and this was his moment to show the world that the proud lineage that flowed in his veins made him the strongest fighter on Azeroth. Staerg scowled and his mind raced to think of any way to defeat his enemy's diabolical spell... But he had none.
"I will not ask a second time." The death knight said as he lowered the tip of his sword to Staerg's throat. Staerg growled and let his axes fall from his hands. It was over.
From a special seat in the arena Sprizz Nobbet boomed, "Very good! Very good! A fine show both of you! Let it be known for everyone that from this moment Dedric Redmain will be the chosen leader of my army." The goblin grinned with glee. "And a place for Staerg as his second in command!"
Dedric simply eyed the goblin, then left once the announcement was done. He left the arena directly and without any showmanship. The spell on Staerg faded as he left.
Staerg dusted himself off and got up. The bitter tasted of defeat hung like a plague in him. All his life he had been told he was too young or too inexperienced to lead. The consolation of second-in-command was of little solace.
As he walked out of the arena wheels spun in his head thinking of how he could maneuver himself into becoming supreme leader. He would not try to assassinate Dedric, nor undermine him by contradicting his orders, for those were dishonorable. There were always mistakes though, and Staerg would be there to take advantage of them. He may have been defeated in the arena today, but there was much more to war than pure dueling Staerg had the superior mind and glory would be his before this was over. He left the arena with a renewed motivation to prove his worth to the world.
Val'tis watched the army forming from her small hut on the hills around Booty Bay. She was very old and had seen a great many things transpire in her time. The petty fights between the alliance and horde races now brothers in arms neither amused nor disheartened her. Certain things were fated to be and that was just the way of the world.
She eyed one of the new soldiers in particular. The blood elf stuck to the shadows, but Val'tis had watched for many eons. He could not evade her sight. His name was Lerus Glave and he was a mercenary rogue. He was angry now for he had been left behind twice. First when the blood elves abandoned Azeroth. And now when the horde forces had abandoned their local base to return to Kalimdor and assist in retaking Orgrimmar. It was a double blow to his self-esteem for he prided himself on being a survivor above all else. Both escapes would have led to much more secure lives, and he felt that he had not been astute enough to use them.
Val'tis knew otherwise. Fate had chosen him to be here. And here he had only one option for survival and that was why he had joined the army. Though as selfish as any true survivor, he understood that if left undealt with the Scourge would take him as well. The army was his path to staying alive. It was the only path to survival for all these people chosen by fate.
And now Val'tis did chuckle, for fate was sometimes not without a sense of humor. All these people had but one chance to save themselves, and it lay along the route of cooperating with their sworn enemies. Val'tis already knew they were destined to win in their battle against the scourge, but she had yet to see what their ultimate fate would be. Would their hatred for each other ultimately devour them, or would they overcome it and become a united people? Or maybe they would simply disband and scatter with their memories of glory locked in a corner of their mind and forever ignored. Val'tis was here to see it through and make sure fate's will was done.
Sandris still felt a profound discomfort with being led by a death knight, but at least he had once been human. Her mind had weaved around trying to figure out why Dedric Redmain, the newly named supreme general of the stranglethorn army, had summoned her to the command tent. Living her whole life as a paladin had taught her that while it was okay to think for yourself, sometimes you simply had to do as you were ordered.
Sandris strode up to the two guards that flanked the command tent's entrance. A tauren and a night elf. Sandris looked at the night elf and her hand stuttered as she suppressed the instinctive urge to salute. She didn't have a rank yet. None of them did, so saluting simply wasn't called for. "Sandris Cherick here to see Supreme General Dedric Redmain as ordered." The night elf guard nodded, "One moment," and ducked inside the tent. She returned quickly, "The supreme general will see you now."
Sandris nodded to the guard and walked into the tent. Inside there were a pastiche of races all working together to see to the business of getting the army running. Sandris grimaced at the sight. Outside in the camp the alliance and horde had kept to their own sections. They all knew that the army had been formed from both sides because the situation demanded it. But they all still understood that the horde and the alliance would always remain enemies. This was only a temporary alliance.
Sandris walked up to the death knight and saluted "Sandris Cherick, reporting as ordered Supreme General." He was one person who did already have a rank.
Dedric's cold eyes gazed at Sandris for a moment with silence. "Good. Sandris, you are here by appointed to the rank of General in my army through my authority as the Supreme General."
Sandris looked confused. "Wait... I thought Staerg, the orc, was your second-in-command?"
Dedric didn't miss a beat and spoke blandly, "I need more than one general to run this army. You've had the most experience in a military setting."
"Well uh, I was trained as a paladin since birth... but I've never held a true command." Sandris admitted hesitantly.
Dedric stared back at her without saying anything.
Sandris knew this act from her upbringing. She straightened her back and said quickly, "I'll do my best though sir!"
Dedric said nothing in return. "Staerg!" He yelled suddenly enough to startle Sandris.
The orcish shaman quickly emerged from the depths of the command tent and pounded his fist upon his chest in salute. "Sir!" Sandris eyed her new peer with mild disdain. He returned it with a short grunt.
Dedric took out a map and unfurled it on a nearby table. On it was a rough outline of Stranglethorn with some points of interest marked. "Our first mission will be to clear Stranglethorn of the trolls."
Sandris and Staerg both looked at Dedric in something akin to shock.
"There is no honor in fighting that rabble!" Staerg exclaimed.
"But they're not the enemy." Sandris said.
Dedric held up his hand and despite themselves both generals found themselves utterly silenced. "This rabble called an army fights themselves more than anything else. They will never be able to defeat the scourge. Fighting the trolls is necessary to train the army. They will also have to get used to fighting with their former enemies. There will be many casualties. Mixed units are inevitable, so we will make mixed units of both horde and alliance races from the start."
"But there's no way..." Sandris said absently.
Dedric ignored her and turned to the map. He marked the map in several locations. "We will move up the main road taking Jubuwal, Ziata'jai, Bal'lal and finally Zul'Kinda."
"What about the other troll encampments?" Staerg asked.
"They're too far out of our way and too well fortified." Dedric replied.
"Forgive me, but if we're fighting the trolls, shouldn't we have Zul'Gurub as our final target? They are the most coordinated and skilled and it would be foolish to just ignore them and leave them in our rear." Sandris said.
"No. There'd be too many casualties taking on Zul'Gurub and we have no way to replace losses. Also, the trolls are not unified. If we wipe out one settlement, the others near by may ignore it or simply take it over themselves." The two generals had reached the end of their concerns and so stood silent.
"Scribe!" A draenei hurried over and gave two scrolls to Dedric, then immediately left again. Dedric handed one scroll each to both generals. "These are my standing orders to the army. You are to read this to them and make sure that everyone understands and remembers these rules. There will be no forgiveness for anyone who does not. You will also cooperate with Val'tis in the organizing of the army into units. Each of you will be commanding one corp, half the army, as my subordinates" Dedric finished.
"Val'tis sir?" Sandris asked.
Dedric looked as if he was about to walk away without answering, then said, "She'll find you if she requires any assistance. And if either ever decide you don't like my orders you are completely free to leave. Just don't waste my time trying to decide where you belong. You are dismissed." Dedric melded into the controlled chaos of the command tent, leaving Sandris and Staerg alone.
Sandris looked at Staerg with a mild sneer. "None of us likes this. Lets just get it over with as quickly as possible."
Staerg grunted, "Just don't get in my way. You'd regret it." He turned and left before Sandris could reply.
Sandris sighed and made her way out of the command tent. She thought to herself, "Holy light, what have I gotten myself into. If the scourge don't stab me in the chest, the horde will stab me in the back."
Railen stumbled along the muddy paths between tents that they called roads. He was drunker than a waterlogged toad and Graffen was competing. "Oy! Firsh one ta...*belch*...fall in tha mud buysh tha next beershh!" Graffen bet. Railen didn't share much more than Graffen's passion for booze, but that was apparently enough for Graffen to hang around him all the time. Strangely, Railen didn't mind the company.
Suddenly a cart came whizzing down a cross road in front of them and Graffen careened around like a metronome, waving his arms to regain balance before falling face first into the mud. He rolled over, completely coating himself and gave a hearty belly laugh before slowly getting to his shaky feet. "Hah! Looksh like it be me!" Graffen bobbed and swiveled around confused, "Now where ish tha beer store..."
Railen waved Graffen in the direction of the bar and nearly lost his balance as his arm went a little farther than he intended. "Ish that way I thinshk." The two stumbled towards a large tent with festive decorations. Several bars had been setup in the army's tent camp outside town. Booty Bay was a goblin city after all. Where there was money to be made, there were always goblins. Graffen giggled, "'ey! I mush look jush like a trogg!" as the two swam over to the bar. Railen walked up and leaned heavily towards the bartender. Graffen, not satisfied with the high bar impeding his view endeavored to climb one of the bar stools, which was quite a challenge in his state. Finally at the top he too leaned over onto the bar for support and to catch his breath. He raised one hand to call the bar keep over and in doing so removed one of the supports that was keeping him from falling over. He careened away from Railen onto the blood elf that had been sitting at the bar, knocking him from his stool and drenching him in mud.
The blood elf reacted swiftly and with grace, recovering and swiftly kicking Graffen away in one move. "Do you have a death wish dwarf." He said softly, but with venom.
"Oy, sorry thar. I, uh, losh my balansh I tink." Graffen hiccuped.
The blood elf walked over menacingly to where Graffen sat on the ground. "You're about to loose a lot more than your balance."
Railen got off his stool and naively approached the blood elf. "Hey... hey. It was an accident ish all." The blood elf whirled around and backhanded Railen in the face, throwing him back to the ground.
At this point the goblin bruisers that were absolutely necessary in the bar to keep the peace, and more importantly, protect the goods, started to rouse themselves and take notice. The blood elf growled lowly and then twirled towards the exit, but stopped before he left. He looked over his shoulder at Railen, "You would do well to remember the name Lerus Glave... if you value your life." Then he left swiftly with a flutter of the tent flaps.
"Wha a pussin-pot. Mutter prob'ly... prob'ly. Oy that stuckup elf kicked me! Ugh, I aint feeling so good..." Graffen swaggered over towards the exit, but didn't make it before all the beer he had was puked all over the floor.
Railen grimaced at the dwarf. They needed a dunk in the bay. Railen carefully planned his steps before collecting Graffen and leaving the bar.
Staerg surveyed the assembled troops. Dedric was undoubtedly right; they were a rabble. Still Staerg took a portion of pride in the fact that they had come as far as they had. Just getting them to stand in formation had been a chore. More than one fight had broken out amongst the the ranks as former enemies clung tightly to their prejudices.
The offending troops had been immediately hung and killed for stepping out of line. Dedric had seen to that. Staerg knew what needed to be done, but somethings went too far. He wonder how he would look back on this stage in his life, but there was too much at stake for him to leave. This was his chance for glory and honor, and he would not see it pass him by despite whatever distasteful things might pass by.
The troops weren't quite in straight lines but at least they were in blocks and had some semblance of spacing between them. They were learning to understand that only absolute discipline would be understood. Staerg had to admit in that, though cruel, killing those who stepped out of line created discipline quickly.
Staerg was starting to come to terms with why he had lost his fight in the arena, and why Dedric was the better leader of the army than him. But he had come to realize that Death Knights had no place in society, and so when the campaign was over and he went back to Ogrimar and told them great stories of the fight against the scourge in the eastern lands, it would be his story that was remembered.
Staerg walked up to one platoon leader at random. The platoon leader came to attention and saluted just a bit too slow. "Name. Rank." Staerg barked.
"Railen Kindheart. Lieutenant." The platoon leader barked back. Staerg meandered near Railen, inspecting the troops, who glanced away nervously.
"Have you seen combat Lieutenant Kindheart?" Staerg asked.
There was a pregnant pause before Railen replied, "Yes, sir."
"And this is your first command?" Staerg asked.
"Yes, sir." Railen replied.
"Your unit seems to be in good order Lieutenant, but they need more training... as does the rest of the army." Staerg walked over and stood uncomfortably close to Railen. "What do you think of killing trolls, Lieutenant."
"Sir..." Many things flashed through Railen's mind but he knew the correct answer. He had been a guard and he knew how the chain of command worked. "I don't think about it sir. I follow orders and my orders are to kill trolls."
"Good." Staerg replied, signifying that Railen had passed the test. Staerg mounted up on his worg and glanced back at Railen, "You'll do fine. Don't be a hero." Staerg moved on down the line.
Railen relaxed into parade rest, but stayed facing forward. Thoughts raced through his head about his abilities to command a unit in combat. He had never done this before. He hardly knew if his men would follow his orders. He knew absolutely that it would all be chaos once the fighting started. And deep down in his gut where the dregs of the previous night's booze were still working themselves away the quite fear of his cowardice ate at his soul little by little.
Would he run again? There was no telling what would happen. When it happened before... He had no control. It was all instincts. He had all just wanted it to be over, but now he was in charge. Dieing on the field of battle as one of many dead soldiers was one thing, but getting himself killed and leaving his platoon leaderless was another. He desperately wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else. He desperately wanted the end in that moment, but knew that he couldn't leave his unit to die.
He turned around to face his platoon. Graffen stood a couple rows back at more-or-less attention, which was the best Railen could expect from the boozer. Lerus Glave, the blood elf that he and Graffen had encountered in the bar, was also in the platoon. The elf darted a glare directly at him, as if a mere look could make him crumple. And it almost did. Railen knew with every fiber of himself that Lerus was a killer. That could be a good thing in an army, but Railen wondered if the other day in the bar was just warning shots, or if he was marked for death.
With an odd sense of irony Railen realized that such a death would be an acceptable way to go, but upon further thought realized that he'd already be dead if Lerus had planned on it. Drunks were easy targets.
A bit off in the distance a horn sounded and drums began to beat rhythmically signaling the army to move. Railen face forward again and shouted loudly, "Platoon! Forward march!" He couldn't tell if the platoon was moving behind him. He could only hope that the sergeant was keeping things in line. It felt very odd to try to have faith in his mixed unit. Turning his back to a member of the horde just felt wrong. He felt... vulnerable.
The assaults on the trolls had gone well enough, Sandris thought. Some had died, others had been demoted, but that was to be expected. Things were getting sorted out and nothing sorted out the weak from the strong like battle. In other situations Sandris might have lamented the loss of life, but she understood the stakes and why Dedric's plan was the only one that would work. Occasionally her worries would fix on what might happen afterwards, but she realized that there was no way to predict the future at this point. That would have to be dealt with as it came.
For now she was reviewing the units in her Corp and reorganizing as needed. It kept her mind occupied, and let her troops see her face to face. Sandris had never wanted to be a commander, but she had seen the example of others often enough. You lead by inspiring your troops and if you did it right they would follow you into the jaws of death.
Suddenly as Sandris turned to progress on, a female troll was standing near her. "Val'tis." She nodded at the mysterious figure. Sandris had assumed that there was some sort of relationship between the troll and Dedric, but it irked her that she didn't understand that sort of relationship it was.
"Come. We talk." Val'tis said to Sandris.
"But I haven't yet finished my inspection of the troops." Sandris explained.
Val'tis shook her head, "Nah, dis more important Come." Val'tis motioned for Sandris to follow. Sandris was wary, but she knew that Val'tis could be summoning her to visit Dedric, and she would refuse that at her own peril.
Val'tis lead Sandris through the camp to a small tent on it's very edge. The tent looked old and was painted with markings like Sandris had never seen before. Sandris sat down in the entrance to the tent, facing a fire pit that still clung to it's last smoldering embers. "Sit, sit." Val'tis motioned Sandris to take a seat around the fireplace as well.
"What's this all about?" Sandris said curiously as she took her seat.
"Great tings, great tings. I seen many in my time. Yes, yes. Yo, "Val'tis pointed at Sandris. "Ya have a role ta play in all dis."
Sandris looked confused back at Val'tis, "Well yes, I am in command of one of the corps."
"No, no. Ya have a choice dat is ta be made. It important yo recognize dis. Fate be a weav'n it's web for us all. It tell us where ta go and what ta choose. But yo getta choice. Fate be lettin ya decide what be happenen."
Sandris now looked more confused then ever. She had never considered if she believed in fate or not because such things simply didn't matter on a battlefield. On a battlefield there were winners and losers and no one knew who those were until the smoke had cleared. "You mean all the choices I'm making will affect that happens to the army?" She tried to rationalize.
"No! No, no! Ya getta one choice!" Val'tis held up one finger, "One choice!"
"Will I know this one choice when it comes?" Sandris ventured.
Val'tis pursed her lips and shrugged, "Up to you. I cannot be tellin ya when it com'n or it can't come."
Sandris nodded, "Right..." She stood up and said, "Thank you." to Val'tis, and then left wondering what had just happened.
"The trolls? But I don't fund this army to kill trolls!" Sprizz Nobbet yelled at Dedric Redmain.
"Killing the trolls still profits you." Dedric countered. "With the trolls gone you can exploit more of Stranglethorn."
"But what about the Scourge? They'll be here any day!" Sprizz said with a hint of panic.
"And as I said before we cannot fight the scourge effectively until we have battle hardened troops, which is why we are fighting the trolls." Dedric reaffirmed.
Sprizz seemed defeated for a moment, but came back, "Well goblins have always been saying time is money, and if you're spending my money then I need to know how much time it's going to take."
"Fine, I'll have my aids compile the timeline for you." Dedric said to get the annoyance away.
'Well... Good! I'll be waiting for it!" Sprizz exited the command tent with a wary look at the guards
Dedric moved to another part of the room and sat down in his chair. It was unlike all the other ones in the command tent because everyone needed to know it was the chair of the man in charge. It was nearly a throne and Dedric had made it that way on purpose. The more respect the army had for it's commander, the better the army would run.
But it also served a practical purpose and as Dedric sat there he used it to ponder about all things. His mind went to the idiotic goblin, the war plans, his lieutenants, and his former life in the Scourge. Finally it came upon a new topic that he had not considered before. Why he was doing what he was.
He had never really deeply thought about why he entered the tournament for command of the army, or why he had decided he really did want to lead it to victory. More than a bit of it was vengeance against the Scourge and his former master, but that definitely was not all of it. To run an army you had to be personally invested in your troops, and Dedric could come up with little reason for him to care about the squabbling rabble of an army he was trying to mold into a decent fighting force.
He initially had thought that he might let the horde and alliance forces duke it out between themselves and that would serve as their training, but there were too many problems with it. First among them that they would naturally create leaders that would inevitably supplant him as supreme leader. That thought again brought him back to why he cared about being the supreme leader of the army.
He pondered, which was the only luxury afforded him as a Death Knight and the leader of a army and he gazed at the command tent buzzing about him. He had few things now as a Death Knight. Only one real reason for being, which was the death of Arthas, who had betrayed him and all Death Knights. But that answer was unsatisfying and as Dedric thought about it more an idea slowly emerged. Just the pure act of surviving was enough purpose in itself.
That was the only reason all the forces under him had decided to join together. And Dedric knew that despite the sheer idiocy of some of them, that they would still procreate amongst themselves. Creating further generations of their spawn. Procreation was a moot point for Dedric, but survival was not. The more and more he considered it, the more his very place in the world confirmed that survival was as good a reason as any that had been uttered before it. Glory, pride, honor, in a way these were even worse as they could appeal to vanity.
For Dedric survival would be his value. It was only fitting for the commander of an army brought together only for survival. He would play the great game that had been rotating the world since it's creation, and he would prove himself still a part of it, instead of a aberration of fate.
For the first time in a long time Railen smiled. He took a drink and laughed at Graffen's stupid jokes. He noticed all the people around him, mourning lost friends, and making the most of the time they had left. All the things he had tuned out before came alive in vibrant color before him. Most of all Railen gently held a an orb of hope inside him where it would be protected and nurtured. He felt like he had been dead and was now alive again.
The attack hadn't gone as planned. Most of the squads broke and in the end it was just a melee of carnage. Graffen and a few others from Railen's squad, Lerus among them had stayed together though. Cutoff from the rest of the troops, and with no orders to work with anymore Railen had had to think on his feet. Or more accurately think on instinct.
Railen had lead them through the knots of unorganized trolls, leaving a bloody wake. He had simply kept going until they were at the tribal leader, and then he was dead. Part of it was Railen's true wish to die on the battlefield, but perhaps more of it was a release of all the rage and wrath he had felt towards himself for his cowardice. Whatever the case he had not run. He had stood his ground and plowed through the enemy. He felt more alive now than ever before and he felt like maybe things would work out for him now.
Railen patted Graffen on the back. "I've got to get going. Officer meeting."
"Ah! So that's why ya aint been drinken! See ya around." Graffen said as Railen stood away from the bar and left.
Outside it was a night of the new moon. Lots of fires cast shapes that danced on off the tents and sounds of merry-making suffused the camp. Railen walked down the muddy road passing between dark shadows and dancing light as he went and then suddenly the world went black.
Railen's senses started to come back to him slowly. First he noticed the salty smell of the sea and the hard, smooth feeling of stone against his face. Then more alarmingly, he felt a throbbing pain on his head and bindings digging into the skin of his wrists and ankles, and the taste of a gag in his mouth. He opened his eyes and in blurry vision he could see the high drop off in front of him.
He wriggled against his restrains and rolled over as he did to see his captor. The blood elf Lerus Glave stood over him in a casual manner.
"I usually don't take time to gloat you know." Lerus spoke to Railen. "It's quite unprofessional and more than often gets you into trouble. But with all the undead around these days I thought it might make sense this time to do a little talking before you die.
"This isn't anything personal. That thing in the bar the other day... Well you deserved to be pummeled you for it, but then you had to go and become platoon leader and it just wouldn't do to have that kind of trouble following me around. This is different. This is just business.
"You're platoon leader, for whatever crazy reason they picked you, and that means you're standing in the way of me becoming platoon leader. And despite throwing yourself against every troll like you had a death wish, you came out on top, so I can't count on you to get yourself killed on the battlefield. And if I stay a stupid grunt, well my odds of surviving this are much slimmer." Lerus shrugged. "So this is what we've come to. I just wanted to let you know, as a professional courtesy, and in case you ever do come back as a ghoul or whatever, that this is just me climbing the ladder. Sorry you had to get in the way."
Railen watched in horror as Lerus quickly stepped closer and kicked him off the cliff. The air felt cool as he drifted down to the rocks beneath the cliff. Lerus was watching him fall down. His mind raced in desperation for some way out, something he could do, but it was just wheels spinning in the air. And then his mind fixed on something. It was a shape of a person, an elderly troll with the tabard of the army of Stranglethorn, that had been in the jungle. Someone had seen the entire thing happen. And Railen realized, they had seen it, and they had let it happen. The last thing Railen Kindheart felt was the loneliness of abandonment.
“Death has no mercy for those who are weak.” Staerg said coldly to Sandris.
“Staerg, only idiots charge right up the middle when there are other options available!” Sandris yelled back.
Staerg waved his hand dismissively. “If this campaign has proved one thing it is that the trolls here are weak. They posed no real threat to us.”
Sandris seethed. Staerg had charged his troops in a full frontal assault in the final battle against the trolls of Stranglethorn. It was a brazen assault that as made in the heat of the moment. It was just the sort of thing the horde were known for and just the reason they had been defeated in the second war and then defeated in their very homeland. They had no strategy, no tactics, only pure brute strength. And that wasn't good enough beat the scourge.
“It doesn't matter; you needlessly lost your troops out there! What kind of commander are you?!”
Staerg grimaced, “I have been in more battles than you've dreamt of little woman. You're only here because Dedric needed an alliance leader.”
“Typical orc. You only care about blood and glory... and YOURSELF! It's no wonder Thrall left all of you at the base camp to rot when things got hot in Orgrimmar.” Sandris spit venomously.
“So this is how you two spend your time. Like an old married couple.” Staerg and Sandris swiveled immediately towards Dedric, who was accompanied by Val'tis.
“Da couples 'least make up aftah.” Val'tis mentioned coldly.
Staerg and Sandris both stood stiff as boards with eyes straight ahead. They knew what they were in for and knew from experience that there was no escape.
“I told you both before that there is nothing keeping you here, but one thing I will not tolerate are the top commanders of my army bickering and insulting each other. It is bad enough the way the troops behave amongst themselves. We've spent time and blood to get them to a point where they might actually be able to fight as a cohesive unit, and now you two children are going to try to undo all of that. What say you?” Dedric breathed his words out with a chill that crept to the bones in Staerg and Sandris.
Sandris said the thing that had been drilled into her since childhood. It was the one and only response Sandris knew to Dedric's question. “Sir. It won't happen again, sir.” She said as heartfeltly as possible.
Dedric's eyes turned to Staerg. Sandris could sense the struggle between Staerg's mind and his pride, but ultimately his mind won out. “I'm sorry sir. It won't happen again.” Staerg said softly.
Dedric stared at both of them for a moment that seemed to stretch on into an eternity. “If I catch either of you up to this again I will kill you, both.” Sandris swallowed nervously, because she knew the threat wasn't idle. The death knight did not bluff. “I will not have you destroy this army from the inside.” Dedric turned and left with anger in his step.
Val'tis lingered and looked them both over. “Heh. Children. Arthas is more wise than either of you.” She turned at left as well.
Staerg and Sandris immediately relaxed. Sandris looked over at Staerg, a true apology on her lips, but Staerg simply turned his back on her and left as well. Sandris' eyes narrowed at his retreating back. “Typical orc. He'll be the death of us all.”
“This isn't going to be like the trolls. They were unorganized, outnumbed, and caught by surprise. Not to mention a host of other things we had in our favor. The scourge are something different entirely.” Sandris spoke to her gathered platoon leaders. She wanted to scare them just enough to take away any over-confidence, but not demoralize them.
With Stranglethorn behind them the army was now preparing to attack Duskwood. Sandris had been given the task of assaulting Raven Hill, while Staerg's corp was to take the town of Darkshire. Even though many of the undead in Raven Hill were not originally raised by the scourge they had long since been absorbed into the Lich King's will and the area would have been a staging point for the scourge to attack Stranglethorn. Attacking Darkshire was by far the easier task, but Dedric had given Sandris the order to take Raven Hill. She suspected it was because as a paladin she had specialized training in fighting the undead and would know better than to use the brash tactics of the horde.
“You need to keep your units in tight formation. The undead tactics involve overwhelming their enemies with sheer numbers. We will be fighting on a cemetery, so they will have all the numbers they could ever need. We will be advancing in line, slow and steady. We will be keeping a special unit in reserve in the event there is a break in the line. This will be by the book and there will be no unnecessary casualties. Is that clear?” Sandris said forcefully.
“Yes, ma'am!” The platoon leaders replied as one.
“Good. See to your units and spread the word. I have every faith that we can do this, but if anyone strays from the plan we will be greatly weakened. You are dismissed.” Sandris said to her subordinates.
Even though she had said she had every faith in them, that was far from the truth. Unexpected things happened in war, and further, some of them now knew to salute and when to say yes ma'am, but they didn't understand military discipline fully. You just didn't question your leader's orders, unless it was to provide suggestion beforehand. Breaking from the plan got peopled killed and lost battles. Most of the army was still too green to know that. Sandris feared that they all felt invincible after paving the jungle with Troll blood. But there was nothing more she could do, so she tried not to worry more.
Graffen didn't know what to say or what to think. Railen was gone and now the same blood elf that had nearly beat him to a pulp that day in the bar was his platoon leader. Lerus Glave, the man gave Graffen the creeps but he couldn't just switch units and he wasn't ready to desert. Many of the dwarves had been leaving the worship of the light as more was discovered about their past, but before battle this day Graffen said a prayer that he might survive the day.
Lerus strode in front of the platoon and came to a halt with a dramatic flair of his cloak. He didn't say anything, but simply waited for the unit's attention. It came instantly for they all had a bit of fear of their shadowy commander. They had all heard the rumors of his past exploits as a mercenary, and none wanted to cross him.
“We'll be going up against the scourge on Raven hill in just an hour. Your orders are to stay together. That means close enough to touch the man next to you. And stay right behind me or you will get left behind and die. Is that clear.” Lerus said with his usual simple, yet icy voice.
“Yes sir!” The platoon replied loudly, but with a hint of fear.
“Good. Now form up. I want plate wearers on the front line. Anyone else with a melee weapon will be right behind them and fill any gaps. Healers, mages, and the rest stay right on their tails. Stragglers will not be tolerated. I will be leading from the front line, so you just need to follow me. Is that clear.”
“Yes sir!” The platoon replied again, and began to get into a formation next to the other squares that were forming up.
Once they army was formed they began to advance slowly, mowing down the assorted skeletons and ghouls as they threw themselves against the line. Then the scourge leaders began to truly take notice. Abominations and other large horrors began to rain down from the hill above as they advanced through the cemetery. Some units held and the horrors fell, while from other units soldiers fled, consumed by fear.
Sandris herself lead the reserve unit which was made up of paladins and priests exclusively. The scourge seemed to lay down and give up in front of them and they where a beacon to the troops, and left the soldiers re-energized where ever they went.
But then as Sandris had feared, the unexpected happened. The undead started to erupt behind them and inside formations, threatening to scatter the disciplined line the corp had formed. The reserve unit pulled back to protect the vulnerable rear of the corp, leaving the front without their support.
The line was getting close enough that Graffen could just make out the Necromancers, and the Lich that lead them outside of the old house on the highest point of Raven Hill. At first their disciplined formation, and the reserve unit had buoyed his resolve. But now, as he heard screams from behind him, and the scourge came up to face the Dwarven warrior, his spirit started to waver. The line kept its advance up, but he didn't know if they would make it.
“On me! On me!” Lerus suddenly yelled out to Graffen's right. “Charge!!” Graffen ran ahead with the rest of the unit half out of obedience, and half because the other soldiers were pushing him from behind. They all went with Lerus straight towards the heart of the undead on top of Raven hill. The platoon crashed like a wave against the necromancers and all at once everything was carnage. It was every man for himself and Graffen simply tried to kill whatever undead was closest to him.
Then like a light in the mists, the reserve platoon swept up the hill behind them and cut into the scourge commanders. Graffen took heart as the rest of the army quickly followed. An ear piercing wail sounded and Graffen sung his head to see the Lich dissipate in front of Sandris. A cry went out from the living on the hill for victory was theirs. But there was still fighting to be done, and for Graffen it was all still horror as the scourge mobbed up the hill and a whole cemetery rose against those that yet drew breath.
Dedric had maintained his command post at the junction of the roads between Raven Hill, Darkshire and Stranglethorn with a small unit to protect the wagon train that held their supplies. If the attacks succeeded or failed was up to Sandris and Staerg. There really wasn't much one death knight could do to change the fortunes of either battle. And his presence would have just unnerved his corp commanders into second guessing themselves.
An orc came running from the road to Darkshire and came to a stop before Dedric to salute. “What news soldier?” Dedric inquired.
“Sir! Darkshire has been taken and the corp now moves to secure the area from threat. Bulwarks have been setup to the east and north entrances to the town. There was very little scourge presence in the town.”
“Good. You are dismissed.” Dedric waved the orc away.
“Sorry sir. Catching my breath. There's more.” Dedric nodded at the soldier. “Units from the northern bulwark are already being engaged by units of the blackrock orcs. Staerg told me to tell you that his forces are sufficient to hold with the choke point north of town, but that the blackrock forces far outnumber him.”
Dedric glowered. Something always went wrong in war. “Is that all?”
“Yes sir.” The orc replied.
“Tell Staerg to hold the line there. Sandris' attack has yet to complete. You are dismissed.” The orc saluted again and ran back down the road. Dedric growled to himself and thought, “As if the scourge weren't powerful enough, we have to face a fight on two fronts.” Dedric's plan had been to secure Raven hill and bridge the river north of it before moving onto Goldshire and Stormwind itself. Now he didn't know if he had enough forces for that ambitious plan if he had to worry about crazed orcs bursting into the army's flanks. He already had the local Ogre mound to worry about.
“What is taking so long at Raven hill.” Dedric growled. “Val'tis!” Somehow the elderly troll materialized just as she was summoned. “Go find out how the battle is going on Raven hill. I have enough problems to deal with.”
“Ya General.” Val'tis said and then stole down the road towards Raven Hill.
“Just what do you think you were doing! Flagrantly disregarding orders, to say nothing about military discipline. I would have expected this from an orc, but not from an elf!” Sandris screamed.
Lerus narrowed his eyes at the paladin. “I did what was necessary in the situation. We'd all been dead if I hadn't called that attack.”
Sandris had waded through the undead. Their ichor clung to her armor as if the Scourge were still trying to wear her down. As the leader of the reserve group she had been in the thick of all the worst the battle had had to offer. And then she had looked on in horror from trying to mop up the undead that had arisen in the army's rear to find that her entire army was breaking ranks and ruining the entire plan. What had followed had been a massacre on both sides. Pure mob mentality had overtaken the army and everyone had gotten to the top of the hill and every undead thing in the cemetery rose up and attacked them. It was pure carnage and the casualties were high, which meant that all the bodies had to be dismembered or else their former comrades would be the enemy the next day. Sandris had had to do some of that herself. She had been pushed too far.
“I should kill you where you stand. You disobeyed a direct order, and in any military I know of, horde and alliance, that's punishable by death.” Death creeped out of Sandris' voice as she eyed the blood elf with only vengeance in her mind. She drew her sword.
Suddenly, as if arising from the heavy fog that permanently coated the ground Staerg was there standing in between Sandris and Lerus. “Just try it.” Staerg growled.
“You.” Sandris said low and cold. “What the nether are you doing here.”
“Making sure you don't kill your underlings.” Staerg replied. He hadn't draw his weapons, but Sandris knew that a weaponless shaman was far from defenseless.
“What is your issue! Didn't you hear a word that Dedric said! Do you really have a death wish; is that what this is all about?” Sandris screamed. By this time the survivors were starting to gather to watch the scene.
“We both know that you'd never lift a finger against me exactly because you value your life so much. You cling to it like a child to her blanket. Never taking risks, always running things by the book and then getting surprised when the unexpected happens. You're so inexperienced I'm surprised you're not still wet behind the ears.” Staerg spit out at Sandris.
“I don't care what you think about me. This is my corp, my battle, and my people. Get your ass out of here.”
“You can't lay a hand on him if he made the right choice.” Staerg retorted.
“I said get lost!” Sandris raged.
“Staerg you are dismissed.” In all of the commotion no one had noticed Dedric and Val'tis arrive on the scene. Everyone instantly swiveled around to see what the Supreme General would do.
Staerg's jaw worked soundlessly as he tried to say something back, but could think of nothing.
“I said you are dismissed, Staerg.” Dedric repeated in a calm and even tone. After a few more seconds Staerg decided to retreat as ordered. “General Sandris Cherick. You are to give your battle report to me at my command tent with all due haste.”
“Yes sir.” Sandris replied, rage still not quite under control. Her head swiveled this way and that, but Lerus had vanished. Dedric and Val'tis also started to make their way back to the headquarters. “How does she always know where to be...” Sandris muttered. She requisitioned a war hammer and went out back onto the battlefield searching for something to pulverize. She didn't get far.
Sitting on the ground, alone and shaking, a single dwarf in armor hugged his knees in tight against his chest. “Hey are you okay?” Sandris said as a reflex. She already knew he wasn't alright. She approached the dwarf, wary that it might be a Scourge trap, but unwilling to leave behind any of her own. “Hey you're... Graffen?”
The dwarf finally looked up and there was no trace of undeath, only sheer horror.
“By the light... Graffen, what happened?” The rage that had only recently fill her had no completely vanished as she sought to aid her soldier.
“I was... I...” The words came out lowly as Graffen stuttered and tried to work a throat that refused to operate. “By the light they're every where! Oh Freya, what have I... Where did he go... Where did Railen go?” Graffen pleaded with Sandris.
“I'm sorry Graffen. I have no idea. That's right... Lerus took over from Railen.” Sandris said slowly. She had already had enough reason to kill the elf before, so it didn't matter that she couldn't be sure about this. “Graffen, it'll be alright. I'll get you transferred to another unit. Maybe work in the headquarters or something like that far from the front lines?”
Graffen only looked back at Sandris with a blank stare. His eyes were empty and they filled Sandris with dread. She had seen that same look few times before and knew it well. It was as if Graffen's soul had lost all will to live and it was only a matter of time before the body followed. It was not any magic of undeath, but a malady far worse that always followed war. “Come on. You have to get up Graffen. Please just come back to camp with me.” The dwarf curled back up into his ball and stared off into nothingness. “Okay, just wait right here. Don't go anywhere. I'll go get more people from camp. Just stay right there.” Sandris ran back to the camp and gathered up whoever she could find, but that was the last anyone ever saw of Graffen Ironheart.
Dedric read over Sandris' report of the battle. She had sent a lieutenant in her stead, citing the need to still secure the area. Dedric was willing to cut her some slack this time. Battles where never easy, and it was definitely true that there were plenty more undead scattered about Raven Hill. Dedric wondered if the place would ever really be free of them again. Even though the casualties had been high the place had been taken and it seemed it would stay that way for a while yet, so Dedric was satisfied with his general.
As for the scene afterwards, he probably would have killed Lerus without a second thought if he were in Sandris' place. Her only misstep had been to yell about it so much.
And Dedric knew what Staerg was up to as well. Dedric had always known that Staerg would always be ready for any misstep Dedric made since that day in the arena when he had won the command of the army. It didn't make a difference to Dedric. Staerg was surviving in his own way, and that much was simply nature.
One of Dedric's aids came in to the tent where Dedric pondered. “Sir. There is an envoy from the Westfall regiment here to see you.”
Dedric thought in puzzlement at the name, but only for a moment. “Please send him in.”
The aid murmured something outside of the tent and a large male Draenei dressed in Anchorite robes came in. “Hello! I am Anchorite Benevaal of the Draenei. It is a pleasure to meet you and might I say congratulations on your recent victories over the Scourge!”
It didn't take Dedric long to figure out that he didn't like Benevaal, but he knew when the game had to be played. “Have a seat.” Dedric motioned to a chair. “Please tell me more about the Westfall regiment.”
“Ah well it is a grand regiment based out of Westfall!” Benevaal stated the obvious.
“So it's made up of the humans of Westfall?” Dedric offered, taking pains to keep the impatience out of his voice.
“Yes. Well and myself and my team of course! We were sent as part of a scouting party from Theramore and decided to stay and offer what assistance we could.”
Dedric nodded. “What's the disposition of your forces. Who's the commander in charge?”
“Ah. Well. Our forces... You must forgive me General, but I'd very much like to know your intentions in the area. One can never be to careful, no?” Benevaal smiled.
“Our aim is to take Stormwind. We are sponsored by the cartel in Booty Bay. Currently we hold Raven Hill, and the town of Darkshire.” Dedric looked back expectantly at the Anchorite.
“Ah very good! I knew we were on the same side. Uh, our forces are spread out somewhat in westfall to protect against the Scourge air attacks, but our front is located just across the river into Elywnn. We've recently taken the old garrison and the tower that stand there. Gryan Stoutmantle leads us.”
Dedric thought a moment before replying. “Hmmm, good. Please report back to your commander that I'd like to speak with him personally regarding a joint attack on Stormwind.”
Benevaal's face lit up. “Yes of course! I'm sure he will be most delighted. Thank you General!”
Dedric had to chuckle a bit once Benevaal had left. Dedric was accustomed to people being afraid of him, but he had never saw someone react the way the Anchorite had to his presence.
Staerg had to appreciate Dedric's plan even though he was disappointed not to be assaulting Stormwind himself. In his mind the Westfall regiment stood little chance of wresting the city from the Lich King and he would have to go in to finish the job anyway. Taking out the blackrock orcs would only add to the glory.
Dedric had left his order of battle as it was previously. A pontoon bridge had been thrown up across the river into Elywnn and Sandris's forces were already moving across it into Elywnn. Their task would be to act as a blocking force against the blackrock orcs that had nearly taken Goldshire and to also distract the orcs. Staerg's corp would attack their rear while they were occupied, and then sweep westwards towards their front lines and Stormwind. It would turn the blackrocks in to a disorganized pile of bodies waiting to be slaughtered.
Staerg relished the thought. This was how armies were supposed to be used, with cunning and force. Not with slow and plodding tactics that were proscribed by some scholar in a tower who had only read about wars. The best part was that Staerg knew to his very core that no matter how much Sandris might want to participate in the assault on Stormwind, and even having her troops in the position to do so, she was so by-the-book that she would only do as ordered. Staerg really wondered if he would act the same in her position. Then again, Stormwind wasn't his capitol. Why should he care.
Dedric had come to keep an eye on him also. He knew it was because of his actions on Raven Hill, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. If Sandris had done anything than she would have been out, and Dedric's command would be undermined. As it stood now Staerg had Dedric watching over his shoulder, but otherwise was in exactly the same position as before. Staerg could be patient for this. The glory of being the orc that took Stormwind would be his in the end. He just had to wait for the right moment.
Sandris stood on the river bank with a goblin eyepiece. She looked towards the sky over Darkshire, waiting for the flare that would signal that Staerg had begun his attack. Once they started her force would begin moving into position and the whole plan would be in motion.
“There it is.” Sandris said to herself and those around her. “Move out!” She yelled down the column and her command was echoed down the line. The corp got itself together and started moving without the usual drums and horns so as to not alert the orcs too soon. A runner would be heading to the Westfall regiment's fortifications as all of this was happening and they should arrive in Goldshire just as Sandris's line was put into place.
As Sandris walked she glanced around at the forest she had grown up with. The rot of undeath had seeped into some trees as it had in Silverpine. She wondered if there was an cure. Houses also were decaying after their occupants had fled or died. It would be a shame to regain Stormwind only to lose the forest.
Goldshire had a token resistance, but Sandris made sure that it was wiped out swiftly. She didn't want any news getting back to Stormwind of an impending attack so that the Scourge could ready itself there. They set themselves to the east of town and used the lake to help form a choke points so they could concentrate their defenses easier.
It wasn't long before the blackrocks came at them, but after hearing stories of from Redridge about them, Sandris was disappointed. There just weren't a lot of them coming at her and after a while they stopped all together and instead started to make parallel fortifications of their own. Staerg's attack must have been having the desired effect.
She could hear the sounds of battle coming from Stormwind. She didn't envy the Westfall brigade for Stormwind truly was a fortress, and a frontal assault on it must be one of the toughest battles to be found on Azeroth, but it had to be done, for it was Stormwind, the last bastion of humanity and the heart of the alliance. There could be no progress with it in enemy hands.
As Sandris stood wondering if she could spare a platoon or two to help the assault a man flanked by two knights came down the road towards her. “Who is the person in charge here?” The man in the middle demanded. He wore armor emblazoned with the crest of Stormwind and had an air of command about him. Sandris had never before seen him in person, but she recognized the man just as any citizen of Stormwind ought to. “Lord Fordragon! Sire it is an honor to see you alive and well!” Sandris exclaimed.
“You're the person in charge here?” Fordragon inquired.
“Yes sire. General Sandris Cherick. How can I be of service?” Sandris felt like the light incarnate was standing before her.
“The Westfall regiment's attack goes poorly. My troops have taken the harbor, but we cannot retake the city if their attack fails. I need you to move your forces to assist in the assault.” Fordragon ordered.
Sandris was torn. “I... I was just about to send some of my platoons to assist. The blackrocks have setup their own fortifications on the other side and seem to be just digging in.”
Fordragon shook his head. “That won't be enough. Stormwind is a formidable fortress and taking it will be no easy task. We need all of your forces if the attack it to be successful.”
“But sire...” Sandris said with her heart breaking. “My orders are to hold this position. If the orcs attack our flank than the attack will not succeed regardless.”
“Sandris.” Fordragon said and Sandris' heart jumped. “We have this one chance to retake Stormwind. Our city. This will not come again. You've said yourself the orcs are digging in. You know what rabble they are. I know you have orders to maintain your position here but sometimes we are faced with decisions upon which the fate of the world hangs. Sandris, this is one of those decisions.” Fordragon said gravely.
Sandris suddenly remembered Val'tis' prophecy. She would get one decision that would decide the fate of things to come. It was hers and hers alone. But it was not easy.
She knew what her duty was. Even if she would be disregarding her orders she knew that her forces were keeping a portion of the blackrock's strength away from Dedric and Staerg. If she were to leave their attack might not work.
On the other hand her duty was also to her liege. Bolvar Fordragon was not the king, but he was the closest thing to it. And he was right that they would not get another chance like this to retake the city. The whole plan was to take the city, even though her orders weren't to assault it specifically.
As torn as she was between her duty to her commander, and her duty to her king in the end it came down to simple instinct. Sandris sided with what she knew. She knew Bolvar. She knew human. And that was always better than a Death Knight and an orc.
“Alright.” Sandris nodded. “Well begin to form up for the attack on Stormwind.”
The throne room in Stormwind was strangely untouched. All the banners and finery, the inlaid gold marble dais and the throne themselves all were in pristine condition despite the destruction wrought in the rest of the city. There was only one difference. The man who had stalwartly stood beside the throne and protected it was now the man sitting in it. But some things never changed and unresolved business always returned to the fore.
“At every step you've tried to hinder my efforts Staerg. Don't think that I don't know what you're doing or what you want. Ever since that day in the arena you've pined after it like a dog after a piece of meat. And for what? For honor, for glory? Or maybe you just enjoy killing. I don't care. We formed the army of Stanglethorn because we were under threat. That threat now is gone and the army's purpose for being gone with it. Take you scheming and your sniveling and your light dammed thick skull and get the nether out of my kingdom!” Sandris knew that he could do nothing and she was going to play that for all it was worth. Staerg was right in one thing. Sandris wouldn't touch him for she at least owed a comrade in arms that. But she would rather die herself than see his crazy demands brought to fulfillment.
When Sandris abandoned her post the blackrocks did not attack her former position, but instead consolidated on fighting Staerg's attack from Darkshire. The fighting must have been brutal as one orc mashed his forces against another, but somehow Staerg had managed to pierce through their lines and kill their leader. Once done there, instead of disposing of the remaining disorganized blackrocks, Staerg had rushed straight to Stormwind. He had completely abandoned his command and left Dedric as the only commander on the scene to deal with the majority of the blackrock's army.
And now Sandris knew why. She knew why he had done everything. Staerg had burst into the throne room where Sandris, Fordragon and Gryan Stoutmantle of Westfall were discussing the state of the Eastern Kingdoms. Staerg had demanded a quarter of the city for the horde members of the Stanglethorn army. Fordragon had been quick to dismiss that, but had actually offered that the horde races might colonize Stranglethorn now that it had been cleared of the savage trolls. Of course what Staerg wanted was the glory of being an orc who had taken alliance land and he had refused on the grounds that Stranglethorn was completely unsuitable for cultivation and the supporting of a decent sized population. Staerg had countered by demanding land north of Stranglethorn at which point Sandris had had enough and proceeded to dress him down.
Fordragon cleared his throat after Sandris' rant was over. “From what I know that has been a while coming, orc. You have no power here. You can either take my offer and peacefully settle in Stranglethorn where you will be assured that the Kingdom of Stormwind will not bother you or I can have you forcibly removed with that agreement voided. I will hear no more demands.” Fordragon said calmly.
Gryan sighed, “I'll go round some people up. I don't think this one's going anywhere on his own,” and left the room.
At first Staerg stood his ground and Sandris could see the gears grinding away in his head, but after a while he relaxed and for a moment Sandris actually thought that Staerg was just going to leave. Then she chided herself for such a naïve thought. Her shield was there to block the earth shock he threw at Fordragon. Staerg moved lithely, with speed and agility impressive for an orc, but Sandris had seen him in action and knew his plan. Staerg was on her the instant she lowered her shield, but Sandris knew to expect him there and struck out blindly in front of her with her sword, piercing through the chain mail Staerg wore and diving deep into his chest. It all happened in slow motion for her and as she tore her sword back out she could see a look not of shock, but of true surprise on Staerg's face.
Staerg collapsed backwards onto the marble floor and his blood started to trickle down the ramp that lead up to the throne room. Sandris stood over top of him, ready for some last minute trick. Staerg cough and blood spattered across his tabard, the same one Sandris wore identifying them as leaders of the army of Stranglethorn. “You didn't have to do that you know.” Sandris said softly.
Staerg sputtered and coughed and laughed all as one and then managed to reply. “What life is worth living without respect.”
Sandris shook her head silently at his reasoning. “Farewell.” She murmured.
Staerg's chest heaved as he tried to draw in a mighty breath, but his lungs would not follow his commands. All they summoned was more blood and finally Staerg choked to death on his own fluids.
“And good riddance.” Sandris finished and started to take her place back on the dais, but behind her she felt that familiar cold that chilled her to the bone. She spun around to see Dedric waiting casually in the doorway.
“So you finally did it.” He said to her.
“He didn't give me a choice.” Sandris replied
Dedric nodded. “I saw. It was going to happen eventually. Better that it was a fair fight.”
Sandris looked down at the blood on her sword. She knew what Dedric said was right, but despite that she couldn't help feeling like something bad had just happened. No matter how much she welcomed Staerg's absence, he was not supposed to be her enemy. She clung to a tough act to cover the doubt. “I suppose so.” She agreed nonchalantly and wiped her blade off on Staerg's tabard before sheathing it.
Fordragon called down from the throne, “Sandris, who is this?”
“Dedric Redmain sire.” Sandris replied. “Supreme General of the army of Stranglethorn.”
“Ah good. Welcome to the Kingdom of Stromwind General Redmain.” Fordragon said. “We are in your debt it seems. What would you have as your reward?”
Dedric took his greatsword off his back and pointed it up at Fordragon's neck. “Your throne.”
Sandris gasped in shock and Fordragon stood up from the throne for the first time. “What madness is this? Surely you jest. A death knight on the throne of Stormwind?!”
Dedric looked down at the floor where Staerg's blood had come to run by his feet. “I've had time to think about the oddity of my existence. All of you know where you stand in the cycle. You're born, you live, and you die. But myself on the other hand. I am neither alive nor quite dead, even though I have died. But I've realized, this cycle is not something I've escaped. The rules may have changed, but I will not exist forever. I too must do things to maintain my existence. Maybe not the same things as you, but for me the great game is still being played whether I ignore it or not and I've decided not to ignore it. If one thing has remained true of me through my lives it is that I am a warrior and when faced with battle I must fight. So you may think it madness, but for me this is my survival. For with my army's objective gone I will have no purpose to exist.”
Dedric raised his head and his stare pierced Fordragon. “Death comes for us all.”
Fordragon yelled with anger, “I have not witnessed the death of all those I have loved and returned my kingdom to it's rightful place in the world only to have it ripped from me again. If you say death comes for us all, then today is the day you died again Redmain.”
Sandris stood transfixed as she watched the paladin and the death knight fight each other. She knew she had made the choice to stand by her kingdom, but now that the choice was personified she couldn't do anything. Fordragon was a man she had worshiped as the shining example of duty and devotion to Stormwind, but with Staerg dead by her hand she knew that she couldn't kill Dedric, her commander. Her sense of duty tore both ways and so she was left to watch as they both fought each other with the beauty of masterful skill, but also the desperateness of a fight to the death.
And then it was all over. Fordragon's weapon lay useless on the ground as Dedric griped his throat tightly. Fordragon's legs and arms wiped around as he struggled for a way out, or a gasp of air, but the purpose in Dedric's eyes had never been more strong. Fordragon's eyes rolled back in his head and his body slumped before Dedric finally let if fall to the ground in a heap.
“No!” Sandris exclaimed and ran to Fordragon, but there was nothing she could do. “You murderer!” Sandris flung herself at Dedric with her fists, but the blows hardly mattered against his plate armor.
“Sandris, it had to be done.” Dedric talked to her calmly. “The both of us could not stay in this world together. One or the other had to die. It was a kindness to do it now and here.”
“You're wrong! He was all we had left. The only person we could call king!”
Dedric finally caught Sandris' fist and held it lightly as she pulled against him. “It is too late for regrets. Fate has decided. No matter how cruel you might think it's decision, you can only decide how you go forward from here. I know how you came to be here by his side, but despite your transgression there still is a place for you in my coming order, for I know you are bound to duty. But the choice is yours. As always, I will not hold you against your will.” Dedric let go and Sandris spun back and drew her fist in close to her chest.
“Choice. What would you know about choice after all this talk about death and fate.” Sandris spit out at Dedric. “I had a choice! And I choose everything I had ever known since birth. And you.” She growled. “You tore that away from me! How can I ever side with you!”
“You say Stormwind is all you've ever known, then you must stay with me. Sandris, we are no longer the army of Stranglethorn. We are now the kingdom of Stormwind. Your duty to Stormwind does not end with one man's death for your kingdom will still yet have a grave need for you.” Dedric's voice was softer and warmer than Sandris had ever heard. “Will you please stay? I need you here.”
Over and over again Sandris cursed fate and the position it had put her in. Right now she just wanted to rage against the world and all it's horrors that always arose to tear down the hopes and dreams of simple, normal people. But she knew Val'tis had been right. Fate had only allowed her one true choice. It had been the right one, for she would still be outside the city gates right now if she had not gone with Fordragon, but about this she didn't have any choice at all. No matter how much Dedric would try to make it seem like a free choice of her will, she had only one true option. She sighed, “Yes.... I'll stay.”
For the first time in a long time Dedric did not wear armor. He was the leader of a kingdom now and he was not foolish enough to try to rule it with an armored fist. Despite his condition he would have to show a softer side in order to do the work that must be done to rebuild Stormwind and make it into a place that would survive for ages. Today he stood at the top of the harbor addressing his former soldiers and new citizens below. He was flanked by Val'tis on one side and Sandris and Gryan Stoutmantle on the other.
“Citizens of Stormwind!” Dedric bellowed down below him and a cheer went up from the crowd. “We have defeated the Scourge and won back Stormwind!” And another long cheer came, threatening to postpone Dedric's speech. “But there is still yet more work to be done. We must rebuild this city and make it stronger. You have all fought together and seen that when we put our minds to it there is no task too difficult for us to overcome. I can see a great future stretching out before us where our city becomes a light for this world and it's glory remains unmatched for ages to come.
“But such a task is not without sacrifice. You have all witnessed what we can do together, but divided we shall fail. The old prejudices will not be tolerated and anyone promoting them will be dealt with harshly. For anyone who stands against one of my citizens, no matter their race, stands against me personally. And I will be there to see to their punishment personally.” The whole crowd was dead silent.
“Some of you may notice that there are two humans up here and only one troll. And that is because these are the people who have earned their positions through hard work and loyalty. You may notice the absence of one of my former corp commanders and that is because he was not loyal. That will be the rule in my city from now until it crumbles into the dust. Subversion and sloth will be punished. Hard work and loyalty will be rewarded. And in the months and years to come there will be much opportunity for reward for we have only just begun to show the world what we are capable of. Thank you all for your work and may Stormwind stand forever!”
Dedric had retired to his private chambers with Sandris and Gryan after his speech to discuss the work that was before them. It was hard going and after a while Dedric had tabled the matter since they had all been through enough the past months. Dedric sipped on a small glass of brandy. “This is the first time I've been to Stormwind. I'm originally from Lordaeron.” Dedric mused.
“Do you think you'll be going back there?” Sandris said warrilly.
Dedric waved a hand at her. “It was another life. That's long since gone. Besides we still have to root out the blackrocks here. That spire looms over us and it cannot be left alone.”
Sandris pursed her lips and nodded.
Dedric continued, “Though you'll be the one to do that Sandris. You will be supreme general now. Gyran, you'll be in charge of internal security if that is to your liking.”
Gryan sighed, “I think I can do that. Just one question though. Who is this Val'tis woman? What will she be doing?”
Dedric took another sip. “She is a Zandalarian troll of great age and wisdom. When I became the supreme general of the Stranglethorn army she sought me out and offered to assist me. Since then she has become my personal aide de camp and there she will stay. I can't be everywhere at once.”
“So what is she up to now?”
Dedric replied. “I don't know honestly. She has a way of being around when you need her, but then disappearing. I'd like to know how she does it myself. Anyway,” Dedric finished his drink. “We need to get back to work unfortunately. There's a lot to get done.”
The body of Bolvar Fordragon lay on a funeral pyre in the keep in Old Town. He had been given his rights and a funeral befitting someone of his stature and devotion to Stormwind at the Cathedral, but there was a strict imposition against leaving bodies whole, and so he could not be buried in the normal way. It was regrettable, but Sandris herself had endorsed it knowing what might happen if the scourge could get their hands on the body of Bolvar Fordragon. Thousands of people had come to pay their last respects, but it was night now and no one remained except the guards by the door way. His body would be burnt to ashes at first light so that his spirit might be greeted by the coming dawn.
The guards did not stop Val'tis. She had been present through much of the funeral rights and with being Dedric's aid de camp, she could go anywhere she pleased. She walked up to the pyre soundlessly and touched the dead body. It was cold and beginning to grow stiff, but all life was not yet gone from it. There was enough that the man could be salvaged and made whole again. Val'tis could sense the spirit of Bolvar standing on top of the pyre the body. He was very angry, but also confused.
Val'tis started to focus hard and began chanting. The guards might have taken notice, but they knew better than to question her, and strange chants from trolls were to be expected. Suddenly the chants stopped and Val'tis' eyes open wide. They glowed with an eerie light and Val'tis spoke to Fordragon's spirit that was now visible to her. “It is not yet yo time. I be guiding ya back ta da land of da living and resortan ya boday. Yo justah be stayen calm and be not fighten it.” Bolvar's spirit was still confused and Val'tis reached out to it with her own spirit to help guide it back to the body as she started channeling her spell. It was two hours before dawn when Val'tis finished the spell.
The body was now warm, and the wound was completely healed. Fordragon breathed shallowly, and slowly regained consciousness. He suddenly sat bolt upright. “I'm not...” He said breathlessly.
Val'tis shook her head. “Nah, yo be whole. Da be no undead in ya. Ya be like bafor.”
“But how....?” Fordragon said in amazement.
Val'tis shook her head. “Not fah da minds of mortals. Wha yo needen ta know be dat fate yet got more in store for ya. Yo time not be done.”
Fordragon still looked confused. Val'tis unwrapped a robe she had brought with her. “Here, here. Get down an be putten dis on.” Fordragon slipped the robe over his head and Val'tis brought the hood up over his eyes so no one could recognize him. Then she lit the pyre, which burst into flames. “Now ya be followen me and not sayen a word. Notta word!” Val'tis admonished. Fordragon nodded.
Val'tis lead him through the sleeping city to the entrance to the deeprun tram and inside. “Da tram be made by da gnomes. Dey be blocken it up, but leaven behind gnome sized holes. Dis potion be maken you smallah so ya get true.” She handed Fordragon a small bottle and pushed him towards the tram. “Ya be go'n now. Da people be waken soon.”
“But wait what's your name at least?” Fordragon said in confusion.
“I be contacten yo. Yo not be talken bout I an what I be doen.” Val'tis admonished.
Fordragon opened his mouth to say something more, but decided against it. He stood silent before finally thanking Val'tis and starting down the long tram tunnel.
Spizz Nobet sat in Booty Bay. The port was now his to operate, but he was sad. He thought about how Dedric now ruled Stormwind and thought to himself how he could have had that if only he had decided to stay in control of the army instead of simply pointing it in the right direction. Baron of Stormwind sounded so much better than chief administrator of Booty bay. Lots of if-onlys floated through his head as he lamented his short-sightedness.
A new letter was tossed on his desk and he opened it with the sadness that characterized most of is actions as of late. He glossed over the words, and then slowly realized what he was reading. “From Dedric Redmain, ruler of Stormwind! Contract to rebuild the city! The profit! Think of the profit!” Sprizz rubbed his hands together. Ruling Stormwind was one thing, but who cared about ruling a city when you could be rolling in money!