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The Wrath of Sabellian

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[[ Before we start -- please be aware this is not a Wranduin fiction. Wranduin is certainly included, but will never be the focal point of this story. Thank you for understanding! ]]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Sabellian lay himself flat against the dry, dusty ground of Blade’s Edge Mountains, stretched out his scaled legs, and yawned loudly.

It was quiet as he closed his eyes, save for the faint whistling of wind through the jutting rocks in the canyon. The skewered corpses of the black dragons, his own brethren, that Gruul had impaled on those spiked rocks had long since been removed after the gronn’s defeat, cremated in a ritual burning by their living kin under the guidance of Sabellian himself. It had been a somber task – some had been his own children – but it was a relief to set their mangled bodies to rest, and a relief to not be forced to see them hanging and rotting any longer.

He let out a content, full sigh. Since the death of Gruul and the removal of the corpses, Blade’s Edge Mountains had felt somewhat home-like to the scattered remnants of the black dragonflight that remained on the broken planet of Draenor. The lack of activity in the area - and in the entirety of Outland, which seemed to be a place forgotten by the masses in Azeroth - was also a pleasant rest from the nonstop action Sabellian had dealt with for the passed centuries; he’d hardly felt this relaxed since he was a hatchling.

The black dragon rather enjoyed it.

He opened his eyes as he heard a gentle whoosh over his head, and looked up only to see a translucent blue nether drake pass by, leaving streams of spiraling energy in its wake. A black drake followed suit, but not before seeing Sabellian and giving a respectful nod.

The black dragon shook his head, harrumphed quietly, and settled down again. The nether dragons were a … conundrum. They were born by black dragons, but warped into what they were now: half energy, half wyrm. They hardly belonged amongst the black dragonflight, and yet when Neltharaku, the leader of the Netherwing, had approached Sabellian with terms of a wary truce – one that was merely for defensive purposes against any vicious activity against either flight, such as demons or the orcs that enslaved some of Neltharaku’s race - Sabellian had accepted.

No, they hardly belonged, and yet they were allowed in the Blade Edge’s territory. The nether drakes temperaments seemed to vary from hostile to benevolent, and yet they seemed, in Sabellian’s eyes, too… kind, ultimately, to “fit in” amongst the black dragons.

Scoffing, he stretched his wings and looked around again at his desolate pseudo-home. At times, he yearned to return to Azeroth… but quickly thought better of it, for multiple reasons.

For one, he had received news of his father’s return. He had listened calmly to the report, and had, as any good son would have, awaited orders.

But none had come. Sabellian had been his father’s lieutenant beforehand, had helped personally usher in orcs from Ner’zhul’s Horde. He had done all his father had asked loyally…

And yet he had apparently been forgotten in Outland.

At first, he’d be vaguely insulted.

But he had quickly gotten over it.

His father ran rampant, intent on destroying Azeroth at the orders of his chaotic masters, the Old Gods…

Whose whispers which Sabellian no longer heard.

It had been unnerving in the beginning to hear the quiet in his mind when he had settled in Outland. The thick mass of darkness that had clotted the back of his brain, indeed, all of the black dragon’s brains, had been with him since the egg; it had been a constant parasitic companion, swaying him towards chaos and violence and malice, whispering and hissing thoughts of death and destruction, had make his claws twitch, his eyes become alight at the vision of blood.

But when he had come to Outland, the darkness had, like a sludge, slid from his head. Sabellian had never felt more clear-headed, more alert. He still loved a good fight, a snarling battle; he still loved the art of manipulation and power. But no longer did whispers probe him to do something he might have not beforehand; no longer did he wish to kill simply for the sake of killing, or harm for the sake of harming.

It felt… nice.

And so instead of making the whole to-do of uplifting his small regiment of black dragons from the Mountains through the Dark Portal to rejoin his crazed father, Sabellian had simply stayed for his own benefit, and indeed, all their benefit…

And when Deathwing was destroyed, who better to lead the Black Dragonflight but Sabellian, Deathwing’s own son?

No - staying in Outland had been no hard choice at all.

Perhaps, in time, he might return to Azeroth to rule his flight. But for now -

A screech of pain ripped through the quiet air. Sabellian’s head whipped up.

That was a dragon’s scream.

He leaped to his feet with a snarl. The far-off screeches continued furiously; a roar or two of battle joined it. There was a cry of surprise – one that did belong to anything draconic – and the snarls stopped.

“What is going on over there?!” Sabellian demanded, lifting off and heading towards the previous commotion.

The two drakes, nether and black, he had seen flying overhead were cornering something against the rock face. The eldest black drake’s right leg bled profusely from a thick gash. Two other black drakes, younger, had gathered at the noise as well, but hung back when Sabellian arrived.

“This mortal ambushed us, father,” the drake, who was named Talsian, growled. Suraku, the nether drake, nodded in agreement. “Ambushed me, more like.”

Sabellian focused. His limbs shortened and warped comfortably until he stood in his mortal form, a human clothed in brilliant red and orange robes with two snarling plate snake heads whose jaws held glowing fire on his shoulders.

He liked dealing mortals when he was in the guise of a mortal. They seemed to… respond better.

“Move aside,” Baron Sablemane ordered, and the two drakes parted. A blood elf stood before him, garbed in dark leather gear. A black mask covered the lower half of his face, and a shattered red gem was held against his forehead by a thin metal band. When he turned his pale face up to Sablemane, the dragon noted a ripening bruise on he elf’s right eye and the blood dripping from a corner of his mouth; the drakes had not been kind to him. Good.

Sablemane crossed his arms and frowned, raising a thin brow down at the mortal before him.

“You tried to kill my son here,” he said, then nodded his head to the black drake who now sat off to the side, tending to his gash.

The blood elf said nothing and continued to stare with narrowed eyes; Sablemane could practically see him thinking behind the fel-green sheen.

“… Unprovoked, I might add,” the dragon included when the blood elf continued his silence.

Now it was becoming annoying. Sablemane scowled. Of all the blood elves, he had to have the only one that didn’t like to hear himself speak. His silence was also an odd characteristic for mortal adventurers that usually traversed through the mountains; they usually babbled on and on about this and that, such as asking him repeatedly if they could do anything for him for gear or money. It had become obnoxious, but he had become used to it.

This mortal was much different. He would have welcomed this fresh breath of air if the blood elf wasn’t studying him like he was a puzzle to be worked.

“Suraku, tell me where he - ”

The wind shifted. The elf’s scent breezed passed him. Sablemane paused.

There was another smell beneath the mortal’s normal scent. Smoky, ashy.

He would know that scent anywhere. It clung to him, his children, and especially those in the flight that were gifted with magical ability -

Draconic magic. Black draconic magic.

He snapped his head back to the elf, nostrils flaring.

This game had certainly changed.

The blood elf was clearly from Azeroth – his scent was not yet coated over with the stench of nether energies from Outland. He may as well have been fresh from the Dark Portal.

And yet the black dragonflight was – supposedly – extinct on Sablemane’s home planet. He ground his teeth. But no, that was clearly not the case anymore – the draconic magic smell was unmistakable.

Sablemane made a motion with his hands, and Talsian shoved the mortal to his knees.

“Alright, blood elf,” Sablemane grumbled, “who are you? Who sent you here?”

Here the elf’s eyes sparked with attention. Sablemane allowed himself a small, grim smile - good. At least something had caught his ear.

“I serve his Majesty, the last… of his kind,” the blood elf said, giving a cautious look back at the black drake and then to Sablemane.

“Do you?” Sablemane said. “The last of his kind, hm?” He smiled toothily, but with only a fraction of humor. “I suppose my son must have come as quite a shock to you… like I’m very sure I am, as well.”

The blood elf set his mouth in a hard line and glared. What a stubborn little thing.

“Did this ‘last of his kind’ send you here?” Sablemane probed. “I have heard that none of my kin were left on Azeroth thanks to my father’s great madness. My reports were obviously wrong.” He scratched at his shortly cropped goatee and thought for a moment as the blood elf shifted uncomfortably on his knees. “Attempting to kill my drake is an intriguing way of a family greeting from him, wouldn’t you say, blood elf?”

“The elimination of those corrupted was – is – at the utmost importance!” The elf snapped. “Your kind are nothing more than vicious beasts slaved to your insanity!”

“What a lovely speech.” Sablemane chuckled. “And yet this dragon on Azeroth seems to have forgotten he’s a slave to insanity himself, hm?”

“His Majesty is a pure black dragon,” said the blood elf proudly.

Sablemane narrowed his eyes. “Pure. In what way?”

“He is not subject to same insanity the rest of your kin is subject to. He answers to no one but himself.”

Ah, yes, the blood elf’s pride in his master was getting him to brag. What an excellent way to get information.

And interesting information, too. An uncorrupted black dragon? Seemingly impossible.

However…

Sablemane himself no longer heard the whispers of the Old Gods. It was plausible for another black dragon not to. But one on Azeroth, the home of his previous dark masters? It stretched belief.

But if it was true – if this dragon was free of the Old God taint – how did he do it?

Could Sablemane do it? Could he somehow be free and return to his true home?

“And how exactly did he become free?”

The blood elf lapsed back into silence again. A good servant.

Sablemane knelt down to the elf’s level. His amused smile was gone now.

“He eliminated the other corrupted, didn’t he?” He said, a vague growl at the pit of his throat. The blood elf nodded, slowly. “And that is why you were planning to kill my son when you saw him.”

The elf didn’t react now.

“Do you know how many of my children Gruul killed, mortal?” He pointed out towards the jagged rocks of Blade’s Edge Mountain that surrounded them. “Dozens. Their bodies rotted alone amongst the canyon and I could do nothing.” He leaned in closer. “I will not have some dragon an entire world away from us to destroy any of my kin here, either. But I will find out his secret. And perhaps I will pay him a visit.”

“The Black Prince will continue coming after you until you’re dead,” the blood elf said, flatly. “You cannot hide, just as the others could not. He will find you.”

Sablemane laughed humorlessly. “’Prince?’ Then I must be a King.” He shook his head. Ah, this dragon, whoever he was, was riding a very high horse. “But I pose a question to you, friend – how will he come after us if he doesn’t know we’re here?”

The blood elf saw the implication immediately, perhaps in the maliciousness in Sablemane’s tone or the smile on his face.

A gleam of silver appeared swiftly in the elf’s hand and he surged forward with such agility Sablemane immediately knew why the Black Prince had sent this particular individual.

But Sablemane was much faster.

With a swipe of his hand he snatched the elf’s wrist that held the dagger and, before the mortal could pull away, the dragon gave a quick twist and felt the bones, so fragile, break like kindle underneath his hand. The blood elf screamed. He writhed backwards against the pain, yet Sablemane kept him in place, gripping his broken wrist tightly.

Calmly, Sablemane plucked the dagger from the elf’s hand and studied its tip as the assassin continued to struggle.

“That was a fair attempt.” He looked up. “Talsian, lock him away in the prey cave, if you will.”

As the drake came forward and clenched the mortal viciously by the shoulder, Sablemane leveled the elf with a stare. “Thank you for your … enlightening visit.”

The drake lifted off, sweeping down towards the canyon and disappearing. The cave was usually a meat locker of sorts to store food; surely the elf would find the dead flesh good company.

Sablemane straightened and pocketed the dagger in his illustrious robes.

“What now, my lord?” The youngest of the two drakes, Ryxia, still present asked.

“We investigate this ‘Prince,’” Sablemane murmured. “We research what he’s playing at.” He shook his head. “To have killed the rest of my flight - ” the dragon scoffed. “And for what? To call himself the last of his kind? Hah.”

“Do you believe what the elf said?” The other drake asked. “He’s free of the Old Gods?”

The smile fell from Sablemane’s face. He shook his head thoughtfully. “No. It’s impossible. Whoever this dragon is, he is powerful, and is hoping to the most powerful be eliminating others like him. Clearly.”

He did not miss the disappointment flash in the eyes of his youngest drake. Yes, they all yearned for home… but they could never go when the Old Gods waited for them.

“I’ll go!” Ryxia piped up, jumping to all fours from her sitting position. “Please, allow me the honor! I will find out about this traitor!”

“No. We’ll send two nether dragons.”

“But -”

“If this ‘Black Prince’ is truly as guile as to have hunted down the hidden dragons of our flight in Azeroth, what makes you believe he will not find the ones looking for him?”

Ryxia fell quiet and did not argue further.

“I will volunteer,” Suraku said. “I will find another to go with me.”

Sablemane nodded, glad the drake had taken the bait. Better a nether dragon to go that was hardly apart of his family than a true blood relation.

“Good. Leave at once. Clearly this relative of mine is curious in scouting Outland - ” he flicked his eyes to where the elf had been carried off - “but if he knew we were here, he would have sent more than just a reconnaissance spy. Let us not give him the chance to find out our little secret.”

He snapped his fingers. There was a snarl and a strange ticking metallic sound, and a robotic whelpling appeared in a flurry of smoke to Sablemane’s side. It was a clever little invention, commissioned from the gnomes that had once inhabited Toshley’s Station, that allowed long-distance communication through a similar, twin robotic whelp that Sablemane had stored in his private chambers.

“Take this, and speak through it with the information you gather along the way of the Black Prince. I will hear.”

Suraku took it carefully in his claws.

“What are you waiting for? Go! Now! Get all the information you can find!”

The drake lifted off and swept over their heads, bathing them in inert nether energy. Sablemane watched him go.

It seemed the lull of activity had finally broken… but perhaps for the better.

Baron Sablemane grinned sharply.

Chapter Text

Sablemane had not heard from the nether drakes for three weeks, but when his robotic whelping crackled to life and opened its maw to deliver their first report, he could not have been more relieved that they finally had something, or more amused.

“A whelp? He is a whelp?” Sablemane laughed thunderously. “Our murderous little relative is just a child?!”

His laugh echoed through his empty cave. The automaton flapped noisily in front of him.

“He was able to kill a full grown red dragon.”

Sablemane’s laugh died instantaneously.

“That’s impossible. And absurd. What stupid rumors are you listening to?”

There was a pause, filled by the empty static coming from the whelp’s maw.

“The information we’ve managed to glean from the subject is very trustworthy,” came Suraku’s voice again, finally. “It has been horrendously difficult to find any sort of tidbit on the Black Prince – it’s as if he’s made of smoke! - but this is a fact we’re sure of.”

Sablemane shook his head. “He cannot be a whelp, then. A whelp cannot kill a grown dragon. He’d be crushed beneath a paw.”

“From our reports, he hatched roughly two years ago.”

The dragon rubbed at his eyes, exasperated. “And you’re telling me a hatchling killed an adult dragon. Is that what you’re saying? That, somehow, a hatchling found the last of my kind on Azeroth and killed them? That a hatchling has employed mortal assassins like the one that was trying to kill my son to do his bidding?”

Another pause.

“… Yes.”

“Grah!” Sablemane clenched his fists, and a plume of smoke shot unbidden from his mouth in his outburst. “That is completely absurd. There must be some mistake. Find out what mistake that is.”

“… Yes, Sabellian.”

Sablemane took a deep breath to soothe his annoyance. At least they had found something about this mysterious dragon, regardless if they were false rumors; it was a start. “Have you anything else to report, then?”

“We did find his name. He calls himself Wrathion.”

“Mm.” At least it was less ridiculous than ‘the Black Prince.’ Sablemane rolled his eyes just thinking about it. Perhaps this ‘Wrathion’ was just a whelp to think prancing about with that title was a fine idea.

“He is also the direct son of Deathwing, my lord.”

“A direct son?”

“Yes. We are unsure of the mother.”

Sablemane thought quietly for a moment. It was their first report; perhaps, like the nether drake’s first rattled off facts, this may be false as well. But if not -

The dragon smiled grimly and shook his head. “A brother, then.” He snorted. “I always seem to have the worst siblings.” Briefly he recalled the twisted experiments of Nefarian and the power-hungry plots of Onyxia. Stupid, foolish wyrms. To have been resurrected and died again at the hands of mortals again – how had they not seen that coming? And how close had Sabellian himself had come to sharing the same fate?

“Is that it, then?”

“Yes, sir. We are headed to Pandaria now - “

“Pandaria? What on Azeroth for?”

“We believe he’s there.”

“Interesting.” Sablemane sighed loudly. “Very well. Continue your reconnaissance. I will await your next report earnestly and will hope I will not have to wait as long as for this one.”

He shut the whelp’s maw and severed the connection.

“An intriguing place to hide, little brother,” he murmured, smoothing back his goatee with his thumb. “So hide while you can.”

—-

“I cannot believe this. This is ridiculous.”

Two weeks had passed, much too slow for Sabellian’s liking. The nether drakes had made it to Pandaria and now traversed the continent in both their dragon and mortal bodies, cloaking themselves with heavy garments to hide their ethereal appearances that clung to them even in their human forms; they had quickly learned stealth when discovering that Pandaria was crawling with Wrathion’s agents, garbed in the same gear as the blood elf spy had been in Blade’s Edge Mountains, whose lingering eyes watched them quietly from the shadows.

“All of the rumors from the previous reports are true. Questioning the adventurers here has not been easy with Wrathion’s agents seeming to appear from every nook and cranny to watch us, but we do have confirmation.”

“Even about the fact he’s a whelp?”

“Indeed, even that. We overheard a night elf laughing about it with her companions. Apparently she had seen it herself when in his company.”

Sabellian tore into the hellboar carcass in his paws and considered. “He’s befriending more mortals than just his hired assassins, then, if this night elf was with him.”

Another yes. “The most powerful champions are flocking to him. He’s offering… rewards.”

Sabellian rolled his eyes. “I will never understand mortals’ fascination with silly baubles.” He wiped a smear of blood from his maw. “And I do not understand why these champions trust him. Surely they’re aware he’s a black dragon, yes?”

“… Yes, they are aware.” A pause. “It seems the rumor about his… lack of Old God taint is true as well.”

The dragon ground his teeth, the bones of the hellboar crushing to powder in his mouth. “Explain to me how and I will believe you.”

“Something about experimentation and the Red Dragonflight. We’ve been trying to ask, but – no one really seems to know beyond that.”

“The Red Dragonflight experimenting?” He let out a bark of a laugh. “Humorous. It seems my late brother Nefarian was not the only one interested in such things.” Sabellian tapped his claws on the hard ground of the cave. “But to remove corruption – hm. It may be… plausible. And if these champions trust him for it… mm.” Sabellian pushed the remaining scraps of the carcass away. “Or this Wrathion is simply very good at hiding his taint.”

He tilted his head thoughtfully. “If he is a whelp - ” he snorted - “and he was able to kill grown dragons – we must consider how. If the Red Dragonflight did dabble in experimentation, we may conclude it made him more powerful. Nefarian was always complaining about unwanted side effects in his own creations.”

“I wish I could confirm your hypothesis, Sabellian, but we have no other information on the matter. What you are explaining makes the most sense, but… we can’t conclude it with facts.”

“Of course you can’t.” Sabellian got to his feet and shook out his wings. “An uncorrupted son of Deathwing… he is more my relative than the rest of my dead kin in this respect.”

“Suraku, I want you two to get closer. More information. I am pleased you’ve confirmed what I thought was impossible, but I need more. Do you know where he hides?”

“We have some idea.”

“Go there. I want you to see this murderous little whelp with your own eyes. No, do not complain about his guards, I don’t care. You’re going to do this. If the Black Prince killed the rest of our kind, I want to find out his true intention for it: power as the last, or humane euthanization?”

“Of course.”

“Report back immediately when you do. Use whatever methods you can to get this information for me, Suraku… perhaps the best option would be to capture him. I don’t think you’ll be getting any better information otherwise. Please do not fail me; I’m loath to wait longer for the answer to my question if I have to send more nether drakes to take your place.” Smoke curled from his nostrils in a calm show of anger. “If this pompous ‘last of his kind’ finds us and does plan to kill us - then perhaps we will kill him first.”

The whelp went silent. And Sabellian waited.

—-

Wrathion leaned back into his seat and sighed contently.

It was quickly becoming twilight; the mists of the Veiled Stair muted out the gentle purples and blues of the dying sunlight of the sky. The last of his champions had left for the day with their assignments, and the Tavern quieted save for the clanging of pots and pans as Tong prepared dinner for his permanent resident and his guards.

The dragon took a sip of the warm green tea in his hands and exhaled loudly. Today had been especially tiring; a Worgen had come whining, proclaiming that Sigils of Wisdom seemed non-existent, and refused to leave until the Black Prince had convinced her that, yes, they existed, and that she just wasn’t looking hard enough. A troll had gotten into a scuffle with Left, saying that she’d looked at him funny. Even an undead horse for sale at Madame Goya’s had gotten loose and had terrorized the travelers who had just gotten up the Path until Wrathion had gotten annoyed with their screaming and had his agents capture the flaming beast and drag it back to the Auction House.

It was a relief to finally relax by himself – with the exception of Left and Right behind him. Wrathion glanced up to look out of the circular portal that led outside. He had been in here all day.

“When is dinner, Tong?” He called out curiously, swirling the tea in his hand and turning his attention to it with sudden boredom, watching the water slosh around as he leaned his head onto his free hand.

“Oh… maybe a half hour,” Tong yelled back, straining to be overheard amongst the sizzles and pops of cooking food and the crash of pots as he worked.

Wrathion smiled brightly. “Good. I have time for a walk.” He stood up, abandoning his drink, and gestured to Left and Right with his head. “You two stay here. I’d like to be alone for a moment.”

Left gave a noncommittal grunt and Right simply nodded. He often went off during this time of day to muse by his lonesome, grateful for the silence of the mists compared to the clamor of the entire day; they were used to staying behind during it, by now.

“Do let Tong know I’ll be back momentarily, would you?”

Another nod from Right, and Wrathion left the Tavern, heading towards Mason’s Folly, his favorite spot on the mountain. The view was lovely. It let him … think.

Annoyed with the stairs up towards the peak, he transformed into a whelp and flew the rest of the way, alighting down on the marbled balcony at the top and reverting back swiftly. The yawning landscape of the Jade Forest below greeted him, and he smiled to himself as he leaned on the bannister to look down at the expanse.

It was beautiful. Awe-inspiring. If he focused hard enough, he could nearly feel the very earth beneath him, feel its energy and life, feel the instinctual need to protect it.

He stood that way for a while, simply finding peace among the earth. His eyes had begun to droop when he saw something at the corner of his eye, dark and vague, standing still among the rocks.

Oh, good. Entertainment.

Wrathion showed no sign that he had seen. Instead he focused on trying to find the figure’s scent -

There it was. It was oddly muted as if the figure was behind a shield, but he could still pick up the lightning-like scent of nether energies.

And dragon.

Wrathion smiled, but did not look in the figure’s direction.

Oh, things had gotten rather interesting.

He looked down at his hands and flexed them casually.

It was no red dragon, that much he was certain. Unfortunate. He would have enjoyed taking out another of their attackers as he had beforehand.

“I would advise you to better yourself at hiding,” Wrathion called out then, his smile slowly upturning into a vicious smirk. “Or hurry up and lunge at me, if not - ”

The figure hurled itself forward from the shadows. In that slim moment Wrathion turned and unsheathed the hidden dagger at his belt, saw his ambusher head on, a cloaked humanoid with a face like ice, transparent, eyes ablaze with nether, his mouth in a snarl, hands outstretched in mid-transformation as they twisted into blue, shimmering claws.

Wrathion swiped at the dragon with skillful agility. The attacker gave a startled cry as the wicked dagger sliced across his chest, but dodged Wrathion’s next kill blow at his throat, ducking down and with an explosion of energy transformed into an azure nether drake, nether streaming from its body in arcs.

This caught Wrathion by surprise.

He’d heard of nether drakes. He’d been intrigued. Black dragon eggs warped into something not quite black dragon, just like himself.

He had not counted on being ambushed by one.

There was a roar behind him.

Ambushed by two, then.

With a growl he sent a shock of black magic at the blue nether drake before turning swiftly and uppercutting with his dagger at the purple nether drake that had leaped out at him. The weapon sliced through the nether drake’s face, taking out an eye, and the dragon screeched in agony before landing on its head among the path up to the balcony.

The blue nether drake had recovered from the magic bolt. It surged forward, swiping a paw, trying to pull Wrathion’s legs out from under him; he didn’t count on Wrathion transforming into a whelp mid-swipe, causing the drake to miss completely and slam forward on his chest from momentum.

Wrathion twisted in mid-air, reverted back to human form, and landed hard on the blue drake, digging his heels into the drake’s flesh that strangely felt like hard jelly beneath him. The drake turned its shark-like head to bite back at him, but the Black Prince grinned ferociously and grabbed one of the drake’s horns, twisting the drake’s head at a vicious angle and raising his dagger to slit his throat.

A force slammed into him. He went tumbling from the back of the nether drake and into the bannister of Mason’s Folly with a shock of pain, his eyes going blurry from the impact. But he could still see the snarling face of the purple nether drake that had tackled him, and could see that the nether drake had made a very poor decision.

“Hello,” Wrathion said, before hurling his dagger right in the center of the drake’s soft, open throat.

The drake’s eyes widened; its body shook for a moment before silvery blood leaked from its now open mouth, and with a creaking breath, it collapsed lifelessly at Wrathion’s feet.

“No!”

The blue nether drake stared at his dead companion before snapping his head to Wrathion, his face contorted with anger.

The Black Prince smiled and slid his weapon from the drake’s throat, the dragon’s blood slick on the metal.

“I believe you two made a very poor choice in ambushing me.”

The nether drake roared, and a gout of nether flame shot from his mouth. Wrathion dodged easily, almost gracefully, and nearly laughed at that desperation and rage in the other dragon’s eyes.

He spread out his arms openly, tauntingly. “Well? Here I am, drake. By all means, come and get me.” He smiled wider, showing his pointed teeth. “Or would you like to end up like your companion?”

The nether drake’s eyes blazed. That had set him over. Good.

Fueled by immediate hate the dragon crouched and the nether energy about him crackled and popped and hissed like a storm.

Wrathion waited patiently.

The drake pounced, all of his desperation fueling his strong energy, stronger than Wrathion had anticipated. But no matter; he braced himself, waited until the was in the air, until the drake nearly upon him, until the drake was mere inches from grabbing him with his claws -

And then Wrathion ducked quickly slid his dagger up into the nether drake’s gut, felt the muscle give way underneath the steel, felt the blood fly back onto his face as the nether drake sailed over his head and fell with a cry, his legs and wings askew, breath short and rasping.

The Black Prince dropped his smile; his face was calm now, nearly expressionless, as he strode over to the dying nether drake and looked down on him, clasping his hands behind his back with his dagger still in one hand.

The nether drake lifted his head painfully and hissed at him, silvery blood gushing from his gut and drooling out in a pool around him. He tried to get up, but shuddered and fell again in a heap. Wrathion watched quietly.

“Dare I ask who sent you?” The Black Prince asked, a undertone of anger underneath his voice. “I would think the Red Dragonflight was not as low as to send mutants to kill or kidnap me.”

The nether drake scowled, shuddered again, and took a moment before answering, the agony clear in his voice. “Not the Red- Red…whelp.” He spit whelp as if it were a word made of acid, aimed to harm him. Wrathion, again, did not humor the drake with a reaction.

“Unfortunate.” He knelt down to the drake’s level to stare into his eyes which were slowly losing their light. “But I digress!” He smiled politely, took the dagger from behind his back, and put his other hand’s palm on the side of the drake’s head. “It may have been wise to have researched me beforehand. You may have easily avoided your death.” He pat the drake’s head in an almost friendly manner. And then the smile vanished from his face, replaced with a scowl. “No one ambushes me.”

He sunk the dagger slowly into the drake’s throat, then, never breaking eye contact, watching and relishing in how the life left the drake’s eyes until the drake breathed no more. Wrathion stayed crouched there for a moment before standing back up, sheathing the dagger, and brushing himself off.

Only then did he notice the belt like leather strapped around the drake’s back leg; attached to it was a small satchel. He frowned thoughtfully and unlatched the satchel from the belt; he must not have seen it during the scuffle.

“What do you have in here?” Wrathion purred, intrigued at how the bag felt heavy in his hands with the weight of potential. He opened the flap and lifted the thing inside out, grinning immediately.

It was a small robotic whelp, covered in realistic scales, its eyes embedded with rubies. Thankfully it had not suffered much damage from the fight, save for a dent in its belly.

“What a lovely little toy!” Wrathion said, clearly delighted as he looked it over curiously. “I wonder what you do.”

He stepped over the drakes’ corpses casually as he looked the contraption over and headed back towards the Tavern, ignoring the painful throbbing in his shoulder and back from where he had been crushed into the bannister by the purple drake. He made it half-way down when Right and Left nearly ran right into him.

“Your Majesty! What was all of that?!” Right exclaimed, obviously alarmed.

“Hm? Oh.” Wrathion waved his hand dismissively and moved passed the two startled women, continuing on towards the Tavern, still looking over the whelp, turning it over in his hands. “Nothing. A duo of assassins or kidnappers – I wasn’t quite sure which.”

“I hope that’s a joke,” Left grunted, turning her head to look up at Mason’s Folly, unable to see the cooling carcasses from the angle they were in. She shook her head and the two bodyguards fell in their respected places at Wrathion’s side as he walked.

Wrathion smiled wryly but did not answer. “Would you send for an engineer, please? I’d like to solve this little puzzle.” They entered the Tavern and Wrathion put the whelp down on the table, his attention shifting to the scent of finished food.

“Tong! Drinks, please!” He sat down in his usual seat, leaned forward and smiled at the automaton. “Now, let’s see what secrets you have!”

Chapter Text

“An automaton! And what a lovely little specimen! Here, do you see the spring-loaded mechanics in its maw? Such excellent mobility with the jaw – ah! Note the clockwork mechanism in the chest. The gem in the center is surely of a magical property - ”

Wrathion put up a hand to silence the gnome engineer, keeping his exasperation off of his face.

“Intriguing, but if you could tell me what it does, I’d be very thankful.”

“Oh. Certainly, certainly.” The gnome gently closed the metal cover he had unscrewed from the whelp’s chest that protected the intricate gears and the main-power gem he had found within before continuing his thorough inspection of the mechanical whelp. He had only just arrived after being sought out by Left and Right themselves, but Wrathion had put the gnome to his assigned task immediately.

The dragon watched quietly but intently from his seat at the table as the gnome murmured to himself and continued looking at the automaton’s numerous wires and gizmos. Wrathion had attempted to figure out the contraption himself while he had waited for the engineer to arrive beforehand, but had stopped when the whelp’s eyes had sprung open and hurled a fireball from its mouth when the Black Prince had touched some sort of hidden button.

Thankfully, he was immune to fire.

Wrathion tapped his clawed fingers on the table; he was getting impatient. It’d taken three whole days to find an engineer skilled enough and a whole other day to get him up the mountain, all while Wrathion was taunted by the mystery of the stupid little whelp who sat innocently on the table, peering at him with its ruby eyes. And now that the gnome was here, he wanted to know what the damn thing did. Now. Especially since the thing belonged to would-be kidnappers or killers.

Sighing loudly, he let his eyes slide from the working engineer to the open doorway leading outside and thought briefly of the nether drakes, whose bodies he’d had removed two days prior and dumped into the river below.

The ache in his back and shoulder he’d been trying to ignore began to flare up again at the mere thought of the two drakes. He frowned, annoyed, and sat up straighter. Being crushed into a bannister hadn’t exactly been very comfortable; a mottled black and yellow bruise had developed mere hours after the scuffle up along his back where he’d been shoved against the stone.

“Oh!”

Wrathion snapped his attention back to gnome.

The engineer beamed up at the Black Prince. “It’s a communication device!” He started pointing out each specific wire and gear with great enthusiasm. “The steam-compulsion gear here connects to the main wire at the main engine jewel- ” He paused when he saw Wrathion’s eyes go dim with boredom, and then let go of the wire he had just be holding sheepishly. “- But, ah, an automaton like this is usually for long-distance communication.” The engineer pat the whelp’s head once. “And it’s a very good device, to be able to communicate as far as the place its serial number says its from!”

Wrathion tilted his head and leaned in closer to inspect the whelp again, merely studying it with his eyes. “And where would that be?”

“Blade’s Edge Mountains. You know, that barren ol’ place in Outland. All spiky and what-not.”

The Black Prince grinned widely, not missing the way the gnome leaned back a fraction at the show of the dragon’s pointed teeth. “Of course! Outland!” He had thought as much – the nether drakes lived in Outland – but it seemed an odd conclusion.

What enemies did he have an entire world away?

The grin slowly slid off his face to be replaced by a thoughtful frown. He tapped a finger to his chin, leaned back in his seat and motioned for Tong, wordlessly, to fetch him a drink.

He quietly mulled the new information over to himself. Some month or two before he’d asked a single agent to inspect Outland, simply out of curiosity. After all, he had concluded, it had been home to conflict between the Burning Legion and mortals before, and could certainly shed some light on dealing with the demons in the oncoming future. The blood elf he’d sent had been a particularly skilled individual, perhaps one of his favorites, and Wrathion had felt sure he might learn something.

And yet the blood elf had not returned. It had been a reconnaissance mission, a quick fly-by of the broken world. Wrathion had simply assumed the worse had befallen his agent, and had moved on.

Yet now nether drakes had come from Outland and ambushed him.

Wrathion did not believe in coincidences. Something had gone very awry.

“How does one use it?” He asked, extending a hand to accept the tea as Tong came over, never taking his eyes off the whelp. Perhaps if he could get a handle on the contraption, he could find out who the nether drakes were no doubt reporting back to, much like how Wrathion’s own agents reported back to him.

The gnome lifted the whelp’s head with a creak and pointed to an enlarged scale below it’s jaw. “Push this, and, theoretically, it should work! You just speak at it, though I’m sure the jaw has to be open.” He opened the whelp’s maw to indicate. “Usually these sort of things have a twin, so there’s another little whelp-thing out there that would say what you’re saying. Which is kinda’ funny, I mean, how it’s a whelp. Since you’re a – you know. A dragon.”

Wrathion rolled his eyes and took a sip from his drink, holding back some sort of quip in retaliation to the gnome’s very insightful observation; the little engineer was aiding him, after all… even if he was somewhat obnoxious.

But he’d gotten what he needed. He knew what the automaton did now. And now he needed to be alone to think about his next move.

He turned his attention to the gnome fully now and smiled, careful not to show his teeth. “Thank you for your help . Right here will show you out and give you your much-deserved reward of… gold, was it?” On cue, Right moved from her place behind the Prince and gestured to the doorway. The gnome nodded and the two exited the Tavern.

Oh, some mortals did anything for gold. It was amusing… and very helpful to him.

Wrathion glanced back down at the whelp and took another drink of his tea.

“Left, have the doors guarded. I don’t want to be interrupted.”

Without question his remaining bodyguard moved to motion outside the back entrance of the Tavern where the hot springs were. A Blacktalon agent, a Worgen, appeared seemingly from mid-air in a flurry of dark shadow. Left muttered a hushed order, and the Worgen nodded briskly before taking his place on the main entrance to the Tavern, keeping his large paw on the hilt of his dagger. Left stood attention at the back entrance. She nodded to Wrathion. Ready.

The dragon set down his tea and pulled the whelp close to him. The first choice was to use the whelp first and try to speak to whoever had no doubt sent the nether drakes after him. It would be quick information, surely, but there were risks. If this enemy answered and realized who Wrathion was, would he cut the transmission off immediately, completely ruining Wrathion’s chance for information? Was it worth exposing himself as very much alive to this enemy, simply to know who it was?

He leaned his head on his hand, his eyelids drooping. “Mm.” Perhaps not. He needed to play this game carefully. But oh, it was so tempting to touch that transmission-scale on the whelp… but he forced himself not to, even as his hand hovered below the button. He sighed, loudly and over-dramatically, and pushed the whelp away -

The blood elf.

A grin lit up his face.

If the Blacktalon he had sent to Outland was still alive, he would certainly have information. Wrathion now had no doubt that sending the Watcher there had been a catalyst for this predicament he found himself in – the gnome confirming that the automaton had come from Outland had confirmed this – and if the blood elf was alive…

Excited, he closed his eyes and focused. He knew before that sending the blood elf to another planet might interfere with the link he had with the gem, making it much more difficult to check up on. But if he could just focus hard enough, feel through all the different pinpoints of light in the darkness of his vision that represented a Watcher’s gem and eyes, find the one he was looking for…

Light filled his vision. Initially his excitement multiplied ten fold – he’d done it, and the blood elf was apparently alive if he was able to communicate – until a wave of pain hit him as his vision cleared… if cleared was the right word at all.

His eyes were fractured, his vision seemingly shattered into a dozen different facets. Different angles of the same place encircled him, and the sensation was so disorienting he could only just make out the basics of the place; it was somewhere dark and damp, somewhere rocky and cave-like.

Wrathion groaned; it was dizzying and painful to look through. What had happened to his gem?

There was another groan that was not his own. Wrathion attempted to concentrate despite his shattered vision.

“My… Prince?” Came a gravelly mumble. Ah! The blood elf was conscious. At least that was good news.

Wrathion concentrated harder. The next step took much more energy on his part – he hardly did it because of this – but he managed to muscle through the disorientation.

“Good! You’re alive,” Wrathion said, communicating through the gem into the elf’s mind. Blood magic did wonders.

The elf groaned again.

“Well. Somewhat,” Wrathion corrected, then sighed, irritated. He’d hoped the elf would have been in better condition, but he might as well be grateful his watcher was breathing.

“I’ve had two nether drakes come after me. Care to explain the predicament?”

The elf didn’t move or speak for a long moment; Wrathion was worried he’d simply died right there until his vision moved with the elf’s turning head.

He could just make out an opening. Ah. The elf was in a cave. And was – oh, something dark was sitting, serpentine-like, at the opening. A guard, certainl-

The dark figured yawned and stretched its wings.

And the Black Prince felt his blood freeze when he realized what he was looking at.

It was a drake.

A black drake.

He was staring at a black drake.

Wrathion nearly lost complete concentration on the Watcher’s gem.

This was impossible. He’d killed them all. He’d killed…

His stupidity hit him. He had never thought to check Outland for the rest of his corrupted kin.

Idiot!

Wrathion clenched his teeth with a scowl and tried to will his calm composure back to him. But oh, it wouldn’t come. His head was whirling; his blood still felt frozen. Everything had been turned on its head in one quick glance.

“Do I have to ask why that drake is still alive?” Wrathion finally managed to hiss.

“Tried to… ambush… another…”

“Another?” Wrathion felt smoke come from his mouth. “How many are there?!”

“I - ”

“Who are you talking to over there?”

Wrathion willed the blood elf to look more in the drake’s direction as the young dragon spoke. He could just see the drake peering over at the blood elf oddly through all of his multiplied angles.

“No one,” the blood elf snapped back, surprisingly confident despite his ill-condition.

The drake stared for a moment, glanced behind her shoulder, then approached cautiously.

“Kill her,” Wrathion growled.

“My Prince, my hand is - ”

The drake was close. Wrathion felt his blood unfreeze, felt the sudden boil of adrenaline and anger, anger at his stupidity, anger at his failure of an agent, anger at these cowardly kin of his for daring to hide from him -

The drake was a mere yard away.

Wrathion forced the agent with sheer will to draw one of his hidden daggers, ignoring how the blood elf’s bones in his hands creaked and popped painfully.

“Kill her!”

—-

“Father! Father, watch this!”

Baron Sablemane rubbed his eyes and groaned. “What, Alacian?

The larger black whelp hopped over to where his father, in mortal form, lounged against the rock. The mechanical whelp was only a quick arms length away on an upturned ledge.

Sablemane dropped his hand and watched exasperatedly as his youngest son, for the fifteenth time, hopped into the air and did a flip before landing clumsily.

“Amazing. Now go away and bother your brother Talsian. I’m very busy.”

Alacian frowned, glanced at the robotic drake, then at his brood-father. “You’ve been staring at that thing for days - ”

“I said go away, Alacian!” Sablemane growled, making a shooing motion with his hand. The whelp skittered off, almost running into a cliff face in his hurry to get away.

The dragon rubbed his eyes again, scowling, and let his eyes linger over to the automaton, who stared back at him lifelessly. It had been days since Sablemane had forcefully ordered his nether drake spies to capture the “Black Prince.” If they knew where he was, it should not have taken that long to track him.

He was loath to admit the worst option. If his murderous little brother had actually managed to kill them… well, that would be incredibly inconvenient. How much longer would it take for another team of nether drakes to find the Black Prince again?

“You blasted thing,” Sablemane grumbled, flicking the nose of the whelp with a metallic ping. “Speak!”

It stared at him blankly.

Sighing loudly and aggravatingly through his nose, Sablemane turned away and looked out over the mountains. Alacian had been right; he’d hardly moved from this spot in days, except to feed. But this was important. The drakes understood. The whelp did not. He cared for all of his children dearly, but Sablemane didn’t have the patience for the littler ones.

Sablemane stood quietly there for a long while, crossing his arms and surveying his home, looking calm but feeling annoyed, highly alert to any of the sounds the automaton might make.

He was about to give up and go hunting when Alacian nearly hurled himself into his chest down from above.

“What the – augh! I told you to go away, pest!”

The whelp recovered quickly. Sablemane only then noticed the fear in his eyes, how his small chest heaved.

“What is it?”

“The prey cave – Ryxia – the blood elf – there’s blood everywhere-”

Sablemane did not need to hear more. He snatched the robotic whelp from its perch, transformed into his draconic form, towering over his small whelp, and leaped into the sky, heading towards the cave he had locked the blood elf in weeks before.

It did not take long. Catching the familiar landscape of the cavern he folded his great red wings and dived, the wind whistling around him.

Talsian rushed out when Sabellian landed at the cave front; he had the same panicked look on his face that Alacian had had.

“Don’t just stare at me like that!” Sabellian snapped, transforming back into his mortal form and brushing passed the drake, entering the gloom of the prey cave.

Ahead of him lay gore.

The large, lithe body of Ryxia lay still and cold against the rock floor, her wings askew and her mouth frozen open in a silent death cry. A dagger protruded at the end of a large gash across her belly where her guts had been spilled. Blood was spattered everywhere; the floor was bathed in it.

Sablemane stared at her quietly for a long time. Another one of his children, dead.

He clenched his hands into fists, barely containing his wrath.

Slowly, he turned to look at the blood elf who was practically crushed beneath the drake. His chest had caved in from the weight. Blood trickled from his mouth in a steady stream.

But he was still alive.

Sablemane looked down at him with a condescending frown.

“You managed to kill one after all,” he said as calmly as he could, but there in his voice was that undercurrent of barely-controlled fury.

The blood elf looked at him, his eyes in agony.

He wondered about how the blood elf had managed to gut a drake with his broken wrist, how he had managed to gut a drake when he’d been purposely starved to weaken him. It should have been physically impossible.

“My Prince demanded it,” the blood elf managed to rasp; Sablemane could practically hear his lungs flap wetly, pierced by broken ribs.

Sablemane narrowed his eyes.

“Your Prince.”

“And he… he will put down the rest of you.” The elf spit at Sablemane with a red glob of blood, where it fell short. “He’s seen… you’re here…” The elf looked up in a triumphant glare and the shattered gem on his headband began to glow faintly. “You can’t… can’t run now.”

Sablemane pursed his lips in a tight, grim line.

There was the answer he had been seeking, the answer the nether drakes could not find for him.

This Black Prince would have Sablemane’s children killed, after all. Ryxia’s cooling body was answer enough for that.

The poor young drake. He should have killed the mortal when he had the chance.

Sablemane scowled. His fury had intensified. “We have no need to run if we are the ones running towards him, little elf. I almost wish you had the chance to warn your Prince,” Sablemane said. “But alas - ”

With a swift movement he half-transformed his hand into a claw and proceeded to rip out the elf’s throat.

Blood went spurting. Sablemane dropped the flesh in his hands as the elf died in front of his eyes.

“Talsian!” Sablemane snapped, turning on his heel and nearly running into the drake as he stalked out of the cave. “Get Nasandria.”

The drake followed him meekly, watching as his father transformed into his dragon form.

“Sir?”

Sabellian whipped his head to his son. His eyes were ablaze with yellow flame.

“If my little brother intends to come after us, then we have no choice but to go after him and finish this before it starts. Ryxia will be our only fatality in this conflict.”

“But the Old Gods - ”

“Old Gods be damned! I would like to see them try to corrupt me through my anger!” He snarled, curling one of his paws, feeling the rock crack beneath his talons. “This ‘Wrathion’ will know what true wrath is!”

Chapter Text

Wrathion was rather pleased with himself.

He sat languishing on the bannister of Mason’s Folly, comfortably in his whelp form where none of his agents and mortals could see him (oh, yes, he was acutely aware about how “humorous” this form seemed to mortals, who hid their smiles when they saw him shift… even he felt annoyed at it at times, for his dragon form was neither fearsome or impressive), with his wings laid down relaxed on either side of the polished rock.

The black drake in Outland had been a scare. His eyes drifted to the crack in the rock where he’d been pushed up against it by the nether drakes; his back still ached. But the Black Prince had dealt with his relative quickly and cunningly, just as he had with all of his other cowardly brothers and sisters; he’d lost an agent, but the results were worth the losses… and so he was pleased with his own quick-thinking. The whelp smiled smugly. How funny to think they could still hide from him even a world away. No one could escape him.

He thought briefly of the event - forcing the agent to kill the drake with his own will, seeing the dragon die, seeing his agent crushed. His gem had, unfortunately, been damaged further in the brawl; he could hardly see the other drake appear at the cry of his apparent sister, but oh, he had managed to see him, too, before the magic gave way and his vision had shattered into not a dozen angles, but a hundred, and he’d been forced to shut off the transmission after some frustration in trying to keep connected.

When Wrathion had come out of the trance he’d sent for two of his best Blacktalons to take care of the remaining drake in Outland.

Yes, the drakes had been a scare, but he’d taken care of it, as he took care of all of his other… problems.

The Black Prince turned his head to look out over the Jade Forest below, the smug smile still on his face. He leaned his head to rest down on his claws casually, relaxed.

Defeating his enemies was just too deliciously easy.

—-

Sabellian stared hard at the gargantuan vortex of the Dark Portal.

The two hooded figures flanking the portal’s side and the large dragon head extending from its top loomed down at him, towering over the wyrm despite his sizable height. It felt like they were waiting for him to make his move, judging him from their darkened, hooded faces… or perhaps it was his own mind simply doubting itself. He snorted.

“Well? Are we going?” Nasandria, his eldest drake, sounded impatient.

Sabellian glared in annoyance at the green and purples of the vortex, but did not look away to treat his child to the same look. She was only a whelp when they had come to Outland with Deathwing; she couldn’t have remembered fully the taint of the Old Gods, their dark whispers, the haunted dreams, the urge to kill and hurt and maim.

She couldn’t remember. Sabellian could.

“In a moment,” he murmured.

What would happen once he stepped through the portal and put a single paw on the earth of Azeroth for the first time in years? The dragon mulled to himself quietly. Would the corruption latch back onto his brain like a suction, taking his sanity instantly? Would it creep quietly into his head? Would it appear at all? He had spoken adamantly after Ryxia’s death with lack of fear against his previous shadowy masters, but now…

Were the risks worth it?

The stench of Ryxia’s pyre burning came to him, which they had executed before they had left. Sabellian had lost so many children to Gruul and his seven sons… no. He could not allow this Black Prince, his own half-brother, to be a threat to them as well. He would not let his flight live in fear, live in defense and caution, live wary of mortal assassins.

Sabellian had to do what must be done. The anger came to him again, bright and burning, singing away the doubt and his latent fear of the Old Gods. He would enjoy ripping the Prince from his high horse and crushing him into the mud.

“I shall go first. If I do not return after a moment, then all will be well… or I have given into the Old Gods and don’t have the sense to walk back in the blasted Portal. But I am hoping it is the former.”

Sabellian did not waste time for protests or questions. He lifted from his haunches and strode through the vortex. All around him, like a touchable atmosphere, the dragon felt the world shift and warp as he was transported from one world to the next. It was not an altogether pleasant feeling. There was a subdued roar, the ripping of nether, the spark of powerful arcane magic -

A paw hit the ground on the other side - Azeroth. He slid the rest of his reptilian body forward… and braced himself for a surge of darkness in his mind.

Any moment now…

Sabellian opened an eye.

Nothing. No darkness came. No whispers chattered in his skull.

“For now,” he muttered. And yet he still allowed himself to relax for the time being. The dusty red landscape of the Blasted Lands stretched out before him, deserted and barren; scattered lightning flashed off in the distance by the coast.

He sat and waited for his drakes, stretching out his great wings to ready them for their long flight to Pandaria. How long would the corruption stay away? Not long, he imagined,with sure pessimism. If they could deal with this Prince quickly and efficiently, then he would not have to worry.

There was a whirling behind him as his two drakes appeared through the Dark Portal.

“It’s about time,” Sabellian grumbled, lifting to all fours.

“But you said to wai -”

“None of that. Let’s start this errand.” He turned to Nasandria. “The whelp. Do you have it?”

The drake nodded, tilting her head to the leather belt around her girth where the automaton had been attached.

“Good girl.” He spread his wings. “Now, let us pay my brother a visit!”

—-

The yellowed stretch of Westfall farmlands yawned out below the three black dragons as they glided at a quickened pace high above. The coast of the sea loomed close.

“How far, Nasandria?” He called behind him, dipping down at an angle as a gust of wind hit them hard as they entered the sky above the Great Sea. They had planned to fly the bulk of their travel above the water, away from the risk of mortal eyes who might be swayed to shoot them down when they caught a glance of their onyx hides, stopping only at abandoned islands along the way.

His eldest drake glanced down at the automaton in her paws and with a gentle click of a claw, opened the sheath of metal against the whelp’s chest, unveiling its shiny innards. In the center was a gem, its power source; it pulsed faintly.

“Far,” Nasandria said flatly, studying the gem’s silent beeping for a moment. Sabellian was thankful for the little contraption; the gnomes he’d commissioned it from had certainly be thorough, or perhaps overzealous, in its machinery. They had installed a locating device in both whelps through the main gem; when the right button was pushed, hidden behind the gem itself, the whelp would begin seeking out its twin, the gem pulsing like a heart, getting deeper in color and faster in beats the closer the two automatons were.

The gnomes had said it was because they tended to lose track of their own doodads. Sabellian had thought it stupid beforehand – he never lost track of anything – but he was immensely grateful for it now. Mortals were, at times, grating, but other times, they were… clever.

There was another click as Nasandria slid the metal back over the gem. Sabellian looked up casually at the sky, pleased to find it still cloudless and sunny; excellent flying weather. They could glide like this for hours -

“Father.” Sabellian flicked his yellow eyes over to Talsian, who flew to his left. “When we get to Pandaria, well – the nether drakes said Wrathion had a good deal of agents around the continent, yes? They’ll surely see us coming. It’ll be difficult to kill - “

“Sometimes I wonder if you’re stupid or just thick-headed.” Sabellian looked away. “As I said before we left Blade’s Edge, we track at least to where the nether drakes left off through the automaton. They’re probably dead. At the very least, the machine should be close to them. Or not, which would be irritating. Either way, we shall follow their footsteps and find the ‘Black Prince’ ourselves if we must.” He paused thoughtfully, flexing his claws to shake off the salt that was beginning to accumulate against the delicate scales there from the sea wind. “Mortal guises are a must, of course. We don’t want to alarm his little underlings.”

“I’m still not sure -”

“I have fooled Rexxar for years that I am a normal human. He’s never suspected my true form. My little brother’s agents will not suspect either.”

Talsian went quiet. The only sound now was the soft gliding of the wind around them and the beats of their wings.

The land had disappeared behind them now. The sea stretched on endlessly, a fathomless plane of blue. In days they would arrive beyond the parted mists, and in days he would see Wrathion with his own eyes.

He certainly hoped his little brother was ready.

—-

The Blacktalon Watcher scanned the crowded Pandaren inn.

The night had been uneventful in the Valley of the Four Winds. It was to be expected in an area devoted largely to farming, but the Worgen rogue couldn’t help but be frustrated in his underwhelming post. Oftentimes he resented the Prince for sending him here week after week and had wondered if this “Blacktalon” to-do was worth it.

He sighed loudly and twitched his sharp nose. He knew, despite his strongest wishes, that he wouldn’t find anything outstanding in the Valley; most of the greatest wonders here had been unlocked already, notably the mystery of the waters whose nourishment created monstrous crops for the farmers and, at times, larger-than-life animals. He had not been there for the report, but he had overheard a human agent quietly mocking the way their Prince’s eyes had widened with the quickened excitement akin to a child’s.

The Watcher pinned his ears back. At the very least, the inn here allowed for a steady stream of information. Patrons tended to talk when their tongues were loose from brew. That would have to do.

“No no no no no – I heard that Fung wash’ goin’ to gif’ his yaks to that younger farmer – what’sh his name? Uh…”

“No, you dolt, he ain’t gonna give his yaks to anyone. Those ‘er his pride ‘n joy!”

“I’m tellin' you, I heard it -”

The Blacktalon rubbed at the bridge of his muzzle. “Steady stream of information” didn’t necessarily mean “information the Prince wanted.”

He scanned the inn again, desperate to find something of interest that wasn’t centered on what crops were harvested that day or what shenanigans that drunk Jinyu in Halfhill had gotten himself into now.

Oh – there was something semi-interesting. On the farthest, darkest corner of the room, three humans picked at the bones of a meal. The Worgen was not surprised to see them here; there was often many strangers beyond the mists that stumbled into this tavern, down-trodden, bruised, or otherwise exhausted, hoping for food or a drink to settle the nerves. What he was surprised about was when the woman in the group looked up from her empty plate and stared at him the moment he’d laid eyes on the three.

The Worgen scowled and beamed her down. He abhorredwhen people took notice of him in the shadows; they hardly did, to be sure, but it was an insult to his abilities.

The oldest man at the table glanced up casually and fixed him with a stare before looking back down. He made a dismissive gesture at the woman, seemed to murmur something under his breath, and went back to gnawing at bones. The woman looked away and sipped at her drink, but the Worgen could still see the stiff tension in her shoulders.

One of the Watcher’s ears twitched. It was not the oddest reaction people had had to his presence – at one point he’d been swatted and shooed at with the end of a broom by a very vocal Pandaren innkeeper after she’d proclaimed “she didn’t like the look of him” - but it was still questionable. He decided to keep an eye on them, just in case, but to sway their suspicions he glanced away and began theatrically scanning the bar.

Perhaps ten minutes had passed when the Worgen glanced back in their direction -

And saw they’d promptly disappeared.

His scowl deepened. Twice in one night – no, twice in ten minutes – he had slipped up. They had noticed him, and now he’d lost them. At least the Black Prince was not here to see him fai -

A hand muzzled off his mouth and an arm cut around his waist and he was pulled roughly backwards into the shadows.

Startled, the Blacktalon flailed and struck backwards with his elbow; there was a grunt as he hit his assailant, who then loosened their grip; the Worgen surged forward, attempting to break free so he could grab his daggers -

A more powerful set of hands grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him high off the ground. With a woosh he was turned and with a slam his back hit the wall. The room spun.

“Tal, if you would please hold our guest there.”

The hands let go, but another grabbed him, keeping him pinned to the wall. The Worgen hissed and kicked out again with his powerful legs, unable to grab the dagger at his belt.

“There’s really no use for that,” said the voice again with a slightly amused but annoyed tone. The Watcher focused on its direction as his vision began to straighten again.

It was the older man he had seen at the table. A dark cloak was draped around his shoulders, and he watched the Worgen with interest, despite the slight frown on his face. He smoothed back his goatee and mustache with a thumb as the two studied each other.

“You know who I am, right?” The Watcher growled, and struggled again. The other male he’d seen at the table, the youngest one, was holding him, and despite his smaller stature in comparison to the man-beast he did not struggle with keeping the Blacktalon in place; his grip was like iron.

“Don’t start blabbering on and on about your Prince and what he’ll do and what will happen to me. I’ve really been preached about it enough already.” The man paused, then tilted his head thoughtfully. “I just have some friendly questions about your ‘Prince’.”

“This doesn’t seem very friendly!”

“No. I suppose it doesn’t.” The human shrugged nonchalantly. “But how else were we going to be able to ask you anything?”

The Watcher huffed. “I would never betray his Majesty.”

The man went silent now and was simply eying him curiously. The Worgen could hear the muted sounds of drunken Pandaren and clanging plates and mugs from beyond – where exactly had they pulled him into? An abandoned room? It smelled and looked stuffy enough.

“I really didn’t plan to harm you, Worgen,” the human drawled. “As long as you’re honest with me, I will gladly let you go.” He smiled a forced smile. “I do have places to be, as I’m sure you do.”

The Watcher said nothing.

“I simply wish to know what your Prince looks like. Hair, eyes, clothes…”

“No.”

The man raised a brow. “Really? You won’t even answer a simple question like that?”

“No, I won’t.”

The man actually look impressed.

“He does have you all wrapped around his finger, doesn’t he?” The human sighed loudly. “I wonder how he managed it. But no matter. That may come later. For now, I need this. And if I really must…” He shook his head. “Then I suppose I shall continue down another path if we cannot do this like mature, peaceful adults. Tal, if you would.”

Tal punched the Worgen hard in the gut and an explosion of sour pain shot up his stomach. The Blacktalon gasped and fell to his knees, finding himself free of the younger human’s grip, and yet even with that there was no respite. Three pointed, short blades came up to his furred neck, close enough to make his skin sting at their touch; Tal had come equipped with a vicious fist weapon, whose base was made of an open dragon maw.

“I shall ask you again. I would like to know what your Prince looks like. If you do not answer, I will ask my son here to kill you.”

The Worgen breathed quickly. He was trained for situations like these. But there was no conceivable way to twist from the physical impossibility of the iron grip of the man’s son or the iron blades of the fist weapon.

“You’re bluffing.”

The man glanced down at his son. Tal pushed the blades harder into the Worgen’s throat until blood began to trickle from the fur and the Blacktalon growled in pain.

“Am I? To be straight with you, I don’t like drawing out torture. It’s an unfortunate business. A quick threat – or, in your case, a promise - is all that is needed. And besides! I can find another ‘agent’ quickly enough. You all are everywhere.”

The blades continued digging in deeper and the pain continued intensifying until he could feel it tremor down his spine, and he whined loudly, twisting his head back and forth in a failed attempt to escape the slowly sinking blades into his neck. But they continued sinking and sinking until his heart was beating too fast, and there was no escape at all - he had quickly over-viewed the situation – and what did Wrathion’s appearance matter anyway - ?

“Stop! Stop! Alright, alright, I’ll tell you! Just get that bloody thing off of my neck!”

The blades stopped their slow descent into his flesh and pulled back abruptly.

The Blacktalon rubbed at his throat and looked down at the slick, shiny blood against the fingertips of his leather gloves. He growled and rubbed it between his thumb and index finger; tonight had turned out eventful, but in the opposite way that he had hoped.

“He’s much younger than you. Bright red eyes – they glow. Dark curly hair. A goatee. A gold hoop on his right ear. A turban as well.” When the Worgen spoke, all the words stumbled from his mouth too quickly in a slush; he didn’t want those blades near him again. He was loyal to his Majesty… but loyalty only went so far to him. His life was worth more than his service.

Besides, what the Prince didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. Unless, of course, this group did hurt him. Then that would end poorly for everyone.

At least he’d still be alive.

“Mm. That will do. Help the poor dog up, if you would.”

He was thrust to his feet with an unkind hand.

“Not that hard, was it?” The man said, smiling almost politely, ignoring the vicious glare the Worgen gave him. “I am sorry. But I digress. Thank you for the valuable information.” He paused and flicked his eyes to the side – and only then did the Watcher realize that his eyes weren’t just yellow.

They were glowing.

Just like -

“Wait. Who the hell are you?”

The man smiled again. “Now, my friend, I don’t want to spoil the surprise! If I did, then I really would have to kill you.” There was a shifting in the shadows to his right and the cold-eyed woman that had locked in on the Worgen appeared with a vicious smirk. “But even so, I must have you … staying ‘low.’ I don’t want you to run back to your master. Nasrin, if you would be so kind as to help this Blacktalon here…”

With a blur she seemed to surge forward and the Worgen was still too dizzy from the blades and his back to even think about grabbing his dagger. A fist punched at his neck, another at the tender flesh beneath his shoulderblades, and he collapsed once more as the world went dark.

Chapter Text

The Veiled Stair was quiet.

The high afternoon was slowly simmering down into a peaceful dusk, and Wrathion the Black Prince leaned forward in his seat on the bench and studied the Mogu runestones in front of him, freshly delivered from a champion only moments before. Oh, they were fascinating already. He grinned, glancing them over, and began to pick the most interesting looking specimen from the pile, ready to dig into its secrets.

He’d sent everyone away, by nowonly his guards remained.

Wrathion had begun reading when there was the soft scuffling of leather soles of an Agent. The Black Prince did not look up.

“My Prince, there’s a party coming along the Path. Shall I invite them in?”

Wrathion shook his head and once again turned his full attention back on the runestones, squinting his eyes in concentration.

“Send then away, would you? I’m not accepting any more visitors.”

The Agent’s footsteps retreated outside; silence enveloped the Tavern once more and Wrathion was content, reading closely the odd mix of Mogu and what seemed to be Titan script upon the shattered, ancient slabs laid out in front of him. He had begun reaching for his tea to wet his dry mouth when he heard a loud but muffled conversation outside.

Wrathion glanced up, raising an eyebrow and frowning slightly. He could make out his watcher’s voice, blurred by the distance, and – there, another voice, one unfamiliar. It sounded like an argument. Wrathion took a sip from his tea, found it lukewarm, and, now thoroughly annoyed, looked back down to read again with the hopes the irritation outside would end swiftly.

It did. Wrathion breathed out, his shoulders relaxing. A clawed hand drifted over one of the slab’s inscriptions, the one he had reread perhaps three times during his break in concentration from the noises outside. If only he could decipher -

The sound of heavy footsteps broke his thoughts again. It was not the light footsteps of his agent; indeed it sounded like many people at once. Wrathion clacked his fingers impatiently against the runestone. It must have been the party he’d asked to send away. Had his agent completely misunderstood him?

“I said I would be accepting no more visitors - ” he began, looking up, and promptly stopped mid-sentence.

Three humans stood in front of the open doorway; the two youngest, a woman and a man with dark skin and dark hair, flanked the tallest and eldest human, who was staring at Wrathion with his yellowed eyes as one might stare at an exotic but annoying bug. His skin and hair, too, were dark, his black hair coming just above his shoulders and feathering out softly behind his scalp. A dark cloak covered his form.

Wrathion’s claws raked against the stone once, sharply. The nerves along his shoulders and back began to stand on edge, like the hackles on a dog.

Right and Left must have felt their Prince’s sudden shift in mood; behind him he heard the two clutch their ranged weapons tighter and to attention in their hands.

These three – there was something so fleetingly familiar about them. Something intimate. Something… wrong. Forgotten warning bells were ringing behind his eyes as the leader of the party studied him. But the harder he tried to pinpoint the feeling the quicker it fluttered away, as if their very identities and scent had been muted or otherwise hidden.

“What do I owe the pleasure?” Wrathion asked politely, his voice taut, aiming to stall as his eyes assessed their features closely.

The man who seemed to be the leader of the party smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. “You’re the Black Prince Wrathion, I assume?” His ocher eyes flickered over Wrathion again, an eyebrow raised. “I suppose with the get-up you are, though it never hurts to ask.”

Wrathion bit the inside of his cheek at the subtle insult, but otherwise attempted to ignore it in favor for dealing pleasantries with this problem. “I would like to know who’s asking.” He smiled back, allowing the small glint of his sharp teeth to show against his dark lips. “It would be rude for a host to introduce themselves before a guest!”

“Oh, my apologies.” And much to Wrathion’s affront the black-haired man bowed low enough for the Prince to realize it was performed in sarcasm; he even went as far as to spread his arms out in false subservience. Wrathion’s eyes flashed. The nerve -

The man straightened back up leisurely, but the amused smile was gone. “I am Baron Sablemane.” He began to shrug off his cloak, revealing a brilliance of red and orange robes beneath and, once completely shed of the heavy garment, tossed it off to the side to lay haphazardly over a table.

Wrathion was beginning to take in the full armor set of snarling shake heads at the man’s shoulders when the scent of black dragon hit him hard in the face.

His claws dug into the table in a single sharp motion and for the briefest of moments his eyes widened, his expression unguarded and startled.

No – he’d killed the drakes -

Baron Sablemane must have seen the Prince’s startled face because he smiled grimly. “I was almost disappointed when you didn’t catch on immediately – but whelps’ senses of smell are marginally less developed. Besides, the cloaks do wonders.”

Wrathion stared for a moment longer. Their dark hair and skin, just like his, the way Sablemane’s eyes seemed to glow -

Idiot. He should have seen it before!

There must have been more he did not see in Outland. More that had now shown up on his doorstep!

Wrathion thought quickly.

The only black dragon he had ever dealt with personally was Fahrad – and even then he knew what to expect from having lived with him for weeks, and even then he’d had someone to help him. No, this… this had to be dealt with subtlety, with delicacy… he had to get this dragon’s guard down, he had to seek a weakness, despite every instinct that was sill reeling from his panicked surprise urging him to hurl a dagger or a blast of draconic magic at his corrupted brethren’s chest.

The Prince slipped into his act before giving into his instincts and gave his best smile. “How interesting! I’d thought myself the last of my kind - ”

“When you saw my drake then had her murdered?” Sablemane was not looking at him kindly.

Wrathion’s smile wavered.

“Oh.” His smile came back again confidently, even brighter and toothier than before. “As it happens, I’ve made it my … duty to eliminate my corrupted brothers and sisters for the greater good.” His voice had heightened to a strangely cheery one. “Your drake was merely a needed casualty, as will the rest of your kin be. Do not take it personally.”

Sablemane stared at him for a moment.

“Ah. And if we lack corruption?”

Wrathion laughed slightly. “Of course you don’t lack corruption. Only I am free from the Old Gods.” He smirked widely, smugly, at Sablemane. “Are they whispering to you now, I wonder?”

Sablemane snorted and walked forward. Wrathion tensed – but the elder dragon seemed almost disinterested in him, instead turning to inspect the room.

“No. As it happens, being in Outland has severed ties with the Old Gods on Azeroth. For now.” He glanced over at Wrathion, raising a brow. “I don’t expect you to believe me.”

Wrathion smiled sweetly. “I don’t.”

“Mm.” Sablemane glanced away from him, studying the crossed amber swords hanging above Wrathion’s head. “So I suppose you do plan to kill the rest of my family, then? I’d like to hear it with your own voice.”

“Of course,” Wrathion said, still smirking. “You’ll be a threat to mortal lives otherwise. And no doubt to me.”

Sablemane looked at him again. Wrathion could not decipher what he was thinking.

“Very well.” He sighed loudly. “From one direct son of Deathwing to another, I would advise you to be less… smug. Though it seems too late for that.”

Wrathion’s smile soured. A direct son of Deathwing? “You’re -?”

“Nefarian and Onyxia were my clutch brother and sister. Yes. I am your half-brother.” He sounded almost bored.

“I see,” Wrathion murmured. Oh. This was unexpected. A slight tinge of anxiety made his stomach almost tighten. No. He had to keep himself cool and collected… he had to show himself as unphased in order to get this supposed half-brother’s guard down, as he had planned before, so he could give the signal to Left and Right quickly enough so that they could kill him right there.

“Do you? Good. Then stop talking.”

Wrathion scowled, straightening in his seat. He could handle one insult, but this many? How dare this Sablemane speak to him like this -

“I’ll make this quick, Black Prince. I don’t take… kindly to my family being threatened,” Sablemane drawled, vacantly flipping through the Saurok and the Jinyu novel that lay on the table across from the Prince. Wrathion watched him readily; his claws were tense against the wood. Just a step closer and he could give Left and Right the signal to put bullet and bolt in his forehead. “We’ve suffered enough causalities from Gruul the Dragonslayer to put up with some - ” his eyes flickered over to Wrathion - “make-believe prince.”

“Make-believe - ?”

“I wasn’t finished talking. I loath interruptions.” He shut the novel closed, ignoring the glower Wrathion was giving him. “So. I’ve come to deal with the problem personally. Unlike you, I am confident enough to send myself as my own assassin to kill the enemies that threaten me.”

Wrathion had heard enough. This had gone too far; it had to end now. “Right, Left!”

The two guards raised their respected weapons behind him and with a click they began to pull the triggers -

Sablemane glanced at them, lifted a hand, and with a crushing gesture of his fingers the gun and crossbow exploded, sending shards of metal and wood flying. Even Wrathion jumped, and it was only then, when he turned his face to block his eyes, that he saw the two other dragons that had come in with Sablemane had disappeared.

“Our brother Nefarian taught me the trick. I’ve hardly had to use it until now!” He smiled, almost politely. “I’m sorry; you have no need for those weapons, ladies.” He turned to Wrathion now, fully, his eyes malicious. “Now. Let’s get this started, shall we?”

And then the back wall exploded.

Wood splinters flew. There was a roar and a cacophony of snarls and as Wrathion ducked and turned his head to shield his eyes he saw the two drakes that had burst through the wall grab Left and Right around their waists and disappear with the two guards through the gaping opening.

Wrathion hardly had time to react. He turned in pure instinct – was it panic? - and hurled a clumsy bolt of black fire at Sablemane only to have the elder dragon catch the flame in his hands and quench it with a fist. Wrathion stood, eyes wide, intending to try again with a dagger but Sablemane was too fast, much too fast - he surged forward with surprising speed and grabbed Wrathion by his leather sash, lifted him off of his feet with ease, turned -

And threw him out of the doorway.

The world spun. With a startled cry and a boom of pain Wrathion landed on his back, sliding a foot or two until coming to a rest against the white tree outside the Tavern. He must have landed directly on his healing bruise; his shoulder and spine were in agony at the impact.

The dragon lay there for a moment, dazed and in pain, his eyes clenched shut, not quite understanding what had just happened - … until he heard a far off roar and a furious yell that must have belonged to Left, and he snapped back to reality.

Forcing himself up with a groan, his back aflame, he saw with his shaken eyes Sablemane exit the Tavern and walk down the steps with all the casualness of a Sunday stroll. His eyes were lidded, seemingly relaxed, but were transfixed on the Prince.

Well. It certainly looked like his plan of killing by subtlety had literally gotten thrown out the window.

Wrathion scrambled to his feet and stumbled once before catching his balance, dirt clinging to the back of his clothes, as his half-brother approached. Flames had begun to flicker at the tops of Sablemane’s red gloves, yet the cloth remained unsinged.

“Come now, little brother,” Sablemane chided while he slowly closed the distance between them. “You make this too easy. The Black Prince I’ve heard rumors of wouldn’t allow himself to be thrown about like a ragdoll, I’m sure.”

Wrathion found himself beginning to take a step back as Sablemane came closer, but he scowled and forced himself to stand his ground. “You simply took me by surprise.” His hand found the hilt of his dagger that hung at his belt. “I don’t believe it will happen again.” There was a slight growl in his otherwise calm voice, belaying his anger.

Sablemane had caught the movement of his wrist; he glanced down at the hilt of the dagger and smiled as if amused. The flames on his fingertips had begun to envelop his hands and the sounds of roars and yells still echoed off in the background; Wrathion briefly found himself wondering if Right and Left were dealing with the drakes well – and –… where were the rest of his Blacktalons, anyway?

“That flimsy letter-opener will hardly do you any good. You’re welcome to try, however.”

Wrathion opened his mouth to snap back some snarky retort when the flames from Sablemane’s hands coalesced into a ball of shrieking fire and smacked him straight in the face.

The flames swept off him harmlessly, leaving him untouched, but it was the force of pressure that made him yelp and stumble back. Another hit his chest and stomach before he had time to move or react, but when the fourth came shrieking at him he had the sense to finally duck and move out of the way, the fireball plunging deep into the bone-white tree with a hiss, smoke billowing quickly from the outer lay of dry bark as it began to burn.

Wrathion took advantage of the dry smoke, ducking behind it despite the pain still thrumming in his face and back, and sent his own ray of black fire at Sablemane, who’d turned with a scowl; he snarled as the black ray hit his shoulder hard.

Wrathion grinned widely, enthused by landing a hit, and sent another firebeam. Sablemane lifted the staff from his back in time to have the beam ricochet from its width and burst against the Tavern behind him, the walls smoking.

“You’ll have to try harder than that,” Sablemane said, and Wrathion, with his own scowl, sent another, only for Sablemane to respond with his own fireball.

They continued like this for multiple blows, most rays and beams of fire sailing over each others’ heads as they dodged and ducked, sparks and flames spitting out across the ground, the denser grass catching aflame and adding its own small-scale fires to the now-roaring inferno of the tree. One of Sablemane’s flames exploded into the kite station and that, too, went aflame.

Wrathion jumped nimbly over a lowly thrown missile and landed, coughing slightly from the furious smoke that now swirled into the Mists of the Veiled Stair. How long could he keep this up? Sablemane hardly looked injured from the few bolts Wrathion had managed to land on him; if anything, he looked angrier, or more annoyed.

“Enough!”

Sablemane raised his hands, murmured an incantation under his breath, and a powerful spell spiraled into his hands, glowing a brilliant orange, sparking like an ember. He threw it forward – and the ground in front of the Prince seemed to explode.

The force sent Wrathion tumbling backwards again – but no, he was ready this time. He shifted into his whelp form before impact and twisted up and over to land on top of the wooden roof of the Tavern.

Sablemane laughed uproariously the instant he transformed. “You are a whelp!” He laughed again, louder. Wrathion glared down at him and fluffed out his wings in an attempt to appear larger. The smoke and flames from the burning tree billowed about Sablemane like a curtain, and the dragon looked up at Wrathion, the amusement still in his eyes now alight with the red of the fire around him.

“There is nothing funny about it,” Wrathion snapped.

“Then you have a poor sense of humor. No matter.” Sablemane pointed his metal staff’s tip towards Wrathion and with a hiss and a buzz a sizzling beam of arcane energy shot from it. The whelp scrambled out of the way and there was an audible hiss as the missile hit the roof and smoked.

“Do not set my Tavern on fire!”

ZAP. Another beam.

“It’s a bit too late for that,” Sablemane pointed out. He began to shoot one laser after another in quick succession. Wrathion dodged each easily, nimble in his smaller form, and chanced a glance over his shoulder as Sablemane took his aim again; a far-off, frenzied roar had caught Wrathion’s attention. There, near the saurok cave, Left and the eldest drake were attempting to pin each other down for a kill blow -… but Left was too agile to grab and the drake was too heavy to tackle. They were locked, viciously, in a stalemate.

Where was Right and the other drake?

There was a subtle, magnetic humming Wrathion heard and recognized in time to jump out of the way as another beam of arcane energy scorched at where he just stood.

“Little pest! Stay still!”

“Perhaps you should simply aim better!” Wrathion called down, then ducked as Sablemane sent an angry fireball at him in retort.

If Wrathion could just distract Sablemane long enough, just long enough, at least until Left had time to dispatch her own assailant, then his loyal bodyguard could come to his aid. Or perhaps another agent could hear the commotion up the slope, or even a champion could hear, someone, anyone, that could surely assist him with a situation that the darker parts of his mind began to realize he could not handle alone.

And then, as he dodged another laser, he realized - he had done nothing like this – fighting – without the help of a champion or his guards. Even when the red dragon had come to assassinate him, he’d had Fahrad to help.

He certainly had no one now.

Wrathion ground his teeth at the his weakness, at the slight, subtle pang of helplessness in the pit of his gut. He didn’t like it. At all.

An especially large bolt exploded an inch away from Wrathion’s face and he jumped from his reverie – but it was too late and the roof had begun to smolder too quickly. It caved in beneath him.

Startled, he tried to find purchase. The wood only slipped from his claws and a sharp pain flicked up his scales when he fell as the splinters raked across them.

There was a groan and a crunch as he landed haphazardly on his belly; fire and smoke surrounded him fully, scorching out the rest of the world beyond. Wrathion frowned and looked around, confused – oh! He’d landed on one of the burning trees branches of the tree, far above and hidden from Sablemane. What luck!

He squinted down through the smoke, breathing heavily, his claws digging into the bark. He could no longer hear Right or Left above the roar of the flames around him; with a resigned growl he realized he could no longer count on them.

No matter. He was the Black Prince! Maybe he hadn’t done something like this without help before, but he was a quick learner, he assured him confidently. He could do anything.

The silhouette of Sablemane appeared below, hazy from the thick smoke of the tree. This was his chance. If he could just get an inch closer, if he could shift into his human form fast enough, if he could grab his dagger fast enough -

Wrathion crawled forward on the branch and widened his eyes when the bark groaned from the slight shift in weight…

And then snap.

He tumbled over and found himself grabbed by the neck by a strong hand, and as he flailed and flapped his wings uselessly Sablemane, who had grabbed him mid-fall, brought him up to eye level.

“There you are. Finally. Do you know how easily I could break your neck? If you - ”

Wrathion shifted in human form so quickly even Sablemane looked surprised, and with a furious growl the Prince kicked out with all the power of a cornered animal and struck the elder dragon in the stomach with his heels. The man stumbled with a grimace, loosening his grip.

Wrathion tore himself away the dragon, landed lithely on his feet, grabbed his dagger and turned back with a snarl, uppercutting with his weapon to attempt to impale it into the black dragon’s chest.

Sablemane had recovered too fast for Wrathion’s liking, however, and brought up his staff to block. An aggravated sound escaped the younger dragon and he tried again at a different angle, advancing a step each time, driving Sablemane back towards the Path. Yet each time Wrathion slashed his dagger, Sablemane blocked it with the thick width of the staff. It didn’t help that the smoke was blurring Wrathion’s eyes, making his strikes nearly blind, nor did the fierce pain still throbbing in his back or the blood still dripping from his gloved hands from the splinters, all while Sablemane was hardly touched.

“The rogues taught you well!” Sablemane complimented, defending himself against another uppercut.

“I taught myself,” Wrathion quipped back smugly, then slammed one of his heels down onto Sablemane’s feet. Sablemane snarled painfully and jerked back, and – there! Wrathion found his chance and took it, surging forward with the dagger. The other black dragon saw and moved his neck away in time from being slit, though the dagger still opened a deep slash across his upper arm.

Wrathion’s victory was shortlived; Sablemane hissed, turned his staff and slammed the end of it into Wrathion’s chest with inhuman speed. There was a snapping pain and Wrathion suppressed a yell as a sharp, warm pain blossomed in his chest – had he just broken a rib? He stumbled and caught his balance. How much worse was this going to get?!

“That was a coward’s move,” the elder dragon admonished, annoyed, as Wrathion recovered from the staff hit.

“I hardly see – agh!” He ducked as Sablemane whipped his staff, the metal shrieking, at his head; it sailed passed him harmlessly, but the residual arcane energy from the weapon fell down to his face.

The staff kept swinging back at him, deadly and precise. Wrathion kept ducking, backing up slowly. Now he was the one being driven back, not Sablemane, and the sudden shift in power made him just angry enough.

“This - ” duck “ - is- ” dodge “ - ridiculous!”

Sablemane went to hit across his head again – but promptly feinted the move and with a crunch sent it slamming against Wrathion’s side.

The agony from his broken ribs blossomed fiercer; distantly, as if he had retreated far into himself, he heard a strangled cry of pain and realized it was his own voice.

He hardly saw Sablemane rush at him.

Wrathion felt a hand grab him by the e fringe of his scaled shirt and his feet left the ground as he was lifted a second time.

“You’ve fought better than I thought you would, I’ll admit,” Sablemane said, and Wrathion only managed a groan in reply. Oh, it hurt. His whole world was pain.

They were moving now; Sablemane was walking with him, still holding him aloft as if he weighed no more than a child. “Did you know the drake you killed was one of my youngest? Very intelligent, as well. She was gifted in learning languages; she often stopped adventurers to attempt to speak to them in Common, in Orcish.” Around them the fire burned. “She would have been even more gifted as an adult.”

“Unfortunate. I would have still killed her if I knew,” Wrathion said, mustering up his usual smugness through the pain as he began to become aware of himself again. “In fact, I’m almost disappointed Gruul didn’t kill more of your children -”

Sablemane snarled and punched him hard across the face with his free hand with such force Wrathion’s turban fell off.

The pain was immediate and terrible. He jerked back with a yell but could not go anywhere; Sablemane held him fast. His right eye already began to swell shut.

And then Sablemane threw him up at the Tavern with all the strength of his hidden dragon form.

Wrathion crashed through the front Tavern wall, shards of wood flying, and smacked back against none other than the bench he usually sat in before stilling to a halt.

If he thought his world was pain before, then his whole existence was it now. Every nerve on his body seemed to be screaming, on fire, in pure anguish.

The dragon laid there for a moment, too in pain to even utter a groan, simply trying to push back the world-shattering agony but finding it too difficult to stem. He conceded in at least taking a deep breath – but even he regretted that, his broken ribs growing tense with the inhale.

This was ridiculous. He was Wrathion, the Prince of the Black Dragonflight, uncorrupted, without fear of the Old Gods. He had eliminated his family on Azeroth, had hunted them down, had sent his own gifted assassin after them no matter where the wyrms had hid. He set his champions out to be pawns, watched as they did his bidding so willingly, he watched the Alliance and Horde kill each other senselessly and waited for the right time to choose the side that would conquer, he had found secrets on Pandaria he had not even shared with his heroes. He couldn’t just wallow here in agony like some low-life creature.

He forced himself to open his left eye – his right refused to – and sit up a bit straighter against the bench, a low hiss escaping his lips as his body throbbed.

His Tavern… oh, it was near to half-way destroyed: the roof caved in, patches of smoldering wood, the gaping holes where the drakes had barged in, where he’d just been thrown through. Wrathion stared at it, almost vacantly, non-believing. Just an hour ago he’d been content with a full stomach of the best Pandaren delicacies, talked earnestly with his champions, and toned down for the night, excited to study the runestones.

And now he’d been punched, bruised, and otherwise harmed by his surprise elder brother, subjected to be a personal punching bag.

Wrathion scowled. No. He wasn’t going to put up with this anymore.

He was the Black Prince. He was no one’s to push around. His anger grew as he heard Sablemane ascend the steps.

If Sablemane wanted a fight, he was going to get one.

Fueled by his sudden surge of rage the pain of his injuries became dulled, and he forced himself to his feet, pushing the rubble off of his chest and waist in order to stand.

Wrathion went to the entrance, now half as large because of the hole his body had made, his clawed hands curled into fists. Sablemane was at the middle of the steps by then, and stopped, looking slightly surprised that his younger brother was on his feet.

Pushed by his anger, by his pain, by this lonesomeness, Wrathion summoned one of his more powerful draconic spells. It had worked on one grown dragon before, and it could certainly work again!

Through the pain in his chest, his back, in the palm of his hands, he pulled his strength forward, feeling it surge through his shoulders, up into his hands, into his fingertips. He brought up his arms as if to shield himself from the next blow – but from his opens palms a strong, fiery black beam of magic shot forth, intertwining and writing like something living. It hit Sablemane square in the chest.

The elder dragon yelled out angrily, in pain, and tried to move away – but found himself rooted to the spot. Wrathion grinned widely, almost viciously, as Sablemane’s face became affronted with a confused sort of anger.

“Do you like my finest spell?” Wrathion asked, a slight coo to his voice, and curled his fingers to intensify the beam’s power. Sablemane grimaced. “Fahrad did too.”

“It’s passable,” Sablemane growled.

Wrathion splayed out his fingers and forced the dragon to walk backwards down the steps. Sablemane was glowering at him.

“You see, Sablemane, I think you have forgotten who you are dealing with!” He gave a toothy, bloody smile. “Whoever ends up challenging me rather… regrets it.” He curled his hands again to intensify the pressure of the pain on the beam. “Like those unfortunate nether-drakes.”

Sablemane was trying to hold back another grimace; Wrathion could see it in his eyes… all until the pain on the elder dragon’s face seemed to slide away, replaced by a cool calmness, though his pain was still evident in the creases of his eyes. Wrathion found himself annoyed – disappointed, even - at the dragon’s sudden nonchalance. Why wasn’t he roaring, snarling, spurting flame in anger at his immovability, his helplessness, as Fahrad had?

“Who was this Fahrad fellow?”

“He was a black dragon. I killed him.” His voice was smug.

“Did you? Or did someone else do it for you?” Sablemane chuckled at how Wrathion’s lip raised in a scowl. “The latter, then.”

“Oh – details! That’s hardly the point! You are only delayi-”

“This Fahrad. How old was he?”

Wrathion was caught off guard by the question. His grin fell from his face quickly; now he was the one who looked confused. “What?”

“How old. Was he?” Sablemane’s voice suggested a tone akin to trying to explain something simple to a child.

“I don’t see how - ”

“He was not a child of Deathwing, I assume?”

“No, but - ”

“You’re gifted, Black Prince, but only so much gift will get you only so far.” Smoke had begun to encircle the base of Sablemane’s ankles, rising slowly up his form. “An excellent containment beam – and yet.” He smiled and Wrathion noticed his teeth had become sharp, fang-like. “Do you really think - ” he chuckled almost warmly - “You could keep an ex-lieutenant of Deathwing immobile, a dragon who has lived countless generations, has experienced far more than you have, whose skills far surpass your natural born gifts… for that long?”

The smoke enveloped him now. “I do not believe you know who you are dealing with.”

Only too late did Wrathion realize what was going on, and he frantically tried to surge more energy into his magic, despite all of his strength seeming to drain as he pushed himself.

It didn’t matter. The beam broke as the spoke surged upwards, swirling, growing in size…

Until it cleared away as quickly as it had come and an enormous dragon as big as, if not bigger, the Tavern itself stood before him, a crest of regal fins atop his head and his neck, with double black horns flaring out from the back and side of his angled face, whose dark black scales caught and reflected the light of the burning fire like gemstones, whose belly and wings were as red as the flame itself.

Sabellian’s glowing yellow eyes flickered down to Wrathion, who was unabashedly gawking at him.

“Do you see my point, little whelp?”

Wrathion had not expected this. He thought quickly, panicked, not caring for the moment that he was panicked, and backed up a couple of steps. He’d thought, maybe, Sablemane had been lying about being a son of Deathwing, about being his brother, despite the gun trick, despite his skill set – but apparently not. Fahrad had hardly been the size of Sabellian, and – who was Wrathion trying to fool?

He was the Black Prince, surely. But apparently even he had limitations… and admitting it made him uncomfortable.

Where was everyone?! A flash of irrational anger overtook him. Left and Right – useless!

Besides, it didn’t help that the apparently useless draconic containment spell he’d just performed had most of the dredges of energy he’d had left. It didn’t help that a dagger could hardly do any good against the hide of a grown dragon, especially a dragon as powerful as Sabellian, and it didn’t help not much of his spells would be applicable, either – not like he had the strength to cast them, anyway. And it didn’t help that his injuries were screaming at him, that he was about to collapse, that he just wanted to curl up and hide and wish Sabellian away so his bruises and bones could mend.

For the first time in a long, long time, Wrathion was completely without a plan and without the knowledge to make one.

“I’ve had enough playing. It’s time to end this.”

And Sabellian lurched forward, opening his large maw to snatch Wrathion between his teeth.

The Prince stood transfixed for a moment as the jaws descended before he turned, shifted to whelp form and bolted, the pain of his injuries dulling from the rush of adrenaline fueled by fear for his life.

The laugh of Sabellian followed him. “Are you running? Come back here with some dignity!”

Wrathion half-ran, half-flew up the pathway that led up near the sauroks before turning right and scrambling up the small hillside, aiming to hide behind the tallest peak of rock on the Veiled Stair. A boom exploded behind him as Sabellian let loose enormous stream of concentrated fire, as pressurized as a cannonball. Debris went flying, but Wrathion ignored it. The grass began to burn.

Would the entire mountain soon be aflame? There were a good number of trees that could easily catch fire -

BOOM. Another cannonball of fire and Wrathion stumbled, nearly falling on his face but managing to regain his balance with a flap of his wings. He’d made it behind the large peak of rock, at least.

He glanced up, anxiously seeking where he could hide until he had at least some semblance of a plan, but found only smooth rock before him – no niches nor large enough grooves in the slab to burrow into.

Sabellian roared. The ground shook; the dragon was coming after him, rounding the corner of the path to search behind the hill.

Wrathion started scrambling, ignoring the way his fierce injuries were screaming, up the lower levels of the peak, hoping to get leverage before risking a flight up towards the top with his limited amount of strength. Maybe if he could get high enough, above even Sabellian’s eye level, he could -

A large claw grabbed him.

“Too slow, I’m afraid, whelp.”

Wrathion snarled and writhed as best as he could with his broken ribs. “Let me go, you overgrown-!”

“Don’t attempt to insult me in your position. It’s not wise -”

A crossbolt seared into the side of Sabellian’s flank, deep into the flesh.

“AUGH! What on -”

He turned and another became embedded into his shoulder. The dragon snarled.

Wrathion glanced over, surprised – then grinned.

Right stood grimly with a golden crossbow loaded in her hand; her face was raked with deep claw marks, one of her eyes sown shut, and was bleeding heavily from seemingly every area of skin that showed. Dirt and blackish blood that seemed not her own bruised her uniform. How she was still standing Wrathion had no feasible idea – she looked as if she’d just risen from a grave - though the drake that had grabbed her, the youngest one, was nowhere to be seen.

“Humans, as hardy as always,” Sabellian grumbled, though Wrathion saw a faint flicker of concern in his yellow eyes. Concern for who? Himself? Or the vanished drake?

“Stand aside. This is between my brother and -”

Fwoomp. Another bolt in the shoulder and another snarl from Sabellian.

“You had your chance!” Sabellian’s tail whipped about, but Right dodged, barely. As she landed, her eyes caught Wrathion’s with a pointed look which then flickered anxiously over to the Black Market House, which sat quietly, almost serenely, before the flames against the slope.

Of course! Madam Goya often sold vicious weapons there. If he could get a hold of one strong enough to disable or even kill Sabellian…

And oh, what luck. The elder dragon was distracted by the bodyguard.

Wrathion took the shot instantly. As Sabellian opened his mouth to shoot a gust of flame at Right, the Prince reverted to his mortal form and had just enough time to wiggle his arm through Sabellian’s claws and grab his dagger before the dragon had time to react.

He shoved the weapon into his half-brother’s paw, right near the webbing protected least by the hard scales, with such force it sunk in up into the hilt. Sabellian roared in pain and jerked back his claw on instinct, and Wrathion fell from his grip.

“Augh! You little - ” He turned and swung his tail again angrily, and this time Right didn’t have the energy to dodge; she was hit with a mighty crunch and disappeared beyond the slope.

Wrathion had no time to feel for Right. He turned and took off, feeling the last of his strength dissipate as he pushed his flight speed hard.

He landed heavily in the open Auction House; Madam Goya and her exchange guards were gone. The Prince found himself wondering again where everyone was, briefly coming to the conclusion Sabellian must have dispatched them beforehand, before he jumped over the counter where the elderly Pandaren woman usually stood and peered over at the items on the other side.

Success! He grinned widely and shifted into human form, practically falling down, clumsy in his weakened state, into the rack of weapons that had been hidden behind the counter. There was a mechanized, Dwarven looking sort of gun; a bright golden axe, whose sides resembled wings; and another axe, more vicious in looks, with a skull in its center. There was an empty slot on the rack; it must have been where Right’s crossbow replacement had been. Clever of her to think to come here -

He flinched when the image of his guard sailing over the edge flashed back to him – no. He couldn’t think that over now. He tried to forget about the outcome of Left’s fight with the other drake as well. No time. He had no time to care.

Focusing back on reality, Wrathion tried picking up the skull axe and gave up the moment he tried to lift it; even in that little exertion his body hissed.

Wrathion frowned, aggravated with his weakness, before trailing his hand over the golden axe and coming to rest it on the gun. He’d never used one before, but it would have to do.

Just in time, as well. Sabellian seemed to realize where he had gone, for the ground began to shake again as the dragon headed in the Auction House’s direction.

Gingerly Wrathion crawled back over the counter, leaving a trail of blood, and crouched as well as he could - considering his injuries - biting his lower lip and suppressing a whimper at the way his chest seemed to almost creak. He hid behind the wall near the opening to the building and glanced the gun over again. These things didn’t seem too hard to operate; he’d seen Left use hers deftly many times. Wrathion put his hand on the trigger. If he could just get a bullet in the center of Sabellian’s skull – even in the center of an eye - …

“Come forward, Wrathion. Allow yourself a clean death, at least.”

Wrathion scowled but his fingers tensed against the trigger. Sabellian sounded close enough.

He could almost feel his own heart beating. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath to summon the handful of energy he had left…

Then leaned out the entrance, aimed, and fired.

Sabellian had practically been a yard away and though the gun bucked back in Wrathion’s hand with a surprisingly powerful recoil, the shot still hit… though not where Wrathion had wanted it to. It grazed across the side of Sabellian’s chest, entering through the flesh of his upper shoulder. The dragon snarled loudly and reared on his hind legs, flame pluming from his mouth in a show of pain.

Wrathion went to shoot again but realized with a panic that the gun had to be reloaded after fumbling awkwardly with the contraption.

“GRAH! THIS ENDS NOW, PRINCE!”

Before Wrathion could dodge or move – as if he had the energy to, anyway – Sabellian shot out a claw and snatched him roughly, lifting off of the ground with a beat of his wings and landing on the lower side of the high peak, which faced the Tavern, Wrathion had earlier thought to hide behind.

The Black Prince’s body thrummed as Sabellian pushed him down into the ground.

“A good last shot. But I believe you’re finished,” the dragon hissed down at him, anger blazing in his eyes now. Wrathion could do nothing but snarl at him weakly.

Sabellian pushed down harder and Wrathion winced, forcing himself to stop the pitiful whine that threatened to escape his throat, as the pressure bent down at his broken ribs and the pain escalated.

“You made a fatal mistake when you declared hostilities on my family,” Sabellian growled, smoke curling from his nostrils, his eyes aflame with anger. His paw crushed down harder and this time Wrathion did cry out. This pain, stacked up on all his previous agony, was unbearable. His entire head rang with it.

“You would have caused…” He gasped hoarsely for breath. “Unspeakable… pain… to the mortal races if - ”

“Oh, yes! I had forgotten how many mortal races visited Outland nowadays!” A growl, deep and sinister. “Do you take me for a fool, or do you take yourself for one? I would have never chanced re-corruption if it were not for you disturbing us!” Another push of the paw and there was a snap as another of Wrathion’s ribs broke. The Prince hissed and writhed against the pain, but had no where to go, the rocks crushing up against his bruised back. He suddenly realized this is what Anduin Wrynn must have felt when he was crushed by the Divine Bell –… only done much, much slower.

“How easily you could have left us alone. Forgotten us. Let us be. We were an entire world away; what harm could we do the mortal races?” Sabellian shook his head, sneering. “But you couldn’t help yourself, could you, little prince? You wanted to be special. The very last of your kind!”

He leaned in close. “Allow me to tell you what you really are. You aren’t special. You aren’t unique. Perhaps the Old Gods have not found you yet, perhaps you’ve escaped our father’s madness – but in the end you are simply the product of a red dragon’s curiosity and nothing more. A living, breathing, mutated experiment. Nefarian tossed specimens like you out daily.”

Wrathion glowered at him, wanting to kill him, wanting to kill him slowly, painfully, disgusted and angered and insulted - … but could do nothing but writhe again against the claw. Sabellian only shook his head.

“Pathetic,” he mumbled, and smoke cascaded off of his enormous form as he shifted into his human form once again. He grabbed Wrathion and set him leaning almost casually against the rock; the Prince was so disabled by pain he could do nothing but whimper at the slight movement of his body and glare at Sablemane with a lidded, glassy look.

Sablemane was silent for a couple moments, merely content to stare at him, before speaking.

“You favor your right hand, correct?”

Wrathion pursed his lips and glowered at him silently.

Sablemane shrugged. “Then I’ll just break both.” He went to grab his left arm.

“My left! I favor my left,” Wrathion lied with an edge of panic in his voice.

Sablemane promptly grabbed his right arm and snapped it as if it were made of paper.

Wrathion screamed. Sablemane looked at him impassively. “I didn’t want another trick from you. This should stem most.”

Wrathion hardly heard him. The edges of his eyes were getting hazy, getting dark. Vaguely he was aware of his head bowing, the echo of a scream… but he was retreating far into himself, far, far away into the comfort of darkness, a darkness that promised a brief respite from the agony.

He didn’t fight it. He accepted it readily. And as it closed around him his last good eyee shut and he thought no more.

—-

Baron Sablemane straightened and brushed the dirt and blood from his robes as Wrathion’s body fell limp into unconsciousness and his eyes fluttered closed.

The fight been more difficult that he had imagined; he’d scoffed and ignored the rumors of the Black Prince’s skill and power, but he understood where the rumors had started now… even though they had been exaggerated. Wrathion fought well for his age, but Sablemane was much more experienced.

Scowling, he rubbed at the thick gash at his shoulder where the whelp’s dagger had sliced him, then quickly assessed the rest of his wounds. The holes left from the bolts in the crossbow burned fiercely, the bullet still dug into his shoulder even more-so, and his entire body ached from Wrathion’s powerful containment beam. His injuries had hurt more than he had let on during the scuffle.

No matter. It was over and done with. His injuries would heal with time… not like Wrathion could say the same about his own.

The dragon turned his head, squinting through the flames. Half of the Veiled Stair seemed to be aflame.

“Nasandria!” He called out, loudly, above the fire’s muted roaring. Hopefully the drake had fared well against the other bodyguard – the one that had not thought it a bright idea to shoot him with a crossbow – and briefly worried again over what had befallen Talsian.

There was a moment’s pause. Had she fallen as well? -…

The smoke above him billowed out and swirled, and the large black drake funneled through the clouds, landing hard on the scorched ground. She was heavily injured, gashes slicing across her neck and legs, but looked at her father readily.

“Did you -? Ah.” Only then she noticed the unconscious body of Wrathion slumped up against the rock. “Is he dead?”

“No.” Sablemane bent his head to ruffle through the slim pocket in his robes, ignoring the incredulous look Nasandria was giving him. “Stop looking at me like that. It doesn’t become you.” He took a small red vial from his pocket, swirling its contents. “The ‘Prince’ is still valuable alive… mostly thorugh his knowledge. I’m curious to interrogate him on the nature of his lack of corruption.”

“I doubt he’ll - ”

“We’ll see.” Sablemane shook his head, took a sip of the healing potion and grimaced at its sour taste, though the ache in his body began to ebb at least a slight bit. “Afterwards, I will dispatch him, once we know how we might be able to return to Azeroth without worry.” He corked the vial. “Where is Talsian?”

“I don’t know. He and the human went near the cliff.”

He shifted into dragon form then, spreading his wings, testing again the pain in his muscles. “Let’s locate him and retreat to a safer distance. The fires will grab attention, if they have not already.” Sabellian glanced down at the still Prince before grabbing him by the shirt and settling his limp body haphazardly on the back of Nasandria. “Carry him, would you? Thank you.” He ignored again the annoyed look on his drake.

The dragon lifted from the burned earth, sailing high above the smoke. Once they found Talsian – dead or alive (Sabellian dearly hoped it was the latter) – they could find a secluded area, perhaps up higher in the mountains.

“Come, Nasandria!” He called down, ignoring the ache in his bones. “And be careful with our little Prince, would you? We don’t want him falling. That would be… unfortunate.”

—-

Anduin Wrynn knew something was wrong when he first saw the smear of smoke coming from the horizon.

“It’s alright,” he assured his white gryphon as calmly as he could, patting the elegant beast’s neck as the animal made a low chortling sound Anduin recognized as nervousness when the smell of the smoke hit them. The Prince had been riding at a leisurely pace from Lion’s Landing for the past hours, stopping only to allow his mount to rest and for him to eat, when the large point of the Veiled Stair appeared in the distance -… and then the smoke coming off of it.

What on earth was happening? Anduin pursed his lips, squinting his eyes hard as if it could help him see clearer. The Veiled Stair was usually quiet, the mists of the mountain almost acting as a muffler to further dissuade violence (though the Exchange Guards and the Blacktalons often were the cause of that), and was altogether a more mysterious place where little happened unless Wrathion willed it so to impress his chosen champions.

So why did it seem to be on fire?

The Path of a Hundred Steps grew closer until Anduin had to angle his gryphon up sharply in order to traverse up the rock face. He glanced down, frowning, as they ascended. At times there was usually a duo of Blacktalon Agents walking the Steps… but the farther he went up, allowing him a larger view of the entire pathway below, the more worried he became. There were no Blacktalons, or even other travelers or traders, for that matter.

Anduin tried to ignore how his throat began to clench, a sign of his own nervousness. Wrathion hardly allowed the Path to be unguarded.

He glanced up as his gryphon screeched, startled, beating her wings backwards as they made it up to the top.

The Veiled Stair was on fire!

“Easy, easy!” Anduin said, struggling to be loud enough over the fire and his gryphon’s own panicked squawking. “It’s alright!”

After a moment, with calm but stern words and a bit of wrestling of the reins, he managed to calm her - at least enough so that he could gently goad her to fly over the flames.

The Prince of Stormwind widened his eyes when the scene unfurled below him as he made it over the highest bits of the inferno. The Tavern – it was nearly destroyed! Its ceiling was half caved in, two of its walls were busted through…

For the seemingly hundredth time Anduin questioned what the hell had happened up here.

There was no logical reason for Wrathion to still be inside. Anduin scanned the earth below, half-frantic in his surprise, and saw nothing, save for some dark red stains on the ground and pocket-holes of upturned dirt that he’d rather not think about.

It was difficult to investigate this high up. He had to land. The higher bit of path leading up to the saurok cave seemed relatively untouched; he directed his gryphon there.

The gryphon seemed happy to comply, as it took them farther from the flames, and she landed earnestly and quickly.

“Good girl,” Anduin murmured, grabbing his cane from the saddle then gingerly slid off, careful to land on his good leg.

It was only then, far from the roar of the fire, he heard someone groan.

He turned, hand going to his belt where his throwing knives were, and stilled. Another groan. It wasn’t malicious. Whoever it was was in pain. His hand fell.

“Where are you?” He called out, looking around the grey of the rock. A gloved hand then lifted from behind a boulder. Anduin, still cautious, leaned slightly so he could see behind -

“Left!”

The orc was half-way hidden behind the boulder, her head bowed, but Anduin would know her anywhere. As quickly as he could with his hobble and limp he clacked his way over, his bad leg almost creaking with the strain of going up the incline.

Anduin knelt down to her, abandoning his cane, and summoned the Light into his hands the moment he took in the bodyguard’s condition. She was bleeding heavily, her shoulder notched through with bone-deep gashes, one of her ankles severely twisted.

Gently, he hovered his hands over her worst wound – the bleeding shoulder – and began to heal her as quickly as possible while he spoke.

“What happened here?”

The orc managed to open her eyes, though her pain was evident, and looked up at him. She went to speak, but coughed hard, blood spittle landing on Anduin’s fine tabard. He ignored it.

“A dragon. Three dragons,” Left murmured, scowling then. “Black dragons.”

Anduin was so alarmed he almost lost his concentration on the Light. “Black dragons?” He repeated dumbly, then shook his head and went back to healing her. “That’s – what did-?”

“From… augh,” she winced, then pushed through, “from Outland. They were after the Prince.” The orc raised a hand and rubbed the blood from the corner of her mouth.

Outland? Anduin frowned thoughtfully. The wound was slowly but surely beginning to stem in blood flow.

There had hardly been any news from Outland in years. He wondered if Wrathion had ever thought to send agents there -… though apparently not.

“Where is Wrathion?” Anduin asked, trying not to sound worried. The Black Prince was egotistical, annoying, smug, manipulative, and often drove Anduin up the wall or otherwise made him completely exasperated or affronted… not to mention Wrathion was an extreme know-it-all. But all the same, he … enjoyed the Black Prince’s company, and the Prince of Stormwind cared dearly for him.

“I wish I knew. The leader and he were battling. I don’t think the outcome was in our mutual friend’s favor.” Her eyes slid to the Tavern and the destroyed hillside. “I should have been protecting him. That’s my job!” She scowled again then, fierce. “But those drakes came for Right and -” She paused, then fixed Anduin with an intense stare. “Have you seen Right?”

Anduin shook his head.

Left narrowed her eyes and went silent.

“I’m sure she’s fine,” the Prince assured quickly, summoning more power to attempt to force the wound to stitch back together. It worked, somewhat, but only so far.

Left grunted.

“They flew off with him. With his Majesty.” Left spoke again after another moment of silence. “Into the mountains.” She gestured the direction with her head, indicating the peaks above of Kun-lai. “Grah! I should have followed - ”

“Left, your injuries are severe. I wouldn’t punish yourself,” Anduin said calmly, then lifted his hands from her shoulder. There was only so much he could do without draining his energy.

He glanced up at where Left had indicated, then. Three black dragons kidnapping the one who’d thought he was the last and had killed the rest of his kin on Azeroth.

Anduin bit his lip. What were they going to do to him?

He furrowed his brows and sighed loudly through his nose. He couldn’t just… sit here and let an ill fate befall his friend. His bad leg throbbed then, as if it were reminding him of what had last happened when he’d gone off against a powerful enemy by himself to stop another bad outcome for the people he cared for…

“Don’t even think about it,” Left said gruffly.

Anduin glanced down at the orc, startled. “I – well, I can’t just abandon him if I know he’s -! ”

Left cut him off with a dismissive motion of her hand and slid herself up into a straighter sitting position. Light, she recovered fast, even with her ankle still twisted. “I’m going with you. You’re going to go up there anyway, I can see it on that bright little face of yours, and I’ve sworn my life to my Prince, so I would have gone too.”

Anduin felt himself both relieved and touched that she hadn’t denied him from going and that she had offered to him (even though he knew well it was out of her duty, and not generosity). But she was gravely injured, and he couldn’t allow her to push herself, even though she was of great willpower and strength. “Left, that’s kind of you, but I - ”

“Don’t tell me ‘no,’ Prince. I answer to the Black Prince, not the Prince of Stormwind. And it’s my job. Besides -” she snorted - “if his Majesty couldn’t defeat one of them, what makes you think you’re going to?” She rolled her eyes as his face fell. “That’s what I thought. Now.” She pointed to her ankle. “Heal me. Then, we can talk.”

Anduin paused for a moment, warring with himself, before finally sighing and giving in. He was no stranger to doing things against other people’s wishes, and admired Left’s determination.

He went to tend to her ankle and pondered thoughtfully, almost absent-minded to the danger he was about to put himself in. Anduin had dealt with black dragon kidnappings before and gotten out.

He was sure he could do it again for a friend.

Chapter Text

The first thing Wrathion thought upon regaining consciousness was how cold it was.

Still in the fog of sleep, he went to wrap his arms around himself, to curl himself up close – until his right arm screamed with pain and he gasped.

And then, all at once, with that slight movement of his arms, his agony seemed to stir and awaken like some angered beast.

His arms went loose at his sides as the pain overtook him. It was a rising tide, a painful current that swept stinging from his right arm up into his chest, his back, his head, down into his waist, his legs. The agony bit at every corner of his skin; it bloomed sharply in the wounds forgotten by sleep. Wrathion’s eyes rang with it.

He groaned. Oh, why couldn’t he have stayed in that blessed, painless darkness?

Wrathion scrunched his eyes up tight until the black behind his eyelids began to shimmer with white dots. If he could just… force himself… to fall back asleep, to escape the pain…

It wasn’t working. The pain had fully shed the numbing agent of sleep and had all-together awoken, fierce and white-hot and biting into his bruises, his broken bones, his cuts and slashes.

Falling back asleep would be impossible.

Wrathion hissed through his teeth.

The cold found him again, as if it had sensed his sudden misery and aimed to amplify it, and the dragon shivered, wincing then at his own shaking – it made his body hurt even more, though the movement was so slight. But he couldn’t stop shaking. It was so cold, even with his draconic heat.

… Where was he, even?

Wrathion slowly opened his eyes – or at least one. His right refused to. Even his left was hard to open, but he managed, at least, to force his eyelid to lift just enough so he could see, even if it was just through a slim slit.

He took in his surroundings in a daze. The pain was constricting his level of awareness, but he forced himself to focus.

Wrathion was in a very barren cave of black and grey rock. Above, dripping from the ceiling, hung great stalagmites where transparent ice had frozen over them like sheathes.

It, too, was quiet, save for the wind that echoed from the unseen mouth of the cave some ways off. There was a lonesomeness to the place, a stillness, and it was cold; the very rocks he was propped up against radiated a chill through his bruised back.

Wrathion stared. How had he gotten here? The last thing he’d recalled was passing out because of his arm – a flash of a memory, the sound of his own bone snapping, and he flinched – but nothing more than that.

“You’re awake. Good.”

The Black Prince turned his head towards the voice, glaring immediately. The bones in his neck seemed to creak and his head throbbed.

Baron Sablemane leaned against the rock on the opposite side to the room, diagonal to the younger dragon. Behind him was the opening to some natural pathway that no doubt led deeper into the mountain.

The green fire at Sablemane’s snake-head shoulders burned eerily in the dark cave and cast a sickly neon glow up along the dragon’s face and reflected against the orange burning of his eyes. Sablemane had his arms crossed; he looked relaxed, nonchalant, but he was frowning.

Wrathion opened his mouth to reply but the words came out as a hissing, dry croak. He scowled weakly; his throat felt like it was sticking together.

“A cutting reply,” Sablemane drawled as he lifted himself from his casual lean and walked closer until he was standing a yard in front of the Black Prince. Wrathion deepened his scowl, then swallowed and rubbed his parched tongue against the top of his mouth in an attempt to get dryness from his throat.

He tried again. “Why am I still alive?” Wrathion’s voice as still a rasp, but vaguely understandable, at least. The sudden, instinctual need for water hummed in the back of his throat.

“Why question it, ‘prince?’ Would you like to be dead?”

From a very, very dark part of his mind the word yes slithered, a yes to stop the seeping, terrible pain - … but it was squashed, silenced, and forgotten instantly.

“No.” He blinked slowly. “I was simply under the impression were going to kill me.”

Sablemane smiled grimly. “What makes you think I’m not going to, still?”

Wrathion glared at him again. Sablemane rolled his eyes.

“Stop. You look pathetic.” The elder dragon rolled his shoulders back. “As for your question – yes, you have excellent observation skills. You’re not dead. Congratulations, I suppose.” He smoothed down his goatee with his thumb; Wrathion wondered if it was a habit of his. “I’ve decided to keep you alive in this… scenic little place… to ask you some questions of my own.”

“… Questions,” Wrathion repeated. He’d come to the conclusion he must have been in Kun-lai; nowhere else was this freezing.

“Yes. Questions,” Sablemane snapped, then relaxed again. “Particularly about your lack of corruption.”

Wrathion laughed at him, though it came out as weak and more of a hissing sound than an actual laugh. His broken ribs protested.

“You may have thought about that before you attacked me. I may have been more… helpful to your plight.”

Sablemane stared at him for a long, quiet moment before replying. “Honestly. Where does your ego start and begin? Is there some sort of unending pool of it in that inflated head of yours? You’ve been beaten down and are now my hostage, and you still believe it’s an excellent idea to talk back to me?” He ran a quick hand over his face and composed himself, sighing in aggravation. “No matter, Black Prince. You will be helpful, one way or another.”

Wrathion felt his confidence waver as it had during the fight; the prince stared at his elder brother wordlessly. He didn’t like Sablemane’s tone of voice.

“I will give you some choices before I have to use… methods I would rather not have to employ.” Sablemane studied him quietly for a moment. “First, I’ll simply ask you what I’d like to know: how did the red dragons take your corruption away? What method did they use?”

Wrathion glared at him defiantly and said nothing. Did Sablemane really think he was going to just… answer anything he wanted after the elder dragon had crushed him into the dirt with blood and fire and shamed him?

“I’d rather not share. You said yourself Outland… ‘cured’ it for you. Perhaps you should just run back home, hm?”

Sablemane growled at him; his eyes glowed hot orange for a moment before flaring down again. “Very well. Nasandria!”

The drake, in her mortal form, appeared from the pathway Sablemane had been standing near beforehand. At her belt hung ebony daggers with ruby hilts.

“Start the cuts off light – and do be mindful of his previous injuries. Stay away from them at first, but if he still thinks it a wise idea to stay silent, I will take over.” His eyes were fixated coolly on the younger dragon. “And then I’m sure he’ll speak for us then. But, as I said, I like giving options.”

Nasandria pulled back her thick black hair and tied it into a bun, blowing a free strand from her face. She pulled a dagger from her belt and approached Wrathion, who sunk back deeper into the wall in a pathetic attempt to get away from her. Oh. Perhaps this was a bad idea. He eyed the sharpened dagger as his previous pain throbbed in every muscle in his body, and for a desperate moment he opened his mouth to stumble out the words “wait, no, stop, I’ll tell you!” -… but he set his eyes coldly, even though his body was shaking. He pretended it was just from the cold right before the dagger set against his jaw and sliced.

—-

Anduin leaned against his cane and sighed.

The fires of the Veiled Stair had finally gone out as the night had descended, leaving behind a wake of scorched earth, thick smoke, and charred husks of the white trees that had dotted the mountain; the only surviving white oak remained near the Black Market Auction House, which sat relatively untouched compared to the rest of its burnt surroundings, save for large claw marks raked across its side.

The Tavern was in the worst shape. It was wholly inhabitable; as Left and Anduin had sat talking near the saurok cave, waiting out the fires (Anduin had convinced her to, for the smoke would have killed them more quickly than the flames they would have tried to dodge), more of the inn’s roof had collapsed inward from the slow smoldering.

Anduin turned his head to glance back at it now as he stood near the burnt corpse of the largest tree in front of the Tavern, and frowned. Left had given him simple facts about the situation, and, as was usual with the Blacktalons, had kept most information back despite the prince’s frustration. All he was told was that the black dragons who had come through the Dark Portal were led by one of Deathwing’s eldest sons, and had come to kill Wrathion.

“Why?” Anduin had pressed after healing Left’s ankle. “They were from Outland. I don’t understand how they could have found out about Wrathion; it doesn’t make sense. There hasn’t been … any communication through the two worlds in a long time, or so I’ve been told. What did Wrathion do?”

Left had shrugged. “I can’t tell you everything, Prince.” And no amount of pestering and careful questions Anduin did or asked would make her open up, so he’d let it go – for the time being.

The prince furrowed his brows. Something was not quite right here…

Anduin shook his head then and sighed, his face relaxing. He tried not to worry about that now; what he should be worrying about was the fact that Wrathion had not been killed, but kidnapped, and by a son of Deathwing no less.

He turned his head when he heard footsteps crunching against the brittle, burnt grass. Left was coming back from searching near the Auction House. She looked aggravated.

“Ridiculous,” she murmured, and walked passed the Prince, who immediately followed her.

“I didn’t find anyone. Did you?” Anduin asked, trying as best as he could to keep up with her all while trying not to stumble over the uneven terrain. The first thing Left had set out to do, when the fires had died, was to search for Right and the rest of the Blacktalons who usually guarded the mountain, all of whom had seemingly disappeared, for back-up. She’d asked Anduin to search near the Tavern as she went to go near the Auction House.

Left, however, didn’t appear successful in her hunt if her angered expression was to be any hint. “If I had, don’t you think they would be with me, Prince? No. I didn’t find anyone. The only thing valuable I found was this” - she hoisted a new golden crossbow Anduin hadn’t noticed her carrying - “and even then its ammunition is low.”

“Oh,” Anduin said, lamely. His leg was starting to ache from trying to keep up at Left’s pace. “We could search farther down the mountain,” he added, trying to be helpful. “I’m sure that -”

Left turned to face him so quickly the prince startled, stumbling mid-step. The orc grabbed him by the shoulders and proceeded to guide him to walk backwards until they were near the Tavern again and then with a stern shove she forced him to sit down on the steps.

“You’re going to stay here and wait for me until I return. No, there will be no arguing, and don’t look so insulted. If you’re really that intent on finding his Majesty then you can at least move out of my way until we leave; there’s no time for me to waste and I can’t afford to slow down for an injured Prince who’s following me around like a lost puppy. Besides - ” she shrugged - “you should save your strength.”

Anduin bit the inside of his cheek to stop the immediate retort that threatened to escape from him; he didn’t want to make the bodyguard more annoyed than she already was. He supposed she was right about saving his strength… but he wanted so badly to help. The two stared at each other challengingly for a moment before Anduin relented and sagged his shoulders.

“Alright. I’ll wait here. But please be careful.”

Left grunted noncommittally, hoisted the crossbow across her shoulder and headed down to the Path of a Hundred Steps, disappearing beneath the cliff.

Anduin quietly watched her go before looking out over the Veiled Stair as he sat. It was so vacant and quiet, as if the fires had burned away any semblance of time as well as most of the foliage. It unnerved him. Certainly the mountain was peaceful before, but there was always some sense of life in the Tavern or the Auction House on the other side of the mountain plane. Now it all seemed… lifeless, the only sound the faint, ghost-like wind streaming down from the higher peaks of Kun-lai, bringing colder and colder air as the night became blacker and blacker, which made Anduin shake and his blond hair ruffle.

Leaning back against the face of the step behind him, he pulled his arms around himself to contain his heat, wishing he had brought, at the very least, his royal blue overcoat to stem against the mountain cold… though, then again, he hadn’t expected to need it when he’d left from Lion’s Landing to visit the Black Prince, who had no shortage of warmth in the Tavern.

His throat constricted, not for the first time, with worry. It’d been some time since the black dragons had come; would he even find Wrathion alive?

Anduin shook his head and closed his eyes, attempting to relax his anxious thoughts; while it was freezing, at least the cold air allowed his mind to focus.

When dealing with Onyxia, the broodmother had been brought down with force and magic. Anduin supposed that the same strategy was not going to work with a prince who could hardly lift a shield and with the quickness but delicateness of rogues.

His hand drifted down to where he hid his throwing knives – right underneath his tabard, hanging from the inside of his belt. Rogues used throwing knives, didn’t they?

Anduin glanced up at the charred husk of the tree in front of him. He hadn’t found the time to practice, much less use these, in some time. If he didn’t have a chance to use the Light for its “flashiness” in the dark…

He grabbed a knife and aimed at the center of the tree – and threw. His aim was somewhat off, but the knife stuck true. Anduin smiled, pleased, and continued to distract himself by practicing with the knives until he finally heard steps coming back up from the Path.

He looked over and there was Left – alone.

He stood up, grabbing his cane. “Did you-?”

“No Right.”

Anduin’s heart sank, but he pressed on. “What about other agents?”

Left glanced at him. “Unconscious. There’s about five of them huddled up, hidden in a crevice on the lower edges of the Path. The elder dragon must have grabbed them before he attacked his Majesty.” She was scowling.

Anduin gripped his cane tighter. “If they’re not dead, I can heal them. If you could lead the way-”

She cut him off by putting her hand up. “You can’t heal them. They’re under some sort of spell.” The orc tapped her forehead. “I tried to wake them, but their eyes are open. Cloudy, vacant. I know draconic magic when I see it.”

Left moved passed him and headed towards the Black Market House. Anduin hesitated, mindful of the “lost puppy” comment she’d said earlier. He dug his knives from the tree, sheathed them, then followed at a distance.

“If I just worked with them, I may be able to get them back on their feet,” Anduin said carefully.

“Mm.” They’d made it to the Auction House. Left went up to the two large Pandaren lanterns situated on either side of the dark building and lit them, a warm but powerful glow emanating from the glass. Anduin watched – he made sure to stand far away enough so Left wouldn’t run into him as the orc turned from lighting and went behind the counter. Something on the counter distracted him. There was a large trail of smeared blood running up and over it.

The prince eyed it for a moment, biting down on his lower lip, then looked away quickly.

“As for your ‘healing offer,’ Prince, I’ve weighed the option. But time is more essential than back-up. You could spend hours with each agent and still not get them fully aware. I’d rather not take the risk of arriving too late for his Majesty.”

“What about Right?”

Left paused in front of a large mahogany cupboard, then shook her head. “That would take even more time. I don’t even know where she is.”

She opened the cupboard. It was full of rolled parchment, neatly stacked upon one another. Left made a pleased noise, grabbed one of the scrolls, then turned back to the human and unrolled it flat against the counter.

It was a large map detailing Kun-lai Summit. The details were impressive: every peak was named, every road paved out with ink, and caves were carefully labeled.

“I see why Wrathion has his Watchers everywhere,” Anduin said with an appreciative smile, after realizing that the map was Blacktalon-made once he saw the claw-mark symbol at the edge of the parchment. “Why do you keep them in here, instead of the Tavern?”

“The Tavern is too obvious a place for unwanted eyes to find them,” Left murmured as she leaned over the map, moving it slightly so more of the lantern-light could spill out over it. Her gloved hand trailed gingerly over the peaks that were closest to the Veiled Stair.

“The dragons will logically find some sort of hide-away from the snow. His Majesty hates the cold. I’m sure the other black dragons do as well.” She tapped her fingers against the map. “And ‘Sablemane’ will no doubt need somewhere to hide from us. He knows he has something valuable.”

“The caves in Kun-lai are numerous, but if we can travel quickly” - she circled some of the cave names - “we’ll find them.”

“Do you think we should find some of the Blacktalons in Kun-lai?” Anduin asked.

“There’s no time for that.”

The prince nodded. It would only be Left and him, then. His heart quickened. He hoped they’d be enough for Wrathion.

“We leave immediately. We’re wasting time as is.” She looked up, then narrowed her eyes.

“You can’t wear that.”

“… What?”

The bodyguard gestured impatiently to Anduin’s bright white and golden garb. “That. You can’t wear that. You’ll shine like a beacon with all of that paleness and I nor the Prince can afford even the smallest of distractions.”

Anduin awkwardly pulled at his golden sash; the brightness of the outfit hadn’t even crossed his mind. “These are all the clothes I have with me. I -… certainly I might be able to hide behind -?”

Left grunted and pushed passed him, nearly knocking him over. He snatched onto the counter for balance and turned to see the guard disappear behind another section of the Auction House. There was the loud groaning of furniture being moved and a creak before some hurried shuffling. Anduin frowned and leaned his body to try to get a better view inside; what was she -?

The orc appeared again with a black bundle in her hands and walked with purpose back to him. She held it out to Anduin, who made sure to balance on his good leg before letting go of the counter, and took it from her curiously.

“These should fit. Get dressed and hurry up. I’ll be waiting on you, Prince.” Left left him then, heading back towards the Tavern.

Anduin looked down at the bundle in his arms. It was obviously an outfit; he lifted a piece from the pile and looked it over, tilting his head, as he took in what was a tunic of thick black leather. It looked just like -

The prince’s eyes widened. He realized what he was holding.

Left had given him a Blacktalon outfit to wear.

—-

“Must you really cut so infuriatingly small?!”

Nasandria glanced up at him, raised a brow, then finished the cut she had been making across his forearm.

Up along Wrathion’s neck, jaw, and left arm (Nasandria had ignored his broken right), were thin, innumerable cuts. The drake had torn his gauntlet off, as well as loosened his scaled tabard to get to the fleshier parts of his neck and chest, to get to his skin. The fresh wounds zigzagged and overlapped at one another, and the blood beaded at the top of the skin but did not run down.

But the cuts Wrathion had been expecting – fierce, thick, deep into the flesh – were instead painful, stinging, near paper-cut slashes. It was annoying, at first, and not that agonizing compared to the rest of the pain his body was in from the fight-… but the continual accumulation of the damn things was really starting to become agonizing. What was worse was how it made all of his other wounds feel more painful than they had prior, as if the tiny cuts Nasandria was carefully giving him were a sharp acid, a catalyst, that steadily ramped up his body’s overall hurt.

It was a technique he was not familiar with – and he wished he hadn’t come to know it when he was on the other end of the blade.

“If you’d like for her to stop, then you just need to stop being stubborn and answer my questions,” Sablemane sighed. He was leaning against the wall again, his arms crossed, eyeing Wrathion with boredom.

The Black Prince glared at him. “No, thank you.”

“May I ask you this, then, at least: why not?” He made an impatient gesture with his hand to Nasandria. The drake lifted her dagger from Wrathion’s palm and stood up. The Prince was glad for the moment’s respite… his entire body throbbed.

“What could you possibly hope to gain by keeping something like this from me?” Sablemane continued with a scowl.

Despite his pain, his weakness, Wrathion managed a wobbly smirk. “I don’t think… any of you… are worthy to be uncorrupted as I am.”

“A fancy way of saying that I’ve hurt your feelings by beating you and you’re pouting.” Sablemane was glowering at him. Wrathion’s smirk dissolved into a scowl. “I tire of this insistent defiance and of this torture. I’m going to attempt to reason with you.”

Wrathion sighed loudly through his nose, but said nothing. He was curious. Oh, he hoped Sablemane would end up begging him for the key to the secret of uncorruption by the end of this. How delicious that would be…

… Besides, as long as Sablemane was speaking to him, the torture would stop.

The elder dragon walked close to Wrathion and looked down at him; his arms were still crossed. “I’ve told you before that going to Outland disconnected my mind from the Old Gods’ taint. Whether you believe me or not is irrelevant: my brood in Blade’s Edge is just as sane as you are, and as I am… and as a son of Deathwing and Sinestra yourself, you’d be foolish not -”

“Sinestra was not my mother.”

Sablemane looked at him sharply, then squinted his eyes. “That’s impossible. Of course she was.”

“No. My mother was a dragon named Nyxondra.” The Prince was loath to speak of her – he never brought the subject up – and his voice’s hesitance showed it.

Sablemane was looking at him queerly now; his confusion showed in the creases of his eyes, the slight frown of his lips.

“You’re no son of Deathwing if Sinestra wasn’t your mother, then, little prince,” Sablemane said after a moment of silence.

Wrathion drew himself up, affronted. His broken ribs pulsed painfully at the movement. “Deathwing was my father.”

“You idiot. Did you ever see the Aspect?”

“No.”

“I see. You’re rather fortunate; it wasn’t a very… inspiring sight.” He scratched at his jaw. “Even then, surely you’re aware he was a swirling chaotic mass of lava and fire contained by metal plates? That he was more senseless element than dragon?” His hand dropped from his face, and he leaned forward a bit, glaring. “How easily do you think females of our kind, or any kind of dragon, could mate with him if he was more fire than flesh?”

Wrathion stared at him vacantly.

“My mother – Sinestra – was the only unlucky mate who survived after our father lost himself to the Old Gods. Do you see what I’m trying to tell you? Nefarian, Onyxia, myself – and countless others that are dead and forgotten now – were from their clutch. But you – you’re not a son of Deathwing if you weren’t Sinestra’s egg. It’s impossible. No common, low-ranking broodmother could have possibly survived him.”

Wrathion growled low in his throat. His left hand flexed against the rock floor with an unpleasant cutting sound as his ungloved claws dug into the earth.

Sablemane tilted his head. He seemed confused at Wrathion’s reaction – and then he raised a brow. “Ah. I don’t mean to insult you or your mother. How odd. Only mortals seem to be … flustered when their mothers are insulted. Though -” Sablemane chuckled “- you seem to stay in your mortal form amongst mortals so much you may have simply… adopted their mindset.” He paused, then gave Wrathion a critical look. “… How much do you know about dragon culture? You’ve been alone, haven’t you? Besides that Fahrad fellow – a pity. No matter. This is a waste of a conversation.”

Wrathion’s claws were scratched deep into the rock floor now. Not for the first time he wanted to tear them into Sablemane’s throat, to make him bleed and hurt.

But he couldn’t. Instead he was at this dragon’s mercy, broken, beaten, bruised, and bleeding. And he hated himself for it.

What he hated worse was that Sablemane was right.

Oh, he pretended to know all there was about dragons, but Fahrad had been the only dragon he’d ever known, and even then, he had not learned much from the rogue before killing him. Wrathion could recall the voice of Rheastrasza, his creator; the other red dragons who experimented more cruelly on his egg than Rhea ever had; the voice of his mother in her rare moments of wakefulness as the spell wore off of her.

But they were only voices. Memories. He had learned nothing about … dragons from them.

Sablemane rubbed at the bridge of his nose, grumbled something under his breath, and dropped his hand to his side.

“I’ll continue with what I was going to say before I was rudely interrupted.” He shot Wrathion an annoyed look. “Despite the fact you may not be a son of Deathwing, we still have something in common. I’m sure you fear the Old Gods finding you, still.”

Wrathion said nothing. His fiercely aching ribs thanked him.

“Mm. Now you lose the back-talk. Good.” Sablemane sighed loudly. “If I must explain myself, ‘Black Prince,’ I myself am… wary of the Old Gods. What a surprise.” His voice was flat. The wind howled outside, far-away and lonely. “My entire existence on this planet was one ruled by madness. I had no sense of self. My one purpose was to destroy the world our flight had help mold generations before, after the Titans left us with the gift of the earth. My brothers and sisters – all of us – we were servants. Oh, we may have been clever. Manipulative. Nefarian and Onyxia come to mind, do they not? Even before Deathwing himself lost all sense, he was even more cunning than his eldest son.

“But as … egotistical as we were -” he gave Wrathion a lingering look “- we were nothing but servants. As I said. Blood and fire and destruction. All of… that.” He scoffed, and curled a lip in disgust. “And I was as worse as them all.” For half-a-heartbeat, there was … regret in Sablemane’s eyes-… but it disappeared instantly. “I helped the orcs of the first Horde find this awful little bauble for Ner’zhul, then transported them to Menethil Harbor to wreak havoc. The lovely little scepter belonged to Sargeras.” He smirked without humor as Wrathion’s eyes flashed. “Yes. Ner’zhul, the first Lich King and Sargeras the Fallen Titan. I’m not proud of what I did - but, oh, my father and the Old Gods demanded it of me. And I did it with honor at the time.” He crossed his arms, and his right hand tapped against his left’s sleeve.

“Only when I settled into Blade’s Edge, into Outland, when the taint left me, did I realize what I’d done – what kind of monster I was. What sort of horrors that creature did with that scepter I do not wish to know – and even before that bauble I killed so many mortals, so many innocents, just to see them scream. To appease my masters - those blasted whispers in my head.”

Sablemane was looking at him coolly now, without emotion, his eyes half-lidded. He said nothing for a time, then said, flatly: “Do you understand why I don’t wish for that to overtake me again?”

Wrathion was silent. For once, words didn’t come to him immediately.

Of course he would never admit – not to anyone, not even to himself – that he feared the Old Gods as fiercely as Sablemane seemed to.

He was no one’s… servant. The Reds had tried to contain him, to make him their experiment, their pet – but he’d escaped that fate. He was his own master. The deep, terrible fear that something hidden beneath the crust and earth could seep into the darkest corners of his mind and whisper him into insanity, into servitude, was bone deep.

But he would never admit to being afraid.

And so Wrathion blinked slowly, his own face as blank as Sablemane’s, then narrowed his eyes.

He clucked his tongue once. “How unfortunate. You know, maybe I will tell you a secret!” Despite his dry rasp, Wrathion’s voice still held the mocking lilt.

“Here: return to Outland and hide. There is nothing for you or your brood here. You were born monsters and you will always be monsters.”

Sablemane growled and his eyes flared and Wrathion knew he’d made a very bad mistake.

The elder dragon approached, leaned down, and grabbed Wrathion’s broken right arm tightly. Despite himself the Black Prince made an undignified whine; his vision was dotted with sharp white from the sudden, intensified pain.

“You think me a monster, whelp?” Sablemane snarled. “Very well. Then I’ll act the part.” Smoke curled out from his lips. “You have left me no other choice.”

Sablemane began to twist. The pain built into unseen magnitudes and Wrathion made a strangled cry as his broken bone was agonizingly twisted around.

Sablemane didn’t stop. He kept twisting it. The Black Prince dug his heels into the rock and slid his legs outward, and he yelled out loudly in agony. His whole vision was pain. His arm felt like it was burning, tossed into acid.

And it wasn’t stopping.

“Stop!” Wrathion choked out. “STOP! Please!” For the moment he didn’t care that he felt tears slide from the corners of his eyes, even his swollen right – he’d never cried, never – he just wanted the pain to be gone, please, please, he just wanted it to stop -

“All you have to do is tell me, Prince,” Sablemane said quietly. His grip on Wrathion’s arm tightened and the Black Prince whined.

The pain shook down all his walls of defiance and poise he’d so carefully built. Oh, he just wanted for it to stop -

“Titans! The Titans! She – they found technology – in – in the Badlands,” Wrathion managed to whimper.

Sablemane stopped twisting; his grip loosened. “What kind of technology? That’s a vague answer. The Titans used many things. And who is this ‘she’? The red dragon?”

“I -” Wrathion’s eyes were swimming with sparks. Dark clouded at the edge of his vision. He glanced down at his arm and felt sick – it was nearly turned all the way around. And – and -

“Don’t you dare fall unconscious!” Sablemane’s grip tightened once again and Wrathion bared his teeth in agony.

“Rhea – she – there was…” He couldn’t even think straight. “I don’t – I don’t quite… My mother….”

It was too much. He couldn’t see anymore. His shoulders drooped and Wrathion plunged into the dark for the second time.

—-

Sabellian grabbed the freshly killed goat carcass with his claws and tore into its hide appreciatively.

The blood was a lovely mellow taste, and his starved belly appreciated it. He swallowed a large chunk of flesh from the shoulder as Nasandria, who sat across from him on the snowy slope, picked at the smaller kid.

“You seem worried,” Sabellian rumbled, then snapped the goat’s ribcage in two to get at the tough but nutritious heart.

The drake looked up at him. “He’s giving us so little that I’m not sure if it’s even worth the time to keep him alive.”

Sabellian swallowed the heart and harrumphed. “Yes, the whelp has a strong will. But he’s beginning to break; we’ve seen that much. Take heart in that, will you? Now, eat your food or I will.” He went back to devouring the goat in front of him.

“But how long will that take for us to break him? Talsian is growing worse and worse with each hour.”

The great dragon paused, taking the moment to wipe the dripping blood from his snout. She did speak the truth, as much as he wished it were false. The young drake had been found near-dead along the cliff, suffering from severe wounds from his neck and face, and was so weak he’d had to be carried in his mortal form to the cave. They’d set him deep inside, as far away from the cold as possible, but even then black dragons were no experts at healing, not like the mortal priests, paladins, or shamans, and their fire did not cauterize easily like the red dragons’ was famed for. Talsian had fallen in a semi-unconscious state, and had begun mumbling incoherently to himself, refusing to respond.

Sabellian was well aware that if they did not leave soon his drake would die, and he did not quite like the way he was… murmuringto himself. It was unnerving.

And yet they could not leave, not yet. Not when Wrathion had information on his uncorrupted state. Sabellian glanced out at the snowy mountains that surrounded them. Nasandria had less of a connection to this world than he did, having grown up in the barrenness of Blade’s Edge Mountains. He had been as corrupted as his brothers and sisters for his time on this planet, a slave to his dark masters who forced him to think of this land as something to be destroyed and decimated, but his viewpoint had changed during his escape from the Old Gods in Blade’s Edge; compared to the sheer rock faces, the sheer vacancy of Blade’s Edge itself, Azeroth was full of life. He had found himself missing its beauty, a beauty he hardly had the chance to admire thanks to his corruption so early in his life.

There was also the problem of Outland falling apart. When would the day come when the last pocket of black dragons’ home simply drift away in pieces? He had not shared this worry with Wrathion – he’d never quite gotten the chance to before Sabellian had lost his temper – but it didn’t matter. The whelp wouldn’t have cared.

The choice was simple: if there was a chance he could return to Azeroth full-time with his brood without fear of the Old Gods, he would gladly take it.

And now that Wrathion was a threat taken care of – no one would hurt his family any longer – the whelp could supply them with information. He didn’t enjoy torture… but he had to do what he needed to do.

“Talsian can hold for some time longer.” Sabellian cracked the goat’s skull with his scaled palm. “Don’t look at me with such open disdain, drake! I am making the right choice.” There was a quiet hiss and he looked over at his flank; snow had begun to fall and melt against his super-heated scales. He curled a lip, snorted, then lifted to his feet. “I abhor the cold.” The dragon grabbed the rest of the goat’s body and slunk back into the darkness of the cave. “Stand guard outside, Nasandria.” He sounded aggravated; the conversation had annoyed him.

The shrieking of the freezing winds that had begun to pick up with the snow outside echoed mutely throughout the cavern – but at least he was inside away from them.

The cave was an excellent find. It had been difficult to find one farther into the mountains and deep enough into the heart of the rock to hide from unwanted eyes, but when the party had stumbled upon this one, Sabellian had been immensely pleased. Not only was the entrance large enough to fit his dragon form through, but the cavern split off into passageways and smaller caverns.

He snapped off a rib and a haunch from the goat after shifting into his mortal form (while the entrance was large enough to accommodate his dragon form, the ceiling receded in height, and forced him to shift), and made his way back into the deeper sections of the cave to the cavern they were holding the Black Prince. The young dragon looked unconscious until his good eye fluttered open and fixated vacantly on Sablemane. It had been some time since Sablemane had been forced to twist the Prince’s arm – this was the first time he’d awoken.

Still frustrated with the conversation with his drake, Sablemane practically threw the rib at the whelp.

It hit him in the thigh. Wrathion flinched and stared at it.

“I’m playing the generous host. That’s all you’re getting – if you can even pick it up.” Sablemane turned in the direction of the other cavern and walked. He did not want to deal with that nuisance now. He’d let Wrathion rest before continuing; the elder dragon did not want him passing out again.

Weaving through the twisting caverns, mindful of the lower stalagmites that threatened to poke at his scalp and shoulders, he made his way to the separate chamber. The raw goat haunch was still in his hand.

The slim path yawned open to reveal a smaller circular cavern. On the farthest end, Talsian was curled up, shaking and twitching. His tongue was lolled out; his mouth was curled in a silent snarl. Even from across the room Sablemane could hear him muttering.

He despised the muttering. Something about it made his skin crawl.

Nonetheless, Sablemane approached.

Kneeling down, he put his hand on Talsian’s neck while he set the bloody haunch near his jaws; a pool of drool had accumulated from the drake’s open mouth. Sablemane ignored that. What he focused on were the closing wounds along Talsian’s neck. They had bled profusely hour after hour – Sablemane had thought he would have simply bled out - but it seemed that the healing process had begun; crusted, dried blood surrounded the thick cuts. It was some goods news, despite Talsian’s continuous unconscious state.

“I find it doubtful you’ll be responsive.” Sablemane said, after a moment of inspection. “Though fresh blood might rise you from your stupor.” He paused, waiting for some movement, for some sort of action. But Talsian continued to twitch and whisper nonsense. Grumbling, Sablemane straightened up -

And Talsian’s eyes shot open.

They locked on Sablemane. Sablemane stared back, alarmed.

The eyes looking at him were glassy and vacant, the pupils dilated into such small slivers they almost disappeared amongst the yellow. The gaze was not a conscious one – yet even then the eyes followed Sablemane as he took a step back.

And Talsian was still mumbling.

Sablemane paused, then nudged the drake’s snout with his foot. Talsian did not respond but only continued to chatter and stare.

For a moment, Sablemane did nothing. He simply stared, scratching idly at the side of his goatee…

… For the vacant look was so eerily reminiscent of the darker parts of his life Sablemane wished he had not been there to see it.

Sablemane forced down his disturbed thoughts. “Perhaps blood is not the best thing to give you,” he murmured, then set the meat aflame to char and burn. Talsian let out of breathy hiss and shuddered – but otherwise he did not uncurl himself from his coil.

Quietly, Sablemane turned and left the cavern. He needed to see Nasandria about finding some… chains.

The silent muttering of Talsian followed him, echoing about the cave like a thousand senseless ghosts.

—-

Anduin had forgotten how cold Kun-lai Summit was.

He held on tight to Left as she guided his white gryphon through the first peaks of the Summit. Snow had begun to fall as they had started their ascent from the Veiled Stair up into Kun-lai’s higher mountains, and the wind had become harsher the higher they climbed. It hissed against Anduin’s ears and sheered his bangs back from his face; his eyes watered.

At least his new outfit was warmer than his cloth garb. Anduin was wearing the customary Blacktalon Agent uniform, made of handsome black leather, that covered most every inch of him. It kept the cold out well enough, and as Left had put it, “would hide his pale skin in the dark so he wouldn’t look like a risen ancestor.”

The blond also wore a mask that covered the lower half of his face – his blond hair and blue eyes were the only features that were really shown in his new clothes - and he was grateful for it. His eyes were nearly streaming with tears from the wind now, and he probably couldn’t bear more of the cold air whipping in his face if the mask had not been there.

“The first caves will be upon us soon. As I said, Prince, you will stay on your animal while I inspect the cave. If you step off the gryphon I’ll not be responsible for your corpse being carried off by a yeti or summit tiger!” Left’s voice was carried off by the wind – she had to yell. But even then Anduin could hear the warning in her tone as well as her words.

Yet he was no stranger to Kun-lai; climbing up the mountains to get to the Temple of the White Tiger had been difficult, even with the friendly party of monks that had been making the same journey looking out for the strange foreigner.

Even so, yetis and tigers were one thing; dragons were another.

Anduin simply nodded, though Left couldn’t see him.

Another powerful gust of wind blew passed, and instinctually Anduin’s arms, which were wrapped tightly around Left’s waist so he wouldn’t fall off the back of the gryphon, tightened around her. Left grunted, annoyed, and Anduin loosened his grip instantly. He felt his face go hot. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, though it was muted by his mask and the wind.

Left seemed to not hear him or had ignored him. The peaks she had pointed out were upon them now; she turned the white gryphon carefully, drifting them through the large opening between two of the mountains. The snow fell harder.

They flew until Left turned sharply when a large peak jutted suddenly in front of them as they had rounded about what looked to be a huge mound of an avalanche. The gryphon screeched, startled, then dived as the orc guided her masterfully – Anduin was impressed that the bodyguard could handle the animal nearly as well as he could - around the peak and then with a jump and a jostle of wings landed her upon a cliff. Only then did Anduin realize they had reached one of the caves on the map.

“You can let go now,” Left grumbled, and the prince did so, embarrassed. The orc slid from the mount and the snow crunched beneath her feet. With an impatient motion she handed the reins to the blonde; Anduin curled his black gloved hands around them tightly and tried not to shiver in front of her.

“Remember what I warned you,” Left said, then lifted the golden crossbow from her back. The ammunition had been reloaded from the supplies in the Auction House.

Anduin nodded. Left fixed him with a hard look before she turned and walked in the direction of the cave. Soon, she disappeared around the side, and Anduin was alone in the snowy dark.

He closed his eyes, willing out the cold. Snow kept falling in his hair and melting, dripping chill onto his forehead. Perhaps if he could imagine somewhere nice and warm, like his plush bed in Stormwind, or the mugginess of Krasarang Wilds, or across from Wrathion during a game in the Tavern in the Mists…

He wasn’t sure how long he was sitting there, the gryphon idling underneath him, until something slapped his thigh. Anduin jumped in his seat, startled, then winced at his bad leg cramped from the sudden movement.

“Did you really close your eyes?”

Anduin deflated. Left was squinting up at him.

“I – it was only for a moment - ”

The orc scoffed and hopped nimbly back on the mount, taking the reins from the prince’s hands. “A single moment of your defenses down can get you killed.” She guided the gryphon towards the side of the cliff.

The blonde put his arms around her again, as light as he could. “I know. I’m sorry.” It came out almost automatically, mechanically. The prince found himself wondering how many times he’d said those words as he watched the gryphon’s talons grip along the edge of the rock - and then felt his stomach grow sour and clench when he saw the huge abyss below them, sheer faces of jutting rock on either side. He could not see the ground. Anduin looked away. “’I suppose this wasn’t the cave?”

“No.” Left spurred the beast forward and they lurched from the cliff. “We’ll try another.”

It was slow-going. After the first empty cave, they jumped from peak to peak, and steadily they fell into a rotation: Left would land, would leave, would sneak, and come back unsuccessful while Anduin sat there looking around (or at least trying to – the snow and the night sky made things hard to see) and watching the gryphon, trying not to feel totally useless.

The night was late when they landed on a mountain cliff. They were deep into the Kun-lai mountains by now, and Anduin had decided he truly hated the cold when Left hopped off the gryphon for what felt like the hundredth time.

“May I go with you this time?” Anduin asked as Left went to go inspect the cave without a word. She glanced at him. He really was beginning to feel useless – and besides, a walk might help stretch his tingling legs, which were both cramping from sitting on the saddle for so long. Maybe if she just let him go once -

“No. You’ll be a distraction.”

The blonde furrowed his brows but said nothing. The orc turned and disappeared into the open maw of the cave.

He looked around. Well, he thought, at least he could get down and walk while Left was preoccupied.

Anduin looped the reins over the gryphon’s head then slid carefully from her back, grabbing his cane. He stretched out, and the relief was instantaneous. Anduin was used to sitting for a long time – he shuddered to remember the hour-long noble meetings and discussions back in the Keep – but the cold was affecting his muscles badly.

Growing up in Stormwind had not prepared him for this night-weather, despite having visited Kun-lai before. Perhaps it was worse because he was flying, where the wind was fiercer and the snows colder – he wasn’t quite sure.

Left was taking a long time with this cave. Anduin grabbed the reins of the gryphon and walked to the other side of the cliff, both hands full with the cane and the lead. It was still cold, but the landscape was beautiful. The snow had more or less stopped falling, only drifting down from the sky in small, harmless flurries. He could finally see the mountain.

Anduin got to the side of the cliff, away from the cave Left had investigated, and simply admired the scenery that yawned out below him. The moon, near-full, was casting an icy glow along the snowy peaks as it lowered closer to the horizon as the night threatened to end. It almost seemed to shine. The prince sighed and leaned on his cane, the seeping pit of frustration that had begun to accumulate in his gut slowly slinking away at the scenery. Really, it was -

A large shape flew across his vision. Anduin seized and went shock-still and he felt the gryphon behind him do the same.

The shape was black , shapeless, featureless– until it pivoted slightly and the light shined just the right way over its body, over its leathery wings -

Anduin widened his eyes. It was a large black drake.

He ducked behind the rock immediately, pulling his mount along with him with a sharp tug. His heart hammered. For a moment, Anduin did nothing, only stayed quiet and hidden. The drake surely hadn’t seen him… surely.

But one wrong move on his part could certainly make his presence known.

The blonde cautiously peeked his head out from the rock. The drake had flown passed the cliff – thankfully – and was headed into the snowier peaks. It had what seemed to be chains hanging from its claws. Anduin frowned. That was odd.

The gryphon made a low chortling noise and Anduin shushed it impatiently; his eyes didn’t leave the dragon. It was either leaving its cave – briefly his gaze flickered backwards to where it had come – or going back to it. If he could just follow its path…

The drake disappeared behind the mountains.

Anduin wasted no time. He half-stumbled, half-ran through the snow towards the cave Left had gone into, not caring about how his leg began to cramp again.

He grabbed onto the cave’s side to gain his balance and turned clumsily. “Left! I found them!”

The orc appeared in front of him as if she had been made of the shadows of the dark cave. Anduin didn’t even jump; he was used to the Blacktalons, not just Left, appearing out of thin air.

Her eyes were narrowed, alert. “Where?”

Anduin gingerly hopped onto the mount. “Follow me.” His fingers were tight on the reins and his heart still hammered. Every moment they wasted talking the more risk the drake would disappear among the mountain peaks increased. He couldn’t afford getting so close to finding Wrathion only to fail at the last moment.

Left did not need to be told twice. Nimbly she jumped behind him, but unlike the prince before, she did not put her arms around his waist.

Anduin dug his heels into the gryphon’s side and they rocketed off the cliff. The wind shrieked around him – but the snow had stopped falling now, and the sky was clear, and the gryphon was flying stronger and faster, almost as if it was behaving for its true owner which guided him now.

The blond hardly noticed. His eyes were trained on where he’d last seen the drake as he turned his mount around the mountain. Guiding the gryphon felt second-nature, an afterthought.

It would be easy to spot something so dark against the glistening snow -

“There!”

The drake was just rising just above a natural structure that oddly resembled a bridge, as if the wind itself had carved the curve from the rock, between two of the mountains. Anduin pulled back gently on the gryphon’s reins and slowed her. If they followed too close they risked the drake catching their scent.

But the drake continued – it hadn’t noticed.

“Chains,” Left said behind him. She’d noticed what the drake was holding. Anduin nodded and tried not to imagine that they were for the Black Prince. Even so, it made his stomach twist again.

They followed the drake until it finally slowed itself. Up ahead was one of the higher peaks of the range that surrounded them, and the dragon landed lightly on one of the flat planes of the mountain. Only when the gryphon tilted slightly, realigning its wings as the current of the wind shifted, did Anduin see the large entrance to the cave - it was partially hidden behind rock and snow.

“Land below.” Left said. “We’ll plan our next move.”

Anduin waited until the drake lumbered into the cave, the chains rattling heavily, before guiding the gryphon farther down. It was difficult to land; the newly-fallen snow had hidden safe places to alight, but the gryphon was careful and they set down on a thin piece of jagged rock that jutted out over the abyss.

Anduin held the reins to his torso and glanced up where the cave was, now truly hidden behind the rock. He slid down his mask from his face but kept it held down at his neck; the thing was warm, but difficult to speak through.

“I didn’t see anyone guarding the entrance,” Anduin said as the calmer wind tugged back at his hair. Left wasn’t looking at him. Instead she was turned in her saddle, glaring up at the cave, her tusked mouth set in a grim line.

“No. There isn’t – not yet. That drake may have been a scout.” She paused. The wind below began to scream mutely.

Left turned back and ruffled through the saddlebag hanging on the side of the gryphon’s flank. Anduin watched as her hand emerged with the Kun-lai Summit map; it flapped and shuddered delicately as the orc unraveled it.

She grabbed Anduin’s shoulder and forced his back to her.

“Keep still,” Left grunted, and there was a pressure on his back. Anduin tensed before realizing that she had set flat the parchment against his spine.

Left scoffed loudly after a moment. “This cave only has one entrance.” She tapped once, and the prince felt it through his back, even through the leather. “I suspected we might be lucky with a cavern with two sides, but then again, this elder dragon is too clever. He must have thought about that, too.” There was a faint shuffling as she rolled it back up. Anduin looked back at her as she set the map back in the bag, clasping the metal hooks against the leather carefully.

“Take us up top. We’ll leave your beast outside and climb down the side. I’ll go first, and then you will follow.” Left made a thoughtful humming sound. “We’ll scout out the cave first, then plan what to do when we know the situation.” She turned back to him. “Do you remember the signals I taught you?”

Anduin nodded. Before they had left, Left had given him a quick lesson on some of the signals the Blacktalons used: stay there, too dangerous, come to me, attack, stay your hand… the list went on, but Anduin had been determined to memorize them all, busying himself as they flew across the plains of Kun-lai to the mountains by practicing them in his head.

“Good. Wait for the right signal.” She stared at him. “What are you waiting for? Go!”

“Oh! I’m sorry.” He slipped his mask back on and spurred the gryphon up and over, twisting her to land right above the cave.

Left was off and climbing nimbly and quietly down the side of the cave before Anduin even halted the gryphon.

The prince fumbled. He grabbed his cane and nearly caught his foot in the stirrup of the saddle when he hopped off the beast in his hurry, but he righted himself before he fell flat on his face into the snow and rock. When he looked up, Left was already gone.

For a heartbeat Anduin wondered if she’d just planned to leave him up here.

He shook his head. Even if that was her plan, she should have known he’d follow.

He’d come here to help Wrathion and that’s what he was going to do.

Cautiously, he inched his way to the side then crouched down to take a firm hand- and foothold of the cold, barren rock, awkwardly positioning his cane between his neck and shoulder. His leather gloves had excellent friction, and he was glad, again, for the uniform. He would have frozen or slipped in his cloth.

The first step down he took, his bad leg started to shake and stiffen.

The prince bared his teeth and closed his eyes. “Not now,” he murmured. “Please not now.” He didn’t have time for his own injuries-…

But it hurt. His fingers tightened on the rock and he concentrated harder. His leg still shook; he wished it was just from the cold.

Anduin knew he was wasting precious time as he clung to the rock. He tried to think sense, think passed his pain. Was Wrathion being chained inside? Was he being hurt? Was he dying?

Anduin’s mouth set into a grim line. He opened his eyes. What did his pain even compare to what the other Prince might be feeling now?

With a low, quiet grunt he forced his leg downwards. It shook harder, and he nearly lost his foothold, but he gripped tighter to the rock and stayed balanced.

And, slowly but surely, he made his way down. It was as if he’d gone into himself, into his mind, separate from the panging pain in his body.

It wasn’t long before something tapped his thigh. He stopped and cautiously peered around the rock into the cave.

Left was crouched, a finger to her lips, on what was apparently a higher platform of the cave made of fused stalagmites. Anduin chanced a quick look around the cavern as he moved his body from the side to crawl inside, the relief in his leg almost palpable.

It was a large cave. As he unlatched himself from the rock and crouched next to Left, the first thing he noticed was its silence. The wind seemed to cut across the cave mouth but not enter – it must have been the angle the cave was to the air current – and the effect was a cold, lonely howling sound from the barred breeze that gently echoed outward into the yawning cavern ahead and was quickly swallowed by the shadows.

The cave’s height did not stay tall; instead it receded sharply in height as the cavern curved gently into some unseen other section of the cave.

Anduin spotted the remains of two carcasses on the ground directly below them, blood smeared across the floor from where they’d been dragged in from outside the cold. He could smell the blood from his position.

This place seemed almost … haunted. It didn’t help when Anduin couldn’t spot the drake that had come inside only moments before.

What if it was a trap? What if the drake had seen him when he’d first spotted it? What if it’d purposefully led him here?

Was Wrathion even here at all?

Something tapped his shoulder impatiently and he looked up, snapping out of his thoughts, at Left, who had her face up to her lips. Anduin nodded. He understood that one: stay silent.

The orc turned her back to him and slowly walked forward. Her feet made no sound; she blended almost seamlessly into the black rock.

Anduin had never really seen a Blacktalon in action. He’d watched them disappear into thin air, had been impressed but spooked but their silence, their watchfulness, but … seeing them in action was something much more striking. The very shadows seemed to envelope the orc.

The prince followed – then felt his face grow hot again because of the quiet but clear tapping of his cane on the rock.

Left stopped instantly. She turned to him and narrowed her eyes. She grabbed him, forced him close to the side of the rock, and whispered as quietly as possible.

“Get rid of that cane!”

“My leg can’t hold without it,” Anduin whispered back fervently. The cane hadn’t even crossed his mind. He felt like an idiot.

“You’ll give us away. Either find a way to force your body to walk without that thing or stay behind.”

Anduin stared at her. His mind raced.

He wasn’t going to let himself be left here. Carefully, he put his cane down, then tested his weight on his leg – it shook again. The blond scowled faintly. The climb down the rock had strained it passed its capabilities already and walking without support would be impossible.

An idea sparked.

Anduin smiled. “I have something. It should work.”

Left stared at him impatiently.

The prince closed his eyes and focused on the Light. It bloomed warmly at his chest, familiar and comforting.

Once summoned he directed the Light down, through his waist, his legs, and then to the bottom of his feet. Anduin had only done this a handful of times before – a gnome priest visiting the Exodar when he had trained with Velen had taught him on their downtime from lessons together – and he was no expert.

Yet the Light, as it always did in Anduin’s hands, obeyed him fully as it billowed out from the soles of his leather boots and radiated gently underneath him.

The blond felt his body leave the ground. The fierce strain in his right leg altogether disappeared as his knees were allowed to bend and relax.

Anduin opened his eyes and smiled. He was hovering perhaps two to three inches off the ground, his legs loose. Left was looking at him with approval, though one of her eyebrows was raised questioningly. He’d never performed this spell at the Tavern, though at one point he had been tempted to when Wrathion had been poking fun at his lack of mobility concerning his injury. However, the prince was fine with the cane – the levitation trick always felt… superfluous and unneeded. The cane, at the very least, showed some amount of humility.

Yet the spell came in handy, now. Anduin was glad to have found a situation to showcase its usefulness.

Left was content now. She turned away, and together they moved forward slowly, their dark leather merging in with the shadow. Anduin was nearly as silent as the orc now-… though it was awkward having to crouch and hover at the same time. His knees almost touched his chest.

Soon they were upon the gentle curve that yawned out into the unseen part of the cavern. The ceiling was close to their heads now; Anduin had to be careful to bend his head enough so that the pointed ends of the stalactites wouldn’t brush against his fair hair.

No one had seen them – but then again, there was no one there to see them. Anduin felt his neck prickle with goosebumps, a warning. The paranoia that the drakes they aimed to hunt lay on the other side of the curve Left and Anduin now traversed was thick in the back of his eyes.

Yet there was no trap as they rounded the wall and entered a smaller chamber. Anduin glanced down – and his heart and throat seized.

Propped up against the wall, his head bowed down to his chest, was Wrathion. Both of his gauntlets were gone, his tabard and scaled shirt tattered; slashes were torn across his chest and had ripped across the outfit almost neatly. His black, wavy hair was scrunched and frayed, and on every inch of his dark skin that showed was a vicious pattern of red cuts.

And – his right arm – was it… was it turned all the way around?

Anduin leaned forward, his eyes wide. It didn’t even look like Wrathion was breathing -

No, there was a breath – Wrathion’s chest shakily rose and fell then went still again.

Anduin was not quite sure what he was expecting to see – he knew Wrathion had lost the fight – but seeing the proud Black Prince in such a disheveled, pained state threw all careful calculation from Anduin’s mind. The blond lurched forward, as if to fling himself from the perch -

Left grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back roughly, pinning him against the wall. She made a sharp cutting motion with her hand flat through the air: no.

Anduin gave her an exasperated look. What was she waiting for? Wrathion was unguarded and alone. This could be their only chance. The drake they had tracked had disappeared, and the elder dragon Sablemane that Left had described was nowhere to be seen, either. Wrathion could be dying! Anduin couldn’t even guess the internal wounds he was suffering. If they acted quickly enough, Anduin could heal -

Left pointed at the end of the cave. Anduin hesitantly looked over.

The cavern split into two dark pathways.

Anduin squinted his eyes. There was a glow from one of them, a sort of greenish one. It grew closer, and the prince saw that it was from two spheres of glowing fire from twin snarling snake-headed shoulderpads.

A man emerged from the pathway. The shoulderpads were his; in addition to the fierce snakes he wore a robe of orange and red, and an onyx staff was strapped to his back. His skin was dark like Wrathion’s, and his hair, which went to just above his shoulders, was a thick black. Below his sloped nose was a well-tended moustache and goatee. His eyes were a fierce glowing orange.

From Left’s description before they’d left for Kun-lai, Anduin knew that this was Baron Sablemane – Sabellian.

He felt his heart rise into his throat. It was one thing to plan ahead, to try to ready oneself mentally to face an opponent one had not even seen. It was another thing entirely to see the enemy in the flesh, an enemy that had hurt Wrathion so badly the Prince was hardly breathing.

Anduin steeled himself. His eyes became fierce and determined. Sabellian may have been a son of Deathwing, and he may have brought back-up in the form of two of his drakes, but Anduin had dealt with situations where the odds were stacked up against him and he’d emerged the victor. The Divine Bell came to mind-… though then again, he had not gotten out of that one entirely unscathed.

It didn’t matter. Anduin was prepared to get hurt. He wasn’t afraid.

Sablemane turned his head to Wrathion. He went over at a casual pace and nudged the Prince with his foot. Wrathion made a low, quiet groan.

“Feeling talkative?”

Wrathion was silent. Anduin gripped on the stalactites hanging near him. His heart quickened.

Left tapped his shoulder. The prince glanced back at her without turning his head.

She pointed towards the cavern Sablemane had just come from, then at herself. Holding up her palm flat to him, she gave the last bit of the message:

I will scout ahead. You will stay here.

This time Anduin didn’t argue. He nodded quickly then looked back down at the two brothers.

He didn’t hear Left leave. Even if the orc had made discernible noise, the blond would not have noticed it; he was too focused on the scene below.

Sablemane was only studying Wrathion now. His back was to Anduin; the blond could no longer see his face.

Anduin took the moment’s pause to fully crouch behind one of the rock formations, which seemed to be made from a stalactite fusing into the wall. Now that the initial rush of adrenaline had worn off from seeing Wrathion, especially in the state the young prince was in, a bone-deep worry had settled into Anduin. If they made one mistake… the blond swallowed quietly. He couldn’t make a mistake. Not now.

“We’re close to ending this, little prince,” Sablemane said, breaking the silence. His voice echoed faintly. “Must I use another vicious tactic for those last threads of information?”

Anduin furrowed his brows. Had Sablemane been… questioning him?

For what?

Anduin leaned forward slightly. The chill from the frozen stalagmites glowed against Anduin’s masked face.

Wrathion didn’t move or reply. He was shaking. Anduin wondered anxiously if it was from the cold or from the pain.

For a brief moment Anduin entertained the idea of stretching out the Light far enough to heal the Black Prince from his hiding place – but he dismissed the notion immediately. It may risk giving him away, and even then he wasn’t sure he could guide the Light that far without draining his own strength.

“Is that a yes, or a no?” Sablemane sounded tired, or bored.

Wrathion lifted his face. Anduin clenched his teeth. The Black Prince’s right eye was sown shut with a black and yellow bruise, and blood was dripping from the corner of his mouth.

The young dragon stared vacantly for a moment. He took a deep breath then lowered his face again. His shoulders slouched.

Sablemane leaned, grabbed Wrathion by his hair and tilted his head up, forcing the Prince to look at him. Wrathion didn’t even growl, or glare, or make some snide comment. He looked so much in pain Anduin had to grip the stalactite he was holding even harder, until his fingers went numb, to force himself to stay where he was.

There was a quiet crackling. Anduin squinted his eyes, then looked over in alarm at the dripping rock. He’d held onto it with such a grip that the point was breaking off.

The blond’s eyes widened and he went to snatch it before it fell -

Too late. Almost peacefully the tip of the rock fell and landed with a loud crumble in the silence.

Sablemane looked over instantly. His hand fell from Wrathion’s hair and the Prince’s head fell back down again to his chest.

Anduin shoved himself back behind the rock, right up along the wall behind up, and sucked in his stomach to force his body to look smaller behind his hiding place. His hands were around his mouth – though it was already masked - and his blue eyes went wide.

He could see through a slim crack in the rock he hid behind Sablemane turn his head up to look near where Anduin was; the dragon’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. Anduin’s heart was beating so hard he hopped that Sablemane couldn’t hear it.

The prince sent a quick, desperate prayer: please don’t let him see me, please don’t let him see me -

There was a long, tense pause.

And then Sablemane huffed and looked at Wrathion, turning his back once again.

Anduin would have sighed in pure relief if it wouldn’t have given him away.

However, he didn’t trust himself to move from his hiding spot again.

It was then Left appeared beside him. He bit his lip to keep from jumping – his nerves were wired.

She pointed to the cavern. Her eyes were bright, almost malicious. Anduin gave her a curious look – what had she found?

Left leaned close then, and whispered so quietly her words were snatched away by the faint howling of the wind near the entrance.

“The chains were for a rabid drake. Tied in the cavern. Another drake stands guard. I can’t go inside – it’s blocked. Stalagmites. A crack you’re small enough to fit through. Go down and untie the dragon. Leave a chain for me to hold. I will release it once you are back here. Distraction. When I release the drake you will get his Majesty. Understand?”

Anduin stared at her vacantly, then shook his head in faint disbelief.

She wanted him to untie a rabid drake? By himself?

Left was looking at him intently, and, holding back another sigh, Anduin nodded.

She made the sign for follow me, which was a quick wave of her hand, and Anduin did so with some hesitation.

Unfortunately, the raised platform they had been able to walk and hide across ended abruptly, merging into the wall, as the cavern split off into its two pathways. Left climbed down first, landing silently. Sablemane’s back was still to them.

Anduin floated down. Oh, this levitation spell was excellent for sneaking. Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

Left led the way again. The pathway was short, but dark, and more than once Anduin nearly drifted into the stalagmites that now grew from the floor like ant-hills that steadily grew larger as the natural hallway began to widen.

Left put her hand up - wait – as they got to a large cluster of the stalagmites. Nimbly, she jumped onto them, and Anduin realized then that these had made another platform that they could sneak over to look down below. The orc grabbed onto his arm and pulled him up beside her.

Unlike the earlier platform in the main cavern, these stalagmites were not altogether fused – many blocked their path in clusters, and they had to weave around them cautiously.

At the very end of the path, an especially thick group of the rock completely blocked their way, save for a slim opening between two of the growing rock. Left glanced back at him, then pointed below.

Anduin glanced down.

The black drake they had tracked was sitting guard at the secondary cavern’s entrance. Anduin pulled back, alarmed – but the drake didn’t seem to notice nor smell them.

She turned, then pointed again, this time at the crack she had mentioned before in the stalagmites. He obeyed and looked through.

Below, indeed wrapped in chains, was a younger black drake. It was convulsing slightly, drooling, and a thin layer of blood had drifted from dried wounds in its neck down to the rock floor.

What was the most worrisome was the black smoke rolling off of its scales, curling almost elegantly into the air before dispersing. And the smoke was not only coming off its body – it rolled from its open eyes, from its open mouth. Its forepaws were twisted into long, vicious talons, deadly-sharp and tipped with a glowing white, and at the ends of its wings’ webbings the glowing white burned.

Anduin recognized the energy immediately for what it was: Sha.

The prince bit the inside of his cheek and stared. Now he really understood Left’s plan. This drake was possessed, and violent, if the chains were of any indication.

And she wanted him to go down there and untie it. He looked back at her with an incredulous look.

Left was staring at him impatiently.

Anduin hesitated, then looked back down at the drake. It… did seem to be unconscious. And they had no other plan to distract the eldest dragon.

The prince shook his head, then slipped through the crack. He gave a cautious look down at the older drake, but she paid him no mind – her eyes were focused out at the main cavern where Sablemane was with Wrathion.

Anduin gently moved from the platform and drifted down, landing near the drake’s side.

The smell hit him first through his mask. He tried not to gag. There was a sweet-smelling, rotten tinge to the drake’s scent. That wasn’t Sha-like. It reminded him of the smell of the Old God shrine he had found in Stormwind -

His eyes widened. Black dragon. Old God.

Oh.

He swallowed, but forced down his fear. What had he expected? Of course the black dragon was corrupted – Wrathion was the only one who wasn’t – but he didn’t recall such… such a smell from Onyxia. Perhaps the corruption mixed with the Sha had done something odd to the drake’s body. He wasn’t sure, and honestly, he didn’t want to know. It made goosebumps prickle at his arms.

Anduin cautiously approached the drake, then bent down to start unlatching the first chains around the dragon’s forepaws, trying not to think of what a possessed, corrupted, violent black drake could do to a small human teenager.

Worse still, Anduin had to look away to focus on unraveling the links, and the instinctual fear that he would glance back up and find the beast staring back at him was thick in his heart.

The chains on the front paws came off easily. Anduin was pleased; they hadn’t been tied too tight.

He drifted back towards the drake’s back legs, grabbed the chains there -

The dragon growled lowly.

Anduin froze, a sheep in the eyes of a wolf.

Slowly, the drake turned its angled head. Its mouth was still open, and the sha energies continued to pour out in a thick goop, fogging its face. The dragon’s movements were so jerky and mechanical as it turned its entire snake-like head to face him, that it looked as if someone were pulling strings to move the beast.

The drake’s eyes fixated on Anduin, but they seemed almost … lifeless, as blank as the shiny buttons on the eyes of a doll. The prince didn’t move, only stared back.

Anduin waited for something. Anything. His mouth went dry and the chains were cold in his gloved hands.

But the drake did nothing, only hissed, unending, and stared.

Slowly, the prince undid the chains at the drake’s back paws until only the chain at the drake’s neck remained, the chain that Left wanted.

But the dragon was still staring at him.

Anduin took a deep breath and put a shield about himself. He looked around, trying to find where the end of the neck’s chain was – there! It was lodged into the wall on the far side.

He hovered over to it, careful to keep his eyes on the drake – who still had not moved – and tried to wiggle the chain from the rock. It budged, but hardly.

The drake growled again. Anduin fumbled for his throwing knives, managed to grab one, then worked it into the rock, moving the chain back and forth at the same time. It loosened slowly. Too slowly. Sweat began to bead at the blond’s forehead despite the cold -

The chain popped free. He grinned, then turned to levitate back up to Left.

Anduin’s grin fell.

The drake was awkwardly trying to get to its feet, though its balance was off and judging by how it was flailing out its limbs, it seemed to forget how to move.

And Anduin was on the other side of the room to where he needed to be.

The prince didn’t hesitate this time. He started to quickly make his way over - he could see Left looking down at him – while the dragon shuffled, snarling and muttering.

The drake suddenly struck its head out when he came close with a lightning-quick snap. Anduin’s levitation shimmered, and he fell hard on his legs and forced back a yelp as his right leg’s pain shot through his entire right side –

But he shielded himself just in time for the drake’s black maw to bounce off of him. It shrieked angrily and pulled back, giving the blond just enough time to cast his levitation spell again and half-jump, half-fly back up to the stalagmite platform.

Anduin practically shoved the chains in Left’s hand. He panted hard but quietly as the rush of fear fell from him.

That had not been enjoyable.

The orc nodded at him, her eyes expressionless to his condition, then pointed back to the path. Anduin nodded; she wanted him to go back to the main cavern and wait.

The prince made his way back, drifting through the pathway then back up to his initial hiding place up along the wall. Fortunately, Sablemane’s back was still to him; the elder dragon had not moved from his spot since Anduin had left.

The blond settled himself in and waited for Left to let loose the drake. Anduin was so tense his entire body felt ready to spring. Once the drake was causing enough of a distraction, he could jump down and get Wrathion.

A thought occurred to him.

How… was he going to “get” Wrathion? Could the Black Prince shift into his smaller dragon form in his state? Was he too weak to?

Anduin dearly hoped not. Otherwise this may end up badly.

“You said it was some sort of Titan technology that purified you?”

Anduin’s eyes flickered into focus as Sablemane spoke. He squinted his eyes downward and watched quietly.

Wrathion made a low noise in his throat – an affirmative.

“And this ‘Rhea’ found it?”

Silence.

Sablemane sighed. “Don’t make me do that again.”

Still Wrathion said nothing.

Sablemane leaned. Anduin furrowed his brows. What was-?

The elder dragon had grabbed Wrathion’s left wrist.

“One last chance to speak.”

Wrathion hesitated, then opened his mouth -

There was a scream. Sablemane and Anduin in unison looked over at the cavern.

An enormous explosion resounded from the hallway and a plume of rock and dust bloomed from the opening. The ground shook -

And the sha-infested drake burst through the cavern opening, rock flying, and wailed. The energies were sparking sporadically around it now. Sablemane didn’t even have time to dodge as his own ally saw him and tackled him heavily with a roar; strangely, Wrathion yelled then went quiet suddenly.

This was Anduin’s chance. Heart near to bursting from panic he jumped and just in time recalled his levitation spell before he hit the ground and landed a yard away from the Black Prince. From the corner of his eye he could see that Sablemane had somehow slipped from underneath the drake and was sending screaming fireballs at the rabid dragon which burst hotly, the glow radiating light across the entire cavern.

The once quiet cave was now a shrieking battlefield.

In his rush Anduin’s concentration on his spell wore off – he half ran, half stumbled to Wrathion and near fell to his knees in front of the Black Prince. The prince put his hands on the young dragon’s shoulders; Light billowed warmly from his palms and seeped through Wrathion’s scuffed pauldrons. The Black Prince seemed to have fallen unconscious in the slim moment Sablemane had been pushed from him. What on -?

Anduin looked down at the wrist Sablemane had been holding. It was twisted at an awkward angle – the tackle must have forced the wrist to twist, as Sablemane had been holding it. No wonder Wrathion had yelled.

Despite the noise, the explosions, the snarls, Wrathion wasn’t waking.

“Wrathion!” Anduin yelled, right in his face. “Please, you have to wake up!”

He intensified the Light until he felt his forehead go dizzy; he was summoning too much too fast, but he couldn’t care about that right now.

Finally Wrathion’s eyes fluttered.

There was a large cracking sound near the entrance of the cavern. Sablemane and the drake had disappeared, relocating their fight there as they had traded blows, and only when Anduin made a quick glance over did he spot a large, red-clubbed tail swinging from around the curve.

Of course. Sablemane’s dragon form wouldn’t fit in the cavern Anduin and Wrathion were in now.

Anduin put his full attention on Wrathion again when the Black Prince moaned lowly.

“Wrathion?”

One of the dragon’s eyes opened slightly and fixed on Anduin. His gaze was blank.

Anduin took a hand from the Prince’s shoulder and pulled down his mask to reveal who he was. “It’s me. Now, please, you have to try to stand up. I’m not sure how much time we have.”

Wrathion squinted his eye. Confusion flickered in the glowing red.

“… Anduin Wrynn?” Wrathion’s voice was a croak.

“Yes! Now, please -”

“You look -” he coughed, blood flicking up onto his lips, and looked the blond up and down slowly “-ridiculous.”

There was a roar of anger from the cave mouth. The entire cavern shook as something large was thrown against the wall.

Anduin shot the younger prince a quick glare, but forced down his retort in replace of saving an argument. “Can you shift into dragon form? I can’t carry you otherwise.”

Wrathion still looked confused. His eyes drifted from Anduin to the cave mouth where Sabellian was dealing with the drake.

“It’s very loud,” Wrathion mumbled stupidly. Anduin stared at him, wide-eyed. He put his hand on the side of Wrathion’s face and tilted his head back to him. “Mm. Am I dead, Anduin?”

“No, you’re not dead! Wrathion, please, I need you to shift into your dragon form. Please.” Panic began to sour at the back of Anduin’s throat. This wasn’t working.

Another explosion, and an unearthly shriek that reminded Anduin of the screams of the Sha that he’d helped disperse at the Red Crane’s temple echoed down through the mountain cave.

Wrathion blinked slowly, then closed his eyes. Anduin thought he was going to fall unconscious again, but then the Black Prince’s eyebrows sloped downwards as he concentrated.

Anduin busied himself by moving his hands from Wrathion’s face and shoulder and hovering them over his chest, where claw mark wounds had partially scabbed over, and tried to heal them. They began to close -

“Ugh. I… I cannot… shift.”

Anduin looked up at Wrathion. The Black Prince’s head was swaying back and forth gently, dizzily, as if he couldn’t hold it up any longer.

“Just focus harder!”

Wrathion looked at him, and for a slim moment, he managed a glare – then he groaned and his head fell unceremoniously to rest on one of Anduin’s shoulders.

Anduin went to jostle him, panic fresh in his bones again – how long could the drake hold Sabellian off? - but stopped himself. No – that would make Wrathion’s pain worse.

But Wrathion was barely responsive and he wasn’t going to shift. And Anduin was not going to be able to carry him.

Maybe if he could heal the dragon quickly in some of his lesser wounds – Anduin’s hands went to Wrathion’s torso again. If some of the pain went away -

It was only then that he realized that the roars and shaking had stopped.

Anduin tried to force Wrathion to stand up by attempting to lift him – but the dragon was complete dead weight and Anduin’s arms shook from the strain. “Wrathion, please, this is -!”

Something grabbed and lifted him from behind by hooking through his leather, right into the skin, and teared him away from Wrathion. Anduin was slammed back into the wall; his eyes shook and his shoulder was aflame with pain.

Baron Sablemane, his face smeared with black blood like some sort of war paint, stood snarling at him with murder in his hotly-glowing eyes. The elder dragon’s teeth were pointed, and his lips were curled back in such an animalistic way his face looked near-dragon still.

“You lot are roaches!” He lifted Anduin from the wall then slammed him back into it in anger – but Anduin was ready and set a shield about himself so his back bounced harmlessly off of the rock, even though Sablemane still had a grip on his shoulder with his claws.

“A priest? You have priest Agents? This is absurd! Who haven’t you tricked into servitude, you blasted little hatchling?”

Wrathion was staring sidelong at them. He said nothing.

Sablemane kicked Wrathion hard in the chest with his heel and the Black Prince hissed. Anduin took the distraction to try to grab a knife from his belt – but Sablemane saw and grabbed his wrist.

Desperate the prince kicked out with his good leg and managed to kick Sablemane in the gut, but the dragon only grunted and tightened his claws into Anduin’s flesh.

“I take your Prince, I burn your headquarters to the ground, and yet you still come for him? This egotistical, selfish, worthless excuse for a dragon? You follow him as blindly as the Cultists did my father!”

“I’m not an Agent. He’s my friend,” Anduin said, and despite the calm in his voice he was glaring with the viciousness that his father was famed for.

“Your friend.” Sablemane repeated, hissing. He dropped Anduin, who fell to his knees hard. “What a stupid lie to tell yourself. You’re just a follower.”

Anduin gritted his teeth and looked up. “I’m not a follower. He is my friend. I don’t know why you want to kill him, or what you want from him, but I’m going to help him.”

Sablemane snorted. “Such confidence. Not an Agent, are you? Who are you?”

“I am Anduin Wrynn, Prince of Stormwind.” He straightened up his back and stared at Sablemane defiantly with all the pride of the human kingdom in his blue eyes.

“… The prince of Stormwind.” Sablemane laughed without humor. “Is that so? The very same little boy I heard my sister nearly succeeded in manipulating to crumble Stormwind to the ground? What a twisted coincidence.”

“I’m not a little boy anymore.” Anduin went to rise again, but almost casually Sablemane reached out with a heel and shoved him back down.

“Indeed.” He grabbed Anduin by the hair, as he had Wrathion earlier, and studied his face with a glare of his own; he let go abruptly and glanced between the two princes. Wrathion was staring at Anduin vacantly.

Anduin thought quickly. The distraction had worked, but they hadn’t counted on Wrathion being so far gone from pain that he wouldn’t have worked with him. Perhaps he could go about this in a way he was used to – perhaps he could settle this peacefully, without any more death.

“And yet here you are helping a black dragon.”

“I told you. He’s my friend.”

“And yet you have no idea what this vicious little friend of yours did to provoke me so? How tragically ignorant.”

The feeling of unease Anduin had had at the Tavern – the feeling that something was not quite right with this whole situation – found him. Sablemane was from Outland. Anduin… knew Wrathion had done something to make the dragon aware of his younger brother’s existence.

What had Wrathion done?

“I’d like to hear,” Anduin said quietly. He heard Wrathion growl lowly, but ignored him.

“Why I tried to kill this pathetic wyrm?” Sablemane grabbed Anduin again and lifted him up. “A blind follower willing to listen to the ‘enemy.’ Very refreshing.” The dragon snorted, then walked them slightly around the curve near the entrance.

“He’s declared genocide on my brood. My family. My children. Are you familiar with Gruul the Dragonkiller?”

Anduin nodded. The conversation had flipped so suddenly from Sablemane screaming in his face to the elder dragon talking casually the prince wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

“I’m sure you can imagine where ‘Dragonkiller’ came from.” Sablemane stopped walking so that they were inbetween both caverns. “The beast killed most of my eldest children. Impaled them on the rocks like trophies. I could do nothing but watch them rot. Lovely, isn’t it?” The more Sablemane spoke the more his claws dug into the prince’s shoulder again, but Anduin swallowed and attempted to ignore it. He had to hear this dragon out. If there was some way to settle this peacefully… he needed to know all the angles.

“I’m sorry for your children,” Anduin said. Sablemane rolled his eyes. “But I know Gruul was killed – that may have brought you some peace.”

The dragon stared at him critically then. The look reminded Anduin of the expressions of some of the Horde had given him when he’d spoken highly of them, or sympathized with them – a look of unsure disbelief.

“Some peace. Until your little ‘friend’ over there had one of his ants march into my home and kill one of my youngest daughters – unprovoked, might I add.”

Anduin stared at him, then flickered his eyes over to Wrathion. The young dragon could hear them, no doubt – he was only a yard away – but his head was down and his eyes were on the floor.

“There must have been some reason,” Anduin said then, slowly, as he turned his look back to Sablemane. He chose his next words carefully. “I … do know that Wrathion was intent on being the last black dragon because of his race’s corruption -”

“Do I look insane to you?”

The question caught him off guard. “I –…”

“It isn’t a hard question, is it?”

Anduin set his jaw. He squinted at Sablemane and drudged up memories of Lady Katrana – Onyxia – from the back of his mind - memories he wanted to forget. There was one – she was smiling down at him, her purple eyes flashing… there it was, in her eyes. There was never quite… something right with her eyes, as if something was subtly broken behind the iris, as is there was a wire or two gently snapped. There was a shattered look about them, a look so hidden under her beauty that many forgot about it with her charm.

But Anduin remembered.

He looked at Sablemane’s orange ones hard then, with Onyxia’s fresh in his mind; the dragon looked back at him coolly.

But look as scrutinizing as he liked, there was nothing. There was nothing off about them, save for the draconic glow. He looked… normal.

Anduin was silent for a long moment before he responded. “You don’t look insane.”

Sablemane smiled grimly. “I’m glad you see that. Now, why try to explain that to your friend? He refuses to believe me. Not once have I started foaming at the mouth, I can assure you.”

Sablemane sounded like he was joking, but he still looked angry. “Now. I’ll repeat what I said: your Prince over there killed my youngest daughter with a lapdog, unprovoked.”

Anduin took a deep breath. “He must not have know you weren’t corrupted.” The words felt odd in his mouth. Was… was Sablemane not corrupted at all? He didn’t look insane, but…

He glanced at Wrathion. He’d heard the Black Prince’s speech so many times about being the last black dragon, the only uncorrupted black dragon, that his mind seemed to be struggling to grasp that the Prince might have been completely wrong.

Though then again, it helped to play along with Sablemane.

“Mm. Even when I tried to explain my condition he still explained quite confidently to me that he would kill my family. Now, put yourself in my position: what would you have done? Or – certainly you have a father still, yes? Being a prince. What would he have done?”

Anduin knew what Varian would have done. If someone had declared their intent to kill the prince, right in the Ghost Wolf’s face, his father would have most likely killed them on the spot.

Sablemane must have seen the answer in Anduin’s eyes. “You see? I had no choice.” He brought Anduin closer to his face. “I would kill a thousand worthless princes for my family’s protection. And now -” his voice started to become angry again, hissing - “a foolish, idiotic, childish human who thinks his Prince is full of goodness and worth saving has just forced me to nearly kill my own son!”

Sablemane’s eyes flared then flickered back to the cave entrance. Anduin stared at him. The look in his face – suddenly he was in Ironforge again during the siege, and Varian was looking at him with fierce, protective worry as he held his weapon to Moira’s throat to kill her.

Except Anduin was Moira now.

Anduin glanced over to where Sablemane had looked and saw that the possessed drake, the senseless beast he’d help loosen on his own father, lying haphazardly on the stone floor. The sha energies had left him, and the dragon was curled in on himself; new, terrible wounds arced across his face, his back, his legs.

Anduin felt sick. He swallowed and looked at the elder dragon who was looking at him with such rage Anduin felt sure he was about to die.

“If I could heal your son, would you consider letting Wrathion go?” He said quickly as Sablemane’s grip had started to tighten.

The dragon paused – then snarled. “And what? Have him track down my younger children in Blade’s Edge to slaughter? I think not.”

Anduin thought quickly. “I know you were trying to ask him something.”

“Yes. His secret. His lack of corruption. What about it?”

Ah. So he was not fully lacking corruption. Anduin tilted his head, confused- why did he appear so sane, then?

The prince dismissed the thought. There was too much about this whole fiasco he dared not tread recklessly with this talk without knowing all of the facts. “If I could get him to talk to you-”

“What makes you think he’ll tell you?”

“He trusts me,” Anduin said, surprised in the confidence in his voice despite how unsure he was in his statement. “And if it saved his life-”

Sablemane squinted at him hard. From their right was the ragged breathing coming from the still-living drake and the screams of the muted winds; the sun was rising, the night dead.

“I would so enjoy killing him,” Sablemane drawled. “Though I do need another… angle besides this senseless torture. Perhaps -”

An arrow pierced through Sablemane’s back and sunk through to show its tip at his chest.

The dragon roared in pain. He dropped Anduin, twirling around, fire exploding from his mouth as he half transformed. Another arrow hit him in the shoulder. Anduin scrambled to his feet and saw Left standing in front of Wrathion, who had managed to shift into his dragon form – when had that happened? Anduin thought dazedly – with her crossbow loaded.

Everything seemed to blur. Anduin went to yell at them to stop, that he had nearly had this handled without more blood and fire but Left kept shooting and Sablemane transformed fully, but was cramped in the small space, his wings splayed, his muzzle curled into an angered snarl.

Anduin moved out of the way, his leg screaming, as Sabellian’s tail whipped about, crashing against the wall and sending stalactite’s falling. He didn’t have time to change what the situation had become. Left was moving backwards, driving Sabellian’s attention, and Anduin saw his chance and surged forward, adrenaline numbing his pain. He grabbed Wrathion, held the limp whelp close to his chest, slid through Sabellian’s bent back legs and ran to the entrance, whistling panickedly for his gryphon.

He passed the dying drake – the one he’d offered to heal – and he hesitated for just a moment, and Wrathion hissed at him, a hiss to tell him to keep going, for he’d heard Anduin’s offer -

Anduin didn’t have time to choose.

“NO!” Sabellian had saw them and tried to turn himself around, but the cave was too big and he was too slow, and he snarled in frustration, fire shooting from his mouth and splaying across the cave, just missing Anduin’s heels – but the prince could feel the ends of his hair burn from the heat and then suddenly there was a swipe of wind as Sabellian desperately tried to grab the prince by the legs but just missed.

And then there was Left beside him, and she grabbed him by the collar and nearly dragged him out of the cave. The gryphon was there, having heard the whistle, then shrieked once she saw Sabellian, but Left was quick and hopped on her, and then she dragged Anduin and Wrathion up along the beast’s back.

The gryphon jumped from the side into the morning air and the ferocious screams and roars of Sabellian echoed along the mountain side as the wind sheared against Anduin’s face.

Chapter Text

“You didn’t need to shoot him!”

They hurdled through the mountains. The sun was rising, and its glare across the snowy peaks was nearly blinding. Anduin squinted his eyes and held on tight to Left’s waist with one arm, while his other was wrapped protectively around Wrathion, who was wedged in-between the orc’s back and the blond’s stomach.

“I did what I had to. I saw my chance and took it, and the Prince is out of danger now because of it,” came Left’s snarl as she turned the gryphon hard around one of the mountains, then tilted them downwards into a stomach-dropping dive. The wind screamed in Anduin’s ears.

The prince closed his eyes. It took effort, but he managed to swallow down the argument that burned at the back of his head: that he nearly had it handled peacefully. That though Wrathion was out of danger now, the elder dragon was still alive, that he would come for him again. If he could have just coaxed Wrathion into talking to Sabellian…

The gryphon went level and Anduin opened his eyes again. He couldn’t waste time worrying over it now. The slim chance for any semblance of peace had been broken when Left’s arrow had pierced Sablemane’s chest.

What he had to worry now was Wrathion’s well-being. He glanced down at the whelp curled in the crook of his arm and his frustration with Left was forgotten, overcome with concern for the unresponsive dragon. The Black Prince’s head was tilted, as if to hide his face, into the bend of Anduin’s wrist, and one of his wings limply drooped over the blond’s arm that held him close. The shine of Wrathion’s blood was bright against his black scales and Anduin’s leather garb where it had smeared.

A ferocious roar echoed faintly from the mountains.

The gryphon faltered. Wrathion curled up into himself more and Anduin chanced a glance over his shoulder, eyes wide.

Sabellian hadn’t been able to follow them immediately – Anduin briefly recalled, in the blurred and recent memory, the dragon’s frustration, how his large draconic form couldn’t move nor budge in the low cavern – but it didn’t seem to have held him forever.

“We are far off. Be glad your gryphon is as white as the snow, Prince Anduin! We’ll lose him easily.” Left called behind her shoulder, then turned the panicking gryphon downwards and around through the canyons. There was another roar, and just as Anduin turned his face back to look ahead of them again he saw from the corner of his eye a far-off explosion of snow lit behind fire.

“Left -”

“I hear him.”

She yanked on the reins and dug her heels into the gryphon’s sides simultaneously; the gryphon nose-dived with a shriek, and Anduin had to tighten his hold hard on the orc’s waist and Wrathion himself from flying back off of the mount.

The gryphon equaled out, but was soon twirled around one of the peaks.

“Left, what are you doing?!” Anduin yelled. His whole vision bobbed up and down.

“Losing him! Now be quiet, prince!”

Another roar from behind them, closer. There was a sudden rush of air against the back of Anduin’s head, ruffling his burnt hair -

From above and from nowhere Sabellian’s jaws descended and snapped so close to the gryphon’s flank that if Left had not forced the mount into another dive with her viper-quick twist of the reins the rescue party would have been done right then and there.

The white gryphon screamed. Anduin yelled, too.

Another snap from Sabellian, who was flying right behind them now, but clumsily in the quickly-shrinking canyons, as they shot from the deeper mountains towards the smaller range that was nearer to the Summit’s plains.

Heat glowed behind them and the mountains went alight with the red highlight of fire.

But Sabellian was still too far away from them for the hit to land… though he was catching up fast.

“Hold on, prince!” Left yelled. Anduin did as he was told and gripped onto Wrathion tightly. The whelp whined.

With the gryphon’s nimbleness, throttled nearer towards a frenzy from the beast’s panic, Left began executing sharp turns, dives, and loops through and around the peaks. Fire continued to burst behind them, but as dizzy and sick as Anduin felt from the wild riding he could slowly feel its heat become less and less hot against his back.

Sabellian was falling behind, no doubt slowed by the gryphon’s swerves. Again the dragon’s size, as in the cavern, had been a downfall.

“Cowards!” The elder dragon roared. “Come back here!”

The gryphon and its riders shot around another peak.

“We can’t keep going like this,” Anduin shouted above the wind. “My gryphon is going to tire herself out!”

The beast was well-bred, but no animal could fly as hard as she was for that long.

Left nodded – then rocks showered above their heads. Sabellian was trying to gain the advantage by flying high above them.

Anduin looked up, and saw the dragon slam his tail into the peak above, and larger boulders fell from the mountain-side… but even then the dragon was too far behind and the rocks fell harmlessly behind them -

Until Sablemane slammed a rock with his tail and it struck the gryphon’s back leg with a crack.

The animal screeched and faltered. Sabellian shot down from the peak, his wings folded close to his sides like a falcon’s, and dove so quickly that it seemed impossible with his size.

Left tried to urge the gryphon on at the same speed but the mount was still faltering, still slowing, and Sabellian was nearly upon them with his talons beginning to stretch out and his neck snapping forward like a cobra’s -

At the last possible moment Anduin tore his arm from Left’s waist and felt himself lurch backwards, but in that slim heartbeat of a second, he lifted his free hand and summoned the Light in an explosion of white and it enveloped them like a shell, a shield, thick and pulsating like the skin of a heart.

Anduin fell back against the wall of the Light’s shield – then slammed forward into Left’s back as Sabellian’s claws slammed into the barrier and hurdled them forward.

The dragon flailed, Left turned the gryphon sharply, and Sabellian, now off-balance from his claws slipping against the slippery barrier, slammed into the side of the mountain with a boom, his wings askew.

Anduin’s arm found Left’s waist again as his shield flickered; it wouldn’t catch him again.

Anduin, breathing hard, his heart in his throat at having been that close to falling to his death, turned away and squinted his eyes as Left flew them down into the canyons of the lower mountains and dove underneath one of the outcrops of rock.

Left halted the gryphon to a stop; the beast’s sides shook, and her leg that had been hit by the rock was tucked up near its belly.

“Left,” Anduin whispered, his voice breathless, his heart still wild, “what are we doing?” Sabellian had crashed into the mountain and the distraction had given them all the time in the world to fly out of the mountain range and into the plains. Wrathion twitched his wings in Anduin’s arms once, then went still again. He’d hardly moved at all during the chase.

A muted, echoing snarl rippled above them, followed by the frenzied beating of wings.

“Losing him. He would have caught up again,” the orc hissed. “Now shut up.”

The rock that they hid underneath just allowed them to see a slim viewpoint of the sky above – but the entire party stilled and near-held their breath as Sabellian’s tucked-in claws and clubbed tail sailed into view. Anduin was unable to see any far up, for the rock blocked his vision.

Sabellian paused in midair; his great wings kept him aloft, beating hard to keep him in one place. Anduin swallowed. The dragon could be staring at them right now and they wouldn’t have known it, unable to see his face…

The dragon snarled, lifted his wings and flew in the direction he had come.

Anduin closed his eyes and sighed out deep in relief. His tight hold on Wrathion loosened the slightest amount.

“We’ll wait a bit longer before heading towards the plains,” Left murmured. Anduin nodded.

After a long, quiet moment, with no sounds of wings or roars, the orc inched the injured gryphon, who limped badly, out from underneath the rock. Anduin looked up, squinting his eyes to shield them from the rising sun, but saw no dragon waiting for them like a cat at a mouse’s hide-hole.

Compared to the frenzy of the chase, the quiet of the mountains was unnerving as they took off into the air again and headed towards the plains, which came upon them quickly as the mountain range steadily became lower and lower before sloping down altogether. Anduin kept expecting for Sabellian to pop out from some hidden crevice, but now that they were on the open ground, that particular paranoia fell away. The human felt, for now, the slightest bit safer.

Left turned the gryphon high up into the clouds. They were quiet for a time, the only sound the gryphon’s heavy breathing and the wail of the wind.

“We should stop soon,” Anduin said, finally breaking the silence as they passed over a hozen camp. His nerves had calmed down. “Wrathion-”

“I know about His Majesty’s condition, young prince. I’m not a fool. But we need to make some distance between ourselves and the black dragons beforehand.”

Anduin said nothing. Left was right, but Wrathion’s wounds would only get worse the longer they weren’t looked at; it was a frustrating decision. He glanced down at the unconscious, bloodied whelp, bit the inside of his cheek, before he looked out over the yellow-brown landscape below them.

“We’ll be near the Vale soon,” he said after a moment. If there was a good place to heal Wrathion, it would be in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, whose mystic waters were famed for their restorative properties – properties Anduin himself still wished to study more of, not having had much of a chance to because of his recovery from the Divine Bell. “The Shrine of Seven Stars would -”

“Not the… not the Vale.” Anduin glanced down, surprised. Wrathion hadn’t opened his eyes, but he’d finally spoken, though his voice was barely coherent over the wind and the rasp of his throat. “They’ll… they’ll recognize me.”

“Who will?” Anduin asked, confused.

“Champions,” Wrathion mumbled.

Anduin stared at him. He didn’t understand why that was so problematic. What was -?

“If His Majesty doesn’t want to go to the Vale, we won’t go to the Vale,” Left said. There was a tone of warning in her words. Anduin ground his teeth, but relented.

“The Valley of the Four Winds is below the Vale,” he murmured, trying to peel away the grumble in his words. “We could stop there.”

“It will have to do,” the orc said.

Anduin squinted down at Wrathion, waiting for him to protest, but the dragon seemed to have drifted off again.

The prince sighed and looked up again. The Vale would have been a better place, but the Valley was a good second option; the farming community there would probably not recognize the whelp for who he was and leave them alone.

As they flew, the Gate of the Vale gently becoming sharper in shine as they approached it, Anduin mulled to himself. The black dragons would be coming from Wrathion again, he supposed, and Left, Anduin, and Wrathion couldn’t stay in the Valley of the Four Winds forever. They had to find somewhere safe, somewhere guarded, where not even a full-grown son of Deathwing could easily barge into.

Anduin frowned thoughtfully. There was… one place… but hiding a black dragon, whelp or no, inside would not be the greatest idea… yet it was the only place that made sense.

The blond smiled then. Maybe it was a good idea. He filed the thought away to recommend to Left later as the sun rose against them.

—-

It was mid-afternoon when they arrived in Halfhill.

Left landed on one of the many dirt paths that led up into the large market area. Enormous, near-monstrous white hawks circled above, eyed the party curiously, then strove on in the direction of the rivers. On the horizon were dark, rolling clouds – a thunderstorm in the making, not unfamiliar to the Valley of the Four Winds.

Though they were outside of the town, Anduin could already hear the sounds of voracious trading, laughter, and playing mutely from the inn, the odd but uplifting wind-instruments of Pandaren song.

But what captivated the blond’s attention most was the intoxicating smell of food, from steak to noodles to brews, that drifted by on the gentle afternoon-breeze. His mouth watered; the prince hadn’t eaten since he’d left Lion’s Landing -… had it already been a day, already?

“Remember to keep your head down, prince,” Left grumbled as she guided the gryphon up the slope that led into the busy commerce-place. “You probably won’t be recognized – the mask while hide your features - but caution is best.”

Anduin nodded, then bent his head as they passed by the first buildings and began to weave through the steady traffic of people, most of them Pandaren. Some gave them wary glances – the prince suspected it was for the uniforms Left and he wore, for he was aware that the quiet infamy of the Blacktalons unnerved many - but no one stopped them.

Anduin busied himself by looking over the sleeping dragon in his arms again. Wrathion had hardly spoken since leaving Kun-lai, save for the occasional groan and whine. He calculated what wounds would be easiest to heal, which would be quickest, and what would be the most difficult. He frowned at the whelp’s forearm. Surely that would be -

“Get off.”

Anduin looked up as the saddle jostled with a jingle. Left had hopped off, and as she looped the leather reins from the white gryphon she gave the blond a pointed look. Only then did Anduin realize she was blocking him – and Wrathion – from view of most of those passing by with her back.

Quickly the prince huddled Wrathion closer to his chest, tucking in his purple-webbed wing into its gentle fold so that the brightness of the color would not flash out too much among the black. For any glancing eyes, they would only see black scales in Anduin’s arms; whether they thought it an onyx cloud serpent hatchling or simple dragonscale leather, the blond didn’t care, just as long as they couldn’t see it was the son of Deathwing.

The dragon let out a shaky breath as he was shifted around.

“Don’t open your eyes,” Anduin whispered, and put his other arm around the whelp to hold him securely. He twisted sideways in the saddle, then slid off, landing on his good leg; Anduin wouldn’t be able to use his cane while holding the Black Prince, but the blond was sure he could manage a few steps without it –… and he could not levitate out in the open so obviously without catching attention.

Left nodded at him, then turned and walked in the direction of one of the larger buildings in the town. The music Anduin had heard before was cheerily coming from its open windows and doors. It must have been the inn.

The prince followed close behind, bending his head again and keeping Wrathion close, but made sure to stay far back enough where he wouldn’t be stepping on the orc’s heels. His right leg burned as they walked up and down the small slope, passing a larger incline up where small residential shacks were built. People continued to glance at the party from the corner of their eyes - but looked away when Left shot them a glare when she caught them staring.

“Stable master - watch the gryphon. Fix her leg.” Anduin peered up through his hanging bangs; Left shoved the gryphon’s reins into the hands of a surprised looking Pandaren who stood in front of the inn, and handed over a small satchel of gold for the fare from her belt.

The rogue glanced back, saw Anduin was still there, then continued up into the tavern with a heavy stomping of her boots.

Anduin followed. The inn was loud with music, but the building was not altogether crowded. The blond supposed it was because of the time; the Valley was composed mostly of farming communities, and, just like the inns in Elywnn Forest, the tavern here would not be lively until the sun set and work was done.

“The innkeeper is there. Get yourselves a room.” Left was talking quietly, and Anduin had to strain to hear what she was saying above the music and casual conversations of the Pandaren around them. The orc nodded in the direction of a youthful Pandaren female who was organizing foodstuffs onto one of the tables.

Anduin tilted his bowed head up enough to frown at her. “What about yo-?”

“I won’t be needing a room. I will stand guard.”

Anduin stared at her, then furrowed his brows. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Now go.”

“ - Wait. Can we eat first?” The smell of the food was near-dizzying now, but Anduin was more worried about Wrathion’s hunger than his own. When was the last time the Black Prince had eaten? Wrathion, he knew, was a voracious eater, who inhaled food even quicker than the blond did. He must be starving.

Left seemed to understand. “I’ll get the food. Get the room and go upstairs.”

Anduin nodded. “Please get plain broth.”

“Broth.”

“Yes. And try to find some bandages, too, please – for his wounds.”

Left squinted at him, relented, then turned.

A thought occurred to Anduin as he bent his face again.

“Wait! Left, if you find some of the tea he likes, can you get that, too? The Lapsang Souchong I think they would have.” Wrathion favorited some sort of pomegranate tea Tong made him – he was so possessive of it he wouldn’t even allow Anduin to try it, proclaiming it “too rare to share” at one point, and scowling when Anduin had mocked him for clinging to the mug like a child with its toy – but the prince doubted they would sell anything like it here.

He looked back up when Left didn’t respond - but Left was gone, as if she had dispersed into the air like a specter. Anduin looked around quickly, momentarily forgetting to hide his face, and saw no sign of black leather nor green skin. None of the tavern customers looked alarmed, either, like they’d just seen someone disappear on the spot.

Anduin sighed loudly, shook his head, then went over to the Pandaren innkeeper Left had pointed out. Sometimes, he wondered just where Wrathion had found his Blacktalons. He knew the SI:7 was skilled, but the Black Prince’s agents were… something different.

“Excuse me.” Anduin said politely to get the Pandaren’s attention. His voice was muffled by the mask; not wanting to take an arm off of Wrathion he awkwardly tilted his shoulder up and managed to slide the mask down past his mouth with some effort. The Pandaren’s face was still down as she sorted green apples twice the size of Anduin’s fist.

“Hm?” The Pandaren looked up cheerfully then and froze. Her eyes went a bit wider. “Oh. Ah. Hello.”

The blond was alarmed by her reaction – had he done something wrong? – but he realized it must have been the recognizable outfit. He wished he had his cloth, now that they were out of the mountains and out of danger – for now – but knew that the garb was, too, recognizable, and the leather get-up would have to do for now.

“May I please rent a room for the night?” He smiled at her, eager to show he wasn’t as brooding as the Agents were. “If you have one on the highest floor, that would be best.” Anduin didn’t want the commotion that would no doubt slowly rise in pitch downstairs to wake Wrathion.

The pandaren tilted her head at him. “I’ve never had one of you rent a room before!” She exclaimed, and her wariness dropped from her face. Anduin was relieved, and once again reminded why he enjoyed the pandaren people; they were so quick to look past judgment.

The innkeeper looked down and shuffled through her apron. There was a faint jingling.

“Only one bed, right?”

Anduin went to nod – then hesitated and shook his head. “Two.”

The pandaren only nodded and took her hand from her apron, her paw clutched around a key. “Alright! Well, you’re in luck. Top room is open.” She went to hand Anduin the key.

“Ah – if you could just - ” He shifted Wrathion gently then splayed out his fingers. Amused, the pandaren put the key in-between the crook of his fingers and he clutched it into a fist.

“Y’know, I had one of you folks cause a commotion a bit ago!” The pandaren went back to sorting the food. “Mighta’ got into some sorta’ scuffle by the way he was looking. He was hollering in the morning from the storeroom – hah! Someone had locked him in there.” She clucked her tongue. “Wouldn’t even tell me what happened. He just bolted. Dunno where. Anyway!” She smiled at him, then pointed towards the stairs. “Up on the very very top is your room. Door should be locked.”

Anduin smiled back at her. “Thank you.”

The blond headed towards the stairs. Wrathion groaned lowly.

“We’re almost there,” Anduin whispered, then started up the stairs – and winced. He regretted not having his cane, now; as he walked up, his right leg began to shake again, as it had on the cliff.

Anduin set his jaw and tried to look passed it, and leaned heavily on the bannister.

Just a couple more steps…

He rounded the last bend of stairs and the door was at the top. Anduin sighed, relieved, and fit the key in the door. He bumped it open with left hip and went inside, closing it behind them with his heel.

It wasn’t the largest room he’d slept in, but it was still comfortable. Two beds, large and plush, were pressed up at the far end of the wall, and a steady stream of fresh air, heavy with the smell of food, hurried in from the open, consecutive slots in the wood that encircled the entire room. A plain desk sat to the side.

Anduin went to one of the beds. Cautiously, gingerly, he unraveled his arms from Wrathion and set him down, sinking to his knees at the side of the bed so he could get on the dragon’s level.

Now he could finally start healing the Black Prince. Anduin was eager to, worried that Wrathion’s condition was deteriorating; the wounds he’d seen in the cave were bad, but now that he would have the chance to study them up close, he only assumed they’d look worse.

Wrathion groaned again and his rolled up wings went limp against his sides, sprawling out on the blankets. Anduin frowned and stroked the Prince’s head once.

“It would be easier for me to look at your wounds if you were human,” Anduin murmured. Wrathion did not respond; he only readjusted his angular head on the blankets the slightest amount and went still again. The Alliance prince frowned.

“I’ll try to make you feel better. I promise. But I really do need you to shift.”

Wrathion sighed. Smoke, thick and slow, enveloped his small form and spread out, elongating and widening along the bed with reaching, finger-like ends.

Anduin watched quietly. Usually the Prince’s transformation was quick, an afterthought, but now it was sluggish, strained, the smoke near the consistency of sludge. It was obviously taking Wrathion some effort.

Yet the smoke stilled after a long, tense moment - and dispersed.

Wrathion, in his human form, was laying on his back, his arms awkward at his sides as if he wasn’t sure what to do with them. His eyes were still fused shut. The Prince took a shaky breath, grimaced, revealing his sharpened teeth stained with his own blood, then went still again.

Anduin swallowed. Wrathion looked as bad as he had in the cave, if not worse. His outfit, so carefully crafted in its extravagance and its details so thorough, was ruined. Tears, splits, and blood marks were scattered along every inch of the dragon’s clothes.

The prince looked over Wrathion’s wounds, then. The bruise blooming along his right eye had extended down his cheek and up his temple, blotching his sable skin with mustard yellow and thick purple.

Wrathion’s breathing was worrisome as well; it was raspy, and the effort to take a breath on the dragon’s part was painfully obvious, for each inhale and exhale was a shudder, each with a certain hesitance about it. All the signs pointed to broken ribs, bones that were unable to be set.

Not like Wrathion’s sprained left wrist. That would be easy enough to heal, Anduin supposed.

But Wrathion’s right arm-…

Anduin’s eyes drifted down to it warily. He grimaced.

It was just as twisted as he had remembered; the dragon’s palm, which should have been face-down, was tilted sideways, nearly swiveled up to face the ceiling, thanks to the lower half of the split bones in the Prince’s forearm being forcibly turned around. The break itself, right in the middle of his lower arm, was also so displaced that the latter half of the broken forearm, the half that had been twisted, jut out, nearly breaking the skin and making Wrathion look like he had a second elbow.

Anduin wouldn’t be able to snap that back in place easily. He stared at it, clenching his jaw. He’d set a handful of bones before, but nothing as terrible as Wrathion’s arm.

The prince sighed through his nose and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. That injury would be the most difficult to tackle… as long as Wrathion didn’t have worse internal injuries that Anduin couldn’t see with his eyes.

The blond flicked his eyes over the other prince again, frustrated. The blood on the thin, fresher cuts had dried, at least – but the cuts themselves were still open. Anduin frowned. That was odd. They were small, and not too deep into the flesh; they should have closed during the hours of the flight.

He pushed aside some of the torn cloth against the dragon’s chest, eyeing the three deep claw marks slashes against the skin there. Those could use the bandages.

Anduin let go of the ruined shirt and flicked his gaze up to Wrathion’s face again. The great Black Prince looked so weak and pathetic that Anduin’s chest soured and twisted.

“Thank you,” Anduin said, grateful that Wrathion had forced himself to transform for him. Wrathion only made a low ‘mm’ in the back of his throat as a response.

Anduin leaned forward. He brushed the Prince’s black bangs from his face, then set his hand against the dragon’s forehead to check his temperature for signs of fever, which would be a flag for infection. The open cuts were worrisome.

Wrathion felt hot – but he was a dragon. He was always hot. Anduin dropped his hand.

The door creaked open. Anduin startled, instinctually moving his body so it blocked the Black Prince from view, but soon relaxed when he saw Left trudging towards him, food in hand.

She shoved the food and bandages at him. He smiled at her, a tinge nervous, then gestured towards the desk. “I’m sorry – could you put it over there? Thank you, Left.”

The orc muttered something unintelligible and did as he asked.

“Thank you, agai-”

“I’ll be guarding outside.”

The door slammed closed. Anduin slouched his shoulders.

At least the food was here. The prince got to his feet and limped over, his mouth watering, unbidden, at the rich smells of butter, seasonings, and tea.

He looked over the tray quickly, then opened up the top to a small black ceramic pot. Steam billowed out from its top; the broth he’d ask for Wrathion was inside, a gentle brown in color with shallots and thin onions sprinkled in for flavor. Anduin smiled, pleased, then look around for the tea -… there it was, off to the side, in a large white mug, near the pile of white bandages. Next to it was a covered plate of noodles.

Oh. Left had gotten him something, even though he hadn’t asked. The prince was touched at the gesture, but he would eat later.

Grabbing the pot of broth first, leaving its cover behind, as well as the roll of bandages, Anduin made his way back to the bed where Wrathion lay still, and sat on its side next to the Prince. The bed creaked gently underneath the added weight. Anduin tossed the roll of bandages to the side to use later.

Wordlessly, Anduin unlatched the large spoon from where it hung along the bowl’s side, attached by a thin chain, then leaned forward and patted the dragon’s face once.

“Wrathion, I have food.”

A hardly-audible groan.

Anduin scooted closer. He touched the dragon’s face again, more insistently, but not hard enough to harm him. “Wrathion. Food.”

Wrathion’s left eye slit open. The red glow, usually vibrant, was dull.

Anduin gestured with the spoon to the pot. “You have to eat. This will make you feel better.”

Wrathion stared at him blearily. His eye slowly looked down at the broth, then drifted back up to Anduin’s face again.

The Alliance prince scooped up the broth in the spoon. “I’m going to have to feed you, though… you can’t use your hands.”

Wrathion scrunched up his face and leaned his head back deep into the pillows.

The dragon tried to lift his left arm with the sprained wrist – maybe to prove Anduin wrong, the prince wasn’t quite certain - and it shook the moment it lifted from the bed. The dragon swallowed, held it up for a moment longer -… then winced and allowed it to fall back down again.

Wrathion scowled weakly and looked away. Anduin frowned, abandoned the spoon in the broth and cupped the dragon’s chin in his hand; he tilted Wrathion’s face up so that he could look at him.

The dragon stared back, a certain glowering wariness to his look, but underneath the expression Anduin could see pain and exhaustion deep in the glow of red and in the corners of his eye.

Wrathion did not pull away.

Anduin looked back at him hard. He was no stranger to the Black Prince’s great ego; he realized what this was about. Suddenly the Prince’s evasion to the Shrine of Seven Stars made sense as well.

“No one’s here to see you like this,” he said. “I promise.”

Wrathion hesitated. His eye flickered from Anduin to settle on the door behind the blond.

“Left’s even standing guard. It’s just you and me in here, Wrathion,” Anduin murmured. Outside was the sizzling of food, the far-away calls of the white hawks, and the muted talking of traders -… but that all fell away into static, silent noise. All the blond could focus on was Wrathion’s strained breathing, his hesitance, the way the breeze from the slots curled at his matted, bloodied hair.

Finally, the Black Prince slid his eye back to Anduin again. Anduin smiled, with all of the reassurance of a friend to be trusted. “No one will see but me-… and that shouldn’t bother you too much.”

Wrathion scoffed – but the moment he did a cough racked him, the slight huffing of breath even too much to do without causing his body to ache.

Anduin stiffened at the show of pain. The Light flickered instinctually into his fingertips, which still rested along the dragon’s jaw.

But there was no need for healing, not now; the cough left him, and Wrathion’s shoulders slouched.

It must have settled something for the dragon. Wrathion set his mouth in a thin frown and the vague sense of annoyance and defiance fell from his face; he just looked exhausted. He fixed Anduin with a lidded stare and nodded at the prince once, quick, giving his assent.

The Light misted away from Anduin’s fingers, and he smiled at Wrathion again. “It will make you feel better,” he said, as he dropped his hand from Wrathion’s jaw, before he refilled the spoon with the broth.

“Mm.”

Anduin brought the spoon to Wrathion’s dark lips. The dragon hesitated; the blonde quirked a brow at him.

With a low grumble the dragon parted his mouth, and Anduin tilted the tablespoon of broth in - … only for Wrathion to splutter and lurch forward as if to spit it out.

The blond quickly grabbed the dragon’s jaw, clacked his mouth closed and tilted his head back at angle, forcing him to swallow.

Wrathion slouched back onto the pillow again with a grimace. Anduin dropped his hand and refilled the spoon once more.

“That wasn’t too hard, was it?” The prince said, his smile twisting wryly. Wrathion glowered at him. “Just don’t be difficult.”

Wrathion said nothing, but managed to pile up enough strength to deepen his glare. Anduin grinned, muffled a laugh that threatened to escape him, and raised the spoon again.

Thankfully, after the first few difficult spoonfuls of Wrathion having trouble swallowing and Anduin having to tilt his head back for him, the dragon managed to relax himself enough to be able to eat without gagging and the broth was soon gone.

The ceramic spoon clacked against the empty bottom of the pot as Anduin set it back inside. He was glad that he’d managed to make Wrathion eat it in its entirety – if Anduin knew one thing, it was that food made those weak strong, even as something as simple as broth.

But for now, Wrathion’s eye was drooping; his head swayed from right to left and back again. Anduin bit back a grin. Certainly food made one stronger later, but a full stomach meant sleep now.

“Go to sleep, Wrathion,” Anduin said with a gentle laugh and then, after placing the empty bowl on the ground, leaned forward and began unlatching Wrathion’s ruined pauldrons from his shoulders. The Black Prince didn’t protest, only sighed and closed his eye, as Anduin lifted both of them off and set them to the side, then looped the leather sash up and off of the dragon, careful to slide it away from the broken ribs.

A low noise rumbled from the dragon’s throat, but he soon went still and, though his breath was still shaky, it settled into the deep repetition of sleep.

Good. He needed rest. Anduin rubbed at his eyes, yawned himself – he was exhausted - and suddenly remembered the tea. He looked over at the tray where the steam still rose from the cup. He would just have to give it to Wrathion when he woke up.

But now that Wrathion was asleep, Anduin could work at healing him. The small cuts along his skin and the large gashes across his chest he’d have to deal with first; all manner of bacteria could infect him.

Could dragons… get infections? Anduin sighed, readjusted his headband and brushed his own bangs from his face – though they just fell back down. Maybe Wrathion’s burning blood would scorch out any bacteria.

Maybe.

The Alliance prince waited a moment, then closed his eyes. Ignoring his aching stomach and tired body, Anduin began to center himself behind the shadow of his eyes. Maybe the blood would, maybe the blood wouldn’t -… but Anduin couldn’t afford to take any risks.

He had never healed someone in as terrible a condition as the Black Prince; it would take all of his concentration. Anduin would start off easy with the cuts, but Wrathion’s other wounds…

Could he even do it by himself?

Anduin frowned, and tried to think passed the sudden doubt flickering at the corners of his eyes. He was talented, confident, and good-hearted, and the Light came to him as easy as a breath, but he knew well that natural talent and affinity were nothing without experience, and Wrathion’s egregious wounds might even be too much for even Anduin.

The Alliance prince opened his eyes. The Light flickered back onto his hands, stretching across his palms, extending, warm, across his forearms. It might be too much, but he could still try.

Anduin leaned over, the Light trailing curls from his arms, and grabbed the thick bandages he’d tossed to the side of the bed. He unrolled a large trail from the ribbons, cut it at the end, and, slowly, swept his glowing palm over one of the bandage’s sides. The cloth radiated for a moment before dimming down.

Pleased with his work, the blond turned back to Wrathion. He unbuckled and lifted off the scaled tabard, placed it gently to the side, then pushed aside the ripped cloth of Wrathion’s shirt to get a wider angle at the terrible gashes. As gently as he could, placed the Light-enchanted bandages, the once-glowing side down, on the thick, ripe gashes against the Black Prince’s chest.

Wrathion inhaled sharply as Anduin pressed the bandages down into his flesh to make sure they would stick and stay. The blond paused, looked up warily, but saw that he had not awoken the dragon.

He went back to making sure the bandages were stable, then smiled brightly. Good – that should shield them from infection for now, and heal them at the same time, though albeit slower than real-time healing that Anduin was about to do with the smaller cuts.

But the gashes would have taken much more time and energy to heal… and the smaller cuts would be easier, though equally as worrisome.

Anduin placed his hands on the Black Prince’s face and began to heal, settling in for a long bout of concentration, while his food went cold.

—-

Sabellian had lost them.

He dove down one of the last slopes of the mountain, his claws curled up tight underneath him, and swept his head back and forth in a near frenzied-like motion. Smoke and the occasional bout of red flame gusted from his open, snarling mouth; the snow melted beneath him where he flew passed.

The dragon tilted back up to a parallel angle to the ground. Down in these lower mountains, snow was less prominent, and that human’s white gryphon would have flashed against the darker rock -… but Sabellian saw no feathers, no flicker of white flying away. His orange eyes burned.

With a frustrated snarl he slammed himself down on an outcrop of a cliff, the first mountain of the range; rocks flew off from the impact. Below him yawned the endless yellow plains that composed the rest of the Summit’s landscape.

His wings still splayed out, Sabellian let loose a gout of flame in to the air, so hot and angry that in the red were a dozen other intertwining colors: yellow, orange, green, even purple and black.

The dragon had been so – he slammed his clubbed tail into the side of the mountain, and the whole rock shook – close.

Sabellian hurled his tail into the rock again. A large slab of dark earth slid from the outcropping and plummeted to the ground.

The Black Prince, that stupid, worthless, whiny lizard, had been that close to telling him. And when he’d escaped Sabellian had been that close to grabbing them, from stopping their rescue.

Another explosion of fire shot from his maw.

If that equally stupid, little blond human hadn’t distracted him -

Sabellian snarled and his claws gripped the rock hard.

“Idiot,” he chided of himself, smoke hissing from his teeth.

He’d allowed himself to be lured in by that other prince. Allowed himself to think that the other prince was genuine. Sabellian should have ripped his head off right there, but no, he was too nervous to do that, wasn’t he? Too nervous that the moment he killed someone hear the Old Gods would find him, would throttle up his taste for killing… such senseless killing as he had done before…

Sabellian had planned to kill one person – one dragon, truly – and one dragon only, out of caution. And now that whelp was gone as quickly as a breeze.

Idiot. He shouldn’t have been cautious. He should have killed the human prince. When he cracked that human guard from the cliff at the Veiled Stair, only the regular blood-lust of battle, a blood-lust he already had from beating the Black Prince into the ground, was in his head. No whispers nor mutterings. Another, weak-boned human couldn’t have hurt.

But it was too late to scold himself now. The human had distracted him, and the Black Prince was gone now for it.

Sabellian snorted. His wings folded down, neat and tight against his body. The sharp throb from the arrows lodged in his chest and shoulder began to pain again as the heat of anger fell from Sabellian’s mood; he would have to deal with them in human form later, when he had the chance. He glanced down at the small shafts with a scowl.

It was frustrating – and altogether annoying – but he had found the Prince once, and he would find the Prince again -… and next time, he would not be so polite.

The dragon glanced down at muted sounds of alarm from the ground below. Someone had seen the fire, or perhaps had nearly been crushed by the rock that had fallen.

He didn’t want to be seen; he would allow the mortals to think that Wrathion was the last of their kind… for now.

Sabellian opened his wings and jumped into the current of air. He swiveled as he caught the buoyancy of the wind and shot up and across, into the deeper mountain ranges again, abandoning his fruitless search for gryphon and riders.

It didn’t take long with Sabellian’s great wings to take him to the the cave. He alighted heavily on the outcrop, and folded his wings against himself as he trudged inside. The dragon had not been back since he’d chased the escapees from it that morning.

Ahead, in the large entrance cavern, Nasandria sat in drake form– decidedly at a safe distance – near the still-shuddering body of Talsian. Sabellian eyed the sprawled out dragon, the slashes and bites and cuts Sabellian himself had afflicted, and saw how his chest still rose and fell despite how the blood loss should have killed him hours ago.

Nasandria looked up at him as he entered the cave. The elder dragon ignored her. Wordlessly, he approached his dying son and glanced down at him without the slightest flicker of emotion in his orange eyes.

The strange energies that had curled from the dragon in his frenzy had long dissipated. Sabellian had never seen such chaotic smoke before; the mutterings had been something of the Old Gods, but the smoke from Talsian’s eyes and mouth, the way Talsian’s natural talons had warped into long, demonic, glowing claws? Intriguing and disturbing.

Talsian saw him. His head lay on its side; the drake flicked his yellow eye up at Sabellian as the elder dragon loomed above him. His jaw opened and closed like a choking fish. His whole body shuddered.

“M-my blood… hungers…” came the shaking hiss from Talsian’s mouth in a voice not his own, a voice deep, a grumble, a growl, the very rumbles of the forgotten earth. The drake’s eye flickered, and for the slimmest moment, a clearness came to him; the gloss in his gaze turned desperate, begging, as it turned towards his silent father.

The strange smoke began to curl from the corner of the drake’s eyes again and the lucidity began to vanish. Talsian shook again. “Pain… exquisite… pain…”

Sabellian placed a paw calmly on the drake’s heaving side. He had seen enough.

His snake-like neck bent, his jaws grabbed the drake’s head, and with a near-gentle twist of his mouth Sabellian snapped his son’s neck with a clear crack.

The body spasmed, then went limp. Sabellian dropped the head from his teeth and Talsian’s horns clacked against the stone floor.

Nasandria was staring at him, wide-eyed. “We could have - “

“We could have nothing, Nasandria. He couldn’t be helped.” Sabellian took his paw off of the stilled drake’s chest. The other drake glanced down at her dead brother, then back up at the elder dragon. She nodded once, slowly, but said nothing, her eyes still wide.

Together the black dragons burned the corpse. It took time – even in death black dragons hides were fairly resistant to fire – but after a while the red flames began to devour the body, sending ghostly flames to highlight the cave’s dark shadows, as graceful as a dance.

Sabellian sat hunched, staring idly at the burning corpse, at the cave mouth. Nasandria sat next to him. The flames’ heat was soft against their hard scales.

“What are we supposed to do now?” Nasandria said above the crackle and pop of the fire. “Talsian’s dead. Wrathion is gone. He hardly told us anything.” She shuffled her wings together. “Maybe we should just-”

“What? Go home? Allow ourselves to be brushed aside like beaten dogs?” Sabellian snapped. His eyes had not left the corpse, which had disappeared among the roar of the flames. The stench was overwhelming, but still he did not move. He needed to watch. “I think not. The ‘Black Prince is weak. We will find him again.” The elder dragon gripped his claws against the stone and it whined beneath him.

The frustration rose again in his chest; he had had the element of surprise when visiting his little brother upon the Veiled Stair, but now that he’d lost the whelp and Wrathion knew he was here, the tiny snake would be hatching plans and schemes to protect himself and harm Sabellian.

Sabellian was calmed by the fact, however, that Wrathion was weak, near-comatose. He would not be planning anything for a while-… giving Sabellian himself a chance to think.

He thought back to the human prince and hissed. “A human prince was the downfall. Ludicrous!” Sabellian murmured. “His friend. How does that insignificant, stuck-up hatchling have a friend?” Smoke plumed from Sabellian’s nose. It was ridiculous. Absurd. How stupid did the human have to be to follow the dragon so blindly? The elder dragon snorted again, without humor.

“Oh, the Black Prince is no doubt a son of Deathwing if he has such a devout follower,” he mumbled. “Sinestra or no, his purple coloration and cleverness is-”

Sabellian paused. A thought had occurred to him.

“That lying human-child will be with him. Hah! He was stupid enough to tell me who he was. Little fool.”

Nasandria turned her head and frowned at him. “Just because we know who he is -”

“An Alliance prince will run back to his pride of lions, Nasandria.”

Nasandria tilted her head – then understood. “Ah. But we can’t just burst into an Alliance -”

“We will need to plan accordingly.” Sabellian said. He was once again glad, at least, that Wrathion had been reduced to a whimpering, bloody lizard; it gave Sabellian time to scheme his own plots.

They said nothing for a time, yet Sabellian saw something was bothering his daughter by the way she kept shifting her weight and stretching her wings. It became annoying.

“What, Nasandria? Say what’s on your mind before I get angrier at your incessant moving about!”

The drake locked her jaw.

“How did Talsian… get like that?” She asked. “He… he seemed fine before the Stair.”

Sabellian nodded. The drake had seemed fine; he had not muttered in his sleep or stared off into space, unseeing, nor had a sudden thirst for blood. It had worried the elder dragon, too, wondering how Talsian had fallen into corruption so quickly and dramatically… though the answer was clear when it had come to him when he had helped chain the drake to the wall.

“His wounds weakened him, Nasandria – not the ones I gave him, no. The one the human guard did.” The fire was dying now; black dragons’ flames were quick and brutal, hotter even than the red dragons’. It had not taken long for Talsian’s body to burn beneath it.

“I can only imagine that is why - his guard was down. The corruption was able to find him, then.” For the first time in the conversation he turned his great head to look down at the smaller drake. “And we must be cautious ourselves.”

Nasandria nodded. Sabellian glanced back to the fire. He was regretting only bringing two other drakes with him… especially now that one was dead. The dragon had not expected this charade to be so annoyingly complicated.

Yet did he have time to send for back-up from Outland? The flight from the Blasted Lands to Pandaria had taken a great deal of time, even with hard flying, and by the time more dragons arrived Wrathion could be clear-headed and ready to hide again – and this time, Sabellian had no robotic whelp to track him down with.

He glanced sidelong at Nasandria.

The drake was fierce; it was why he had brought her. Certainly he could have brought Samia, his last remaining fully-grown daughter, the only one who had survived Gruul’s rampage on the elder dragons of Sabellian’s brood, but he had needed someone to watch over the family while he was gone.

Yet Nasandria’s fierceness may not be needed now – not yet. Sabellian had already lost Talsian; perhaps he could use his daughter for a… better advantage.

“Do you know where the Badlands are, Nasandria?” He asked with the nonchalance of a casual conversation. The drake shook her head. “The middle of the Eastern Kingdoms. Not an entirely scenic place – it will no doubt remind you of the dryness of Blade’s Edge.”

Nasandria looked at him. “Why are you asking?”

Sabellian stood. The fire was a mere smoldering flicker now; only Talsian’s ashy skeleton remained. In respect, the large dragon bent his head in a deep bow towards the remains, his nose brushing the floor, before he straightened again.

“I will continue this charade on Pandaria alone. You, my daughter, will be going to the Badlands.”

Nasandria gawked at him. “What? That’s – no! I will stay with you, father -”

“It wasn’t an open discussion,” Sabellian snapped at her, then turned and walked from the cave, the afternoon sun shining bright against his reflective scales.

Nasandria bowed to Talsian then followed him. “Why the Badlands? Surely you… you need me here -”

“Not now. If the little human-child will take his ‘friend’ to a fort, then our surprise attacks mean nothing in the way of stone, guarded walls. It will have to be done as a scheme… not particularly violent.” He stretched out his wings. “And so one dragon is easier to hide than two.” Sabellian looked at her critically. “You must have heard him whimpering about the Badlands when I was… interrogating him.”

“Well. Yes.”

“Titan technology. Intriguing, isn’t it?” Sabellian looked out among the mountains. “What created us will fix us. I suppose it makes sense… but enough of my rambling; I’m even boring myself. You will go to the Badlands and you will investigate the Black Prince’s origins. If this does not end well for me, then at least you might find something that might save our Flight. The Reds found the technology there – surely there’s still some remainder of what they did to him left.”

“And if there isn’t?”

“Well. Then you will have had a nice tour of the Eastern Kingdoms.”

Nasandria began to glare at him, but Sabellian turned his head and snarled. He was in no mood for back-talk today. The drake bent her head submissively, evading his eyes.

“Do we have an understanding?”

“Yes, father.”

“Good. First we must find the little automatons at the Veiled Stair again. You can contact me then as you make your journey.”

Nasandria, at least, looked the tiniest bit relieved at having some way of communication. “Of course.”

Sabellian lifted his wings and took off into the air, the snow billowing out from underneath his feet. Nasandria was quick to follow.

The two turned in the direction of the Veiled Stair once more, and disappeared among the high clouds, away from the eyes of unknowing mortals.

—-

A loud crack of thunder woke Anduin from his sleep.

He jolted up, eyes wide, as the tavern shook from the boom of sound. The entire room seemed to rattle underneath him.

Oh. It was a thunderstorm; the heavy drumming of the rain hitting the roof gave it away. The prince relaxed, gently easing down his tense shoulders, then glanced out at the window slots.

The slim look-out they’d given of the Valley was utterly blinded out by the heavy torrent of rain; only a small amount of it had managed to get inside of the open room, collecting a small puddle near the sill. Anduin supposed it must have been from the sloping roof, typical of the Pandaren’s architecture, that kept the water away.

Anduin turned back – then realized with a start he was still at the side of Wrathion’s bed, his arms sprawled out against the dragon’s shoulders; he must have fallen asleep when healing the Black Prince. Somehow he’d managed not to slip from his awkward swiveled sitting position on the side – his hips began to prickle as the feeling came back to them - but his bangs were stuck against his forehead as if his head had been face down.

Anduin tore himself back, his face hot with embarrassment. Wrathion hadn’t seem to have woken at all, not from Anduin falling asleep on him nor from the storm; he was in the same position Anduin had remembered last seeing him in, his head and torso propped up against the pillows.

Healing Wrathion’s open wounds had been.. more difficult than Anduin had hoped. The cuts had closed sluggishly, seaming back together with a snail’s pace while the little wounds should have been flowing quickly together, a practice Anduin had done dozens of times before, easily.

One cut therefore ended up taking the energy of five. It had been frustrating. Even when he had managed to heal one, it left an ugly fallow bruise, as thin as the cut had been, and after painstakingly healing one of such bruises Anduin had thought it best to leave his energy for the other open wounds rather than drain it on fixing Wrathion’s appearance.

No wonder Anduin had fallen asleep. He hadn’t slept or eaten – the noodles still sat cold - since leaving Lion’s Landing, and the healing work was difficult, even in Anduin’s skilled hands.

Anduin stretched up his arms, squeezing his eyes shut and holding back a yawn. Another shake of thunder rippled out from the storm; the ceramic pot, still on the floor, clattered to its side.

The blond ignored it. He clasped his hands together, rested them on his lap and leaned forward to look over Wrathion. He’d managed to heal the wounds on the dragon’s face, neck, and the upper half of his arms –… if heal was the right word, he thought bitterly, eyeing the thin bruises.

Anduin sighed, frustrated again with himself, loud through his nose. The only thing that made sense about the cuts’ conditions was that the weapon that made them (Anduin supposed a dagger, thanks to the slimness of the slashes) was either imbued with some sort of demonic enchantment or was made from one of the rarer metals that caused different effects on the skin.

Anduin guessed the latter. He brushed a thumb over one of the curdled-red bruises across Wrathion’s cheek, sill frustrated but gentle with his touch, and frowned thoughtfully. Velen had taught him that about the metals. Anduin dropped his hand and brushed his bangs, still stuck to his forehead, across his headband.

Much of Azeroth’s metals were relatively “harmless,” and only dealt damage from their sharpened sides and from different enchantments. There was Saronite – the mere thought made Anduin’s skin crawl – which was bubbled with the blood of Yogg’saron and caused madness when in direct, lengthy contact… yet Velen had not mentioned anything about the metal making healing difficult.

That metal, Anduin remembered then, was Fel Iron, which was warped with demonic energies. The ancient draenei had patiently explained how even the slightest of demonic presence in a wound would make it difficult for the Light to heal it – for demonic meant Chaos, the Light’s direct opposition. And Fel Iron, he’d said, was a cursed and fearsome metal for it.

And Fel Iron was from Outland.

It was the only thing that made sense. The dragons were from Outland… surely they had weapons made of Fel Iron.

Anduin glared at the cuts. Of course it had to be the cursed metal. It couldn’t have been easy.

He glanced down at Wrathion’s left arm, trying to force the frustration to billow off. Oh – here was some good news. Anduin smiled. The cuts that had remained when Anduin had fallen asleep had scabbed over.

The tavern shook again. Wrathion sighed loudly, his very lungs sounding like they were shaking as well, then stilled again.

Anduin readjusted the bandage over the dragon’s chest, making sure it was stable, before standing. Gently, gently, he slid the thick, fluffed blankets from underneath the Prince’s torso and put them on top of him, careful not to press it down across his broken chest. The Prince was deep in sleep and did not notice.

Anduin stared at him. At least in sleep Wrathion might be able to escape some pain.

For a moment the prince was tempted to continue healing… but he dismissed the idea. It would be a waste of time. As much as he wanted his friend to feel better, even Anduin Wrynn had his limits, especially when he hadn’t slept or eaten and his energy was sparking out.

Anduin glanced at the empty bed to the side. Before sleeping, though, he had to take care of something else.

The creaking of the floorboards underneath his feet was muffled by the heavy rain as Anduin made his way to the closed door. His leg protested; he ignored it.

“Left?” He said, lowly, as he opened the door and peeked his head out.

The orc was standing on the step below the door, her hand clutched on the scuff golden crossbow, her eyes trained down the stairs. The weapon was loaded and ready.

Her eyes did not move to look at him, but she did give a grunt of greeting to the blond prince.

Anduin smiled at her, eased his way out into the stairway and closed the door behind him with a gentle click. The thunder grumbled outside again. The orc appeared unphased; Anduin hoped, again, that the dragon inside the room would continue to be, too.

“I have a suggestion,” the prince began, and frowned as the orc’s eyes hardened. “Please, you have to hear me out.”

Left finally turned her head to him. “What is it?”

Anduin straightened his back, though allowed himself to lean his right shoulder on the door behind him for balance. His cane was still with the supplies that had been on the gryhon’s back.

He didn’t smile, but looked at the orc with earnest. “We can’t stay here, and we can’t go back to the Tavern.” The orc stared at him. “But we can’t keep moving Wrathion around from place to place, either. His wounds would just get worse. He needs a place to rest.”

“What’s your point?” Left asked with a grumble.

“We could go to Lion’s Landing.” He pressed on quickly as the orc began to glare. “I know it sounds … biased, but it would be safe, and I would have all the supplies I needed to heal him. There’s guards everywhere - … especially trying to follow me around… and Sabellian couldn’t possibly want to try to attack an Alliance keep by himself.” The more he spoke the more it made sense. Where else did Left think to take her Prince?

The bodyguard squinted at him hard, her tusks going lopsided as she frowned. The thunderstorm outside groaned, and the rain crushing against the roof above had become a relaxing static noise in the background of their conversation.

Left glanced at the door behind Anduin, then back at the blond.

“No one could know he was there,” she said, finally. “If the Horde knew that the Black Prince was staying in an Alliance keep, they’d be insulted. Some champions were annoyed enough at having you being a guest at the Tavern and under His Majesty’s protection.”

Anduin nodded. He was quick to remember the lingering, sidelong glances from some of the Horde champions who visited the black dragon, and then the full-on glares from others.

“I know. But it’d be nice to return the favor of playing the host,” Anduin said with a small smile. Left grunted.

“This isn’t about favors. The Prince is careful to remain neutral. He pushed his luck with you – like I just said.” She looked annoyed.

“But you have to agree it makes sense, going to Lion’s Landing,” Anduin said, raising a brow at the orc. He knew it made sense; his comment was not a question.

“Mm.” Again her eyes flicked to the door then to Anduin. “… Fine. We’ll go to Lion’s Landing. But if anyone finds out about the Prince – a simple guard, your father – I will have your head.”

Anduin had to bite back a smile. Yes! He’d convinced her. He nodded at her quickly. “I won’t let anyone find out.” He was good at that sort of thing… though something sour twisted at the back of his throat. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to lie to his father about anything.

Though he doubted it.

He turned to go back in the room – but hesitated, glancing back to Left.

“Left?”

“What?”

“Why are you doing this?” He rephrased his question, realizing it was vague. “I mean – why are you working for Wrathion?”

Left stared at him. Her gloved hand tightened slightly on the trigger of the crossbow. She said nothing for a long time, though the air in the slim stairway became heavier.

“Even orcs like me grow tired of war, little prince,” she said, finally. “Wrathion’s promised a world unlike Azeroth has seen, and I will stand by his side till my death until his dream is achieved.”

Anduin frowned at her. He’d assumed, maybe, that he was giving the Blacktalons gold, just as he was luring in his champions initially with promises of enchanted gems and other things to augment their strength.

But Left seemed so genuine…

And Wrathion had always spoken so genuinely about a world of peace – a united world – that Anduin had believed him utterly, despite the fact they always disagreed with how to go about making a world like the one the dragon spoke of. He’d always assumed the Blacktalons didn’t necessarily agree with him, that gold was on their minds, but…

His tired mind began to protest. He needed sleep; he’d think about this later.

“Goodnight, Left,” Anduin said, and went inside the room, closing the door behind him.

He was so tired that his stumble to the other free bed next to the Black Prince’s was not just from his bad right leg.

The blond flopped face-down on the plush Pandaren bed, unstrapped his shoulder-pads and stripped off his skin-tight shirt, and wrapped the covers tight around him lazily. He turned his face sideways in the dragon’s direction to keep an eye on him as the rain poured outside; the thunderstorm seemed to be rolling away, for the next lightning strike sounded more mute, a low annoyed grumble compared to the fierce explosions from the moments before.

Wrathion hadn’t moved. Anduin sighed deeply, closed his eyes, and went to sleep the moment his eyes saw darkness.

—-

Wrathion was cold.

And it was very, very dark.

Muggy flashes of images went bright in his mind’s eye before curling away like smoke seconds later, only to be replaced by another vision as vague as the last. The quick successions, shifts, flickers of colors and scenes… it was disorienting, dizzying, and he wanted to make it stop.

But he couldn’t. There were images of sharp teeth, a golden disc, broken runestones. Orange eyes, then blue. The edge of a shimmering wing, mountains like needles, a toothy mouth full of lava.

And he was cold. So cold…

—-

It was early morning.

Anduin had gotten up, dressed, and had finally eaten the cold noodles from the night before. Wrathion was still sound asleep, covered so tightly by the large beige Pandaren blankets only his head and shoulders stuck out almost comically from the fluff.

A heavy knocking echoed from the door. Anduin glanced over, the last mouthful of noodles in his mouth.

“Get out here! We’re leaving in five minutes!” Came Left’s muffled yell from beyond the wood. The blond swallowed, set down the empty bowl and readjusted his headband for the third time before standing up from the side of his bed.

“Alright, Wrathion, it’s time to get up,” he said with a yawn, rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes. He went over to the Black Prince and peeled back the blankets slowly. The blond had checked him immediately upon waking up fifteen minutes ago, bleary-eyed. The fallow bruises remained, but Wrathion’s dark skin had become slightly ashen in color. He hadn’t had too much time to think about it before Left had knocked on the door for the first time and yelled at him to get ready.

Anduin frowned. Wrathion was shaking slightly, as he had in the cave – but it wasn’t cold in the room. The morning air was light and warm.

Instant concern bloomed sharp in the back of Anduin’s throat and, brushing Wrathion’s hair from his face he set his hand against the dragon’s forehead as he had done the night before -

And tore his hand back immediately, eyes wide. Wrathion wasn’t hot. He was freezing.

“Time’s up! I’m getting the gryphon. Meet me outside in two minutes!” Left again, but Anduin hardly heard her. Why was Wrathion so cold?

Cautiously he extended his hand and placed it once more against the dragon’s forehead, then down at his jaw. He was so cold and clammy to the touch.

This – this couldn’t be a fever. Anduin’s mind raced. A body made a fever when its temperature rose as the antibodies fought the infection.

But that was with humanoid bodies. Wrathion’s regular draconic heat would have caused a bodily shutdown in most mortals. It must have been different for dragons.

But Anduin Wrynn had no idea about dragon health. Was this cold temperature a sign of an infection? Was it something else altogether? He glanced down at the scabbed-over cuts on Wrathion’s left arm – and his mouth went dry. The cuts were swollen, near green in color.

Wrathion’s body hadn’t healed itself at all. The cuts looked infected. If Anduin hadn’t fallen asleep -

Anduin took his hand off of the dragon and ran it over his own face. He tried to calm down, but the frustration at himself, at believing those cuts on the arm were healed, that he’d fallen asleep, that he didn’t know enough about his own friend’s physicality to realize what was going on was building a deep-seated panic in the pit of his chest.

Maybe he could wake the dragon, at least. If they – if they got to Lion’s Landing, where there was more than enough solvents, healing herbs, and other healing supplies…

For the third time Anduin felt the dragon’s temperature. Wrathion continued to shake.

“Wrathion?” He asked, lowly, sending a quick prayer to the Light that this time, unlike in the cave, the dragon would wake quickly and shift into his dragon form without stalling.

To Anduin’s surprise Wrathion opened his good eye instantly. He locked it onto Anduin. The red had been dull last night, but this morning it was hardly glowing at all.

Anduin forced a smile, hiding away his concern. “We’re going. I can’t carry you like that,” he said, gesturing to Wrathion’s body. The regular snark was in the blond’s voice, but it sounded shaky; he hoped the dragon wouldn’t catch on to his anxiety or frustration.

“I’m very cold,” Wrathion muttered.

It was the first thing he’d said since the flight yesterday. Anduin stared at him, then nodded. “I know. But I’ll try to keep you warm on the flight.”

The prince was expecting him to have to keep goading the dragon to shift…

But Wrathion groaned suddenly and the smoke enveloped him with a twirl. Now a whelp, the Black Prince slouched his head against Anduin’s arm and groaned again.

Anduin scooped him up, not giving him the chance to shift back into human form again, making sure to grab Wrathion’s ruined pauldrons as well as his scaled tabard that he’d taken off last night and slinging them over his shoulder before heading downstairs and outside to the stables with a heavy, burning limp. The blond tried hard not too get too anxious. But Wrathion’s scales were cold, even through Anduin’s leather clothes, and the way the dragon had shifted so suddenly… it was unnerving.

And Anduin didn’t know how to heal it.

Left was standing beside the white gryphon. The beast’s injured leg was healed; a heavy bandage was wrapped tight up and around her paw.

The orc must have seen Anduin’s concern on his face.

“What?” Her eyes glanced down to the whelp, then up at Anduin. The sun was just rising, sending a gentle yellows and pinks across the clear sky, and not many people, not even in the farming community, were up this early, not yet; the prince hadn’t thought to hide the dragon from view as he had before.

“I think he – I think he might have an infection,” Anduin said, slowly, unsure. The orc narrowed her eyes.

“You think?” She grabbed him by the collar and swung him up on the gryphon’s back as if he weighed nothing. Left hopped up in front of him and grabbed the reins.

“He’s freezing. I just – I don’t know enough about dragons to know what’s going on. Do you?” He was loath to admit it. He held on to the orc’s side as the gryphon jostled herself to a running start, her limp only slight, before taking off into the air.

Left turned her in the direction of the south; Lion’s Landing was a couple hours ride away. Surely Wrathion could hold for that long…

“No. I don’t.” Left glanced back at the Prince, eyed him cautiously, then turned back to face the front again.

“He never told you about anything like-?”

“I just said I didn’t know.”

Anduin went quiet. Maybe Wrathion would be able to tell him once they reached the Alliance fort.

Hopefully.

—-

“That’s it, up ahead!”

Anduin was relieved to finally see the white and blue pillars appear from the muggy haze of Krasarang along the coast. He was burned to a slight pink in his skin that showed from the high sun, and parched from the terrible heat.

But he didn’t quite care about that. What he cared about was that they could finally stop and Anduin could figure out what was wrong with the quivering, ever-cooling dragon who hadn’t moved in his arms since they’d left Halfhill.

“Gryphon riders ahead.” Left said. Anduin craned his head over her shoulder. Dozens of war-riders circled the bustling fort. Many of them were Wildhammer, whose skills with a gryphon were legendary; Anduin, Left, and Wrathion would be spotted soon.

“They’ll recognize my gryphon, but -” the prince paused. Idiot! He hadn’t thought of Left being an orc. “Uhm – perhaps we should sneak in. I know a good place to.”

“You know a place to sneak in.” Before they reached the beach, Left angled the gryphon to a gentle dive and landed her right on the edge of the thick, ancient forest.

“Yes,” Anduin said. Her doubt in him was starting to become annoying. Why did everyone always have to doubt him-…? But the blond shook his head and scrunched his eyes closed, focusing, before opening them again. He didn’t need to worry about that now. He just needed to get back to his room in the fort.

“Lead the way, then, prince,” Left grumbled.

The beach had come to a standstill in the never-ending skirmishes between the Horde and Alliance outposts along the coast. It was a lucky break; they didn’t have to worry about being hit by cannonballs or spells as Anduin carefully instructed Left where to go, creeping the gryphon behind the towers then to the stable. No one saw them. Even with Anduin’s strenuous instructions, he found it… too lucky. Perhaps Left was using some of the Blacktalon charm; he’d suspected the rogues had to use some sort of magic to disappear so easily into thin air.

“Alright, we’ll go on foot from here,” Anduin murmured. Left nodded, and the three eased off of the mount. “She’ll find her stall.” The bandage would be noticed, and the prince would be questioned, but he could worry about that later. “Now we just need to make it into the courtyard. There’s another entrance behind the keep that some of the workers use.”

The blond had found it during a walk around the Keep, after being driven near-stir crazy at having forced to stay in bed because of his leg all day, and had begun to use it to sneak out from his bodyguards’ noses when they weren’t looking, like he’d done the day before when going to visit the Black Prince and finding the Tavern destroyed.

It was better than mind-controlling them. He didn’t want to do that again.

They made their way through the courtyard then, ducking behind and staying quiet in the shadows, their black outfits blending in with the dark, as guards walked to and fro, before making it to the entrance. Anduin went first, then Left, and the floorboards creaked underneath them as they made their way up to the highest level of the fort that was set aside for the King, his son, and other higher officials.

Gently, Anduin eased open the door, looked both ways, and saw the hallways were empty. He gestured to Left behind him, walked with light steps to his room -

And opened the door quickly, let Left in, and shut it closed.

He went to the bed immediately and set the whelp down.

“Left – get him in human form and all the blankets around him. He needs to keep any heat he has.” A tone of authority had come into the prince’s voice.

Left nodded. Anduin went over to his dressed, pulled out his extra set of cloth garb, and went into the bathroom to change. It was nice to finally be out of the skin-tight leather; it had done its job, but it was woefully uncomfortable. He wondered how rogues and other adventurers wore it all the time non-stop.

Anduin went back out, adjusting his headband, and was glad to see Left had done what he’d asked. Wrathion was in human form again and covered up tight with blankets… and still shaking.

“I’ll need to go downstairs and find some herbs that stem infections.” It had to be an infection. What else could it have been? At least the herbs and other poultices the healers of the army kept in the overflowing storerooms might help; Anduin himself had not quite gotten that far along in his healing lessons with Velen to understand how to cure diseases… he understood how to set a bone, how to heal an open wound, but cleansing infections?

Especially a dragon’s infection?

“Stay here,” Anduin said. He had to hurry. Wrathion was loosing body heat by the hour and every minute they stood talking he could be worsening. Left nodded, and Anduin turned and exited the room, remembering to grab his cane which he’d slid off of the gryphon’s saddle, and made his way to the storerooms below, hoping his father, who may have been in the next room, did not hear his footsteps.

—-

“Left.”

The guard looked up. Wrathion was freezing. Why was it so cold? Why was he so cold?

And his whole head was dizzy; it felt like it’d be dumped into a vat of ice and shaken.

Sabellian – Sabellian had made him this way. He would have been angry if he could feel passed the ever-present pain, the chill, the agony.

Sabellian. He needed to kill Sabellian.

“Left.” His voice was a groan, a rasp. Was that his voice?

“Yes, my Prince?”

He needed to make Sabellian – he needed to make Sabellian pay. He needed - he needed to make Sabellian hurt. Yes. That was it. He had to make him hurt like Wrathion himself was hurting.

“Those Blacktalons. I sent them before Sabellian came. For the drake I saw.” Oh, he could barely speak without his lungs screaming at him. He just wanted the pain to stop. He wanted to go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time. But he had to tell his guard this. He had to make Sabellian hurt.

“… You mean the ones you sent to Blade’s Edge, my Prince?”

“Yes!” Oh, good, she remembered. “Go send more. To Blade’s Edge, Left. Make them. Make them hurt.”

He didn’t see Left nod. The agony was escalating with every word he spoke.

He wanted to sleep. His shoulders slouched, and the darkness was quick to overcome him.

Chapter Text

“Thank you, Mishka!”

Anduin gave the draenei a quick wave before turning and heading back into the keep, his cane clacking against the rough stone floor. The warmth of the beach and the sharp salty air followed him as he made his way inside the courtyard then up into the interior of the fort; inside the stone walls the distant screams and hisses of the rockets and cannonballs being flung back and forth farther down along in the Wilds became a dull, quiet hum. Anduin was thankful for that.

The prince mulled over the information the draenei medic had given him as he walked up the first flight of stairs. He’d asked about setting bones – particularly about very displaced ones – as innocently as possible. Anduin needed to set Wrathion’s arm, and soon; he’d be pushing it off since arriving at Lion’s Landing two days ago, but he knew if he had waited any longer, the forearm would begin to heal in its awkward position.

Anduin made it to the top of the stairs and paused, cocking his head. It was a busy afternoon – the Horde had once again started off its goblins to shear down the ancient trees of Krasarang just this morning after three days of both sides taking a deep breath and licking their wounds, and the Alliance had responded instantly.

Most of the soldiers, then, were there in the forest -… and not inside. Anduin straightened his head; he’d heard no footsteps.

Quickly, just in case someone did end up passing by, he made his way down the hallway and ducked into one of the doorways. He paused a moment more, his head bowed, and once satisfied he wasn’t being followed by guards, Anduin turned his back to the door and looked around.

The thick smell of herbs and earth greeted him. Along the right side of the spacious room, shelves were stocked full of boxes of herbs, all a burst of color, from Lichbloom to Golden Lotus; on the left, stored more carefully, were jars and vials of liquids, some murky and others a-shine with a kind of magic glow.

The brief lull in warfare had allowed herbalists and alchemists to resupply the large medicine closet… and so no one had missed a bit of Silverleaf, a flask or two of Falling Leaves, and other assorted supplies going missing in the last two days.

Anduin sighed, and rubbed his eyes, which were bagged with grey circles. Not like anything that he’d taken had worked.

Shaking his head, he made a circuit around the closet, eyeing the herbs and flasks, weighing which ones would be the best to take and which ones would be the best to leave – he didn’t like taking these without permission, but he had no choice – and grabbing those that he ended up thinking might be the most beneficial. His satchel, which was slung over his shoulder, was heavy by the time he got back to the door, and tinkled lightly with each step from the hidden flasks inside.

Anduin lifted the flap and peered down: three vials, all different colors, a bushel of peacebloom, a handful of cinderbloom, and one Golden Lotus.

Maybe the cinderbloom would help. The prince frowned thoughtfully and smoothed back one of the fiery red petals; even through his cloth he could feel their gentle heat, a heat Wrathion desperately needed.

The dragon had not gotten any better since arriving at Lion’s Landing. His temperature had continued to drop, no matter how many blankets Anduin had piled on top of him or how close he’d been pressed to the open window with the warm sun. No flask, no herb, no tea, and no amount of Light had brought Wrathion’s heat back up, either.

Anduin, at least, had managed to heal the infected-looking cuts on the dragon’s arm, as well as the thicker claw-mark gashes across his chest, and some of the bruise along his eye… but despite that, Wrathion was hardly responsive, his skin ashy, his breath labored – ribs were a bone unable to be set –…

And he was always shivering.

Anduin was trying everything, and it was beginning to take a toll on the young prince – though he did not admit as much. Six hours of sleep in two days was not quite viable for good healing… but he was inherently nervous that if he fell asleep for too long, Wrathion would get worse.

Stifling a yawn, Anduin closed the leather flap back over the satchel. Left was keeping guard in his room; he had to hurry back with these supplies and the information Mishka had given him. First, he needed to set the dragon’s arm, and then, hope that one of these new ingredients would help bring his temperature back up.

He hoped it was enough. The prince began making his way to the stairs again, his satchel rattling. Anduin had strapped the dragon’s arm to a firm slot of wood, keeping it still by way of wrapped bandages. He’d been pushing off healing it, but the blond was aware if he didn’t snap it back into place soon that the bone and muscle there would begin to heal naturally on its own and would only make the arm worse, which had prodded today’s visit to Mishka. The draenei hardly seemed to have suspected anything – no one ever really did, besides Varian, when the prince gave his most innocent, curious smile – and Anduin was sure he could do what she had done himself…

Anduin made his way up the last flight of steps, limping heavily, then turned and started down the short hallway to his room.

He passed his father’s closed door; the prince hadn’t seen the King since he’d been home, but had been told by his bodyguards (who were relieved to see him safe after having disappeared for the third time Anduin had been at Lion’s Landing) that Varian was busy with some sort of internal trouble with the dwarves at Ironforge.

The blond wondered how that was going. Varian hadn’t been back to the dwarven capitol since he nearly slit Moira’s throat.

He shook his head. Anduin hoped it was going well. He wished he could be there, but at the same time, the prince had his own problems.

Anduin had reached his room, turned the golden handle – and found the door wouldn’t open.

“Left,” he said, his voice low. “It’s Anduin.”

There was a jingle, and the door jut open a sliver. Left peered down at him with one blue eye, saw it was him, then opened the door just enough so that he could slip inside. She cut it closed the moment he was in the room, so close she nearly caught the burned ends of his hair in the frame.

“No one was behind me,” Anduin pointed out, ruffling the back of his hair and giving the orc a vaguely amused look before heading over to the bed. Left grunted and went back to her position, her back leaned against the door and her hand held loosely over her golden crossbow.

Wrathion was propped up on the bed, which was pushed close to the sunny window. His broken arm was atop the huge mound of fluffed blankets that encased all but the top of his shoulders and his head, and his lips were parted just a sliver to reveal a fang biting down on his lower lip; a trail of gray smoke curled from the corner of his mouth. The dragon’s eyes were scrunched closed. Anduin had scrubbed the blood from Wrathion’s hair, face, and had tried to clean it from his tunic – but the Black Prince’s outfit was utterly ruined. Anduin had taken off the remaining scraps of the Wrathion’s chest-piece, leaving his pants, which were still somewhat decent, and had carefully slipped on one of his own gray tunics, which, thankfully, fit.

“You look better,” Anduin lied with a mumble, setting down the satchel on the side of the bed. Wrathion didn’t respond, though the prince hadn’t expected him to; the dragon hadn’t said much to Anduin since arriving, other than the occasional, incoherent mutter to himself, or a vague couple of words to the prince of Stormwind, before he fell back asleep.

Out of habit the blond leaned over and felt Wrathion’s forehead – it was as cold as it was when he left. Anduin frowned, then shifted through the satchel, taking out the clinking flasks and setting them aside.

“What did you get this time?” Left asked behind him.

Anduin closed his eyes. He took a deep breath. The prince just wanted to flop down in the bed and go to sleep. He was so tired. But he had to stay up – and Left, who had grown increasingly more volatile every time Anduin’s idea for healing her Prince had failed, berating him with passive aggressive comments, he didn’t need.

“Some flasks,” he said, trying to keep the temper born out of his exhaustion from his voice. Anduin knew it was because the bodyguard was worried for the dragon – it had to be – and so he shouldn’t be strife with her.

But still.

Left said nothing as Anduin pulled out the herbs he had gotten, as well. His eyes drifted to Wrathion’s skewered arm.

“I did ask one of the medics about setting bones, though,” Anduin said, his voice hesitant. “I can -”

“You asked someone for help?”

“No.” Anduin took another deep breath and forced his tensing shoulders to relax, and said in a more even voice: “I just asked basic information. She didn’t suspect anything.”

Left went quiet again, but the prince was aware she was unhappy, judging by how the sound of the metal trigger being tightened then loosened then tightened again as the orc’s fingers flexed atop it echoed behind him.

“Left, I had no choice. I didn’t know what to do. If I had held it back a day later his arm might have been permanently disfigured, and I don’t think he would have been very happy about that.” There was a snap to his words. The sound of the trigger stopped.

Anduin reached deep into the satchel then, thoroughly annoyed and wishing he wasn’t, and grabbed a heavy Elven liquor from the bottom that he’d taken from the storage in the kitchen before he had headed off to Mishka. It was a beautiful crystal bottle, in the shape of a bird with its wings outstretched, its open beak the neck of the flask where the cork was wedged inside its mouth.

The blond put his right leg on the bed to steady himself, then leaned over the Black Prince. Wrathion was sound asleep. Anduin studied him quietly. Maybe the dragon didn’t need the alcohol. His eyes drifted down to the crooked arm again. Perhaps he could just… twist it back in place quickly enough with Wrathion still -

The dragon opened his good left eye, a slim sliver. Anduin startled.

“You’re awake,” the blond said, dumbly. For a moment, he was happy - … before realizing that this was a very bad time for the dragon to have one of his brief bouts of wakefulness.

“Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion mumbled. He shook hard, then stilled, his body going back to its regular quiver.

Anduin smiled at him. “Wrathion.” He repositioned his leg again to get a bit closer to the Black Prince. Wrathion’s eye began to flutter closed.

“I’m going to heal your arm, now,” the blond said, his voice calm, masking his exhaustion. “Then I’ll help your -” he struggled to find the right words - “… chill.”

Wrathion mumbled something incoherent. His head turned a bit more to Anduin, sinking deeper into the great cushion of pillows the prince had made for him.

“Just make -” a shudder - “it stop.”

His voice was slurred and thick, barely intelligible. His eye fixed on Anduin, and though the red gaze was gray-like and hazy, hardly focused, there was a vague sense of desperation there in the look.

Anduin stared at him; his throat tightened.

“I’m trying. You’ll be fine, I promise,” Anduin murmured, though Wrathion had already closed his eye and had seemed to lapse back into his troubled slumber.

Anduin took a deep, steadying breath – closed his eyes. Focused again. At least he’d fallen back asleep.

He grabbed the bottle and took the cork from the glass; the sharp, pungent smell of the liquor, a sort of sweet nectar scent, drifted from the crystal’s open mouth.

“This will numb the pain,” he said quietly, as he cupped the dragon’s chin in his free hand and unhinged Wrathion’s jaw to open his fanged mouth just a smidgen wider, unsure if Wrathion could hear him but saying it anyway. “It’s probably stronger than anything you’ve had, so I’m sorry if it makes you dizzy.”

Anduin lifted the crystal bottle and, as carefully as he could, poured the liquid in the dragon’s mouth. Wrathion coughed after a moment, but, as Anduin had done with the broth, he shifted the dragon’s face to force him to swallow the alcohol.

A third of the liquor was gone by the time Anduin let go of the dragon’s face and set the bottle down. Wrathion made a low grumbling noise, sighed, then seemed to go back to sleep for the second time.

Not for long, Anduin thought. He looked at the arm. Now came the hard part.

“Left, I need you to come over here,” Anduin said, as he pulled Wrathion’s broken arm away from the dragon’s torso; he needed good leverage. The orc came and stood by the side of the bed.

“Hold down his left shoulder.”

“Why?”

“When I pull this back into place, he’s going to jump up.” The blond glanced up at her, then back down at the break. His hands hovered over it, almost as if he was too nervous to touch it. The dark flesh that was not covered over by the thick gauze was swollen and red. “I’ll need twist it back first, then snap it back in place. If he moves when I’m moving it, it might just… hurt it more.”

Left nodded, rounded to the opposite side of the bed, and put her hands on the shoulder there.

“Whenever you’re ready, prince.” Her voice was emotionless.

Anduin swallowed. It wasn’t going to be too hard, he told himself. Just a quick twist then a snap. That was all.

He untied the thick gauze and unlatched the wood from Wrathion’s arm, sliding it out from underneath the break and setting it aside for later. Now that the bandages were off, Anduin could see the end of the broken bones, the very shattered, jagged edges, in the contours of the skin.

The prince placed one hand on Wrathion’s upper arm, and another on his wrist. His grip was tight.

“On the count of three, push down.”

Left nodded. Anduin steadied his breathing, and the gentle warmth of the Light bloomed in the center of his chest, calming him. The sounds of warfare from the open window, the seagulls, the far-away waves lapping up against the beach, fell away and Anduin focused.

“One… two… three!”

Anduin twisted hard. There was a wet, fleshy, snapping sound as the bottom of the forearm was twisted back upright.

Wrathion jerked forward with a choked, slurred gasp –

Or at least tried to. Left kept him pinned to the bed, and the dragon bore his teeth and yelled out in agony, a strangled sound mixed with both human and something vaguely draconic.

Someone would have heard that. Anduin’s mouth went dry.

But he had no time to think – Wrathion moved his arm, trying to pull it away from the other prince, but Anduin tightened his grip. His worry evaporated. He had to focus. His eyes flickered acutely over the break, and he saw that he’d managed to twist the end … only halfway. Wrathion’s palm was still skewered, just not as grotesquely upwards. He needed to twist again.

Anduin locked his jaw. No time to hesitate. He twisted the forearm for the second time. The dragon, smoke hissing from his teeth, writhed and yelled again, sounding on the verge of tears, but Left had him stable.

“Nearly there,” Anduin said. The palm was face-down, as it should have been. Now came snapping back the bones so that they could mend in their natural places.

The prince pulled down hard. There was a muffled clack. Wrathion lurched again, whimpered, then went still.

Anduin exhaled, relieved, his shoulders sinking down with a gentle shake as his nerves turned to jelly. He looked over the arm. Gently Anduin ran a finger over the skin, searching for a bump. But it was straight. The prince had done it.

Anduin smiled tiredly.

He looked up at the dragon despite Wrathion’s eyes being closed again. Wrathion’s mouth was twisted in a grimace.

Anduin leaned forward and squeezed the Black Prince’s shoulder. “That went… well!” He said, with a quiet laugh that was as shaky as his melted nerves felt.

Wrathion grumbled vaguely. Maybe the Black Prince would feel better from the tenuous praise.

Anduin dropped his hand then, and grabbed the wood and gauze he’d thrown to the side. The arm was set, but now it had to be stabilized. Diligently, the prince went to work casting the arm in a braced position, the wood on the bottom held tight by the thick bandages, until the entirety of Wrathion’s forearm was cast.

“There,” Anduin said with another smile. He would put it in a sling once the Black Prince had enough strength to stand again.

“Someone’s coming.” Anduin looked up and startled. Left had disappeared from the side of the bed – maybe when the prince was working on the cast. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the guard turned towards the door, crossbow at the ready.

Wrathion’s yelling – Anduin had nearly forgotten. He winced and stood, grabbing his cane. How could he explain?

A heavy, hurried knocking at the door. Left’s grip on the crossbow tightened. Anduin made a stop motion to her, putting his hand up quickly.

“Young prince! Is everything alright in there?” Came a worried voice from beyond the door. Anduin relaxed. It was only just a guard – not his father or anyone more worrisome.

“Yes, I’m fine!” He called back, sitting on the side of the bed, the danger passed. His leg was starting to throb. “I just -” His eyes flickered around the room, searching for a good lie “-hit my leg against my dresser.”

Anduin knew instantly it was a terrible lie. He rubbed his eyes - hit his leg against a dresser, really? – as Left glanced back at him with a critical look.

“… Well, alright, I guess,” the guard said, after a long moment’s silence. Anduin tried not to hear the tired disbelief in the guard’s voice. Surely the human on the other side didn’t believe him, but was forced to – because he was the prince.

It left a sour taste in his mouth – he didn’t like when the guards got in trouble with his father when he slipped passed them to visit Wrathion – but there was nothing he could do, at least in this case.

The bodyguard’s footsteps trailed away. Left visibly relaxed.

“’Hit your leg against a dresser?’ What, twice?”

Anduin huffed. “It was the first thing that came to mind!”

Left shook her head and resumed her position. Anduin ran a hand over his face and glanced back at the dragon. At least the guard hadn’t come inside, he thought.

Anduin glanced at the flasks and herbs he’d set off to the side.

Now that Wrathion’s arm was neatly cast, and the blond didn’t have to worry about it anymore, Anduin could focus on what was most worrisome about Wrathion’s condition: his chill.

Anduin grabbed one of the flasks – Warm Sun – and three of the cinderbloom, as well as an empty glass cup off of the bedside table, the bottom crusted over with the remainder of the Falling Leaves potion Anduin had tried on Wrathion last night with no effects.

He uncorked the flask and poured half inside the cup. His head swayed up and down, once; the adrenaline of healing Wrathion’s arm was wearing off, and the prince’s exhaustion was creeping back up his spine.

Would this even work? He glanced at the shivering dragon again. Anduin had healed the infected cuts. What if this was something else entirely?

Anduin eyed Left. He’d promised not to tell anyone the dragon was here, but that was before Wrathion had come down with his terrible chill. He knew he needed to ask for help.

But from whom?

Left hadn’t even responded well to Anduin asking Mishka information; the prince doubted she’d take to it again.

He shook his head. He’d ask soon – maybe when Left was in a better mood.

Anduin dropped the petals in the cup, and they sizzled hotly. He sighed, rubbed one of his eyes with the back of his hand, then turned back to the Black Prince.

“Alright, Wrathion,” he said, holding back a yawn. “Let’s try this.”

—-

Baron Sablemane ripped the venomous, dripping fangs from the still-twitching yellow wasp the size of his torso and flung the bug off to the side, onto the deflated pile of corpses.

“Dirty work,” the dragon mumbled, twisting the two fangs in his hand as he inspected them, particularly the glands that bulged from their ends, swollen with poison. “Where is a ditzy mortal when you need one?”

Sablemane leaned against one of the larger trees of the Arbotoreum, the large orchard home to the Order of the Cloud Serpent in the lush Jade Forest. It was just nearing nightfall; the ink-makers across the small pond had retreated into their homes, the cloud serpents and their handlers had just settled away, and Sablemane was alone among the trees. His black cloak hid the glow of his shoulderpads and eyes, and his hood was heavy on his head.

No one saw him. He pocketed the fangs in a worn bag of daggerscale-raptor hide, positioning them so the poison sacs wouldn’t pop among the rest of the wasp-fangs he’d accumulated from the other bugs he’d shot down with his staff earlier.

The venom wasn’t a crust burster’s, but it would have to do. Sablemane glanced over his supplies with a vague sense of boredom and, partially satisfied with what he had, tied the bag closed tight and slipped it into the confines of his cloak.

Two days, nearing three, now that the sun was sinking, had passed since the human prince had snatched Wrathion from Kun-lai. Sablemane lifted from his lean on the tree and repositioned his hood down lower on his face. Nasandria was long gone, by now; once back at the Veiled Stair, the two dragons had found the robotic whelp the nether-drakes had been carrying in the ruins of the Tavern, badly burned but still working. The drake had taken off to the Badlands, as Sablemane had ordered, and the elder dragon had begun planning ideas of his own.

And the venom was the first thing he’d needed. He’d laid low for the first day, cautious of the Blacktalons giving away his position, but the rogues didn’t seem alerted – yet – to their Prince’s dilemma or Sablemane’s presence, and so the elder dragon had thought it best to collect the supplies he needed now before they did become aware.

Idiots.

He stepped passed the pile of wasp corpses and started down to the cobbled road. The sun had set quickly, and the orchard was dark. Gently-lit lanterns guided the way.

As he made his way out of the quiet place, Sablemane went over the ingredients he still needed. He’d made a sleeping potion strong enough to knock out a gronn the quarter of the size of Lion’s Landing before; the elder dragon was more than confident he could make the same, if not a more powerful, potion, to incapacitate the entire keep’s little mortals and snatch his prize back.

It was the only plan that had made sense to him. He’d mulled over simply crashing into the damn fort and grabbing Wrathion like he was some princess in a tower from one of those absurd human storybooks, but that was foolhardy, and Sablemane had dismissed the fleeting idea immediately.

No – subtlety was a game the dragon was well-versed in, and his skills in alchemy would be put to good use at last. He’d found no use for it in an initial attack on the Black Prince, thinking it a waste of time when he could simply crush the whelp underneath his talons…

But the game had changed, and so Sablemane would react accordingly. Good. He liked a nice scheme as much as any black dragon.

He squinted up at the shine of lights coming from the largest town in the Jade Forest higher up the road as he stepped from the last outskirts of the orchard. The dragon needed flasks – particularly ones that could break easily when thrown. The town would surely have some, if it was any good.

Sablemane made his way up, annoyed at having to walk. It was dark enough where he could shift into his dragon form and fly – but then again, the risk of someone looking up and seeing a dark blot against the black sky was too much of a risk.

It was still… inconvenient.

He pulled his hood down lower, cautious, when he finally entered the walls of the village. It was smaller than he had expected, the quaint pandaren houses built on a gentle slope as the land escalated against one of the tall hill-like mountains of the Jade Forest. The thick smells of meaty food and sweet brew, intermingled with the faint smell of cherry blossoms coming from the Arboretum, drifted around the crowd; Sablemane scowled. He hadn’t expected it to be so busy. And it was not just bustling with pandaren - races of the Horde and the Alliance walked by one another, but Sablemane could see under the hood of his cloak the wary, and sometimes outright hostile, looks they were giving their enemies.

He rolled his eyes. Things never changed.

The elder dragon looked around; he had not time to waste in thinking of the stupidity of mortals like the Horde and Alliance.

At least there was some good news – the place was littered with merchants carts. Surely the too-cheery pandaren people had simple flasks.

He snapped his fingers in the face of one pandaren merchant closest to him, whose head was bowed over a stir of noodles. “You. Where are alchemical ingredients?”

The pandaren looked up, startled, the large braid at the back of his head swinging. “Alchemy?”

Sablemane sighed loudly. “Yes. Alchemy.” What, was he deaf?

The pandaren looked around, squinting. Sablemane crossed his arms, his impatience rising.

Just when Sablemane was really about to get cross, the pandaren pointed off to the opposite side of the the large stoned lane. “Should be there, friend,” he said, a touch of wariness in his voice as he glanced sidelong at the dragon.

Sablemane rolled his eyes again and started towards where the pandaren had pointed without a thank-you; the merchant had been so slow in answering, gratitude wasn’t warranted.

There was a line. Of course there had to be a line. The dragon ran a hand over his face. How did mortals deal with such inconvenience? For the second time Sablemane found himself wishing he had his own little errand-runner, as he’d had in Blade’s Edge Mountains, to do such menial tasks for him.

No matter. Soon he would have the flasks, as well as the rest of the ingredients, and after mixing they would be ready for combustion. Sablemane crossed his arms. He’d have to locate Lion’s Landing in Krasarang – which would not be too hard – and calculate the best time to strike. The Alliance ants would never see what hit them.

“ - No, I think he’s an idiot. We helped the assault on General Bloodhilt, and he still thinks we need to do more for him?”

Sablemane glanced over. A night elf stood near the merchant cart next to the alchemical one, her hands full with dark leather. A draenei watched her, and shrugged.

“I am thinking he is just being interested in -”

“I don’t really care. I think the dragon’s just testing us for something.”

Dragon. Sablemane narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t aware of any other dragons on Pandaria but one.

The two women started walking passed him – Sablemane put up his arm to block their way. The elf shot him a vicious glare.

“Pardon me, ladies,” the elder dragon drawled. “Who were you were talking about just then?”

“The Black Prince,” the draenei piped. The elf continued to glare at him.

Ah – some of Wrathion’s “champions” -… pawns, more like. Sablemane almost smiled. His little brother had many, both Horde and Alliance at his disposal, and here were two.

The context of their snippet of conversation he’d heard intrigued him. An assault on a general? What could the little whelp want with the death of a general?

“Who is this ‘General Bloodhilt?’”

“He was the Horde commander in Krasarang.” The elf said. She glared at his arm, which was still blocking the duo’s way, and the dragon dropped it slowly, irritated at the attitude but not wanting to anger away his chance at such curious information.

“A Horde commander.” He repeated. His eyes flickered over to a group of Horde gathered, their backs hunched hungrily, near one of the food stalls.

Surely the little whelp wouldn’t have asked his Horde champions to kill their own leader.

He wondered if his Horde champions knew what he’d asked of his Alliance ones.

The dragon smiled slow. Oh, this was excellent.

Sablemane exited the line to the alchemy merchant. This was much more important. If he could start dismantling Wrathion’s own schemes -

He smiled again, trying his very best to not look so rude. Mortals were affected easily by charm, weren’t they?

“I’m curious – I would love hearing what else the little Black Prince has asked of you.”

—-

Wrathion wasn’t eating.

Anduin sat hunched on the chair he’d pulled up to the bedside, his head in his hands.

The prince was exhausted; the grey circles underneath his eyes had become a chalky black, and his hair was un-brushed and wild. His shoulders drooped low.

He peered through the cracks of his fingers. Wrathion lay shaking in front of him – still shaking on the third, nearing fourth, day.

The dragon looked worse than he had before. Wrathion’s skin was ashen, his eyes sunken into his face, the delicate veins underneath the skin just visible. His face was twisted into a tired grimace; he appeared nearly half-dead.

And he wasn’t eating.

Anduin had tried to force him to eat something just a moment ago -… but the Black Prince had refused to hold it down, only choking it back out and baring his teeth, hardly conscious, when the blond had tried again.

The prince put the back of his hand against Wrathion’s face, then, and felt the cold skin there. The cinderbloom, Warm Sun concoction hadn’t worked. Nothing was, still.

And now that Wrathion wasn’t eating, the prince was well aware that it would not take long for the last vestiges of the dragon’s energy to drain-

And then Wrathion was going to die if Anduin didn’t get help.

He put his face in his hands again and took a deep, calming breath.

Anduin had had enough.

He was done trying to fool himself into thinking he could do this on his own – he’d healed the cuts and gashes, set the broken bones, scrubbed away the blood… but this disease, this infection – whatever it was – was beyond his control and skill.

And he wasn’t going to allow Wrathion to die because of hislack of experience.

Anduin dropped his hands from his face, swept back his ungroomed hair, then looked back at Left. She still stood, unmoving, against the door, as still as a Quilen guardian.

“I can’t do this.”

The prince sounded so defeated, but he didn’t care. He needed for Left to understand. She needed to know. She needed to realize that he needed to ask for help, that someone had to know Wrathion was here, in an Alliance fort, and was probably dying.

The orc glanced at him. Even she looked tired, her blue eyes grim.

She didn’t say anything for a moment. Her gaze flickered over to her shaking Prince, then to Anduin again, slowly, calculatingly.

“I can see,” Left grumbled, finally.

Anduin stood up, grabbing his cane and turning to face her, even though his body protested and quivered once, especially his right leg. Every bit of him was begging him to just lay down, to go to sleep for a very long time, to drop the heavy worry that slugged down at his tired shoulders… but he pushed this selfish weakness aside and straightened up his spine, and looked at Left hard with the stern expression that nearly resembled his father’s. “Good. Then you agree I need to find someone who knows what’s wrong with him.”

His voice was a strict snap. While diplomacy and peace were part of Anduin’s strengths, the prince knew when he was right, and when to argue. And if Left was going to keep being wary about finding outside help -… well, Anduin was going to convince her otherwise. Wrathion’s life was on the line, and he was in no mood to play himself down.

Besides – the tired frustration he’d had the day and a half before, only strengthened by his continued exhaustion, was fueling his attitude. It was a good thing, for once.

“I didn’t say-”

“Left. He’s dying. And I can’t help him. I don’t even know what’s… what’s wrong with him!”

“You’re risking giving His Majesty away if you go running off blabbing your mouth as you ask for help, and ruining all the trust he carefully built with the Horde -”

“What does that matter if he’s dead, Left?” Anduin’s voice rose. He looked back at Wrathion, and his frustration became a bitter sort of worry, before he looked back at the orc.

Left’s grip on the crossbow tightened. Anduin stared hard at her. Despite the open windows bringing in warm, briny air from the briskness outside, the atmosphere in the room grew heavy as the orc and human stared each other down for a long, tense moment.

Finally, Left broke eye contact. Again her gaze slid behind Anduin to the Prince.

She relaxed her grip. “Who did you have in mind to ask, then, prince?” Left said, her voice forced and terse.

Anduin fell back on the chair again, sideways in the seat. His tired body thanked him. The glowering defiance slid from his tense shoulders, and he slouched; he’d managed, at the very least, to convince her to open up to the idea of help.

He tapped the end of his cane idly on the floor. Anduin did not look at her.

“I’m not sure,” the prince said, being honest, the stern tone no longer evident in his words. He’d been mulling over who he might go to as he worked at trying to get Wrathion healthy again, but not many had come to mind. Anduin himself had learned nearly all of the diseases Azeroth had to offer, from the common flu to the plague, during his training, but he obviously knew nothing like what was happening to Wrathion.

And if Anduin didn’t know it – what other Alliance, or even Horde healer would?

He’d come to the conclusion it must have been something unheard of from Pandaria… or something draconic, neither of which Anduin had any knowledge on.

“That doesn’t help persuade me,” Left grumbled. Anduin turned his head back up to look at her. He stopped tapping his cane.

“It has to be someone that knows more than both the Alliance or the Horde. I don’t think anyone here would know what’s wrong with Wrathion.” Left squinted at him. He hesitated for a moment. He did have one vague idea of who to ask, but even then, he wasn’t sure if they would know.

But if they did…

“There’s Chi-ji, the Red Crane,” Anduin said. “I trained at his Temple, farther down along the coast – before the Sha attacked,” he added. Briefly the image of the Celestial’s limp body hanging above the ceiling as the Sha of Despair rose from the floor, its mouth and talons sharp and dripping, came to the prince’s mind; he shook it out with a shake of his head. “He’s the Spirit of -”

“Hope. I know,” Left interrupted. “What would this Celestial know about sickness?”

“If anyone would know, it’s Chi-ji. The Crane Wind Order studies healing and meditation… though I decided not to try their sparring exercises.” He looked away from her again. The orc laughed once, more of a bark than an actual chuckle. Anduin smiled tiredly.

He tapped his cane twice. “I know you’re worried about Wrathion’s… schemes,” Anduin said. “But Chi-ji’s neutral. He won’t care that the Black Prince is in an Alliance fort.” His eyes rose to Left. “And he’s only an hour’s ride away. If anyone knows what’s wrong, it would be Chi-ji.”

At least Anduin hoped.

“I don’t want Wrathion to die, Left. And I don’t think you do either.”

Left stared at him. She hesitated -… but after a slim moment, the orc nodded with a grumble. “Fine. Go.”

Anduin smiled brightly, his eyes still tired, as she moved out of the way of the door and gestured to it with her crossbow. “I’ll stay with His Majesty. Be quick about it. And don’t get kidnapped, or hurt. We don’t have time for that.”

The prince stood. “Don’t worry,” he said, then tapped at his belt, indicating where his throwing knives were. Out of habit, he grabbed his satchel, though it was empty. “I’ll be back soon,” Anduin assured. Left grunted.

Anduin glanced back at Wrathion before he left. The dragon was still comatose, smoke curling from the side of his mouth with each shuddering breath he took. If all went well, Anduin would return with some cure, and the Black Prince would be back on his feet again.

Anduin could not leave fast enough.

—-

Anduin landed his gryphon just outside the Temple of the Red Crane in front of its center statue.

The day was late, and the air was hot, and so humid it seemed to be palpable; the prince’s bangs stuck wet to his forehead, and his neck was slick with droplets. Far above in the ancient canopy, thick enough it blocked the sinking sun, was the buzz of hidden insects and the screams and calls of the Wild’s great birds.

And, nestled in this forgotten wilderness, was the Temple. It loomed ahead of Anduin, an ancient building of grey and crimson stone, elegant in its chiseled, decorative architecture and flanked by two other smaller, round gazebos. Vines as thick as Anduin’s arm crawled along the temple’s pillars, and great patches of living leaves coiled down from the roof, the bannisters, the archways, as if the wild was not quite letting go of the sanctuary just yet.

Anduin smiled. It was just as he remembered. The mysterious beauty of the place, its quiet sense of calm in this rugged, ancient jungle… it was meditative already just being in its presence again, surrounded by nothing by the wilds.

Monks and other disciples looked up as Anduin slid from the gryphon. He smiled at them. They smiled back. Many of them seemed to recognize him, judging by their gentle bows and nods of respect, as he made his way to the steps of the Temple.

One of the pandaren disciples greeted him at the steps with a low bow. Anduin bowed back, equally as low. From farther away, intermingling with the calls of the birds above, were the sounds of sparring from Chi-ji’s other disciples.

“Prince Anduin. Welcome again to the Temple of the Red Crane. We are honored by your presence.”

Anduin smiled, awkward with the praise, but dipped his head in gratitude at the welcome. “Thank you.”

The pandaren smiled back warmly. “We have heard it was you we have to thank for helping save the Temple from the Horde.”

“Oh - not just me. My father, Tyrande, and her rangers were the ones who saved it… I simply warned him not to fight on the Temple’s soil. The sha-infestation did too much damage to this place already. I couldn’t allow it to get worse.”

The disciple laughed and clasped his great paw upon the prince’s shoulder. “Yes, we have much to thank you for, then.” The pandaren dropped his hand. “But enough talk; I see I am embarrassing you! What can we help you with, my friend? You look very tired.”

The prince brushed back his bangs, still stuck to his forehead from the humidity. He took a steadying breath. “I need to speak to Chi-ji,” Anduin said. “My friend is -… is very sick.”

The cheer from the pandaren’s face fell. The disciple grew worried. “I see. Grave news indeed. Come. I will lead you to the Red Crane.” He gestured to one of the monks to the side watching. “Li, care for his animal.”

Anduin handed over the reins as the female pandaren approached. He smiled at her appreciatively, then followed the male pandaren up the stairs.

The large vaulted archway hovered high above him; the columns flanked out spaciously to his sides. His cane tapping against the stone was loud among the peace. He saw, looking around, that the damage done from the Sha of Despair’s invasion had been mostly patched - the fissures, cracks, and ink-black scorch smoke that had bled against the stone had all be evaporated. They passed a handful of monks smoothing out a large crack still in one of the columns, though even then their work was nearly complete. Anduin admired their dutifulness. Soon, the Temple would look as if no invasion, Sha or Horde, had taken place there at all.

The pandaren led him inside the temple itself, then. White and red banners emblazoned with the calligraphic symbol of the Red Crane lined the walls in-between the smaller columns, whose tops curved out into elegant crane heads. Hanging stone lanterns as big as Anduin hung on the far sides of the room, casting a white, gentle glow among the gray- and red-stone.

It was so overwhelmingly peaceful Anduin, for a fleeting, instinctive moment, had the idea to simply kneel and meditate or pray right in the center of the room, as he had done before when he had trained here under Chi-ji, for however brief a time it had been.

He shook his head and followed the pandaren still. Maybe another time – when someone’s life wasn’t ebbing away with every minute Anduin was gone.

They went down the stairs, deep under the temple now, then another. More of the stone lanterns with their white fire lit the way.

The pandaren stopped at the top of the last flight of steps, going down deeper still into the temple, and turned to the prince.

“Chi-ji awaits, my friend. May you find the counsel you seek.” The disciple bowed.

Anduin bowed to him again. “Thank you.”

The prince turned, and made his way down. He took another meditative breath, as he had outside, as he descended. Why did his chest constrict?

But he knew why. He was not nervous to meet Chi-ji again – indeed he was very delighted to be visiting the Red Crane again, though wished it was under different circumstances – but nervous that Chi-ji would not know how to aid him.

Anduin blinked once, hard. No. Chi-ji must know something.

And if not, the prince would find someone who did. He would not be giving up on the Black Prince so easily.

He looked up. Ahead, at the bottom of the stairs, was a large, circular room, encircled by crane statues and teal-tinted columns.

In the center stood Chi-ji.

The great Crane shone with a fiery, ebbing glow; wisps of red and yellow and white twirled about his very form and twisted into the air, as graceful as a dancer’s ribbons. The white of his feathers was as shiny as a pearl’s, and his crest, the tips of his wings, and fanned tail was as red as a flame. Crimson, circular designs fleetingly appeared along his delicate wings and neck, only to disappear in a hearbeat’s rhythm. His very aura radiated a sense of calm.

Anduin made it to the bottom of the stairs. Chi-ji regarded him kindly.

The Red Crane bowed his crested head, then. “Greetings, young prince. We meet again at last.” His voice echoed pleasantly in on itself. “You honor me with your visit.”

Anduin bent his head down low. The calm Chi-ji radiated effected the prince instantly; like the Light itself, it billowed around him, warm and comforting, brushing away the heaviness from his shoulders and eyes, his frustration and worry.

“Thank you for seeing me, Chi-ji,” Anduin said, straightening up again.

“There is no reason for thanks, young prince,” the Red Crane said, his words warm. “You are always welcome in my Temple, and in my presence – your light is a beacon to us all, and it is you who has saved this sacred place not once, but twice.” Chi-ji smiled. “I was very pleased with your Father’s nature during the Horde takeover of the Temple.”

Anduin smiled. “I’m glad. He’s been doing much better with his temper.” Varian had spoken to Anduin about his brief talk with Chi-ji, but not in much detail.

“But I see you have not come to me to speak of your father, young prince. You are worried.” The Red Crane tilted his head. “There is doubt and despair in your heart. What troubles you, to have put such a burden upon yourself?”

Chi-ji was that quick to know? Anduin’s eyes flickered downward. Did he – really seem that troubled?

Anduin rose his eyes again. Chi-ji watched him, patient. His red glow flickered against Anduin’s pale face.

“The Black Prince Wrathion – the dragon from the Veiled Stair - was attacked,” Anduin started, his voice slow, but with a waver to his words. “He was hurt badly. I did everything I could, but he’s – there’s something wrong with him that I can’t heal.” He lowered his eyes again. The calm ebbed around him, comforting him, but even then he felt as if his words were shielding him, creating a barrier of worry, pushing the peace away like oil against water. “He’s so cold he shakes constantly. He’s hardly conscious. He won’t eat. I thought it was an infection, but -” he lifted his eyes to the crane again. “But I treated treated all of his wounds. I think he’s going to die if I don’t get him help.” For a mere moment, his voice broke – but Anduin was quick to compose himself. He swallowed hard, and tried to focus on the calm aura.

The Red Crane was silent for a moment. Anduin watched him. Surely Chi-ji must have… some idea… some vain hope for Wrathion’s health…

“I know of the Black Prince. He, too, honored my Temple with a visit of his own. I am troubled myself by news of his misfortune.”

Anduin furrowed his brows. He hadn’t known that.

“I do not know what ails the son of the Earthwarder,” Chi-ji said after another moment of silence.

Anduin’s heart sank.

That was it – there went the only idea Anduin had. He swallowed hard.

He began to bow his head again – he felt almost numb - but Chi-ji spoke once more.

“But I may know someone who does.”

Anduin looked back up sharply. His shield of worry began to give way to the aura of peace again.

“You do?”

Chi-ji nodded. “One of his own kind, not long ago, came to me seeking my guidance. I may not know what troubles the young Prince, but perhaps one of his own does.”

Anduin stared at him.

“One of his own kind?” He repeated. His mind drifted to Sabellian. “A dragon, you mean?”

“Yes. She is not of the Black, but she is very kind. I am sure she would offer aid when asked.”

Anduin considered, quiet. It wasn’t a black dragon - … which was good, he supposed. It was a red, a green, a bronze or blue. The prince frowned.

Anduin knew that Wrathion hated the Reds, and that the Reds hated him. He didn’t quite know what the Black Prince’s opinions were of the green, bronze, or blue Flights, nor what those Flights thought of him. Surely not all dragons had the same opinions as one another…

But if this dragon was a Red, or another Flight that cared ill for the Black Prince, would they even help? Would asking them for help only make it worse, as Anduin gave away Wrathion’s position to yet another enemy?

… Yet Anduin had little choice; he couldn’t allow the risk of the dragon Chi-ji spoke of being an enemy outweigh the enormous benefit of the dragon saving Wrathion. After all, Chi-ji had said that this dragon, whoever she was, was kind and gracious. Surely he would not recommend someone who would endanger the Black Prince.

“Do you know where she is, now?” Anduin asked.

“She left for the Jade Forest to seek Yu’lon’s wisdom,” Chi-ji answered. “I would search there, first, young prince.”

Anduin smiled wide. The heaviness shimmering around him vanished once again. “Thank you,” he said, the gratitude thick in his voice.

Chi-ji bowed his head. “I sense your great care and loyalty for the child of the Worldbreaker… but do not despair in his pain. There is always hope.”

Anduin nodded, then bowed low; he understood. “Thank you, again, Chi-ji. I’ll search for the dragon you spoke of.”

“Young prince.” Anduin had begun to turn to leave – he swiveled back around, leaning on his cane. The Red Crane’s voice was almost… hesitant.

“I find myself wishing to share what I saw in the heart of the Black Prince during his visit,” the celestial began. He paused thought fully, then continued. “I have never seen an individual so unsure of Hope, and so full of doubt and despair. My blessing was needed upon his shoulders.”

Anduin frowned. Wrathion? Doubting himself? Despairing? The overconfident, grinning face of the dragon across their pandaren chess game appeared in the prince’s mind eye; his grand talks of a united world; the coy side-glances.

Anduin had never thought that Wrathion, of all people, was one full of doubt in himself, or to despair.

“He was?” Anduin murmured, disbelieving, mostly to himself. He lowered his eyes, skimmed the crane-etched floor, and deepened his frown.

“I am glad you are by his side, then, young prince – you, whose hope is greatest.” Anduin looked back up. Chi-ji regarded him silently for a moment.

“Be mindful to remind the Black Prince of the nature of Hope, Anduin Wrynn. Show him it is actions that make the soul, and not the actions of its lineage that decides its fate.”

“I will.” Anduin paused. “… Why are you telling me this?”

“At our weakest, we may give in to our worst doubts and fears,” Chi-ji said. “Even I did, when the Sha of Despair attacked this Temple – and you were the one to help cleanse me.” The Crane looked at Anduin pointedly. “I wish not for the same to happen to the young prince.”

Anduin’s frown deepened. Was he… referencing the -?…

The prince nodded. Maybe Chi-ji was simply being cautious, and giving advice. “I’ll be sure to remind him, Master Crane,” Anduin said. This was all very … disconcerting. Chi-ji nodded.

“Thank you again for your advice. I need to hurry back,” Anduin said. “Wrathion’s only going to get worse while I’m away.” He bowed, then straightened.

“Peace be with you, Anduin Wrynn,” Chi-ji said behind him, as the prince left the Temple and took his gryphon at a hard flight back to the fort.

—-

“That’s impossible.”

Sablemane sloshed around the remainder of his drink, idly watching the brew swirl in the wooden cup. Sitting across from him, their eyes watching the dragon with vague disbelief or interest, was a group of Horde heroes. It was the tauren, who was scrunched in between, awkward in his size, who had spoken. His ears were flat against his skull.

“I’m afraid it’s very true,” Sablemane said, lifting his eyes to focus back on the Sunwalker. Sitting beside the tauren was a troll druid who wore her hair in long braids against a headband and a blood elf mage with bright red hair, who leaned his head against his propped up hand. Sablemane had begun talking simply talking to the troll, first, but once the nature of his conversation was overheard, others had slunk in and gathered to hear.

Mortals so did love gossip.

The tauren sunwalker shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Wrathion was very supportive of the Horde when I spoke to him,” he mumbled. The other champions nodded their agreement, or else just continued to stare at the dragon with wary eyes.

Sablemane had to force back the twitch of a grin that threatened to rise up his face. Oh, this was too good. How had his little brother not seen the dangers of the game he was playing?

Or perhaps he had – perhaps he’d been cautious. Certainly the Horde heroes in front of him in this small pandaren inn in the Jade Forest didn’t believe Sablemane at first when he’d told them it was Wrathion’s idea to kill their general in Krasarang.

They had no idea Wrathion was fooling them all! The trusted him so blindly!

But they would not be trusting him very soon, Sablemane thought. Oh, no, Wrathion’s careful building-up of trust in his heroes – saying he supported one faction then turning his back to wish for the best for another – was soon to be broken by mere words from Sablemane’s mouth.

And then where would the little Black Prince be, without his strong champions, who would soon, no doubt, begin to lose their already-tenuous trust in him?

Never doubt the ties of loyalty to one’s faction, especially a faction such as the Horde and the Alliance – break that, and one would know anger.

And once Sablemane’s work of manipulation here was done, he would continue with his first course of action: the sleeping potions. He had found flasks after finishing his conversation with the night elf and draenei, as well as the rest of his ingredients, and even as he spoke the mixtures brewed and boiled and simmered, their properties transforming into a powerful elixir stronger than any other sleeping draught he’d ever made.

And once Lion’s Landing was asleep, Sablemane could simply walk in and grab the whelp… and maybe throw the little blond prince through a wall for good measure. His shoulder still hurt from the crossbow.

“Ya’ could be lyin’,” the troll pointed out, eyeing him. The blood elf raised his thin brows in agreement with the druid. Sablemane readjusted his hood, which cloaked the front half of his face.

“Mm. I am a human; I could be lying to you Horde, couldn’t I? You have me there.” He leaned forward a bit in his seat. “But I am… unaffiliated.” He sounded bored. “I’m merely interested in spreading the truth to such…” He struggled for the right words. Charm, he reminded himself. Mortals liked to be charmed. “Brave heroes like yourselves.”

The tauren put up a heavy hand. “So you are saying the Black Prince lies about his support of the Horde?”

Sablemane rolled his eyes. “Let’s think, tauren: do you think he would have asked General Bloodhilt to be killed if he did?” He scoffed. What about it didn’t these Horde understand? “He is playing both factions. He asked you to kill that dwarf Twinbraids while he asked the Alliance to kill the orc… to gain trust from you in him. Understand?”

He stuck his thumb over his shoulder, indicating a worgen hunter with a large turtle by his side talking to a human woman with black hair, whose paladin armor was blue and gold, at another table. “Ask them. See if I’m lying. See how trustworthy your Black Prince is, now.” He finished his drink and sat back in his seat again.

Almost as an afterthought, he added: “And, oh – do remember to ask yourselves that if he’s lied to you about something like this, if he’s lied about anything else, hm?”

Sablemane smiled, then. At his words the Horde looked annoyed, uncomfortable, or angry.

Here soon they would be talking to other friends, other acquaintances, complaining or gossiping about the Black Prince’s lies.

And by word of mouth Wrathion’s support would crumble.

This was too easy.

—-

“You want us to track down a dragon.”

Amber Kearnen, professional sniper of the SI:7, stared Anduin down. Her right eye was covered with a bright green scope, but even still Anduin could see the disbelief in her look.

He nodded. “Yes. She should be in the Jade Forest.” The prince’s tone was even, but quiet. He had just come back from the Temple of the Red Crane, and after putting away his gryphon, had sought out the SI:7 team that had once sought out him.

“Why do you need to find a dragon?” Amber asked. She crossed her arms. Behind her Sully sat at a workbench, a large rocket launcher splayed out in front of him, its pieces bent and fried from some sort of malfunction. His thick but deft fingers played about with its gears.

Anduin had anticipated the question. He’d tried to find a good way to answer it on the way back from the Temple of the Red Crane, but no convincing lie had come to him.

So he decided to be honest – or at least, as honest as he could without breaking the first promise he’d made to Left in not letting anyone know Wrathion was here, in Lion’s Landing.

Besides – the SI:7 team deserved that much from him, he concluded. They’d dragged their knees through a wild, new continent looking for him, and he’d tricked them with a wave of shadow magic and disappeared into the mists once again to search for the Vale.

Amber was squinting at him, still. Anduin chanced a quick look around. They were outside on the rise near the fort, underneath a heavy cloth tent. It was quickly becoming dusk, but the skirmishes that had been at the mines today have moved closed and closer to Lion’s Landing; the air was loud with the sound of battle, and many soldiers or heroes had returned as of yet, save for a couple who were seeking medical aid. From the corner of his eye Anduin noted Mishka tending to a gnome warlock -… but around the tent, it was only the prince, Amber, and Sully, with no one to overhear.

He dropped his eyes, went over his words carefully, then lifted his head to stare at Amber right in the face, his expression earnest, but serious. “Someone’s sick with an illness I can’t cure. I think they’re… going to die if they don’t get help.” His eyes flickered to Sully before they rested on Amber again. “The dragon in the Jade Forest might know how to heal them.”

“Who’s sick?” Amber asked without hesitating, with a slight tone of suspicion.

Anduin bit the inside of his cheek.

“I can’t tell you.”

He almost winced. He sounded like a child who’d pinky-swore – especially with the admonished look Amber gave him.

“Listen, Prince Anduin, I -”

Sully looked up from his gun. “S’ the sickness contagious, lad?”

Anduin looked at him. He shrugged. “I’m not sure. It could be.” The prince paused, then; a convincing idea may have just presented itself. Anduin continued, more confidently, more convincingly.“But if it is, Lion’s Landing would be comatose within only a couple of days, starting with me… and I’m not sure if my father would be very happy about that,” he added, for effect.

“I’m not keen to bein’ sick,” the dwarf said warily. He let go of the gears, where they rattled against the small workbench. “Comatose, eh?” Anduin nodded.

Sully glanced back at Amber. “The lad seems honest ta’ me, Amber. Lookit ‘im! Looks ready to drop, himself.” He pointed at Anduin and gestured to the prince’s face. Anduin leaned back a bit, his cane sinking into the sand. “All those baggy wrinkles under ‘is eyes. Eugh.”

“Sully, he just looks tired.”

“Precisely! Ye did say ‘comatose,’ didn’t ye, lad? All tired an’ such?”

“… Yes.” The prince glanced between the two agents. He was honestly surprised Sully wasn’t outright hostile to him; it had been the dwarf who Anduin had mind controlled in order to get away.

But here Sully was, backing him up. Anduin was glad for it, but at the same time… confused.

Amber looked at Sully, then at Anduin. Anduin looked back at her and said nothing. She was inspecting him, her visible eye raking slowly across every inch of his face, taking in the deep circles Sully had pointed out, as well as his sagging shoulders, and his general unkempt appearance.

“Mhm. So. It could be contagious, huh?” Amber said. She still sounded unsure. Anduin nodded. The SI:7 agent tapped her fingers against her crossed forearms as she looked away from the prince and down below the rise, where the other tents were. Anduin followed her look. Marshal Troteman was leaned over a map in the gear supplier’s tent; his back was to them. It was the Marshal that Amber was eyeing.

“Listen, kid, I don’t really believe you.” Anduin went to open his mouth but Amber was quick to keep speaking. “But, I’m tired of Troteman making us hang out along this beach. The SI:7 aren’t soldiers, we’re scouts and spies. Except Sully. I’m not really sure what Sully is.”

“’Ey!”

Amber ignored the dwarf, then uncrossed her arms and looked at Anduin again. “You seem worried for -… whoever it is,” Amber said. “That I genuinely believe.”

Anduin smiled tentatively at her.

“I guess Troteman won’t miss us for a couple days.” She shifted the silver sniper rifle into a different position slung across her back. “And if the Prince himself wants us to find a dragon? Then fine. As long as it gets me off of this damn beach,” she hadded with a mumble.

“Thas’ the spirit, Amber!”

The SI:7 agent rolled her eyes at Sully. Anduin’s tentative smile had become full-fledged. They were going to go look!

“Alright, Prince Anduin. So we’ll go - on your royal mission. You are the Prince. But we need more information that just ‘a dragon in the Jade Forest.’”

Anduin paused. Oh – he was regretting not asking Chi-ji more about the dragon who’d spoken to him… but the talk about Wrathion with the Red Crane had flustered him. The prince shifted his weight once and cleared his throat.

“She might be at the Temple of the Jade Serpent. She was visiting Yu’lon.”

“Okay. What else?”

“Uhm…”

Amber ran a hand over her face.

“You did find me without much leads,” Anduin countered before the agent could say something. Amber scoffed.

“Then you ran away and got yourself captured by the Horde,” the sniper responded, gruff. Anduin had no argument for that.

Amber sighed loud through her nose. “No hard feelings, kid. But I guess you’re right. We did find you.” With a grumble, she added: “How hard could it be to find a huge lizard, anyway?”

“Thank you,” Anduin said, smiling wide again. “You don’t know how much this means.” He’d be worried they would turn him down – after all, Anduin had made their lives much more complicated during the first month on Pandaria – but here Amber was, accepting. Anduin tried not to think about how it seemed it was just because she wanted to get away from Krasarang.

“Well, we might end up saving Lion’s Landing from a terrible disease, huh?” Amber said with a sly smile, belying her sarcasm. “It’s only our duty to find something to help protect our Alliance, Prince.”

“I do love a good dragon hunt!” Sully piped. Anduin glanced over at him as the dwarf hopped off of the work bench. The prince blinked, surprised; the gun that had moments before been in disrepair was now finished in Sully’s hand. Had the dwarf fixed it that fast? “Granted I’ve never been on one meself, but I’m sure I’d like one, eh?”

“Oh – don’t hurt her,” Anduin said quickly, worried at the change of conversation. Sully laughed and hoisted the gun across his back.

“No worries, Prince Anduin. A play on words, s’ all. I won’t split even a wee scale. Ya’ have me promise.”

“Unless she fights back,” Amber noted. She was checking the ammunition in her rifle and, looking satisfied, she shut the barrel closed with a clack. “Let’s go, Sully, before Troteman comes sniffing for us. I’ll tell Mishka; you get supplies from the barracks.” She looked back at Anduin. “We’ll find your dragon. And Sully’s right – sick or not, you do look tired. Get some sleep.”

Before the prince had time to thank her again, she turned and jumped from the rise. Startled, he looked over, but the SI:7 agent had landed on her feet and was already starting off to where Anduin had seen Mishka only moments before.

“Good thing ya’ gave her somethin’ ta do. Poor Amber was ‘bought ready to tear every hair from her head if she kept still fer’ another moment.” Sully was putting some of the leftover gears from the workbench into his leather belt. “Same as me!” He laughed. “Stayin’ on a beach is no place fer’ the SI:7. An’ don’t let her fool ye’, I’m an agent – in me own way.” The dwarf winked. Anduin smiled at him.

The prince paused. He bit his lip, opened his mouth, then closed it again.

Finally, he forced himself to say the words that had failed him. “Sully – what happened in the Jade Forest – I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. I should have -”

“Oh, don’t worry yerself over that,” Sully interrupted with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It was kinda’ funny, lookin’ back on it.”

Anduin stared at him. His mouth was somewhat agape.

“But I – I controlled your mind! I forced -”

“An’ ye helped open the Vale rather than havin’ yer hide dragged back to Stormwind. I think of it as a win!”

Anduin shifted again, awkwardly. He was at a loss for words. This had went a lot differently than he’d thought it would.

“Well – uhm -”

Sully pat the prince’s arm. “Really, lad. S’ all right. Ye’ can let it go.” He smiled brightly.

Anduin smiled back, a bit more nervously than the dwarf, and nodded.

“Now! Amber will skin my hide if I don’t get those supplies. Wish us luck, lad!”

The dwarf started off at a gait that seemed too quick for his smaller legs. Anduin watched him go. The last remaining tension began to vanish from his aching body, and he allowed himself a full, but tired, smile.

Things were looking better. Chi-ji had pointed him in the direction of a cure, and the SI:7 was on their way to finding it.

Anduin closed his eyes, took a deep breath of the fresh air, and focused for a brief moment, centering himself, before turning on his good heel and making his way back int othe fort. The sun was setting, now. He may have found some help for Wrathion, but that didn’t mean the dragon still didn’t need care at the present time. The prince rolled his shoulders back. After checking up on Wrathion, maybe he’d take a quick nap; he hardly had enough energy to cast a healing spell right now. Then he would settle in for a long bought of Light healing, afterwards.

At least the situation was turning much more hopeful, he thought.

—-

Anduin turned to his bedroom door after the long walk down the hallway.

“Left, I’m back! I have some good news.”

She didn’t answer. Anduin frowned. That was odd. She should have at least opened the door.

He reached out and tried to the knob – to his surprise, it turned with a squeak.

Maybe she’d just left it open, knowing he’d be back.

He opened the door -

And froze.

Left was slammed back into wall to the side; impact marks cracked up along the stone. She sat hunched in on herself, her head hanging, her long ponytail draped limply across her shoulders, and from his angle Anduin spotted a dark green bruise along the side of her shaved head.

And right in front of Anduin, his back to the blond prince as he looked out of the window, was Wrathion.

“Wrathion?” Anduin started, confused. He glanced at the bodyguard, then at the Black Prince again. The dragon did not seem to hear him, not at first; he didn’t even move. His cast right arm hung loose at his side, while his left elbow leaned into the window sill. The open breeze ruffled his dark, wavy hair.

How was – how was he suddenly standing? Wrathion hadn’t eaten, had no energy – he could hardly move or speak when Anduin had left!

“Wrathion,” Anduin repeated, his heart slowly beginning to quicken. This had quickly become worrisome, and unnerving, reinforced by the fact that Left still hadn’t moved. Something was very, very wrong. For a brief moment Anduin wondered if Sabellian was here, hiding – but a quick look around said otherwise. The prince took a steadying breath and cast his eyes again on the Black Prince.

“… Are you alright?” Anduin asked, as he inched his way into the room and closed the door behind him with his heel.

The click of the door made Wrathion finally move - his shoulders tensed.

The dragon turned his head, and Anduin felt his heart rise above his skin.

Wrathion’s eyes weren’t red – they were white, aglow and giving off a sheen of icy, ethereal blue.

Anduin’s grasp on his cane tightened. Those were Sha eyes.

“Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion drawled, and he stood straight from his hunch across the window sill to face the blond prince. Anduin found himself backing up once. “I was just talking about you.” His voice was a near-sigh, like he was too tired to speak, or too sad.

“To who?” Anduin asked, as an afterthought.

His mind was racing. How had – how had Wrathion come under the influence of the Sha? The prince looked the dragon over quickly. The Sha did affect quickly, but in the span of the two hours Anduin had been gone? It was -

Chi’ji’s voice came back to him.

At our weakest, we may give in to our worst doubts and fears.

He stared at Wrathion. His ashen skin, the smoke curling from his mouth – Anduin had assumed it’d just been from the sickness, that the smoke wasn’t Sha smoke, but his usual draconic one.

Just make it stop; Wrathion’s desperate look.

Had Wrathion been talking about his illness, his injuries - … or this? Had he realized what was feeding off of his misery, his despair, but been unable to stay awake, to say anything, or had been strong enough to brush it aside?

Anduin’s head was spinning. He’d made a very terrible mistake. He’d only seen the disease – not what had been simmering underneath it!

Wrathion didn’t answer his question. His white eyes were trained on Anduin, his gaze lidded. The dragon’s shoulders began to droop.

“What? Have you come back with more of those little potions to shove down my throat?” Wrathion asked. He lifted off fully from the wall, swayed once, and continued to stare. His arms still hung loose at his sides. “I guess those won’t work either, hm?” He added. “I’m just going to die.”

“You’re not going to die,” Anduin said, interrupting quickly. He walked a bit closer; Wrathion tilted his head, reminding Anduin of a raptor he’d seen by the side of a hunter champion before. “Someone’s going to come help -”

“I nearly died,” Wrathion said. He seemed to not have heard Anduin. “Sabellian could have easily killed me.” His hands flexed. Anduin glanced down at them – and his mouth went dry. Wrathion had lost his gauntlets in the cave, and so his hands were not gloved… and so Anduin could easily see the tips of the dragon’s fingers curling into white and black claws, sharp and demonic. “I was that weak. And now some sickness is killing me.” Smoke – not draconic, Anduin realized that now, but smoke encircled with the grey-blue of the Sha – drooled from the side of the dragon’s mouth.

“But he didn’t,” Anduin said. The sha that had overtaken Wrathion was easy to spot; it was not Anger, or Hate, or Fear. It was Despair.

I have never seen an individual so unsure of Hope, and so full of doubt and despair.

“Wrathion, you’re not weak,” Anduin continued. He walked a step closer. “You’re very strong. You were just caught off guard.” His voice was soothing, as if he was speaking to a cornered animal. If he could muster enough energy to charge up a cleansing spell like the ones he’d performed during the invasion at the Temple of the Red Crane, if he had the right aim -

“Caught off guard,” Wrathion repeated, murmuring to himself, with a bitterness. “Caught off guard. How absurd. How idiotic. Caught off guard.” His eyes began to unfocus, and the unnatural glow of the white strengthened. Anduin saw, from the corner of his eyes, the claws begin to lengthen at Wrathion’s hands.

This wasn’t going well.

“I have a brother. Did you know that, Anduin? A long lost brother. I did not even think to look in Outland. And now he almost killed me - and made me sick - and I’m dying. From a sickness. A sickness! Ridiculous! Where’s the heroism in that?” He swayed again. He sounded strangely hysterical but exhausted and depressed all at the same time. “I’m the Black Prince. I’m not supposed to get caught off guard. But I did. I didn’t see him coming, did I? I’m not a very good Prince, Anduin Wrynn.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” Anduin interrupted, before Wrathion could start rambling again. “But you’ll be cured -”

“No. NO. I do not make mistakes! I am not supposed to make mistakes!” His left hand lifted and dug into his hair, his claws raking against his scalp and quickly drawing blood, where it dripped down across his white shirt. Anduin swallowed. His heart was hammering. Wrathion was going to hurt himself more if the prince didn’t drudge up enough energy soon.

He tried to focus on the Light, and it came to him quickly – but summoning the Light and controlling it were two very different things. It took energy and concentration to manipulate the Light into what the user wanted – in Anduin’s case, a purging spell – but the prince had neither energy nor concentration from his lack of sleep.

“But I did make a mistake. And my home -” Wrathion groaned. “-My Tavern is gone. And Right is dead. And I was beaten down like a – like a dog! And you! You nearly died. And I am dying. How am I to fight the Legion if I make mistakes?!” Wrathion snarled. His hands had become fully warped by the Sha now, his fingers full talons, and when he bore his teeth the prince noted his lengthened canines, dagger-sharp.

A small shine appeared in Anduin’s right hand. He hid it behind his back, just in case Wrathion grew volatile at seeing it. It was not a complete purging spell yet, but with enough focus…

“But you’re okay now, Wrathion. And so am I. I’m not dead, and I won’t let you die, either.” He chanced a smile.

Wrathion’s eyes focused with a snap back on Anduin. “But you will only die anyway, won’t you? Mortals live such little lives. And Left will die, too. And all my agents. And all of my heroes and champions. And then I’ll be alone again.” The snarl was gone. Wrathion sounded so sad, using a tone the prince had never heard him speak in, that Anduin had to force himself not to move towards him to try to comfort him in a closer range.

Anduin wasn’t sure how to respond to the comment, however, immediately. More smoke was drifting from Wrathion’s mouth.

“You’re right. I will die. But with how many people you have around you now, Wrathion, I don’t doubt you’ll ever be alone. Especially when you save Azeroth from the Legion,” he added, in an attempt to goad the dragon’s usual self confidence back into place.

“They won’t trust me if Sabellian’s alive,” Wrathion murmured. “They won’t follow me.”

Anduin frowned. “What?”

“Do you know how hard I have tried to make myself look trustworthy? How hard I have tried to show I am not like my father, like the rest of my Flight?” Wrathion hissed. “And now some – some dragon is going to ruin all of that by just being alive!”

Anduin deepened his frown. This wasn’t making sense. “Wrathion, just because you have a brother doesn’t mean no one will believe in you-”

“When they look at me, they see Deathwing the Destroyer first. My family. My blood,” Wrathion spat. The veins underneath his ashen skin seemed to be glowing bright with the white-blue sheen now, and dark shadows began to ink out and around Wrathion’s eyes, making the initial glow from his eyes more severe against the dark. “If they’re reminded of what my family was with Sabellian, with their corruption, they’ll remember. They’ll remember where I came from. Then that is all they will see again until that dragon is dead. Until they are all dead.”

Anduin nodded slowly; he understood.

At the same time, the spell behind Anduin’s back had managed to strength at least three times stronger, but it was still not good enough to purge Sha, especially a corruption as deep as Wrathion’s was quickly turning out to be.

Wrathion went quiet. He stared at Anduin.

Anduin didn’t like the look in his vacant eyes.

Before the prince had time to shield himself the dragon lurched forward with a speed even unnatural for him and grabbed the prince by the sash. He turned, and with an explosion of glass and blood Wrathion slammed Anduin back into the window where it shattered. Anduin bared his teeth and forced the cry of pain that threatened to escape from his throat down. His hands found Wrathion’s, which still gripped onto the blond’s sash, his claws digging against his tabard and poking through holes.

“I should just kill you,” Wrathion said. Again the fury had left his voice, replaced only by despair. “You will die, dear prince. I may as well just get it over with.” His hand let go of the sash, only to snatch back onto Anduin’s throat – his right hand, his bad arm, the arm that was not fully mended and should have been cracking again under the pressure of holding the blond prince up, unless it had already.

Wrathion’s grip was tight and already Anduin was seeing spots against his vision and felt his flesh begin to bruise. He gagged.

“Wrathion – you don’t – have to kill me -”

The dragon laughed without humor, a sad sort of choking sound. “I see why Sargeras went mad. There’s no use to it.” His grip tightened. The claws dug into the side of Anduin’s throat; beads of warm blood began to run down the sides of his skin. “No use to setting things right. To Order. To life. There’s no… purpose, is there? One mistake and everything is gone.” He pushed his arm out, and Anduin felt the yawning abyss behind him as half of his body went through the window with Wrathion’s hand.

Anduin wanted to say that Wrathion couldn’t let the despair overtake him – that that was just how life was, no matter how many schemes he made, or how much he calculated. That purpose was when you found people you cared about, when you found something you loved, when you had friends to protect and who protected you. Wrathion loved Azeroth, and he had friends who cared about him, like the one who was about to be thrown out of a window.

But Wrathion’s grip was too strong, and the words wouldn’t come. The spots in Anduin’s eyes were now bursting white stars, threatening to overtake him, and the Light glow in his hands was snuffed out.

So Anduin, desperate, did all he could think of to do – he kicked out.

His left foot hit square into Wrathion’s chest, and there was a snap as the already-broken bones there caved in again. The dragon snarled and, out of instinct, jerked his arm back inside.

But his grip didn’t loosen. Anduin kicked out again when his mind began to sink underneath a seeping darkness, his lungs burning, out of air, but Wrathion dodged -

And slammed Anduin hard into the wall next to the shattered window, so hard that it cracked, and Anduin thought no more.

—-

“Anduin.”

The voice came from far away. It was a muffle, an echo, shooting vaguely across his mind.

He groaned.

Someone shook his shoulder.

“Anduin! Wake!”

The voice was sharper now. The muggy darkness Anduin’s head had been swimming in began to part; his thoughts began to make sense. The prince groaned low again as a sudden but continual beat of pain thrummed across his throat, head, and shoulders.

Confused, he opened his eyes. Left crouched in front of him, her hands against his shoulders. She was bleeding across her left cheek, and the bruise Anduin had spotted alongside her shaved head had worsened to a dark brownish green.

“Left?” He grumbled, his voice a slush in his mouth. He didn’t really remember quite what had happened for a moment -

Until he shot up from his slouch against the cracked wall amongst the broken glass, his eyes wide. He looked around quickly, ignoring the thrum of pain in his head.

Wrathion wasn’t in the room.

“He’s gone,” Anduin mumbled, disbelieving.

No. This couldn’t be happening.

Anduin’s chest constricted. His eyes shot back over to Left, who had taken her arms off of him.

“Where is he?” Anduin demanded. His voice was loud and harsh, but a waver of panic flickered beneath his words. Wrathion’s white eyes, his clawed, skewered hands, his desperate then monstrous look – the images began to flicker against his mind’s eye, too fast and too wild, for Anduin to even attempt to calm himself down.

“Gone,” Left said. She rose. Anduin scrambled to his feet, stumbled as his right leg shook, but caught his balance against the windowsill behind him. A prick of pain bloomed in his palm, and he shot his hand back; a small shard of glass had stuck in the skin. He leaned back against the window and plucked it out, without thought, mechanically, all while staring at Left.

“Obviously he’s gone!” He shouted at her. He didn’t care he was shouting. He didn’t even notice he didn’t care. The prince ran a hand through his hair and felt stickiness at the back; he pulled his hand away and on his gold glove was a smear of blood – from when Wrathion had crushed him back against the glass.

He ignored it, dropping his hand. Left was going through her belt. Her movements were deft.

“Where is he?” He asked again, more desperate this time.

“I don’t know. He’s gone. Like I just said!”

Why wasn’t she out looking for him? Why were they still in here? Why had she woken Anduin up first? Shouldn’t she have gone after Wrathion? What if he was getting worse? What if the Sha that gripped him was goading him onward, down to deeper despair and doubt?

“Shouldn’t – you should have looked for him instead of waking me up!”

Left turned to him, dropped her hands from her belt, and grabbed him by the sash. She jerked him close.

“I need you to stop screaming at me,” the orc hissed. “I only just woke up too. I know what I’m doing. Now shut up and calm down. Compose yourself. Meditate. Do whatever you do to keep that stupid grin that’s always on your face on. You panicking is not going to make this any better.”

She let go.

Anduin sagged back. He swallowed hard. Left went through the pockets in her belt again. He watched without seeing.

The prince’s head was blurring. Anduin held it in his unbloodied hand for a moment, scrunching his eyes closed. The glow of Wrathion’s Sha-infested eyes seemed burned against Anduin’s eyelids.

Wrathion was gone. He was possessed by the Sha, deep in despair, wholly full of doubt, and still sick with whatever illness.

And he was gone.

He looked back up, his clean hand shaking as it dropped from his face. Left was right. He had to calm down. He wasn’t making this any better.

But he was so tired, and so worried, and – and everything had been about to go so well, and then – then this had happened -

Left grabbed something from her belt. It flashed – it was a red gem, similar to what the other Agents wore across their foreheads.

“I need to you tell me what happened. Right now.”

Anduin stared at her. His head froze, when just a moment ago it’d be aflame with thoughts and images, as if it’d simply shut off because of the onslaught.

“’Right now’ means right now, prince!”

He jumped. His mind began to turn again. Anduin opened his mouth, though the words did not come immediately.

“He – I walked in and you were unconscious. He was standing by the window. I tried to help him, but -” Wrathion grabbing him with the long, curled, glowing claws flashed against his eyes - “he was too far gone. The Sha had completely taken him… and I didn’t have the energy to purge it from him.” His failure hit him hard as he spoke the events aloud; Anduin didn’t try to hide the tired defeat and pain from his voice, his panicked anger beginning to sludge away. Let Left think what Left thought – he didn’t care. “I thought he was going to kill me,” he added, mostly to himself, with a mumble.

Left grunted, turned away and rubbed the gem between her fingers. “Shouldn’t you have picked up on His Majesty being slowly possessed?”

“I know. I didn’t see it because of his illness. I just thought it must have been part of the disease, but -” he shrugged helplessly, and swept a hand over his face.

Left sighed. “Very well. There’s no time for me to be angry at you for it. I needed to know what the situation was before we looked.” She lifted her free hand and swept back her large ponytail, her gloved fingers trailing over the bruise. “I’m not sure what made him snap. One moment he was sleeping, and the next he’d shot up and pummeled me into the wall.” She scowled. “A lucky shot. Caught me by surprise.”

Left had just woken up, then, too. How long had both of them been out ? Anduin quickly looked behind his shoulder, and saw that it was still night.

“Here.” Anduin looked back at Left, numb. She’d crossed the room and had his cracked cane in her hand. She shifted the wood back in place with a creak of splinters and threw it to him.

“Are you okay?” Anduin asked. He’d already forgotten about her bruise.

“Fine. Are you?” She turned to give him a critical look, her eyes flicking up and around him, surveying his own bruises and blood. He nodded vacantly.

“I’m alright. Please, let’s just -” His eyes went to the door. The panic and gut-twisting found him again. “Let’s just go find him.”

The orc did not need to be told twice. She opened the door, and they went out to the hallway.

It was halfway destroyed. Anduin widened his eyes. Along one wall was a long, black scorch mark, where bits of paint and rubble still drifted from, as delicate as leaves. On the floor was a trail of oozing sha energy, and a hole was smashed through on the other wall. The whole hallway seemed to smoke. There was no sign of the Black Prince still being there.

Two of Anduin’s bodyguards were clumped together a bit farther down. The prince’s throat constricted. Left tried to grab him, but he managed to duck underneath her hand, and he started over as quickly as he could, kneeling down to the limp bodies to check for signs of life.

He was relieved to see them breathing. He let out a shaky sigh, closed his eyes for a moment to send a quick thank-you, then looked them over. Both had gashes along their Stormwind regalia – claw marks. The metal seemed to be like carved through like oil with Wrathion’s sha-talons.

“They need healing,” Anduin said. How had no one heard what had gone on up here?

The thunder of battle outside was the answer. No wonder the others in the courtyard hadn’t heard and come to aid!

Though, Anduin thought, he was glad they hadn’t, in a way. If they had seen Wrathion like Anduin had – they would have tried to kill him.

“No time. Leave them.”

Anduin looked up. Left had joined him.

“But they -”

“I see no mortal wounds. If you want to stay and heal them and abandon the Prince, fine.”

Anduin frowned, a slight glower in his eyes. Left was looking at the gem and not at him.

“What is that?”

“A gem.”

Anduin made an exasperated sound. “What does it do?”

“Contacts His Majesty’s agents. Be quiet. I’m going to speak.”

The orc put both hands around the gem and closed her eyes. The ruby began to glow after a moment. Anduin watched, fascinated, his worry forgotten for a mere moment.

“Abandon the search for Sabellian. His Majesty has been possessed by the Sha. Turn your sights to finding him. Do not use hostilities against him - Seek and Capture. All information on His Majesty will be sent back to me. I repeat, if some of you weren’t listening: His Majesty has been possessed by the SHA. Do NOT harm him. Seek and Capture.”

The glow faded. The orc opened her eyes.

“All of the Agents heard that?” Anduin asked. Left nodded as she pocketed the gem. The prince furrowed his brows. “I didn’t know you were having them search for Sabellian.”

“Only recently. I told them the situation, but not where the Prince was.” She looked around at the ruined hallway. “He’s left a trail. We can track him that way -”

“I think I might know where he would go.”

Left looked at him sharply. “Well, don’t keep it to yourself!”

Anduin stood. The guards would be alright; he’d glanced over them again and had assured himself their wounds were not, as Left said, mortal. Someone would find them soon enough.

“Come on. My gryphon -”

“I didn’t say you were going.”

Anduin stared at her. “You can’t be serious.”

“You’re ready to collapse. You can hardly stand upright! You were lucky with Sabellian in the cave, but this time you will be getting in the way.”

“Left.” Anduin took a couple steps closer to her. “I know I’m weak now, and I know I couldn’t purge him of the Sha when I could – but I can purge Sha. I did it at the Temple of the Red Crane. I helped Master Crane from the Sha of Despair itself, the very thing that’s tormenting Wrathion at the very moment. If I can sleep on the gryphon, I’ll be fine. But you can’t deny that not having me to help Wrathion will be a very bad mistake.”

Left squinted at him. Anduin drew himself up and stared back.

“And if he’s too far gone? What then?” Left asked with a low voice. “You saw the black drake in Kun-lai. Nothing could have saved that thing.”

“You don’t know that. I could have -”

“Do you know what the Sha came from, Anduin?”

Anduin was caught off guard by the question. “Well, negative emotions -”

Left interrupted him with a wave of her hand. “Yes, alright, negative emotions. But the Sha’s origins are from an Old God. Yshaarj.” Understanding came to Anduin’s face; his confusion fell. “They’re the very whispers of an Old God. I wonder how much worse they affect black dragons?”

Anduin took a deep breath. Oh. This was – this was news. He paused before replying. “Old Gods or not, I can still cleanse him. It’s still just the Sha. The drake –… the drake was just corrupted by the Sha, too. You saw him.” He frowned. “And if the drake was corrupted by something more because of the Sha, it doesn’t matter. Wrathion’s free from the corruption – right?”

Left stared at him. “Yes. But so are all mortals and dragons – besides Sabellian’s brood. But what stops the Old Gods from corrupting them because they were born without it?”

She shook her head. “Well, let’s hope you’re right, prince,” the orc mumbled. She began to walk passed him, down to the stairs, gesturing for him to follow, which he did. “And that I won’t, or you won’t, have to put a bolt or spell into His Majesty’s heart.”

Chapter Text

“This won’t be easy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Prince Anduin?”

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

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

“You shouldn’t be out -!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s your beast?”

“Follow me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

He sighed and let the reins loosen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. Get on the gryphon -”

An arrow whizzed passed Left’s head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Help what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“… The Veiled Stair.”

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

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

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

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

There’s no… purpose, is there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The orc scoffed. “Just go to sleep.”

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mere toy…

I feast on suffering…

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

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

Please, he wanted to lay down and disappear -

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

“A while. And no. Go back to sleep.”

Anduin sighed. The wind ruffled at his hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin bit his lip and forced back his glower.

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

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

Anduin only nodded. That was good, at least.

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

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

—-

“Father should have been back by now.”

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

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

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

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

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

Samia scoffed and fluffed her wings.

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

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

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

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

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

Samia nodded offhandedly.

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

“They went on their own accord.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Indeed.”

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

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

—-

The Veiled Stair was just ahead.

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

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

“Come on. No use staring.”

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

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

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

“No.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Left.”

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

Wrathion was here.

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

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

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

Anduin glanced back at her. “Hide?”

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin set his jaw. He nodded.

This was very delicate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, standing at the balcony, was Wrathion.

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

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

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

Anduin ground his teeth. Wrathion had just gotten worse.

But Anduin had gotten his rest. He was ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he needed to be close.

Wrathion watched him. He tilted his head.

“Why are you up here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There isn’t -!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Wrathion -”

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

“Like who?” Anduin asked, confused.

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

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

The prince froze. He couldn’t mean -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I think you can be helped.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s okay, Wrathion. It’s okay.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin grinned widely.

“You’re okay!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrathion was okay. He wasn’t corrupted anymore.

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

“Seems you were successful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We can’t go back to Lion’s Landing.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dragon mumbled. Anduin took that for a yes.

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

“No. I can walk him there.”

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin took that as a ‘no.’

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

Wrathion flicked his eyes up to Anduin and narrowed them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin frowned. “The items have been stolen?”

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

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

Wrathion looked up at him blearily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What could you possibly be doing over there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wrathion?”

“Mm.”

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

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

“No.”

“Are you sur-”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

The dragon was testing if Anduin was asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin didn’t move.

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

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

He leaned back against Wrathion and went back to sleep.

—-

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

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

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

And they were perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What he needed was something better.

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

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

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

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

Sabellian snorted. It was the Veiled Stair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A mere… toy…

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

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

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

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

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

Release… me…

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When he was better? Yes.

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

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

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

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

Like flying in, they met little resistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s either them, or him.

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

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

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

And Wrathion needed him more right now.

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

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

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

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

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

“Anduin Llane Wrynn.”

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

Oh no. Anduin scrunched his eyes closed and grimaced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Father, I’m fine.”

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

“Where were you?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Anduin.”

“Father.”

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

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

“Your guards are there to protect you.”

“I don’t need protecting from Wrathion.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course, Father.”

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

“And what’s that in your arm?”

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

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

“It was hot.”

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

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

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

Anduin had given away that he was hiding something.

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

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

“Explain. Now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anduin was glowering now. Varian glowered back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Varian’s glower returned. “Anduin -”

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

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

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

Anduin nodded, hardly taking in what he was hearing.

“Thank you,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Fair enough,” the prince grumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

That could have gone a lot worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He hoped the SI:7 would be back soon.

—-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amber enjoyed the change of pace.

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

“Funny, Sully.”

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

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

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

“Looks like we have a follower.”

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

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

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

The small pandaren smiled again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’You think?’ So the dragon’s here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fleeting idea fell away when Amber looked ahead.

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

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

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

Amber straightened – this was the dragon.

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

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

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

The pandaren tilted her head at her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

The Badlands was rather plain to look at.

Nasandria looked down on the dusty, clay-colored landscape as she crossed the red mountain range that separated the Searing Gorge and this unhappy valley.

The Badlands stretched in craggy bumps before her, carved out with small hills and barren peaks. Up ahead, she could make out a large hill, which nestled atop it some sort of ruined iron building, whose great roof spokes jutted out like a claw trying to snatch onto the sky. Other ruined buildings were half-hidden among that hill, tilted, abandoned, and hard to make out against the hot glare of the mid-afternoon sun.

Even further, if she squinted, Nasandria could just make out amongst the dusty haze larger mountains that jut out at a hard vertical from the leveled plains, though, oddly, they were flat, as if some giant had cleaved away their pointed tops, leaving behind black scorch marks like some sort of cauterized limb, red and smoking.

She sighed. Despite the ruins, despite the odd mountains, the Badlands seemed altogether a pathetic place when compared to the lively grandeur she’d seen in the Gorge, whose intense reds and blacks and greys had engulfed her entire vision. The Gorge was full of liveliness, with its rush of fire and earth that bubbled and drooled from the mountains and the molten rivers of lava. The faraway, flat scorched mountains of the Badlands, as well as its dusty silence, punctured only by the faraway lonely caws of buzzards flying below, was no substitute.

Nasandria beat her wings against the hot afternoon sun, whose heat would have been uncomfortable to most, but not to the black drake. It was a welcome change from the crisp, near-chilly ocean breeze she’d endured for the majority of her week-long flight, and the sun felt nice in its warmth against her scales.

Though the long flight had been unkind in climate, it had been relatively easy, if not tiring. Once leaving the Jade Forest, Nasandria had cut up north, using the same tactic the party had used when coming up from the Black Portal by skipping out across the Great Sea to avoid unwanted eyes, and had entered the Eastern Kingdoms by way of the Searing Gorge.

Catching fish on the forgotten dots of islands in the Sea had not gone well; the basilisk she’d caught and devoured at the Gorge, whose meat ought to have tasted too tough to her on normal circumstances, had been the tenderest flesh in her jaws.

Nasandria tilted her wings slightly, aiming for the tall rocks to her right, and rolled her shoulders back, the leather bag around her neck swinging with the gentle movement; it contained the robotic whelp Sabellian had found again amongst the wreckage of the Veiled Stair.

The black drake wondered how her father was doing. He’d briefly and impatiently said something about “sleeping potions” before hurrying her away; she supposed he would have contacted her if he’d managed to snatch the little Black Prince again.

It’d been an entire week – was he really taking that long?

Nasandria sighed. Sabellian was a skilled alchemist… though maybe these sleeping potions, whatever he hoped to do with them, were a lengthy process.

At least she hoped.

Not like she was happy with him for sending her away from the action of Pandaria to travel by herself to this lifeless, boring place just because Wrathion had happened to whimper something about the Badlands and the Titan technology the Reds found there.

Nasandria landed on one of the peaks, folding in her wings at her sides. Her muscles ached, and the salt of the ocean air was still stuck to her forelegs, stinging. Behind her was a long, natural valley that connected Searing Gorge and the Badlands; she glanced down, suspicious, looking for mortals - … though she saw none. She didn’t expect to. She hadn’t seen any in the Gorge, and what mortal in their right mind would want to stay in this barren, quiet, lonely place?

Nasandria turned her head from the path and scanned the landscape with a small glare. At least, she thought, she was finally here. The ocean was no place for any dragon. The drake scratched at her itching forelegs. The buzzards cawed and circled below near the ruins of the buildings near the hills.

She was here, certainly – but where to start? Her task was so vague in direction, but so dire in need: search for whatever had purified the Black Prince.

How was she supposed to do that?

Nasandria watched the buzzards circle below. She had only been a whelp during her first stay at Azeroth, before Sabellian and his brood relocated to Blade’s Edge Mountains. The drake did not know this planet, and did not know the Badlands; how large was it? How far, how deep, would she have to search? The Black Prince was only two years old – but two years was a long time to have left whatever created him out in the open.

Would she find anything at all? Nasandria clicked her claws against the rock.

“A tour of the Eastern Kingdoms,” she mumbled, grunting, recalling her father’s words at that exact worry. “Consisting of a grand total of two lands and a large, cold sea.”

Her wings spread, the red webbing growing warmer as they caught the sun. She closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the heat, allowing it to relax her taut, tired muscles, and allowing it to relax her frustrated, tired mind, too.

Nasandria’s thoughts wandered. This might end up being a useless venture, but if she did find something, find anything, about how the Reds cured the Black Prince of his corruption – if it could help the rest of the brood in Blade’s Edge -

The wailing screams of Talsian echoed between her skull. Her eyes scrunched tighter. She had never seen the crazed bloodlust that haunted her family’s heritage until that day in the cave, when her younger brother had been released from his chains and had descended on her with a frenzied flurry of tooth and claw.

Sabellian didn’t speak of the corruption often, and none of the others liked to bring it up, either. It was a thing best left forgotten – not like many remembered it at all, having been too young, like Nasandria, to completely recall the whispers.

Though if she thought hard enough, the drake could still hear them… a scratch on the back of her brain, pulling, tightening…

Nasandria shook her head hard and opened her eyes. She forced herself to forget the memory again.

She would not end up like her brother. He’d been weak from the injuries that human guard had given him; Nasandria would not allow herself to be injured. She’d be cautious.

Nasandria looked over the Badlands again, her initial frustration gone. No – if there was something here that could help her family, then she would find it. They should not have to live in fear that something under the earth could seep through and find them when on Azeroth. They should not have to fear of becoming mindless beasts like all of their brothers and sisters who had not been lucky enough to journey to Blade’s Edge and had endured the insanity, and who had been destroyed, put down like the rabid animals they were, in the end.

Like Talsian had. The clack of his horns against the stone floor reverberated between her skull, hollow. Her wings folded again, close to her body.

He couldn’t be helped.

She scowled. It was unfair, she thought. They were cursed because of the actions of her dead grandfather, one she had only seen once, another memory she’d tried to forget, just as she had tried to forget the whispers that had plagued her as a hatchling.

One individual had destroyed the lives of thousands, and even after his death, his mistakes followed his children that still lived.

Well, Nasandria thought, perhaps she could help reverse that mistake. The drake snorted, smoke curling from her nostrils. She would find the cure even though the little Black Prince didn’t want them as pure as he was.

Nasandria jumped from the edge again. Wrathion confused her. She tilted her wings a bit to the left, aiming for the ruined town amongst the bumpy hills; doing a quick reconnaissance fly-over of the Badlands first seemed most appropriate, to get a lay of the land, before the drake could delve further.

Why did the hatchling hate them so much? Why had he resisted, even during torture, from telling them how he’d been cured of their father’s madness, a madness that lurked in all of their souls, hidden and waiting like a snake ready to bite? What hate did he have to spurn them, to kill them?

Nasandria curled her paws close to her body and glared. He had started this. She’d enjoyed cutting him, watching him bleed and cry out.

She was near the ruins now; the remains of red wooden huts lay crumpled amongst the tossed stone ground, decayed. A singular, catcus-like tree and other small, starved bushes struggled to grow on the slope. The buzzards she’d heard and seen before were directly below her, and she glanced down at them again.

Nasandria squinted. Dotted amongst the red-tan rocks were grey forms, thin and angular and small. She frowned and swerved closer –

And noticed the large skeleton sprawled out amongst the rocks that had been half-hidden at her previous angle.

The drake faltered in surprise. It was not the skeleton of some random beast. It was a dragon’s skeleton.

Nasandria stared at it, hovering in the air, her wings beating hard. She looked around again at the smaller grey forms she’d seen – and realized they, too, were skeletons – hatchling skeletons.

What was this place?

She hovered closer, hesitant, then landed a bit below the struggling tree. The larger skeleton was sprawled in front of her.

Nasandria looked away. Her throat tightened as she glanced over the uncountable, tiny bones that surrounded her in clumps. Many had been ripped apart, no doubt by the buzzards that circled above the dragon, now, watching her cautiously. There was one small skull there, bodiless; another without wings or a tail; a ribcage embedded in the rock was only what remained of one hatchling.

So many hatchlings dead. So many – Nasandria closed her eyes. She was reminded of the hatchlings that remained on Blade’s Edge, her own brothers and sisters. She felt sick, a coldness seeping into her chest.

These could be nothing but black dragons. No other Flight bred and lived in such heat – and hadn’t the Black Prince said something about his mother, here?

Nasandria glanced back that the larger skeleton in front of her. It was picked clean, but in poor condition. Its bones were darkened from the scorch of the sun and scarred from the bite marks of the more desperate scavengers late to the feast of flesh, and stretched almost lazily against the rock were the remains of the wings; some of the parts that had once held together the leather-like webbing had fallen away or had been snatched by braver and larger foragers. One foreleg jutted out in a strict flex, as if in eternal pain, while the other claws curled inward towards the empty body.

The serpentine neck stretched forward, curled against the rock. Nasandria’s eyes traveled up to the skull, and the coldness in her chest strengthened. The skeleton’s mouth was open, its aged teeth agleam, and its empty, lifeless sockets gazed off into nothingness, unseeing.

Nasandria swallowed, the edges of her mouth tightening. Sabellian had always taught her to respect the fallen, that the burning of their flesh from the fire released them, that their remaining bones should be hidden away, as Ryxia’s and Talsian’s had in their caves; seeing a sad carcass laid out like some… beast was uncomfortable to look at.

She noted how the skeleton was only a bit larger than Nasandria herself, then; while the long, matured horns and thickly-built body were evidence of a grown dragon, it was still small in size, indicating a young dragon who had not been fully grown for very long.

Nasandria looked around at the hatchlings again. Those had probably been this dragon’s hatchlings; even newly-matured dragons could breed, and being surrounded by the smaller white bodies was evidence as much.

The drake shifted her weight, still disturbed. Was there a possibility this dragon was the Black Prince’s mother? Who else could it have been? Wrathion had said something about his mother being here, about the Red dragons, and about experiments.

Nasandria eyed the empty skull quietly. Gently, she bent her head, her snout brushing the ground, in respect, as she had done in the Kun-lai cave. The dragon may have been insane, as all of Nasandria’s kin on Azeroth were, but the treatment of her corpse was disgraceful – as was the treatment of her babies’, left to rot and be picked apart by birds and wolves and worms.

She straightened from her bow, though still felt ill. Her throat had gone cold and tight. Perhaps she could contact her father, now.

Sitting, her eyes not leaving the skeleton before her – it was as if she could not look away, though it disturbed her - Nasandria unlatched the bag from her neck and looped it off, careful not to let it fall on the hard ground, then dug the whelp out. The automaton caught the shine of the sun and like the iron spikes of the higher ruins glared so brightly that it nearly blurred out the robot’s dent and bumps that were scattered along its otherwise smooth surface; they were sustained from being inside the Tavern as it had collapsed, though still seemed functional. Sabellian, of course, had taken the nicer one for himself; the drake rolled her eyes as she held the whelp in one paw and searched for the communication button with the other. Her father was always like that. Protective he might be, but he always expected to be given the best, including the choicest cuts of meat from a kill.

The drake found the button and pushed it with a claw. The automaton’s mouth shuddered, then opened with a creak. Electrical smoke puffed from its throat; a spark popped from its hinged neck. For one terrible moment Nasandria thought it may be broken -… but then it began to emit the sound of harsh static. The drake relaxed; it was communicating.

Nasandria waited for an answer. She was staring at the whelp intently, not allowing herself to look back up at the skeletons around her. The cold had begun to tighten more in her throat, and there was a near to dull ringing in the back of her head. It was so quiet. She could hardly hear the buzzards anymore. She could see, just from the top of her eyes, the large skull staring at her, lifeless -

“What?”

Nasandria jumped as Sabellian’s voice crackled from the whelp’s maw, slightly distorted. A buzzard that had circled too close shot back up in the air with an annoyed squawk at the drake’s sudden movement. She glared at it before looking back at the whelp.

“Father?”

“Who else would it be, exactly?”

Nasandria directed her glare at the whelp and not the scavenger-bird. “I was just making sure.”

“Yes, yes, alright. Now, what do you want? I’m a bit preoccupied, here.”

There was a faint bubbling underneath Sabellian’s words. Nasandria tilted her head, wondering if it was from the static, before realizing it sounded like something akin to his alchemist’s table at Blade’s Edge.

“I’ve arrived at the Badlands,” she said, flicking her eyes up at the staring skull before looking back down quickly.

“Have you? Good. Not the liveliest place, still, I assume, from what I remember of it. Though the Barrens used to be like that, too, and my dear father had the nerve to upheave half of it into lush jungle.” Sabellian sighed loudly.

“You’ve been here?”

“The Badlands? Oh, yes. The Badlands was an easy flight over to Blackrock Mountain. Nefarian on more than one occasion insisted on touting off his… ‘secret laboratory’ that was Blackwing Descent to me at the Searing Gorge. Dreadful place. Don’t go there.”

“Oh.”

Sabellian paused. “Well? Anything else, or is that all?”

Nasandria shifted her weight. Small rocks rolled away from her back legs and tail and rolled down the sides of the small bumps. She looked back up at the dragon’s skeleton.

“I only just entered the Badlands through the Gorge. There’s some sort of ruined town near the valley. I thought it might take a long time to find something about the Black Prince, but -”

“What? What’d you find?”

His voice was insistent and louder.

“There’s – there’s hatchling skeletons everywhere. And one small dragon’s. They can’t be anything else but Black dragons, can they?” Nasandria asked, an edge of something almost like hope to her voice, hoping what she thought wasn’t true, when she knew it was.

Sabellian didn’t answer immediately, but when he did, his voice was gruff. “They’re probably relatives, I assume. Don’t fret too much. They weren’t like us.”

Nasandria frowned. Weren’t like us.

They had been corrupt, he meant.

“But there’s so many hatchl -”

“Ignore it. There’s nothing you can do for them. Better they’re dead than monsters.”

Sabellian sounded less gruff now. Father and daughter were silent for a moment, understanding, before Nasandria sighed and broken the quiet.

“The mature dragon may have been the mother of all of these children. She was hardly older than I was.”

“Mm.”

“… Don’t you think it could be the Black Prince’s mother?”

“Possibly.” A pause. “He did whimper something about his mother in the Badlands, didn’t he? I suppose I don’t see who else it could be. Unfortunate. At least it’s a start, unless she’s clutching the key to her little son’s success in her claws,” he added, with a small bit of bitter sarcasm.

“Well, keep looking, then. Keep updating me. I’m nearly finished with these potions, and if all goes well, I will have the Black Prince again in only days. Don’t do anything stupid.”

“Of course,” Nasandria managed to say before the static cut off as Sabellian stopped the transmission. The drake grumbled and slipped the whelp back in the bag, then looped it over her neck again.

At least, she though, her father would have Wrathion again soon.

Nasandria looked around at the graveyard again; she had better begin searching. Even if this was the Black Prince’s mother, there was no evidence to look for in an empty, scarred pile of bones.

The drake opened her wings and, careful not to flap them too hard so that the air would not jostle the smaller bones from their final resting places, she took off, scaring off the birds. Bitter, she slapped one out of the air with her clubbed tail before whirling around to the west, ready to encircle the Badlands for the quick reconnaissance she’d planned.

Nasandria wondered if the broodmother below had had any idea about her strange little hatchling; the drake snorted. Doubtful. Even then, Sabellian had said they were monsters – and monsters did not feel.

Though even as she left the field of death behind her, the feeling of discomfort and anxiousness did not leave her, and her throat only became colder as she tried to forget, as she had the death of Talsian, all of the bones of the monsters that were at one time her own kin.

—-

“You need to stop moving around, Wrathion.”

“You are hurting me. I’ll move as I please.”

Anduin looked up from the cast to glare at the Black Prince, the gauze held tight in one hand. Wrathion eyed him, brows tilted in annoyance, as the dragon shifted again in the huge mound of blankets Anduin had reassigned around him. The only part of Wrathion that showed was his face and his right arm and shoulder, though half of his face was shadowed over by a thick blanket that laid haphazardly over his head.

He looked ridiculous, but Anduin wasn’t about to make fun of him when he was sick, even if he was tempted to by the bratty way Wrathion was acting.

“If you move, it’s just going to make it harder for me to recast it,” Anduin explained, slowly, trying to keep his own annoyance out of his voice.

Wrathion grumbled and looked away, sinking his head back into the pillows. The blanket near his head flopped down on the side of his face; the dragon blew at it in frustration, too weak to move either of his arms to take the blanket off, though it didn’t budge. Anduin pretended not to notice and left the blanket there.

Shaking his head, the prince went back to re-casting Wrathion’s right arm again, careful not to move around the broken forearm too much. The bruised flesh had healed somewhat, and Anduin was thankful that it hadn’t cracked again during Wrathion’s… episode.

It’d been a day since they had arrived back at Lion’s Landing for the second time. True to this word, Varian had come back around after the meeting and had demanded to know what had happened up on the floor-… though by that point, Anduin and Left had already come up with a good lie to tell him. The prince had explained, vaguely, how an enemy of the Black Prince’s had infiltrated the upper floor and had grabbed the dragon; it explained the scorch marks, and why Anduin had gone looking for Wrathion.

Varian still hadn’t seemed convinced, but was apparently too busy to argue further. The battle at Lion’s Landing had taken a heavy toll on both sides, and Horde and Alliance alike were licking their wounds while they glared at each other across the beach.

At least Varian was leaving them alone, Anduin thought, as he continued to remake the cast into something more stable… though the king hadn’t forgotten his promise of the surplus of guards. Two now flanked the closed door now, and four more near the stairs; two up top, two down below. They were not the kind sort. Anduin had tried to flash them his most charming, innocent smile when he wanted to leave to grab food for the Black Prince and Left, but the guards hadn’t budged, and had nearly slammed the door in his face after his request.

Anduin was not getting out of the room anytime soon. Not like he really needed to, when he had Wrathion to take care of.

At least the Black Prince had gotten better. When the Sha had left him, he’d spent most of that day they’d arrived at Lion’s Landing sleeping – recuperating - before he’d shifted into human form in much better spirits. He was still cold and sick and weak, but stronger than he had been in the past week. He could talk, though his voice was low and hoarse. But the dragon, still, could hardly move, and craved warmth as the chill continued to cling to him. Anduin had guessed it had been the slow, seeping possession of the Sha in those last days before Wrathion had snapped that had debilitated his body into the coma-like state.

Anduin finished tying and sticking the gauze together. He ran his hands over it, testing its strength, then nodded to himself.

“There,” the prince said. Wrathion was looking at him again from the corner of his seeable eye. “Now, don’t move.”

He slung a long strip of the gauze and, gently, lifted Wrathion’s head to loop it around the dragon’s neck. He made sure the back side of the loop was behind the Black Prince, and secured the loose end at the cast to make a comfortable sling. Anduin pushed the blanket off Wrathion’s face in the process, even though he found it funny.

“I hardly see why you can’t just -” The ends of Wrathion’s right fingers, poking out from the cast, wiggled slightly to illustrate. “Heal me with your precious Light.” Despite his raspy voice, there was a whine to his tone.

“I healed you as much as I could,” Anduin said, sitting on the side of the bed and straightening the blankets around the dragon. “You could think about it like my leg. The Light’s strong, but there’s still consequences to wounds.”

Wrathion huffed, clearly displeased. He glanced at his arm and shifted it once, winced, then went still again.

Anduin only smiled wryly. He was glad Wrathion was strong enough to speak again.

“Just because I -”

“Someone is coming,” Left said. She was standing guard by the door. Anduin looked up. He heard nothing at first – until the sound of footsteps, lengthy and faint, came from beyond the door.

“I need to speak to Prince Anduin.” The voice was muffled behind the wall. Anduin recognized it immediately – Amber Kearnen.

He scrambled to his feet, nearly tripping over himself in the process. If Amber was here -…

Then the SI:7 was back – and that surely meant they’d found the dragon Chi-ji had spoken of. Anduin grinned widely.

… Then stopped grinning. The excited smile fell so fast off of his face it looked like someone had slapped it off of him.

He’d forgotten to tell Wrathion and Left about seeking help from another dragon.

Anduin forced the grimace that threatened his face away. He’d thought that the SI:7 would take longer to find this dragon, giving Anduin more than enough time to explain to Wrathion and Left why he’d sought out the wyrm, even though he’d wished they would be quick in their hunt -… but they had been quick, and for all Anduin knew, that dragon could be standing right before the door right now.

Left was staring at him, her blue eyes narrowed.

“For what purpose?” Came the gruff reply of one of the stern guards.

“Classified. Now move and let me open the door.”

“What do they want?” The orc whispered tersely, low enough so those on the other side of the door couldn’t hear.

“Uh -”

A heavy knock resounded from the door. “Prince Anduin, Amber Kearnen of the SI:7 wishes to see you. Shall we let her through?”

“Uhm – one moment, please!”

“Prince.” Left was looking at him hard.

Anduin shifted his weight. Wrathion studying him, too.

The prince berated himself. How could he be so forgetful as to neglect to tell them the very important little detail that a dragon was coming to visit - a dragon that may just be hostile.

“When I went to Chi-ji, he recommended someone for me to seek out to help heal Wrathion’s sickness,” Anduin started. “I asked the SI:7 to find them.”

“Well? Who is it?” Left asked.

Anduin paused before continuing. “I’m… not sure. Chi-ji didn’t give me her name. But she’s a dragon.”

The room went so quiet the moment the word “dragon” slipped from Anduin’s lips that the prince could hear the guards’ shuffling of feet outside.

Left stared. Wrathion finally broke the silence with a growl.

Anduin tried not to wince. “I know. I’m sorry I didn’t tell both of you sooner -”

“What dull idea was it that spurred you to think bringing some – dragon to me was viable one?” Wrathion whispered hoarsely. “Are you really that naïve?”

Anduin glared at him. “I didn’t have a choice. You’re sick, and I can’t heal you! Someone of your own kind -”

“They are not my kind,” Wrathion hissed. “No one is.”

“Now you’re just being melodramat -!”

“Prince Anduin?”

It was the guard again. Both princes went quiet.

“Yes, one moment,” Anduin called back.

“You are not opening that door, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion said, glaring.

“I’m doing this for your benefit, Wrathion,” Anduin said.

“Whoever is behind that door could be… unfavorable to me,” the dragon said. “Must you really gamble with my safety so easily?”

Anduin’s glare deepened. “I just told you I’m doing this for your benefit. I know the risks, and I think you know better than to say I’m reckless with your well-being, Wrathion.”

The dragon huffed. Anduin continued to glare.

“Left and I are here to protect you, anyway.”

“Yes, well, all the same, you will not be opening that door.” Wrathion glanced at Left, then at Anduin.

“If I don’t, you’re going to die.”

They were still speaking in hissing whispers. They glowered at one another.

“I admire your – wait!”

Anduin had turned and was walking to the door.

“Anduin! Anduin Wrynn! Get back here!” The bed squeaked behind Anduin as Wrathion tried to move. “Ugh - Left!”

Left moved in front of Anduin at her Prince’s order. The door was three steps away.

Anduin looked up at her. Without breaking eye contact, he said:

“Alright. You can let her in.”

The door opened. Left managed a quick scowl before she was forced to move and hide behind the door.

Anduin, in turn, maneuvered his body so that Wrathion would be hidden behind him.

Amber Kearnen stood in the frame. Her face was smudged with dirt, her black ponytail astray and unbrushed, but she held herself confidently with one hand on her hip.

“We found her.”

Anduin smiled.

“That was fast,” he said, still smiling. Even if there was the risk of this dragon, whoever she was, being hostile, the gains were stronger; Wrathion could be cured of his sickness in only a few moments.

And if the dragon was hostile -… well, Left’s crossbow was probably loaded and ready.

“She wasn’t too hard to find. You know how you said she was at the Temple of the Jade Serpent? She didn’t exactly leave.”

Anduin nodded, then looked behind Amber. She seemed to be alone. His anxiousness was making his skin begin to prickle.

“That’s – that’s great. Where is-?”

“Sully’s leading her up now. I wanted to give you a head’s up.” Amber leaned, trying to look around Anduin. “So you could prepare… whoever’s in here.”

The prince leaned with her, blocking her view.

The agent rolled her eyes and straightened, her ponytail swinging. “You keep more secrets than the SI:7 does, Prince Anduin.”

“Not more secrets than the person behind me,” Anduin replied.

Amber gave him a sharp look.

“I guess I’ll just found out about it later,” Amber said, annoyed.

Anduin gave her an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I’ve promised not to let anyone know besides only a handful of people.”

He was sorry to keep the secret from her – she’d managed to find the dragon, after all – but he had Left’s promise to keep, and he knew Varian didn’t want the secret out, either.

“Did you get her name?” The prince asked, quick to change the subject before Amber goaded him about who he was hiding, which he suspected the agent had been about to do, because she’d furrowed her brows and opened her mouth, as if to argue. Anduin paused, then more hesitantly, continued: “And her Flight?”

“Not her name. She’s a Red, though.”

A red dragon.

Oh, no. Anduin almost winced.

A red dragon was in the Keep, part of the Flight that had made then tried to destroy Wrathion.

Behind the door, Left scowled.

Anduin thought quickly. He’d taken the risk of seeking out this dragon’s aid, out of the desperation of having no more options left, and had simply hoped it wouldn’t be a Red dragon, the worst possible option.

But it was a Red.

Maybe this red dragon would be different. After all, Chi-ji himself had told Anduin to seek the dragon out; the Red Crane had expressed his concern for the Black Prince. Anduin was almost certain, as he had thought beforehand, that the Celestial would not endanger Wrathion with recommending this stranger.

… Unless Chi-ji was not aware of the hate between Wrathion and the red dragonflight.

Anduin hoped it was the former.

“You can ask her her name when she gets here,” Amber grumbled. She seemed to have taken Anduin’s silence as him being displeased not with the info, but the lack of it. “She’s quiet.”

Anduin jumped from his reverie and tried to snuff out his surge of anxiety. He focused back on the sniper. “Oh – yes, I will.” He smiled at her. “Thank you for doing this.” Anduin’s smile turn wry. “I’m glad it let you leave the beach.”

Amber smirked, then nodded. “Me too. Let’s just hope that -”

“Here!”

Anduin startled. Sully had appeared behind Amber; he grinned wide, his face dirty with soot, just like Amber’s. “Sorry ‘bout the delay. The guards at the stairs were all grumbly ‘bout ‘er.”

Sully was here, and that meant so was the red dragon. Anduin swallowed, his heart quickening. From the corner of his eye, Anduin noted Left staring at him intently.

Anduin smiled, too, at the dwarf. “I hope they weren’t too rude,” he said. The dwarf laughed.

“Oh, no! They’re jus’ real huffy. An unhappy an’ suspicious lot.” He noticed the two guards flanking the sides of Anduin’s door. “… Sorry, lads.” The guards said nothing.

Amber looked to the side where Sully stood, then nodded not to the dwarf, but to someone else unseen, hidden by the wall. She looked back at Anduin. “Alright, kid. We’ll leave you to your introductions and healing. Our work’s done.” The agent rolled back her shoulders, then looked down at Sully. “Let’s go. He looks too impatient.”

She turned and disappeared beyond the hallway, her footsteps heavy.

“Thank you, Sully,” Anduin said. The dwarf nodded.

“Eh, sure! Was a fun venture. Good luck to you an’ yer sickly friend, lad,” he replied with a coy grin.

Anduin thanked him, and the dwarf took off after Amber, his quick footsteps muffled against the stuffy stone walls.

A quick hello and goodbye, but Anduin expected that from the SI:7; they were all duty and forwardness, with no time to waste. And with their mission over, they were probably needed elsewhere… like explaining to Marshal Troteman where they’d gone off to.

The prince took a steadying breath.

Besides the two guards, the dragon was alone outside.

He glanced at Left. Left stared back. Her hand was tight on the trigger.

Anduin looked back over his shoulder at Wrathion. The dragon was pushed up against the headboard, his back flat against it, as his eyes were trained on not Anduin, but the doorway.

After all the Black Prince had gone through in the past days, Anduin dearly hoped that this would end well. He sent a quick prayer before turning back to the door, bracing himself.

The dragon didn’t appear at first.

“Hello?” Anduin said, wary. “It’s alright. You can come inside.”

The moment the prince spoke, the dragon moved into view.

She was tall, even taller than the two guards; her skin was a muted, pinkish red, and her hair a bright crimson. Around her entire frame was draped a near-silk red robe, embroidered with curling golden cloud serpents. Even from the two feet away she was standing, Anduin could feel the shimmering heat coming off of her. Where Wrathion smelled like smoke and spice, this dragon’s scent was an odd mixture of the heady smell of blooming flowers and the smokey spark of a flame, reminiscent of the cinderbloom petals Anduin had gathered from the storeroom.

The dragon looked down at Anduin curiously. Her eyes were orange, but did not glow.

Anduin stared at her.

He realized he was gawking. The prince smiled quickly, mustering all of his royal training to display confidence and politeness to mask his anxiety.

“Hello,” he said again, this time less nervous, but more welcoming, which was more like him. The dragon had a kind, but oddly intense, face. “I’m Anduin Wrynn.”

The dragon smiled at him, gently. “Yes, you are.” Her voice was pleasant, but strong.

Anduin tilted his head.

He waited for the dragon to offer her own name, but she continued to keep looking at him, as if waiting for Anduin to continue.

The prince cleared his throat. “Thank you for coming here. My- … friend… is very sick, as I’m sure the SI:7 let you know. It was Chi-ji that told me to seek you out.” His tone was calm and kind; he needed to make this dragon comfortable in the Keep, though she looked it already.

If this dragon had come all the way from the Temple of the Jade Serpent to Lion’s Landing to heal a stranger, Anduin thought, surely she couldn’t be hostile. Some dragons, he knew, often thought little of the mortal races, thinking them lesser beings. Anduin hadn’t told the SI:7 who he was trying to heal; the dragon standing in front of him may as well be expecting to heal a mortal.

Yet still, she’d come. It was reassuring.

At least that’s what the prince was trying to tell himself.

The dragon nodded once, slowly. “I was told of a terrible sickness. I am glad to help however I can.” She cocked her head to the side at a slight angle and regarded Anduin thoughtfully. “I know you as a gifted healer, Anduin.” She was speaking to him as if she’d known him for a very long time. It was only then that Anduin noticed how… ancient the look in her eyes looked, how deep and knowledgeable her gaze was.

… Who was she?

“What is this sickness you cannot heal?”

Anduin hesitated, nervous.

He had to introduce Wrathion now.

Anduin tried hard not to look at Left, whose crossbow was aimed at the door and directly at side of the dragon’s throat. The dragon seemed nice, he told himself again. Maybe she’d stay nice once she realized who she was healing.

“Here – come inside, first.” He moved back a couple of steps. The dragon entered the room, graceful in her movements.

Left closed the door the instant the red dragon made it inside with a quick hit of her heel.

Anduin gave the orc a hard look; she wasn’t exactly being subtle, and the prince was well aware that the dragon might not take kindly to having a crossbow aimed at her, which only made the situation a trite more dangerous than it might turn out to be. But the Blacktalon wasn’t look at him; her eyes remained trained on the dragon.

The Red turned her head to look at Left. Anduin watched, his jaw locked, his hands tense at his sides, as the dragon’s eyes drifted down to the crossbow, then back up to the orc. Left looked back, emotionless.

“I will not harm anyone,” the dragon said. “There is no need for your weapon, mortal.”

Left said nothing. Anduin glared at her, but the orc did not look at him, still.

The dragon looked back at Anduin. Her kindly but serious expression hadn’t changed. The prince allowed himself to relax; she didn’t seem to be aggravated by the threat. Anduin hoped it was because she wanted peace -… and not that she was powerful enough where a mere crossbow could not harm her.

The Red raised a brow, expectantly. Anduin realized he was still standing in front of Wrathion.

“Oh!” He said, a bit too loud. “I’m sorry. He’s here.” The prince shifted his body so that he was no longer shielding Wrathion from sight, but turned so he was at the side of the Red and facing the Black Prince.

Wrathion was still pushed up against the bed. He looked like a cornered animal, with his pupils dilated into the smallest slits and his eyes wide, and his mouth turned back, threatening to become a wobbly scowl. But try as he might to look threatening, he looked ridiculous shivering in his cocoon of blankets.

Anduin side-glanced the red dragon. He found himself wishing to summon a smiting spell in his hands, just in case – but he shook the thought away. No. He would not be like Left and be overly hostile to ensure ultimate caution. This would be presented with peace in mind, and if it became a worse threat, Anduin would react accordingly.

The Red’s eyes drifted to Wrathion.

Her orange eyes narrowed.

Anduin stiffened. His free hand curled into an anxious fist on its own accord.

The two dragons stared at each other for a long, tense moment. The air in the room, light and briny from the ocean wind that came in warm through the open window, shifted, growing heavier with the weight of danger. Wrathion’s shoulders were taut, his defensive stance unchanging.

The red dragon, though, did not seem hostile – she seemed… surprised.

For a moment, the dragon did nothing. She simply stared at Wrathion, studying him.

“The Black Prince Wrathion,” she said, breaking the silence. Anduin bit back a grimace; she had recognized him.

Hesitant, Anduin nodded, just as Wrathion spoke.

“And you are?” Wrathion asked. It sounded like he was trying to sneer but it came off as shaky and unsure.

She approached the bed without answering. Behind him, Anduin heard Left’s crossbow shift with a clink as the orc’s hand tightened on the trigger. The prince followed the red dragon, moving himself so that he was at the head of the bed and his body leaning slightly over it, protective in his stance.

The red-head studied Wrathion again, looking down at him. Her expression was unreadable. Wrathion glowered back weakly. His chest lifted and fell with a quickened pace.

Wrathion was nervous. Of course he was, Anduin thought – it was the Red Dragonflight that had experimented on the dragon’s egg, and the Red Dragonflight that had tried to control him. Had the last time Wrathion had seen a red dragon was when one had come to kill him?

It was no wonder, then, he looked so defensive, how his chest rose and fell so quickly. Anduin found himself not blaming the Black Prince for acting like this.

Anduin let go of his cane and sat on the bed, his knees folded underneath him and his feet hanging just over the side. He put a hand on Wrathion’s tense but quivering shoulder, comforting but firm in his grip.

The prince put his head close. “She’s going to heal you, Wrathion,” he murmured. “Shes’s not going to hurt you; I’ll make sure of that.”

Wrathion’s eyes flicked over to Anduin, almost accusatory in his look, before he glanced back at the red dragon, who was watching the two princes curiously.

“If you want to get better, you need to relax. Please.”

“I will ‘relax’ when I know who she is, thank you,” Wrathion whispered back, a hiss to his words.

“I will not harm you,” the red dragon said. Anduin leaned his face away from the Black Prince, and his hand fell from the dragon’s shoulder.

“I hope you’ll be unsurprised when I say I don’t believe you,” Wrathion retorted.

“You doubt me.”

“Of – well, of course I do!” Wrathion said. He stared at her with an expression of open, almost exaggerated, disbelief. “You red dragons have been nothing but enemies and assailants to me. That is reason enough.”

The red dragon smiled. There was a sadness at in the corners of her eyes.

“I understand; I do not blame you for your discomfort at my presence.”

Wrathion stared at her, his eyebrows sloped downward.

“Uhm – yes,” he said. Wrathion was expecting more of a confrontation, judging by his confusion at her answer.

“But please, allow me to see what ails you, young one,” the red dragon said. “Then I shall explain. May I take your arm?” The red dragon asked. She still seem unfazed by Wrathion’s wariness, and there was an air of motherliness to her, kind and gentle.

Wrathion shook his head.

“Wrathion,” Anduin said, annoyed at the Black Prince’s lack of cooperation. They finally had someone who could heal him, and Wrathion was deciding to be stubborn because of grudges.

“It’s alright.” The blond prince turned his head to the older dragon. “He does not trust me still.”

“He’s only being -”

The red dragon raised a hand to interrupt the blond. Anduin found himself closing his mouth without much thought. Something about the way the dragon spoke and moved was authoritative, even to the Prince of Stormwind.

“I will try to gain your trust, Black Prince.” The dragon looked at Wrathion seriously. She bent her head, but did not break eye contact. “I did not share my identity with the young human prince, but I will share it now. I was once called many names; I have lived a very long time. Some called me the Life-binder.”

Anduin stared at her. His eyes went wide, and his mouth went agape without him realizing it.

He, like everyone, knew about the Aspects: Nozdormu the Timeless One, Kalecgos the Steward of Magic, Ysera the Awakened -…

She… she couldn’t possibly be -

“… You’re Alexstrasza,” he mumbled, disbelieving. “You’re the Aspect of Life.”

The dragon’s ancient eyes, her air of motherliness…

One of the remaining Aspects was sitting on Anduin’s bed in Lion’s Landing right across from the son of Deathwing.

This had escalated very quickly.

Chi-ji recommending her made sense, now. Out of all of the dragons, they’d found the Queen.

Anduin stared, gawking again, and not realizing he did so.

Alexstrasza smiled at Anduin, though it did not reach her eyes. “Though I am still Alexstrasza, I am Aspect no longer.” She looked at Wrathion. “I would wish you no harm, Black Prince. I only wish to heal you, so that Life may find you again.”

Wrathion had nearly the same expression on his face as Anduin did. His eyes were wide and his face slack with surprise – but he quickly composed himself, his face a wobbly mask of his usually confident one. The dragon twisted up to a better sitting position so he looked more upright, and straightened out his shoulders, though Anduin could tell even those slight movements caused him pain by the way his lip curled back. He was trying very hard to look more dignified.

“Oh, how charming. The Queen of Dragons has decided to pay her creation a visit.” Wrathion said, bitter. His voice shook slightly. Anduin thought it was from his disease, but by the way the Black Prince’s eyes were dilated, how his mouth was set in a thin, tense line, he couldn’t be sure.

The tension in the room began to rise.
Anduin thought quickly. A red dragon was bad enough, considering Wrathion’s history with them, but – Alexstrasza? Anduin could still hardly believe that one of the Aspects was in his room, like she’d just walked out of a page in history and made herself comfortable in reality.

“Have you run out of your loyal little children to send on your errands, Alexstrasza?”

Wrathion added, when the red dragon said nothing. Anduin gave him a warning look. He wasn’t making the situation any better.

“I was sought out personally, though I do not think they realized who I was,” Alexstrasza responded. She was unfazed by Wrathion’s taunts, like a mother might be to a child’s whining. “I did not know I would find you here.”

“Here I am. Now go away.”

“She’s going to help you!”

“This doesn’t concern you, Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion snapped, without taking his eyes off of the Life-binder.

Anduin knew Wrathion was nervous. He knew the grudges he had. He knew what the Red Dragonflight had done to him.

But the Prince of Stormwind was about to let the dragon be stubborn in not accepting help from one just because he couldn’t look passed that.

“I don’t think she -”

“You don’t know what they’re like,” Wrathion interrupted. “Everyone thinks Reds are honest and genuine and kind – but I know better.”

“I am not here to hurt you, young one. I only wish to help. Allow me to show my good faith by seeing what ails you.”

Wrathion narrowed his eyes.

Alexstrasza reached out.

Anduin held his breath. Wrathion didn’t move as the former Aspect pulled aside the thick covers. The great red dragon paused as she caught the motion of Wrathion’s shaking. She tilted her head, contemplative, before looking at Wrathion’s right arm before outstretching her hand. Surprisingly, her hand, which had been hidden beneath the thin robe, was clad in an iron gauntlet of reddish purple, tipped with golden claws.

Alexstrasza pushed up his sleeve. Wrathion continued to watch her.

Anduin was honestly amazed he hadn’t yelled at her – but if he thought it… really, what could the Black Prince do himself in this situation, other than to snark and to whine, which he’d stopped doing now? Left had the crossbow aimed on the red dragon, anyway. But with the Alexstrasza so close, Wrathion, apparently, thought that staying still, like he was either a viper ready to bite or a mouse freezing in the eyes of a cat, was the best option as the elder dragon surveyed him.

Alexstrasza placed her hand on his skin.

She stayed like that for a moment before taking her hand away, nodding to herself.

“Do you know what it is?” Anduin asked, anxious, his grip tightening on his cane.

The Red nodded. Wrathion’s defensive expression didn’t change. He was as still as he’d been when Alexstrasza had leaned forward, as if he’d grown so cold he’d simply frozen there with the glare on his face.

“Can you heal him?”

“Yes.”

“Well? What is it, Life-binder?” Wrathion asked, snootily. “I’d like to know what’s trying to kill me.”

The dragon either didn’t pick up on the Black Prince’s attitude or saw and didn’t mind. She smiled at Wrathion patiently, motherly, with her look.

“I am surprised you do not know – but then I am aware you have not met many of your kind.” She began to pull of her heavy metal gauntlets. “We are different than humans, Black Prince, and so our kind is affected by those diseases which do not harm the younger races.” She set the gauntlets off to the side of the bed. The great dragon tilted her head, considering. “Allow me to give an example – the red pox on the planet Draenor would not harm dragonkind… but to mortals, it was a devastating disease. Do you see? Even viruses, who strive to end Life, evolve as Life does, to find their quarry.”

Wrathion stared at her, his eyes lidded. Anduin, meanwhile, looked at Alexstrasza with open interest.

“I hardly see how that answers my question of ‘what is it,’ Alexstrasza,” Wrathion said, enunciating her name slowly, with a tinge of mocking there in his tone. Anduin shot him a glare.

Alexstrasza stared at him. Wrathion stared back, but started to look uncomfortable when the red dragon didn’t say anything after a long moment. He cleared his throat and broke his gaze.

“I will explain. This virus has taught itself to feast on a dragon’s inner energy, as a parasite might feed off of the energy from any organism. Mortals know little of its existence… dragons do not like admitting weakness,” she smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. “You find yourself in such a chill because of this disease. All dragons share different powers, but all have the heat of the flame in their hearts. It is this heat the illness feasts off, and I am glad to have come when I did; it has been a very long time since I have seen it this severe. It is close to eating the rest of your energy away. Death is very close to you, young one.”

“Wonderful.” Wrathion shifted his shoulders around. “I would like to be healed if I’m about to die, if you are really intending to just ‘help me.’” His words oozed sarcasm and animosity.

Alexstrasza only nodded. She turned to Anduin.

“I must ask you to leave, now.” She looked back at Left, too, who hadn’t moved and whose crossbow was still aimed on the Aspect. “You, as well. This disease is simple to heal, but it will take time, and the room will become uncomfortable for mortal bodies.”

Anduin frowned, confused, but interested. “Why?”

Alexstrasza smiled patiently at him. “I may no longer be Aspect, but my flame still heals. I do not wish for either of you to be hurt against the fire when the room superheats.”

The prince blinked. “You -… you’re not going to set my room on fire, are you?”

Alexstrasza smiled again, amused. “No. But for your own safety, I must ask you to leave.” She must have noted the hesitance in Anduin’s eyes. “I will not harm your friend.”

Anduin glanced down at Wrathion. Alexstrasza seemed kind enough… but it was not her he was worried about. He was worried about Wrathion being alone with her, and worried about how comfortable he would be with that.

“Are you okay with that?” Anduin asked. Wrathion was squinting suspiciously at Alexstrasza.

“I… Yes. Go away,” Wrathion looked unsure at first before his brows tilted down in annoyance. “I do not need you worrying over me like a mother hen, Anduin Wrynn. I will be just fine.” It sounded like he was trying to reassure himself, now. Anduin paused, unsure, and Wrathion gestured his head to the door, insistent.

“My Prince?”

Wrathion looked back at Left. His brows furrowed. He looked at Alexstrasza. “I would feel much better if my guard here might be able to stay with that wonderful crossbow,” he said.

Alexstrasza was unfazed by the vague threat. “I am sorry, but no.”

Wrathion made a whiny, grumbling sound in the back of his throat. “Very well. Left, accompany Prince Anduin and make sure he doesn’t trip over himself.”

Anduin glared at him, then looked at Alexstrasza. “Are you sure I can’t stay?”

She smiled apologetically. “I am sorry. It is too dangerous.”

“Honestly, Prince Anduin. I can take care of myself,” Wrathion interrupted.

Anduin hesitated – then relented, standing up and grabbing his cane. Maybe the Black Prince wanted the air of confidence back, despite how uncomfortable he was in the presence of Alexstrasza. Maybe he wanted the independence.

Wrathion was looking at him intently. Anduin looked back. There was a level of understanding; Anduin sighed and nodded.

“Alright. I’ll be outside. Left, you may want to stealth,” Anduin added. “The guards -”

The orc disappeared before his eyes. The prince smiled, then looked back at the two dragons. He swallowed.

Wrathion would be fine, he told himself. Anduin would be right outside the door, anyway, and if something did go wrong…

No. He couldn’t think so negatively.

“Be nice,” Anduin said with a grin.

Wrathion rolled his eyes.

Anduin turned and left the room, closing the door behind him, trying to calm his nervous head and heart.

—-

Wrathion’s eyes did not leave Alexstrasza as Anduin left the room.

The Black Prince had decided that this nightmare was only becoming worse in order to test his level of misery.

“If you are going to try to capture me and drag me back to – wherever you’re hiding, do so quickly so that I can call my Agents on you, in turn,” Wrathion said. All pretense was gone, now that the prince of Stormwind was. He looked at the former Aspect with open distrust and disdain, his clawed hands curled.

How could things have possibly gotten any worse? What god had he angered? What lord of karma had decided to crush his face in? He’d hardly done anything wrong.

First there’d been the lovely surprise of finding he had not been the last black dragon. Then he’d gotten a charming surprise visit from his elder brother, who had smashed him into a fine pulp. Then he’d been tortured and demeaned and had been forced to lose his composure. Then he’d been as helpless as he had been in his egg because of his terrible injuries. Then he’d gotten sick. Then he’d been corrupted by the Sh-

No. Wait. He couldn’t let himself remember that part of his worsening month.

His chest, his stomach, curled at the mere thought of the memory of the Sha; the despair, the overwhelming sadness, was a ripe scar against the back of his eyes, dark and sinister. The slashes he’d given himself when he had been in his crazed state began to pulse with ghost-pain, even though they’d been healed the previous day.

No. He couldn’t remember the Sha.

Anduin had thought the dragon had been sleeping the entire day yesterday - and though Wrathion had slept part of it, he’d pretended to sleep for the rest, just so he could avoid Anduin’s worried looks and prodding questions. He did not want the prince to bring up what had happened again, as Anduin had brought it up in the Black Market Auction House.

Wrathion wanted to forget that it ever happened, even though the memory would not go away fully, try as hard as he might.

And he wanted to forget the voice he had heard, that rumbling, ancient, terrible voice…

No – he could not remember that. He forced the memories away before the dull panic came back.

But even then, with those memories gone, shoved in the back of his head, he was dealing with something unpleasant happening right in front of him now.

Because, just as his situation couldn’t get worse, it did, and the leader of the Flight he so hated was sitting on the side of his bed and watching him.

Of course it couldn’t be a regular dragon. Oh, no. It had to be the Queen of dragons.

The fact she was sitting in front of him was absurd in itself. Was this actually happening, or was this a very bad and realistic nightmare?

Wrathion continued to glare at her as he struggled to find what Sabellian had called his “unending pool of confidence,” and clung to the edge of it when he managed to muster some of it from his blurring thoughts. But even then, his quickly rising and falling chest belayed what he didn’t want the red dragon to see – his fear.

The dragon hated the Red Dragonflight for they did to him.

But, even if he would never admit it to himself, he was afraid of them.

They were the ones who had captured him from his mother. They were the ones who had made him feel such overwhelming pain in the egg. They were the ones who had intended to raise him and cage him like a specimen behind a cage to do what they pleased to him, to take his freedom, his independence away, to make his life a huge experiment.

But he had Left outside, as well as Anduin, and even the Alliance guards. Alexstrasza couldn’t be dull enough to try to barge out of here with him and not expect retaliation. That was calming, at least…

But still, it didn’t calm him fully. His aching muscles were flexed, tense. Once he dealt with this… problem, he would yell at Anduin Wrynn for being so irrevocably stupid.

Alexstrasza regarded him calmly. “I am only here to heal you, Black Prince. Nothing more.”

Wrathion scoffed.

Alexstrasza said nothing. Gently, she leaned forward and grabbed his left hand, pulling it over the blankets and closer to her. Wrathion’s body stiffened, wary.

“I will use my fire to burn away the disease. I must pull these blankets off; you will be cold, but I do not wish to burn them.”

Wrathion said nothing.

Why did she seem so… genuine? When was she going to let down this act? The red dragons were hers. It had been the former Aspect that had made them experiment on his egg, and the former Aspect that had sent her children to kill him after he’d proven to unruly to control. She had been the orchestrator.

“Do not try to move often as I begin the process.”

She still wasn’t dropping the act. Wrathion stared at her, blatantly confused now.

“Why are you helping me?” He blurted, just as smoke had begun to curl from Alexstrasza’s mouth. “It was your Flight that made and tried to destroy me! You should -” he floundered for words - “Shouldn’t you be trying to put me in a cage somewhere?” He said, bitter and angry.

Alexstrasza looked up at him. Her calm expression didn’t even flinch.

“I am helping you because I feel guilt and responsibility for the pain my Flight caused you,” she said quietly. “I hope saving you now may show you the apology I was never able to say to you before.”

Wrathion had not been expecting that answer.

He stared at her, openly baffled. It sounded like she actually meant it.

“I see,” Wrathion said, slowly, his sudden anger gone. Wrathion shifted, awkward. She wasn’t even trying to argue with him; she knew what her Flight had done was not easy on him. He grew annoyed. “And you think blowing some… magic fire will make me forgive you.”

Alexstrasza shook her head. Her warm hands had become burning hot against Wrathion’s cold skin on his forearm.

“No. I am not foolish enough to expect that,” she said. “But I hope it alleviates the distrust you have in me.”

“One favor won’t make me forget,” Wrathion snapped, his voice tripping over the hoarseness in his throat. He scowled at himself, annoyed by the weakness, before continuing. “Your Rheastrasza stole my egg from my mother and experimented on me. Do you know how much pain I felt? I -”

He stopped. Wrathion had never spoken this out loud to anyone, not even in depth to Anduin, besides a brief mention of how the Reds had created him through experimentation.

But he’d never told anyone about the pain he remembered, a pain like being ripped apart and stitched back together again, forcefully, surgically, and without the slightest emotion, as if he was just flesh to be manipulated like the scourge did with their abominations.

Wrathion, in his nightmares, felt like a monster. He recalled, closing his eyes to compose himself for a brief moment, how he’d sobbed about being an abomination to Anduin, there on Mason’s Folly, as he spat his deepest fears and doubts to the prince.

He forced the memory away again as he opened his red eyes and fixed on Alexstrasza, who watched him, frowning.

“I cannot imagine the pain you went through. But we did what we must. It was for the greater good.” Her orange eyes became somber. “I do not wish to justify your experience, but where would you be now, if my daughter had not done what she did to save your Flight from the taint?”

Wrathion hesitated.

He knew where he’d be. If his mother had not been in her prison, if he had hatched tainted – he would be among the piles of bones of his other brothers and sisters, nameless, unworthy, corrupted.

“… Yes, well,” Wrathion grumbled, “that doesn’t make up for how you didn’t like how your precious little prize ended up too disorderly for your liking and you decided the best option would be to simply kill it, Life-binder.”

Alexstrasza’s eyes flickered.

“I did not order your death sentence, Black Prince.” She pushed back some of the blankets. Wrathion began to shake harder as they came off. “I may have been the leader of the Red Dragonflight, but I couldn’t change the opinions of all of my children. They are my blood, but every dragon has their own mind.”

Wrathion raised a brow.

Alexstrasza continued. “When I sent Rheastrasza to the Badlands, I did so in secrecy. Deathwing was engaged in other matters for his Cataclysm, too deep in his plans to notice one of my children grabbing one of his own.” She looked up, sad. “Your mother.”

Wrathion forced his expression not to change.

“Rheastrasza made Nyxondra lay eggs, then took them from her. It was not something I wished to do, having been subject to something so similar to that, myself. But we hoped to find some cure, there in those children.” Her hot hands flicked with red flame at the tips of the claws. “When Rheastrasza succeeded – with you – and sacrificed herself for your well-being, it was I who announced you to my children. Many were angry.” She sighed. “They did not trust what I was telling them; the Black Dragonflight, as they knew it, was irredeemable. They wanted to crush your egg, to be done with your kin forever.” The great dragon shook her head. “I would not let them. We were the Guardians of Life. It was our duty to protect Life, to nurture it. What guardian would snuff out an entire species, if it had a hope?”

Alexstrasza smiled at him briefly before she grew somber again. “Then the rogues stole you. My son came back with broken legs.” She eyed him.

“My apologies,” Wrathion drawled without sincerity.

She looked at him critically before continuing. “It was then those who had wished to destroy you in the egg began to grow angrier at your insolence. I did not see it at first; I was occupied with the assault against your Father. But once he was defeated, and our powers gone, I learned where a handful of my children had gone to and did not return from. They took it upon themselves to kill you, Black Prince. It was not under my command, but I still find myself responsible.”

Wrathion didn’t say anything for a long time. He was looking down now, his brows furrowed.

“You still wished to control me,” he said, breaking the silence that was only permeated by the gentle crackling from the fire at Alexstrasza’s hands. “Don’t sit there and pretend you trusted me fully, Life-binder.”

“Yes. I was wary. We all were, I must admit. We wanted to be careful, to make certain that you would not fall into the corruption your Father -”

“I am free of his corruption,” Wrathion interrupted. “I did not need to be raised, still an… an experiment because it was your duty.”

Alexstrasza moved suddenly. Wrathion tensed. Her hand rested on the side of his face. Her eyes were kind and sad and serious, and her touch hot but strangely comforting. For a brief moment, a broken memory of the same feeling shifted in his mind, a memory of instinctual warmth in the dark against something great and protective, but it spun away, forgotten.

“Nothing I will say will take away what happened to you, and I know you will always feel hatred towards my race,” Alexstrasza said. “But remember my apology, Black Prince, and know I am truly sorry for your suffering and the prejudice my children showed you.”

Her hand fell away. Wrathion blinked.

What was he supposed to say to that?

The Black Prince only nodded once, sharply, at a loss and confused about the tenderness she was showing him.

“Now, please. I must heal you. The virus grows stronger even as we speak.” Her tone had shifted; no longer did she sound purely sincere. She sounded authoritative, but not in a harsh manner.

Wrathion nodded again. His head was numb, the wirings inside tangled as he tried to make sense of everything Alexstrasza had just told him.

Alexstrasza pulled back all of the blankets, now.

“Your wounds are fresh,” she noted, after taking in the now-faint scars of where he’d be cut, where he’d been slashed and bruised and everything in-between.

“Mm.”

Her thin brows bent. She shook her head, and her hands sprung with flame, enveloping the entirety of them, coming to rest at her wrists.

Wrathion wasn’t afraid of the fire. It didn’t hurt him.

“So. You’ll be ‘searing it away,’ hm?” He asked, unnerved by the silence between them.

Alexstrasza placed her burning hands on Wrathion’s arm. The moment the fire touched his cold skin, his freezing muscles there underneath jolted. His shoulders jumped from the surprise of the sudden relief from the cold.

She really wasn’t playing around with him.

“Yes. An easy concept. As I said, I have not seen in this severe in a very long time. Dragon fire is what cures the virus – but when infected, it is hard for a dragon to breathe their flame, which is why it is so dangerous. Have you tried a flame during your sickness?”

“Well – no. I was… otherwise engaged with my… other wounds.”

And with the Sha, but he didn’t want to remember that.

The Life-binder only nodded. “You would not be able to.” She paused, considering. “Hatchlings are often the most susceptible, but their mothers are usually there to burn it away.”

“Oh.”

“I believe you have much to learn about your own kind, Wrathion,” Alexstrasza said, not unkindly. The Black Prince squinted at her, suddenly suspicious as she used his name for the first time.

“I know enough, thank you,” he said with sure indigence.

Alexstrasza hummed in the back of her throat. She didn’t argue, but Wrathion could tell she didn’t believe him.

How much do you know about dragon culture? You’ve been alone, haven’t you?

Wrathion scowled. Sabellian had pointed out his lack of knowledge, too, in the Kun-lai cave.

Alexstrasza began moving her flaming hands down to Wrathion’s hand, her pace as slow. Wherever her hands hovered, the fire flicking brightly underneath, Wrathion’s skin warmed, gathering in heat until it was healthy again. Already the forearm of his left hand was simmering with his normal draconic heat, and though it wasn’t even a quarter of his body, the relief was lovely. His body leaned just slightly towards the left arm, craving that same heat, and the Black Prince sighed; he was content for that fleeting moment… until he wished Alexstrasza would just hurry up already.

“How long will this take, exactly?” He asked.

“A while. Be patient.”

The air was shimmering with the heat; Alexstrasza had not been lying when she said the room would become hot.

“Ugh. Yes, alright,” he mumbled, looking away and up at the ceiling.

Wrathion’s eyes half-closed as the flames continued to flicker up and down his left arm as they scorched out the clinging disease there and heated his flesh in the process. He felt his strength returning; his sunken chest, which was still healing its broken ribs, began to thrum, low, now, with the returning energy. The dragon’s lips drawled up in a lazy grin.

Well. This had gone much better than he’d expected. Something about how Alexstrasza the Aspect of Life – former Aspect, he had to remind himself – sitting in the same room as him and not trying to rip his head off with her teeth or barring him in a cage but helping him hadn’t exactly… clicked yet in his mind. He was in a vague sense of disbelief.

He frowned. He lifted his head up from the pillows to look at her. By then his left arm was searing with that precious heat, and the red dragon’s flames were at his left shoulder now.

“Why are you on Pandaria?”

That hadn’t even crossed his mind before.

How hadn’t his Agents caught on that the Red Dragonflight’s Aspect was on this continent, either? Granted, Wrathion himself had never actually seen Alexstrasza before -him not realizing who it was when she walked in was evidence for that alone – but still. It was the concept of it. He should have known about this before she waltzed into the room-…

Though then again, he’d been a bit… busy with his own problems.

“Seeking guidance,” Alexstrasza explained, without looking up from the Black Prince’s shoulder. “The Celestials are as timeless as myself, but their wisdom has not been heard in ten thousand years, and I found myself in need of their words.”

“You sought guidance.” Wrathion almost laughed at the thought of an Aspect who had been around since before the mortal races even drudged up from lesser creatures or were cursed with Flesh seeking… help was amusing.

Alexstrasza had been there to see the Titans with her own eyes, she was so old! Oh, he envied her.

Perhaps he could… ask her about them once this was over, he thought. He was excited just thinking about it. He wondered what they were like. He knew what their language was like. He knew he found their lovely little toys remarkable. He knew they were apparently obsessive about putting every single little security protocol on every little one of those toys, which was infuriating – but if he could know what they were actually like -

“I am not below asking for help when I need it,” Alexstrasza said, interrupting his racing, excited thoughts. “We cannot do everything on our own.” She finished healing his shoulder, and moved to his chest. “I am sure you know that.”

“I can come very close to doing things by myself,” Wrathion huffed.

“I suppose the young prince waiting outside is of little use to you, then.” Her orange eyes flickered to him, and she smiled a small smile. A knowing smile, Wrathion noted, with growing annoyance.

“He helps. Sometimes.”

“I see.”

Wrathion shifted in the bed, now thoroughly annoyed. “Enlighten me about why you needed help,” he said, hoping to change the subject.

“You must learn respect, young one,” Alexstrasza said, her patient voice stern and warning. “I wish to help you, but I will not be talked to like anything less than what I am.” She looked up from healing his chest.

Her eyes, once gentle, were intense and narrowed, warning him.

Wrathion felt himself deflate. The dragon’s shoulders sank, and he bit his lip; he felt very small in her ancient gaze.

“I sought help because I am unsure what to do with myself,” Alexstrasza said, once Wrathion had sunken back into the pillows at her gaze. She softened again; it was as if her scolding look hadn’t even been on her face. Wrathion relaxed. “We former Aspects have lost the powers that have been with us since the older ages. The Dragonflights break apart. Dragonkind finds itself lost. Even now, I do not know where the other Aspects have gone. We must learn to live in this mortal world.” She lifted one of her hands against her headband, and two gentle curls of smoke lengthened from the metal, stretching outwards, until they solidified into large, elegant horns of silver, banded with golden circlets. “I do not even wear my horns, nor my formal outfit, for they stand too noteworthy.”

Well, he thought. That was ridiculous. He almost said as much out loud, then remembered the scary scolding look she’d given him and thought better of it.

Wrathion frowned. What else was he supposed to say, then?

“… Ah,” he said, lamely.

It went quiet for a time. Alexstrasza healed his chest, then moved to his right arm.

“Where did you come by such injury?”

“An unfortunate turn of events.”

Alexstrasza didn’t say anything as her flames curled around Wrathion’s upper arm.

Her eyes rose. “I ask because this disease is passed only from dragon to dragon.”

“… Oh.”

The former Aspect looked at him questionably. He cleared his throat. He was not going to tell her about Sabellian. He did not want anyone to know he wasn’t the last black dragon other than those who already knew. He couldn’t allow that title to leave him, despite its falseness. The dragon clung to it.

“How odd,” Wrathion said, then smiled an innocent grin. Alexstrasza kept staring at him.

But Wrathion said nothing else. He looked back up at the ceiling quickly so he could avoid her look.

“Yes. Very odd,” Alexstrasza mused. The flames went near the cast, but did not burn it.

Uncomfortable silence stretched out between. Wrathion stared at the ceiling again.

So, he thought. Apparently Alexstrasza didn’t want to cage him.

Again he mused how this was all very better than he had expected.

His thoughts kept drifting to what Alexstrasza had said. So, she hadn’t wanted him destroyed – that was vaguely uplifting, though she had still wanted to control him.

And she’d ordered the experiments. Even if he would be dead now with his brothers and sisters, he wasn’t sure if he could ever forgive the pain they’d caused.

No – he would never truly forgive her. She’d been right; no words she could say could erase what had been done to him.

Why did he find the need to say something, then?

He frowned, annoyed at himself. He owed Alexstrasza nothing.

But the tense silent was overwhelmingly awkward. How much time had passed when they’d spoken? Twenty minutes? A half hour? More?

Wrathion looked at her. He locked his jaw, opened his mouth, then closed it again.

“I… appreciate Rhea’s sacrifice,” Wrathion forced himself to say when the words didn’t come at first. Alexstrasza paused, and her red-orange eyes locked on his crimson ones. “If that means anything to you.”

Alexstrasza stared at him. Wrathion’s throat tightened. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. He felt very stupid. Why had he said that -

“She cared deeply for your well-being. I am glad you do not hold your full hatred towards her, at the very least.”

The Black Prince startled as she spoke.

The two dragons looked at each other.

They looked away, then, Alexstrasza at her flames, Wrathion at the ceiling, but the tension in the room had shifted into a more comfortable silence.

The Black Prince wondered what had goaded him to say that. He sat there confused.

Maybe Anduin’s kind tendencies were rubbing off on him. He scoffed beneath his breath. Ridiculous.

Even so, the once-awkward silence had settled into a comfortable one with the exchange. Wrathion’s draconic heat was buzzing, familiar, against his skin. The sound of the waves crashing on the beach drifted from the open window, and Alexstrasza’s flames popped and crackled.

And as the healing process wore on, the Black Prince felt just a bit more relaxed in the company of the Life-binder.

—-

“The disease is gone.”

Wrathion grinned.

He was sitting upright in the bed, the blankets and some of the plush pillows pushed off to the side in a heap. Alexstrasza pulled her flames from Wrathion’s right leg, the last place that had remained the former Aspect had to heal as the hour had slugged on. With a gentle crackle, the flames in her palms evaporated; as they died, so did the shimmer from the heat in the air, and the room’s pressure leveled.

Wrathion felt wonderful.

The dragon stretched out his left arm – his right hurt, of course, still in its cast – and twisted it back and forth, then waved of his fingers. There was no shake, no quiver, no amount of cold in the flesh, and the only ache that he felt was the ache from his fight with Sabellian and from the possession of the Sha.

His grin widened.

“Do not move too fast,” Alexstrasza warned, as Wrathion turned in the bed and placed his bare feet on the floor, intending to stand. “You are still weak, though your energy has been returned.”

“I am fine,” Wrathion insisted. His voice was normal, back to its usual confident tenor. “Two feet on the floor won’t wound me.”

He stood – then his knees shook. Intense dreariness swept down from his head. He lurched forward with an undignified yelp. Alexstrasza stood just in time to hold him in place, her hands on his shoulder. She eased him back down into a sit, though he did resist much besides glaring at the wall.

His stomach twisted and contracted. It grumbled.

He was starving.

“That is why you are so weak,” Alexstrasza said with an amused smile. “But I am glad to have helped you, Black Prince. Life has found you again.”

“I expected nothing less, of course,” Wrathion replied. He stretched his left arm high above his head and groaned contently at the popping of his spine and the relief of his muscles. He held his cast arm close to his chest, and he rolled back his shoulders as he came down from the stretch.

“I would think your friends are worried for you.”

“What? Oh. Yes.”

Alexstrasza moved as if to open the door.

“Wait. Allow me.”

Alexstrasza opened her mouth – probably to point out he just tried standing, and couldn’t. Wrathion did not give her the chance. He quickly shifted into whelp form and hopped from the bed. It was much easier with four legs than two.

Satisfied with his cleverness, he trotted over to the door, though his gait was still taxed and the effort obvious. Wrathion shifted again as he got to the door, then leaned hard against the wall. He shifted around once, trying to make himself look more comfortable, then opened the door a crack.

Anduin was sitting against the wall, his legs outstretched with his cane laying against his knees; his head was bent backwards, and he stared up at the ceiling with lidded eyes. The two burly, armored guards still flanked the door, but Wrathion ignored them.

“Anduin Wrynn,” Wrathion cooed, smirking. “You can come back inside.”

Anduin jumped and his head snapped back forward. His blue eyes focused on Wrathion, momentarily confused – then a grin lit up his face. The prince grabbed his cane from his knees, and waved off the two guards who went to help him, standing on his own. Wrathion took his hand off the door. He left it open as he leaned his back on the wall to keep himself upright. How did Anduin deal with the problem of standing upright constantly?

“Excuse me,” Anduin said beyond the door, probably to the guards, then eased through the crack Wrathion had left open and closed it behind him.

Anduin saw Wrathion against the wall and his grin widened. “You look – better!”

“Your eyesight is as sharp as always, prince - though that’s not saying very much.”

Anduin didn’t rise to the tease. He looked over Wrathion; a low hmm hummed in the back of the prince’s throat.

Anduin outstretched his hand and placed it against the dragon’s neck. His grin returned.

“Much better,” Anduin said. Wrathion’s smirk widened. He was very pleased with the attention. Anduin’s hand didn’t come off of his neck.

“He will still need to rest,” Alexstrasza said behind them. Anduin blushed and snatched his hand away from Wrathion, then turned to face her. How quick he was to compose himself, Wrathion noted, as he had noted many times before.

“Yes, and I’m starving.” His knees were starting to shake from holding his tired body up so long, even though he was leaning against the wall.

Anduin noticed. “Here. Let’s get you back in bed and I’ll have some food sent over.”

The prince slipped his arm around the dragon’s waist and hauled him from the wall. Wrathion got his balance and allowed Anduin to walk him back the brief steps to the bed. He sat down hard, the bed squeaking.

Anduin leaned forward. Their faces were close; the blond prince smiled. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he whispered.

“As am I, dear prince.”

Anduin stood straight again and turned to Alexstrasza. “Thank you.”

The former Aspect nodded. “I am glad to have helped how I could.” Her eyes drifted to Wrathion. “I hope you remember what I told you, Black Prince.”

As if he could somehow forget.

But Wrathion nodded, hiding back the sarcastic comment that threatened to fall from his mouth; he didn’t want Alexstrasza to scold him like a child again, as she had before, and he did not wish for that to happen in front of Anduin.

Wrathion had had enough shame and embarrassment to last the rest of his lifetime in this passed week. He didn’t need anymore.

The dragons looked at each other silently. Alexstrasza bowed her head to him. Wrathion may have known much less than he liked about dragon culture, but he knew that that was a symbol of respect.

He hesitated – but he, too, bowed his head, his thick black hair falling against his eyes and forehead before he straightened back up.

They had nothing left to say to one another. Alexstrasza smiled, and Wrathion just stared at her, his face a mask.

Alexstrasza nodded to Anduin, but not with the bowing of her head.

And, just like that, with no goodbyes, she turned and disappeared beyond the door.

Anduin looked confused.

“Did I upset her?”

“Dragons aren’t very good at the normal mortal charms of hellos and goodbyes. Except me, of course.”

Anduin raised a brow. “Of course.”

“Now, about that food -”

“Wait. I’ll be right back.”

“I didn’t even say what I wanted. I’d like three mushan stea-”

“I’m not getting you food. Just – stay there.”

Anduin grabbed his cane and left the room so quickly that Wrathion didn’t even have time to ask where he was going.

He rolled his eyes. Mortals were so strange.

“You are unharmed, My Prince.”

Wrathion glanced over as Left shimmered into existence on the opposite end of the room. He grinned.

“So I am.”

“I take it Alexstrasza was not as hostile as you believed?”

The Black Prince went to run his right hand through his unruly hair, recalled it was broken and, annoyed with the inconvenience, used his left to push the bangs out of his face, though they fell back against his eyebrows anyway.

“She was – fine enough,” Wrathion mumbled. “I believe we came to an… understanding of sorts.”

Wrathion felt a bit giddy. He was healed, he had faced the leader of the Red Dragonflight, and -

He’d forgotten to ask Alexstrasza about the Titans.

Wrathion made a groaning whine and fell back against the bed, glaring at the ceiling.

—-

Nasandria was exhausted.

The last day had been strenuous on her; her reconnaissance flight had shown that the Badlands was larger than she previously anticipated, and flying the perimeter of it had taken up most of the first day. Frustrated with the size, unable to answer her doubts of how she was going to find anything in this barren place, she’d continued on anyway once arriving back at her starting place, though had stayed away so she wouldn’t be able to see the bones.

And, with her reconnaissance over, she’d begun to search.

The drake had searched through the ruined town on the hill near the dragon skeletons, and had found it to be abandoned, though littered with the insignias of the Horde -… but she had found nothing else of interest concerning the Black Prince, besides other bones of centaur-like dragonkin, with the four legs of dragons but the torsos of something vaguely human, ending with a dragon head. Dragonspawn, she recalled, though remembered little about them.

But she’d pressed on, despite that lesser discovery. Like the bones of Wrathion’s mother, they answered nothing, and only served to show that much death had happened here.

But mile after mile of searching, flying low to the ground, the dirt racing beneath her as the sun sank lower, she’d grown increasingly frustrated. Finding the skeletons had been a lucky, if not macabre, start; but now, in this desert, how was she supposed to find the key to Wrathion’s lack of corruption?

And so the first day had come to a close with bitter frustration, even though she searched deep into the night and had tired herself in the process.

But no magic clue had appeared, and no mystical arrow pointing her in the right direction. Her flight was aimless, and her search fruitless.

What was she supposed to do? Dig in the sand? Put her snout to the dirt like a hound and search every line of sand, every crack of rock?

So, bitter, she’d fallen asleep late, giving up that day’s search, and had woken late, not very happy she’d only covered not even a quarter of the Badlands in her close search the day before.

At least, Nasandria thought, she was looking forward to one thing today. The devastated Horde town had been one place of interest, and during her overview flight, she’d tucked in the back of her mind other places besides those ruins that seemed promising, such as the goblin town up on top of one of the higher mountains.

Because complain all she liked about the futility of her search, it was easy to spot things on the flat, monochromatic ground.

At least, on most of the Badlands’ ground. She flapped her wings. Now she flew over the one place that had taken her by surprise in her first flight and one place she wouldn’t be searching.

Below her, where it ran right through the center of the Badlands, was an awesome scar of black, burnt earth; the sides of the long ditch, which stretched on for miles, swept up in droves of plated earth, resembling frozen waves. In the deepest point of the trench, angered rock elementals tumbled to and fro, and thin veins of lava scored across the ground. Though it was the early afternoon, and the sun was high, a perpetual smog encompassed the atmosphere of the scar and blocked out the light.

Nasandria glanced down at it now as she made her way across. The heat that emanated upwards was comforting to her aching muscles and bitter thoughts.

It certainly was out of place in this desolate landscape, as were the flat, black mountains she had seen in the distance on her arrival here, which ended up flanking this enormous trench. She wondered what had caused it -… perhaps her grandfather’s cataclysm.

The smoggy haze began to clear as she made her way passed, and the warm sun was soon bright against her dark scales. The earth’s trench became distant behind her.

She wished she could have stayed there longer – it reminded her of the pleasantness of the Gorge – but she had work to do, however futile it was.

Nasandria lilted down, her wings folding only just, to get closer to the ground. A small group of hills grew up closer as she made her way through the bumpy plains, tilting back and forth with ease to avoid the cacti and bony trees that protruded portly from the rock.

She flew for a long, quiet five minutes before her frustration, which had ebbed back from the scar, began to flow into the front of her mind again, sour. Shouldn’t she have found the place by now? It’d been small from above, but surely she should have seen it by now.

Nasandria rounded the black flat mountain, flying hard -

And a blur of metal appeared in front of her around the curve.

With a surprised shriek, she shot her claws out and managed just in time to stop her body from completely ramming into the contraption. Her talons found purchase on the hot metal, and the device lashed forward hard at the impact of the drake with a creak. Nasandria waved her wings wildly, trying to find her balance as it swayed back and forth before stilling.

She looked down, scowling. It was a turret of some kind - a cannon. Its many layers of rust and disuse was sure evidence for its growing age.

It groaned again, louder, insistent. The drake jumped off before the cannon collapsed in a heap of metal junk.

Nasandria shook out her front paws, which had sustained the brute of the impact and stung numbly because of it, and glared at the pile while the dust settled about it. She checked to make sure the bag at her neck was unharmed; it was fine.

What had a cannon been doing in the middle of this valley, flanked only by small mountains? Nasandria looked around, her mood fouler, as she placed her paws back down. Mortals were very -

“Oh!”

Up ahead, shoved up against the side of the hill she’d just flown around, was the remains of a small camp – just the one she’d been looking for.

Nasandria smiled brightly, smoke curling from her nostrils, and made her way over.

She wished she’d re-discovered it differently, of course, rather than pummeling herself into a turret, but…

The drake rounded around a tiny ditch, fenced off with rotting rope, before growing closer to the camp.

It was less remarkable up close. Three cloth tents sat pitched in a semi-circle, though all three were collapsed, shrunken in on themselves, save for the largest one, whose front was held up by a petrified, stubborn piece of wood; all of the tents’ cloth was eaten away by the elements and bleached by the sun. Closest to Nasandria was a pathetic cloth overhead which tilted, missing one of its wooden spokes, and leaned forward like a kneeling horse. Underneath the overhand was an overturned table, scrap metal, and other assorted things the drake couldn’t quite make out, halfway hidden beneath collected dirt.

Nasandria’s mood worsened again. It’d looked promising from up above, but on the ground, it was just as abandoned as the Horde outpost at been – but what had she expected, really? This whole place seemed abandoned; the only mortals she’d seen were the goblins in their town on the mountain.

No matter, though. Every place could be something worth looking at. Maybe it would take a while, but she would find what had cured the Black Prince, even if it took too long for her liking.

She shifted into mortal form; her dragon form was too large to maneuver around in the small encampment. Nasandria rolled her shoulders back, her spine popping gratifyingly, before putting her thick black hair up.

She went under the overhead, first, and, leaning, brushed aside the dust from the hidden objects. They were nothing – just a hidden lantern, the remains of a ruined flag, some bits of curling gears and screws.

Nasandria straightened and crossed her arms. She swept her foot out, brushing up the dirt slowly; the lantern’s delicate glass shattered at the gentle pressure of her heel. The drake rolled her eyes. Nothing beneath here.

She ducked and went out from underneath it into the center of the camp. Nasandria wondered why all of this hadn’t been packed up, or why the items hadn’t been stowed away. The people who had been here must have left in a hurry.

Three more tents to look through. Nasandria ground her teeth.

She searched the first two slowly, pulling up the collapsed, rotting cloth that fell away like wet paper in her hands. The minutes rolled by, the sun rising, as she looked, eyes focused and alert to slits. She swept at the dirt inside, peered into the cracks hidden by the cloth – she even overturned the cloth itself, as if she might find something woven into the fabric.

But the first two tents proved fruitless.

Grumbling, she let go of the heavy cloth of the second tent in her hands and watched it fall, limp, to the ground. Dust bloomed up underneath it.

“One more tent,” she murmured to herself, turning. “Then perhaps I can do something useful and worth doing instead of this stupid search like hunt -”

Something cracked softly beneath her feet. She stopped and looked down, head tilting.

There was only the ground. She frowned. What had she stepped on?

She tilted her foot and nudged back at the dirt with the tip of her black boot. There was something smooth there, something not just part of the ground; as she gently brushed the dirt away, a dark grey appeared amongst the red, spotted -

Nasandria narrowed her eyes. Her foot stopped.

She would recognize that color and pattern anywhere.

The drake knelt immediately, fast but careful not to crush anything with her knees, and bent over what she’d uncovered. Delicately, with the very tips of her hands, she smoothed out the remaining dirt from the object and slid it from underneath the fine dirt.

It was the remains of a thin shell. She turned it over in her hands – and jumped. On the inner side, where there should have been a fiery red, was instead a thick, oozing black. She almost dropped it when she realized it wasn’t just the color – it was an entire layer of unhealthy goop, frozen.

The drake swallowed. She was vaguely reminded of the blackness that had seeped from Talsian’s mouth.

She touched it with the tip of her claw, and found it to be squishy, akin in feeling to the soft underbellies of the crust bursters back on Blade’s Edge. She pulled her hand away, and part of the ooze slunk back from the egg shell, clinging to her finger.

Disgusted, she dropped the egg shell and slid her hand over the ground, the coarseness ridding her of the ooze.

Nasandria stared at the egg shell. The cold bile she’d felt upon seeing the skeletons on her first day was threatening to tickle at the back of her throat. That was a black dragon’s egg, but what was… that ooze?

She glanced at where she’d pulled the fragment from.

What else was here?

Her heart hammering, she began brushing at the ground again, her movements careful but quick. Something in the back of her mind was curling backwards, as if it didn’t want her to continue, didn’t want her to see anymore – but she had to. She’d found something. What it meant, she didn’t know, but -

Her thumb brushed over something harder than the loose sand. Nasandria snapped her eyes in the direction and hurriedly unfolded the dirt there.

Dark grey, tiny claws appeared beneath her hands. She hesitated for a mere moment – but continued soon after. Bit after bit the dirt and sand was brushed aside and soon revealed a small skeleton that had been hidden right there in the ground.

Nasandria stared at it, her hands hovering. This hatchling was smaller than the ones she’d seen by Wrathion’s broodmother.

But that wasn’t what she was staring at. What she was staring at was how it had been ripped apart.

An entire wing was gone. A forearm had been ripped off. One of the hind leg’s feet was gone as well, and half of the tail, too. A handful of the ribs had been carefully plucked away, and even some of the spikes along the spine were missing. Other miscellaneous bones were absent: half of the hip, a chunk of vertebrae from the spine, some of the teeth and the little talons, and even the end of one of the horns.

And what remained was a hapless pile of bones that still managed to look like a whelp, if not a desecrated one – and along the remaining bones was the same thick, petrified ooze that had been on the shell.

Nasandria stared at it. The cold bile in her throat was gripping onto the back of her tongue now.

She took a deep breath to steady herself, willing back the air in her lungs to sweep out the spots that were beginning to prickle at the back of her eyes out with her exhale. It worked, somewhat, but her hands were shaking.

Gently, she brushed back the ooze from where the forearm had been ripped off, revealing the cut underneath. The drake squinted. It had not been ripped off, it seemed – it looked like it’d be seared off. The cut at the elbow was precise, surgical – and where it had been cut was a gentle, cauterizing scorch mark of dull black-red.

Nasandria let go and wiped the ooze from her fingers again, mechanically.

What was she seeing?

Swallowing hard, breathing deeply once again, she glanced back at the demented egg shell, then back at the whelp. The whelp was not freshly hatched, and so couldn’t belong to the egg shell. They were two different things.

Where had the rest of the whelp’s limbs gone? Why were they… burnt off?

Suddenly she wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to know. She rose to her feet, her knees trembling, the dirt sticking to her leather pants. The Red Dragonflight was not looking so gentle and great, anymore.

Her hands drifted to her satchel at her waist-… but dropped again. She’d only found more clues, not an answer, and Sabellian probably wouldn’t want to know anything besides an answer. She could already hear him chiding her.

She rubbed her arm. Her eyes had not left the whelp or the egg shell.

Was this… cure really worth it, if this was connected to Wrathion at all?

Her eyes tore up from it. It had to be. What else could it -?

Nasandria narrowed her eyes. Up ahead, gently blurred from the sun’s reflection on the ground, was an enormous ditch, sloping inward from the northern side. The drake leaned forward, standing on the tips of her toes, to see what the ground was hiding. It looked to be some sort of huge marble slab, decayed by age - but she could see nothing else.

She looked at the whelp and egg again, then back up.

Something hidden in the ground – that seemed to be a recurring theme in her search.

More wary than excited at the next clue, she bent and brushed the dirt back over the pile of bones and the egg shell, hiding them away again.

She shifted into drake form and made her way to the excavated hideaway.

—-

“Prince Anduin, return to your room.”

Anduin glanced back at the soldier at his door.

“I won’t be going downstairs. I only need to speak with the visitor that just left.”

From the corner of his eye, down the hallway, he could just make out the tall, lithe form of Alexstrasza; her silken robe shimmered as her gait slowed to a stop, and her head turned back to glance at the prince, her hands clasped in front of her.

Both guards looked over at the dragon, then at Anduin. The one who had spoken grunted, the gave a quick nod.

“Make it quick.”

“Thank you.”

He turned, vaguely annoyed at the guards. The hallway before him was, thankfully, in better condition than it had been the day before. While the scorch marks remained, burned across like a comet against the left wall, the dent marks and the complete hole through the stone had been quickly patched.

The tapping of his cane was loud against the quiet; the prince couldn’t even hear the beach because of the thick stone walls. Alexstrasza watched for a moment, still and regal, reminding Anduin of the ancient Kaldorei statues, twisted to grow into the bark of the great trees, he’d seen in Darnassus.

The dragon moved towards him. Anduin stopped, relieved he didn’t have to limp the entire way over. They met in the center of the patched hallway. Alexstrasza’s hands remained folded in front of her, hidden by the long, open sleeves that trailed elegantly down in excess red silk. The stitched golden serpents on her robe had their eyes on Anduin.

Anduin glanced around her at the other duo of guards at the stairs, then back at the two at his door. They all stared straight ahead, but he knew they were watching and listening.

The prince looked back up at Alexstrasza; he almost had to crane his neck to meet her orange eyes. They regarded him calmly, without the slightest hint of impatience.

Anduin found himself just… staring at her for a moment. He’d met other ancient beings – the Celestials – and individuals of older races – Velen – but even then he felt awed at the sudden realization of just how ancient Alexstrasza was. Civilizations had lifted and died in front of the eyes that watched him now.

Anduin cleared his throat and shook out his shoulders. He could think about the gravity of their meeting later, when things were less important.

“I wanted to thank you again for healing Wrathion,” the prince said. His voice was low, understandable enough to be heard but quiet enough so that the guards couldn’t hear. “I know he can be… difficult, but I’m sure he appreciates it too.” He knew Wrathion well enough to know he hardly said “thank you” unless it was in jest.

Alexstrasza bent her head in a gentle nod. “I was glad to.” Her eyes searched Anduin’s. She wasn’t smiling, but she didn’t look unkind. “But I am sure you did not come after me if it were just for that.”

Anduin nodded. He glanced down as he thought how to word his thoughts, and also trying to brush away the feeling Wrathion was going to like having this information shared.

The prince glanced back up. “I don’t suppose Wrathion shared how he got those wounds.”

Alexstrasza shook her head.

Anduin shifted his weight once; his eyes didn’t leave Alexstrasza’s. All he had to do was say the words – but why was he hesitating so much? He frowned at himself, took a deep breath, and spoke.

“Dragons from Outland came and tried to kill him,” Anduin explained, his voice raising in pitch just the slightest amount. Alexstrasza tilted her head in interest. “They were Black Dragons, though. They weren’t nether drakes.”

Alexstrasza stared. Anduin waited for her to flinch, or to grimace, or to growl, or – well, something.

But the expression on her face didn’t even move.

“… Isn’t that… I don’t know, surprising?” Anduin asked when Alexstrasza didn’t say anything. This was confusing. Alexstrasza’s eyes flickered. “They weren’t just drakes. The one who tried to kill Wrathion is a son of Deathwing.”

Alexstrasza face finally twitched into motion, like she’d previously been in a trance. Her thin brows tilted downwards, and she frowned, but only just.

“They are from Outland,” she repeated. Anduin nodded.

Why he did have the suspicion she already knew this?

Her eyes looked off to the side, contemplative in their look.

“I thought you’d be more taken aback,” Anduin admitted. Alexstrasza didn’t smile. “Doesn’t everyone think Wrathion’s the last black dragon?”

The former Aspect nodded. “We did. However -” Her eyes drifted back to Anduin. “It is strange, about Life. When one tries to destroy all traces of it, it reappears, like the flower in the soot of a burned forest, or like the phoenix from the ashes.” She sighed. She sounded very tired.

“You knew Wrathion wasn’t the only one,” Anduin said.

“I had my suspicions.” She smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. “Try as we might to annihilate Deathwing’s corrupt race – for their good, and for Azeroth’s good – I knew that even we could not see everything; we could not see in all the hiding places of the world.” Her smile fell. “I had hoped my suspicions were wrong, but I have seen many things to know history would repeat itself. Things that are thought to be dead have risen again. When the last deer is hunted from the forest, the wise hunter knows that, at one point, the deer will return. Life is the strongest force in our world, young one, and does not give up easily. It is unwise for those who underestimate it.”

Absurdly, Anduin’s immediate thought was that of the Lich King, who had be conquered by the living in his strive to end Life itself. He nodded. He knew as much.

“But now you have confirmed my suspicions.” She nodded to herself. “Who is this son of Deathwing?”

“His name is Sabellian.”

Her eyes lit with recognition. “He is one of Deathwing’s eldest.”

“You know him?”

“I do not know him personally, but I have heard his name, and the ugly history that follows him.”

Anduin bit the inside of his cheek. Now came the hardest part to explain.

“I – well, I think the Old Gods have forgotten about him.”

Alexstrasza eyed Anduin oddly; now she looked caught off guard.

“We – Left and I, the orc – rescued Wrathion from Kun-lai. I saw Sabellian. He didn’t seem insane.” He remember the eyes, orange and angry, but level, not shattered like the gaze of Onyxia.

Alexstrasza’s gaze was sharp. He felt uncomfortable.

“I don’t know how he is, but he’s uncorrupted. At least for now. But I’m telling you all of this because we really need your help.”

Because Sabellian was still out there in Pandaria somewhere. Anduin was honestly surprised they hadn’t seen him again; what could he possibly be doing? Of the brief time he’d seen Sabellian, he doubted that this son of Deathwing would give up so easily. At any singular moment, Sabellian could attack; Anduin was comforted by the fact they were in an enormous Alliance fort, guarded by all the soliders and all the Alliance champions they could ever hope for, but if they had an Aspect – even a former one – to help…

“I know he’s going to come back for Wrathion -”

“I cannot help you.”

Anduin blinked. He furrowed his brows in confusion. “What?”

Alexstrasza, for the first time, looked distant. “I was once a Guardian of Life, but I am no longer. It is not my place anymore to meddle in the affairs of dragons that are not my own kind.”

Anduin stared at her. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“But you just saved Wrathion’s life -”

“Because it was my flight who put him through such torment, and I am glad that I had the chance to help him in some way.” She shook her head. “But with this, I cannot help.”

“So just because you lost your powers, you can’t help anyone?” Anduin’s voice has risen; he didn’t notice. The prince tried not to glare, but this was – this was just… how could Alexstrasza not do anything? She and the other Aspects had battled Deathwing, had been the ones to declare war on the Black Dragonflight during the start of the Cataclysm. Why couldn’t she help with this? Because she just wasn’t the Guardian of Life anymore?

Alexstrasza watched him with a leveled glance. “You do not understand the extent of the powers we had, young one. As the Guardian of Life, with my powers, it was my duty to maintain the Black Dragonflight, to stop its destruction, as it was my duty to help my other kin that were not of my own Flight. Yet my powers are gone now, and with it, all the duties I ever had.”

Anduin drew himself upright. “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t make any sense. Maybe your powers made who you were, but can’t just… give up on everything because of that.”

“You are unknowing of how our powers truly defined us; you see things through a mortal’s perspective. Dragonkind is different now after the Cataclysm. We cannot guard the world anymore and must learn to live in a mortals’ world.” Even though Anduin was being borderline argumentative with the former Aspect, the red dragon’s tone was as patient as ever.

“I don’t think Wrathion knows that,” Anduin said, a bit too snappily.

Alexstrasza’s eyes flickered behind Anduin’s shoulder to the room the Black Prince was in before they looked back to the prince. She smiled a humorless smile. “No. But he is very different than the rest of us.”

“Kalec is helping Jaina,” Anduin pointed out. His anger was starting to deflate into desperation.

“Kalecgos was not an Aspect for as long as the remaining three of us. I am glad some dragons are finding their place among helping mortals, but it is different for my sister, Nozdormu, and myself.”

Anduin knew, then, he wasn’t going to get anywhere with Alexstrasza. His shoulders sagged; he sighed, and nodded his defeat. Sour disappointment curled in his chest.

“Alright. I’m sorry to have questioned you. But -” he rose his eyes to her again. “Maybe you should look at the loss of your powers through a ‘mortal’s perspective,’” he said with a vague smile. “… If you’re going to live in a mortals’ world, as you said. Because I think this world will need a bit more protecting soon.”

Alexstrasza studied him.

“You are very special, Anduin Wrynn,” Alexstrasza said after a moment’s silence. Her eyes drifted back to the door, then at the prince once again. “You have a very wise soul.”

Anduin only looked back at her.

“I am sorry I cannot help your friend anymore than I already have. But I will think on what you said.” She placed her hands on his shoulders; her radiant heat, somehow different that Wrathion’s, curled against his blue cloth and into his muscles, comforting. “I wish you luck. Truly.”

Her hands fell, as did the comfort that they offered. Anduin bowed his head to her, and the former Aspect did the same.

Anduin watched her go.

—-

Nasandria stood in front of the large marble archway.

She was flanked by dull jade pillars; the entire building that stood before her was half-way hidden by accumulated sand and dirt, rising up like a tide and sweeping down to reveal the entrance way she stood before now. Large broken slabs of the marble were littered behind her, etched with designs long worn away by age.

But Nasandria stared ahead, wary.

If this didn’t have something to do with the Titans, she wasn’t sure what would, here in this lonely landscape.

She curled her hands into fists then relaxed them again, her fingers stretching out. The cold hadn’t left her since she had gone from the abandoned encampment with the shell and the whelp. She tried to ignore it. She couldn’t be weak now; she had a job to do, especially now that she might be about to uncover something.

Nasandria, carefully, made her way inside. The sun’s glare vanished as the drake, in her human form, walked into the hall, sloping down the dirt until it finally disappeared to reveal stone patterned tiles on the floor. Broken pottery lay shattered in the corners of the small entrance room. The ceiling was high. Inside, it was dark, lit only by the dying light of the sun behind her.

Nasandria paused. The ancientness of this place – there was a tug deep in the center of her chest. She shook her shoulders back and tried to brush away the feeling. It was eerily familiar, and the sense of mightiness was inherent in the vaulted ceiling, the great pillars…

And in the huge red golem that stood in front of her, just passed the second archway that led into the central chamber.

Nasandria flexed her hands, cautious, and went inside the main room, her eyes not leaving the golem. But it looked inactive, standing giant but quiet, its crimson surface dented with shattered impact marks and scratches and bruises, its arms outstretched in front, its ugly molded face glaring at nothing.

Her back was slightly hunched as she rounded around it. She poked it. It didn’t move.

Something skittered passed her feet. She startled and rounded, baring her teeth -

The little scarab scurried away and hid beneath a crack in the floor.

Nasandria growled, annoyed, and relaxed again. She put her hands on her hips and looked around.

A quarter of the western wall had been caved in; dirt and sand had poured through, overturning pottery and breaking down pillars. An archway opened up to another separate room to her right; she decided to search that after she was done with this main hall.

Nasandria moved down the two steps, making her way to the northern end of the room. Behind the red golem was a jade one, their backs facing one another; like the red giant, it was scarred with battle marks. Half of its stone face was missing.

Runes were at the bottom of the jade golem’s platform. Nasandria tilted her head. They were beautiful to look at, lilting but authoritative in their bold strokes – the language of the Titans.

And she could understand them.

The runes seemed to rearrange in her head, becoming as clear as any spoken word: The Warden.

She straightened. Wardens guarded things.

Nasandria looked around again. This was looking more hopeful. Her wariness began to give way at the anxiousness prickling at the back of her neck as her heart quickened.

Her eyes stopped. In front of the the Warden, a fine layer of dust on its flat top, was a large stone chest.

Nasandria went to it quickly, her boots stomping muffled on the stone floor; the silent sound echoed in the silent, forgotten building.

She brushed the dust from the top. More runes appeared when the dust had been cleared.

The Eye of the Watchers, they read.

Excited, Nasandria went to open it, her clawed hands finding purchase beneath the mouth of the chest.

She heaved it upwards – or at least tried to. It wouldn’t budge.

Scowling, she tried again, placing her heels hard on the ground for leverage. Her shoulder shook as she pushed again, and her teeth bared-… but still the chest didn’t open. It didn’t even move an inch, or even a centimeter.

Nasandria hissed and dropped her hands, her shoulders and upper arms quivering slightly from the strain. She could almost feel the Warden’s eyes on her back, mocking her.

She wasn’t about to have come this far only to have some stupid Titan chest bar her from finding her family’s cure, if this was even it at all.

Nasandria knelt. Her hands traveled, searching, around the chest, as her eyes raked over its surface. It was lightly decorated with blue and gold swirls, but she ignored the nice decoration in favor of the other runes she found etched, nearly worn away by time, in the stone.

She squinted hard, trying to understand them with their damage. The scuttling of the scarabs she’d seen earlier scratched around her in the quiet, ancient room.

Eye of th———-

—- Ward——-Senti—-

Eona——activat——

Protocol: Reor——io-

Nasandria hissed through her pointed teeth. The runes might be proving to be too damaged to make sense out of.

Her fingers drifted to the mouth of the chest again. There, almost hidden in the shadow of the upper lid, was a small rectangular jade label, crusted over with grime.

Nasandria scrubbed the grime away. Runes revealed themselves.

Open.

“Open?” Nasandria repeated, disbelieving. “Yes, I tried to open you, you stupid thing! What kind of rune is that? ‘Open!’” She snorted. “That’s not much help.”

The chest sat idly at her yelling. The drake hissed again and straightened from her kneel.

“Well, go on. Open.”

It sat silent.

She tapped her foot, crossing her arms. Nasandria flicked her eyes back down at where the rune “open” had been. An idea sprang.

“O-..pen.” The Titan language was awkward on her tongue as she repeated the rune’s word, but strangely familiar, just like the same feeling she’d had upon entering this old place. How she could even understand the language, or even speak it, made little sense to her, but she was glad for the help.

Something shuddered behind her. She turned, startled.

The Warden was moving – but hardly. It’s outstretched arms were shaking; green pebbles fell from the hinges at its shoulders, and its blocked head leaned forward against its torso. Its knees were locked. It was trying hard to move; its whole body was shuddering and shrieking with the unpleasant sound of rock sliding against rock.

Nasandria backed up a step, fire curling into one of her hands. The chest was at her back.

The Warden took a step forward, reaching out his arms. Rocks fell from the ceiling, but missed Nasandria by a good five feet. They fell to the floor with a clamorous banging.

But the Warden, after its first step, could not move forward again. It lurched, awkward, straining -

And then collapsed into a broken heap.

The red golem behind it shuddered once, then went still. It did not move otherwise.

Nasandria grinned as the echoes of the Warden’s collapse died against the walls. She thanked whoever had given the golems their previous battle scars and breakage, which was apparently too much for them to fight a second time.

The chest rumbled at her back. She turned to face it, surprised.

With a groan, the heavy lid opened. Dust plumed back as it slid off, falling down the back.

The drake’s breath shook. She steadied herself – or at least tried to, despite her heart’s rapid beating – and looked inside.

Resting on a velvet pillow, that looked untouched by time, was a golden sphere. It was shiny and bright, without the slightest marring to is smooth surface.

Nasandria frowned. This wasn’t what she’d been expecting.

She picked it up anyway, holding it in both hands. It was slightly heavier than it appeared, but the drake could hold it with ease.

Nasandria turned it around, looking for something of value. Was this what Wrathion had whimpered about? She frowned deeper, disappointed. How had a golden sphere fixed him, if this was what had fixed him at all? Her thoughts traveled to the whelp and the egg shell. How did those fit into this puzzle? And where did the Red Dragonflight, for that matter?

One of Nasandria’s fingers brushed against the surface, and something gave way underneath her touch – like a button.

She grinned. Nasandria retraced her finger’s path and found the button again. It was seamlessly integrated into the smooth surface, and so was difficult to see. Finding it again, she pushed it, excited, her wariness about the whelp and egg gone.

It sprung to life in her hands. A glow emanated from the sphere, and it lifted, hovering, into the air. She watched, fascinated, as it spun slowly; the glow started to reshape itself, become linear and patterned, creating a delicate, cage-like shape that surrounded the golden artifact. It began to hum, and the surface of the sphere lit up with spotlights of white; the gold turned into a dark bronze.

“Boot-up protocol completed.”

The mechanical voice emitted from the device, emotionless. Nasandria gawked at it.

She stared at it for a solid, quiet five seconds before she shook her head hard to snap her focus back. Her chest was taut with anticipation.

It floated in front of her, as if it was waiting for her to say something.

“Uhm – continue?”

It hummed once, louder.

“Scanning for objective.”

A thin, wide light shot from the orb. It rotated around once, searching the room, before it fell on Nasandria. The beam swept up and down her body, leaving vaguely uncomfortable tingles where it landed.

The light shut off abruptly. Nasandria blinked.

“Anomaly detected.”

The drake scowled. “What does that -”

“Probable source: Azerothian Old God.”

Nasandria’s words fell down her throat. Oh.

She shifted uncomfortably. Why did she feel… surprised at the device’s words? Her family was cursed -… except that brat, of course. A growl rumbled at the back of her mouth.

Nasandria paused, then.

If it detected her corruption – could it get rid of it?

Was this little globe what had cured the Black Prince?

Her mouth went dry; her pupils dilated to slits.

“I found it,” she muttered. The beginnings of a disbelieving grin twitched at the side of her mouth. “I found it.”

The machine beeped once, then resumed its hum. “Error: lack of viable material. Objective unable to be processed. Continue with sub-protocol?”

It was asking her.

Nasandria tilted her head. What did ‘lack of viable material’ mean? Her initial excitement dulled in her chest, but only slightly.

“Yes, go ahead. Continue… sub-protocol.”

“Warning: attempting to excise anomaly may result in organism malfunction. Error: lack of viable material. User response activated. Continuing…”

Nasandria narrowed her eyes. ‘Organism malfunction?’

The globe gently spun closer to her. She swallowed hard, torn between wanting to turn it off and waiting to see what it did.

If it could cure her, too, then…

The beam that had looked her over appeared again, and flickered up her once more before disappearing.

“Attempting to excise anomaly…”

Nothing happened. Nasandria frowned. The seconds ticked by, and the sphere only hummed in front of her.

The hum started to become louder just as Nasandria began to doubt. The drake braced herself. Her arm began to cramp from the rush of hot nervousness that swept up her body, starting from the tips of her toes to the backs of her eyes, and she shook it out.

An odd heavy feeling scrounged up in her body. She, suddenly, felt as if she was carrying a heavy weight on the tips of her skin, like a hefty oil had been poured along her. Her muscles began to contact and spasm, all of their own accord, and the sludge-like feeling began to coalesce in her left arm, the arm that had begun to cramp. She shook it out again, unnerved.

Her left arm continued to cramp, though. She glanced at it, confused. That wasn’t from nerves. It began to become painful, right at the joint of the elbow.

And in that mere second the pain was not just from the cramping – it escalated into a searing, hot anguish.

Nasandria cried out and struck her arm away from her. The hum of the Eye of the Watchers only became louder, and louder, and the pain continued to become hotter and angrier.

The whelp – how its body parts had been seared off -

Nasandria understood then – but too late to tell the Eye to stop.

Terrible pain sliced across Nasandria’s elbow, stinging and aflame. The drake shrieked and tore herself back, stumbling behind herself, her eyes ablur with spots of white as the pain engulfed her.

She came to mere seconds later, her head ringing with the agony, her eyes and mouth wide – and saw that her left forearm had not moved with her. It hovered, bodiless, in the air for a moment before crumpling to the ground. Black ooze secreted from the skin’s pours, ooze like those on the whelp’s remains and the egg shell.

Nasandria stared at it. Her head – her head was ringing. She began to shake. Was that – was that her arm?

She glanced down at her left elbow – and saw her left forearm was gone. No blood dripped from the place the Eye of the Watchers had torn her forearm off, only a cauterized stump.

Nasandria lifted her upper arm up, then down, then up, expecting to see the forearm appear. But it didn’t. Her brain finally connected.

Her arm had just been ripped off, and it was laying right there on the floor.

That was her arm.

It had sliced her arm off.

The ringing in her head was a roar now as the shock wore off and the agony at her elbow vaulted up, shooting up the remainder of her arm and clutching to her shoulder, her chest, gripping with stinging claws. She screamed.

“Anomaly excised. Repeating sub-protocol…”

“No! Stop!” She shrieked, panicked, her head still whirling with pain, the place where her arm had just been sliced in two burning. The cold bile rose in her throat, and she nearly vomited.

The same cramping sensation began to layer at her chest.

“STOP! Please!”

Her voice was on the verge of tears.

But the cramping stopped. The loud hum of the Eye of the Watchers dimmed.

“Sub-protocol paused. Warning: anomaly still detected in life-form.”

The drake hardly heard. She was still looking at the cauterized stump. Her head kept ringing. Her right hand hovered over the open elbow. Her whole body shook. Her severed arm lay in a pile of sickly black ooze in front of her.

She screamed again, and it echoed in a million voices against the ancient walls.

Chapter Text

Samia squinted down at Alacian, who sat before her. He was quivering, wings held loose at his sides, and his head strained to keep upright.

They were outside, near the rise that led up into the pale green forests that the Cenarion Expedition once inhabited and long-since abandoned. Below was the valley that the ogres of Gruul had lived in years ago, but where only the packs of raptors and direwolves roamed when the black dragons were not out and about hunting.

But the black dragons were out, and the animals, smart, were nowhere to be seen.

Samia took a claw and propped the whelp’s head up, leaning in her snout to take a closer look. He hiccuped and stared at her with glassy eyes. His scales were cool underneath her paw.

“You should have come to me earlier,” Samia admonished as she let go of his head, which lolled down again to his chest. “How long have you felt sick?”

“I dunno. I didn’t think I was sick.” His voice was hoarse. Samia sighed loud through her nose and sat in front of him, folding her great red wings close to her sides.

“I hope you didn’t make Father or the two others sick before they left,” Samia grumbled. She despised this sickness. It came and went like any drifting disease, usually too weak to cling to the drakes, but often attacked the hatchlings, who were too small to fend it off, or weakened dragons.

But it was a quick fix, though left the whelps tired and hungry afterward. Hopefully Alacian hadn’t been gotten his younger brothers and sisters infected, or else Samia would have a long night ahead of her, burning out all the corruption.

She pulled Alacian forward with a paw.

“Stay still,” she ordered. He scrunched his eyes closed as Samia opened her pointed maw; a thick flame shot from her gullet, trailing harmlessly over the small dragon’s scaled body.

The dragon closed her mouth after a full minute of burning fire. Alacian coughed, then blinked hard. Already he looked a little better, his eyes a bit brighter and his shaking a bit less.

Samia laid down now, and clutched the whelp between her paws. He stuck one of his forearms out, practiced. She started again with a smaller flame, and went limb by limb, purging the sickness.

“This is the second time I got sick,” Alacian grumbled. His head was resting on her forearm.

“You’re young. You get sick easily.”

“I’m not that young,” Alacian argued.

“You’re two. That’s very young.”

“Two is better than one!”

Samia rolled her eyes, but continued the healing.

A quiet ten minutes passed before Alacian spoke again, roused from his dozing.

“When is Father coming back?”

“I don’t know. Soon, maybe.” Samia began to blow fire against the gentle webs of his wings, the last place to burn.

“Oh.” He shifted. “I have another trick to show him. Do you want to see it?”

“You probably won’t be able to do it after this, Alacian. You’ll need to rest.”

“Aw, c’mon.” He shifted around again. “Hey! Do that trick of yours. With the ground.”

Samia sighed heavily, and pulled her head back. “It’s not a trick, Alacian.”

“You know what I mean. The whole -” He proceeded to growl deep in his throat, imitating grinding rocks.

Samia let go of him. The sickness was gone; all that remained would be his exhaustion now that the disease had been scorched out. She decided to humor him to cheer him up.

She placed a paw on the tan ground below and outstretched her talons. From deep within the center of her chest, she felt the earth surge beneath her, as alive as any living thing. She pulled her claws up – and the ground came with her, jutting up against her claw as she stretched it out, jagged and sharp, from its flatness. Samia’s heart began to beat hard at the simple manipulation of earth; she did not do this often. Sabellian usually forbid her to - it was the earth itself that her grandfather found the corruption in, and the ancient art of earth manipulation by black dragons had been forgotten by her corrupted brethren in favor of the destructive forces of lava and fire. She’d only found she could do it on a hunting trip when she’d grown frustrated and slammed her tail into the ground, only for the ground to rise up in turn, like a wave, before sinking back down.

She dropped her claw, and the earth dropped with it, sinking back down with a plop into the ground.

“Why can’t I do that?”

“Because you’re too young. And Father doesn’t want us to do it.”

“Oh.” He huffed. “Well when can I do it?”

“I don’t know.” None of the other drakes in the brood had tried it, too scared of Sabellian’s warnings about what the earth could drudge up.

“Aw. But -”

A heavy beating of wings surged above them, coming from the forest. Samia looked up; Neltharaku was gliding passed.

“Neltharaku,” she called out, and the leader of the Netherwing paused his flight and turned to hover, catching her eye. “You’ll be guarding tonight?”

Neltharaku nodded. “Two of my drakes will be, and I shall be close enough.”

Samia nodded back. Neltharaku had agreed to stay until Sabellian’s return, and they had further agreed on a rotation of guard duty.

Neltharaku turned and continued onward, making his way towards the Circle of Blood, the arena that many had fought to the death in – thus its unfortunate name.

She sighed. Sabellian usually was testing potions near there. It’d been too long since his departure; she couldn’t shake the feeling that something had happened.

But she had more immediate worries to think about.

“Let’s see if you’ve infected your brothers and sisters, Alacian,” Samia grumbled, then picked him up by the scruff of his neck with her maw and made her way down the ravine.

—-

Anduin leaned his head against his hand and watched as Wrathion, in whelp form, stretched out against the open window. The dragon’s tail hung down the side and swung once.

“I can’t believe you ate all of that.”

To the side, in a heap of plates, were the remains of the food that the Black Prince had inhaled – though hardly remained at all saved for smears of sauce and blood against the white porcelain. Not even the bones of the steaks and ribs were left; Wrathion had crunched on those, too, after devouring five mushan steaks and two racks of venison ribs so quickly Anduin had been sure he was going to choke on it all.

“You would do the same if all you had eaten for days was broth, prince,” Wrathion quipped. His wings were sagging down his sides, and his eyes closed; his horned head was tilted towards the window.

“I’m… not sure I would have eaten the bones.”

“Oh, good. I would have gladly taken them.”

Anduin glanced out of the window. It was late afternoon, and cooler and less humid today than it had been in the past week; the weather was almost pleasant. The darkening orange sun was beginning to sink below the far-away canopy of the ancient Wilds, but its glare was directed straight at Lion’s Landing, and Anduin could only watch for a moment with squinted eyes before they began to water from the brightness and he was forced to look away.

“Someone might see you in the window,” Anduin pointed out, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. The Black Prince rolled his eyes with great exaggeration, readjusted his wings and tapped his claws against the stone sill.

“Must you worry over everything?” Wrathion said, before turning his horned head to look at Anduin. “No one will see me.”

“Maybe not.” A small smile crept up Anduin’s face. “Though they may just think you’re a very strange cat if they do.”

Wrathion’s lazy look sharpened into a glare. “I am a dragon. I am not a cat of any variety.” He mumbled “cat” underneath his breath again, grumbled incoherently, then brought his tail up from hanging down at the sill to curl around his body.

“I know you’re a dragon. You’ve reminded me just about a dozen times.”

“Then refrain from calling me a cat, Prince Anduin.”

Anduin sighed loud enough for it to be a reply. Wrathion huffed.

The dragon was doing much better. He’d slept most of the day yesterday, after gorging himself, of course, on a meal as big as the one he’d just eaten. Anduin could hardly believe it’d been a day already since Alexstrasza the Life-binder had been in here. He wondered if she was staying close, as she’d said.

The prince watched Wrathion. The dragon was healthier, but… something was bothering else was bothering Anduin - the Black Prince had not mentioned the episode with the Sha at all. It was like he was glossing over it.

He recalled Wrathion’s outright dismissal to talk about it right after Anduin had purged the possession from him. But that had been immediately after; maybe, Anduin thought, if he tried to ask again, Wrathion would be more open…

But the prince doubted it. Wrathion was hardly ever “open,” even about his own schemes and plots. Something so personal, Anduin knew, would be hard-pressed to drag from the Black Prince.

It was worth a try, though, even though he knew it was going to curdle their good moods.

“Can we talk over something?”

“That depends, Prince Anduin. What do you want to talk over?”

“Something I don’t think you want to talk about.”

“Then the answer is ‘no.’”

The prince hesitated. Wrathion still looked, relaxed, out the window, unbothered by the exchange.

Should he let it go?

Anduin bit down on the inside of his bottom lip. He’d have to be the one to bring it up, or no one else would.

And maybe it’d be good for Wrathion to talk, if Anduin managed to get him to. Sometimes Anduin wished he’d opened up to his father when the king had asked him about the Bell, or about Aerin, or Bolvar, or – or any of the other losses if Anduin’s life. He’d always said no, of course, in order to look strong for his father, but it’d been hard to keep all that sadness to himself.

“With what happened the other day, with the Sha. I know you don’t want me to bring it up -”

“Do you? Good. Then I would advise you to stop talking.”

Wrathion’s lit face darkened as he turned his head to the prince.

Anduin pressed on, despite the glint in the dragon’s eyes as they leveled onto Anduin. “I know you’re just pretending it didn’t happen.”

Wrathion jumped from the window sill and shifted into human form. He looked down at Anduin in his chair with his eyes narrowed. Anduin ignored the offensive position.

“… And I’m not sure if that’s the best way you should be dealing with it. What you told me when you were under the Sha’s influence -”

Wrathion interrupted again. His voice sounded cold and distant. “Everything I told you was nonsense, Prince Anduin, only goaded by the Sha. Forget what you heard.”

“Like how you’re forgetting it, too?” Anduin replied. Wrathion’s sharp look deepened into a glare. The dragon opened his mouth, his lips curling back into a semi-scowl, but the blond prince was quicker.

“The Sha comes from somewhere, Wrathion. There has to be negative emotion, and when it does possess an individual, it just makes those feelings worse.” Anduin’s eyes did not leave Wrathion’s. “I know that wasn’t ‘nonsense’ coming out of your mouth, and you know it, too.”

Wrathion glowered at him for a moment. He drew up his shoulders.

“What? Do you think by making me admit what I said was true will make me feel somehow better? Or are you vain enough to think that you can cure me of those ill thoughts with some cooing words of yours?”

Anduin glared. “I’m not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. But if you keep bottling up those thoughts, they’ll get worse. They’ll eat away at you.”

Wrathion glanced, briefly, at Anduin’s right shoulder; Anduin realized it was the one the Black Prince had dug into with his Sha-twisted claws. The muscle was still painfully sore there.

Before the prince could say anything, Wrathion’s eyes flicked back to Anduin’s, and he scoffed. “I have everything under control, Prince Anduin.” He readjusted his leather sash, almost like an afterthought to distract himself. “Do not bring it up again.”

It was a warning. The two princes stared at one another.

This wasn’t working. Anduin leaned back in his seat and sighed loud through his nose. He should have known better, he chided of himself, to have thought that Wrathion would have admitted what had happened during the incident with the Sha.

At least he’d tried – and at least the argument hadn’t gotten worse.

The prince forced his tense shoulders to relax. He ran a hand over his face, then through his hair, and sighed again. There was no use speaking about it further; Wrathion wasn’t going to talk about it.

“Alright. I won’t.” He gave Wrathion a sharp, lingering look to let the dragon know he didn’t believe what Wrathion was saying, even though Anduin was retreating from the growing argument.

Because he knew the Black Prince was lying, and that Wrathion was lying to himself, too; both were aware that what Wrathion had said during his possession was true, and not, in any variety, “nonsense.”

Wrathion glowered at the look. He turned away from Anduin and, with a great huff, sat down at the plain desk chair, which was turned outward to the room. The dragon sprawled his legs out – probably aiming to be rude with the lazy gesture, as his feet were perhaps only an inch away from Anduin’s, and intruding on his space in not an intimate, but an aggravating way – as smoke curled from one corner of his mouth.

Anduin rolled his eyes. Typical of Wrathion to retort after an argument with something so childish. The prince moved his legs away, but Wrathion just stretched his legs out more. Anduin glared. Wrathion pretended not to notice, looking straight ahead.

“You know,” Wrathion said, after a long’s moment’s silence, filled only by the gulls outside, “I did enjoy one thing about Mason’s Folly.”

“You di -? Oh.” The prince’s stomach did an odd twisting. Wrathion glanced at him. “Me, too.”

Wrathion looked away with a small smirk.

“I think you enjoyed using me as a pillow, as well.”

Wrathion looked back. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“I did no such thing.”

“Really? I remember differently.”

Wrathion huffed and looked away again. Anduin smiled wide to himself.

“Oh. I have something for you.”

Wrathion looked up as Anduin stood and grabbed his bag. There was a shuffling, like leather folding, and the dragon landed on the bed in front of him in whelp form after a quick glide from the chair, and folded his wings, apparently too impatient to wait. The prince gave him a look – patience – but Wrathion’s eyes were trained on the bag.

“I tried to clean it when you were sleeping,” Anduin murmured. He suddenly felt a bit stupid as he undid the flap. “I did ask one of the tailors to fix the rest of your clothes yesterday.” The prince nodded his head over to his dresser. “They came by with them this morning.”

Wrathion made a pleased humming noise.

Anduin grabbed the soft cloth and metal band from his satchel and pulled it out. When Wrathion had been sleeping off Alexstrasza’s extensive healing process, the prince had managed to clean out most of the dirt from the cloth and some of the scuff marks on the red metal.

Wrathion shot forward so fast Anduin jumped. He shifted in a mere second from whelp to human and snatched the turban from the prince’s hands; the Black Prince was only inches away from him, and Anduin stared, but Wrathion wasn’t paying attention to the older prince. He was too busy looking over the cloth and the band, grinning so wide nearly all of his sharp teeth showed.

“You found it,” Wrathion exclaimed, delighted. He had some trouble wrapping the cloth with only one working hand, but he managed it all the same and placed the turban back on his head with the band to hold it secure. He readjusted the bangled side that fell near his face, and his black bangs stuck out awkwardly from underneath. Wrathion impatiently tried to brush them aside but they kept falling back down, so he ignored them.

Anduin smiled at him. At least that had lifted the mood; he wasn’t about to mention, however, that he found it at the Tavern when he went to look for him during the Sha corruption.

And it was good, because Wrathion didn’t ask where he’d found it. Maybe he’d guessed.

“You continue to show your usefulness to me, Prince Anduin,” the Black Prince said, and Anduin rolled his eyes.

“Mhm.” He slid the dresser open and handed Wrathion his gold-trimmed spaulders and scaled tabard. Wrathion snatched those from him, too, and went on to inspect the articles. They weren’t perfect, but they were a little better than they had been; the cuts had been sewn and the blood stains washed out, though the missing scales on the tabard couldn’t be replaced.

“Passable,” the Black Prince said, and slid the tabard on first before buckling on the shoulder-pads. Anduin leaned forward and readjusted the left spaulder, which was a bit lopsided.

“There.”

Wrathion’s delight flickered into his usual, cool confidence. “Much better.”

Anduin looked at him, and Wrathion looked back. They were still only a couple of inches apart. The dragon leaned forward -

Then moved around him, smirking. Anduin mock-glared at his back.

“Did you know Sabellian called this a ‘get-up’?” Wrathion turned back to Anduin now, and readjusted his turban for the third time. “When he wears that ridiculous outfit of his own?” The dragon huffed.

Anduin smiled wryly. “That outfit does suit you.”

“Of course it does.”

Anduin paused.

“So, ah - what about Sabellian?”

Wrathion’s eyes flickered. “What about Sabellian?”

“You know he’s going to come back.”

The dragon scratched idly at his jaw. “I’ve considered possible options for dealing with my dear elder brother.”

“Like?”

Wrathion slid his eyes over to Anduin. He smirked, coy. “I don’t want to give away the surprise.”

Anduin frowned at the dragon. “It shouldn’t be a surprise,” Anduin chided, but without malice. “When he comes back, I should know what you’re planning to do.”

Wrathion was looking at his claws now. His gauntlets were still missing – and would probably stay missing, unless one of his Agents came across the Kun-lai cave where he’d lost them. At least, Anduin thought, he had the rest of his ensemble, as battered as it was.

“I will consider sharing,” Wrathion said. “- Only when I have solidified my plan, of course.”

Anduin sighed at him. The Black Prince was exasperating, sometimes.

“May I make a suggestion, then?”

“Mm… no.”

Anduin continued anyway. “Even if you won’t tell me this plan of yours, you can at least answer this: are you planning to kill him?”

Wrathion looked up at him. His eyebrows were scrunched and his mouth a lopsided frown.

“What kind of absurd question is that?” The Black Prince asked. “I believe you already know that answer, Prince Anduin.”

Anduin leaned his cane against the bed. “I don’t think you should.”

Wrathion stared at him – then laughed once, disbelieving. He didn’t look angry, but Anduin knew he wasn’t going to stay like that for long. “What?”

Anduin braced himself. He’d swerved passed an argument about the Sha earlier, but this was an argument he couldn’t avoid. “You should keep him alive. I know what he did to you was wrong -” The prince’s eyes flicked down to Wrathion’s cast, then back up to his eyes - “but what you did wasn’t good, either. If you could somehow convince him to speak with you, without any violence, then maybe this could end without anyone else dying.”

“Your strive for peace on all accounts constrains you, dear prince.” Wrathion’s tone was not sincere, but mocking; his eyes began to grow cold again, as they had in the argument about the Sha.

Anduin shook his head. Why did they have to argue about everything?

“I know when to fight, and when it’s the right thing to do.” He looked at Wrathion earnestly. “Defending yourself is the right thing to do, and I would never condone that. But Sabellian still hasn’t come back for you, and I think before he does, you should -”

“Should what? Send some sort of messenger dove proclaiming my goodwill? Shall I grovel on my feet and beg for his forgiveness?”

Anduin glared. “I meant you should try to reason with him. Wrathion, you two are just going to keep trying to kill one another until one of you is dead – or you both are.”

“I won’t be the one losing.”

“But what if you are? He defeated you the first time -”

“That was only because -”

“You didn’t expect it, I know. But we have no idea where he is or what he’s doing. You say you have a plan, but even then you just said you haven’t finished it. What if he comes back and you’re caught off guard again?”

Wrathion drew himself up. The red in his eyes was hot.

“I won’t be.”

Anduin ran a hand over his face in exasperation.

“And may I ask why you’re so bent on peace with that lunatic?” Wrathion asked

Anduin dropped his hand. “I’m not ‘bent on peace.’ I’m trying to make reason of this.”

Wrathion could hide behind his mask of confidence all he liked, but Anduin needed to show him the realistic side without outright saying aloud what he was thinking: Sabellian was older and stronger than the Black Prince, and the odds were not in Wrathion’s favor. He was going to get himself killed, and Anduin would not allow that to happen.

“Wrathion, I really do think he’s just trying to protect his family. If you showed him that you weren’t going to kill them, then maybe he might leave you alone.”

Anduin knew he was starting to sound desperate. Wrathion scoffed.

“And if I do intend to kill the rest of them?”

Anduin stared at him, his eyes hard. Wrathion glowered back. “Why?”

“They’re a liability.”

“To you, you mean.”

Wrathion rolled his eyes.

Anduin rubbed his own. It wasn’t like he needed to ask Wrathion ‘why’ – he already knew the answer, when Wrathion had first been possessed by the Sha:

If they’re reminded of what my family was with Sabellian, with their corruption, they’ll remember. They’ll remember where I came from. Then that is all they will see again until that dragon is dead. Until they are all dead.

Anduin bit the inside of his cheek and looked at the stone floor for a moment, his eyes trailing around the curved pattern of the worn blanket that lay flat there.

“They shouldn’t be,” Anduin said, more quietly than he had spoken before. “ - A liability, I mean. They’re your fami -”

“Do not even think of finishing that.” Anduin looked up and Wrathion looked so angry the prince had the instinctual urge to back up a step before recalling he’d seen worse looks from Lo’Gosh, and so he stood his ground. “Those - monsters are not my ‘family.’ Do not get overly sentimental – though I’m sure that’s difficult for you.”

Anger licked at the back of his throat. Anduin glowered. “They aren’t monsters, and you know that. Sabellian doesn’t seem corrupted.”

“He’ll be hearing his Old Gods soon enough.”

“Like you did?”

Wrathion froze. Anduin regretted saying it the moment the words left his mouth. His anger snuffed out.

“I didn’t -”

“Perhaps you shouldn’t give advice on such situations, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion said. His voice was distant and suddenly very quiet, which was more unnerving than his angrier tone. “I believe the last time you dealt with an enemy, it ended badly for you.” His eyes flicked down to Anduin’s leg, then back up to Anduin, coolly.

Anduin’s glare resurfaced, and so did his anger.

“Fine. Do this on your own.”

“Fine. I hardly need your help.”

“Fine.”

They glared at one another for a second more before Anduin snatched his cane. Let Wrathion deal with this himself, he thought angrily. He didn’t need Anduin? Then fine.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Anduin hissed. “I have other things to do with my time than argue with a spoiled, two-year-old dragon.”

He didn’t give Wrathion the pleasure of replying. He turned and opened the door before closing it behind him hard, and stalked off, his guards trailing behind him, to find something to waste his time on.

—-

Wrathion glared at the door.

“Infuriating little -” He flexed his left hand into a loose fist as smoke puffed from his mouth. “How can he possibly think that he can talk to me like that?” Wrathion paced back and forth, though there was little room to walk. He looked away from the door and glared at nothing in particular. Stupid, idiotic, ridiculous human prince. Anduin Wrynn had no idea what he was even talking about. And to think the blond prince badgered Wrathion himself for thinking he knew everything! The dragon scowled and bristled, more smoke curling from his mouth in aggravated puffs.

“You do bicker with him often, my Prince.” The voice came from the corner of the room; Wrathion looked over and shot Left a glare. The orc was nearly transparent thanks to her Blacktalon magic.

“Yes, thank you, Left, I believe I know that.”

Wrathion stopped pacing and tried to compose himself. He could not allow himself to be… worked up over Anduin Wrynn. He had other matters to attend to. More important matters, he tried to tell himself, than a stupid argument with a stupid human prince.

“Tell me something. Update me.” He rolled back his shoulders, trying to force himself to calm down. Left stared at him. “Distract me!”

The orc continued to stare; she looked confused. “On – updates on what, my Prince?”

“Anything. I have been… out of commission for nearing a week. My champions are surely annoyed at my absence, and the Horde and the Alliance can do wondrously wicked things to one another in a simple handful of days.” He looked at her expectantly. Surely there had to be something to distract him from Anduin – and from Sabellian, of course - for the time being.

Left nodded.

“We don’t have as much information as usual; many of the Blacktalons were otherwise distracted with looking for Sabellian.”

Wrathion nodded offhandedly; he’d expected as much. He was not looking at her, but at the bottom of the wall. His broken arm was beginning to blink with a numb pain.

“There’s been reports of a small team of Horde excavators making their way to the Vale. King Varian helped settle disputes between the dwarven clans of Ironforge.”

Wrathion tilted his head. Excavators at the Vale? Interesting. Garrosh may just be looking for something else in that ancient place to sway the tide, just as he had searched for the Divine Bell. He hummed to himself. Very interesting.

The news of the dwarves made sense, as well. Wrathion had not been awake to hear what the king had told Anduin of the happenings at Ironforge. That was intriguing, too; Varian was strengthening his pack. Things were slowly beginning to boil.

“Is that it?”

Left nodded. “I am sorry, my Prince, but that’s all the news we have at the moment. We are also short on Blacktalons in Pandaria, after you sent a large group to Blade’s Edge -”

Wrathion looked at her, confused. “I had only sent two to Blade’s Edge before Sabellian’s… untimely arrival. I don’t think two is very many.”

The orc stared. “You asked me to send more, my Prince – the first day we arrived at Lion’s Landing.”

Wrathion looked at her blankly. He recalled no such thing. The dragon furrowed his brows.

“ - Right,” he said, quickly, before he made himself look foolish. “Of course I did.” Left was squinting at him.

“… Shall I send the order for their return?”

“That won’t be necessary.” If he forced himself, he could just, just remember a memory of tired anger, remember his alien-sounding voice grumble the words send more – but that was all. He recalled only some bits of his sickness before the -… before the Sha fully overtook him: the inn at the Valley, Anduin forcing potions down his throat, Anduin twisting his arm back in place, Anduin’s hand against his face. But most of it was a cold blur. “Where are they now?”

“The cross between Zangarmarsh and Blade’s Edge.”

Wrathion grinned. This was some delightful news. He could hurt Sabellian without even touching him.

“Excellent! Oh, and do tell them to hurry it up.” His grin became vaguely malicious. “Let’s see how well Sabellian’s dear brood does without its protector.”

Left nodded. Wrathion was very pleased with himself. Out cold, and he still managed to take care of things, even if he didn’t remember it!

The dragon went to rub his hands together, only to remember he couldn’t because of his right arm. He scoffed. This broken arm business was annoying.

“Ah, and Left,” he started, turning to her. “I’d like you to do me a favor.”

“Of course.”

“The Pandaren have completely abandoned Mogu’shan Vaults, am I correct?”

The orc nodded. “Our reports showed they retreated after dismantling the power structure of the mogu’s creation engine. They have left little guards, but as you had ordered before, the Blacktalons have been investigating inside.”

Wrathion grinned. Yes – his Agents had found many lovely things in the Vaults. Even before the re-emerging of the Thunder King, Wrathion had known of the mogu’s shaping and rearranging of Titan technology. As brutish as the race was, the mogu were clever when they wanted to be.

There was one bauble in particular he was interested in acquiring to deal with Sabellian – but at the time the Blacktalons had discovered it, he’d found no use for it – not at that moment, anyway. He’d planned to keep it until the Burning Legion, but… this might work as well.

“Good. I would like you to take two Blacktalons and yourself there, as well as champions – but only those who are of the… unquestioning type. Offer a nice, shiny prize.” He found many of his heroes were too prodding, too suspicious of his plans; those would do no good in this particular assignment. He needed those who simply wanted the reward, and there were many of those to pick from.

“You would like me to go?” Left grunted. “And leave you unguarded?”

“I will be fine, Left. Anduin Wrynn would never dream of letting anything happen to me.” It was a half-joke. Left looked at him vacantly. He sighed; she was so finicky and without humor. “Post a duo of guards along Lion’s Landing. Make sure they are not spotted.”

Left readjusted her hands on her crossbow. “Very well.” She still looked unsure. Wrathion watched her. Maybe it was foolish to send his last remaining personal bodyguard out on a mission, but Left needed a well-deserved distraction - especially after the loss of Right, which neither of them had even spoken of – and Wrathion prided himself on being a gracious prince. “What do you need at Mogu’shan?”

“The large trillium chains they found below the Engine of Nalak’sha.”

The Blacktalons had descended down into the pit and had discovered the chains, each link half as large as a human; Wrathion recalled hearing how similar chains had been found in Ulduar, holding back Yogg’saron in his prison below.

If these chains were designed to hold an Old God – perhaps intending to hold Y’shaarj before its destruction – they could surely hold a dragon.

“And do what with them?”

“Ah…” Wrathion said. He hadn’t worked out the kinks in his plan, yet; he’d thought of the chains, but the rest of the idea was hazy. “I will… work on that. Secure the chains, at least, and contact me.”

Left nodded. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. The usually blunt guard looked almost hesitant. Wrathion picked up on it immediately.

“Is there something bothering you, Left?”

“I am… unsure if bringing champions along with me is wise.”

Wrathion raised a brow at her.

Left shifted again. “I neglected to tell you one last report. There has been… vague hostilities against Blacktalons. One was punched in the face and and his assailant accused you of being a liar. That has been the worst incident, but there’s been some general dissent to the Agents and Watchers as a whole – including yourself.”

Wrathion stared at her.

“I’m unsure how, but I believe the secret of your support of both factions had leaked to Alliance and Horde champions alike.”

… Oh.

Wrathion hissed through his teeth. Of all things, this was something he did not need at the moment. How had that possibly slipped out? He’d been so careful… and the Horde and Alliance champions hardly spoke to one another.

He couldn’t lose his champions. Wrathion swallowed, and squinted hard at the wall, mind turning. They had to trust him. Maybe they would simply get over his little white lie.

Maybe.

The Black Prince hissed again. This game was too delicate. He’d assumed the lie simply wouldn’t be shared. Wrathion was annoyed at naivete.

“Very well. Take champions who are unquestioning and uncaring about their faction’s worries.” He looked at Left. “Will that be a problem?”

He couldn’t afford to think of this as a mistake. His mouth started to dry. No – he couldn’t make mistakes.

He was the Black Prince. He didn’t make mistakes.

“No, my Prince.”

“Good.” He nodded towards the door. “Contact me when you have the chains.”

Left nodded – then disappeared into the air. And Wrathion was alone.

—-

Something nudged the end of Samia’s snout.

She snorted. There was another nudge.

“Samia?”

Alacian, whispering.

What did he want now? The older dragon kept her eyes closed.

“Go back to sleep.”

“I hear something outside.”

Begrudgingly, Samia opened one of her eyes, crusted with sleep. Alacian sat in front of her face with his wings sagging at his sides and his head leaned close. She focused her eye on him.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s because you’re talking. Shh!”

Samia huffed. She opened her other eye and lifted her horned head from her paws and, withholding a yawn, looked out to the entrance of the cave. It was deep night outside, and the hazy edges of the bladed mountains beyond were gently lit with the green-yellow glow of the nether streams high above.

But all she could hear was the heavy breathing of her brothers and sisters around her. Samia tilted her head back and forth, straining for any sounds, but still could not discern anything from the background noise of her siblings.

She snorted, and looked back at Alacian in annoyance. “There’s nothing outside. Even if there is, Neltharaku and his drakes are standing watch for the night.”

“But I heard something!”

One of the drakes snorted and shuffled in his sleep at Alacian’s voice. Samia sighed. The whelp was going to wake the whole brood with his whining.

“It must have been one of the nether-dragons, then.”

Samia put her head on her paws again. Alacian shifted his weight and glanced back at the entrance.

The dragon reached forward and pressed the whelp down to the ground; Alacian squirmed and made a distressed peeping sound underneath her heavy paw, but she did not let go. The drake that had shuffled about groaned and put his forelegs over his head.

“Stop worrying. Riling yourself up over a simple noise will do no good. You need to rest after that sickness-scare, anyway.”

Samia retreated her paw, and Alacian lay huddled in a confused clump, tails and wings and legs askew. He grumbled at her, unfurled himself from his twisted limbs, and curled back up more comfortably. The whelp did not say anything else, though he was giving her a less-than-happy look.

The older dragon eyed him. At least he would be quiet.

It went silent again. The slow, rhythmic breathing of the dragons around her began to lull Samia back to sleep.

Her eyes were closed again when something shifted near the cave entrance – shifting like sliding dirt, something being dragged.

Samia looked up, her curved fins rising. She went still.

Alacian peered up at her, eyes wide.

“See?” He whispered. Samia put up a claw to shush him. She squinted her eyes at the entrance and waited for the sound to reappear. She briefly entertained the idea of calling out to Neltharaku, but thought better of it – because Samia realized, just then, that she should have heard the breathing of the nether-dragons, just as she heard the breathing of her siblings’. They may have been outside, but her hearing was sharp.

But she didn’t hear anything.

The fins along her neck fully extended now. Her claws twitched.

Was she being paranoid? Samia glanced around at the others in the brood, then back at the entrance. The raw memory of Ryxia being killed in a cave, a cave like this, itched at the back of her mind.

The dragon decided to check – just in case. Sabellian had charged her of taking care of and protecting the brood in his stead, and she would rather be paranoid than careless about it.

Samia got to her feet. Alacian did as well. The dragon pushed him down again without looking away from the entrance. The sound had not reappeared, but the simple lack of sounds was unnerving enough.

“Stay here,” Samia whispered. She tapped the drake who had partially woken earlier. He groaned.

“Thalarian, stand guard.”

The drake stretched, eyed her with annoyance, and flopped on his side. With a scowl Samia grabbed his tail and heaved him to his feet.

“Fine!” He whispered back, alarmed. “Fine.” His eyes were blurred and hazy with sleep, but at least Samia had another drake to watch the others while she was out inspecting the sound. “What’s -” he yawned. “- wrong?”

“Nothing. But if I yell, wake the others.”

He blinked at her, nodded dumbly, then yawned again.

Samia went to walk forward, and almost stepped on Alacian.

“Can I come?”

“I told you to stay here,” Samia responded, gruff, and pushed the whelp with a gentle swipe of her paw to Thalarian, who was practically swaying from exhaustion.

She did not wait for Alacian’s reply. Samia ducked her head and folded her wings in a crouch, and went to the entrance. It was difficult to keep her paws from making noise as they slid quiet against the rock floor, and she scowled for it.

Samia soon peered her entrance out from the cave; her maw was curled back in a snarl. The nether light folded across her black and red scales as she looked to and fro.

The two nether-drakes that should have been standing guard, flanking the entrance, were gone.

Samia’s spine began to tingle. Not even imprints of where the two drakes had sat remained, as if they’d simply evaporated into the air.

She paused – but only for a moment. Samia inched her way cautiously from the cave, keeping her horned head hunched and close to the ground.

The dragon looked around again. The drakes were not around the sides of cave, either.

Maybe the drakes were lazy, Samia thought, and had abandoned their posts to hunt; she would not put that passed the Netherwing, recalling Neltharaku’s slack reaction to the Black Prince and the killing of his two children. They were uncaring, as much as Samia could see.

But even then – Samia doubted Neltharaku would wish to anger Sabellian by shirking off the truce of protection. Allowing his drakes to leave their duties was not characteristic of the leader of the Netherwing.

A raptor call startled her. Smoke shot from her nose and her claws gripped the ground; with a hiss, Samia forced herself to relax, though her claws were still tense as the silence faded inward again. The valley yawned out in front of her. The empty loneliness of the bladed mountains was almost a sound itself, echoing and vacant.

Samia straightened from her crouch. She did not see any streams of nether signaling the departure of the nether-drakes. They either hadn’t left, or had left much earlier -… though something was telling her it was the former. Something was wrong. They should have been here.

Samia glanced around again – and her eyes stopped. There in the rock-ground by the side of the cave, the loose dirt had slid back to make a gentle imprint of a trail – as if something had been dragged over it. It rounded around the corner of the rock and disappeared on the other side.

The warning tingle was intense in her spine now.

“Thalarian,” she called back. Her fins were fully extended, curved forward. Something was very wrong. “Wake the others. Move to the back -”

Something slammed into her neck.

She snarled in surprise just as a fierce, stinging pain stabbed where her neck met her head.

Samia screeched and spun. The small weight and great pain remained as she twirled – but as she twisted her neck she saw black-clad legs balancing against her spine. Mortals!

The dragon screamed and spun again. Another pain bloomed at her ankle and out of instinct she swept her forearm out, and it collided with a fleshy crunch against something; dizzy from the pain, she saw a humanoid form fly back at the impact and slam against the side of the cave.

She focused on the other mortal. With a snap of her wings she tossed her first attacker on her neck off. Fire shot from her mouth, thick like lava, and scorched where the assailant had fallen -… but the mortal – a human female, dressed in black leather – was too fast, and rolled out of the way as the ground erupted in red and brown churning bubbles to her side as the molten fire hit the ground.

But the human was not lucky for long. A blur of black thundered from the cave’s mouth and collided with the rogue; drake and human went tumbling, snarling and screaming. In the flurry Samia could not tell which one of her siblings it was.

But she had little time to think about that. Blood was dripping down her neck and onto her shoulder, and dripping from her ankle.

They were being ambushed.

From the very air itself another opponent appeared, an orc of green skin, and Samia wasted no time in slashing forward with a snarl, talons reaching out. The orc dodged, and ducked forward, daggers in both of his hands, and Samia moved back so that ivory weapons whistled against air instead of her chest. Flame spurted from her mouth, and still the orc dodged. He was nimble for his size.

Samia’s tail hit back against the cave. She surged forward, startled she had allowed herself to be pressed back so much. She couldn’t be backed into the cave where there was little room to fight – but the main worry was that of leading the assailants into where the hatchlings and younger drakes were. Samia had to guard the entrance at all costs.

The dragon and the orc traded blows; Samia was forcing the orc back with the snapping of her jaws and the swiping of her talons. The screaming of the human and the drake who had tumbled from the cave so quickly had not stopped.

“Wake up!” Samia roared, just as her claws found purchase on the orc and she flung him to the side like a doll. “Protect the brood!”

She glanced back, smoke shooting from her panting mouth, and saw her words were wasted. More rogues had appeared – at least six, though it was hard to tell with them moving so quickly and vanishing and reappearing like smoke – were surrounding the entrance of the cave. Three drakes, including Thalarian, were attempting to drive them back.

These were the Black Prince’s rogues. The outfit they wore was the same as the blood elf’s, the one who had cut Ryxia open like a pig.

Samia snarled.

She hurdled forward, grabbed a rogue from behind, jumped into the sky and pummeled him into the hard ground. The cracking of his spine was audible. She thought little of it as she went to grab another attacker, but they were alerted her presence, now, and all, with their nimble moves and dodges, missed her flailing claws.

“Do not let them enter the cave.”

The three drakes nodded just as the rogues pushed forward again. The mortals’ blows were swift and able, and they moved with such calculation that their training was evident. The drakes’ frenzied attacks were clumsy and awkward in comparison.

But the Black Prince’s rogues did not have one thing. Samia lifted into the sky, her barbed tail smacking against one of the assailants’ heads, aimed her mouth, and a line of fire shrieked from her open maw, curling forward and hissing against the ground, creating a barrier between the cave and the rogues.

The drakes took the opportunity to jump the fire line and drive the mortals back; the fight was soon relocated out into the open where the sharp mountains protruded on either side of the valley. From the air, Samia saw that the first drake to fight was busy dismembering the human rogue farther ahead.

Where was Neltharaku?

She turned, wings beating, and glanced at the cave… and only then from her heightened vantage point could she see the still, blue-bleeding bodies of the two nether-drakes hidden behind the sides of the cave.

That had been the dragging sound.

How had these rogues appeared? How had her father allowed them to pass? What… complications had Sabellian found himself in?

Hot, burning rage swelled in her chest, behind her eyes.

Sabellian had charged her of taking care of the brood, and she would not fail her father. She would not let this Black Prince, this faceless monster, destroy any more of her family.

Samia folded her wings and dove. When she landed, the ground cracked underneath her, and her tail slammed hard against two of the rogues. Two others abandoned one of the larger drakes and rushed her, swords held aloft. Samia was the eldest, the fiercest – and the biggest threat.

She met them head-on with a roar. Their fight was a dance; they twirled and dodged and spun. Her tail swung, her mouth breathed flame. The night was lit with burning orange and the screams of dragon and mortal alike. Blood stained Samia’s paws, stained her teeth as she snatched an elf in-between her teeth and crunched.

But more rogues were appearing. This was no ambush – this was a full assault.

Other drakes came from the cave. But some were still very young, and inexperienced – but it was all they had. Talsian and Nasandria were the strongest of the adolescents, but they were not here to help, and Samia was the only grown dragon, now that Neltharaku was missing, that was even in the brood at all.

Yet though she was the only mature dragon, she could fight with the force and ferocity of five of her brothers and sisters combined. Her head rang with clear, sharpened fury. She felt very much alive.

The rogues, however, were not backing off despite the new drakes and Samia’s growing anger, and the youngest dragons were becoming more red than black with each wound they sustained. The might of an angry wyrm was great, but nothing could beat sheer numbers – especially when such numbers were so heavily trained.

A worgen grabbed onto her wing, claws digging into the webbing, and Samia tore her off and threw her into her allies – and it was only then that she realized that the cave was right behind the dragons again as her wings tapped against the side of the rock. The rogues had managed to push them back.

“Where is Neltharaku?” One of the drakes asked, as she slapped aside a dual-wielding human.

“Not here,” Samia answered. The orc who she’d fought earlier slashed at her, but Samia slammed her head against his chest and he fell back.

The leader of the Netherwing should have heard the fight; the entire commotion was echoing and rebounding against the tall, sharp sides of the valley. Something must have befallen him, and Samia knew she could not count on him to appear.

The very tip of her wings brushed back against the side of the cave. They were too close. They would have to push back the rogues by sheer force or take to the air, but the latter option would mean keeping the cave entrance open and undefended.

Samia’s blood was singing. Another idea may work.

“To the air,” she called above the noise, above all the shrieks and clashes and screams. “Now!”

The drakes did not hesitate at the authoritative voice. They jumped from the ground, some stalling in their leap as they tore off the attackers they had been hopelessly interlocked with. A grey hawk, circling above, was startled by the sudden movement and swept away, but continued to circle the fight.

Samia stayed grounded.

“Samia?” Came a confused yell from above.

She ignored it. In the single heartbeat of the second she had as the rogues came forward towards the opening of the defense, the dragon focused her wild, clear rage into the center of her chest, down into her legs, into her paws.

And with roar she slammed down her feet, and the ground cracked and split in front of her. Shatter marks, reaching and finger-like, shot outwards. She felt the earth hum to life beneath her, seized its power, and heaved the ground upwards; it rolled forward like a wave and slammed into the rogues, sending them far, far back.

Samia told the earth to stop, and it stopped, deflating down to the ground once again.

“Descend!”

And the drakes, watching above, dove down, tackling many of the dazed assassins to the ground.

The ground thrummed. Samia felt her ancient birthright stir deep within her chest, and took it. She singled out one of the rogues and with a flick of her paw, sent a jagged shard of rock upwards from the ground her stood, and it impaled him through the gut, just as Gruul had impaled her brood brothers and sisters.

The fight’s favor was equaling out again. They were farther from the cave entrance than they had ever been, and Samia’s manipulation of the earth had obviously taken the rogues off guard. Didn’t they know black dragons were once the warders of the earth? Samia mused. Granted, such power had been long abandoned when her grandfather had dug too deep into the depths and had found something evil in the ground… but here, there was nothing the earth was hiding, and Samia used it willingly.

The dragons fought hard, and the fight wore on. The fighting was endless, and continued for so long Samia’s legs began to ache, and with each shift of earth she felt her energy drain. She was using it without caution; it had been too long since she had done such “magic.” She would have to use it more sparingly.

A blood elf managed to slash her across the snout with a dagger. It bounded harmlessly off of most of her thick scales, but managed to nick in-between two. Yet it did not leave pain – it left a numbness. Poison.

She hissed and swatted him away. Her previously sustained wounds began to burn. Samia nearly stumbled from the sudden, intensified pain. What manner of poison was this?

“Samia! Samia, to your right!”

The dragon’s mind was blurring. She tried to focus her eyes, but where forms should have been were only blotches of moving color.

Pain struck against her chest. Samia roared and turned, stumbling over herself, wings going awry, and for a moment her eyes managed to sharpen – the worgen she had thrown before had stabbed her in the chest, only just missing her lungs. The she-beast pulled the black sword out and raised it to strike again.

The hawk that had been circling above shot down onto the assassin. The worgen snarled and stumbled back as the bird attacked, its talons digging into her fur and its beak snapping at her eyes.

Samia shook her head hard. The poison was lessening. It had not been a large dose.

The hawk fled from the worgen’s face and swept back up in the air with a cry, disappearing. Samia smashed the bleeding rogue to the ground, confused about the hawk’s actions but having little time to mull over them.

She turned back to the fight, her chest heaving with pain. One of the drakes had fallen; Samia couldn’t tell if he was dead or not. The others were not doing well, either. The rogues were injured, too, but they were like automatons, tireless.

Hadn’t there been more, though? She breathed a ball of superheated flame at one group of rogues and managed to catch fire to one. Samia scanned the fight. No. Some of the rogues had gone.

Samia glanced back – and saw three of them were bolting towards the entrance of the cave. They must have gone around her when she had been stumbling from the poison.

The dragon thundered after them, half running, half flying. They saw her coming. One stopped and turned to defend the others, while the two remaining continued on.

Samia ignored the defender. The cave was unguarded. No one stopped the two from entering it. The hatchlings and young drakes were helpless inside.

The defender, a human male, disappeared as she barreled forward. He reappeared on her back, and the sudden pain against her spine was a dagger he stabbed through her scales. Samia shrieked but pressed on. The entrance was right ahead. There was a high-pitched shriek from inside.

Samia slammed her feet into the ground and the human on her back went flying, finding no purchase against her slick neck.

A huge, hulking form swerved around the rock face and pummeled into one of the rogues that was entering the cave – a large brown bear. It ripped the male orc’s arm off and descended with a bellow over the rogue. The other assailant ahead stopped and turned to help his backup – only to have an arrow shot into his chest, and the hawk from before fall shrieking onto his face.

Samia turned as a whistle slung through the air, forcing the bear off of the mauled rogue and to the side. To her right, aiming his bow, was a tall, pale-skinned orc, half his face hidden by a ragged wolf mask, clad with dark red and silver armor. His tusked mouth was set back in a grim frown, and he let loose another arrow at the rogue, and the attacker fell.

Samia recognized him instantly – Rexxar, half-orc, half-ogre.

Sabellian had mentioned he hadn’t seen the half-orc for months. What was he doing back here?

She found herself uncaring. He was here, and he was helping them, the black dragons, and not his fellow mortals.

The human who had fallen from her neck disappeared as he seemed to take in the sudden shift of odds that were not in his favor. Samia looked at Rexxar, and the half-orc looked at her. She nodded her thanks, and he nodded back.

The cave was safe. Now they had to drive back the rest.

She was exhausted, but Samia turned anyway. She found the rage again. She had fought Gruul with her brothers and sisters and had been the only one to survive – out of sheer dumb luck, surely, but still, she had survived. She would not let some marching ants in costumes parade into her home any longer. The earth hummed below her again. She hardly saw Rexxar join the fray with his bear as her focus intensified, fighting off her exhaustion.

She gripped the ground. The hum became louder. Samia forced the earth upwards again, as she had before, but this time she called fire with it – and in the middle of the battlefield, cracks appeared at her call, and with a gush of red and orange, flame and lava split forth from the core of the broken earth. The drakes were unharmed as the lava fell, and Rexxar was quick to dodge – but the some of the agents were not so lucky. Screams peeled off from those mortals who were unlucky to not move out of the way as some of their comrades had done as burning rock fell upon them.

The dragons, on the other hand, exhausted from battle just as Samia was, surged forward as the flame fell on their hides. Samia joined them. Earth and lava was the heart of the Black Dragonflight – their inner power. And it strengthened them, pushed forward their vigor, and they descended on the remaining rogues with tooth and claw once again.

The rogues went to retreat to the left, but Rexxar’s bear was there to push them back. They went to the right, but Rexxar himself was there, wielding two iron axes. And with the dragons in front, lead by Samia, the Black Prince’s agents had no where to turn to but right back into the fray or run backwards.

Their numbers were cut in half; the mortals had no chance. Samia saw it, and they saw it, too.

The rogues began to retreat.

Some disappeared altogether. Some turned and bolted, aiming to the higher forests in the high mountains where it would be easy to hide.

“After them!” Samia screamed. “Don’t let them escape! Kill them all!”

Two of the drakes lifted off and flew after the assassins who were retreating, as did Rexxar’s hawk.

Samia watched them before looking out at the drakes. Some began to slump over, and others just fell entirely. The dragon scowled; black dragons were no healers. The rogues may have not killed any of her siblings initially, but Samia was worried infection or slow blood loss might claim some. At least they’d fought the rogues off, and had killed some without them killing any of the hatchlings.

She forced herself to calm down; her blood was still ringing. It didn’t take very long to. She’d manipulated the earth too much in one fight, and as her blood began to calm, the exhaustion snapped onto her chest and she, too, nearly collapsed. Her head felt empty.

Quickly, Samia shifted into her mortal form – a human who wore a mix of black leather and plate, her hair darker than her clothing and bangs sharp and flat across her eyebrows. Her whole body ached, and her head was spinning. She held it in her hands for a moment and simply breathed deep. She had to focus on helping the injuries. Her hands dropped.

A flash of grey caught her attention. She glanced up, and saw Rexxar’s hawk approach, twirling to land on the half-orc’s shoulder; he stood off to the side, alone with his bear, watching the brood with an unreadable expression. The two other drakes who had followed the retreating rogues landed in front of her.

“Well?”

“They disappeared into the arakkoas’ forest. With any luck, the birds will kill them.” One of the drakes said, panting.

“Doubtful,” Samia sighed. “Fine, then. Go to the cave and see how the hatchlings are faring.”

The drakes nodded and trotted off behind her.

Samia glanced at Rexxar, squinting. The half-orc had no reason to help them. He was friends with Baron Sablemane – not Sabellian. Samia’s father was careful with his true identity around the beastmaster; Rexxar had no idea that his comrade was a black dragon, and Deathwing’s son, nonetheless.

Samia had once met him before, as well, but like Sabellian, he didn’t know what she really was.

So there was no reason for him to help the brood.

Why had he?

“Thank you,” she called out. Samia found herself good with mortals – at least mortals who didn’t want to harm her family. Rexxar looked at her. “That was kind of you to help black dragons.”

“I do not tolerate mindless killing,” the half-orc replied. His bear – Samia could not remember its name – rubbed its large head up against Rexxar’s hand. “No matter what species they are.” He looked back at the cave, then at her. “I am glad I did. Hatchlings?” His voice was hoarse. She nodded. “Good. Spirit saw your defense before I did.” He must have meant the hawk.

She nodded at him. One of the injured drakes behind her groaned. Samia glanced back, and saw one of her brothers kneeling over the injured sister in human form.

“I may have a salve that could work for your siblings,” Rexxar said. She looked at him, surprised – but only nodded.

“You’ve been gone for a long time.”

“Wandering,” he replied. He slid his bow across his back. “But I thought it time to return; perhaps my time away has given my father’s mind some thought.” The half-orc looked out at the valley. “I thought to give greetings to the Baron, however.”

“Ah.” Samia shifted once.

“You are Samia.”

He’d recognized her; there was no point in denying who she was. “Yes.”

The half-orc made a low humming noise in his throat.

“I was not aware you were a wyrm.”

Samia sighed and rubbed at the gashes across her arms, feeling the slick blood there.

“The secret is out, then.” She looked back at the cave. One of the drakes was sitting at the entrance, and Alacian was hopping in front of him. At least he was alright, Samia thought.

“And Baron Sablemane is your father. I recall him saying as much, but maybe my memory is slacking.”

It was not so much as a question, but a statement. If Rexxar remembered her face from one, fleeting meeting some years before, then he would certainly remember Sablemane telling him about a daughter.

Samia looked at him quickly.

“Ah -” She shifted, awkward. Rexxar knew her true identity now – and if Sabellian had told him about his relation to her… the half-orc would have connected the dots. He was just waiting for her to confirm it.

She sighed and rubbed her face, remembering her hands were bloody only when she felt her fingers wet against her cheek. Samia scowled and dropped her hands again. “Yes. I am his daughter.” There was no use denying it. Sabellian would be angry with her; he’d be extremely careful about his identity – probably because of the stigma the black dragons had.

But Rexxar wasn’t hostile – he’d helped them. Sabellian couldn’t have seen that outcome.

Rexxar frowned. He didn’t say anything for a moment, only continued to pet the top of his bear’s head.

“Baron Sablemane is a black dragon, then.”

“Yes, he is.”

Rexxar lifted his hand from the bear. He looked thoughtful.

“That makes some amount of sense.”

Samia stared at him, confused at his lack of reaction. He just found out his friend was a dragon and had shrugged it off like it was nothing.

“You… don’t seem altogether surprised.”

“I had my suspicions.” He smiled as if enjoying a private joke or memory. “Dragonfire is difficult to come by, and he always had enough for all of his traps.”

Samia only squinted at him. She’d press his other “suspicions” later. Sabellian would be displeased to know his identity had been guessed.

The half-orc looked at the drakes. “You are all his children?”

“Yes.”

“Then I’ve helped a friend’s family. But where is he?”

Samia hesitated. She looked at the drakes. Some were on their feet again, while others stayed down. The stench of blood and burnt flesh and earth was thick.

“He’s dealing with a new enemy of ours.” Samia looked back at the half-orc. “Beyond the Dark Portal. He should have returned by now.”

Samia felt very tired, then, and very worried. She knew something was wrong when she had spoken to Neltharaku; the rogues assaulting them was proof. The Black Prince must still be alive to have sent them, she thought.

And how was he alive? Had Sabellian not found him at all? Had the young Prince killed him?

Something must have happened. She hissed.

But she could do little on her own here. She had to protect the brood.

Unless she found Neltharaku – if the rogues hadn’t killed him – and convince him to stand guard.

Then she could follow her father, find the Black Prince…

“Maybe I could be of use.”

She turned to Rexxar.

“Let me help heal your siblings – then we can speak elsewhere of this enemy of my friend’s.”

Samia nodded, and they made their way to the drakes.

—-

Baron Sablemane looked up at Lion’s Landing, his arms crossed and his raptor-hide satchel heavy against his shoulder.

He stood on the outskirts of the great fort, at the cross where the dark forest met the beach. The dragon had only just shifted from dragon to human moments before; he’d flown high above Krasarang Wilds, unseeable below thanks to the thick canopy, before diving down some miles before the beach came into view to walk the path the rest of the way. He didn’t want the little mortals at the Alliance fort to see him coming.

Sablemane scratched at the side of his chin and eyed the fort with a studious look. There was some damage to the buildings and towers: pocket-marks of grey and red, obvious injuries from catapults. Judging by the numerous workers, bare-backed and sweating hard even in the sinking sun, who were milling about with large piles of lumber and repair tools, the fort was recuperating from some assault.

The dragon smiled slow to himself. Good. The fort was weakened. This might prove to be much easier.

He shifted his shoulders, the satchel swinging and clinking with its hidden treasures. The potions were complete and ready, and he was very proud of how they had turned out; the water had been an excellent binding agent, just as he had hoped, and the draught had curled and shook inside its glass container when they had finished brewing.

Sablemane did not think about what he’d heard when getting the water. That, he could do without; he had little time to mull over such… unfortunate things.

Now he just needed to get inside the fort itself and set them off.

He pulled the thick hood of his inconspicuous cloak, which hid the rest of his bright outfit, over his face. He had the advantage of being a human in this upcoming charade, but even then, the dragon wasn’t stupid enough to think he could waltz wherever he’d liked in the Keep. Sablemane needed the potions placed in every corner to insure every occupant felt their effects, lest a guard notice him walking around looking for his prize and alert the sleeping others.

Caution was key. He’d rather not have a harpoon in his flank as he flew from the Keep.

Sablemane made his way down the shore. The injured towers soon loomed in front of him. Some of the works and other assorted champions milling about gave him looks as he walked by; the dragon scowled. The heroes wore extravagant clothing like his own that he hid, and with his drab cloak he was a dark spot against the crowd.

Not for long, he thought.

A large building was up ahead. Guards in silver and blue armor flanked it as workers repaired the dents to the outer walls.

Sablemane hesitated. This could easily be his chance. He glanced over the short line of soldiers on guard, most of whose shoulders slumped in the heat. It was the end of their day, and they were tired and unawares. Excellent.

He made his way to the side of the building; his eyes were trained on one soldier in particular, who stood posted at the outer corner – a position Sablemane could easily exploit.

The dragon pulled back against the wall that was at junction to the one the soldier stood at. The stone rubbed up against his shoulder, rough, and pulled at the worn scales of his cloak, but he ignored it.

“Excuse me,” Sablemane called out. He deepened his voice, and made it shake. The soldier looked over at him. The dragon waved his hand, beckoning the human over. “Please, I require your help.”

The soldier kept staring. Sablemane fought back a scowl. Couldn’t the idiot hear?

The human glanced back at his comrade, some yards away, before heading over. Sablemane pulled back, turning so he was on the opposite side of the wall – and away from the other soldiers’ view.

The soldier, thankfully, followed.

“Yes?” It was a younger human, and his voice was unsure.

“Oh, thank you.” Sablemane smiled at him falsely. “How kind of you to come to the aid of a dear old man like myself.”

The soldier went to nod – but the dragon didn’t give him the chance to. With a quick uppercut he slammed his fist into the human’s face so hard the helmet caved in, and the soldier fell back. Sablemane snatched his hand out and grabbed onto the lion tabard before the human could fall into view of his comrades; the soldier was limp, dead-weight against Sablemane’s grip, but it was nothing to the dragon’s strength. Sablemane pulled him back and propped him up against the side of the fort.

He snorted and pulled off his cloak, his red and orange robe bright underneath. “Old man,” he murmured, abandoning his costumed voice. “Hardly.”

Sablemane tossed the garment to the side and eyed the silver and blue plate on the soldier. He abhorred plate. Too heavy and confining for spell-casting, but it would have to do. The outfit would help him become a bit more… uniform in the crowd and would allow him into places common Alliance were not allowed into, giving him a freer range to place potions. While the cloak had come in handy to hide his identity, it was, he knew, a tad conspicuous – judging by the looks he’d gotten walking in.

He dressed quickly. As expected, the plate was heavy against his shoulders; he fought down his growing aggravation at the costume by telling himself he’d be shedding it soon enough – and anyway, if it helped him catch his two quarries, so be it. His red and orange robe disappeared in smoke as he buckled the plate on; the outfit was, overall, a bit small, but at least it was secure.

The helmet was too crushed to wear, so he left it. No one would recognize him – though his eyes might be questionable.

Sablemane readjusted his satchel, huffed at how his costume clinked – how did plate-wearers deal with such a nuisance? - and stepped over the unconscious soldier’s body. His feet dragged up a trail in the sand as he made his way to the heart of Lion’s Landing to once again join the crowd.

No one so much as looked at him; Sablemane smirked, pleased. Never underestimate the invisibility of a common foot soldier.

The dragon stopped in the center of the complex. A smaller tower rose up a small rise to his left, and a thin pathway to the docks trailed out to his right. Up ahead was the largest building of the fort – a thick, manned white-stone structure of three levels that stood quiet, its back to the sea, strong and proud. Alliance through and through, even in architecture. Sablemane rolled his eyes. They were all very fussy, the Alliance.

But as far as he could tell, it was the best guess where the whelp might be with his human prince, judging by the surplus of guards that stood straight-backed against the high outposts up along the higher walls.

Sablemane hummed once. He took another look around; he had little trouble looking over the heads of mortals who walked by, thanks to his height.

The courtyard was a good enough start, he decided. Then he would place one at the tower, the docks -

He stopped. His eyes narrowed. He’d caught a scent, vague in the sharp air – was he fooling himself, or had he smelled dragon? And not the Black Prince, no – this was another.

Sablemane scanned the thinning crowd. The scent was gone. He saw no one that stuck out.

Perhaps he’d imagined it. He stared for another moment, eyes still in slits, before forcing himself to relax.

He needed to be hasty with the potions. The sun was nearly down and the sky shifting into bright pinks and orange, the final death-throes. A soldier skulking around in the dark to different locations would be questioned; he didn’t want that risk, though the dark would do well when he escaped with his catch.

The dragon moved from the thinning crowd to wander near the stable. Watching to make sure he wasn’t seen, he undid the flap of his satchel, reached inside and grabbed a vial. It was cold and shook slightly in his hand; swirling inside was a thick, moving mist. The potion was more air than liquid, now, and would move quickly with the sea breeze to spread over like a wildfire over Lion’s Landing and its inhabitants.

Sablemane waved his hand over the cork. A bright but dormant ember crackled to life atop the draught. The dragon nodded to himself, then slid the potion into the outer wall of the stable, right under the dip of the sloppily-built rain chute.

Good. One placed, and five to go.

The dragon fixed the location of the ember in his mind as he made his way to the next location – the tower. The plan was to have all vials placed and the embers, magically enhanced with the breath of dragon-flame, able to be lit from a distance with some simple magic to burst open the glass, releasing the mist. And judging by how the breeze flicked at his hair, he wouldn’t have to worry about it not spreading.

Sablemane was very pleased with himself.

And so he continued to place his souvenirs for the unknowing mortals: one in the tower, one near the docks, one in the small inner room of the largest keep, one on the keep’s first floor…

And no one questioned his trail. No one even noticed the one older soldier milling about with his head bent and his black hair falling against his face, hiding his eyes, his satchel growing less and less heavy.

Sablemane snorted as he rose from placing the fifth in the hallway of the Keep’s first floor. Mortals were so easy to fool – assume their form and you were suddenly no foe, but a friend.

Idiots.

One vial remained. He’d spotted a stairway on the immediate left of entering from the inner courtyard of the Keep. Perhaps a vial on the second floor would be good; the one he’d just placed would surely sweep up into the upper levels, but it never hurt to be cautious.

Sablemane went from the hallway and tried to walk up the stairs – but the soldier there struck out his lance to bar him from entry.

The dragon forced down a scowl.

“Is there a problem?”

“Only His Majesty’s personal guard is allowed beyond this point,” the draenei said. “You should be knowing this.”

Sablemane slid his eyes upwards.

Oh, good. His suspicions had been confirmed.

If the Royal Guard was stationed up there, there was obviously royals there to guard. The little human prince, for instance.

“Soldier?”

“What? Ah. My apologies.” Sablemane leveled his eyes on the draenei and the officer noticeably leaned back at the look. “Must have slipped my mind.”

The draenei nodded, but still looked at Sablemane with open wariness. The dragon went back to the hallway.

He took the last vial from the pouch. No matter. The upper floors would be reached by the potency of the potion. He placed the last draught on the opposite corner of the hallway, then moved back into the center.

He leaned, almost casually, against the wall, and smiled. The potions were set and ready, and so was he.

He pulled a thick mask soaked with another potion to negate the effects of the potion from his satchel, tied it around the lower half of his face, careful to watch for any mortals who might pass through and see him. But there were none; oh, how lucky he was to have come after a battle, when everyone was milling about with repairs outside! He smirked below the mask, closed the flap of his bag, and shut his eyes.

Sablemane outstretched his hand, palm down. He focused on the burning embers he’d placed on each of the potion’s corks. He found them, there in the center of his mind’s eye, and concentrated on their positions, on their flame, and soon all seven embers were at his command to manipulate.

The dragon’s hand began to curl into a fist and the flames in his mind, a flame for each vial, began to strengthen and well up with pressure as he focused.

And, with a quick crushing gesture of his hand, the six flames shot forth. The muffled sound of the potions on the first floor shot out, sharp against the stone walls.

Sablemane dropped his hand and opened his eyes. He stood from his lean. From the corner of the hallway drifted thick, white mist from the potions; it curled forward as if it had a mind of its own, its hazy edges stretching out like claws as it sought its victims to shove into sleep. It drifted passed his feet harmlessly and continued onward, only hurried by the sea wind from the open archways.

How easy. He was almost disappointed.

Without haste, the dragon began unbuckling the heavy plate; smoke curled around him, thick, and his red and orange outfit, complete with snake-shoulders, reappeared against his form. Sablemane rolled his shoulders back.

He smiled as the first metallic thunk of a falling soldier resounded heavily against the stone walls.

Now to find his prizes.

—-

Anduin focused hard on the book in front of him.

The mighty dragons, who had fled from the ever-advancing march of mortal societies, found themselves too evenly matched against the dark magics of the Legi-

The prince sighed and looked up at the ceiling. The words were just blurring together, as they had been for the past hour since he’d left his room.

He started drumming his fingers on the desk. He was in one of the spare rooms on the third floor, only a couple doors down from his own room; it’d been made into a haphazard library, filled mostly with medical books or Pandaren scrolls detailing the continent’s fauna, flora, and landscape. But there was some interesting historical reading, like the book he’d randomly plucked off the shelf when going inside to cool off after the argument – Aegwynn and the Dragon Hunt, coincidentally enough.

Anduin shook his head. He had enough thoughts about dragons to deal with.

He was still angry, despite how much he wished he wasn’t. Maybe he should go back and try to make peace.

Anduin ran a hand down his face and rubbed his eyes with his pointer finger and thumb. His head was lolled back so far as he looked back up at the ceiling that his hair was falling back; his legs were outstretched in front of him, lazy, but he didn’t care. No one was here to see him and chide him for being in such a “rude” position – rude for a prince, at least. His guards, which had followed him from the room and now flanked this door, couldn’t see him, anyway.

He exhaled loud and slow through his nose. Why should he go back to his room? Wrathion was being stubborn – as usual – and refused to see sense or even consider outside advice.

But the Black Prince was always like that, Anduin reminded himself. He scrunched his eyebrows together and glared at the ceiling. Of course Anduin himself would have to be the one to prompt an apology – or not even an apology, but rather a smoothing back of their aggravation at each other – and not the dragon. Wrathion was never one to say he was sorry.

The Black Prince was more than aggravating – he could be completely infuriating.

“An hour or two more won’t hurt,” Anduin murmured. He shook his head again and looked back down at the book, his back numb from leaning hard against the uncomfortable wooden chair. The two front legs of the front clacked back down as Anduin righted himself up.

He stared at the open book; a red sash indicated the last page he had read – not like he really remembered what he’d read at all, his mind too taken up with the problem of the dragon in the next room, and the dragon who they had argued over.

Anduin flicked half-heartedly through the pages, blinked hard, and closed the book. Dust plumed up from the paper.

He looked outside from the window next to the desk. The sun was only a crescent below the canopy, now, a dark red. The room was lit with the heavy color, and sharp shadows arced out from underneath every corner. It would be dark soon.

… Maybe he should go back. What was the point of another hour to cool off? Wrathion would still be moody and Anduin himself would be, too. And he was starving. A peace offering of food might work.

Something below shattered, muffled from the distance. Anduin glanced at his feet. The cooks must have dropped something in the kitchens.

The prince rose and stretched up his arms, his back tingling, and gave a satisfied sigh as his hands dropped to his sides again. He fluffed his hair back into place and went to grab his cane against the desk when a muffled thunk sounded from below. He didn’t think anything of it, at first, too preoccupied with thoughts of what he was going to say to Wrathion when he got back to the room – until more thumps and slams started.

Anduin startled. He looked at the floor with alarm.

What was going on down there?

A dark form fell across the window. Anduin jumped, looked to see what it was – and saw the scene unfolding outside. White mist, as thick as cotton and as fluid as water, curled outwards from every direction in the courtyard below; it bloomed from the tower, from the stables, from the smaller building closer to the forest. Anduin almost tripped over himself in his stumble to get a closer look out of the window.

Where the mist surged, Alliance fell. They simply collapsed as if punched and did not get up again. Horses on leads fell, and their handlers with them. Gryphons circling above fell – it must have been one falling that had streaked by his window to catch his attention. Two shamans near the tower on the rise with some quick thinking tried to summon wind, totems shearing into existence – but the mist reached them too quickly and they collapsed too. Shouts of alarm started and silenced as quickly as they had begun.

Anduin’s eyes were wide. Were – no. They weren’t dead. They were asleep. Even from this far up he could see some of the closer champions’ chests rise and fall.

Was this a Horde trick? He didn’t recall hearing about the Forsaken Apothecaries here on Pandaria.

Or could it possibly be Sabellian?

Anduin’s throat tightened. He had to get back to Wrathion. Right now.

The thunks from below, he recalled. The mist must have been in the Keep.

“Guards -”

He turned – only in time to see his two guards flanking the door crumple, and see the mist, like a shy dog, peek around the door frame.

Anduin shot up a shield. He was too slow. Even before the mist reached him his vision began to sway violently back and forth, and he stumbled forward, his grip on the cane loosening. It fell with a clang, but the sound was faraway, distant, heard through a fog.

The entire room began to swirl. He felt like he’d tripped again, but he wasn’t sure what way was up and what way was down. His vision started to blacken. His hands found purchase against something – the wall, maybe – and he tried to hold himself up, tried to talk a step forward – he needed to get to Wrathion, he needed to see what was going on, who this was, what was happening - but his knees gave way beneath him and as he hit the floor, the deep slumber of the mist overtook him.

—-

Wrathion groaned.

His mind was a murk; he could hardly think.

Where was he? What had happened?

The dragon couldn’t feel his body; it felt as if he was not weightless, but heavy, dead-weight against the blackness. Every bit of him was numb. Did he even have a body? He groaned again.

“Wake up, little prince.”

The voice was distorted in Wrathion’s haze. There was a pressure against -… was that his face? He couldn’t tell - and it shook what felt like his head shake back and forth.

The dragon struggled to regain his mind. He tried to remember what happened.

He’d been - … yes, he’d been alone in Anduin’s room. Left had gone. He’d been lounging on the chair, mulling over Sabellian and the human prince when he’d heard thunks and bumps around the Keep.

Then there was mist, white and thick. He recalled little else but passing out.

Wrathion groaned again. His body was still numb, but he was slowly starting to regain consciousness – at a sluggish pace, nonetheless. A pang of frustration welled behind his eyes.

His head was shaken back and forth again.

“Wake up.”

With a hiss, Wrathion managed to open one of his eyes with great effort, though it did not help much – his vision was unfocused. Everything was a blur, mere smears of shifting color. Red and orange swayed in front of him.

The prince tried to speak, but his words caught in his mouth as a slurred grumble.

“Yes. Very intelligent.” A pressure pulled against his hair and a dim pain on his scalp as it was pulled back. Wrathion grimaced, though even then his muscles were slow to respond. “Now, do wake. I have little time to waste.”

Wrathion’s focus snapped into place as the voice cleared.

Wait.

His other eye opened and fixed on the red and orange in front of him. It was still blurry, but the form was slowly becoming clearer, just as the voice had -

Sablemane – Sabellian - stood in front of him, eyes lidded and bored. He held Wrathion up by the younger dragon’s shoulder, pushing him against the wall; the Black Prince’s legs hung at least three feet from the floor.

“Now, don’t scare yourself,” Sablemane drawled as Wrathion’s eyes went wide – he was unable to do anything else, for his body was still numb. “That will make this harder for the both of us.”

No. Wait. Sabellian couldn’t be here. This was a nightmare, surely. The elder dragon couldn’t have – he - this was the Alliance’s main fort on Pandaria! He couldn’t -

The mist. The smoke. The sudden sleep, the sleep and numbness that still clung to him even now. It had to have been Sabellian’s doing.

This wasn’t a nightmare. Sabellian really was right in front of him.

His right arm began to sour with pain. For a brief moment he was in the cave again, and Sabellian’s hand was twisting his arm, and Nasandria was cutting and cutting – panic welled up in his chest and he tried to kick out, but only managed to get his knees to twitch.

Sablemane watched him with open amusement.

Where was Left? Where was – he stopped. Left was long gone by now, and even if she was here, she’d be as out cold as he had been a moment ago.

Anduin had been right. Sabellian had come back sooner than Wrathion had wished, before his plans with the chains could be carried through.

Wrathion hated Anduin for being right.

Wrathion had nothing. He couldn’t even speak. No. This couldn’t happen again. Please.

“A decent attempt. Now -” He plucked Wrathion’s dagger from his waist and slammed it forward; Wrathion flinched, waited for pain – but Sablemane had only stabbed it through excess cloth from his shirt to pin him to the wall. “Let’s talk for a moment, shall we? Though -” He looked Wrathion over. “Doubtful you’ll be able to speak at all. My potions worked better than expected, it seems. I suspected some numbness in my victims, but paralysis? Wonderful. A thanks to one of your champions who mentioned the waters of the Vale for an ingredient.”

Wrathion stared. His champio-?

Wait. Sabellian had spoken to them?

Wrathion tried to glare; was he the one who told them about Wrathion’s little lie?

“A naïve lot,” Sablemane commented. “Though some may not follow you now.” He saw Wrathion’s weak glare. “I would apologize, but unfortunately for you I’m not very sorry for it.”

The other dragon let go of him, and Wrathion simply hung on the wall. Sharp pins and needles began to flicker against his skin as the rest of his body struggled to wake. Anger and fear gripped his stomach, sour.

“Now. I was going to speak you to later, farther from here, but your lack of voice has presented an opportunity for me to talk without being interrupted by your crying. And besides -” He smiled. “No one will be bothering us. I believe they’re too busy dreaming.”

Wrathion tried to speak again, though all that came out was a low whine.

“Honestly, is there any use trying? Shut up.” The dragon crossed his arms and regarded Wrathion for a moment, his arms crossed; the Black Prince kept trying to move, desperate to get his body to wake, but it was still numb and lifeless. He hung there like a dead piece of meat.

“I will make this quick. My daughter found what purified you in the Badlands.”

Wrathion stopped trying to struggle.

Sablemane was squinting at him; his orange eyes looked the Black Prince over with some scrutiny. “It tore her arm off. She suggested some other gruesome ideas that may have resulted in you.”

They’d – they’d found it?

It tore the drake’s arm off?

The first memory of being ripped apart pulsed in the back of his mind. Wrathion tried to force it down before he felt sick; he already felt panicked with Sabellian sitting right on front of him. He didn’t need worse memories reappearing.

Wrathion stared at him. Maybe he was bluffing.

But then again, Nasandria wasn’t with him.

“You look like you have no idea what I’m talking about.”

And honestly, Wrathion didn’t.

Because he was in the egg when the Reds experimented on him. He didn’t know what, exactly, they’d done. He remembered being… created… but little else.

He had not told Sabellian what had cured him when tortured in the Kun-lai cave because he didn’t want Sabellian to know any information about it at all – he neglected to mention he had no idea what it was that cured him other than Titan technology. He’d been too proud to admit as much.

Sablemane eyed him.

“You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you?” It wasn’t a question anymore. Sablemane raised a brow – then laughed. Wrathion’s stomach twisted with hate.

“And here I thought you knew exactly what kind of experiment you were! Ha.” Sablemane laughed once again. “Well, alright. I’ll share what my daughter found with you.” He leaned forward. “She believes you’re created from three separate entities, pulled apart and stitched together by that machine.” He grabbed Wrathion’s chin and forced the younger dragon to look at him right in the face. “Yes. How very special that makes you. Purification for the price of being some sort of unnatural abomination.” Sablemane let go of his face. “I wonder if you had any idea, though I’m sure you did.”

Wrathion felt like he’d sunken into himself. Where there had been anger in his gut a second ago was now nausea and a fight to control himself.

His nightmares of his creation often included being torn apart and fused together.

If what Sablemane was saying was true – Wrathion forced himself to take a deep breath. No. He wasn’t an abomination. It was worth it. He was pure. He was uncorrupted, unlike the brother that stood before him. He was…

“My elder brother would have loved to study you; he did the same stitching of his own creations. Have you heard of Chromaggus? Or perhaps Chromatus? No? Well, how unfortunate.” Sablemane commented.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that. I wanted to confirm Nasandria’s idea, and apparently I have.” Sablemane snorted. “’Son of Deathwing.’ Hah. I wonder how many fathers and mothers you actually have if you’re the product of three separate beings?” He huffed in amusement, though his mocking smile soon fell from his face. “But I digress. I have too much fun poking fun at your expense. You see, Black Prince, I’ve found what’s purified you – but it’s only harmed my daughter and is of no use to me.” He raised a brow at Wrathion. “Do you know what else your champions told me?”

Apparently everything, Wrathion thought. Stupid, idiotic champions -

“They told me you’re very interested in the Titans. So I still have some use for you before I bite your head off. Surely there’s something else by our creators that can help my family. Ah. Also, I would advise you to be very, very helpful, whelp. Torture did not sway you as much as I’d liked it to last time, but I have a bargaining chip now.”

Sablemane moved back. Wrathion stared. Propped up against the side of the bed was Anduin, limp, his head drooped to his chest.

The elder dragon smiled as Wrathion’s eyes twitched. “I see I have your attention. Good. If you do not cooperate with helping me, I’ll rip your prince’s throat out. Understood?”

Sablemane went to say something else – but the elder dragon stopped. His mouth closed, and his eyes dilated to thin slits. He looked behind his shoulder, and Wrathion followed his gaze, but there was nothing there but the empty hallway.

“Let us relocate,” Sablemane said. His voice had a vague tinge of wariness. Had he heard something? Smelled something? Wrathion couldn’t even smell at all with his fogged senses. He glanced back at Anduin. The blond prince was fast asleep, unaware of the two dragons in the room.

Sablemane spread his hand out. Fire in the form of spikes shot from his fingers and exploded against the wall; bits of stone and other debris went flying and Wrathion closed his eyes, unable to move his head away from the explosion. Where the glassless window had been was soon an enlarged, smoldering crater, open to the sea air.

Sablemane grabbed Anduin, hauled him up, plucked the dagger from Wrathion’s clothes and grabbed him, too, before he fell – and then Sablemane chucked him out of the hole.

Wrathion fell hard against the roof outside. His back was so numb he felt no impact. The sky was dark and starry. He began to slide down.

The dragon panicked – the fall from the third floor would be a large one – and shifted into whelp form, thinking of the prospect of flight-… only to remember his body was unresponsive and his wings wouldn’t move just as much as his other limbs.

Smoke curled from the opening. Sablemane went through it – the smoke came from him – and shifted into his own dragon form, holding Anduin in one of his paws.

The roof groaned underneath the enormous weight. Bits of stone fell away and fell passed Wrathion to fall into the hard sand below.

The elder dragon snatched him up with his other paw just as Wrathion found purchase against the sliding roof.

Sabellian’s wings unfolded; with a great heave of the dragon’s wings, they shot up into the sky. Below were the still forms of the Alliance, gripped by the effects of the potion.

Sabellian was flying fast, faster than a casual pace, like he was trying to outrun something, or someone. Wrathion tried to squirm in the dragon’s claws, but could do nothing but stare glumly over at Anduin in the other paw as they disappeared above the canopy, cloaked by the darkness.

Chapter Text

Wrathion came to when a pressure squeezed up behind his back.

He yawned and opened one eye, exhaustion sticking to its corners. He blinked once, hard, when his vision refused to rid itself of its sleepy blur.

With a dullness he took in his surroundings. He was sitting, legs sprawled out, in a shallow cave, a mere indent in the earthy rock – rock more dirt than stone. Vines crawled down the sloped walls, intertwining like locked hands, and stretched out at the bottom as if they were reaching out to grab his legs. The smell of thick earth was heavy. The scent would have been comforting if Wrathion didn’t notice that he was tied up.

One of the vines was wrapped tight around his waist, buckling his left arm close and leaving his cast arm free. Wrathion scowled, his exhaustion sweeping away. He was tied up like some sort of hunter’s caught game.

The vine outstretched behind him, tying him to something else. Wrathion craned his head back.

Anduin, head slouched to his chest, had his back to Wrathion’s, and the vine was around him, too, tying them both together.

“Oh, now, this is ridiculous,” Wrathion complained aloud. He looked around. Sabellian was nowhere in sight. The Black Prince hissed under his breath.

They had flown for an hour at a harsh western direction as Sabellian had fled Lion’s Landing. Wrathion had been able to move for the latter half hour – though it had not amounted to much but being squeezed harder in Sabellian’s already-tight grip as he’d tried to squirm out from underneath the elder dragon’s claws.

He must have fallen back asleep. Idiot, he thought. Wrathion looked around again. The opening of the small cave was just to his side, a yard away, halfway hidden to the outside by hanging leaves and vines. The dragon curled a lip. He couldn’t see through the curtain of foliage.

Wrathion leaned forward – 0r at least tried to. The vine around his waist stretched and crackled and pulled Anduin forward with him, and the blond prince groaned.

The other prince was too much of dead-weight for the Black Prince to move very far. He grumbled and leaned forward an inch more, craning his head around the hanging vines; the dragon could just make out an enormous tree trunk that nearly blocked his whole field of vision. Beyond that, hazy in the dark, Wrathion saw tall rugged silver that swept high, higher than he could look up. It must have been the Wall, separating Krasarang from the Dread Wastes.

They were near the edge, then. Wrathion sighed and slouched back. He continued to eye the entrance.

Perhaps he could wriggle out of his bonds before Sabellian returned. The Black Prince glanced at the vines around them and tested the strength by trying to outstretch his tied arm -… but the vine was tied too tight, and was too thick, thicker than the pythons of these Wilds.

He sighed impatiently, then glanced behind his shoulder.

“Anduin,” he murmured, low enough to be unheard by anyone who may be outside – Sabellian, for instance. Wrathion moved his back against Anduin’s once, then twice, jostling him. “Anduin Wrynn.”

Anduin groaned again, louder than before. Wrathion moved up against him for the third time, more insistent.

“Stop it,” the prince grumbled. His voice was thick with sleep.

“Oh, good. You’re awake.”

Anduin mumbled something incoherent. His head continued to droop down to his chest.

Wrathion frowned, annoyed at Anduin’s lack of response, and bumped his back up against Anduin’s again. The prince exhaled loud from his nose.

“What?”

Wrathion said nothing. Anduin looked up. Wrathion couldn’t see his face, only the back of his head, but he could tell by the way the blond’s shoulders stiffened just the slightest amount as he looked left and right that the Alliance prince had realized what their situation was.

“Now, I know this looks bleak,” Wrathion started. “But -”

Slowly, Anduin turned his head back to Wrathion. His eyes were set in a glower, his brows tilted down, and he frowned back at the Black Prince with such an expression of I told you so that the dragon stopped mid-sentence at the insulting glare.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that!”

Anduin continued to glare.

Wrathion scoffed.

“Preach at me all you’d like, Anduin Wrynn, but -”

“I told you this would happen,” Anduin interrupted with a snap. Though his voice was slogged with sleep the normal aggravation he spoke with was clearly evident. Wrathion went to speak but Anduin continued to. “Where are we?! This was Sabellian’s work, wasn’t it?”

By the way Anduin was looking at Wrathion, his last statement was not a question. Wrathion huffed.

“First, lower your voice before you attract any unwanted attention. Second, I will have you know that yes, it is Sabellian -”

Anduin’s glare deepened and he looked away, his shoulders stiff against Wrathion’s.

“I told you,” Anduin muttered. “But of course you didn’t listen. As always.”

“Now you’re just being dramatic.”

“I’m being dramatic? You have no room to talk about being dramatic, Wrathion.”

Wrathion scowled and shoved his back against Anduin’s as a retort. Anduin responded with his own shove.

The Black Prince hissed under his breath and turned his head away from Anduin. He eyed the opposite wall, eyes trailing around the vines, and took a deep, huffing breath to calm himself.

“We’re in Krasarang,” Wrathion mumbled. Anduin responded with a low mm that sounded less that enthusiastic. “You can be angry at me later, prince, but for now I would really like to be out of these rope – ah – vines.”

Anduin glanced down at their bindings. The vine grew taut around Wrathion’s waist as Anduin pulled his chest forward, and the dragon grunted. The vines loosened again at the sound and Anduin propped his back up against Wrathion’s again.

“They’re tight.”

“Thank you for that excellent observation. I couldn’t have figured that out myself.”

Anduin craned his head back and shot Wrathion a glare before looking away again. “Can you burn them?”

Wrathion grinned. “Oh! Yes.”

Anduin’s hair brushed up against the back of Wrathion’s as the blond prince nodded.

The Black Prince craned his neck down, and moved his cast arm away from his chest to get a better angle. From the corner of his eye he saw Anduin look out to the entrance.

Wrathion pulled at the center of his chest, the source of his flame, and shot it through his mouth; airy fire drifted slower than he would have liked from his open jaw and began to burn at the first layer of vine.

But it was too slow. Wrathion scowled. The vine must have been plucked recently; it wasn’t brittle, not easily flammable like rope would have been. Where scorch marks should have been as his fire touched the vibrant green were instead ugly yell0w-brown bruises.

“Wrathion. Stop.”

The dragon’s jaw clacked shut. He looked at Anduin. “I can -”

Anduin shot him a look and Wrathion stopped talking. The human gestured his head to the entrance. In a whisper, he said: “I hear someone outside.”

Wrathion glanced up at the entrance. The shallow cave went quiet. Outside chirped crickets and the occasional, muffled cry of a night-bird.

The Black Prince heard nothing. He went to snap at Anduin when a voice came from beyond the curtain of vines.

“How sick are you, exactly?”

Wrathion stiffened; it was Sabellian. The elder dragon sounded distant, though coming steadily closer.

There was a muted static-like sound.

“That’s little to worry about. You can easily make the rest of the flight over the sea.” A pause. The static began again. Wrathion’s ears twitched. What was that obnoxious noise? “No. What a stupid idea. I will heal you when you arrive if your fire sputters out completely.” Another pause. Static. A huff. “Yes. Dealing with these two brats will be easy on my own, but backup is always necessary. I am playing this game with caution.”

Anduin looked back at Wrathion. The Black Prince continued staring straight ahead, transfixed on where Sabellian’s voice was coming from.

“Wrathion,” Anduin murmured. Wrathion hardly heard him. Anduin jostled him. “The vines. If we’re quick -”

The Black Prince jumped and looked away at the vines. “Oh, yes. Of course.” Anduin’s eyes began to grow vaguely concerned. Wrathion rolled his eyes, opened his mouth and drew fire again. The vines began to smolder after a few moments – longer than Wrathion would have liked, as his chest began to grow light with the continual stream of flame – and -

“I wouldn’t do that.”

Wrathion’s mouth shut and his head snapped over. Sabellian, in his human form, walked in from the entrance, pushing away the hanging vines from his face, the brittle leaves crackling underneath his feet. One of his hands was flapping the satchel at his waist closed.

The elder dragon sighed with great bravado. “I’d had hoped you would have stayed asleep for longer -”

Wrathion shot a targeted flame from his already-heated mouth.

Sablemane ducked and the fireball burst against the wall.

“That was rude,” Sablemane commented with a huff, straightening himself out. “No, don’t try that again,” the dragon added, as Wrathion curled his lips back. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” His eyes flickered to Anduin.

Wrathion exhaled with a growl, sagging back against the blond prince and lowering his lips. Smoke plumed from his throat.

Sablemane snorted.

“Rude is snatching me away in the night and expecting me to be compliant!” Wrathion complained. He struggled against the vines, growled once in aggravation, then went still again. “Release these bonds.”

Sablemane watched him struggle. Wrathion noticed the look of amusement on the other dragon’s face and his chest lit with anger.

“Of course you’ll be compliant; you just were a moment ago. And no. I won’t release you.” He sounded bored.

Without waiting for a reply Sablemane looked over at Anduin.

“And yes, hello, young prince. No need to glare at me with such disdain. I can assure you that a simple look from your pale face doesn’t stir any fear in me.”

“I demand you let us go at once.”

Sablemane raised a brow and glanced at Wrathion. “Is the human prince stupid?”

Wrathion went to reply but Anduin was quicker. “I have a name. It’s Anduin Wrynn. I -”

“I know what your name is. I just don’t care.”

Anduin drooped back against Wrathion. The Black Prince was glowering at the other dragon.

“I tend to agree with my dull friend here,” Wrathion said, dropping his glower as his voice took on the smooth courtesy reserved mostly for wooing his champions. There was simply no conceivable way he could burn the fresh vines, pulpy with water and thus more resistant to his flame, quick enough with Sabellian standing right in front of him, and he obviously couldn’t fight the dragon tied up. Maybe his regular charm could work. “Perhaps we could simply talk this -”

“I think not. I saw what ‘talking’ did for me before.” Sablemane looked at Anduin. “Two bolts in my shoulder and a son dead for good measure. No. I believe I am done being distracted by pleasantries.”

Wrathion scowled. “I will have my Blacktalons come after you,” the Black Prince snapped. Good, he thought. Sabellian didn’t want to play nice, and neither did he. “They encompass every inch of Pandaria. Are you foolish enough to think you can hide with their Prince again?”

Sabellian raised a brow. “Oh? Hm. A minor wrench in my plans, I suppose.”

Wrathion allowed himself a smirk. In this quiet cave, he could easily contact Left, or any of the other Agents close by. And then -

“But I believe you’re forgetting about my sway over you, Black Prince.” Sablemane nodded his head to Anduin. “I do hope you remember what I warned you.”

Wrathion’s smirk wobbled. “You’re clearly bluffing. I’m -”

Sablemane snapped his hand forward and grabbed Anduin by the hair so quickly Wrathion hardly had time to jump in surprise. Sablemane’s other hand curled around the blond prince’s throat and Anduin jerked back, but the dragon held him fast; Wrathion went still.

“Are you sure I’m bluffing?” Sablemane asked coolly.

Anduin grunted lowly; Wrathion couldn’t see from his angle, but the other dragon must have been digging his claws into the blond’s neck.

“I care little about this prince’s life. He’s of no use to me but to be able to manipulate you. Now. Do you want to take the gamble of my supposed ‘bluff’ or not?”

Sablemane and Wrathion stared at one another. Wrathion’s smirk was gone.

Slowly, Wrathion shook his head. Sablemane smiled almost pleasantly and let go of Anduin’s throat and hair, and the blond prince coughed.

“Good.”

Wrathion scowled.

“And if I do find you’ve contacted your ants, I will tear both the prince’s arms off. Do we have an understanding?”

“You won’t know if I’ve contacted them or not,” Wrathion replied, struggling to latch on to some semblance of control of the situation that was spiraling out of his hands. Being snatched up by Sabellian at Lion’s Landing had felt like a foggy dream, but now that the effects of the potion had worn off with all of its daze that had muddied his head, the situation had only worsened in its reality.

Being kidnapped once was shameful enough. Being kidnapped twice? Pathetic.

His right arm began to throb. No, he thought. He couldn’t afford to start to panic as he had in Anduin’s room when under the effects of the potion. Sabellian may have grabbed him, but this would not end in pain as it had in the Kun-lai cave, even pain that was not directed to him, but the other prince at his back.

Sablemane shrugged, nonchalant. “I will see and smell them, and I will keep the human prince close to me. How well can your ants attack me without the human being harmed if I have my claws ready to rip his arms from their sockets?”

Wrathion went silent. Sablemane rolled his eyes.

“Honestly, Anduin Wrynn -” he stressed the name with great mocking “- how did you throw in your lot with this little monster? It amazes me.”

“He isn’t a monster,” Anduin replied defensively. Sablemane chuckled without humor. Wrathion felt his chest constrict. Anduin didn’t hear about the other dragon had said about what he’d learned of in the Badlands. He didn’t know that Wrathion’s nightmares were no nightmares at all, but realities. That he was made of – no. He didn’t want to remember.

Anduin Wrynn could not know. No one could.

“But that’s besides the point. This has gone too far, and it needs to end before it gets worse.”

Wrathion relaxed. Anduin had spoken before Sabellian had gotten the chance to.

Anduin shifted against Wrathion. “You’ve attacked an Alliance fort, and my father -”

“Oh, yes. The King of Stormwind. I saw him having a nice doze as I searched for the both of you.” Sablemane smoothed down his facial hair with his thumb and pointer finger in a quick, secondary motion. “Though I left him alone; don’t look so worried.” The dragon paused in mock thoughtfulness. “Hm. Tell me, little prince: how will your father know where to look if he does not know who took you?”

He had a point. Wrathion cursed to himself.

Anduin said nothing. He must have realized, too.

Sablemane shook his head and glanced at the bruises Wrathion’s fire had caused on the vines.

“Now, sit there and be quiet. I don’t want to have to tell you to shut up over and over.”

He turned and, crossing his arms, looked out of the entrance with his back to the two princes.

Wrathion squinted.

… That was it?

He shifted, trying to roll his shoulders back but finding he couldn’t because of Anduin being pressed up so close that he could even feel the human’s heart beating against his spine.

He’d assumed Sabellian would have started questioning him about the Titan technology he so desperately needed to purify his remaining brood – if the brood was still alive, of course, Wrathion thought.

What was Sabellian waiting for?

He watched quietly as the other dragon looked out the entrance. Sabellian seemed to be in no hurry – which was odd, Wrathion mused, as the elder dragon’s flight had initially been quick.

There was also the question of why they were still in Krasarang. Surely this wasn’t the spot Sabellian wanted to hide in, Wrathion realized.

Sabellian was stalling.

But for what?

A thought occurred to him.

“What hurried you off at Lion’s Landing?” Wrathion asked. Sablemane continued to look ahead.

“Nothing, save for the idea that the mortals could wake and find me there.”

Wrathion didn’t believe that. Sabellian’s narrowed eyes, the way he looked so quickly over his shoulder there in Anduin’s room – something had caught his attention.

“Was it perhaps your Old Gods speaking to you?” Wrathion quipped. Sablemane looked back at him, glaring.

“No. Though I’m sure you would wish it were the opposite so your witch hunt could have meaning, I’m sure.”

“Wrathion,” Anduin muttered. “Stop.”

“I’m only asking him a simple question.”

“Wrathion.”

The Black Prince sighed and leaned hard against Anduin’s back. The blond prince made a low noise, but otherwise stayed still. Anduin was right, Wrathion supposed; better to stay silent and scheme than poke more insults at the dragon who’d just threatened to dismember the Alliance prince.

“Very well. Where do you plan to take m - us?”

“Elsewhere.” The other dragon was looking out at the entrance again, tilting his head up, eyes squinted as if searching for something up in the trees.

That had at least confirmed Wrathion’s suspicions that this was just a stop.

The cave went quiet again. Sablemane continued to stand at the entrance. Agitation was abuzz around the elder dragon through the stiffness of his pose and the way his crossed hands tapped impatiently against his upper arms.

Wrathion turned away. Sablemane was too distracted with – whatever he was worried about to train the rest of his attention on the two princes.

Good. It gave the Black Prince some time to think.

He looked at the wall of vines in front of him again, and stretched out his legs, which had begun to cramp, arcing his back against Anduin’s and ignoring the grunt of protest from the other prince as the blond was pushed back.

Sabellian wanted Wrathion to work with him to find Titan technology to purify his family with Anduin as a bargaining tool. The dragon sighed through his teeth.

What was he supposed to do? He had no idea if he had found anything like the thing that had purified him here in Pandaria!

Granted, he had no idea what the thing in the Badlands had been. He flickered his eyes to Sablemane before looking back at the wall. The thing had torn the other drake’s arm off, anyway; if there was just another copy of the same technology here, no doubt it would do the same.

The Black Prince grumbled.

He wondered if Left had secured the chains yet -… but dismissed the idea immediately. No; of course she hadn’t. It’d only been a handful of hours since he’d asked her to go to Mogu’shan Vaults, though it felt like days. Not like he could use the chains, tied up like he was, though. His right hand flexed, and he grimaced at the crackling pain in his cast.

“You need to help him.”

Wrathion flicked his eyes back, tilting his head just slightly to look behind at Anduin. The blond prince was looking straight ahead, but his head drooped. He’d only just woken up from the potion, Wrathion remembered; it must have still been clinging to him.

“I seem to have no choice, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion murmured, low enough so that Sablemane couldn’t hear. He cast a quick look over to the elder dragon, but his brother hadn’t moved, and did not seem to know they were speaking. The Black Prince looked back at Anduin. “Though you do have some experience in being kidnapped by dragons. Perhaps you have some idea on how to remedy this situation?”

Anduin turned to glare.

“What? Onyxia was his sister. There must be some similarities, surely.”

“I was ten years old,” Anduin whispered hoarsely, his voice rising just a hair. “I couldn’t do very much.”

“Pity.”

“You were kidnapped by Sabellian before. Maybe you have an idea on how to ‘remedy this situation.’” Anduin’s voice oozed sarcasm.

It was Wrathion’s turn to glare.

“I will figure something out,” the dragon snapped.

“I hope your scheme works out better than burning the vines did.”

Wrathion huffed. “Now you’re just being purposely difficult.”

“I’m not being difficult. I’m angry. This whole thing could have been avoided!”

“Oh, dear, I’m very sorry, Prince Anduin. How may I appease the great Prince of Stormwind?”

“Stop it.”

“Make me.”

Anduin shoved his back against Wrathion’s. The dragon shoved back. The Alliance prince made an aggravated sound.

“Will you two shut up?” Sablemane snapped, making Wrathion jump. The dragon was glaring at them. “Sit there and be quiet!”

The two princes stopped and went silent again, though the Black Prince could feel Anduin’s irritation practically buzzing off of his skin.

Wrathion huffed and busied himself with glaring at the wall, unable to do little else other than to think about his miserable situation.

—-

Two hours had passed since he’d shouted at the princes to be quiet. Sabellian sighed noisily as he stretched out his front legs, arcing his back downwards as he loosened up the taut muscles there in his spine and his shoulders. He straightened, fluffing out his red wings with a yawn; he snapped his maw shut quickly when he heard shifting from inside the cave.

“I said don’t move,” he growled, and the moving stopped. He rolled his eyes. The Black Prince was not taking his confinement well, which annoyed the elder dragon. Wrathion had little leverage; he needed to learn when to be subservient.

Sabellian doubted he would.

No matter. The Alliance prince had proved a valuable chip to make Wrathion listen to Sabellian’s commands. The fact that a pale human could make Wrathion silent amused the dragon to no end.

He looked back up at the high canopy, high even to him in his dragon form. He’d shifted just a moment ago, ready to take the rest of the flight to another hideaway. Two hours had gone and went without any sign of pursuers or the recurrence of the scent he’d caught when speaking to Wrathion in the Alliance prince’s room.

Sabellian shook his head. Perhaps he was being too paranoid, but he cared little. He would not be losing the Black Prince again. He had lost too much already to have the whelp be snatched away - Talsian dead and Nasandria maimed. The latter drake was struggling to make it over the sea back to Pandaria; she was sick. Sabellian flexed his claws and turned to the entrance. She would make it, he told himself. She had made it this far.

The dragon reached in the cave with a paw and grabbed the two princes in his talons before yanking them back out. They were still tied together; it allowed him to have one paw free. He hooked a talon through the vine, made sure he had a tight grip, and trudged onwards to find a good place to lift back through the canopy.

“This is uncomfortable,” the Black Prince complained with a whine. Sabellian rolled his eyes.

“Good.”

“Where, exactly, do you hope to take us now?”

“I said ‘elsewhere’ before and ‘elsewhere’ is all the answer you will be getting.”

There was a slim opening in the tree leaves above. Sabellian lifted his wings and jumped into the air, spiraling upwards and pushing through the canopy that enclosed around him. Bits of branches and foliage tore away from him as he forced his way through.

“Ow!”

One of the branches must have hit the whelp. Sabellian snorted and leveled out, shaking his head to rid himself of a large wad of moss that clung to his double-horns.

“My apologies.”

They were above the canopy now, high in the dark, starry sky. To his left stretched out the large silver-and-gold wall, strangely elaborate and mighty in its simple design. He looked at it with some vague appreciation, turning his head north as it continued to yawn onwards, disappearing from sight in the dark.

Sabellian made his flight speed at a comfortable, average pace, unlike the quick fleeing one he had used when leaving Lion’s Landing. His wing beats were quiet. They were swift to pass over the cliff that separated Krasarang Wilds and the Valley of the Four Winds. The green plains stretched near-endlessly out in front of him; he had no thick trees to conceal him from sight, now.

At least it was night, and at least his scales were black and able to blend, especially this high up in altitude.

The princes had gone quiet in his claw. The blond had been more silent than the Black Prince – perhaps pouting. Sabellian was thankful for the quiet, at any rate. The two were more obnoxious when squabbling with one another than the hatchlings play-fighting at Blade’s Edge.

Sabellian followed the Wall, keeping it always to his left. He could see, just above it, the shadowy outlines of faraway trees, enormous in size, on the other side. He passed over a huge chunk of the great monument that had caved inward; it looked to be in the process of being patched up, but in the darkness the work site was abandoned.

Sabellian looked up again. He mulled over his good luck. The plan had gone perfectly – even better than he had expected, if he was honest with himself. No one had seen him slip in among the fallen soldiers and guards and heroes, even slipping by a king, to grab the two. The only people who had seen him were those individuals tied in his claws.

He continued to fly. Some time passed when something behind him caught his attention – a gentle whoosh of air.

Sabellian snapped his head back, fins rising.

There was nothing but the dark sky and the Wall and the thin clouds. The dragon narrowed his eyes and flared his nostrils, searching for some sort of scent, but the only thing was the smell of the grass below and the woodsy, near bug-like one from across the wall.

Slowly, he looked ahead again.

“Something else scare you?”

He glared down at his paw. The Black Prince’s smoky red eyes, lidded, looked back at him.

Sabellian squeezed his grip. Both prince’s grimaced.

“Take control of your dragon’s mouth, Anduin Wrynn,” Sabellian retorted. He looked up again, shaking out his shoulders as if attempting to brush away the uneasy feeling that was clung to the tip of the spikes along his back.

It was only a slight of air, Sabellian told himself. Perhaps one of the monstrous hawks he’d seen before. Nothing more.

His uneasiness began to drift away as he flew on without anymore of the sounds cropping up behind him.

The mountains that swept up to form the barrier of the Vale finally came into view, but only just. He’d have to take a steady left to go passed them, and veer across the Wall -

The nerves at the base of his fins began to tingle. Sabellian narrowed his eyes. What on earth -

There was another whoosh right above him.

And then the fiery smell of dragon – the same smell he had caught twice in Lion’s Landing, the smell that had made him hurry away so quickly, the smell that had made him stall there in the cave.

Sabellian snarled and spun.

Claws larger than his own slammed down hard against his shoulders before he could pivot fully, buckling him down through the air. The wind screamed against him as the force of the tackle forced him into a dive. A roar tore from his mouth.

His tail swept upwards and cracked against his assailant, and the claws against his shoulders jerked away. It lessened the leverage just enough for Sabellian to be able to turn. He swept his head back and shot a pressurized ball of flame.

It struck the other dragon hard in the chest. They roared, wings splaying out against the starry sky.

In the explosion of fire Sabellian’s eyes were blurred from the dragon’s appearance; he cared little about it at that fleeting moment. His wings once again caught on the breeze and he swept back upwards through the smoke.

It was then, as he arced forward, wings beating hard, blowing away the glare from the flame and the thick smoke of the impact, that he saw the dragon’s form; the red scales were bright even in the night, and the large silver horns so recognizable that the moment he saw them and the jewelry that hung from their curves he almost faltered.

Alexstrasza the Life-binder shook herself out from the flame hit and surged up after him.

“Hah!”

Sabellian hissed. The Black Prince had recognized the dragon, too. He squeezed the princes harder in his claw and continued his flight upwards, plummeting into the clouds.

His mind was quick, his thoughts a-frenzy with anger and surprise. Alexstrasza the Life-binder?! Was this some ill-imagined nightmare? He tossed a glance behind him and there she was, hurrying after him. She was more than a quarter, if not more than a half, the size of him.

Sabellian leveled out from his harsh vertical. He was waiting for some flame, some other attack from the Aspect, but she simply followed him, legs tucked in close to her bulky body.

No, she was truly there. There was no mistaking her appearance.

The princes – he cursed. She had been at Lion’s Landing; it was her he’d smelled twice! She’d been there – apparently guarding, now that she was attacking him. No wonder she wasn’t shooting fire; she risked harming the two in his paws.

… Why was she helping the Black Prince?!

Alexstrasza lurched forward. Before he could duck, her claws snatched onto the base of his tail and her heavy weight slammed down, and he tumbled for a moment with a screech before whipping his tail back. But the trick did not work as it had before; the Aspect swung her neck back, the spiked club of his tail sailing just beneath her jugular, before she struck out with her open, snarling maw.

Her teeth clamped hard at the bony edge of his left wing. Sabellian roared again as the pain shot up, and he jerked back. They began to plummet again. The wall became a blur of silver to his side.

Alexstrasza wanted him on the ground.

He snarled.

Sabellian, in a quick maneuver, swirled his body around despite the pain, belly up, his claws tightening hard on his two captives. His right wing went loose at his side, and their speed began to quicken to the earth. One of the princes yelled out.

Sabellian’s free claw swept out and smashed against the side of Alexstrasza’s face. The impact sent the Red’s maw tearing back from his wing, and blood plumed from the open wound, spraying back into the air. He hardly registered it.

Before she could recover he twisted back upright and shot another flame. It burst against the Aspect’s shoulder, and she snarled.

“What business do you want, Aspect?” Sabellian yelled in the quiet second of a heartbeat he had to speak as Alexstrasza began to stretch her wings again and recover from the blow. His left wing began to beat with a sharp pain; he bore his teeth and flapped his wings hard to keep himself at a hover.

“Release the two princes,” the Life-binder responded. “I do not wish to harm you any longer.”

He snarled in response and kicked out with his back legs as she soared the slightest inch closer. She dodged with ease with a simple flick of her wings.

“I will not,” Sabellian said. “This is of no concern to you.”

So much for keeping his existence a secret, he thought.

Before waiting for her reply, he folded his wings and dove.

The rush of wind behind him told him that she was following. He hissed. With only one of his paws free, his fighting was constricted.

“A lopsided fight, wouldn’t you say?” Wrathion yelled up from his claw against the wind. “I wish you luck against a former Aspect!”

He snarled, and it was only then that he realized the wind had stopped behind him.

Sabellian went to push back – but Alexstrasza tore up from beneath him and tackled him with such force his head snapped back.

The dragon’s senses shook. His chest heaved with pain from the impact.

Sabellian roared as he forced through the sensory overload; his free claw dug into her plated shoulder and found purchase beneath her scales, pricking against the thick skin beneath. Alexstrasza’s back legs found leverage against his softer stomach, and her forelegs caught around his own shoulders.

The two dragons went tumbling, hopelessly interlocked.

Alexstrasza struck out with her neck and her maw snapped against air as he tore his head back. He rammed his head forward, but she dodged as well.

They continued to snap at one another, all while spiraling to the quickly-approaching earth.

Alexstrasza managed to tear her teeth against the soft flesh underneath his neck. Sabellian hissed at the sharp pain and swept the claw hooked into her shoulder back, pulling forward blood and shearing away a handful of her ruby scales. She, in turn, dug her teeth in harder, and he screamed, draconically, in anger.

Sabellian kicked forward with his back legs and struck her against the gut. Alexstrasza grunted, loosening her hold. The ground was only yards away now. He tore back, kicking out again, fire scorching across her face just as one of her claws grazed the side of his own snout, pulling off some of his scales.

He went to twist away, away from her grip – but her claw struck out again there at his face. Sabellian ducked his head, but saw, in the slim moment he did, the Aspect feint her talons from his head to the claw that held the hostages.

Alexstrasza’s paw slammed into his. Fire burst against her talons and the vines around the princes began to smoke in that single second.

Sabellian screamed. He struggled to keep his hold.

In his flurry he didn’t see Alexstrasza ram her head forward. Her horns slammed hard into his already-bruised chest with such force he was pushed back away from her as her claws that had held him close tore back from him.

He spun back from the impact. His tail flailed, and cracked against Alexstrasza’s foreleg.

His paw was throbbing, but he snarled and tightened his hold. Ashes from the vines fell away. One of the princes – Wrathion, maybe – shouted out in aggravation.

“You won’t be escaping that easily,” Sabellian growled.

He tucked in his wings tight. The wounds he had given Alexstrasza were child’s play. She may have been a former Aspect, but her sheer size was to be feared, as well as her age and experience.

Sabellian was old, but Alexstrasza was older.

He was no fool. He could not best Alexstrasza the Life-binder in battle.

Better to try to escape.

Sabellian opened his mouth. Chaotic, unhinged fire spurt forth from his throat, and he twirled, wings twisting back and forth. The smoke from his flames bent around his movements.

He beat his wings hard once, and the smoke shot forward, all while flame continued to spray thick from his mouth; it curled through the air in droves, until it become something akin to a living curtain of fire. Beyond the roar of his inferno Alexstrasza screeched, her noise muffled by the flame and smoke.

The flame blocked him from view.

Sabellian tucked his paws close, not wanting to incinerate his prizes – not yet, anyway – and took his chance. His scales blended into the smoke and into the dark of the sky and he surged forward in the opposite direction of the Life-binder. If he could just get over the Wall, he could hide beyond -

A fireball burst against the base of his neck. It was not the flames, which were harmless, that made him roar, but the force of the hit. His wings jolted.

“Augh!”

He looked at the princes, orange eyes burning with rage, and pivoted to face the Life-binder again. His trick had, apparently, worked for only a moment; he had been too slow in his escape.

Alexstrasza struck out from the cloud of smoke with her maw curled back and a flame sparking at the back of her throat.

“Be wary of the princes, Life-binder!” Sabellian taunted, as he lifted his paw with the two to shield his chest. Though he was hovering once again, his wings were slowly beating him backwards and away from her. Wrathion was struggling in the vines, and Anduin was positively white-faced, as pale as a ghost, with a tinge of sickly green in his cheeks.

Sabellian laughed a bark of a laugh as the Red’s mouth snapped closed. He turned and flew again. With his left wing injured, his flight was not as quick, but he could outrun her; she was bigger, and thus less agile.

That gave him an idea.

The black dragon turned quickly – in the direction he had previously been flying away from.

Sabellian shot passed Alexstrasza. The Red roared and turned to fly after him.

He smirked as she took the bait.

The dragon’s flight began to zig-zag and plummet and stroke upwards into the clouds. Alexstrasza followed – but grew progressively farther away as she was unable to keep up with him.

“I believe I’ve outsmarted your savior,” Sabellian commented, as he craned his neck back to look at Alexstrasza. She was leagues away now.

“Best not speak so soon,” Wrathion said. Sabellian snapped his head forward. Why did he sound so – confident again?

“Don’t try -”

White-hot pain seared across his face and he jerked his head back with a screech, his flight nearly coming to a halt.

What on – he snarled and forced his eyes to open despite the pain. His vision was clouded with a white blur, the after-effects of the spell-… though they were able to lock onto his paw and see the Alliance prince’s hand outstretched and shining with white fire – Holy fire – and growing again for another hit. The vines – they were nearly gone, only one remaining looped around the Black Prince. Alexstrasza’s fire had smoldered them through while he had flown, and Anduin’s hand had managed to come free first.

“You little -!”

A force rammed into his back and he tumbled forward – and lost the grip on the princes.

“No!”

His head was jerked upwards – he did not see the princes begin to fall.

He screamed and tried to turn around – get her off, get her off, he needed to grab them before Wrathion could shift and escape - but too late. One of the Red’s claws had grabbed onto the back of his horns, and the other soon snatched onto the back of his neck.

Sabellian flailed out his legs, but she was too heavy. All her weight shoved down, and they plummeted.

The ground swept up to him.

He slammed, chest first, into the earth and slid, and the impact sent his body aflame with shock and pain so hard that his vision shook.

Dirt and grass caved out from his slide; his body left behind a long ditch in the plains.

The black dragon came to a stop and made a groan mixed with a snarl. He tried to get up, but roared when his left front leg pushed up against the ground, agony searing up his forearm. He had twisted it in the fall.

Alexstrasza was heavy atop him; both her forearms remained placed on his horns and neck, respectively, and one of her back legs pinned against his tail.

The former Aspect snarled in his face and shoved his head back to bare his neck. The black dragon hissed and struggled, dirt flinging up from his paws, the ground boom boom booming as the club of his tail slammed down in its thrashing against the grass.

Alexstrasza’s grip did not loosen at his struggling. Sabellian growled and stilled.

“Fine!” He snapped. He breathed heavily. The sting from his wounded wing, from his bruised chest, from all the rest of his injuries, began to beat like a second heart. “Very well. I submit.”

Alexstrasza was panting as well. She bore his neck up to her for a second more before her grip on his horns loosened -

He tore upwards, scrambling to his feet despite his twisted ankle, and snapped his jaw around her neck. In the quick movement, taking her by surprise, he pushed her back, rearing onto his back legs.

Alexstrasza reared up in response, and he twisted his neck around, digging harshly with his teeth into her flesh as the Life-binder’s claws arced across his chest and drew gashes of blood.

They struggled. One pushed, and the other pushed back. Their claws and teeth slashed and snapped. Scales were shorn off. Their fangs ripped into one another’s armored flesh, seeking the skin and vulnerability underneath.

Sabellian made a sloppy dodge as Alexstrasza’s teeth snapped next to one of his eyes. He stumbled back, and the Red took the open opportunity to find purchase on his shoulders with her front claws and viciously heave him to the side.

The sheer strength made him stumble away from her. He landed back on all fours, wings splayed out to the air. Blood dripped down the pattern of his scales and he backed up a step, pulling his maw back in a silent snarl as Alexstrasza sank back to the ground on all her legs; her land made the ground shake. She, too, bled profusely – but not as much as he did.

Where were the princes? He dared not look away from her. One slip and his throat would not be bared next time, but ripped out, surely.

He hoped they had not fallen to their deaths. That would be unfortunate for him.

“I suppose your wish to keep me unharmed has fled, Life-binder?” He sneered. He shot a quick ball of flame and it exploded just in front of her feet, sending rocks flinging up at her face. The grass caught fire and began to smoke. Alexstrasza simply walked over the growing flames.

“You have left me no alternative,” she replied. Her teeth were stained with his blood.

“You seem to have lost those you tried to save, might I point out,” Sabellian snapped. “Or perhaps you saw them fall to their deaths?”

She shook her head. Sabellian narrowed his eyes. Her silence made him suspicious. Had she seen something he had not?

The fire against the grass grew quickly. Sabellian turned back as Alexstrasza grew closer.

They began to circle one another. The black dragon’s wings were loose, ready to fly if the former Aspect lurched forward with an attack. He scowled at the limp in his step. Smoke curled from his open, snarling mouth.

“You are protecting the wrong side, Alexstrasza,” Sabellian scorned, flexing his claws against the grass as the two dragons continued to circle. The smoke from the smoldering fields rose behind the Red’s back, silhouetting her against the darkness.

“I am protecting no side,” she replied. Sabellian wanted to tear that ever-patient look on her face, the ever-patient tone in her voice. It infuriated him. “I am only protecting two individuals.”

“And how has the Black Prince reined you into his circle of followers, Life-binder?” His tail swung once. A gust of wind blew the smoke into a thinner but larger blanket, encircling them. The grass popped and crackled as the fire ate across it. “I would think that someone as infinitely wise as yourself would see he’s just a brat with an overinflated sense of entitlement.”

“I do not wish harm on either of them.”

She was evading the question. He hissed, fins flaring to their full extent.

A small movement behind her, visible even beyond the smoke, caught his attention. He looked over, squinting -

The Black Prince was trying to haul the Alliance prince to his feet, but the blond was struggling to get up – Sabellian could not see why.

How had they both made it to the ground?

Sabellian hissed. At least they had not died, but he had to get to them before Alexstrasza did. The Aspect began to look where he had been looking.

“No?” Sabellian said, loudly, drawing her attention back to him. He tried to turn his gait closer to her, but the Red saw and snarled. He backed his step up and continued on his regular walk at the same distance. “Do you know why I’m here, Life-binder?”

“I do not.”

The black dragon snorted. “Oh, he continues to keep secrets.” He huffed. “That whelp is bent on killing the rest of my children because of some warped idea that he must be the last of his kind.” He stopped his circling. Alexstrasza did as well. Her red-orange eyes were narrowed and her nostrils flared; he had her attention.

Let us see how long she will be protecting you after this, brother, he thought.

“I’m very certain you would know the vicious pain of losing a child, Alexstrasza.”

The former Aspect flinched. Sabellian held back a smirk.

“He has killed your children.” Alexstrasza’s statement was no question.

He bent his head. As he did so, he took a gentle step closer to her – and to the two princes.

“Indeed. Two of my drakes are dead.” Sabellian took another cautious step closer. His limp worsened with every movement. The blood from his injuries soaked through the gaps in his claws and stained the grass beneath him. Alexstrasza paid no snarl to his moving closer.

“I honestly have little interest in how you care for the Black Prince enough to fight me for him; apparently the roach can sway any mind.” Another step. Alexstrasza squinted. Her chest heaved in heavy breaths, as did his own. His injured front leg began to shake in the pause of activity. “But perhaps some shedding of light on his nature helps sway you in the opposite direction, him?”

As he’d done with Wrathion’s champions. As he’d tried to do with the human prince in the Kun-lai cave before the orc had intervened.

“Your children were unprovoked?”

There is was, that air of authority in her voice, the echoes of the title of Queen she once held before Deathwing’s destruction. He almost rolled his eyes, though his attention snapped behind her as he saw the two princes get to both of their feet.

“Yes,” he said, quickly, as Alexstrasza’s head began to turn to where he had been looking. The Red looked at him again; she hadn’t seen them. “He seeks for a corruption my brood does not possess. And he knows as much.”

Alexstrasza studied him. The fire had reached the Wall behind her. Distantly, shouts of alarm began, unintelligible in their distance away.

“Oh, don’t look at me so questioningly. Was it not your Flight who made that stitched puppet of a whelp so free of corruption? Such a state like mine can be reached without such disgusting experimentation, I assure you.” He did not mention the voice he had heard there in the Vale, nor how he hoped to find similar technology that had purified the prince to purify himself. “It amuses me that your ‘good-natured’ drakes could do as much. My father would have been proud – if he had not been an abomination of his own and capable of such an emotion, of course.”

Alexstrasza growled. He was pushing it, but he found himself uncaring.

“But I digress. Surely if you believe that the whelp is free of the Old Gods, than I am.”

He was only a handful of yards away from her and the princes now.

The Red was studying him. “I find myself doubting you.”

“Of course you do,” Sabellian snapped. “But don’t doubt what I told you of the Black Prince. I will have that whelp and he will suffer for what he has done and what he has planned to do. No one harms my children.” He snarled, betraying his lack of composure as his rage began to swell in his chest as he spoke. “You would have done the same, my Queen.” He spat the name with bitterness. “Remind me of how many children you have lost. What happened to their killers, I wonder?”

Alexstrasza growled again, deep and thrumming in her throat.

Sabellian was close to her and the princes. This was his chance.

“Did it go something like this?”

“What -”

He hurdled forward and slammed across her. The former Aspect stumbled. He took his chance. Sabellian surged behind her as the ground rumbled.

Wrathion saw him coming, first. The whelp made an undignified yelp of surprise and shifted into dragon form.

Sabellian snarled. Too late, prince, he thought. He had them now. He snapped forward with his mouth, intending to grab them with his teeth -

Alexstrasza slammed into his side. He screamed and stumbled, his neck whipping back, but he caught his balance just enough to strike his claws out -

He grabbed only one of the princes; he didn’t see who in the blur as Alexstrasza barreled into him again so hard that he felt his ribs near to breaking. He slammed into the side of the Wall with a resounding boom and the whole infrastructure shook.

Sabellian roared and scrambled to his feet, snapping his wings forward and shooting up into the air. His tail managed to crunch across Alexstrasza’s face at the end of her charge, and the Aspect stumbled back, rearing up, giving him just enough time to barrel upwards at a harsh vertical across the Wall.

He glanced down at his paw – and hissed. It was the Alliance prince he’d grabbed, not Wrathion. Anduin was attempting to wriggle out of his hold – probably to sear him with Holy fire again, which his face still stung from – but the dragon only stiffened his grip and the blond grimaced.

He shot up across the Wall until reaching the top. On the other side stretched the barren wastes he had only glanced at before; fields of blackened earth dotted with stark, bushy trees and, in the distance, gargantuan trees taller even than the mighty Wall.

Sabellian had little time to think. He dove across the other side – and saw the hole in the Wall he had seen before.

Perfect.

Panting, he shot down hard, folding his wings in close and slamming to the ground, his left, injured wing going loose at his side almost instantly.

Sabellian shifted into his human form. Anduin caught the distraction and tried to struggle from his loosened hold, but the dragon snarled and grabbed him by the back of his collar, claws digging into the fine fabric, and dragged him to the crater in the Wall, simply lifting the prince up into the broken silver brick when the boy refused to move his legs.

Sablemane pushed himself back into the side of the hole. The Wall was thick enough where his hideaway could shield him from view of those up above, and there was enough craggy edges to hide him from those on his level.

Sablemane clasped his hand tight over Anduin’s mouth and pressed them back against the brick, deeper into the shadowed archways. The prince began to struggle again. Sablemane growled and snatched his other arm around the boy’s chest and dug his claws through his blue tabard, just breaking the skin against the delicate ribs underneath.

“Quiet,” Sablemane hissed. His claws dug harder, and Anduin stopped struggling.

He looked over Anduin’s shoulder and tilted his head, cautiously, up around the silver brick. The dragon kept his eyes lidded to lessen their glow in the dark.

Alexstrasza was circling above, her form bright against the stars. He ducked back.

The prince’s eyes were trained up above, mirroring Sablemane’s gaze. The dragon held his breath. Though the brick hid them from view, and thus hindered his field of vision of the outside, he could just see the former Aspect of Life soar into view again – at least, the ends of her legs and the club of her tail.

His wounds began to pain as he watched the larger dragon circle, searching. Sablemane curled his lips back as the arm holding Anduin started to shake.

The prince must have felt it, because he tried to stagger forward. Sablemane tore him backwards again and his grip only became fiercer.

“I will tear your tongue out if you scream,” Sablemane hissed. “Or if you try to run again. I have no use for your voice.”

He did not look at the blond. His eyes still looked upwards.

Go away, he thought with a snarl, as he watched Alexstrasza fly.

The blood dripped hot down his robes. His breathing was labored, but quiet.

Slowly, Alexstrasza turned and disappeared over the other side of the wall.

Sablemane relaxed, but only slightly. Anduin was still in his grip and he would not lose this prince as he had lost Wrathion – again.

He waited there for long, silent moment, straining for any sounds or scents of the Life-binder. But he heard none.

Alexstrasza would be going back for Wrathion, no doubt; Sablemane could not go back to search for his lost prize.

He growled. At least he had the Alliance prince, he thought. Wrathion would come looking for his pale companion.

Satisfied he would not be seen, he shifted, snatched the prince in his maw, and bolted on foot, too paranoid of flight, into the dreary Dread Wastes; he left behind a thickening trail of blood in his wake.

—-

Wrathion sat up with a groan.

He stumbled forward once, catching his balance by snapping out his wings. His broken front leg was tucked underneath him. The whelp’s entire body seemed to shake, a ghost-echo of the vibrations of the ground that had made him trip over himself when Sabellian had bolted forward then crashed into the Wall.

Wait. Sabellian. He snapped his head around wildly.

Where was -

“Anduin?” He called out, fins rising.

He transformed back into his human form, stumbling forward for the second time in his sudden panic. His shoulders thrummed with a deep ache; he’d nearly pulled his arms from their sockets when he’d shifted into whelp form as they’d fallen and grabbed Anduin to keep the prince from crashing to his ill-mannered death – and the blond had been heavier than Wrathion had initially thought he would be.

Wrathion looked around again. The plains in front of him were aflame. Huge mounds of dirt were upturned, signaling where Alexstrasza and Sabellian had fought – as well as the trails of splattered blood.

Everything had happened too quickly. Anduin had landed badly on his right leg, Wrathion had tried to get him to his feet, then Sabellian had charged forward -

Sabellian had snatched Anduin. Wrathion cursed loudly and looked up.

Where had he gone with the prince?

He cursed again, louder, and hurriedly rubbed the dirt from his face. He didn’t see Alexstrasza, or Sabellian, and certainly not Anduin.

Wrathion was about to shift into whelp form to look for the prince, not quite thinking of out-maneuvering Sabellian to get him, when a large shape above caught his eye – Alexstrasza was flying back from the beyond the Wall.

The former Aspect tilted her head down and saw him, judging by how she began to dive. He instinctually braced him himself – it looked like she planned to snatch him, or perhaps tackle him – but she landed in front of him with a tremendous boom; he lurched forward at the impact, his feet losing traction on the ground, and he nearly fell – though a hand on his shoulder pushed him back upright, and he looked up. Alexstrasza, in human form, looked down at him. She was bleeding and bruised, but stood as regal as she usually did, unperturbed by her wounds. Her silken robe was gone, replaced by her decorated armor. A slightly see-through cape shimmered behind her in the wind of the plains.

“Sabellian has taken the prince,” she simply said. Her voice was distant.

“I think I know that,” Wrathion snapped, furious at himself, suddenly, for the welling of panic that was threatening to bubble in his chest. He took a deep breath, then another, to force himself to calm down, but it wasn’t working very well as it normally did. An aggravated growl tore from his throat. “Well? Why aren’t you going after him?!”

“I do not know where he went.”

“Over the Wall,” Wrathion said, stating the obvious and well aware that he sounded like a snooty brat and not caring about it. Alexstrasza squinted at him.

“He disappeared beyond. I did not see him.”

Wrathion stood upright. He glanced at the wall, eyes wide and angry, then back at her. His lips were curled back in an unhappy frown.

“Then – well, find him!”

Alexstrasza only stared at him. Wrathion almost growled again at her silence. What was she waiting for?

“I must ask if what Sabellian told me is true.”

He looked at her, confused.

“What?” His shoulders sagged at the sudden shift in conversation. He glanced at the Wall again before looking back at her.

“Your killing of his children.”

Wrathion stared. For a moment, he was silent – before his lips curled back in a scowl.

“Can’t we speak of this at another time when Prince Anduin has not been snatched up?!”

“There is nothing I can do for Prince Anduin.”

Wrathion’s scowl deepened. He pointed, violently, to the Wall.

“You can go and look for him,” he hissed. “Or is a hulking black dragon too difficult for you to find?”

Alexstrasza’s eyes flickered; her disguised, human-like pupils dilated to thin slits.

“I have already overstepped my boundaries by battling Sabellian for your safety,” she said, quietly, and Wrathion felt himself lean back the slightest amount at the tone of voice. There was an edge of danger in the Red’s words, a tapping of anger he realized through his haze of frustrated panic he did not want to dig into. “I cannot go further. You are safe.”

“Anduin isn’t!”

“No. But I do not have any debt to the young mortal. I have paid the debt of guilt I have to you twice-fold, Black Prince, where it should have simply been once. I suppose the prince swayed me to linger.”

Wrathion stared at her, disbelieving. A bead of blood curled down the side of the Red’s face, but she did even raise a hand to brush it away.

“I understand you are frustrated -”

“Frustrated!” Wrathion growled. “Sabellian has taken Anduin Wrynn and you refuse to do anything about it but lecture me!” He huffed, loudly, readjusted his lopsided turban which was slowly slipping off of his head, and started to try to walk around her. “Thank you for your heroic help, but I will be fine on my own for now.” Fine, he thought. If Alexstrasza was going to be stubborn and refused to help him further, he would do well on his own, like he always did.

Sabellian couldn’t have gone very far. Wrathion had seen Alexstrasza bite into his brother’s wing and had seen her smash him into the ground, which had delighted the Black Prince so much that he would cherish the memories forever. But with those wounds, the black dragon would be slowed down. Wrathion thought quickly. It was all fine and dandy that he was free, but now he had the trouble of Anduin. Surely the prince was alright, he told himself. He took a deep breath. Surely.

He hissed, then, suddenly annoyed. If only the blond had just jumped out of the way -!

He needed to contact his Agents. If Left had the chains for Mogu’shan – he glanced up at the Wall. Did not the Pandaren have harpoon-like machines they used against the Mantid?

Alexstrasza grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back. It was a gentle touch, but there was a strength there, and he stumbled back.

“We were not finished speaking.”

“I believe we were,” Wrathion said. He directed his anger towards her again rather than Anduin and Sabellian. He’d assumed she would have killed Sabellian when he’d seen her emerge from the darkness – but no, of course not. She had to have boundaries for herself. For what idiotic, foolish, unimaginable reason he didn’t know. Perhaps some equally idiotic, foolish, and unimaginable law of dragonkind or the laws of the Aspect he didn’t know and was, for the first time, glad he didn’t.

“I asked you about Sabellian’s children.”

“Fine. Yes. I had them killed. And I will have the rest of them killed, as well, along with him.” His voice was a growling hiss.

Alexstrasza watched him. “As you killed the rest of your family on Azeroth.”

Ah. So she knew about that. He straightened himself up. “Yes.”

“For their corruption.”

Now she was annoying him. “Yes!”

“Did the dragons on Outland provoke you?”

Wrathion hesitated. “Well – ah – no -”

“And yet you decided to kill them.”

Wrathion snarled. “I had to. You can’t possibly understand. I -”

“Then make me understand why the killing of innocents was necessary.”

The undercurrent of anger that he had heard in her voice before had returned. He ground his teeth and glared at her, and she only stared back with her pupils in their slits.

Why did she seem so… affected by this, he wondered. She had helped destroy his Father, had helped destroy the black dragons he had not. She should have been thanking him for doing the task.

It was only then that he remembered that like Sabellian, Alexstrasza, too, had lost children. Had not Korialstrasz destroyed her last eggs in the struggle against Chromatus? He nearly flinched – Sabellian had compared him to that monster of Nefarian’s.

… No wonder she was so upset. Her wounds of the loss of so many eggs no doubt had not settled; was she really empathizing with Sabellian? He growled.

“It was necessary because they are not like me,” Wrathion said. He tried to keep the growl from his voice, but only succeeded somewhat. “And I am finished with this conversation, Life-binder. I have other matters – more pressing matters – to attend to than coddling your worries for dragons who deserve to die. Matters like Prince Anduin, who for all I know might be getting torn limb from limb while you stand here in my way.”

The two dragons stared each other down. Alexstrasza’s eyes were narrowed. He applauded her composure.

The former Aspect sighed after a moment. She sounded very tired. Her dilated eyes shifted back to her elven ones.

And then she stared at him with such a look of disappointment he slowly leaned back, sinking his shoulders in on himself, without realizing it.

“I hope I did not make the mistake in saving you,” Alexstrasza said. Wrathion swallowed.

Her eyes became distant. For a brief moment, something felt like it was clawing at his chest, in his throat, and he impulsively wanted to argue with her, to wipe that look off her face, to make her understand that he wasn’t in the wrong here – that he was doing the right thing, that he knew he was doing the right thing, that he -

“They will find you if you stay here. The smoke will catch their attention.”

Wrathion’s racing thoughts stilled. He opened his mouth, but no words came. Frustrated at himself, he pushed through the odd tugging at his chest and spoke. “What? Who, exactly?”

Alexstrasza stepped back. Thick smoke enveloped her as she shifted into her dragon form. Wrathion did not even reach her elbows, she was so large; her paws were half the size that he was, if not larger.

The jewelry at her horns jingled as she bent her head down to look at him. The look of disappointment was still there in her scaled, bleeding face. His chest and stomach soured.

“Wait -”

“I have overstayed my welcome.” Her red-orange eyes fixated on him.

A sudden, deep-set anger burst within his chest. This was ridiculous. Too much had happened for her to abandon him so easily, for her to come and go as she pleased because of some – some stupid restrictions she had set upon herself. “Fine,” he yelled up at her. “Go into hiding again like a coward. Give greetings from me to the next Celestial you fancy yourself meeting, Life-binder, as I try to wrestle in a problem you could easily fix!”

Alexstrasza stared at him.

He backed up quickly as her her large head tilted down to his level. Smoke from her nostrils blew in his face, and he squinted through it.

“I cannot fix any problem with ease, Black Prince,” she said. Her usually calm, patient voice was angry, frustrated. “This is no battle of mine to fight. If what Sabellian says is true, and you wish to kill his uncorrupted family, does that not make you the enemy? Does not the loss of one life save those dozens you wish to kill?”

Wrathion gawked at her.

“Of course he’s corrupted! They all are! I -”

“Perhaps he is.” She lifted her head away from him. “Perhaps he is not. I do not know for certain, as I am sure you do not know, either.” The Life-binder leveled him with a serious, burning look. “And yet, to involve myself as I had involved myself in the affairs of those who were not my kin before the Cataclysm, my judgment would be unprejudiced. You may have had my favor, but if you threatened the lives of an entire, pure race, I would not hesitate in destroying you, as I destroyed Malygos and Neltharion.”

Wrathion stared. His mouth was agape.

“Are you sure you wish for me to intervene now, Black Prince?”

He swallowed hard. Scowling silently, he shook his head.

She nodded as if she had expected that answer. Wrathion nearly hissed.

“If you wish to find help, I would advise you to stay, as I said before.” She began to lift her wings, paused, and looked back down at him again. “Do not let hatred control you, young one, as it controlled your father.”

Wrathion stilled, frozen. His mouth opened, wordless, but no words came; he was too taken aback to say anything.

She stared at him for a moment longer, lingering, her eyes boring into his – he looked away.

Her wings lifted as he broke their gaze; the pinkish red membranes caught the air and hauled her upwards. Wrathion shielded his eyes at the swirl of air and smoke her wings stirred, but looked up again as it gently faded out.

Without a goodbye, as last time, Alexstrasza turned and flew to the north. Wrathion watched her, his brows furrowed, his mouth in a set, grim line. She soon disappeared among the haze of darkness, disappearing as easily as she had reappeared both times to save his life. Wrathion swallowed, bitter. He could not shake the disappointed look she had given him, and he admonished himself for it. What did he care about what Alexstrasza thought of him?

He was alone in the burning plains. Wrathion stared for a minute longer before he shook himself out.

“I am not letting it control me,” he mumbled to himself. “I am doing the right thing.” His good hand flexed into a fist then relaxed again. He nodded to himself, as if to back up his own voice. “She simply doesn’t understand.”

He looked where she had gone, scowled, and looked away again. No. She didn’t understand. How could she possibly understand where he was coming from?

Wrathion ground his teeth, sneezing when some of the smoke swept into his face. He tried to forget the conversation, save for one point - she had said to wait here for – whoever. He glanced at the Wall worriedly, then forced the worry from his face.

Sabellian may have captured Anduin again, but he would not get away with that for long.

Wrathion shifted into dragon form, sat down on the grass, and waited.

Perhaps he could contact his Agents.

That may be useful.

—-

“Let me down!”

“I don’t believe that’s an option for you, little prince.”

Sabellian tromped through the dark, grassy plains of the Dread Wastes, slowly making his way north to the higher mountains. The human prince was clasped in his injured paw; Anduin was struggling again, trying to pull up his shoulders to get his hands free.

Sabellian sighed loudly, and, without stopping his walk, looked down at the blond.

“You realize I can eat you in one snap of my jaws, do you not?” Sabellian’s wounds were still bleeding, but he was trying to ignore the pain; his injured wing was loose and unflexed at his side. He could treat them when he stopped; he couldn’t afford Wrathion, or Alexstrasza, catching up to him – not yet, anyway.

Anduin glared up at him, and for the moment, stopped his wriggling. “You won’t kill me.”

“You sound very certain of that.”

Anduin smiled. Oh, the little prince was smug.

“You need me to lure Wrathion,” the prince said. “I think that requires keeping me alive.”

Sabellian rolled his eyes and looked away. Up ahead, to his right, were jutting, craggy hills; dark ruins crumbled atop them. He could just make out stone statues, weathered by age, standing guard over the forgotten place. The dragon did not recognize the creatures the statues represented – large, hulking, dog-faced things.

He did not like this place. There was something… off about it. He had discovered as much when he looked up at one of those monstrous trees, beautiful in form and ancient in age, and saw it interlaced with the same beating blue energy that had shown from Talsian’s eyes; he did not quite know what to make of it.

So he had decided to go over those mountains in the distance, though he did not know the land beyond it. Surely he could find a place to hide there – a good place to secure the hostage in his hand and hopefully lure the Black Prince to him.

“Tell me. What is that energy?” Sabellian motioned his head to the sloping plains to his left, where the grass had shriveled along with the spiky trees, and where that same glowing, blue-white burn burst almost peacefully from small cracks in the ground. Anduin looked where he had indicated.

“It’s the Sha,” the prince said.

“The Sha.”

Anduin nodded. His eyes were drooped, as well as his mouth, in an expression of sudden exhaustion. Of course he was tired, Sabellian thought. He hadn’t stopped trying to get out of the dragon’s grip for the past half hour.

Well, good. If the prince stopped struggling, Sabellian would be much less annoyed, and it would be easier to tie him up if Anduin was too tired to run.

“Explain what the ‘Sha’ is.”

Anduin sighed, and glowered up at time tiredly. He said nothing.

Sabellian snorted. “Come now, little prince. There is no use for being so silent and moody.”

“You’ve kidnapped me and have refused to listen. I have every reason to act this way.”

“Not quite fitting for a prince.” Sabellian clucked his tongue in admonishment. Anduin’s glare deepened. “You are starting to act as bratty as your dragon.” He chuckled darkly. “And yelling at me to ‘let you down at once’ over and over is not reasoning with me.”

Anduin’s glare deepened. Sabellian shook his head and looked back up again.

“Now. I believe you were about to explain the Sha to me. Honestly. What else would you rather do: pout silently or share general, harmless information?”

Anduin squirmed again, sighed, and went still.

“It’s negative energy,” the prince grumbled. “Fear, anger –… despair come to life.”

Sabellian made a interested humming noise in the back of his throat. “Is that so?” He said, eyeing the criss-cross patterns of the ‘Sha’ energy against the plains again. “And how did it come into my son?”

Anduin went silent.

“You’ve told me this much. Be helpful. You seem to enjoy being so.”

“I will not help my captor.”

Anduin’s voice was stiff and angry.

Sabellian snorted, smoke pluming from his nostrils.

“Where are you taking me?” Anduin demanded after a couple minutes of silence. Sabellian had passed the ruins, and was sloping down into a gentle decline. A small lagoon of silver water spread out in front of him.

“To whatever lies beyond those hills. This place is not one I wish to stay in for long.”

Anduin relaxed in his claw, at that. Curious. Perhaps the brave little prince did not like this place, either.

“Care to tell me what is beyond the hills?”

“I guess you’ll find out soon.”

The prince’s cheekiness was starting to get on Sabellian’s nerves. He shook his claw once to jostle the human – then regretted it immediately as a pang of pain swept up his twisted ankle up to his elbow.

Blasted wounds. He growled and looked up at the hills again.

“Are you leaving behind that obvious a trail for a reason?” Anduin asked with snark. Sabellian’s fins bristled.

“The Black Prince must find me somehow,” Sabellian said, glancing behind him. The grass he had made his way through was tromped down, crushed by his weight, and his tail, swinging back and forth, had made a snake-like wave through – not to mention the spattering of blood from his wounds caught on the monochromatic foliage. “And did you not hear him boast of his Blacktalons? Every inch of Pandaria, he said. Well. Let’s see if they can find me as easily as he claimed.”

“Sabellian.” The dragon looked at the prince. The sass was gone from his voice. “Listen. Please. I know, in the cave, you were against speaking. But Wrathion isn’t here. If we can come to some sort of terms -”

“No.”

“But -”

“Stop speaking, prince. I do not want to deal with you any longer.”

Anduin, surprisingly, did not snap back. The prince only sighed.

Sabellian looked at the hills again, thankful for the blond’s obedience. He would soon find himself on the other side of the hills – hopefully in a better place than this – and find a good hideaway –… a hideaway that could double as a lure, a trap, for the Black Prince. It would be easy.

Sabellian fluffed his wings and quickened his gait.

—-

Wrathion was not sure how much time had passed when he mustered up enough strength and willpower to contact his Agents.

Perhaps it had been an hour. He glanced up at the stars, halfway hidden by the rising smoke. The Pandaren from the closest village – Stoneplow, he believed the name was – had arrived shortly after Alexstrasza had left to put out the flames. He’d watched them for a while, strangely fascinated with how quickly they managed to douse the growing inferno with only a handful of workers and only simple jugs of water. Their teamwork was quaintly admiring.

The whelp was curled around himself, hidden in the grass. He turned his gaze from the stars and to the Wall. He glared at it. Why couldn’t he be fully grown, already? Wrathion flexed his claws and glared at them, too, as he compared them to how large and foreboding Alexstrasza’s had been. He could go over the Wall and fight Sabellian himself if he was – well, bigger.

But he was small, and he had to force himself to use others.

Oh well. He may not be fully grown, but what he lacked in strength he made up for with allies and his scheming… though that did not stop him from being frustrated. After all, he had to wait for them. How inconvenient. He grumbled to himself, annoyed. The longer he sat here, the farther away Sabellian could get with Anduin Wrynn.

He laid his head back down between his paws and closed his eyes. The darkness behind his lids was comforting, and for a brief, instinctual moment he wanted to sleep – but he shook his head and focused.

The dragon pulled forth the gems of his Watchers and Agents. As always, they appeared as innumerable, shining dots in his mind’s eye; he shifted through them impatiently, searching for one in particular -

Ah. There she was. He honed in on Left’s, distant, and made the link.

Left?

My Prince. What do you need?

He relaxed at her immediate response. Wrathion was fine with only hearing the orc; he did not want to waste precious energy on seeing through her gem. He knew where she was.

First, please tell me you have what I asked for.

We are retrieving them as we speak.

Wrathion nodded to himself. Good.

The whelp hesitated, then. How was he supposed to word this next bit?

Ah – Left. Hurry, will you? The situation has… shifted.

In what way?

My dearest brother has stolen the Alliance’s precious prince. He did not bother to tell her that he had been kidnapped, too, and now sat alone like some lost child in the grass. Do not ask how. I am tired and frustrated and I do not want to explain at the moment. The dragon had his eyes closed, but was busying himself with pulling up the grass beneath his front paws, with his broken leg tucked underneath him. Send two Agents to me for guarding, and when the Chains are in your hands, contact me again.

A sound above caught his attention. Annoyed at the interruption, he opened one eye, squinting upwards -

The whelp hunkered down, deeper into the grass, as he saw the source of the sound.

A large formation of gryphon riders sailed above him, led by an enormous monster of a gryphon with black and brown feathers and haunches.

The beasts and their riders wore Alliance regalia, shiny blue and gold. Wrathion lifted his head cautiously, peeking up above the grass, as they landed some yards away from him. The gryphons pawed at the ground and ruffled their wings at the smoke.

Alexstrasza’s advice came back to him. They will find you if you stay here. The smoke will catch their attention.

“Two of you to Stoneplow. Ask what happened here.” The leader on the brown and black gryphon dismounted. Wrathion sunk back down into the grass as he saw that the man wore grey-blue shoulderpads of a lion and an eagle.

King Varian Wrynn’s back was to him. The dragon exhaled through his teeth.

He should have guessed it would have been the King.

Why did it have to be the King? What, could Alexstrasza not warn him about it?

My Prince -?

He jumped. He nearly forgot he was still in a link with Left’s gem.

Ah – yes, continue with the Chains. He hesitated. He had been going to ask to also send his more experienced Agents to deal with Sabellian with Wrathion, but he recalled Sabellian’s warning in the cave; Wrathion did not want Anduin’s arms ripped off.

And besides, Sabellian had warned nothing against Alliance soldiers.

I have some business to attend to.

It was sloppy, but he cut off the connection. He was too flustered at the King’s appearance.

What was Wrathion supposed to do? He watched with narrowed eyes as two of the gryphon riders moved their mounts at a quick trot to the Pandaren village. Was he supposed to waltz up to the King and proclaim, Hello, King Varian Wrynn! Fancy meeting you here! Did you know your son was kidnapped by Deathwing’s living son?

He curled his claws into the dirt and shifted about his wings. He had to do something. King Varian was speaking low and intense to one of the riders – an officer, maybe. Judging by his hunched shoulders and curled lip, the Ghost Wolf was angry.

Of course he was angry, Wrathion mused. His son had been stolen. Again.

The King might blame it on the Black Prince. The whelp grumbled to himself. As if this was his fault. He blamed Anduin for being slow in dodging and Sabellian for grabbing the prince.

Wrathion continued to watch. He had never spoken to the King before. He had done research on him, had watched his champions prove their King’s worth to him, had been impressed with the King’s loyalty and ferocity. He’d seen the King up close at Lion’s Landing, but had not… spoken to him.

Wrathion snorted. What was he so worried about? He was a good talker. He could easily charm the King of Stormwind like he charmed everybody else.

At least, he hoped. The King’s anger was obvious. He did not want that impressive sword strapped to the Alliance leader’s waist to chop off his head or run him through; the dragon was well aware of Varian’s temper from his research.

Wrathion slowly got to his feet. The longer he stalled mulling over to himself how this would go, the farther away Sabellian was getting with the prince.

He shifted into his human form. One of the gryphons saw him transform and squawked. The dragon glared at it before looking at the mortals.

“Greetings, champions of the Alliance!” He called out, using his most charming voice. “I -”

Three of the riders whirled around and raised their rifles and bows so quickly Wrathion stopped mid-step. The Black Prince raised his good arm to his side defensively, smiling as innocently as he possibly could.

“Those aren’t necessary,” he said. The annoyance he felt at being treated like an enemy did not make it into his voice.

Varian Wrynn turned to look at him. The King’s eyes narrowed.

Before Wrathion could even think, the human king stormed over, grabbed him by the front of his scaled tabard and shook him once, violently.

“Where is my son, dragon?” The king growled, and shook him again when Wrathion didn’t answer immediately.

“If you would stop shaking me, King Wrynn, I will gladly share,” Wrathion said. He couldn’t afford to grumble or growl at the King of Stormwind and risk insulting and thus enraging the human further – and it was difficult not to. How dare someone treat him like this? He’d had enough of being treated like a ragdoll from Sabellian.

Wrathion’s lips twitched, threatening an annoyed grimace, as Varian slowly loosened his hold on the dragon’s tabard and, much to the Black Prince’s irritation, the King kept one hand gripped on the scales, as if worried Wrathion might run.

“Talk,” Varian ordered. “Now.”

Behind him, the Alliance who had raised their ranged weapons refused to lower them.

Wrathion exhaled through his nose. He smiled politely, though his eyes were lidded and vacant, betraying his aggravation.

“Once I am treated as an ally and not an enemy,” Wrathion said smoothly. His left hand was still raised at his side. “Having your officers lower their weapons may be a start.”

Varian made an impatient flicking motion with his free hand. The officers lowered their weapons, though Wrathion did not miss how some of their hands were still taut on the triggers.

“And perhaps you could let go of my tabard,” he added, glancing down at the King’s gauntlet snatched onto his clothes, then back up at him. “Your son has his absolute trust in me. I can assure you, King Varian, that you can, as well.”

“Everywhere you have been with my son, bad luck has followed, wyrm – first the fiasco during the battle and now this.” King Varian took a deep breath, and the anger in his eyes lessened – but only somewhat. “No good ever comes from black dragons, and I warned my son as much. Whatever has happened to Anduin I know is your fault. So no. I don’t trust you.” His glare was vicious. “Now speak without your silver tongue.”

Wrathion huffed. Varian only tightened his hold, the metal in his gauntlets clinking at the knuckles.

“Very well,” Wrathion muttered. “Where to begin?”

“You can start with where my son is.”

And admit he wasn’t the last black dragon as the world believed, a truth only a handful of people now knew. He ground his teeth.

But he had little choice. Lying would do no good – Varian would see Sabellian and realize.

“Prince Anduin has been taken by an enemy of mine,” Wrathion began. He spoke with caution, choosing his words carefully.

“The same that destroyed my fort’s hallway?”

Wrathion hesitated. What was -? Oh. He wrinkled his nose. He had destroyed the hallway during his… incident, not Sabellian.

“Ah – yes,” he lied. “He -”

“What’s this ‘enemy’?” Varian’s questions were harsh and impatient.

The Black Prince hesitated again, longer than before.

“Do not play around with me, dragon. I am in no mood.”

“Sabellian,” Wrathion said with an exasperated sigh. “A black dragon, son of Deathwing, thousands of years old. Ah, and the brother of Onyxia, may I point out.”

Varian, for a moment, looked surprised; his brows bunched together, and his already frowning lips deepened their downward curve. “I was under the impression you were the last black dragon.”

“As was I,” Wrathion grumbled.

Varian scowled and let go of him with a push of his hand. Wrathion teetered back on his heels before straightening himself up, drawing up his shoulders and brushing out his tabard with his left hand.

“What business does a relative of yours have with my son?” Varian growled. The news only seemed to have angered the King more. “And why are you here?”

“Well,” Wrathion started, smiling and having the gesture come out looking awkward and forced on his face, “I was… misplaced in a brief scuffle. Sabellian unfortunately managed to snatch onto dear Anduin again.”

Varian narrowed his eyes at him. It looked like the King was struggling with himself, as if unsure to believe the dragon or not. Wrathion knew that look well; many of his champions often gave it to him, much to his annoyance.

“How do I know this isn’t some scheme of yours?” Varian huffed. He put his hand on the hilt of Shalamayne; Wrathion did not miss that subtle threat.

Wrathion rolled his eyes. “I am not in some league with my brother,” he said. “I am the one he wants.”

“And yet he left you here and took my son.”

Wrathion sighed, frustrated. This was proving more difficult to explain that he’d hoped.

“Well, yes,” the Black Prince said, and Varian glared. Wrathion hurried to finish his thought. “But not because of a ‘scheme’ of mine. Things became amiss and happened too quickly, and in the confusion Sabellian snapped up poor Anduin instead of me. It is as simple as that. Surely you understand the disorder of battle, King Varian,” he added, smoothly.

“Don’t patronize me, dragon.”

“I do have a name.”

Varian scoffed. Before he could reply, the two gryphon riders he had sent to Stoneplow moments before came trotting back.

“Your Majesty -”

“A moment,” the King interrupted. The soldier who had spoken, a lanky night elf, nodded.

“Where is Sabellian now?” Varian looked back at Wrathion.

“I am… unsure.” The King began to scowl at that. “Beyond the Wall.”

Varian ran one of his hands over his face in a manner that absurdly reminded Wrathion of Anduin.

“He’s slowed by injuries,” Wrathion added. “No doubt he’s left some sort of trail.”

“Dragons can fly,” Varian growled back. “What trail can be left in the air, wyrm?”

Wrathion glared, irritated. “I believe I know that we can fly, thank you.” He sniffed, rolling his shoulders back. “One of his wings is injured.”

Varian glanced at the Wall. Wrathion began tapping one of his feet impatiently.

“The longer you spend questioning me the longer the chance Sabellian has to get away with the prince. Shall we talk elsewhere?”

The king looked back at him, glowered, then glanced over his shoulder at the night elf.

“Report.”

“The Pandaren saw little. They woke to the plains aflame, but one merchant assured me she saw a dark, large form go over the Wall. They doused the inferno -”

Varian put up an impatient hand to cut the night elf off; he’d apparently heard what he had wanted to. Begrudgingly, he turned back to Wrathion, who had a wide, toothless, smug smile stretched out across his face. Varian couldn’t possibly challenge that he was lying, now.

“Alright,” the king grumbled. “I believe you. Somewhat.” Varian took a deep breath. Wrathion watched, curious. The king wasn’t rushing into the situation, the dragon noticed. Interesting.

Wrathion took the slight pause to jump back into the conversation. He grinned widely, all his sharp teeth flashing white against his face.

“Perhaps we might take your gryphons to the top of the Wall,” Wrathion said, loud enough even for the officers behind the King to hear. “I have an excellent idea.”

Varian snorted. “And what idea is that?” Without waiting for an answer, he turned and began back towards his waiting gryphon. Wrathion scoffed, insulted at having someone turn his back on him, even if that someone was the High King of the Alliance, and hesitated for a moment before following.

“I will explain when we get up there, of course,” Wrathion said, as Varian remounted his gryphon. The Black Prince went to clasp his hands behind his back before remembering his cast. He flexed his left hand awkwardly, unsure what to do with himself. The other gryphon riders watched him with open distrust.

The huge mount hissed as Wrathion came too close, and the Black Prince eyed it warily before glancing back up at the King of Stormwind.

Varian sighed loudly in exasperation. “Fine,” the king said. “Under one condition.”

Wrathion raised a brow, but said nothing, and looked at the king expectantly.

“You will be following my orders as much as my men and women. I’ll listen to your advice, but do not debate with me. I am not about to be slowed down by arguing with you when my son is in danger.”

Wrathion inwardly bristled. You are arguing with me now, the dragon thought. They could have been at the Wall already. Impatience and frustration clawed at his chest. The Black Prince opened his mouth to argue -… but snapped it closed and grimaced. He would be wasting more time, too.

So he smiled, though it looked false, and he knew it. “Very well,” Wrathion said. “Now can we please go to the Wall?”

“Get on the gryphon.”

“… I don’t believe your bird likes me very much.”

“Then you can fly after us, can’t you?”

Wrathion grumbled. He transformed into his whelp form and quickly landed on the gryphon’s flank, hiding behind the King to avoid the mount’s look; the beast didn’t seem to see him.

“You should ‘lighten up,’ King Varian,” Wrathion said with a small coo to his voice. “As I said, you can easily trust m -”

“I don’t trust you,” Varian interrupted. “But my son is in danger, and you know more about this than I do; I’m forced to rely on what you have to say. Don’t mistake circumstance for trust.”

Wrathion rolled his eyes, knowing Varian couldn’t see. The king certainly was an uptight individual.

The gryphon chortled. The reins jingled and cracked in Varian’s hands as the king pulled them back.

The whelp buried his claws, carefully, into the flank of the black gryphon; he didn’t want to fly back off the side when they took off. He normally would have curled around Anduin’s shoulder or curled into his arms, but riding with the king was a… different affair.

Varian turned the gryphon to face the others.

“We’re going to the top of the Wall. My son is in the Dread Wastes or Townlong Steppes. We’ll plan accordingly there.” In a lower voice, just for Wrathion’s ears, the king added, “And if I find you have lied to me and endangered my son further in any way, you’ll come to regret it, dragon, regardless of how much Anduin cares for you.”

The reins snapped back. The gryphon’s black and brown wings unfolded, and with a leaping bound they jumped into the sky, heading to the Wall.

Wrathion gripped on tight. The other gryphon rides followed behind them. Wrathion hunkered down closer to the gryphon, wings tight against his body, and they sped up to the top of the Wall.

Chapter Text

“These harpoon guns are for the Mantid, and more recently the Thunder King. We are running low on supplies after the Swarm and Lei Shen’s arrival -”

“The Swarm’s over, and Lei Shen is dead. We will pay whatever cost for the guns.”

Wrathion watched the Shado-pan marksman and Varian negotiate as he leaned against the Wall to his back. He had been surprisingly quiet for the past hour as they had flown up the Wall and had met with the Shado-pan atop it, who were already roused from the booming commotion of Sabellian and Alexstrasza’s brief scuffle; Varian had given him scalding looks whenever the dragon had opened his mouth, and so the Black Prince, irritated, had bowed out and glared from the side in silence.

“So you’re the son of Deathwing?”

Wrathion glanced over. One of the gryphon riders – one of the three who had been so quick to raise his rifle – had come up next to the dragon without the Prince realizing it. It was a night elf ranger who wore the blue and gold regalia of the Alliance, with his purple hair strapped in a long ponytail behind him.

The Black Prince squinted up at the elf, raised a brow, then looked back at Varian and the Shado-pan. “Yes,” Wrathion said automatically. He frowned. Maybe he wasn’t, anymore.

He shrugged it off. It hardly mattered; no one would know the truth about his true, mixed parentage, anyway. He could say Deathwing was his father as he had and no one would know the casual lie behind it.

“My relatives were killed in the floods that took Darkshore,” the elf said. “At the beginning of the Cataclysm.”

Wrathion resisted the urge to roll his eyes. What, was the elf going to somehow blame him for the Cataclysm like most often did?

“Unfortunate,” the Black Prince said, off-handedly. He did not look at the elf, but instead continued to stare at Varian and the Shado-pan. Much to his annoyance, he’d missed what the Shado-pan’s answer had been to Varian’s offer of payment because of the night elf, judging by how the red-furred pandaren glanced over her shoulder and beckoned over one of her comrades who stood further behind her, manning the Wall.

The elf’s mouth opened again; Wrathion shot up a hand and, palm flat in the air, fingers splayed, silenced the ranger with the snap of movement.

“I am trying to listen to your King,” Wrathion said with annoyance. “You may complain to me about my Father’s doings later if my brother does not burn you alive in the coming hours. And -” he glanced at the night elf and smiled without kindness. “ - I am sure I have heard the same complaint from other… adventurers like yourself. Your’s will no doubt be any different.” He looked back at the King and dropped his hand, ignoring the insulted grumble from the night elf. Luckily the ranger moved away, and Wrathion allowed himself to relax with a huff.

“I understand your struggle, King Wrynn, but understand there is still much to do even after the Thunder King’s death. A single gun can sway the tide.” This was the new pandaren who the red had asked over, a thick-set warrior who hoisted a polearm and sported a scar that ran in an ugly zig-zag down his face.

Varian sighed loud enough for Wrathion to hear the frustration shake in his exhale. Wrathion tapped his hand against the Wall’s side, and locked and relocked his jaw. He glanced out over the opposite Wall, looking out over the Dread Wastes. Not even one Mantid tried to fly over; it was barren and quiet and still on the other bleak, blue-black side.

Taran Zhu is being stingy, Wrathion thought sourly, as he looked back over at the small group. He tapped his fingers again. Trust that old pandaren to keep up his well-deserved distrust of both Horde and the Alliance, a distrust that had apparently leaked to the two commanders speaking to Varian.

The Shado-pan could easily afford to lease at least two harpoon guns with this slack level of activity, Wrathion knew. Perhaps Varian did, too.

They just needed to make the pandaren give it up.

“My son’s life might depend on those damn guns,” Varian said, bristling, shoulders set. “Name a price and I’ll pay it, and you can build more harpoons with the funds!”

Wrathion scanned the crowd of Shado-pan. Yes, he thought, Anduin’s life might just depend on the harpoons – and the chains Left was bringing, of course.

He shifted uncomfortably. And he might also be able to kill or bring down Sabellian. That was the main thing, he tried to tell himself, though the strange curl of sour, dull worry in his stomach refused to go away, suggesting it was not the ‘main thing,’ much to his annoyance.

Wrathion’s eyes caught on one of the Shado-pan in the crowd. He squinted –… then grinned widely as the recognition clicked. Even though the lower part of the pandaren’s furred face was hidden by the thick red and black mask of the faction, Wrathion remembered, there at the Thunder King’s forge, the pandaren’s dark, near-red eyes glancing back at him as they pushed back the Mogu from the Black Prince’s work.

Wrathion’s grinned widened. Oh, an ally. This might be influential to Varian’s argument.

The dragon straightened from his lean and, casually, sauntered over to the group of Shado-pan, careful to keep to the side of the agitated King and Shado-pan lieutenants. No doubt Varian would send him a scowl if he saw Wrathion dare move, the travesty of it.

Wrathion kept his wide grin as he slid up to stand at the side of the pandaren. The warrior’s red eyes flickered over to him.

“Hello, Black Prince,” the Shado-pan murmured first. Wrathion’s grin turned sly; good. The pandaren remembered him. Wrathion nodded, but kept his eyes on Varian in order to look inconspicuous to the King.

“Greetings,” Wrathion murmured back. He watched as the two Shado-pan lieutenants up ahead began to turn to one another and speak in low, harsh voices. “I don’t suppose you can share why your dear commanders are so intent on keeping their harpoons, hm?”

The pandaren didn’t answer for a moment. One of his comrades glanced back at them, squinted, then looked back at the officers.

“The Thunder King took a heavy toll on our resources.” He nodded his head to the Dread Wastes to their left. “We’re wary of the Mantid’s rise again. The next Empress has been elevated and even then, we still aim to push out the last scatters of resistance at the Isle of Thunder. Taran Zhu will not like guns we need going to Alliance.”

Wrathion rolled his eyes. “Please. You have worse to worry about than the annoyance of Taran Zhu’s.” He nodded to Varian. “Like the Alliance king right in front of you.”

“Mm.” The red cloth at the pandaren’s mask flickered with a new wind coming forth from the east; Wrathion wrinkled his nose at the acrid smell of smoke that it drew with it. “I suppose.”

Wrathion took a deep breath; his impatience, which had lessened upon getting to the Wall, was starting to bubble up again.

“Do you know who the king’s son is?” The Black Prince whispered, his voice hoarse with the impatience he felt. “Anduin Wrynn, the priest who destroyed the Divine Bell before you Shado-pan even knew where it was. Your Taran Zhu and certainly the rest of you owe him a debt for doing what you should have accomplished with that Sha-infested artifact and saving him from a very grim fate of being crushed beneath the rubble.”

Wrathion stopped himself. His voice had gotten bitter near the end.

The pandaren glanced at him; his serious eyes softened a fraction.

“I know who Anduin Wrynn is,” the Shado-pan murmured. “We all do.”

The Black Prince stared the warrior down – or, well, up, considering the pandaren was taller than he was. The pandaren sighed, readjusted the crossbow at his back, and nodded.

“I will speak to the commanders. A moment.”

The Shado-pan disengaged himself from the ranks and made his way to the two pandaren who were still arguing in hushed voices to one another. Wrathion watched, pleased with himself; he rubbed at his still-aching shoulders from catching Anduin as the red-eyed pandaren interrupted.

They spoke low; the Black Prince could not hear them. He made his way up to where he had been leaning before and, feeling confident, fixed the king, who watched the three Shado-pan speak with crossed arms and a scowl, with a smug smile. Varian did not see him.

After a long, quiet moment, the only sounds the flapping of the red flags that flittered high above them and the gentle whisper of the warmer eastern wind, the lieutenants began to nod to each other; they had come to an understanding, it seemed. The red-eyed pandaren bowed low to them, straightened, and set Wrathion with a look. The Black Prince nodded back, and the warrior once again took his place in the ranks.

“Very well. We will give you the harpoon guns of your choosing,” the female pandaren said, the one Varian had spoken to first. The king relaxed, but only just; Wrathion, meanwhile, smirked widely. “For your son.”

“How much -”

The pandaren shook her head. “No. No payment. We will explain to Taran Zhu if he asks who the harpoon guns were needed to save.”

Varian nodded. The remaining stiffness of his pose dispersed in the slouching of his shoulders and the uncurling of his crossed arms. “You have my thanks.”

The pandaren nodded back. “We will help ready them for you. For a dragon of the size you described, I would advise at least three harpoon guns.”

“We’ll wait on that for now,” Wrathion spoke up. Varian shot him a glare.

“What?” The king snapped, and took a deep breath. Wrathion watched, vaguely amused, as Varian tried to rein in his temper. “Just an hour ago you were mewling at me to ‘hurry up,’ and now you want to wait?”

Wrathion smiled at him. “Have you seen the size of the harpoon guns, King Varian?” He gestured with his hand to the singular machine-of-war that sat positioned far to their right near the next tower. It was taller than the Black Prince in height, and its red, black, and golden paint shined dimly in the starry darkness. Its sculpted cloud serpent head stretched out into the notches against the border of the Wall, a golden harpoon shoved into its open gullet. By all accounts, it was large, expensive, and heavy; carrying three, even with the amount of gryphon riders they had, would be a burden.

“They will be difficult to carry very far. We are in the Dread Wastes now; what if the Blacktalons I sent find my dear brother in Townlong or even in Kun-lai in the north, hm?” Wrathion’s smile brightened a little too smugly; he was getting back at the king for treating him like something less than what he was. “Do you really wish to burden your soldiers with such an unneeded weight?” Wrathion nodded his head to the Alliance to the right, who nearly mirrored the Shado-pan on the opposite side with their stiff standing of ranks.

Varian scowled at him. Wrathion kept his smile.

The king glanced at the pandaren. “The guns are positioned along the entirety of the Wall?”

“Yes.”

Wrathion piped up again. “Would not going to the nearest section of the Wall where Sabe- ?”

“Stop speaking.” Varian shot him another glare. Wrathion’s smile curdled. “Fine. We’ll wait for your Agents.” He turned, nodded to the pandaren lieutenants, and tromped over, metal boots clanking, to the Black Prince; Wrathion stopped himself from leaning back as the king approached.

“And we’ll wait for these ‘chains’ you’re so intent on having,” Varian added in a lowered, gruff voice. Wrathion’s smile was gone, replaced with a bored look as he fixed his eyes on the king.

“The chains are necessary,” the Black Prince said with a sigh. “The harpoons themselves might just bring my brother down, but the chains will promise they will.”

“Simple chains can be broken by a dragon’s strength.”

“It’s a good thing these are not ‘simple chains,’ then, King Wrynn,” Wrathion replied. “Titan technology performs admirably.”

“We’ll see,” Varian grumbled, before turning and walking to his waiting soldiers.

Wrathion eyed him, rolled his eyes, then looked out over the Wall. The kypari trees were hazy in the distance. He scanned the scrubby ground. The Blacktalons he’d sent to scout when he’d arrived on the Wall should hopefully be reporting back soon; he’d told them to hurry it up.

And, hopefully, Left would be contacting him shortly, as well.

Wrathion glanced up at the stars. They were dimming, winking out as the night slowly began to give way to the dawn once again, though the dawn was not yet for some hours.

Unable to do anything else, the Black Prince ground his teeth and waited.

—-

Anduin Wrynn was not very happy.

He watched, quietly, as Sabellian peered down the large pointed archway set deep into the enormous tree that towered above them. The archway’s architecture was amber in color and glossy in texture; Anduin squinted up at it. It was mantid architecture, the prince knew. He frowned. He had never seen a mantid, and if he was honest with himself, he was not sure if he wanted to.

Anduin sighed and leaned his forehead against the black, smooth-scaled paw that held him, closing his eyes. He wasn’t happy, his leg hurt fiercely from the fall, and he was unequivocally exhausted – and he could truly do nothing to make Sabellian let him go. He’d tried everything for the past two hours as they’d tromped along the Dread Wastes and then Townlong, but no amount of calm words, or angry words, or trying to wriggle out of the dragon’s grasp had come to any fruition.

“This will do,” Sabellian murmured. Anduin looked up, squinting, his bangs stuck to his forehead. Sabellian arched his neck back and his large head came out from the hallway. The dragon snorted. “I suppose hiding underneath a tree is better than attempting to hide in this flat land.”

“This is mantid territory,” Anduin said, quickly. He had hoped Sabellian would have been forced to fight or hide out in the open where Wrathion and he could be on equal ground – but the dragon had stumbled upon this hideaway, and the prince knew that being deeper into the ground in a lair of his own would not bode well for a full out assault on Anduin’s rescuers; with the the bottle-neck of the hallway, Sabellian could easily pick off anyone who tried to come inside without causing harm to himself. “They’ll try to kill you for trespassing.”

“It’s a good thing I am smart enough to smell for enemies, then, young prince,” Sabellian retorted. “There are no bugs in this tree.”

Anduin withheld a sigh. Well, he’d tried.

Sabellian tilted the paw that held Anduin. The prince was confused at to what he was doing before realizing the dragon was tilting him so his right leg was aimed at the ground.

Before he could even muster up a levitation spell, Sabellian dropped him; it was not a high drop, but it felt like it when Anduin’s already aching leg hit first against the ground in a bursting of agony. A guttural yelp escaped him, the sound ringing in his ears, and his vision dotted with a hazy white; he lurched forward and fell on his side, too shocked to do anything.

A hand grabbed him from the back of his collar and hauled him up; Anduin was limp. He scrunched his eyes closed and swallowed, trying to will the pain, that had shot up to his entire right side, away, though the white dots appeared even in the darkness of his mind’s eye; his thoughts muddled, threatening fainting.

“Apologies. I did not want you to try to run when I shifted as you did before,” Sablemane said. Anduin managed to open one tearing-up eye to glare at the dragon, who held him up like a caught hare.

Sablemane didn’t look at him as he made his way into the archway and down the stairs that stretched underneath the roots of the tree. The same amber color enveloped them, and, strangely enough, cast warm light, as if energy shined from within the substance itself. The stairs continued downward at a harsh decline; Anduin could only just make out the bottom as his pain began to slowly ebb away.

Sablemane’s footfalls echoed. Anduin glanced over the dragon; his wounds had stopped bleeding an hour before, but still looked vicious, the gashes tearing up and down across his dark skin, where they peeked out amongst the red and orange robe. His left hand, the one that did not hold Anduin, was limp at his side.

Briefly, Anduin wondered about the dragon’s wing injury. What happened to it when Sablemane shifted? Did the pain disappear? Did it seep into his back? The prince filed that thought about to ask Wrathion, later – if there was a ‘later,’ of course.

They got to the bottom. Ahead of them was a circular room, spacious enough to hold Sabellian’s dragon form, tiled with long, curved flat slabs of tan-orange rock. In the center was a shallow pool of amber liquid, encircled by a small, upraised border. Four archways, like the one outside of the tree, were around the curved outer walls, leading deeper underground. Above were the roots of the tree, intertwined and enormous in size, twice as thick as Anduin’s entire body, and a singular orb of the amber that had made this architecture was held in the roots’ clasp, beautiful and glowing.

Anduin frowned. Despite its alien beauty, there was a faint, strange feeling here, like a prickle on the back of his neck. It made him feel uneasy; the feeling was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it because of its faintness -

“Perfect,” Sablemane said. He let Anduin go; the prince stumbled once before righting himself. His leg hurt so badly he couldn’t put any amount of weight on it, and like a lame horse he bent his leg at the knee and leaned hard on his left, trying hard not to go off balance and fall on his face. He wished he had his cane; it was at Lion’s Landing.

The prince looked at Sablemane, surprised when the dragon didn’t grab him again. “You’re not going to -?”

“Tie you up? No. The leg of yours is all the handicap I need to stop you from escaping.” He nodded his head to the stairs. “And you cannot run up those easily, I’m afraid.”

Anduin ground his teeth.

With a quick movement he snapped his arm up and the Light began to bloom harshly in center of his palm; if he could hit the dragon with Holy Fire again, he could -

Before the prince had time to dodge, Sablemane snatched Anduin’s wrist and yanked him closer; his strong grip began to twist against Anduin’s hand, pain building as the prince’s bones were strained, and Anduin bit his lip to stop himself from crying out -

Sablemane stopped right when the bones were near to breaking. Anduin swallowed hard; his whole arm shook. The sudden constant pain in his wrist rivaled the pain in his leg.

“Do not try that again,” the dragon warned. “I do not want you to end up like your dragon.”

He let go. The pain dispersed. Anduin snatched his hand back.

Sablemane stepped away. He shifted into his dragon form and laid out in front of the entrance; he took up half of the room. Anduin ducked and nearly fell back into the pool behind him when one of the dragon’s wings stretched out, narrowly missing him.

Sullen, Anduin watched him. At least he wasn’t bound up, he thought. Unable to stretch without going off balance, he sat down carefully; the floor was strangely warm -… or perhaps that was just the heat coming off of Sabellian’s hulking form.

The prince watched as the dragon looked over the scabbing wounds along the black scales and drew flame on some of them. The room began to grow uncomfortably hot. Anduin wiped his forehead against his sleeve, mumbled wordlessly, then crossed his arms, bringing his left leg up to bend so he could rest his arms and chin on it, his back arched forward.

This was a bit… odd, and not quite what Anduin had expected – though his experience with being kidnapped by dragons was limited to Onyxia, and she had tried to feed him to her children. He’d expected some other sort of direness here in this makeshift lair, but Sabellian was ignoring him, sprawled out like a dozing lion.

… Though Sabellian nearly breaking his wrist just moments before showed there was no less amount of danger here – it was just dependent on how obedient Anduin was with his captor.

“You’re going to kill him,” Anduin spoke up, after Sabellian had stopped blowing fire across his wounds and had laid his head down against his uninjured paw, “Aren’t you?”

The dragon glanced at him. “Yes.”

“Even if he helps you.”

“Of course.” Sabellian’s good wing shuffled. “What kind of father would I be if I did not kill what aimed to murder my children?”

Anduin looked down. He had no argument for that – though he wished he did.

“Maybe if you got to know him -”

Sabellian laughed, a deep rumble in his chest; the prince could feel it vibrate beneath his feet. Anduin glanced up again.

“Are you truly suggesting some sort of ‘brotherly bonding?’ Perhaps the heat is getting to you, Anduin Wrynn. There. Splash in the pool behind you. Do not human hatchlings like yourself enjoy swimming?”

“I’m not a hatchling.”

“You are small enough to be one.”

Anduin sighed, aggravated. “Nevermind,” he mumbled. He busied himself with healing the pain from his leg and wrist; the Light blossomed from his chest and into his palm, smooth and comforting, and he relaxed, closing his eyes and continuing to lean his head on his pulled-up knee as he worked his glowing fingers into his aching thigh, then to his wrist.

“You are a well-behaved hostage,” Sabellian said after a while. Anduin opened his eyes. “Better than Wrathion – though, granted, you have tried to burn my eyes with Holy Fire, but that was easily avoided.”

“Wrathion may not come for me.” Anduin frowned after he said it; he was torn. He wanted Wrathion to come find him, but -… then Wrathion would be in danger, and Anduin didn’t want that, either. He wasn’t sure what to feel.

Sabellian snorted. “Unlikely. However,” he breathed a heavy sigh, and Anduin squinted as the warm air from the dragon’s nose pushed at his bangs, “If he continues his selfish streak, I will find another way to lure him.”

They both went quiet after that. Anduin tilted his head on his crossed arms against his knee, his sleeve cool against his cheek, and looked up at the stairway that Sabellian half-concealed. He tried to ignore the strange energy he felt at the back of his neck; it was faint enough to, at least, but still uncomfortable.

He hated feeling this helpless. Anduin took a deep breath. He had felt the first grasps of independence when wrecked upon Pandaria, had come into it when exploring this wild continent alone and meeting its people, its gods, no longer bound in the Keep of Stormwind and his father’s watchful eye – and had lost it when the Bell had crushed him, and his injuries forced him inside white walls so like the Keep of Stormwind’s, and once again under the orders of his father.

Being able to walk again, even with the cane, had been a blessing, another taste of doing things on his own. But his leg was still holding him back – and now he could do little about the large dragon sitting in front of him, and was, as he had been seven years ago when kidnapped by Onyxia, waiting on someone to rescue him.

It frustrated him. He was no longer a child, but he felt like one, now. He should be saving himself!

He shook his head and scrunched his eyes closed. No. He had to try to relax and think about this realistically. Sabellian was Deathwing’s son, his last son; Anduin doubted Varian himself would be able to escape the situation the prince found himself now. That made him feel a bit better.

But not quite. Anduin opened his eyes once again and, unable to do little else, glumly watched the stairway, waiting.

—-

Though the night sky was becoming lighter, with dawn nearing against the horizon, Wrathion and Varian’s mood were becoming much darker.

Wrathion, hand on his hip, glared out at the Dread Wastes. The Alliance milled about behind him; they were in the same section of the Wall they had been at an hour ago –… all waiting for the Black Prince’s Blacktalons to report.

The dragon took a deep breath, ignoring the ache in his healing ribs. What was taking them so long? He raised his hand and rubbed at his eyes before sliding his palm down the lower half of his face, grumbling.

Wrathion had felt immensely proud of himself when boasting to Varian about waiting -… but not anymore. His glare darkened out at the Dread Wastes. The edge of the horizon, just visible, was dark blue. The stars were mostly gone. The smell of smoke from the doused fires at the Valley was still heavy around them.

At least it wasn’t cold up here, Wrathion thought.

“Any word?” Varian said with a grumble of his own from behind him. Wrathion glanced back, eyes hooded, before looking out at the Dread Wastes again.

“No,” he replied, voice flat.

They said nothing after that; there was no need to, though Wrathion could feel the irritation coming off of Varian behind him.

Like Anduin in the cave, Wrathion thought, almost smiling but stopping himself. He scanned the plains to distract himself.

Minutes clocked by. The gryphons were restless, especially Varian’s beast, who continually snapped at its other kin with growing aggravation – just like its rider to the Alliance soldiers and champions. The assorted group of Alliance murmured quietly to themselves as Varian paced back and forth; his metal boots clanging against the rough stone was just about the only sound up on the Wall.

“I’m sending my own riders,” Varian announced after a while of his own silence. His pacing stopped. Wrathion rolled his eyes and, composing himself with a mask of calm over his face, turned around to face the king. He leaned back against the Wall behind him. “This is taking far too long for my liking. Anduin -”

“Don’t act too rashly, King Varian,” Wrathion said, smiling just slightly, a mere upturn at the edge of his lips, “Don’t you recall that ‘dragons can fly?’ You said so yourself.”

Varian bristled. Before the king could respond, Wrathion continued.

“Flying beasts like your gryphons will attract much more attention than my rogues,” Wrathion said. He paused in mock thoughfulness. “Didn’t Chi-ji teach you something about patience?”

Varian growled. Wrathion’s confidence and smile evaporated as the king grabbed him by the tabard and hauled him up to eye level, his feet dangling, and shoved his face only inches away from the king’s.

“I should remind you that you agreed to follow my orders,” Varian rumbled. “I’ve learned patience. It’s been keeping me from pushing you off of the Wall.”

“I can fly back up the Wall,” was the first thing that came out of Wrathion’s mouth. He regretted it. Varian scowled.

“I can easily arrange that.”

A bright red flash flickered at the edge of Wrathion’s eyes. He grinned wide – it disarmed Varian, whose brows scrunched together with some confusion over the reaction.

“A moment, King Varian!” Wrathion said, then closed his eyes and honed in on the gem that had contacted him. It did not take very long.

Well, what is it? Where are they?

In Townlong, my Prince, replied a gruff voice. Sabellian’s tracks lead to one of the Matid’s abandoned fortresses. Sik’vess. We dared get no closer.

Wrathion grinned – then hesitated. Is that not the same kypari tree the Sha of Hate was defeated in?

It is the same.

A twisting of unease prickled at his gut. He wanted no more dealings with the Sha for a very, very long time -… but the Sha of Hate had been defeated.

But so had the Sha of Despair by Anduin himself, and it had been the one to take Wrathion.

Very well, Wrathion replied after a moment. He could not afford to hesitate any longer. How far?

From your position, my Prince, two hours walk along the Wall, or an hour by flight.

A bit too far for Wrathion’s liking, but it would have to do. Good. We shall meet you there.

He cut off transmission and opened his eyes; Varian and the rest of the Alliance and Shado-pan that had remained were staring at him oddly.

Wrathion smiled brightly, ignoring the looks. “Your son is in Townlong.”

Varian let go of him and turned, without a word, his eyes stiff.

“On your mounts!” The king barked to the Alliance, and the riders complied. The gryphons chortled and bounced, ready to finally move, the sound of their claws scraping against the stone and the leather-and-metal reins clinking loud in the sudden flurry of activity.

“We’ve sent a missive to the other Shado-pan along the Wall,” the pandaren lieutenant said; she stood off to the side, watching. “They will give you their supply of harpoon guns without question, wherever you may land.”

Varian nodded to her. “As I said, you have my thanks.”

The pandaren bowed. The king looked away from her and started towards his restless gryphon.

“Are you just going to stand there, dragon?” Varian said gruffly as he mounted up. Wrathion huffed, shifted into whelp form and, like he had before, clutched onto the back of the beast’s flank. This time, however, the gryphon noticed him and hissed; it snapped its neck back and clacked its beak, and largely missed him. Wrathion hunched down and growled, the fins on the back of his neck lowering.

Varian chuckled under his breath and reined in the gryphon. Wrathion glared at him.

Once the entirety of the Alliance were mounted, Varian turned the gryphon, and they made their way off of the Wall, flying across its side up north to Townlong.

—-

Alexstrasza perched on the highest mountain that bordered the Valley of the Four Winds and the Vale of Eternal Blossoms.

The golden Vale stretched in front of her, glowing with an inward beauty. To her far right were three large, elaborate metal structures of yellows and reds, and right below her was a heightened, shimmering pool whose waters fell into a gentle waterfall to join with an entwining river below. A small village was nestled below the mountains.

The former Aspect glanced over her wounds. They were not dire. The sheared scales were grow again, and the blood would dry and the cuts would heal. She ran a claw over one of the worse gashes along her neck, where Sabellian’s teeth had clamped, and breathed out heavily.

She had acted too rashly, she knew – on all accounts. Alexstrasza stretched out her pink-webbed wings and caught the warm air coming up from the south, mitigating the cold air coming down from the north. The Vale was the perfect temperature – not too hot, but not too cool, and the feeling of Life here was… her other claw gripped against the rock. It was overwhelming, even to her, but in a pleasant way.

The dragon dropped the paw from her neck. She was… troubled. Alexstrasza looked out over the Vale quietly, the jewelry on her horns ringing with the breeze.

She had acted too rashly in going after Sabellian, perhaps, she thought. But the young Alliance prince had moved her, somehow; so she had stayed behind at Lion’s Landing, telling herself that a mere couple of days was not too brash – but then the black dragon had appeared, and, out of some instinct, she had followed.

She sighed. She did not feel guilt for doing so, though something in her was telling her she should have. She was no Dragon Queen any longer; why had she followed? Out of care? Alexstrasza shook her head. Why could she not make sense of it? The answer would have seemed easy when she had been an Aspect; she had done her duty to protect Wrathion, though she had found that perhaps it was not he that she needed to protect, but perhaps his other kin – if what Sabellian said was true, of course.

But this seemed… different. Why?

She was angry at herself. She didn’t know what to do.

Had she acted too boldly in abandoning the Alliance prince? She sighed. Maybe she had. She glanced over at the Wall. But that was not her place any longer – or was it? The former Aspect growled, frustrated. She had been an Aspect for so long she did not know what to do without her title and duty.

Perhaps she should seek out Kalecgos. Was he not here in Pandaria, aiding the Proudmoore woman? Alexstrasza shifted, ignoring the ache in her ankles. No, he had not been Aspect for long, but he had apparently settled into this new world comfortably – unlike herself.

She found herself wondering about the fates of Nozdormu and Ysera. Did they fair as ill as Alexstrasza herself did?

The dragon looked at the Wall again. Kalecgos had sought her help with that artifact – whatever it had been – and she had rudely turned him away. She had been flustered, taken aback by the sudden disintegration of the Accord, despite her calm outward appearance.

Perhaps he could speak with her. The Celestials had guided her as she searched for her new place in this world; maybe a younger dragon could offer advice, and maybe then she could find comfort in her decisions.

She stretched her wings, the air surging about her, and made her way.

—-

They arrived at the section of the Wall nearest to Sik’vess in the next hour.

The Shado-pan manned along the Wall did not seem surprised by the formation of gryphon riders as the Alliance landed along the stone structure; the beasts had been flown hard – Varian had set a quick pace – and sweat gleamed against their leonine hides.

“Hello, King of the Alliance,” called out the largest of the pandaren, a shorter male Shado-pan with an enormous halberd held in one hand. Varian slid off of the mount; Wrathion did, as well, but with decidedly less grace. The flight had not only been fast, but disorienting; he shifted into human form just before he smacked into the ground.

Wrathion wobbled on his feet, cleared his throat, and readjusted his turban and tabard, the scales clinking lightly, and watched Varian approach the pandaren, tempted to walk up with him but resigning himself to staying in the back.

Trying not to cause another argument that would only slow them down was difficult.

Varian nodded, briskly, to the halberd-wielding pandaren. “We’re in need of your harpoon guns.”

The Shado-pan gestured to his right, smiling. “They are ready for your use. There is three available to you, as Mai ordered.” The pandaren glanced back at the gryphons. “You will not be able to fly with them. Too heavy.”

Varian nodded again. His moves were impatient and jerky.

Wrathion looked over at the guns. As the pandaren said, there were three, the same model as the one that had been near the Dread Wastes’ section of the Wall. The cloud serpent heads were all different colors, however: one black, one red, one blue, all snarling and fierce, their gem eyes alight with a sort of mechanical rage.

“We will help ready them. Our scouts will set up our emergency lift to see you safely down the Wall.”

Varian looked back at six gryphon riders he had assigned on the flight over to carry the harpoon guns with their mounts. “Help hook them up.”

Wrathion only watched. He was pleased his plan was coming to fruition. Where would Varian be without his help, he wondered.

The Alliance and Shado-pan were a flurry of movement; chains rustled and clanked, the gryphons squawked and pawed at the stone, and the loud murmuring of the soldiers easing the mounts as the harnesses were hooked on. Against the eastern side of the Wall, the side facing the muted green cliffs and plains of Townlong, other Shado-pan not helping with hooking up the harpoon guns were busying themselves with unloading the lift, hauling the stowed-away contraption from the tower up ahead and tying heavy ropes to its sides to hang it over the Wall. While their movements were quick, their movements were careful, just like the Alliance’s were.

It was strangely mesmerizing. The Alliance and Shado-pan worked together like a well oiled machine; there was little to no bickering between the different races. Wrathion noticed with some interest some of the Alliance champions nodding, as if they knew some of the Shado-pan, to the pandaren that helped them.

Wrathion smirked to himself. Sabellian had no conceivable idea what was about to come after him. Seeing the dragon pummeled and bitten and smashed by Alexstrasza had been nice enough to see, but Wrathion was much more interested in wiping his brother’s smug look off of his face with these harpoons.

The dragon’s eyes flickered over to King Varian. He was helping his officers steady one of the more nervous gryphons, holding the metal harness on the beast’s head still.

Good. The king was distracted. An excellent time to run by another proposal.

Wrathion slid up next to the king, though kept a safe distance; he didn’t want to be grabbed again, even though Varian’s hands were full with the harness. He was quiet for a moment, just watching the soldiers hook the chains up to the gryphon’s saddle, the black harpoon gun behind it, before speaking.

“I have a proposition,” he began. Varian’s jaw locked.

“I’m not surprised,” the king replied.

Wrathion bit back a grumble before continuing. “I would like to keep Sabellian alive.”

Varian glanced over at him without moving his head; his hands were still steady on the gryphon. “What?”

“He could… possibly be of use to me,” Wrathion said. “Killing him can come at a later time, of course. I don’t intend to unleash one of my corrupt brethren against your mighty Alliance,” he added with a small smirk.

“What ‘use’ could he be to you?” Varian asked. The gryphon he was holding bucked up, and without looking away the king pulled the beast back down without so much as a shaking of strain on his shoulders. Wrathion stared, vaguely intimidated, before continuing.

“I’m afraid I can’t share,” the Black Prince sighed. His voice was smooth but smarmy. Varian’s lip threatened to curl. Wrathion didn’t care. “But! You will have your son back. I would say using my plan – which will work – to save dear Anduin is providing of a gift … which would be my brother alive. Don’t you agree?”

Varian took a deep, huffing breath. He turned back to look at the gryphon; the harness was nearly attached. “Fine. As long as my son is safe.”

“I could easily send Sabellian’s head back to you as a show of my good intentions after my work is done. I hear tell you enjoy hanging black dragons’ heads from the arches of Stormwind.”

Varian’s jaw locked and unlocked again; his grip on the gryphon’s harness tightened with a clink.

“Yes. Black dragons who have endangered my son and my kingdom,” Varian responded darkly, his eyes flickering back to Wrathion in a not-so-subtle warning before looking back at the gryphon.

Wrathion decided it was time to back off, with that. He gave the king a wide, toothless smile and moved away again, glancing over the other gryphons as he did so. Two of the harpoon guns were nearly ready to move; all that was left was the lift that the Shado-pan were working on and the last harpoon gun to be hooked up.

Time started to move slower than Wrathion would have liked. He started tapping his foot after a while, deciding to look out over Townlong. He could just make the stretching forms of the other mantid structures inlaid with the kypari trees, but no Sik’vess; that tree was too far west to see. The other kypari trees’ leaves stretched out to the sky, their leaves dark against the sunrise which bloomed the horizon in red and yellows.

Not for the first time the Black Prince’s mind drifted to Anduin. Sabellian wouldn’t dare to hurt him as he had hurt Wrathion in the Kun-lai cave, the dragon assured himself. There was no reason to – was there? His foot stopped tapping and one of his sharp teeth bit down on his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood; he only noticed when he felt it running down his chin and, hurriedly, before anyone saw, he brushed the blood away with his left hand.

A red flash took him out of his unwanted worries. He jumped, surprised; who could – wait.

He snatched onto the gem contacting him, hopeful.

We are a half hour away, my Prince, came Left’s voice. Wrathion grinned. A mere half hour! The lift and the harpoons would be ready within that time.

Excellent timing, Left, Wrathion replied, struggling to keep his enthusiasm in check and failing miserably. How on earth did you manage that so quickly? It had been – what, two and half hours, perhaps more, when Wrathion last spoke to the orc? Though, granted, they were hauling the Chains from the Engine as he had contacted her – the rest of the time must have been spent traveling.

One of the champions you requested has a proto-drake, my Prince. The beast is large and fast enough to carry the Chains.

Wrathion nodded to himself. Hah! He knew the champions would come in handy, as they always did… even though some of them seemed to know his double-sided support of both Horde and Alliance thanks to Sabellian. That soured his mood a bit, but Wrathion was quick to brush that thought aside.

Good! I will see you shortly.

Their connection fizzled. Wrathion made a pleased humming noise in the back of his throat. This was going favorably; it was about time things were going well for him, he noted, and looked over at the harpoon guns and, with some happiness, imagined them gouging into Sabellian’s shoulders.

—-

One of the Alliance soldiers saw the proto-drake coming down from the mountains of Kun-lai first.

The gnome shouted in alarm. The group looked up, nearly as one, as she gestured wildly to the growing blot of dark blue that neared them. The harpoons were ready to move, and the lift was nearly complete.

Wrathion looked up as well, saw the hulking blue form closing in on the Wall, and quickly put up a hand.

“Don’t worry yourselves,” he called out among the murmuring. “It is only an ally of mine.”

Varian glanced at him. “The chains, I hope.”

Wrathion smirked at him. “The chains.”

The proto-drake closed the distance between it and the Wall quickly. It was a monstrously sized creature, its thick, wide scales a varying mix of blues – cerulean, azure, teal – and Wrathion stared at it, eyes wide. He’d never seen a proto-drake before. The beast’s plated head was big enough to tear his head off if it so chose, but Wrathion walked closer anyway as the primordial animal flapped its wings harder, its rider, a Forsaken, reining it in from landing just yet.

“Amazing,” he murmured, mostly to himself, as he looked the creature over. How fascinating – and slightly disorienting - to think his ancestors had been one of these… animals. The air from the proto-drake’s flapping wings pushed against his face.

His attention shifted. In the proto-drake’s clutches were the chains, the tail ends of the large links wrapped around the haunches of the beast. Large leather strips were underneath the coils, protecting the beast from the chain’s ominous buzzing.

“Drop them,” he ordered as he stared at the chains, a sort of hunger in the red of his eyes. The Forsaken glanced at the Alliance. Behind her was Left and another Blacktalon human.

“Disregard the faction behind me. They won’t be harming a neutral party,” Wrathion said impatiently. The Forsaken mumbled something to herself – Left glared at the Horde’s back, leading Wrathion to think the Forskane had said an insult to him, but he was too enthralled with the arrival of the chains to truly care – and tugged back on the reins of the blue dragon. The proto-drake made a deep growl before its large talons uncurled, and the chains, with a strange clanging – not so much a metallic sound, but the sound of like crystals clashing together – fell to the stone floor of the Wall in a looped pile.

“Thank you, champion. I will give you your reward after this ordeal is over,” Wrathion said without looking up. Hadn’t he asked for two champions? Perhaps the other was elsewhere. No matter. It didn’t matter to him. The chains were here and that was all he cared about.

There were two heavy thuds as Left and the other Blacktalon jumped from the proto-drake.

The Forsaken laughed, a dry, airy thing. “Whatever you say, Black Prince. Let’s hope you’re not lying about that like all the rest of the rumors I’ve heard seem to suggest, eh?”

Wrathion glanced up, glaring. “You’re dismissed, thank you.”

The Forsaken gave a drunken-like salute. “Of course, your Princeliness.”

The proto-drake pulled up with a roar. Its feet found purchased on the side of the Wall, and with a great bound it shot back up into the air. The beast and its rider quickly disappeared down the side as quickly as they had come.

Good, Wrathion thought, inwardly scowling at the Forsaken’s words. She’d done what he’d asked and he needed no more of her.

The Black Prince looked back at the chains as Left and the other Blacktalon silently flanked out behind him. The chains were vaguely see-through, and looked as if they were made of light blue glass; each link was so large that they were as long as Wrathion’s waist was tall, if not larger. They buzzed with an audible energy. Wrathion’s fingers twitched. They were perfect.

“That’s all?” Varian said to his side; the Black Prince glanced at him and then again at the chains. “I was expecting something more hardy. Those look like they’ll break at any time.”

“Your worries are uneducated, King Varian,” Wrathion assured. “Titan technology has lasted centuries – eons! They hardly ‘break’ easily.”

The human king made a low, unimpressed noise. His arms were crossed.

“The same sorts of chains were used to hold Yogg’saron,” Wrathion continued, annoyed that Varian wasn’t impressed by his contribution. He tapped the end of his foot against one of the links. The link buzzed violently and he pulled his feet back with a quick, surprise grimace as a bolt of electricity shot up his foot and into his leg, the hairs on the back of his neck and arms rising at the static. He forced the grimace off; that had been a bit too much than he had been expecting to feel.

Varian raised a brow at him. Wrathion cleared his throat. “Well. There,” the Black Prince said. “They can hold Sabellian. Easily.”

“Mm.” Varian turned to look over the long pile of chains – they were at least three yards long in total length. “Alright. But remember that Yogg’saron broke out of the chains and his prison. Let’s hope these don’t do the same thing.”

“Sabellian isn’t an Old God,” Wrathion retorted. “He’s just controlled by them.”

“And how do you suggest my soldiers carry them without being shocked?”

Wrathion gestured to the large sheaths of leather that lay in heaps underneath the pile. “Use the same materials my Agents used,” he said, as if it was obvious. Varian’s eyes sharpened, but otherwise he said nothing.

The king turned. Without so much as a command, the night elf ranger, the one who had spoken to Wrathion, and another dwarven warrior ran up and began to ready the chains for transport.

“We can finally go after my son,” Varian said after a loud sigh. “This plan of yours had better work, dragon.”

“It’ll work,” Wrathion assured. “Trust me.”

Varian shot him a look and went to help his troops with the chains.

Wrathion turned behind him to face Left.

“An easy assignment, I trust,” the Black Prince said, and gave her a toothy grin.

“An easy assignment,” Left repeated with a nod. “The Forsaken was a bad choice. The other champion was fine; they left after helping haul up the chains.”

“So I saw,” Wrathion murmured. He took a deep breath. “Yes, well. Well done.” He gave a quick nod to the other Blacktalon, a male human with shortly cropped brown hair and a boyish face that didn’t quite fit with the foreboding black leather uniform he wore.

Left bowed her head suddenly. Wrathion stared back at her, startled.

“I apologize for not being there to stop Sabellian, my Prince,” the orc said, her voice gruff. “It was my mistake. I should have -”

“Left,” Wrathion said with a small laugh. He put a hand up to stop her from speaking. “It’s quite alright. I sent you away; it was no fault of yours.”

The orc’s head lifted, ponytail swaying. She looked unsure.

“Really,” he added. Left nodded slowly; her tusks tilted back and forth as she ground her teeth, as if she wasn’t sure how else to respond.

There was a loud clanking of wood. Wrathion glanced over his shoulder. The soldiers were carefully hooking up the chains to the harpoons; when the machine-of-war was fired, the harpoon would fly out – and the chains would trail behind it.

“I have a report, my Prince. From Blade’s Edge.”

Wrathion snapped his head back so quickly he pulled a muscle in his neck. He flinched and rubbed his neck with his left hand, but did not stop looking at Left.

“Go on,” he said, excited.

Left, however, did not look enthusiastic – though she hardly ever did, Wrathion thought.

“The ambush did not go as hoped,” the orc started. Her voice was flat, without emotion. “There was more in the brood than the party expected.”

Wrathion stared.

“More in what way?” Wrathion’s voice was low and hoarse, a hiss.

“A scout reported most of them were younger. Hatchlings, young drakes. There were only half a dozen elder drakes.” Her crossbow shifted with a gentle clack of steel. Wrathion hardly heard it. He hardly heard the Alliance behind him. His ears were beginning to ring.

“Only half a dozen,” he repeated, disbelieving. He took a deep breath. The ringing in his ears was becoming louder; a prickling anger picked at the back of his eyes, hot. “And it did not ‘go as hoped.’”

“The rogues managed to poison the Netherwing leader who stood guard. The assault would have gone as planned, quiet, but the single mature dragon was roused and the Blacktalons resigned themselves to a full attack. They were pushed back. Their numbers were cut in half.”

Wrathion stared. He swallowed noisily and took another deep, steadying breath. “And how many dragons did they kill?”

Left hesitated.

“Left,” Wrathion snapped. One of the Alliance glanced over at him, and the Black Prince lowered his voice. “How many?”

“The Agent to report wasn’t certain. I was told it was chaotic. He thought maybe one had fallen in battle -”

“One?!”

“- And that some might have fallen from their wounds after your Blacktalons retreated.”

One of Wrathion’s eyes twitched. His left hand’s fingers curled and uncurled.

“Half of the Agents I sent were killed,” Wrathion said, slowly, his voice low and calculated, “And they may have killed – may – one of Sabellian’s children. One.”

“Yes, my Prince.”

“How.”

“I am told the mature dragon was the stand-in leader, my Prince, and the strongest. The Agent reported her elemental strength was surprising.”

“Elemental strength.”

“She used the earth.”

“Oh, I can do that!” Wrathion said with a whine. In his sudden tantrum he eyed a small, thumb-sized pebble that had once been part of the Wall, eroded off by the wind and sent it, with his powers, flying. It smacked against one of the Alliance’s metal helmets and the soldier yelped. Wrathion snapped his head back to Left, mouth set in a wide, grim line and his eyes wide and nearly wild. “See?”

“… Yes, my Prince,” Left said. Something about the way she said it made him angrier, but he took another breath and tried, tried to calm himself down. He tugged at his leather sash, rolled and fluffed his shoulders back, and clacked his teeth so hard that it was audible. More of the Alliance, those not helping with loading the chains, had noticed his meltdown and were beginning to watch from the corners of their eyes; they thought he couldn’t see them, but he did. He tried to not let that boost up his frustration again.

“This was not the report I was expecting,” he admitted when he finally had himself under control, though his voice was still strained. Left said nothing.

A loud metallic groan and grind behind him caught his attention. Wrathion glanced back – not missing how the Alliance who had been watching him looked away quickly – and saw that the harpoons, heaved forward by the gryphons, were being loaded into the lift, the chains tied to the machines-of-war.

“We’ll talk about this after,” Wrathion murmured. He shifted into whelp form and hovered, wings beating. “Once Sabellian is taken care of.” And Anduin is safe, he thought to himself.

Wrathion eyed the kypari trees in the distance. His Agents might have not succeeded, but he would against their father. And then he would send champions to Blade’s Edge – yes, perfect! His champions had killed Nalice, and she had been the ambassador to his Flight, fully grown and stronger, no doubt, than this stand-in protector at Blade’s Edge; they could easily kill another like her.

But first came Sabellian. Wrathion watched the lift lower, the first harpoon disappearing beyond the side.

—-

The trek to Sik’vess was easier than Wrathion had initially thought it would be.

The gently sloping plains of Townlong were crisscrossed with worn dirt paths of the Shado-pan and braver merchants who wanted to try to gather previous materials beyond the Wall. While the sun had risen, dark, layered clouds blocked its light and cast a shadow across the land; only bursting streams of the rising sun managed to find an escape from the clouds, shining in an angular arc to touch upon the ground in spotlights like the hands of a god.

Wrathion perched on the top of the black harpoon gun and looked at one of said-streams now, trying to figure out what the Tauren called their sun goddess. An’le? An’sha?

“Unfortunate yer’ no drake, yer Highness,” called the dwarf who sat on one of the gryphons hauling the gun Wrathion sat on. The warrior looked back and grinned, the curly hair wild around her face. “You coulda’ been haulin’ these yerself.”

Wrathion wrinkled his nose. “I don’t think so.”

“No?”

“No,” the dragon assured, nearly rolling his eyes. “Dragons are not mere pack animals, thank you.”

“Neither is me gryphon here, but ‘guess we do what we must fer the Alliance.” The dwarf shrugged largely and looked away.

Then I am glad I am not part of your Alliance, Wrathion thought sourly, or any other faction but my own. Even Alexstrasza herself abided to laws and regulations despite the Dragonflights breaking apart.

The thought of Alexstrasza made him uneasy. He shook his head and forgot the train of thought, just as the harpoon gun went over a small bump in the dirty road and rattled underneath him; he held on fast to with his claws, wings splaying out for balance so he wouldn’t fall. He relaxed when the gun righted itself again.

“Stop.” The order was from Varian. He was in front, his monstrous gryphon helping to haul the red harpoon gun. He had come to a halt, and the others were quick to follow. The rolling, grinding sound, louder than Wrathion would have liked it to be, of the wheels of the guns went quiet.

Ahead was Sik’vess. Up close, it towered high above them, the leaves thick and dark blueish-green. The bark was smooth, and small cracks inside showed the glow of kyparite, the mantid’s life-source, within. Wrathion could just make out a large amber archway near the bottom of tree.

Wrathion drew himself up, heart jumping into his throat with excitement. Finally!

“Where are the agents of yours, wyrm?” Varian asked, locking him in place with a look. It was then that the three Blacktalons Wrathion had sent ahead to scout, and to find Sabellian and Anduin, appeared from the air off to the side of the worn pathway: a female worgen, a male orc, and a female blood elf.

Wrathion smiled at Varian, large and toothy on his pointed maw. He jumped from the harpoon gun and shifted into human form, landing lithely on his feet, dirt pluming up from underneath him. He straightened himself out.

“Report, if you would,” Wrathion ordered. The female blood elf stepped ahead and saluted; Left and the human Blacktalon flanked Wrathion again as she did so.

“Sabellian has taken over Sik’vess, your Majesty,” the blood elf began, her voice high and singsongy. “While we awaited your arrival, we scouted further and found that the entrance-way leads underneath the kypari tree. It is a small opening, a bottle-neck.” She glanced at the harpoon guns and the soldiers, then at Wrathion. “It prevents a quiet ambush. The harpoon guns will not work. The dragon will need to be drawn out into the open for their use.”

Murmuring began among the ranks. Wrathion bristled, but he saw Varian, out of the corner of his eye, put up a hand for silence, and the troops went quiet.

Wrathion hummed quietly to himself, thoughtful. “Very well.” He gestured his head behind him, and the three Blacktalons took their places behind Left, protecting the Black Prince’s back.

“Let’s get to the archway,” Varian ordered. A cold wind coming from the north blew against Wrathion’s face; he squint his eyes. “The priority is my son’s safety. We’ll bargain if we can’t get through.”

Wrathion laughed once, a quick, loud hah that made Varian look over at him immediately. “Sabellian won’t bargain. We can trick him out.”

Varian leveled him with a look. “We’ll bargain. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try another plan. I will not stoop to your level of playing tricks, dragon. This is the Alliance. We have honor here.”

Wrathion ground his teeth. Honor will only get you so far, he wanted to snap, but instead he chose something else to say – though he saw where Anduin got his naïve ideas from, now. “Of course, King Wrynn,” he murmured, and bowed his head in a mock-bow. “My apologies.”

The rumbling of the harpoon guns began again. They quickly made their way down the small slope that led to the tall archway. Wrathion walked with his Agents and stared at the amber infrastructure like it was some sort of poisonous bug that was about to leap at his face.

This was too delicate a situation, and everyone seemed to know it – including Varian, whose eyes were sharp on Sik’vess like Wrathion’s were. The Black Prince looked around. He knew what Sabellian would want in exchange for Anduin, and he would not let such an exchange happen; he was glad that he had five trained Blacktalons with him, including Left.

But even still, one wrong word on his part, or even on Varian’s part, could cost Anduin some pain, or even, if it came to it, his life. Wrathion shook his head. Perhaps when his son was injured the king would know that something as worthless as honor when dealing with an enemy like Sabellian was worthless. He’d be forced to listen to Wrathion – though the dragon wished he’d stop being as stubborn and just listen to him before Anduin did get hurt. Idiot. He was making this harder than it should have been.

They stopped a yard away from the archway. It went very quiet. The creaking of the harpoons was loud in the silence.

Wrathion took a breath and narrowed his eyes as he caught Sabellian’s scent coming from the opening, a heavy smell of fire and overturned earth. He tried to find Anduin’s scent, but couldn’t. Wrathion swallowed. That didn’t mean anything, he reassured himself. Sabellian’s scent was just overpowering it. Of course.

Varian dismounted. His armor clanked. The other soldiers did the same. The gryphons chortled quietly.

Then, from the archway, red-yellow fire shot forth with a roar. The ends plumed only feet away from the front lines; the gryphons shrieked and reared, and the soldiers tore their heads back to shield their eyes from the overwhelming heat that washed over Wrathion’s face without any harm to him.

The fire dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. Wrathion huffed and rubbed the side of his face. Show-off.

“Greetings,” came Sabellian’s voice from below, resonating slightly off of the amber

hallway. Wrathion leaned forward; the archway lead into a long series of stairs. “I suppose you’ve come for the boy. You took your sweet time in coming to find me.”

“Release my son,” Varian shouted down. “And I’ll think about not killing you.”

There was a long pause – then a loud snorting. “Ah. I seem to have the honor of speaking to the King of Stormwind. Did you enjoy my potions?”

“I’m not in the mood to play games. As I said, release my son.”

“The prince of Stormwind is my bargaining piece. No. I’ll be keeping him, for now.”

Wrathion growled. Sabellian has chosen his position too well. He was hidden from sight, away from the harpoons, and away from harm. Even though the Alliance and Wrathion had brought such artillery, it meant nothing; Sabellian had the upper hand.

And he had Anduin.

“What bargain are you looking for?” Varian asked. There was his own growl to his voice, and a scowl stretched across face.

“My brother, of course. The little one, the Black Prince Wrathion.”

Wrathion locked his jaw. “’The little one?’” He murmured to himself.

Varian glanced at him, then back at the archway. Smoke was drifting up from the stairs and passed the amber gateway.

“Wrathion isn’t here.”

The dragon glanced over at Varian, surprised, scrunching his eyebrows together.

“Of course he is. I can smell him. Hello, little prince.”

“If you think I’m going to just waltz down there and turn myself in, you’re badly mistaken,” Wrathion snapped loudly. Sabellian snorted.

“Your actions are too easy to predict, hatchling,” Sabellian responded. Wrathion huffed. “And what do you say, King Wrynn? This is no decision of Wrathion’s. Will it be the dragon or your son?”

Varian paused. He went still, one hand on the hilt of Shalamayne, the other at his side, hand curled into a fist.

“We can come to other terms,” Varian said, finally.

“Those are my only terms, you blasted king,” Sabellian said, the exasperation and annoyance clear in his voice. “Your son is unharmed now -”

“I can’t see Anduin. How do I know that?”

Sabellian’s grumble echoed against the archway. There was a long moment of silence. Wrathion’s fingers twitched as the minutes trudged by, slow as a mushan’s gait. What was going on down there? He glanced at Varian, who stood still, then back at the archway. This was taking too long. Perhaps he could send his Blacktalons inside to do this himself -

“I’m fine, Father,” Anduin called out suddenly, making Wrathion jump and his irises narrow into their smallest slits. “Don’t -”

“Yes, alright, that’s enough,” Sabellian interrupted. Anduin did not speak again. “Now. I would like to do this the easy way, Varian Wrynn. I am not my sister – thankfully – and I do not desire your death or the boy’s. I will release him quietly as long as my safety is assured and the Black Prince is mine.”

“I am not foolish enough to trust black dragons,” Varian growled.

“The color of my hide means little. Is a black dragon not standing beside you now? Albeit a small one, but the matter remains. Do not be a hypocrite. I loathe hypocrites.”

Sabellian’s voice was angry, and he spoke as if speaking to a child.

“If you are stupid enough to pass on my offer, I will do it another way. Give me the Black Prince or I’ll send your son back in pieces. I’ll start with his hands, first.”

Wrathion drew himself up. He wouldn’t –

“And if you doubt me, I would ask the Black Prince about what I was forced to do to his arm.”

Wrathion scowled. Forced! Hardly.

Varian took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them. His jaw was set, locked. Wrathion looked at him.

“Your plan of honor is working wonders, King Varian,” Wrathion commented vacantly.

Varian looked at him. His grip on Shalamayne tightened. Wrathion took a quick glance around. All of the Alliance were looking at him.

Suddenly Wrathion felt like the dragon down in the makeshift lair was the least of his worries.

“Now,” Wrathion started, quickly, his voice low so Sabellian couldn’t hear, “we can figure something else out -”

“And risk Anduin’s life?” Varian said; he looked to be struggling with himself. The night elf ranger started raising his rifle. With the small movement, a handful of the other soldiers went to grab their swords.

All at once the Blacktalons behind the Black Prince shot up into action. Left raised her crossbow with a growl at the king, daggers were drawn from their sheathes and swords plucked from belts, metal scraping.

Even in the outdoor space, the tension in the air became heavier, heavier even than when Sabellian had announced himself with his flame. The leaves of Sik’vess shuffled quietly in the cold wind.

Wrathion and Varian stared at one another, their shoulders taut.

“I want no harm to come to Anduin, either,” Wrathion said after a quiet moment, his voice as tense as his body was. He glanced at the soldiers – more had raised their weapons – before looking back at the king again. “But I will not be some prize to be handed over.”

Varian’s jaw worked back and forth as the king ground his teeth. It was silent for a long, full minute. Even the gryphons were quiet, as if they had picked up on their riders’ sudden shift of moods.

The king, finally, nodded slowly to himself, then nodded again, a quick, final thing. Wrathion relaxed, nearly sighing with relief.

“We’ll find something else,” Varian murmured. “Let’s talk. Quickly.”

—-

Anduin was standing in the center of Sik’vess, just beyond the pool of amber, watching Sabellian wait for his father’s response.

Sabellian and he had gotten so bored as the hours had dragged on wordlessly that they had started talking to one another again for the last hour – the status of Stormwind, what Blade’s Edge was like, and even of their mutual hate for Onyxia until Sabellian had stopped suddenly, turned around and blew fire up the stairs and Varian and Wrathion and a handful of Alliance had showed their presence.

The prince glanced up. The dragon was blocking the entry-way with his body, his wings held loose at his sides, his horned head tilted up at the stairway, but not enough, Anduin knew, where anyone outside could see even the ends of his snout. Smoke curled from his nostrils, and while his wings were casual, relaxed, the rest of Sabellian’s body was tense, ready to strike, his claws gripped onto the ground and the frills along his neck raised.

Anduin himself was on pins. He flexed one of his hands.

I’ll send your son back in pieces. I’ll start with his hands, first.

The prince took a steadying breath. He looked up at the entry-way again. Both his father and Wrathion were outside trying to get him out of here – and Sabellian wanted Wrathion in exchange.

Anduin would not allow that to happen, even if it cost him pain… though the prickling at his wrists belayed his nerves. But losing a hand, even both hands, was not the same as Wrathion losing his life.

Sabellian tilted his head back and forth and growled low as the silence stretched on. Anduin could practically hear his own heart beat. He could shield if Sabellian came after him, but he knew that wouldn’t last for long.

“Sabellian -”

“Do not speak,” Sabellian growled. His claws flexed and loosened. The heat was unbearable. Anduin rubbed at his face.

And the remaining Sha energy – it had to be Sha, Anduin concluded - was still there, uncomfortable, bitter -

Another minute passed, and still no word appeared from above.

“His time is up,” Sabellian murmured. With a quick cloud of smoke he shifted into human form. Blood stained against the brilliant red and orange, pinpointing all of his hidden injuries below the cloth. His sprained hand was held loose at his side as he walked to Anduin.

A smiting spell, sparking, flickered into Anduin’s hands. Sablemane growled. The dark skin underneath his eyes was strangely darker, and he moved with a serious, emotionless gait; for a brief moment, the prince wondered if the dead remnants of the Sha energies were beginning to bother him as they were Anduin, too.

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sablemane said, gesturing to the spell. “You are only going to make this that much more difficult for me and for you. Can we not just do this quickly?”

“You don’t have to do this,” Anduin said, and took a step back as Sablemane began to approach again; his heel tapped against the border around the pool. He had nowhere to go. “You can turn me over without Wrathion, and I can promise you your safety. You can go home and forget this. I can speak to Wrathion -”

“Now you sound desperate.” He rolled his eyes. “Your hand, little prince. Give it here.”

The prince shook his head. Sablemane growled again.

Anduin shot off the smiting spell as Sablemane snatched forward. It hit him across the throat and the dragon snarled, teeth baring back to show their sharpened ends, and in that brief, distracted moment Anduin bolted forward, his right leg nearly giving out from underneath him in that first, terrible step – he wished he had his cane! -

Sablemane grabbed him by his tabard and hauled him back with a powerful snap, so hard the cloth tore down the side; it was nearly shorn in two. Anduin struggled and kicked out, but the dragon held him fast and grabbed his hands in one grip by his wrists.

“Let go of me!”

“Doubtful.”

Sablemane hauled him to one of the walls and smashed him against the amber. Anduin grimaced as the hard impact rattled against his spine and made his teeth clack and his vision blur, pain hot and sparking in his back and in his shoulders.

When he came to, Sablemane was looking at Anduin’s hands.

“What are you doing?” The prince croaked.

“Deciding which one,” the dragon replied as casually as if he were deciding what to eat.

Anduin struggled again. Sablemane did not look up, but he smacked the prince back into the wall again without so much as a movement. Anduin bit back a groan. His leg began to seize up, and the other healed injuries he’d sustained during the fall of the Divine Bell, the ones that hardly pained him, began to beat with a ghost pain until his whole body ached. He swallowed hard. No, he couldn’t give in to fear, he told himself. Or pain. He couldn’t yell out or scream, he couldn’t let Wrathion and Varian hear him yell. He couldn’t let Sabellian spur them into action and risk their lives because of Anduin’s pain.

“Don’t do this.” Anduin finally pleaded, his voice hoarse.

Sablemane looked at him. His orange eyes were sunken in, the shadows against his cheekbones dark. The prince looked at him earnestly.

They stared at one another. Anduin swallowed again. Much to his horror, his shoulders began to shake, and he couldn’t make them stop.

Sablemane saw. He hesitated.

Without a word the dragon suddenly let go of Anduin’s wrists and the blood rushed back into them. Anduin gave a small gasp, both in surprise and relief.

“Thank you,” he mumbled, unable to speak any louder.

“Don’t thank me yet,” the dragon said, and grabbed Anduin’s left sleeve and pulled it back to reveal the soft white skin beneath. Sablemane’s hand holding Anduin to the wall fell, but the dragon moved himself quickly, backing his shoulder into the prince’s to pin him back.

There was a gentle shiiiing. Sablemane lifted his hand from the inside of his robe and revealed an ugly dark green dagger, stained at the tip with blood.

Anduin recognized it. “That’s fel iron,” he said, blankly.

Sablemane raised a brow at him. “Your point?”

“I -” Anduin shook his head. “Nothing.”

“Maybe it will burn you at the touch, priest.”

Before Anduin could even try to snatch his arm away, Sablemane placed the sharpened tip of the dagger at the top of Anduin’s arm and slashed down, tearing through the soft flesh of his underarm in a deep arc.

Anduin jerked back at first. His eyes went wide as he stared at the gushing of blood coming out of his arm. Then the pain came – and Anduin screamed.

In his sudden haze of agony – his arm felt like it was on fire, crackling – he kicked out, even with his right, stiffened leg, but Sablemane didn’t move even when Anduin’s feet collided into his gut. The dragon only grunted and lifted the dagger.

Wait – Anduin was screaming. He couldn’t let himself yell out! With effort he forced his mouth, forced his throat, to close with a gurgle. Anduin scrunched his eyes closed and bit hit bottom lip hard as the pain continued to beat in his slashed arm. Hot blood dripped down into his palm, down his pants, onto his leather shoes. He could feel the fel energies burning at his opened flesh; it was a deep wound, a very terrible wound.

“Well done, little prince,” Sablemane said with a sigh, and the weight lifted from Anduin’s shoulder. The prince only slumped down into a clumsy sit, his eyes still closed. He cradled his bleeding left arm close to his chest. “That will be all your father will need, I’m sure.”

Anduin leaned his head on his bent knees and hiccuped. With the pain, he could do little else.

—-

Wrathion jumped when Anduin screamed.

He looked at the archway. His eyes were wide and his throat went dry.

No one did anything for half a heartbeat.

Varian cursed loudly. “I’ll go down there myself if I have to!”

Wrathion still hadn’t looked away from the archway.

I’ll start with his hands, first.

Sabellian wouldn’t -

He came back to the present with a flinch and shook himself out. He shook his head hard. Anger lit deep in the center of his chest.

“I’ll go,” he snapped, then lowered his voice in a quiet anger. Sabellian had crossed an invisible line. “I’ll trade myself.”

Left, to his side, looked alarmed. “My Prince -”

“I won’t actually trade myself, Left,” Wrathion interrupted. He drew his shoulders up and took a breath, composing himself. “I’ll make him think I am.”

Varian glanced over at him sharply. “That’s -”

“Dishonorable? Should I find myself caring more for some stupid fleeting idea about mortality than A– dealing with Sabellian?” Wrathion had nearly slipped and said Anduin.

“It’s a slimy move,” Varian murmured. “Regardless.”

“And that is why I am not part of your Alliance,” Wrathion replied. “You can stand aside and watch me save your son while you sit back and squirm about something as false as honor, King Wrynn.”

Varian sighed in aggravation. Good. Wrathion had hit a nerve.

“Man the harpoons. Wait for the trade. Shoot him – preferably without a killing shot - when its done and I will get Anduin and I out of the way, and we can walk out safely.”

Varian squinted at him. Wrathion looked back at him impatiently, trying not to think about the agony that had been in Anduin’s voice. He was about to tell his Blacktalons to man the damn guns themselves when Varian nodded and looked to the archway.

“We’ll give you the Black Prince,” he called down, voice gruff. “Don’t hurt my son any longer.”

Sabellian didn’t answer immediately.

“I thought that might sway you,” the elder dragon replied. He did not sound very happy. “Send the hatchling down.”

“No. He will meet you halfway.”

Sabellian snorted. “Yes, yes, alright. Halfway.”

Varian looked at Wrathion grimly and nodded.

“I can accompany you in the shadows, My Prince -”

“No, Left. I will do this alone.” He glance at her and smiled smugly. “Don’t you worry.”

The orc nodded, her movements stiff.

While he sounded outwardly confident, the Black Prince’s stomach began to twist as he walked, unaccompanied, to the archway. Behind him the Alliance were quietly beginning to turn the harpoons in the direction of Sik’vess’s opening.

This wasn’t the Kun-lai cave, Wrathion tried to tell himself. He was surrounded by allies. With his plan Sabellian would be defeated and he would have his just vengeance on his elder brother.

With a quick breath Wrathion went inside the hallway and started down the flight of stairs.

Sabellian, in human form, was already at the halfway point. In his grip was Anduin; Wrathion’s stomach soured. Even from the distance Wrathion could see the large gash down the prince’s arm, starting from his elbow and going down his wrist; blood stained the left half of his clothes where the wound had bled down.

Wrathion scowled and glared at Sablemane. The elder dragon simply looked back at him with lidded eyes, unmoving.

“The king chose the smart decision,” Sablemane said when Wrathion got into earshot. Anduin looked at Wrathion with wide eyes; the Black Prince tried not to look at him, in fear of giving away his falseness.

“It was not the king’s decision,” Wrathion retorted. He stopped when he was a yard away from Sablemane. “The only one who makes decisions for me is mysel -”

“Yes, alright, I understand you’re obsessed with your greatness. I don’t care.” Sablemane looked the Black Prince over. “Show me your hands, whelp.”

Wrathion sighed over-exaggeratedly and lifted his left hand up. Sablemane glanced him over again with a suspicious squint.

“I would show you the other, but -” Wrathion wiggled the ends of his right hand that stuck out from his worn cast “- I’m afraid I can’t.”

Sablemane snorted. He glanced behind Wrathion. Anduin shook his head at the Black Prince, silent; Wrathion looked back blankly. He couldn’t let Sablemane catch on.

“Honestly, can we get this over with? Your paranoia is exhausting,” Wrathion sighed. Sablemane glanced back at him with a small scowl and shoved Anduin forward a step. The prince stumbled before catching himself; Sablemane started dragging him the rest of the way, his steps slow, slower for Wrathion’s impatience.

Sablemane stopped when they were only two feet from each other. The elder dragon looked down at Wrathion with open disdain.

Wrathion looked him over and noted the bloodied stains against Sablemane’s robe. He smirked and rose his eyes up to the dragon’s. “I hope those hurt.”

“At least I did not cry when receiving them, little prince - unlike yourself with your own wounds.”

Wrathion twitched. “I did not cry -”

“No? I remember differently.”

Sablemane smiled at him without kindness. Wrathion glared.

“Can you two please - stop,” Anduin croaked. The Black Prince looked at him, glanced at Anduin’s own wound, and curled a lip in slight disgust and worry. It looked particularly nasty up close; the skin against the edges of the deep gash were dark grey, nearly blackened, and blood trickled in a steady stream from it to drip with a gentle plop, plip, plop on the stoned floor. Anduin looked paler than usual. Wrathion bit his lip; he had to hurry up, and the harpoon operators needed to hurry up.

“Ah. Yes. Apologies for harming your -” Sablemane paused, then shook his head, as if he didn’t quite care enough to think about it. “- Whatever he is. But a bit of shed blood builds character.”

“A 'bit'? His entire arm is bleeding.”

Sablemane shrugged. “Be thankful his arm is still there.”

They glared at each other again.

For once Wrathion struggled to find something else to say. Was this it? Were the harpoons in place? He couldn’t look behind his shoulder without giving away the plan; besides, Sablemane was solely focused on him, as Wrathion had hoped.

Sablemane sighed loudly. “I’ve had enough of this farce. Step forward. I’ll release the human when my hand grabs your neck. Do you understand these simple instructions, or shall I repeat them?”

Wrathion scoffed. “I understand fine, thank you.” He gestured with a flick of his hands to Sabellian’s loose, twisted hand. “You’ll only be able to grab one of us, however. Let Anduin go first, and then you may grab me.”

Sablemane stared at him without amusement. “Just come towards me, hatchling.”

Wrathion mumbled, and, carefully took a step forward, but moved his body just slightly to the side.

He was maybe half a foot away – Sablemane’s hand loosened on Anduin’s collar – when the dragon made a cursory glance over Wrathion’s shoulder.

The elder dragon’s eyes fixated.

A low, deep growl started at the back of his throat.

Sablemane had seen the harpoons.

Wrathion did the first thing he thought to do, and then everything seemed to explode.

The Black Prince bound forward and grabbed Anduin by the front of his tabard just as flames gushed up in a roar around Sablemane’s form. He pulled hard and Anduin came back with him, and Wrathion stumbled backwards, back smacking against the other side of the hallway; the flames around Sablemane shot up as he transformed into his dragon form, his back hunched, hardly fitting in the small cavern. Rock and amber fell from the ceiling. The ground shook.

Anduin gasped. The flames billowing off of Sabellian – Wrathion wrapped his good around around the prince’s chest and whirred around, changing places, his back to Sabellian and Anduin to the wall, shielding him from the inferno.

Sabellian roared again and in his anger, did not seem to see the two. Wrathion glanced back as the other dragon hurdled forward, forcing himself through the hallway, the ancient stairs crumbling beneath his weight and the ceiling falling in larger chunks. A loud SHRING pierced the air, and in a flash of blue and silver one of the harpoons shot towards the dragon, but missed; Sabellian screamed forth a billowing of flame and burst through the archway and into the opening.

More of the ceiling started to collapse. Wrathion moved himself from Anduin, grabbed the prince by the front of his tabard again, and started hauling him out, squinting his eyes. Anduin hurried after him; his limp was bad. A quick glance showed that part of Anduin’s back was burned.

“You can move faster than that!” Wrathion teased, though the tension in his voice gave away his small scaled panic. He ducked out of the way as a head-sized boulder of amber slammed right where he had been standing. Anduin glared at him, but the prince soon grimaced and forced himself to move faster.

They made it out of the hallway. Wrathion grinned as he felt the grass beneath his feet.

Anduin, meanwhile, collapsed to his knees. Wrathion went to kneel down but a scream tore his attention, and he turned to see the havoc Sabellian was wreaking across the Alliance and Shado-pan forces.

In the quick moment that Wrathion hauled Anduin from Sik’vess after Sabellian had blown through the archway, the elder dragon had torn a line of fire across the hill, encircling the group to prevent escape unless by gryphon – though that seemed unlikely, for Sabellian was gliding above, fire bursting from his mouth in aimed hits as he tried to destroy the harpoons. His flight was sloppy. The injured wing was obviously in pain.

The marksmen were, in the sudden frenzy, trying to shoot, but the arrows only clanged off of the dragon’s scales and the bullets only made Sabellian twitch as if they were nothing more than a bug’s bite.

“Aim the harpoons, damnit!” Varian yelled above the panic; he’d drawn out Shalamayne. Some of the Alliance bolted over and started taking control of the guns at their king’s command, while others began reeling in the first harpoon to fire and miss from the crumbling archway, the chains buzzing and crackling as they slid against the ground.

Sabellian arced down and a line of fire coursed at the harpoons – but a shaman shot his hands up and a gushing of powerful water burst from the ground, sizzling out the dragon’s flame before it was able to burst against the guns.

The dragon snarled and shot back up out of range again.

Wrathion watched, fixated. The ground rumbled beneath his feet with the activity. He’d never seen battle before and it was enthralling -

A groan from Anduin made him snap out of his sudden mesmerization. He glanced at the prince; Anduin hadn’t gotten up.

“My leg,” Anduin murmured, not looking up. “It won’t move.”

Wrathion glanced up at Sabellian – the dragon was coming in for another dive with a thundering roar – before looking at Anduin. He knelt slightly, pushing Anduin’s face up to look at him. He grinned sharply.

“I wouldn’t worry about moving, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion chirped. “There is nothing to worry about.”

A fireball smashed against the kypari tree. The bark flew above their heads, but the Black Prince ducked out of instinct anyway. There was a huge whoosh of air above as Sabellian shot across before arching back around and slamming towards the harpoons. The blue gun exploded with a flurry of wood and metal as Sabellian’s heavy claws burst against it.

“Well,” Wrathion murmured. “I may have spoken a bit too soon.”

Varian saw them. The Ghost Wolf’s eyes locked on Anduin, then on Wrathion, in the brief moment of calm as Sabellian shot into the sky again, one harpoon gun destroyed.

“Get my son out of here!”

Wrathion didn’t need to be told twice.

“Alright, dear prince -” He looped his good arm underneath Anduin’s arm, tried to lift him, and grunted with effort. “Ugh. At least try to move!”

Anduin managed to move his left leg and find purchase on the ground, though his right was as stiff as wood; it didn’t relax from its bend as Wrathion and Anduin got to their feet.

“This isn’t working,” Anduin panted. Sweat beaded down his forehead, probably from the fierce flames from the wall of fire that had only grown in size. The yells and cries of the Alliance were deafening, and mixed with Sabellian’s ear-splitting roars, Wrathion strained to hear the Alliance prince – though while all of the sounds should have confused him, they made the blood in his muscles feel like it was super-heating. His heart beat not with fear but with excitement.

“I can see that.” Another whoosh of air above – Wrathion pulled Anduin close and ducked just as Sabellian’s claws snatched at where their shoulders had just been.

Sabellian snarled. Wrathion looked up. A Blacktalon had reappeared on Sabellian’s back and was trying to find a weak point in the plates along his spine; in the confusion Wrathion couldn’t make out who it was. Sabellian twisted hard, and the Blacktalon fell, but disappeared before their body hit the ground.

Left appeared from the air at Anduin’s side. She put her arm around the prince’s waist and with the added leverage, Wrathion could carry him.

Wrathion nodded at Left, and they dragged Anduin to the side of the kypari tree, underneath one of the roots that coiled out from the ground only to dig back into the dirt like an emerging earthworm. The Prince and his bodyguard set Anduin in the tiny shadowed crevice, the root above him, shadowing his body from the air – from Sabellian – and let go.

Anduin slumped back. His arm was held close to his chest, and his right leg was still stiff. Wrathion smelled burnt skin. The Black Prince scowled, his anger at Sabellian vaulting up his chest.

“Left, teach the Alliance how to use harpoons,” Wrathion ordered. “If you have to shove them out of the way and do it yourself, do it.”

The orc nodded and disappeared, off to carry out her Prince’s demands.

“Wrathion,” Anduin mumbled. His blue eyes locked onto Wrathion’s red ones; his look was dazed, pained. “Sabellian -”

“Is being taken care of.” Wrathion smoothed back Anduin’s wildly sticking-up hair and smiled with his usual charm as he called out with his mind to the nearest Agent.

They appeared with a poof of smoke at the dragon’s side, panting hard, blood splayed across their face. It was the human.

“Be a dear and guard the prince,” Wrathion said. “If he is harmed, do not show your face to me again.”

Without waiting for a reply from either the Agent or Anduin, Wrathion shifted into his whelp form and flew out to the chaos at the harpoon guns.

The remains of the blue harpoon gun that Sabellian had destroyed lay scattered across the ground. Some of the Alliance had mounted their gryphons, now unhooked from the harnesses tying them to the machines, and were awaiting orders to attack Sabellian from the sky; the dragon was circling, his horned head tilted down. Wrathion noted that the dragon’s right, injured wing hardly beat anymore, only once or twice to keep him aloft; the whelp smirked wide. Excellent.

He landed by the black harpoon gun and shifted back into human form. Left was yelling at the dwarf who manned the gun, making stiff, jerking gestures to the dwarf, to the gun, then to Sabellian up above. The red harpoon gun was manned by a more capable-looking draenei warrior. The chains buzzed in their loops behind the harpoons.

“That wing of his won’t last long,” Varian said. The king was to the side of Wrathion. He glanced at the Black Prince. “My son?”

“Protected.”

The king nodded and glanced back up at Sabellian; the dragon still only circled.

Sabellian’s head turned. Even from the high distance Wrathion could see that the orange eyes were locked on him.

The Black Prince looked away and around. The fires were roaring high in their circle. Everyone was panting, sweating in the inferno – save for Wrathion, of course, who stood unaffected.

He, strangely, saw no bodies.

“Get the gryphons to guide him closer,” Wrathion said. His heart felt like it was going to burst from his chest. He wanted the harpoons in Sabellian’s flesh now! “A game and cat and mouse.”

Sabellian dove suddenly and lava, not fire, spat from his mouth before he slammed back up again out of the harpoon’s aiming distance; he’d seemed to have experience with harpoons, judging by how easily he knew how high to go to avoid them.

The lava splashed in front of the machines. The ground bubbled. The harpoon guns lurched forward as a pit of living rock began to yawn open when the ground liquified.

Varian was the first to react. He grabbed onto the back of the black harpoon gun and began trying to haul it back; the other Alliance was quick to help, and the harpoon groaned and its bars cracked at the sides with the shifts in motion.

The crisis was averted when both harpoons were pulled back by the quick action. Ahead, Sabellian snarled. Wrathion wanted to laugh at his frustration, but resigned himself to focus.

“The gryphons?” Wrathion prodded.

Varian scowled. He gestured to the Alliance who had mounted. “Lead the dragon close!”

“Fire when he is on target, if you would,” Wrathion said to the draenei after leaning over to speak to him personally. The draenei only nodded.

The gryphons launched into the air, three in total. Sabellian saw them and snorted.

Wrathion twitched. The gryphons got close to the dragon, but Sabellian only swatted at them and did not follow when they tried to urge him forward, closer to the harpoons. It wasn’t working – either Sabellian was too smart or his wing was too weak to move him unless he really needed to.

The harpoons were aimed and ready, however.

“He’s going to try and get me some time!” Wrathion snapped.

Varian looked at him with a gleam in his eye. Wrathion paused.

“Now wait a minute -”

Varian grabbed him and hauled him forward, stepping over the holes of bubbling earth and pulling him ahead of the line, ahead of the harpoons, and head of the soldiers, right at the edge of the wall of fire.

Wrathion struggled and flailed. “This is ridiculous! You stupid king! Let go of me! Let go of me right now!”

Varian whistled high and harsh. Before Wrathion had the sense to call out to Left, who in the confusion was trying to take control of the black harpoon gun from the dwarf, one of the gryphons dove, grabbed Wrathion by his shoulders, and bolted back up into the air.

Wrathion yelped and flailed out even more violently as the ground went distant below him; he felt like he’d left his stomach behind.

“Let me down this instant, you pathetic excuse for a -!”

The gryphon lurched to the side. Wrathion stopped and went very still. His good hand quickly reached up and snatched onto the gryphon’s scaly-like arms as they turned to face Sabellian, who was hovering in the air.

Sabellian saw him.

“An air hand-over,” the elder dragon panted. “How charming.”

The gryphon started backing up. Wrathion bit hit lip. Varian had just handed him over for bait!

Sabellian growled. He looked at the gryphon, then at Wrathion, hungrily.

Wrathion wasn’t sure if he was elated or terrified when Sabellian took the bait and surged forward, apparently deciding trying to grab Wrathion was worth the risk of the harpoons.

The gryphon tore back through the sky, whipping Wrathion around with it. He flinched and held on tight with his hand, so tight he could feel the gryphon’s pulse, though it mattered little; the beast’s sharp claws were gripped hard on his shoulders as they rushed through the air. Wrathion curled his knees closer to his body rather than have his legs flailing outwards, an easy target for Sabellian to grab.

Sabellian snarled behind them. Wrathion grimaced – the harpoons were just in front of them, but Sabellian was too close -

The gryphon shrieked and so did its rider as a great force slammed against the beast’s hindquarters. Wrathion yelled out in alarm as they started tumbling. Sabellian growled; in a brief, confused second while his vision blurred back and forth Wrathion saw that one of the elder dragon’s claws had grabbed onto the gryphon and was hauling it back.

A blur of yellow and brown tackled into the side of Sabellian’s neck. The dragon snarled, jerking his neck back in surprise, as one of the other gryphons clawed at the soft underflesh of his neck while its rider, the dwarf who had spoken to Wrathion earlier, shot an arrow into part of Sabellian’s skin that was exposed from Alexstrasza shearing off of the scales there before.

Sabellian let go of the gryphon holding Wrathion with a frustrated growl as the arrow pierced his skin – but the gryphon was injured and started falling, the air and wind screaming against Wrathion’s face.

Before they impacted Wrathion managed to shift into whelp form and wiggle out from the gryphon’s claws - though he landed in a confused tumble, dirt and grass sticking to his face. He groaned; his body shook with the impact.

Wrathion forced himself to look up. He blew the grass from his eyes.

Two of the gryphons were now wailing into Sabellian, picking off his scales like sparrows with a raven’s feathers. The elder dragon snarled – not in pain, but in annoyance – and set fire to one of the beast’s wings. The mount went tumbling. The gryphon who had fallen first was off to the side, struggling to get to its feet.

Wrathion panted heavily. He looked at the harpoons, then at Sabellian – the dragon was close enough. His blood felt like it was aflame.

“Fire!” He yelled high above the sound of snarls and yells and the firing of guns. “Bring him down!”

Wrathion shifted back into human form and grabbed onto the side of the red harpoon gun. Sabellian had heard him. The elder dragon whacked away with a swipe of his paw the last gryphon tormenting him and opened his wings to flurry away -

A great groaning and cracking of wood and metal sounded from the red harpoon as the draenei manning it followed his orders.

With a thoom the harpoon was launched, the chains trailing behind it -

Sabellian was too slow with the injured wing; the harpoon pierced the dragon’s shoulder with a fleshy thunk.

The dragon roared out in agony so loud that the ground beneath Wrathion’s feet felt like it was shaking.

Sabellian lurched forward. His wings went askew in mid-air. Wrathion laughed out loud and watched; he leaned forward, his claws digging holes into the wood of the harpoon gun’s side -

The chains trailing behind the harpoon sparked and spurred into action. As Sabellian flailed, trying not to fall and trying to pull the harpoon out at the same time, the titan’s technology lifted up in a snake-like coil and wrapped, as if it had a mind of its own, around the dragon’s front legs, binding them together. There was a tremendous crackling, a mini thunder strike, and electricity burst up the elder dragon’s chest.

Sabellian jerked his head back and roared. Wrathion grinned savagely.

“Fire the second one!”

Left shoved the fumbling dwarf out of the way, took a hold of the controls, aimed, and fired the red harpoon.

Sabellian couldn’t dodge. The harpoon slammed deep into his thigh, and the chains shot up and curled around his wings and back legs in mere seconds.

The dragon fell and smashed into the ground with a boom that nearly took Wrathion’s feet out from underneath him.

Dirt and grass plumed up from where he landed. Wrathion stared, unhooking his claws from the harpoon. From beyond the dying wall of fire came a pained snarl.

But Sabellian did not fly back up.

Wrathion grinned widely and panted hard.

In that quick, chaotic moment his plan had worked.

A small cheer went up amongst the Alliance, but Wrathion hardly heard them. He jumped over the wall of flame, Left trailing behind him, and went to see his handiwork.

Sabellian was sprawled in an upturned ditch made from his own impact. He was struggling to get back up, but with each movement the chains buzzed and sent a wave of electricity. The dragon snarled again and shook his head out, dirt and grass flying, struggling against the pain and his bonds. The harpoons stuck out from his sides; they were so deep and the aim so accurate that hardly any blood seeped down the punctures.

Of course that would change when Wrathion would have them removed, he thought happily.

“Oh, don’t move!” Wrathion chirped. “I wouldn’t want you to injure yourself further.”

Sabellian looked at him. He growled and shifted again, chains rattling, but flinched when the electricity coursed over him again.

“Insolent little child,” Sabellian snarled, smoke snorting from his nostrils. His side heaved heavily in deep panting.

Wrathion smiled and placed a hand around the small horn at the top of Sabellian’s snout.

“Actually,” Wrathion said with mock thoughtfulness. “Move. Quite a lot. I hope it hurts,” Wrathion added brightly. He moved his hand from the horn and pat the end of Sabellian’s snout. The elder dragon snarled and snapped his teeth forward and Wrathion tore his hand back.

“That’s enough, Wrathion.” The Black Prince glanced back, annoyed at being interrupted during his gloating. Varian came up to his side and looked Sabellian over. The elder dragon growled at him, though Wrathion noted with great enjoyment that Sabellian wasn’t trying to move anymore.

Varian looked back at Sabellian. His expression was unreadable. The other Blacktalons reappeared next to Wrathion’s right side behind Left, who stood very still but eyed Sabellian with obvious anger. The smell of smoke and burnt earth was overwhelming.

“Yes, well. You have your son and I have my brother. A good day’s work.”

Varian made a noncommittal mm. He did not look away from Sabellian for a long moment; the elder dragon’s breathing was heavy and labored, and he did not try to speak. His eyes were lidded.

A frustrated mumbling caught Wrathion’s attention. He glanced behind Varian and saw Anduin – how on earth had he stood up?- limping towards them with a piece of wood he’d apparently ripped off from the kypari tree as a makeshift cane.

Wrathion sighed. Stubborn prince. He motioned his head to Anduin and one of his Blacktalons went to help, but Anduin shook his head at the blood elf.

Varian turned, saw his son, and rushed forward with a speed that did not seem to fit his size. He put his hands on the blond’s shoulders, stared him over, then brought him in a quick, fierce embrace before letting go after Anduin groaned.

“Your arm.” The king gently took his son’s gashed forearm and looked it over. He scowled. “Our shaman will heal you.” He glanced at the blood elf Blacktalon suspiciously. “I can trust you to take my son back to -”

“No, it’s alright, Father,” Anduin mumbled. His voice was muddled as if he had been drinking. He must have lost a lot of blood. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not. Go with Wrathion’s Agent.”

Wrathion watched awkwardly, unsure what to do with himself. Sabellian laughed, though it was humorless and weak.

“Does that confuse you, little prince?” The dragon murmured. “Yes, I suppose it does. You wouldn’t know a father’s care for their children.”

Wrathion glared at him.

“Wait.” Wrathion glanced at Anduin again; the prince was trying to put up his injured arm as if to keep his father at a distance, but the whole limb shook. “I just – I just need to -” He glanced at Sabellian, took in the chains, then glanced at Wrathion. “What are you doing?”

“Finishing this, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion replied smoothly. “I shall take him elsewhere, of course.”

“But -”

“Alright, son. You need to get healed. Now.”

The blood elf, on queue, took a hold of Anduin’s shoulders. The prince resisted for a moment, locked Wrathion with a strange, undecipherable look that went back to Sabellian before he gave in and allowed the Agent to lead him back to the group.

Varian sighed, ran a hand over his face, and looked at Wrathion.

“I won’t pretend to know what this is about,” he started, nodding his head to Sabellian, whose eyes had closed, “But I will thank you for helping to save my son.”

Wrathion went to smile smugly, but thought better of it. He nodded at Varian.

“I hope you’ll remember the favor, King Varian,” Wrathion said.

The king huffed, then turned to follow after his son.

Wrathion looked at Sabellian. He looked at the harpoons, the chains, the sheer way that the dragon, thousands of years older than him, had been brought down in a painful net by his own genius, he thought to himself.

He was almost in disbelief. It had happened so quickly! He placed his hand against the small horn again, but this time Sabellian didn’t move or snarl.

Wrathion smiled widely. Now to force the dragon into human form, and he could continue this… elsewhere.

This had gone too well.

Chapter Text

“What do you wish for us to do, my Prince?”

Wrathion stood in front of Sabellian, one hand loosely wrapped around the larger of the dragon’s double-horns. Varian had only just left –… leaving the Black Prince and his Agents to his machinations.

Some of the Alliance stood close, as well, watching curiously now that the line of fire separating them from the dragon had died down. Wrathion ignored them.

His heart still beat hard with the crazed enthrallment of the quick but brutal struggle; a wolfish, near-feral grin stretched across his face. The dragon’s red eyes were wide.

The Black Prince moved his eyes over the still form of the black dragon. Sabellian’s wings were suckered close to his body and his legs were scrunched up close to his chest and belly, awkwardly positioned, thanks to the heavy, buzzing chains.

Wrathion hesitated. His smile flickered before lighting back up again.

“Remove the excess chains,” he ordered. “Moving him will be a trite more difficult if he is this size. I doubt he can lug about the chains in human form.” Wrathion gently shook Sabellian’s horn to move the dragon’s head back and forth – or at least tried to. It was too heavy. That annoyed him, but the glowing high from his victory was quick to override the irritation. “Or can you?” He teased with a coo.

Sabellian growled, smoke curling from his quivering nostrils, but did not speak. His sides heaved in deep breaths with great effort.

Left grunted. “We risk letting him loose if we lose too much of the chains.”

“Then I expect you to be careful.” Wrathion took his hand from the dragon’s horn and flashed the orc a toothy grin, all of his sharp, white teeth bright against his face, before it fell into a lazy smirk.

The orc only nodded.

Wrathion felt as if he could fly a mile. Or three. Or ten. Or a hundred. He felt like he could out-fly Varian’s vicious little mount by huge lengths. He flexed his left hand, his claws digging against his palm. Oh, he had missed feeling this! And to think it had been the fall of Sabellian, the very enemy to have robbed him of his confidence before -… the payback was delicious, and the victory even more-so.

It felt wonderful to be the best again.

Left, who stood to Wrathion’s side, beckoned over the other Blacktalons with a quick, snapping motion of her hand. The Black Prince ignored them. He only looked at Sabellian.

“So! What do ye’ plan to do with this biggun?”

Wrathion looked over, but did not turn his head. The dwarf who had spoken to him on the way to Sik’vess stood close by, but was keeping herself at a safe distance from Sabellian’s head. Soot was scattered across her face, hiding her freckles.

The Black Prince turned his eyes back to Sabellian. Left was still talking to the Blacktalons up ahead; he could deal with ushering the curious Alliance away himself, annoying as it was.

Well, no matter. He was happy to explain, anyway – especially since he could do it right in front of Sabellian. He could rub his victory even deeper into the dragon’s face.

“I am glad for Prince Anduin’s safety,” Wrathion started. “But now I have to deal with this worrisome pest. I would not want him to bring any more harm to your Alliance.”

Sabellian snorted. In a raspy, strained voice, he mumbled: “Bring harm to you, you mean, you impudent little -”

“Regrettably that means forcing him to move from here,” Wrathion interrupted with a raised voice, drowning out Sabellian. “And more work on my part. But! I do what I must for the greater good, as small a chore as this one might be.”

The dwarf whistled a low, impressed tone. Wrathion’s smirk widened.

“Gee. I woulda’ though the harpoons woulda’ killed ‘im fer sure.” The young dwarf looked at Sabellian. “Poor bugger. Ain’t you a black dragon too, though?”

“What? Yes. I am.” Wrathion looked at her with a scoff, suddenly defensive. “What does that have to do with anything?”

The dwarf smiled quickly. “Oh. Nothin’, really. Prince Anduin has told me about you! I was jus’ wondering, ‘s all.”

Wrathion raised a brow at her. “Prince Anduin has… spoken to you about me?” He squinted. “Who are you, exactly?”

“Oh! I’m Fennie Hornswaggle.” She smiled brightly. “Anywho, we were jus’ wondering about this whole affair.”

“’We.’”

“Uh huh.” She nodded her head to the other Alliance who were lingering, watching Sabellian with curious looks that ranged from wide grins like Wrathion’s victorious one all the way to pitied frowns. “Since King Varian jus’ kinda left you alone with ‘im.” She leaned in close as if sharing a secret. “With how angry the King was, I coulda’ sworn he was gonna’ kill the beastie himself. Which is why we’re all confused, y’see.”

“Ugh,” Sabellian grumbled. “I am not a ‘beastie,’ little girl. I can speak.”

Fennie looked taken aback. “Oh! Uhm. My apologies, uh – sir.”

Sabellian’s eye opened and fixated on Fennie; his look was glossy. “I will tell you now that the Black Prince is an excellent but amusing liar. Shall I tell you the real story, or are you stupid enough to simply believe him? I will guess the latter.”

Wrathion scowled. He tapped his foot against the end of Sabellian’s snout, annoyed at the elder dragon’s ability to speak, though each of his brother’s words were pained and forced. Sabellian looked at him, scowled, but surprisingly closed his eye again and went quiet, succumbing to the pains of his wounds and the chains.

“What’s he mean by that?” One of the other mortals piped up, a younger human with dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Wrathion scowled; his annoyance grew. He was starting to regret the Alliance’s curiosity. Didn’t they have something else better to do? “You know, I’ve heard some rumors -…”

Wrathion saw Left look at him; she stopped speaking to the Blacktalons. Her hand went to her crossbow, but he subtly waved her off. He could deal with this nuisance himself.

“I have taken it upon myself to kill my corrupted brothers and sisters for Azeroth’s good,” Wrathion drawled; he was just loud enough for the rest of the Alliance to hear. Hopefully this would sate their curiosity. “Sabellian is no different. He’s as monstrous as the rest of them were. Very unfortunate.”

“You sound like an automaton,” Sabellian mumbled. His eye remained closed. “Always repeating the same broken words.”

Wrathion glared at him. He was about to throw something at the chains to make them buzz against Sabellian when Fennie spoke again.

“Huh.” She bit her bottom lip and looked at elder dragon. “I mean, call me crazy, bu’ he doesn’t seem loony ta me.” The dwarf clasped her hands behind her back. “Do ye’ hear voices, beasti – uhm – dragon?” She asked Sabellian.

Wrathion growled. “Don’t you have something else better to do?” He quipped. He made a quick, shooing motion with his hand. “I am -” He struggled to find an appropriate word that did not sound insulting, like ‘annoyed with your presence’ or ‘considering to ask Left to haul you lot away’. “ - Very busy.”

Fennie put up her hands defensively. “Ah! Sorry. Didn’t mean no disrespect.” She smiled at him. “Well, I’m gonna check on the Prince. Good luck!”

Wrathion resisted the urge to roll his eyes as Fennie strolled off and away towards the camp behind them. Some of the other Alliance, to his dismay, continued to stay, while others followed the dwarf, apparently satisfied with Wrathion’s earlier answer.

He ignored them. ‘Doesn’t seem loony.’ Hah. Hilarious. What did the dwarf expect? Sabellian to start spurting senseless nonsense like Deathwing’s cultists? Onyxia herself had been so clever as to hide her insanity that she had infiltrated into Stormwind’s highest authority. He scoffed. Ignorant mortals.

At least they were not asking him anymore questions, though.

He sighed loudly and disengaged himself from his rooted spot; Wrathion rounded to the other side of the elder dragon’s face. Sabellian’s closed eye opened again and fixed on him with a lidded, dull stare.

“I suppose you have some regrets,” Wrathion said, but low enough so only Sabellian could hear. His smirk was plastered on his face. “Making an enemy of me was a very bad choice.”

Sabellian snorted. “I have little regret.” His chest heaved up and down once, and his eye scrunched back closed as he exhaled. “As little as I had a choice to ‘make’ an enemy of you, you moronic hatchling.” His eye opened again to glare weakly at the Prince. Sabellian moved one of his claws forward – the chains buzzed and crackled and the dragon hissed.

Wrathion looked Sabellian over again. Tied up, with all of his limbs tucked in, his size looked a bit lesser – though the dragon’s head alone was bigger than Wrathion was tall.

The Black Prince ran his tongue over one of his canines. “Mm.” He glanced behind his shoulder. Behind him, where Anduin had been hauled off by the blood elf Agent with Varian quick to follow, the Alliance milled about in the flat area outside the crumbled archway of Sik’vess. Four of the soldiers were putting up a cloth tent – perhaps a makeshift infirmary. To Wrathion’s disappointment, he could not pick out the blond prince in the crowd.

“You should not have harmed Anduin Wrynn, either,” Wrathion added. He looked back at Sabellian. “That was a poor choice.”

“Dear me. How shall I apologize?”

“Oh! There’s absolutely no need.” Wrathion’s smirk twisted up into a smile. “The moment my champions finish the job I set out to accomplish two years ago by killing the rest of your brood I will have all the apology I ever asked for.” He sighed. “My Agents did not do as well as I had hoped they would. But it’s remarkable how quickly a mistake can be fixed.” Wrathion glanced over the black dragon. A mistake just like the huge one in front of him – a mistake he had fixed after all of the misfortune that had befallen him for it.

Sabellian’s eye narrowed on him.

“You sent Agents to Blade’s Edge?” Sabellian growled.

“So I did. But, as I said, I am sending more capable champions once I have dealt with you.” He smiled. “It seems you may have made another unfortunate choice in leaving your children unattended,” Wrathion concluded. “Now. Tell me again how much little regret you have!”

Sabellian’s maw curled into a snarl.

His large head slammed forward. The chains cracked and rattled as the dragon strained to snap at Wrathion, growls and snarls reverberating from his throat.

The Black Prince only took a step back and watched Sabellian struggle. Smoke popped from the chains; Wrathion’s bangs began to awkwardly stick up from being so close to the static, but he did not move away.

But Wrathion did not look on with any sort of smugness. His smile twisted down into a bewildered frown and his brows bunched together the longer the other dragon resisted and struggled.

He’d said the comment to annoy the dragon, surely.

Wrathion had not expected such a violent, prolonged reaction. It bothered Sabellian that terribly? How could a corrupted monster -?

Sabellian’s head finally collapsed back down in an exhausted heap. The chains rattled back against his scales, inactive. The sharp smell of ozone drifted heavily from the Titan’s technology. A low groan rumbled from the dragon’s chest.

A growl came off from Wrathion’s side.

“Are you alright?” Left prodded; her crossbow was hoisted and aimed at the Sabellian’s now-closed eye.

Wrathion continued to stare at Sabellian with confusion.

“My Prince?”

Wrathion jumped from his stupor. He saw Left, blinked hard, and motioned her crossbow away with an impatient flick of his hand.

“Yes. I’m fine. Excellent.”

Left eyed him with suspicion, though her crossbow slowly lowered. She looked at Sabellian then back at Wrathion and squinted.

Wrathion glanced at her, annoyed with her look. What was she staring at? “The chains, if you would, Left. Go do…” He lifted his hand and made a swaying gesture as if searching for a more articulate word. “… Them. Take care of them. And – yes. You know.” Wrathion cleared his throat and smoothed down his bangs, which continued to stick up from the lingering static. “I would like to move away from here as soon as possible.”

The orc raised a brow at him and slipped her crossbow against her back again. “As you order,” she said -… though he did not miss her lingering look as she made her way to Sabellian’s side to the Blacktalons who awaited her next orders.

Wrathion watched them for a moment, unperturbed at his separation from them. Their conversation was boring and not one he wanted to hear; the talk of mechanics on how to deal with the chains was one he could easily miss.

… Though perhaps the talk could help distract him from the unease that continued to flicker in his chest at Sabellian’s violent, fervent reaction.

Wrathion glanced at the dragon. Sabellian was still. The smell of electricity, of ozone, was nearly gone in the early afternoon’s chilly wind.

The sudden quiet struck him, then. The leaves about shifted and whispered above and the Alliance, yards away, tromped with their metal clanking and the gryphons calling to each other. Each of Sabellian’s heavy, labored breaths rattled loud before him.

And, slowly, as he stood there staring, the high of battle and victory sloughed from his shoulders and he stared at Sabellian with a strange hollowness, as if he wasn’t sure what had just occurred.

Wrathion’s brows sloped, and he frowned widely, one of his teeth sticking out to bite against his bottom lip.

He scowled. He cleared his throat, brushed off invisible dust from his tabard, and fluffed back his bangs in an attempt to tuck them underneath his turban but failing to. But try as he might he could not get the vacant feeling dislodged, nor the unease that pulled with tiny strings at his chest.

“Ugh.” He pinched the bridge of his nose with thumb and pointed finger and then swept his hand over his face. This didn’t feel very good anymore. What had just happened?

From the corner of his eye he saw the last remaining Alliance walk away. Some of their shoulders were hunched, as if they were perturbed. Too worried with his own problems, Wrathion ignored them again.

The Black Prince shook his head and dropped his hand. A large clanking caught his attention. His eyes snapped up; his Blacktalons were flanking Sabellian now, positioned and ready. In their hands they held strips of leather that had protected the gryphons; one of them must have gone back to the Alliance camp to grab the supplies.

Wrathion soon became fixated on their work as they carefully began to strip off the large chains, working together to heave off the heavy weight.

His unease was quickly forgotten.

—-

An hour had passed. The business with the chains was proving more difficult than Wrathion had hoped.

The Blacktalons had managed to pull off a large chunk of the chains from Sabellian’s legs; they had left just enough to bind him. Strangely enough, Sabellian had not tried to thrash his legs about like the Black Prince would have thought he would. In fact, the elder dragon hadn’t moved at all. It would have pleased Wrathion under normal circumstances, but knowing him, Sabellian was no doubt waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

Just like he did when attacking the Tavern. Wrathion huffed and glanced down at the dragon’s still face; the Black Prince had not moved from his standing place in the hour that his Agents had been working.

…Or Sabellian was simply not moving because his fervent, emotional reaction had sapped out all of his remaining energy.

Wrathion frowned at that. Accompanying it was the same sour unease in his stomach he’d had before. He still could not explain the way Sabellian had reacted.

He didn’t want to think about it. Wrathion sighed and shook himself out; he forced himself to think of other things.

Overall, he was bored.

Wrathion glanced behind his shoulder. Perhaps he could visit Prince Anduin; the wound he’d sustained had looked particularly vicious.

And besides, it would be a good way to distract himself.

“Left!” He called out. The orc looked up. She was overseeing, with her arms crossed, the two Blacktalons who were currently struggling with unlatching the deadly chains from Sabellian’s front paws; the leather slabs looked awkwardly handled in their hands. “I am going to pay Prince Anduin a visit. I trust you can handle this situation.”

The orc nodded. “Yes, your Majesty. Do you want guards to accompany you?”

Wrathion shook his head. “No, no. I’ll be just fine.” He flashed her a toothless, wide smile. “Don’t fret.”

“You said you were fine when you went on that walk alone weeks ago, my Prince,” the orc chided with a huff. “And you were assaulted by two nether-drakes.”

“- That I killed, Left. Surely I can survive a walk into an Alliance camp!”

Left squinted at him. Finally, she mumbled something to herself and nodded.

Pleased, Wrathion took a last look at Sabellian, turned on his heel, and made his way to Sik’vess.

—-

The Alliance camp was bare, hurriedly erected, and quiet.

The two cream-colored tents he’d seen were propped up in the center, their loose tops flapping in the colder northern wind. The smell of cooking meat, sizzling over a small fire in front of the resting gryphons – whose sleep was well deserved – made Wrathion’s mouth water as he strode into the sparse crowd.

They had set up in front of Sik’vess, right outside the archway. Wrathion cast a cursory glance over to his right and took in the crumbling mantid infrastructure; huge chunks of dimly-glowing amber lay in piles among shredded and burnt bark, and half of the archway was caved in.

The fires from Sabellian’s wrath had gone out, however - only smoke now drifted from where the inferno had been along the scorched grass. The ground was sunken in where the lava had eaten at it; the harpoons had been pulled back farther away from the pit. Two Alliance milled about the abandoned machines-of-war. They were busy reattaching the small chains to the guns, readying them for their return back to the Shado-pan, and so the mortals did not see him.

The scene reminded Wrathion of the Tavern after Sabellian had gotten through with it; he’d only seen the aftermath after the sha had been purged from him, having gone unconscious while the fires had still roared along the mountain.

Wrathion frowned and shook his head, ridding himself of the memory. He didn’t need to think of more bad thoughts that would only curdle his mood like Sabellian’s reaction had.

The Black Prince started making his way over to the tents, but hesitated as he passed by the fire where the meat was cooking. The Alliance who had not been injured in the brief scuffle and were not put in charge of handling the gryphons and the harpoons were eating, sprawled out on the grass.

The dragon’s stomach rumbled. He hadn’t eaten since his huge meal at Lion’s Landing.

Swiping some of the meat, which looked to be venison, from the mortals with a quick smile and a cooing word might be a good idea. He walked a bit closer, but did not altogether make a beeline for the fire.

One of the mortals saw him – the gnome who had initially pointed out the Forsaken’s proto-drake on the Wall. Her big brown eyes narrowed and she bent her head, breaking eye contact with him.

The other mortals caught the motion of her reaction and looked up. When they saw him, some of them scowled and looked back down at their food. A human outright glared at him. A dwarf and another human squinted at him, then leaned over to one another and mumbled something too low for Wrathion to hear. He recognized the human and the dwarf; they’d been part of the group who had lingered after Sabellian’s fall.

Wrathion blinked; a bewildered frown tugged down at his lips. The human kept glaring. The Black Prince got the message.

Too confused to even be insulted he turned his walk back on its original direction and passed by.

What was that about?

He was dimly aware that they started to mumble about him behind his back, but Wrathion couldn’t be bothered to turn around and snap at them for it, and he did not have any guards with him to do it for him. He scratched at his throat.

Maybe something was on his face? Blood, maybe? Wrathion rubbed at his nose and cheeks then pulled his hand back, but there was no hint of red smeared against his palm. Frowning deeper, he readjusted his turban and looked down at his outfit. But everything was in place. Had he done something wrong?

He rolled his eyes. Probably not. Mortals were often too sensitive.

Two mortals, a night elf and dwarf, were up ahead, leading a gryphon to the other sleeping mounts. The beast’s wing was heavily bandaged; it must have been the one Sabellian had caught on fire.

They were about to cross paths with the Black Prince when the night elf saw him and stopped suddenly. The dwarf looked confused, saw him, then stopped, too. Wrathion would have usually been entertained to have people stop for him so that he could walk first, but the wary look the elf was giving him only made Wrathion’s unease unfurl again.

The dragon squinted at the elf as he passed. The elf only looked back.

Wrathion walked by. His frown deepened.

What was going on? What was with the looks, the glares, the general wariness in the first ten minutes he’d entered the small Alliance encampment?

Confused, he quickly tried to think of an answer as he approached the smaller of the cloth tents. Some of the Alliance had been there with Sabellian. He’d even explained to Fennie what the situation was. Had he said something they didn’t like? He went over the words he’d said, but nothing stuck out to him. They could not be upset with him for wanting to kill something that would no doubt wish harm upon them – and that had harmed their prince.

“I dunno. I think the whole situation is a bit odd.”

Wrathion slowed his walk to a stop. The voice was a male’s, and spoke in a low tone; it came from behind the tent to the dragon’s right, hidden from sight.

“What makes you think so?”

This was a female’s voice, gruff.

Interest piqued, Wrathion drew back from Anduin’s tent. He looked to his sides; no one was looking at him. With a quick fluff of smoke he shifted into whelp form and hopped into the air, making a quick glide to the opposite tent.

The whelp landed on the cloth tent’s top – and immediately regretted it as he tried to crawl forward and his claws popped and caught on the thick fabric. He growled and smacked his front paws up; they tore from the tent and, annoyed, he tried to crouch forward again -… only for his back leg’s talons to catch onto the cloth.

He lurched forward, fell on his snout and made an undignified, high-pitched chirp. His legs flailed and he managed to unlatch himself from the tent for the second time.

So much for being stealthy about it. Wrathion grumbled, tucked his claws up and slid forward on his belly to the tip-top of the tent. He hesitated for a moment, worried the others he had detected on the other side might have heard his small-scale commotion, before he peeked his head over the side.

On the other side of the tent were four Alliance: a female worgen, a male human, a male night elf, and none other than Fennie, who leaned against the back of Sik’vess, shining a gryphon’s halter with an oily rag.

They looked undisturbed by his previous noise. The human, who looked to be a hunter by his mish-mash of grey mail and leather garb, stood bandaging a small burn-mark along his forearm. His blond, shortly-cropped hair was burnt at the bangs, brittle and ashen.

“Well, what’d he say, Fennie? You were closest to hi – wait. No. I got it.” He cleared his throat. Then, in an exaggerated voice that resembled a poor imitation of Wrathion’s, complete with the usual, charming lilt, he said: “I shall kill allllll my brothers and sisters!”

Wrathion glared. They were talking about him.

“Yeah. So?” The worgen was sharpening her claws with a crooked dagger, filing them into sharper points. She blew at them; fine dust flew from her paws.

The hunter shrugged and went back to assembling his bandage. “Just rubbed me the wrong way. I dunno.”

“I’ve got zero sympathy for the big one,” the worgen drawled. She did not look up from her claws. “I saw enough black dragons during the Cataclysm to know they’re no good – as did the rest of you lot. Wrathion deserves a nice pat on the back for dealing with the whole charade.” The tip of her dagger slid beneath her claws now, picking at the bloodied dirt underneath. “Anyway, I’m glad it’s done with. ‘Least the prince is safe.”

“But that’s just it, though! Wrathion’s one of them, too.”

“One of who?”

“A black dragon. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit funny? I mean, he’s waltzin’ about saying he’s the last, then a contender shows up and he tries to kill it?”

“He should kill it, you moron. Like I just said, they’re all bad business -”

Fennie piped up. She looked concerned. “Now, I dun’ know too much about the dragon prince, but from what Prince Anduin tells me he’s a nice enough lad. An ‘if Prince Anduin likes ‘im, it’s a wee hard not ta take that ta heart.”

The hunter clucked his tongue. “Fennie, Prince Anduin likes everybody. No offense to the kid, but… come on. He’s all smiles and rainbows.” He looked at the worgen. “See, you said they’re all a bad business. Even Wrathion, huh?”

The worgen paused, then rolled her eyes. “No, no. He’s ‘purified,’ isn’t he? He’s a bit grating, sure, but…”

“I cannot deny that the look in the young dragon’s face upon taking down his brethren was… uncomfortable to look at.” It was the night elf. His voice was deep and melodic, pleasing to the ears.

“’Uncomfortable?’”

The elf nodded. He frowned. “A certain look of blood-lust.” He motioned with a flat hand to the hunter. “You are overexcited in such… conspiracies, but I did not like the young one’s response, either. It did not sit well with me – nor did the elder dragon’s apparent lucidity.” The night elf shook his head. “As it did not sit well with many others, I have seen.”

The hunter grunted. He looked around. Wrathion pushed his belly deeper into the tent, lowering himself even further from view; the human didn’t see him.

“Yeah. Everyone’s pissed.”

The worgen interrupted. “That isn’t because of the big dragon. Bloody hell! You’re grasping at straws, here, Seamus.”

The hunter huffed. “Well, what’s the deal, then?”

The she-beast chuckled. “What, you dunno? That’s… pretty funny, actually, considering how riled up you are. Anyway,” she sheathed her dagger, “I dunno the whole story, myself, but seems Wrathion’s been going around claiming loyalty to both Horde and to us.” She snorted. “Lotsa’ people were antsy about it when Varian let him on board this rescue mission. Aerandir especially. Did you see his face after he spoke with the dragon? I thought he was going to shoot him right there.”

“Hah! The dragon’s a double-crosser, then!”

“There is no link between such stories and this,” the night elf said. “Control yourself, friend.”

The worgen made a deep humming noise in her throat. “I wouldn’t be too sure ‘bout that. I think it made some people angrier.”

The hunter nodded quickly. “See? I’m telling you! It just goes to show that -” he lowered his voice conspiratorially “- you can’t really trust a black dragon. Even a so-called ‘pure’ one.” He scoffed. “I mean, jeez. With that, I wonder what else he could be lying about? This whole thing seems too shifty, to me, and with what you just said -”

“Aw, come off it, Seamus,” Fennie said. She stopped shining the dented metal of the harness and tucked the rag into her belt while flinging the harness over her shoulder where it lay still. “Jus’ let it go. Prince Anduin ‘s safe, an’ that’s what we came fer’. Let the dragon Prince do his business.”

Wrathion did not wait for the human’s response. Quietly, he slid back down the tent.

He stopped at the ledge. His wings folded in tight around his body.

So that’s why he had been getting the lingering looks, the dirty glances, why most of the Alliance had drifted away without helping -

You can’t really trust a black dragon.

The fins along his neck lowered and Wrathion scowled silently to himself. His breath started to heave.

He was losing his carefully crafted trust he had instilled in his champions, and now in everyone – slowly but surely.

A certain look of blood-lust.

- the elder dragon’s apparent lucidity -

Wrathion ran a paw over the side of his face. He looked around the camp almost desperately. No one saw him.

How many of them had lost trust in him – both from rumors and from the tied-up dragon being dealt with as he sat here, alone and unguarded? He could not speak to everyone. He couldn’t sway every person to think he was trustworthy, that he wasn’t the “bad business” the worgen had said of all black dragons. He knew that.

But his champions had always trusted him – mostly. He’d given them rewards, words of praise, hospitality… and most had spoken kindly of him to their peers, if not with some frustration, as his Blacktalons often reported. His reputation was one of mystery but also one of intrigue; the fear of the color of his hide and eyes had slowly been replaced by a trust, an interest, and he could grin thinking he, he himself, had helped push away the prejudices the mortals had against him, that he had showed them he was no monster, that he was looking out for the greater good -

He took a deep breath to try to still his racing head, but it did little good.

And now with Sabellian, all of it was being taken away.

Sure – Wrathion could admit that lying to Alliance and Horde alike about his loyalties to their faction and not the other had been unfortunate, but altogether necessary. He had to form initial trust somehow, did he not? A grinning, smooth white lie. That was all it was. And no one knew about it until the damned elder dragon started running his mouth!

And once that initial trust was lost – once the unease began, an unease directed towards him – the mortals had surely been waiting and watching to see his actions, to see if he was all that good, after all. And they’d seen him here. With “blood-lust.” With a contending black dragon who seemed lucid enough to them, one he wanted to kill.

Thus the avoiding glances, the effort to get out of the way from his path – they probably thought him untrustworthy again, not worthy to be dealt with, just like his brothers and sisters, just like his Father, just like -…

Do not let hatred control you, young one, as it controlled your father.

A small whine bubbled at his throat. He cut it off quickly. No. They didn’t understand. None of them could! He wasn’t like them -like Deathwing. He was doing this for the greater good. The worgen was right. All of the black dragons besides him were bad. Monsters. Out of their mind. Emotionless. And he was not a monster like them.

Sabellian struggling fiercely against the chains, smoke popping and hissing from where the electricity buzzed and cracked against his plated scales, flickered into his mind’s eye.

Emotionless? A quiet voice prodded at the back of his head. How sure are you of that?

Wrathion growled and jumped from the tent, landing near Anduin’s. He glanced up at the closed entrance, glared at it, then slinked around the side, plopping himself against part of the tent where the excess fabric had been balled up and set into the ground by a large pole.

He didn’t want to be seen by passerbys; the small whelp burrowed into the cloth, tucked his tail inside, then popped just the end of his snout out the other end so he could see. He glared at Sik’vess.

Sabellian had to be emotionless, though, Wrathion tried to convince himself. He tucked in his broken forearm to his chest and sat his head down flat on the grass. Sabellian was corrupted. Wrathion had killed an ally of his and had revealed himself; of course Sabellian had come to kill him - to take the competition out of the way. The sob story about his children had to be just that – one to fool him.

Right?

Wrathion growled. He tried not to think back on the Tavern and the Kun-lai cave – the snarling, protective anger that had bloomed across Sabellian’s face as Wrathion mocked Ryxia’s death, the flickering of regret in the elder dragon’s eyes as he spoke about his monstrous acts back on Azeroth.

And then, just now, that same anger at Wrathion’s threat on Sabellian’s own children, a ferocious and frenzied anger, more ferocious even than Sabellian’s attacks on Alexstrasza -

Strength used in the service of others is twice as powerful as strength spent on our foes.

Wrathion grumbled. Xuen had told him that.

If Sabellian truly did care for his children – the Black Prince hesitated, as if his thoughts were barred from finishing the train of thought.

And so he laid there pouting for some time, watching the Alliance go to and fro as they took care of the injured gryphons while packing up the harpoons to take back to the Shado-pan.

The Black Prince didn’t know what to do.

All of this sudden doubt worried him. He glanced at his claws, as if waiting for them to lengthen and warp as they had when the Sha had taken him over.

Perhaps speaking to Prince Anduin might help. Wrathion looked to his side, at the tent, and squinted. The fabric was too thick to see through.

His fins went completely flat again. Anduin might tease him with more I told you so’s. Wrathion tapped his claws on the grass.

But then again, it might be better to speak to him than have all of this doubt build up and up - and the fear of the Sha was thick in his chest.

Besides, he was going to check on the prince, anyway. He could easily slip his troubles into the conversation.

Wrathion shimmied out from underneath his hiding spot and shifted back into human form. He tried to draw himself up, tried to make himself look presentable and suave for the blond, but his shoulders kept slouching and his usual, smarmy smile refused to stick to his lips.

He ran a frustrated hand over his face. He wanted to stomp his feet and groan. He had Sabellian. He was supposed to feel as victorious as he had when the dragon had come crashing down to earth.

But now this had to happen. Wrathion grumbled. Why was he even doubting himself? Why was -

Wrathion hissed between his teeth, turned, and made his way to the entrance of the tent.

—-

Wrathion squinted at the closed entryway of the cloth tent.

All he had to do was go in. He took a deep breath and shifted his weight. The grass was spongy beneath his feet. He swallowed.

Maybe this was a foolish idea. Wrathion glanced back behind his shoulder at where his Blacktalons were carefully plucking the majority of the chains from Sabellian. He could just make out the tip of the elder dragon’s wings.

He worked his jaw back and forth.

Anduin might laugh -

The cloth flap flicked open and a female night elf nearly rammed into him, catching herself just before she did. The dragon jumped up in surprise, head snapping back, before he quickly composed himself. He cleared his throat.

“I’m sorry,” the night elf said. Her voice was a sigh, as if she was chronically exhausted. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” Blood stained her gloves. Wrathion found himself staring at them before he looked up at her face.

“That’s – uhm, alright,” Wrathion mumbled. He glanced behind her shoulder; the flap had closed again.

“The prince is being healed,” the elf said. She moved around him, plucking her soiled gloves off. “You may go in. He has been asking about you.”

The elf moved off to the gryphons, the burnt grass crunching underneath her feet. Wrathion watched her go from the corner of his eye. He focused back on the tent.

All he had to do was go inside. Wrathion felt like a fool. Anduin would scoff at him, surely…

But the prince was asking for him. Maybe-…

Wrathion shook his head, scowling at himself. He had to stop all of this doubt; he couldn’t afford to give into that again.

And so the Black Prince drew himself up, brushed off the dirt from his wrinkled clothes, and grabbed the flap. He took a deep breath and pulled it back; he stepped inside, closing it behind him.

It was darker inside. Sitting on the floor, on a makeshift cushion of a gryphon’s under-blanket, was Anduin; his head was bent, his mussy blond hair falling down across his face, and his chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm. Kneeling in front of him was a shaman – the draenei shaman who had summoned the fountain of water during Sabellian’s attack on the harpoons. Her blue-skinned hand waved gently over Anduin’s left arm, which was propped up on the shaman’s lap.

Wrathion couldn’t see the wound from his position. He went to stand on the tip of his toes to crane his head over the draenei’s shoulder when Anduin looked up and saw him.

Much to Wrathion’s relief, the prince smiled at him, albeit tiredly.

“Wrathion.” Anduin’s voice was hoarse.

Wrathion smiled back, though his was a bit more wobbly. “Prince Anduin.”

The draenei glanced behind her shoulder and saw him. She nodded her head, the beads in her dark lavender hair clinking, and was quick to look down at Anduin’s arm again. A gentle blue glow began again in her lithe hands, and the twinkling of water, faint, bubbled in the tent.

Relieved at Anduin’s smile and the fact that the draenei hadn’t ushered him out, the dragon inched his way over, cautious, to the shaman’s side. He looked down at Anduin’s arm; the wound was no longer bleeding, but that did not make it any less critical. The cut was deep, nearly to the bone, and the skin parted back at a curved v to show the red flesh beneath. Like he had seen in the stairway, Wrathion noted the black-green edges of the wound, as if the skin had been scorched.

The shaman’s brows were bunched and her hand glided back and forth over the wound. Wrathion watched quietly. He was tempted to sit down next to Anduin but thought better of it with the shaman there.

The draenei’s movements were relaxing to look at. Back and forth, back and forth. The sound of the water only helped to droop Wrathion’s eyelids.

Though with each pass over Anduin’s wound, only small bits of skin began to inch their way across to stitch back together. Wrathion frowned to himself. Shouldn’t that have been going faster?

“It was fel iron,” Anduin said with a small, forced laugh, as if he had understood the confusion on Wrathion’s face. “The dagger Sabellian used, I mean. It must have been the same one they used on you. I’m not sure if you were -… lucid enough to remember, but your cuts healed very slowly like this one is.”

Wrathion glanced down at his own left arm. Just peeking out of the sleeve was one of the scars of said-cuts, shallow and sharp. He nodded, though honestly, he didn’t remember much about it.

“Ah,” he murmured. Anduin kept staring at him. The prince frowned.

“Can you please leave us for a moment?” Anduin asked. Wrathion, for a terrible second, thought the blond was talking to him before looking away from his scar and seeing that Anduin had directed it to the shaman. “I’m fine. It’s nearly healed, anyway.”

Liar, Wrathion thought.

The shaman hesitated. “I am not thinking that -”

“Please,” Anduin added.

After another moment of hesitation the draenei nodded. “Only being for a moment, Prince Anduin,” she said. She dug through the small golden satchel at her waist and plucked out bandages which looked as if they were made of leaves and rock bits. Carefully, she wrapped them about Anduin’s wound.

Wrathion watched Anduin’s face. The prince looked up, eyes trained on the ceiling, his mouth set in a line. It must have been hurting him, but the blond didn’t even blink or cry out; he didn’t even move.

When it was done the draenei stood. She eyed Wrathion.

“You be good,” she warned, and with a muffled clop clip clop of her wrapped hooves she left the tent.

Anduin and Wrathion were alone. The Black Prince said nothing as Anduin looked down from the ceiling, took a deep breath and looked over his gauzed arm.

“We match,” Wrathion announced with a small, almost nervous, grin, and jutted out his cast. Anduin looked up and smiled, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Well – nearly,” Wrathion added, once realizing that his own wounded arm was the right, and Anduin’s the left.

“It’s close enough,” Anduin said. He smiled for another moment longer before it fell, slowly, from his face. His eyes became serious. “What’s wrong?”

Wrathion’s grin fell as Anduin’s had. He cleared his throat. Was he that obviously distressed, or could the perceptive prince read him that easily?

“Ah -” Wrathion shifted his feet. “Nothing. I only came to speak to you.”

Anduin stared at him. He sighed, then gestured to where the draenei had been sitting. “Well, sit down and stay awhile, then,” the blond said with a small teasing tone, though he still sounded tired.

Wrathion did as he was told, folding his legs in a comfortable criss-cross. The ground was soft, at least. The Black Prince busied himself with plucking some blades of grass from the floor, all too aware Anduin was staring at him.

“So you have your brother,” Anduin stated, flatly. Wrathion glanced up. Anduin’s eyes were lidded, and his expression unreadable.

“So I do.” Wrathion rubbed the plucked grass between his thumb and forefinger and sighed. He let them fall from his grip.

“Where is he?”

“I asked Left to deal with him. I had other matters to attend to.” Wrathion gestured his head to Anduin. “Such as yourself.”

Anduin only nodded. “Honestly, I would have thought you would have wanted to be out there to watch.”

Wrathion shrugged; he glanced down. “I was,” he said. “But as I said. I had other matters to attend to.” He paused and frowned. “What’s that human phrase? ‘Killing two birds with one stone?’”

Anduin laughed quietly. “Yes, that’s it.”

“Well, there you are. I am killing two birds with one stone. I am having my brother taken care of while I speak to you.”

He went quiet; what else could he say that would not give away the doubt that gnawed at him?

Anduin looked at him with that serious glint again. “Wrathion -”

“Does that hurt?” The Black Prince blurted, eager to interrupt the blond. He gestured with a nod of his head to Anduin’s cast.

Anduin blinked and looked down at his wrapped wound. “Not as much as it did,” he admitted. His pale right hand trailed down the leafy gauze. “Ella – uhm, the shaman – is very skilled, though.”

Wrathion had a feeling Anduin was playing the pain down – as always. He reached out and took the prince’s wrist with his hand and brought Anduin’s arm closer.

Though he was unable to see the wound, he could see how the smooth skin that had been been hidden beneath the bandage was red and swollen. Wrathion stared at it silently; Anduin didn’t try to move his arm away.

“And your burns?” The Black Prince asked after a minute, gently releasing Anduin’s wrist. Anduin drew it back.

“Healed, mostly,” Anduin said off-handedly. “Really, though – I’m fine.”

“Sure you are.” He nodded to Anduin’s right leg. “And that?”

Anduin gave him a sharp look, but soon relaxed. He sighed.

“Alright. That hurts. A little.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It was -… odd, though. I don’t think Sabellian really wanted to hurt me too much.”

Wrathion scoffed. “You have an enormous gash across your arm, burn marks on your back, and your leg is set back weeks in healing. I think he wanted to hurt you, Prince Anduin.”

Anduin looked at the floor. His thin brows tilted down, and he bit at the bottom corner of his lip, the same way he did when he was struggling with a move in their board game.

“Maybe,” he sighed. “I don’t know. We talked for a while. He was … rude, I can’t deny that, but -” A smile flicked up Anduin’s face. “You should have heard him start ranting about Onyxia. It was actually pretty funny.”

The curl of unease Wrathion had felt outside began to flicker in his chest again, as if someone was taking a sharp-edged feather and brushing it across his innards. “Oh.” He cleared his throat in an attempt to dislodge the feeling. It didn’t work.

“Yes, well. Small talk and action are two different things. He hurt you, and now I will make sure he regrets it – as well as regret what he did to me.”

Anduin looked up at him. He opened his mouth, hesitated, then closed it again.

“I know your stance on what I should do – or, rather, not do – to Sabellian already, dear prince,” Wrathion mumbled. “But I don’t quite have a choice.”

“You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself,” Anduin said. Wrathion ground his teeth. The prince was too perceptive.

The Black Prince rubbed at his neck and didn’t answer at first; he avoided Anduin’s eyes.

“Wrathion, why did you really come in here?”

“To see yo -”

“Other than to see me.”

Wrathion huffed. He hesitated. How should he start?

Perhaps he should just say it outright. Anduin had already guessed something was wrong; wasting time by skirting around the topic would just be that – a waste of time.

“I am – I am doing the right thing, aren’t I?” Wrathion looked up at Anduin. He felt like an idiot the moment the words came out of his mouth, but at the same time, it was like he couldn’t stop speaking. “With Sabellian.”

Anduin hesitated. “I -”

“Because I had to kill the rest of them two years ago. I did. I had to.” He looked at Anduin wildly. Something, perhaps the more logical part of him, was hissing at him to stop speaking, that he was making a fool out of himself, that his sentences were muddling together in a ramble. But he couldn’t stop. “Even Fahrad, who was never nothing but loyal to me.”

Wrathion ran a hand down his face and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself, though it worked little. “But I had to kill him all the same. He was corrupted. It was – it was my duty to. I had to be the last. I was the only purified dragon. My Flight couldn’t have such outliers like – like Fahrad any longer.” The dragon’s red eyes locked in on Anduin’s blue ones. “And I felt nothing when he fell. Or when Nalice fell. Or when my Father fell. No twinge of remorse or pity - because I had to do it or no one else would. I was proud of myself.”

“Wrathion -”

“And it was a good thing! Azeroth did not have any use of my corrupted family any longer.” He rubbed his right upper arm with his left hand; his eyes dropped from Anduin’s again. “They couldn’t endanger anyone ever again because of me. And – and that was the right thing to do at the time.” His eyes flicked back up to Anduin, almost pleading. “Don’t you agree?”

Anduin hesitated before nodding. “Yes. I… think it was. You saved a lot of people by doing that.”

The Black Prince relaxed, but only just. He nodded to himself, the little pieces of metal at the end of his turban jingling. He started pulling at the grass again and looked off to the side.

“And you’re… not sure if that’s the right thing to do with Sabellian now?” Anduin prodded after a long moment of silence.

Wrathion’s claws dug deep into the earth. The roots of the grass popped underneath the pressure. The dirt was cool against his fingertips.

The Black Prince didn’t answer immediately. He took a deep breath and withdrew his claws from the ground, flicking the dirt from the claws’ sharpened edges with his thumb.

“I need to know if I am doing the right thing,” Wrathion repeated, slowly, the words awkward on his tongue. He wet his lips and looked at Anduin. “Put yourself in my position, dear prince, and look without bias. If a corrupt member of your family came, destroyed your home, killed one of your best allies, and tortured you, when it was your… – your responsibility to protect the name of your tarnished Flight… humor me. What would you do?”

Anduin frowned. “Well, Wrathion,” he started. “I don’t want to make you angrier, but… wouldn’t your position be the most biased?”

Wrathion stared.

“You don’t know if he’s even corrupted at all,” Anduin continued before Wrathion had any idea of what to say. “And you’re so intent on thinking that he is that it’s clouded your judgment. All you’ve ever really done is - excuse my bluntness – kill your family.”

The flittering of unease at his chest multiplied.

“… And now you’re thinking he’s not corrupt,” Anduin said.

Wrathion glared.

“You are too smart for your own good, Prince Anduin.”

Anduin smiled tiredly. “I’ve been told that often.”

The dragon’s shoulders sagged. “You’re right. For once,” he quickly added. He didn’t want to give way to Anduin so easily – but even he could not deny that Sabellian’s emotions had become evident to him in that ferocious struggle. “But I cannot take the risk of thinking he is not and finding later he is. And I cannot let him get away with what he did to me.”

“You… were the first one to attack,” Anduin pointed out. Wrathion grumbled. “You can’t really blame him for what he did to you. What if he had been the one to attack first, and kill Right? Wouldn’t you have gone to attack him, like he attacked you?”

Wrathion scowled to himself. “Of course I can blame him for it!” The dragon whined. Anduin looked at him. The Black Prince stared back, eyes narrowed – then sighed and with a quick movement, slid his turban off to fluff at his unruly black hair underneath as if to calm himself. “Alright. Fine. I would have done the same thing. Are you happy? Drop that judgmental look of yours.”

Anduin sighed. “I’m just trying to make you understand a different viewpoint. I’m not trying to judge you.”

Wrathion grumbled incoherently again. He busied himself with tracing a claw over the golden embellishment against the red metal band that held his turban together, which was draped along one of his knees.

“I don’t know what to do.” The admittance of it made Wrathion want to flinch – he was the Black Prince, he always had a plan – but this situation was different. “You are right. I have always killed my brothers and sisters. I don’t know anything else.” He ground his teeth; one of them bit against the soft flesh beneath his lip and the thick, hot taste of his own blood seeped into his mouth. Wrathion raised a hand and brushed at his lip without really thinking of the movement. “But you have to understand that I had to.” He rolled his shoulders back, square against his spine. He looked at Anduin again; he was glad to see the prince wasn’t looking at him pity, or with judgment, but with a serious, open look. “And I did so without hesitation.”

Wrathion growled, then. In his open rambling, he was repeating himself. Where was his usual, smooth charm, his ability to speak so fluidly? “Alexstrasza spoke to me - after Sabellian took you.” He tapped his claws against the metal band with a rap tap rap. “She – she said I might be the enemy. That she would not hesitate in destroying me if Sabellian’s brood was pure and I killed them. To -” he hesitated. “To not be like my Father and let my hate overtake me.”

“The fact that you’re questioning yourself about if you’re doing the right thing or not doesn’t make you at all like Deathwing, Wrathion,” Anduin said. “You were just reacting in the only way you knew how to… not like I condone how you acted, though,” Anduin added. Wrathion rolled his eyes.

“But I shouldn’t be questioning myself!” Wrathion argued. “I should have had those harpoons kill him and have been done with it. I have had enough doubt from my -…” He hesitated, shook his head, and forced himself to continue; he couldn’t deny it any longer. “… Experience… with the Sha.”

Anduin blinked. He looked almost surprised Wrathion had brought it up, but the prince was quick to wipe the look from his face. “There’s good doubt and then there’s bad doubt, I guess.”

Wrathion snorted.

“You asked me if I thought you were doing the right thing,” Anduin began after a long, full minute of silence, “and honestly, I’m not sure how to answer. You’re right. He might be corrupted like the others you had killed. If that’s true, I would somehow force him back to Blade’s Edge -”

“And refrain from killing him,” Wrathion chided. “You have a weak stomach, dear prince.”

“For killing? Yes.” Anduin sighed. “But that’s me, personally. But if you did decide to kill him – if he is corrupted - I wouldn’t look down on you for it. This is your fight, not mine. In your own words, I guess ‘peace constrains me.’” It sounded like Anduin was trying to make a joke, but it failed miserably.

Wrathion smiled anyway, though it was quick to fall. He traced circles in the grass and dirt. “And if he isn’t corrupted?”

Anduin hesitated. Wrathion glanced up at him.

“I think you know my answer on that,” Anduin said quietly.

Wrathion made a small mm in the back of his throat and looked down again. He made a wobbly dragon head-like shape in the dirt and poked in two tiny eyes with the tip of his claws.

“Speak to him,” Wrathion said with an over exaggerated sigh. “Make a deal with him. That’s what you would do.”

Anduin nodded.

“And excuse him for everything.”

“Well, maybe not everything -”

“Because even if he is not corrupted he has done worse things.” Wrathion gestured to his cast arm. “To me -” He nodded to Anduin. “And to you.” The memory of being thrown from the Tavern, being crushed underneath Sabellian’s weight, Right going over the edge, his arm twisting, drudged up from the corner of his mind and he shook his head, willing them out. “Inexcusable things.”

“I know. I’m not trying to excuse what Sabellian did, either, but…” Anduin sighed. “This has to end, somehow, and I would prefer it with you alive, and if Sabellian is uncorrupted, him going home.”

Wrathion groaned in frustration. “Why is this so hard?” He lifted his left hand and stuck up his pointer finger. “Sabellian is corrupted, and I gladly kill him.” He stuck up another finger. “Sabellian is not corrupted, and I still gladly kill him for what he did to me.” He stuck up a third finger. “Sabellian is not corrupted, and I follow your advice and force myself to… speak to him.” He growled. “And if we let each other off free and clear, I look weak and everything was for naught.”

“I guess you finally understand why the Alliance and the Horde struggle so hard in finding peace with one another,” Anduin said with a humorless smile. Wrathion looked at him, surprised.

“Oh, well – yes,” Wrathion mumbled. He dropped his hand. He shook his head, brows bunching together. “But tell me, dear prince, how can I allow Sabellian to live when there are too many risks that go along with it?” He ran a hand through his hair again then slipped on his turban, positioning it in place and picking a blade of grass from the creamy white fabric. “Let us say – hypothetically – he is not corrupted. He says it is because of his time in Outland.” He narrowed his eyes at Anduin. “But he is not in Outland any longer, is he? If -… if I heard Y’shaarj, then he will, too. He is not purified like I am. They will take him, and he will fall as my Father did, and he will wreak havoc on the mortal races. And then I will add allowing him to live as another mistake I have made.” He sighed. “The lives of the mortals he would end up killing would be on my hands, Prince Anduin, because I did not do what I had to.”

“Then you could send him back to Outland. He could -”

“Do you honestly believe that he would want to stay there?” Wrathion scoffed. “After seeing Azeroth again?”

Anduin paused. The prince saw his point.

“Then you could help him find something to totally purify him.” Wrathion started to raise a lip to scowl but Anduin hurried on. “You wouldn’t have to worry about him, then – or the others in his family. If they came to Azeroth, which you think they might, you two could go your separate ways. You wouldn’t even have to see each other ever again.”

Wrathion shook his head. “Why would I help him?”

“To help yourself!”

Wrathion huffed. “That’s pushing it. A forced peace I might be able to live with, but I would not help him further.”

“Now you’re just being stubborn.”

Wrathion huffed for the second time. “It would be like asking you to help Garrosh after the Divine Bell fiasco. Even you with your grand ideas of peace and harmony might balk at the mere idea.”

Anduin’s eyes sharpened. “If helping Garrosh meant peace between our factions, then I would do it.”

“Then that is where we differ,” Wrathion mumbled. He saw the reason behind Anduin’s words, but there was no way he could do something like helping an enemy. Better to crush them than look weak, than to look like a scared child; better to kill an enemy quietly rather than allowing them to get away with what they had done, what they had destroyed, and what they had harmed and killed, even if it may have been the right thing to do in the long run.

“But I do not want to look like a monster, Anduin,” he added, more quietly. “And I am afraid that killing Sabellian and his brood will make me look like one.” He looked at Anduin earnestly. “You understood how I had to kill my brothers and sisters before. I should – I should kill these hidden ones before there is any chance they wreak chaos, shouldn’t I? You have to see my reasoning. Perhaps it is the right thing. Isn’t it?” He sounded a bit desperate. Speaking aloud had solidified his former crazed, rambling, confused thoughts, had made some sense now, but even still, the doubt was there, so thick it was almost painful. “And I cannot allow him to escape with what he did either. I cannot sit here and – and do nothing at all!”

The Tavern destroyed, Right’s death, the torture, his arm, the sickness, the Sha -

It was all Sabellian’s fault. He shook his head. No. He could not allow the elder dragon to slip by so easily.

But true wisdom comes from knowing what is right, and sometimes doing nothing at all.

The sighing voice of Yu’lon slipped into his mind. Wrathion felt his insides pull and twist. The memory of the Celestial’s blessing was fresh – and a blessing that had just presented itself.

He scowled inwardly. Yes, what an excellent blessing – only one that made him more confused!

But no, she – she would not understand this. Just as Alexstrasza could not. He tried to rationalize it in his head as Anduin hesitated in answering.

No other option besides killing Sabellian made sense. He had to kill him and his brood. It was the only way. Wasn’t it? He would be doing Azeroth a favor.

Anduin bit the inside of his cheek. His light, concerned eyes studied the dragon’s face for a moment; Wrathion only looked back. The prince had to agree, surely -

“I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do, Wrathion.” He paused, thoughtfully. “It’s –… it’s like how the Alliance put the orcs in the internment camps, just out of the fear they would become crazed again.” Anduin frowned at him. “It’s not right. I’m sorry.”

“But it’s the only thing that makes any amount of sense!” Wrathion’s voice rose. His shoulders hunched sharply, nearly aggressively, in his burst of frustration, and his claws dug back into the dirt. “It must be the right thing to do. It must be.” He spoke as if reassuring himself, his voice lowering to a murmur before rising again.

“Just because it’s the easiest way out doesn’t make it right,” Anduin murmured. Wrathion looked at him sharply. Anduin looked back.

Wrathion scowled to himself and looked back down; he didn’t say anything for a long, quiet handful of minutes. The cloth tent flapped in a gust of wind.

“As you said, Prince Anduin,” Wrathion said, his voice slow, calculated, and quiet, “this must end somehow. And -” He looked up at the blond prince. “- it will end how I wish it to end. My choice will be the right one.”

“’Right’ in your standards, or in mine?”

Wrathion grinned, though his teeth only just showed; it was a pathetic, forced smile. “I suppose we’ll find out.”

Chapter Text

The bodies of the Blacktalon agents lay in a loose pile against the hard dirt, stacked upon one another with little care regarding their positions; arms stuck out, heads were flat against the ground, legs twisted in on one another. In the afternoon heat of the burning red nether-streams above, they’d soon begin to rot.

Around them, the other after-effects of the battle were marked by the large scorch marks that spanned the ground, black and thick and smoking. Huge pockets of earth were overturned; boulders the size of Samia’s torso lay in heaps like the bodies. Curdled earth, burned and liquified by the lava Samia herself had summoned, slunk into the ground in ravines like rivers.

And the smell was foul. The bodies were one thing – fleshy, tangy, a smell that was making Samia’s empty stomach roll – but the smell of the destroyed earth, deep and burnt, and the lingering smell of fear was the worst of them all. Sharp and sour.

Samia stared vacantly, her arms crossed and her back stiff. The stab wound below her left ribcage burned, but she was ignoring it, as she had ignored it through the night, through the morning, and now through the afternoon. She had more pressing things to take care of than herself.

Like the bodies.

“We should eat them,” one drake said. Most of the brood was on its feet, their gashes and wounds closed from bleeding from their fire or from Rexxar’s salve, which had come in great use and had saved the life of one of the younger drakes. The drake, and others who were not up to par, now curled in the cave to sleep and rest in the darkness.

They had been lucky not to have any of them die – too lucky, Samia thought.

“Or tear them up,” another drake suggested. Her forearm was tucked up to her chest, one of the talons mangled.

“Or feed them to the raptors!”

“That’s enough,” Samia called out, interrupting any more of the suggestions before they got out of hand. Her tired frustration shook in depth of her voice. “We’ll burn them. No eating.”

The first drake to speak scoffed. “A ritual burning?”

“I didn’t say that. Burn them like meat. Then we might give them to the raptors.”

A low, pleased thrumming rumbled through the brood. Samia sighed. At least that had satisfied that; she was loath to give in to their other suggestions, as tempting as they were. She wanted nothing more than to tear the bodies limb from limb, to cause them pain even in death.

But unfortunately, she could not allow herself to give into her anger. It reminded her too much of a time when anger was all she ever felt – and besides, she had little time to be angry. The brood came first before her own selfish desires.

“Thalarian, Ylaria – you two are the largest and the least injured. Drag them away down the valley for burning where the raptors might find them.”

Without Nasandria and Talsian, Thalarian and Ylaria were the eldest – of the same clutch as the two who had left and had yet to return. Thalarian was struggling to keep his closing eyes open. His black horns were gently curved forwards – a gene from his mother, who had had the curved ram-like horns of most black dragons. Ylaria was smaller than her brother, but no less able. The bright, intense color of orange belly and wings forebode her intense skill in a fight; it was she who had tackled the first rogue to attack.

The two drakes bowed their heads – and then Ylaria snatched her maw forward, viper-like, grabbed an orc from the top of the pile, and with a deep grunt lifted into the air. Blood dripped from the body down from its ankles.

Thalarian followed suit, grabbing an elf, but trotted after Ylaria rather than flying; despite his size, the dead weight of the meat must have still been a strain judging by the shake in his hunched black shoulders.

Samia exhaled. Thick smoke drew from her nose. Her arms tightened in their criss-cross against her chest.

The remaining brood stared at her – save for some of the hatchlings, Alacian included, who were tussling with one another off to the side. Dust gusted up from their tumbling claws and their peeps and squawks were the only noise in the quiet, tired valley – though far away she could hear the calls of the raptor packs rebounding against the spiked mountains and even even fainter squawks of the arakkoa’s kaliri in the forests nestled above to their sides.

The quiet was unnerving, and the mood grim. The drakes’ heads were bent; most of their eyes were half-closed. Scanning over them now, Samia noted how each had sustained some injury – a gash across the chest, the face, a forearm… sword marks against the webbings of wings, the spiked club of tails. It made Samia’s black-clad claws dig more into her upper arms; they threatened to pop through the thick black fabric of her tunic.

She sighed again and rubbed at her eyes. No. They’d been too lucky. Perhaps the others knew it too; their glum eyes that watched her now belayed it.

Piling the bodies of the Black Prince’s assassins had distracted them, at least, but with that now in the hands of Thalarian and Ylaria -…

“Continue to treat each others’ wounds,” Samia said. Some of the drakes mumbled. She eyed them; they stopped. “We’ll plan what to do next.”

“There’s nothing else to plan,” mumbled a drake. “How -”

A high-pitched cry overshadowed the drake’s next words; it was so shrilling and fierce even Samia jumped. She looked up with a scowl. Her ears rang.

Arcing above, head lashed back in a cry, flew a veridian nether-drake. Trailing behind her were three others: two blue, one black, and one violet. Their bright, multi-colored hides were neon against the red sky.

They were headed towards the cave that sat quietly some yards behind the brood. Samia watched them with her lips pursed.

“That makes – well, that makes ten – no. Eleven.” Another black nether-drake sailed over their heads. The sheen of the energy trailing off of the mutated dragons’ bodies fell on Samia’s face; she wrinkled her nose at the gentle sting. The drake who had spoken – a young dragon by the name of Pyria, whose maturing black horns were too big for her head – continued. “They got here very fast from Shadowmoon.”

“Their broodfather is close to dying,” Samia murmured. She watched them disappear over the cave’s top, where on the other side they would find Neltharaku, just as Samia and Rexxar had immediately after the scuffle – stabbed through the ankle and poisoned with a fierce venom, so fierce even the great half-orc hunter was having trouble identifying its origins.

He must have still been working with the nether-dragon; Samia had not seen him in hours while she’d attended to the brood and cleaned up the mess the assassins had left-… but she had seen the continual arrival of the nether-dragons, coming in groups like the one that had just passed overhead. One of the nether-drakes stationed at Blade’s Edge must have sent word back of their father’s condition – as well as the additional deaths of two of their brethren, whose bodies had already been burned before they could rot like the mortals’ were threatening to now.

Samia shook her head and sighed. Her injuries began to pain again – in her back, in her arms, on the scabbing scratch from the dagger along her nose. “You would have flown fast for Father.”

“Father’s probably dead,” Pyria mumbled.

One of the hatchlings that wasn’t playing puffed out his chest and squawked. “What?”

“Dead or worse,” another drake added.

“What can be worse than dead?”

“The Old Gods.”

“Father said they were dead!”

“Stop. Everyone be quiet!” Samia snapped as the voices began to escalate on one another, growing in volume and in hysteria.

The brood went silent again. Another cry from the nether-dragons behind them resounded and echoed off of the valley – a lonely, frightful sound.

“We are not vaulting into conclusions,” Samia said. Her voice was quiet and even. “We were attacked by the Black Prince’s minions, but that doesn’t mean Father’s dead. Now do what I told you. Do not leave the valley. No hunting. If you grow hungry, tell me. No one will be going into the forests to feed.”

The lot stared at her glumly -… save for the playing hatchlings, who were oblivious to the talk and continued to tackle and bite one another, kicking up plumes of dust.

“Good.” Samia shifted into dragon form and stretched out her aching wings. Every part of her hurt. She hadn’t slept since last night; her stomach was empty and sour.

The dragon lifted into the