"Why, Rommath?" Aethas clung to the older mage, tears running down his face. "Why? I always took her side. I thought we were friends."
"She is a Human," replied Rommath shortly, his attention divided between steering the frightened dragonhawk they rode, and making sure Aethas did not fall off of it. "They can never be trusted."
"No," whispered Aethas, and his voice broke on a sob.
Aethas Sunreaver wished, not for the first time, that the Kirin Tor could agree to move Dalaran someplace else besides Northrend. Not Pandaria, perhaps, but back near its old spot in the Eastern Kingdoms, for example He wasn't picky, however. He just didn't like the constant cold. Even a quick flight to Sholazar every once in a while didn't help. In fact, the contrast when he returned just made it worse.
He supposed there was no reason why he couldn't live anywhere he wanted, and only teleport to Dalaran every few days, but the thought of being away too much made him nervous. He was the only member of a Horde race, indeed the only non-Human, on the Council of Six, and it had been that way ever since he had been appointed. It wasn't that he didn't trust the Humans, but he wanted his continued presence to be be obvious, for the sake of his people there. So despite his discomfort, he stayed, and kept both his office in the Citadel and his lodgings in Sunreaver Sanctuary well heated. His colleague Khadgar made jokes about the "pocket Sunwell".
Today, however, was beautiful, if you could ignore Icecrown Citadel looming off to one side, and Aethas had been up since just before dawn conducting experiments in his airy lab in the Violet Citadel. He finally yawned, stretched, and then stood up and walked to the window. Staring out over the city, he murmured the words to the spell for locking up his notes, one hand gesturing behind him as he did so.
Aethas rarely ever bothered to enter or leave the Citadel by the front door, prefering to teleport. Today was no different. When his notes were completely locked away, spelled only to his voice and touch, he teleported directly to his rooms in the Sunreavers' central tower to break his fast. In the middle of the meal, however, he became aware of a disturbance just outside. He hurried down the outside steps of the Sunreaver tower, to see a new portal next to the one that led to Orgrimmar, and several of his mages standing around it, arguing uncertainly. "What's that portal?" he asked one of the mage-guards. "Where does it go?"
The mage-guard shook her head, bewildered. "I don't know, Archmage," she said. Without hesitation, Aethas stepped through -- and found himself in Darnassus.
"No!" he gasped. At the portal were Fanlyr Silverthorn, one of his own mages, and Ciarainn Duskheart, a warlock he had seen a few times. General Nazgrim himself seemed to be in charge of the operation. Aethas confronted the Blood Elves, ignoring the Orc.
"Ciarainn!" he exclaimed. "Fanlyr! What have you done?"
Fanlyr turned away from the Archmage, but Ciarainn gave him a sly smile. "We had our orders," he replied. "I'm sure you understand."
"What I understand is that you've involved the Kirin Tor in a Horde plot," Aethas retorted. "I won't stand for this. Return that artifact where you got it immediately. If the Horde wants to steal it, they can't go through Dalaran."
Nazgrim, who had been standing in the background, stepped right up to Aethas. "Is that so...Blood Elf?" he snarled. "Why don't you come with us and explain that to the Warchief yourself?"
Aethas set his jaw. "I do not answer to the Warchief. I am Kirin Tor."
Nazgrim smiled slowly. "I see," he said. He put a friendly hand on Aethas' shoulder. Aethas relaxed, and then stiffened as the hand moved to close around his throat. Everything went grey as Nazgrim ground out, "You better decide where your loyalties lie, Elf. You answer to the same Warchief as every member of your misbegotten race, and don't you forget it." He released Aethas, who stumbled back a few steps.
Aethas looked, not at Nazgrim, but at Fanlyr and Ciarainn, who both studied the ground. He bowed his head. "Get out, all of you," he said. "I have seen nothing." He turned and stalked back through the portal.
Arriving back in Dalaran, he re-entered the Sunreaver tower. Selinas Dawnstrike, his lover, was waiting for him. "Where did the portal lead?" she asked. Aethas shook his head.
"Selinas," he said, taking her by the shoulders. "I want you to leave here, now. Go back to Silvermoon. Tell the Regent-Lord -" He paused. "Tell him he was right."
Selinas bit her lip, troubled. "Have you done something, Aethas?" she asked. "Please tell me..."
He shook his head again. "I cannot. Suffice it to say that I have been given the choice of betraying either the Horde or the Kirin Tor, and I made the choice that may save my life, but break my heart."
Selinas was silent for a moment. "I will go," she said. "But Aethas, will you be safe? If you've betrayed the Kirin Tor, shouldn't you leave too?"
Aethas tried to sound reassuring. "Jaina can be reasoned with, at least sometimes," he said. "The Warchief, never." He summoned a portal to Silvermoon for her, and watched her go through it; then he left the tower, gesturing to his mage-guards to follow him. "To the Citadel," he said.
Jaina Proudmoore stood at the foot of the steps inside the Violet Citadel; her water elemental picked off Aethas' guards as she shouted. Aethas, having heard the screams of his mages both inside and outside the Citadel, was already starting down the stairs as she continued. "You've betrayed the Kirin Tor, Sunreaver. You've allowed Garrosh to move his forces through MY city."
Aethas stood at the bottom of the stairs and shook his head. "You have it all wrong, Jaina. I did nothing." He tried to continue, but Jaina interrupted him.
"You looked the other way. You and your insubordinate kind are no longer welcome here."
Aethas held up his hands. He didn't know how Jaina knew that he'd looked the other way, and in fact, he suspected that she was guessing. But he had never expected her to agree that he was innocent; he had only expected her to listen to his reasons.
But he forgot all that at her words. Angry, he stalked forward. "This is OUR city too, Proudmoore."
Jaina's chin came up. "Hah! I see. I will remove the Sunreavers by force, then." Before Aethas could say a word, her water elemental killed the last two of his guards at the stairs. "You, Aethas, will be coming with me." And she encased him in ice, and then teleported them both out of the Citadel.
Selinas wasted no time after she arrived in Silvermoon. Taking stairs two at a time in her haste, she came to Rommath's offices in Sunfury Spire. Running past the junior mages stationed in the anterooms, she didn't stop until she was standing in front of Rommath. "Grand Magister!"
Rommath looked up from the crystal table where he did his paperwork. "Selinas Dawnstrike?" he said in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
"Aethas sent me," Selinas replied breathlessly. "Grand Magister, he's in trouble, I don't know what he's done, but I -"
Rommath rose. "He's done nothing," he said. "Nothing. His neutrality must be preserved. What's happening in Dalaran?"
"I don't know!" she replied. "He sent me away! All he would tell me is that he was given the choice of betraying either the Warchief or the Kirin Tor, and he chose to save his life but -" She paused to take another breath. "Break his heart."
Rommath took two steps and stood at her side. "Break his heart?" he muttered. "Break his head, more likely. Take my hand!" Selinas felt the familiar sense of disorientation as he teleported them both out of the room.
A moment later, they appeared in the office of the Regent-Lord, Lor'themar Theron, who jumped to his feet when he saw them. "Rommath!" he said in annoyance. "Can't you knock like everyone else?" Then he saw Selinas' face. "What is it?"
Rommath's grip on her hand told her to be silent. "Aethas Sunreaver is likely implicated in the theft of the Divine Bell," he said tersely. "His neutrality has been compromised, and you know Proudmoore is just looking for an excuse to bring the Kirin Tor back into the Alliance."
Lor'themar's pale face became paler. "This could not have come at a worse time," he said. "Jaina Proudmoore doesn't know of our -" He glanced at Selinas. "Negotiations." He turned to his secretary. "Have Ranger-General Brightwing brought here immediately," he said. He turned back to Rommath, his jaw working in frustration.
"I told Sunreaver it would come to this." Rommath dropped Selinas' hand and walked to the window restlessly.
"We both did," agreed Lor'themar. "He's walked that line for quite a while, but as soon as we lost Thrall as Warchief, it was only a matter of time until his loyalty to the Horde would come into question." He slammed his fist on his worktable.
"But what are you going to do?" asked Selinas. They both looked at her, and then Lor'themar smiled sadly.
"What can we do?" he replied. "Dalaran belongs to the Kirin Tor. We cannot simply barge in and make demands. Aethas is on his own there, by his own request. I am glad he made you leave, and I hope that he will be able to obtain safe passage for his people there, but we cannot interfere."
Selinas bit her lip. "He said to tell you that you were right," she said. "He must have known that you would not do anything to save him."
Lor'themar swore and began to pace in front of his worktable. Rommath came back to Selinas' side. "Regent-Lord," he said formally. "You cannot - WE cannot - leave Sunreaver and his people to their fate. He is innocent of any actual wrongdoing, and those people - aside from the ones who have dealt personally with Garrosh and do not currently reside in Dalaran - are more innocent still. No matter what we might wish, it is too late now. We must retrieve as many as we can."
Lor'themar continued to pace for a minute, and then he swung to face Rommath and Selinas. As Halduron Brightwing entered the room, he nodded. "See it done, Grand Magister," he said. "Priestess Dawnstrike, thank you for your warning; with any luck, they are not expecting a sortie from Silvermoon and we will be able to save as many people as possible, including, I hope, the Archmage himself. Please go see Matron Belestra, tell her what has transpired, and alert her that we may soon have an influx of wounded. Assist her if you can." He turned "Ranger-General, thank you for coming. There has been a development in our strategic plans..." As the Regent continued, Rommath took Selinas' hand again and led her to the door.
"Grand Magister?" she said. "You will bring him back...won't you?"
"I will do my utmost," he replied. "As soon as I have news, I will make sure you are informed." At the door, he let go of her hand. She looked up at him, and saw that his expression was utterly bleak.
"Speak, dog," Vereesa Windrunner commanded. At her feet in an upper chamber of the Silver Enclave, stripped and shackled, Aethas Sunreaver knelt. Behind him stood Mage-Commander Zuros of the Silver Covenant, his hand fisted in Aethas' hair, holding his head back so that he had to look up at Vereesa.
"What would you have me say, Lady?" asked Aethas, and then gasped as Zuros yanked on his hair.
"Admit your guilt," Vereesa demanded. "A Sunreaver betrayed Theramore. Sunreavers helped prepare the mana bomb. And Sunreavers stole the Divine Bell from Darnassus. One of those things - perhaps you weren't complicit. But after this, you'd have to be stupid or incompetent not to be guilty of treachery. Admit it!" She smacked Aethas across the face with her mail gauntlet.
Aethas grunted in pain. "Vereesa, no," he ground out. "Please, listen to me. Jaina said it when she asked us to aid her in Theramore. Garrosh cares nothing for our neutrality here. He demands the loyalty of the Sunreavers as of any other Blood Elf. I am not consulted - and if they refuse him, he kills them, and not always quickly. Please, Vereesa..."
Vereesa's eyes flashed. "You deny your complicity?"
"Vereesa!" Aethas protested. "I've always supported Jaina! Why would I betray her?"
"Why indeed!" retorted Vereesa. "That's exactly what we're trying to figure out, cur." She smacked him with her gauntlet again. "How much are you being paid to sell Dalaran out to the Horde?"
Aethas cried out in pain, then coughed, spitting out blood at her feet. "I promise you, Vereesa, there is no plot to sell out Dalaran," he said. "I have been loyal to Dalaran since I was appointed to the Council. You know that. I despise..." He coughed again. "I despise Garrosh Hellscream. My fondest wish would be for the Blood Elves to return to the Alliance -"
"As if we'd have you, filthy addicts," growled Zuros from behind him. Aethas twisted, trying to look up at him, and was rewarded with another vicious yank of his hair.
"Never mind that," said Vereesa. "As far as Dalaran is concerned, you and your Sunreavers are all culpable. Such treachery merits death."
"Please," said Aethas. "Please let me speak to Jaina. Vereesa, what have I done to you that you won't listen to me?" He tried to shuffle forward on his knees, but Zuros pulled him back by his hair.
"You killed my husband!" screamed Vereesa, and raised her gauntlet again. Just then Jaina entered the room, and Vereesa lowered her hand. The two women exchanged looks, and Jaina said, "Has he confessed?"
"No, he insists on his innocence," said Vereesa, stepping back. Jaina took her place in front of Aethas.
"What do you have to say, Sunreaver?" she said impatiently. She didn't comment on his bloody face.
"Jaina," he said, "Please. You know I would never cooperate with Garrosh." His eyes were pleading.
Jaina stared at him coldly. "I thought I knew that. Obviously, I was wrong."
"No," he said. "Jaina, he won't honor our neutrality. You must believe - I would never have condoned -"
"I don't believe," she interrupted. "You're either lying or incompetent, Aethas - and you've never been incompetent. As I think I heard Vereesa saying, the punishment for your treachery is death." She turned away.
"Jaina!" Aethas threw himself face down on the floor at her feet, leaving Zuros with a flistful of his long, red hair. "Not my people! Kill me if you must, but spare them!"
Jaina regarded him silently for a moment or two. "If your people do not resist, they will have nothing to fear," she said at last. Looking away from him, she nodded at Zuros. "He's yours, Zuros," she said, and left the room, along with Vereesa.
Zuros hauled Aethas back to his feet. "You scum," he sneered. "How long did you think you'd get away with it? We've been watching you since Theramore fell."
Aethas, trying not to tremble visibly, appealed one last time. "Zuros - my people -"
"You heard Lady Proudmoore." Zuros started casting a portal.
"Let me explain to them," begged Aethas. "They'll be frightened. Let me just tell them -"
"Your explaining days are over." Zuros pushed him through the portal.
They emerged in the Amplifying Room, and Aethas blanched. The shackles he was wearing - designed to neutralize magic - were already causing him quite a bit of pain. In the Amplifying Room, Zuros could intensify not only that effect, but the effects of any magic he himself chose to use, making for quite effective torture, although that was not the original purpose of the room. As Zuros sealed the room, Aethas looked around wildly, but there was nothing that would help him. He heard the low whine of the telepathic damper, and gave a soft moan of fear.
Zuros took the chain of the wrist shackles and hung it over a hook on one of the many shelves in the room. "Try not to tear your hands off," he said with a smirk, and then he walked away. Aethas closed his eyes and tried to remember how to breathe.
The first arcane blast ripped through him like a scythe, tearing a scream from his throat. Zuros waited until he stopped screaming, and then twisted his fingers in Aethas' hair again, pulling his head back. "How did he get you to turn, Aethas? What did he promise you?"
Aethas could feel fingers of arcane energy moving on him, squeezing his throat and then letting him go, touching him everywhere. His voice hoarse, he gasped out, "He didn't - I didn't - "
"You're still going to lie?" The fingers squeezed his throat again, then let go.
"Don't torture me," begged Aethas. "Kill me...just kill me...please. I can't tell you anything!"
Zuros gave a nasty laugh. "If you want it to stop, talk," he said, letting go of Aethas' hair and stepping back again, and pain shot up Aethas' spine.
Aethas twisted to look over his shoulder at Zuros, his eyes flashing with sudden anger. "I have nothing to say! I have not betrayed the Kirin Tor!" He gasped as his body arched with another blast of pain. Planting his feet and twisting to look at Zuros again, he said in a low voice, "You monster."
Zuros put his hand over his heart dramatically. "You wound me, Aethas, you really do," he sneered. "And it's so ironic that you call me a monster. You are experiencing the city of Dalaran standing up for itself. You can hardly paint yourself a victim after all the Horde has done."
"I'm not -" Aethas broke off to moan as the arcane fingers hurt him again. "- with the Horde. I am Kirin Tor."
"You're nothing," Zuros corrected him, directing a swirl of arcane energy into Aethas' bloodstream, where it burned into every inch of his body. "You're nothing, and when I'm through with you, you'll be a handful of purple dust, scattered on the wind."
Aethas gasped as the pain began to burn through him, and at last he threw back his head and shrieked. The last thing he heard before he lost consciousness was Zuros' laugh.
Modera was trying to ignore the screaming from the streets. She'd voted, reluctantly, to go along with the purge of the Sunreavers from Dalaran, but she did not agree with how it was being done. She sighed, gave up on trying to accomplish any work, and went to find Khadgar.
Khadgar had solved the problem by retreating to an inner room with noise dampers. Even so, he was simply wasting time instead of really working. When Modera entered, he gave her a sad smile. "What have we done?" he asked.
"This only just stops short of genocide," Modera replied. "I thought it was to be peaceful. You know and I know that those people aren't resisting for the most part...and they're being slaughtered."
"I want to stop it," Khadgar agreed. "But if we try to interfere, it could get worse...very much worse. One wrong move from us could mean anarchy. We can't risk it."
"I tried to talk to Jaina," said Modera. "I chased her down in the street and asked her to stop and talk to me. She told me to wait. I..." She began to pace. "I've never felt so powerless."
Khadgar nodded, his usual eloquence unable to manifest.
Modera turned suddenly. "And what has she done with Aethas?" she asked. "Nobody seems to know where he is or what has happened to him. He's not in the Hold. I can't pick up his patterns here in the Citadel. I'm -" She shivered. "I'm afraid for the worst."
Khadgar had no answer for her but an unhappy look.
Rommath and two of Liadrin's knights materialized in Dalaran's Underbelly, braced for immediate attack. Instead, it was eerily quiet in their immediate area. Rommath gestured to the knights.
"Andyr, Fela'mor, we'll save whom we can. Look for Aethas Sunreaver, ask if anyone has seen him. Rendezvous back here in 20 minutes." He immediately moved out, and the knights did as well, each taking a separate direction. For the most part, they tried to avoid engaging with the Silver Covenant, but when they had to, they killed quickly and silently, getting as many Sunreaver citizens as they could find through Rommath's portal in the sewer pipe. Rommath found Sorin Magehand holding a citizen by his throat over the shark-infested waters of the Market, and killed him, but the citizen died as well, savaged by a giant shark. Furious, Rommath rendezvous'd with the knights and a small crowd of armed citizens.
"Did anybody find Aethas?" asked Rommath. The knights shook their heads. Rommath frowned. "I'm going to try something risky - we're going to attempt to take Runeweaver Square. I'm hoping Jaina won't expect it. From there we can sortie, save more Sunreavers, and, I hope, discover where Aethas is being held. Stay close to me!" He led the way up the ramp into the city, ready to attack if need be. At the exit to the Underbelly, he paused and looked from left to right, and saw Jaina's back as she patrolled the city; when she was out of sight, he took a deep breath, said "Let's go," and headed straight for the Square in the center.
Rommath placed the knights and mage guards he'd been able to save at the entrances to the Square. "Let no one except Sunreavers pass, but stay out of sight otherwise," he instructed. He took the strongest of the mage-guards aside. "I will hold our position," he said. "Scout carefully; send any Sunreavers or Horde you can find to us; but make sure they aren't followed. Try to find Aethas. We may get lucky. If not -" He looked away for a moment, then back. "-At least we've saved as many people as we could."
The mage-guard, a woman named Alayne, looked up at him, afraid but determined. "Are we going to try to break into the Violet Hold? There are many more there, although they took Aethas elsewhere, where I do not know," she asked.
Rommath shook his head, biting his lip. "I would need an army to break into the Hold and accomplish anything," he said. "We will try to negotiate for them later. Go! Every minute wasted could mean Aethas' death at their hands." He turned away to pace the Square, trying to hide his fear and anger.
Alayne took a deep breath and moved cautiously out of the Square, keeping a sharp ear out for Jaina's water elementals or the Grand Wizard herself. She started in Sunreaver Square, carefully immobilizing any Silver Covenant agents she found, and directing her remaining people to Runeweaver Square. She discovered several of the higher mages imprisoned in the Inn, and killed their guards as quickly as possible. She considered asking the mages to search for Aethas, but none of them were in good condition; their guards had been quite rough.
From the Sanctuary Alayne ran up the stairs to Krasus' Landing. There she found the Sunreaver dragonhawks in a terrible state, secured with chains, many wounded. She fought off the guards there, freeing as many of the dragonhawks as she could, and giving a merciful death to any that were too badly wounded to save. Among the latter was Aethas' own blue dragonhawk, Dawncloud, covered with deep wounds and bleeding out, but still trying to get away. Before she dispatched the beautiful animal, she whispered to it, "I will save him. I promise." Dawncloud died staring into her eyes.
This was much easier said than done; nowhere did she find Aethas, or any sign of him. She teturned to Runeweaver Square to let Rommath know of her progress, and he shook his head.
"There's nothing for it; you'll have to search the Citadel. Do you know it?"
Alayne nodded. "Well enough, Grand Magister," she replied. "I know all the places where they might hold him, anyway, if he is there. But I don't know that I can get him out by myself, if he is under guard."
Rommath shook his head again. "Don't even try." He touched his fingers to her forehead, giving her his pattern. "Call to me, and I'll come; we'll spring him together. I need to send all these people back to Silvermoon and then I'll be behind you, anyway. Go." He turned away and began casting his portal.
Alayne teleported into the central hall of the Violet Citadel. There was nobody there, which at first surprised her, since often the Six arrayed themselves at the bottom of the stairs inside when they were not buried in research. But none of them were there now. She ran up the stairs, heading for the most secure room she could think of, which was the Amplification Room. But the room stood open; nobody was there. As she looked into it, she saw a little swirl of arcane mist, and picked up a pattern she knew well: Aethas' mind. "He was here," she murmured. It was then that she heard the scream, a long, piercing wail that rose and then broke off suddenly. It was coming from much higher in the tower, where the mages' individual offices were, and it was Aethas' voice.
Alayne didn't stop to think; she teleported immediately, arriving a second later in Aethas' lab. There, pinned up against the stone wall by arcane magic, was Aethas, completely naked except for arcane shackles, and clearly in terrible pain. In front of him stood a High Elf in the uniform of the Silver Covenant, holding Aethas pinned with one spell while with another he lobbed fireballs around the room, destroying all of Aethas' research notes.
As she stared, wide-eyed and as yet undetected, Alayne realized that the arcane spell holding Aethas wasn't a simple imprisoning spell but rather a set of several arcane hands which not only held him against the wall but also wandered over his body, dealing hurt everywhere they touched. In addition, Aethas was bleeding from his ears, several deep cuts on his face, and an odd-looking deep cut over his heart that slowly pumped out what looked like too much blood.
Alayne drew in a breath, and then she unleashed everything she had at the Silver Covenant mage. He turned, launching an arcane bolt at her, but she put up a shield just in time, and then hit him again. He dropped like a stone.
Aethas was also on the floor, having fallen when his captor stopped pinning him to the wall. Alayne ran to his side, pulling off her cloak and wrapping it around his body. "Archmage!" she said in an low but urgent voice. "We've got to get out of here."
Aethas lifted his head, and then struggled to his knees. "I...can't move fast...in these," he said, nodding to the shackles on his ankles. Alayne bit her lip.
"We'll see if the Grand Magister can remove them," she said. "But let's get as far as we can - he's told me he wouldn't be far behind me."
Aethas stared at her. "R-Rommath's here?" he said, getting on his feet somehow and shuffling with Alayne to the door. "He came? Who else?"
"It was just him and two Blood Knights, Archmage," Alayne replied. "We've managed to free anyone who wasn't dead or in the Violet Hold, but his main quest was to find you. He'll be glad you're alive."
Somehow she got him out of the room and to the top of the stairs, and then they saw Rommath running towards them. "Jaina's right behind me," he said, panting. "I got everyone out, and then - she found me." He started to cast a portal at the top of the stairs. "No time, no time - Aethas, get into it. Mage -"
"Grand Magister! Look out!" Alayne saw one of Jaina's water elementals, a little bit ahead, start to cast a frost bolt. She threw herself between it and Rommath, and her body came apart in a shower of ice crystals as Rommath and Aethas teleported away.
The quick portal that Rommath had been able to cast took them back to the sewer pipe where Rommath had entered the city. As they materialized, Aethas gave a choked cry and fell, and Rommath caught him, finally looking at him for the first time.
"What have they done?" he asked. With a quick spell he blew the shackles off, and Aethas gave another cry, sagging against him. Rommath swore, and lifted him, staggering slightly as he sprang for the end of the tunnel. Aethas was limp for the first few steps, but by the time they reached the edge of the pipe, he had revived somewhat.
"I hope you have a plan," he said, at what Rommath thought must be an attempt at humor.
"The mage-guard freed some of the dragonhawks," replied Rommath, setting Aethas on his feet but keeping hold of him. "Can you stay on one?"
"I can't feel most of my body," replied Aethas. He gave a rueful smile, which impressed Rommath.
"It will be all right," he said. "Try not to black out." And he jumped.
"Why, Rommath?" Aethas clung to the older mage, tears running down his face. "Why? I always took her side. I thought we were friends."
"She is a Human," replied Rommath shortly, his attention divided between steering the frightened dragonhawk they rode, and making sure Aethas did not fall off of it. "They can never be trusted."
"No," whispered Aethas, and his voice broke on a sob. He recovered himself. "If she'd only listened - Rommath, they cannot know what it is like. Thrall made it easy for us, but the moment Garrosh was in charge, he expected the Sunreavers to dance to his tune. I kept us away from him, I relied on Dalaran to protect us, but he got to some of my people nonetheless."
"It would have come to this eventually," said Rommath. "It was only a matter of time until he got his hands on you. And as you have found out, the Kirin Tor would have simply discarded you then."
Aethas looked despairing. "I -- I should have known."
Rommath had no answer for that. His eyes traveled along Aethas' body, taking in the physical and magical damages. "What is this?" he said, indicating the cut over Aethas' heart.
"Zuros...cut the sigil of the Kirin Tor," whispered Aethas. "He spelled it so the blood would keep flowing...."
"Enough of that," said Rommath tersely, and cauterized the wound with a flame at his fingertip. "That sick son a furbolg."
Aethas shuddered. "Yes," he said. "What will happen to me now?"
"We need to see the Regent-Lord first of all," Rommath replied. "Can you do that? And perhaps you should not appear before him...as you are."
Aethas tried to laugh, and coughed. "I think I --" He closed his eyes, making a great effort. With a shimmer, he slowly became clothed in his usual mode of dress, which covered him head to toe in grey and crimson.
Rommath raised an eyebrow. "You still wear the raiment of the Kirin Tor?"
Aethas gave a soft whimper; even a little magic had cost him a lot. "It is best for now," he said, and then he fainted.
Aethas opened his eyes somewhere over the North Sea. "Is Selinas Dawnstrike all right?" he asked.
"Yes," Rommath replied. "She is the reason I came. We would not have known otherwise."
"And even then," Aethas guessed, "you did not want to come."
Rommath hesitated, and finally said, "Aethas, if it had been the simple decision to save you and your people, there is no question that we would have come. You know that I care not for Silvermoon's diplomatic relations with Dalaran, and it's the last thing on Lor'themar's mind also. But at the same time, you should know that we were in the midst of negotiating with the Alliance to rejoin them. Almost no one knows of this, not Proudmoore herself I'm sure. What has happened in Dalaran means that it cannot be."
Aethas gasped. "I...oh Rommath...you should have left me there."
Rommath raised an eyebrow, and did not deign to answer. But he went on, "The irony is that now you are safer in Silvermoon than you would have been in Dalaran, even before this purge. But you will still be under the thumb of Hellscream."
Aethas was trembling. "If the Regent-Lord allows me to live at all..."
Rommath raised the other eyebrow. "As long as he thinks you are innocent, Aethas, he will not only let you live, but champion you," he answered. "You are innocent, are you not?"
Aethas swallowed. "Yes...or they would have simply killed me," he whispered.
Aethas had recovered somewhat by the time they were swooping over Silvermoon. He gently extricated himself from Rommath's grasp and sat upright just before they landed. Bile rose in his throat as he caught site of the Divine Bell, sitting a little ways away from the main entrance to the Spire.
Lor'themar, who had been seated by the fountain, sprang to his feet as they landed. "Aethas! You're alive!" he cried. The others with them, who included Halduron and Selinas, ran to them, but Rommath lifted his hand and they halted. Aethas went to his knee before Lor'Themar.
"Thanks to one of my mage-guards, who alas did not survive herself, a few of us made it out of there. Many more have been sent to the Violet Hold." Aethas had to pause once or twice as he spoke, but his voice was relatively strong.
Lor'themar swore. "Anar'alash denal! Will someone tell me WHAT is going on in Dalaran?"
Aethas suppressed a cough. "Proudmoore! She's gone and expelled the Sunreavers from the city. She's purging the Horde from the Kirin Tor!" He felt the tears begin again as he said it, but behind his hood, nobody could see them. He kept them out of his voice.
Lor'Themar was furious. "She's gone too far. I'm certain the Alliance can move their war mages through the city at will. That human ... witch!" He picked up the bench he'd been sitting on and threw it into the fountain in a rage. Then he began to pace. "When will they learn? When will they see that the Horde exists BECAUSE of the Alliance? Because of their prejudice and their bigotry!? They force us ever closer to Hellscream's Horde."
Aethas, alarmed, stood. "My Lord..."
Lor'Themar swung about. "Halduron, summon the rangers. Rommath, assemble the Blood Magi, and add the Sunreavers' strength to your own. We Sin'dorei will take our future into our own hands." He began to pace again, and stopped in front of the Divine Bell. "And get this damn thing out of my sight! Hellscream bought this treasure with the blood of my people. I hope it destroys him."
Rommath stepped forward. "My Lord. YOU would make a fine Warchief." All eyes flew to him.
Lor'themar put a hand on Rommath's shoulder. "It may come to that." He raised his voice, calling for his personal guard. "Bring me my blades! The next move is mine." He stalked off.
Halduron had already turned and was walking quickly away to summon the army. Rommath turned back to Aethas, who was standing shakily where he'd risen. "I must go, Aethas." He turned and nodded to Selinas. "Priestess Dawnstrike! Please attend to the Archmage." He teleported away.
Selinas needed no further invitation; she ran to Aethas' side. "What have they done to you?" she said, her voice a fierce whisper so as not to shriek. "Aethas!"
He turned to look at her. "I am still alive," he said. With a shaky hand, he cast a portal. "Come to my rooms."
Aethas collapsed on his balcony couch immediately; with a gesture and a word, his clothes disappeared, replaced with a silk robe. "I need your help," he said simply, his body going limp.
"Anar'alah!" cried Selinas. "What happened to you?"
"They thought I had something to hide," he said, moaning a little with pain as her hands moved over him, trying to heal the most obvious wounds. "Selinas, it's mostly inside," he said after a moment.
Selinas stepped back. "I -" she gave a soft whimper of fear. "Aethas, I can't heal this. I have not the skill."
Aethas groped for her hand, then held it tight. "Try," he said. "Time is short."
Selinas bit her lip, and then put her hands on Aethas, trying to reach down within and heal everywhere the arcane had touched. But the Light made the arcane wounds explode, and every little explosion cut into Aethas like a knife. After a while, he begged her to stop.
Selinas took his hands in hers. "Will you heal on your own?" she asked.
Aethas shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know anything about this. I don't know anybody who has ever hurt another being like this before. But..." He kissed her fingers. "I suspect not. So I can die either of the hurts, or of the cure."
"Don't say that," said Selinas. "We must tell Rommath. Perhaps he knows what to do."
"I think Rommath has done more already than I want to be indebted for," Aethas protested.
"Don't be stupid," retorted Selinas. "If he went to so much trouble, he'll hardly be happy if you die."
Aethas sighed. "By all means then," he murmured. With a gesture, he activated an arcane golem standing in a corner just inside. "Go to my Lord the Grand Magister and see if he will come to me," he told it. Falling back on the couch, he took Selina's hand again. "Please stay by my side until he comes."
"I would not leave if you bade me," she answered, sitting beside him.
The sun was near setting when Rommath came. Selinas, wanting to keep Aethas warm, had levitated him from the couch on the balcony to his bed. He drifted in and out of consciousness, but whenever he was awake, he smiled at her.
Rommath arrived on the balcony, which seemed to bemuse him, and walked into Aethas' bedchamber. He took in the situation - Aethas unconscious, Selinas wringing her hands - and said, "Why didn't he say it was urgent?" And then he shook his head. "I should have guessed. Otherwise he would not have asked." He stepped close to the bed, and bent over Aethas, frowning. "He's dying," he said. "Couldn't you heal him?"
"I tried, but it hurt him too much," said Selinas. "Whoever did this to him - hurt him everywhere." She bowed her head. "I am only a junior priestess...I am not skilled enough."
Rommath stayed bent over Aethas for a moment, and then turned back to Selinas. He took her chin in his hand and tilted her head up. He waited until her eyes met his, and then he said, "Even Belestra could not heal this. I did not realize how bad it was."
Selinas' eyes filled with tears. "Is he going to die?"
Rommath smiled at her and shook his head. "No indeed. I will do what I should have done before I brought him to Silvermoon: take him to the Sunwell. He will heal there."
"I do not think I have ever seen you smile before," said Aethas, his voice a bare whisper. Rommath turned back to the bed.
"I smile quite often," he replied. "Just not at you." He gestured to cast a portal, then bent and lifted Aethas in his arms. "It will be better soon," he said. "Priestess, please return to your duties, but come back in the morning if you wish. You should find him sleeping normally." He stepped through the portal, leaving Selinas with her eyes still filled with tears.
Rommath, carrying Aethas, stepped out of the portal just outside the Sunwell chamber. The attending Shattered Sun guard, a Draenei female, jumped in surprise. Almost all visitors to the Sunwell came from the docks on foot.
"What is the meaning of this, Grand Magister?" she asked, recovering herself.
Rommath indicated Aethas with his chin. "This man is Archmage Aethas Sunreaver," he said. "He has been severely wounded and is dying. I must get to the Sunwell immediately."
The guard looked at Aethas, who was once more unconscious, then jumped aside. "By all means, Grand Magister," she said. "The Light speed you, and may he recover."
"My thanks," said Rommath. He cleared the door to the chamber in a quick blink, then jumped the rampway, casting a quick slow-fall to cushion their landing. The Sunwell attendants blinked in surprise at their precipitous entrance, but made no move to stop Rommath. One priest came forward.
"Grand Magister," he greeted. He passed a hand over Aethas' form. "Let me take him, and put him directly in the Sunwell."
Rommath shook his head. "I will not let him go," he said. "This is my duty, and I will see it done myself."
The priest frowned, but bowed. "Go ahead, then," he said. "Light embrace you."
Rommath nodded in thanks, and carried Aethas to the edge of the Sunwell. He kicked off his sandals, then stepped down until he was immersed to his waist. He took a deep breath - already the combined Arcane and Light were making him more euphoric than was comfortable - and sat, arranging Aethas to recline between his knees with the Archmage's head back against his collarbone. Rommath murmured, his chin against Aethas' temple, "You will heal here, in the Light and Arcane combined."
Aethas' eyes fluttered open. "Is that a command, my Lord?" he whispered. But he was smiling.
"Indeed," murmured Rommath. He kissed Aethas' temple, letting his own Fire add to the mix of healing energy. Aethas gave a sigh as he felt the combined power at last undoing what Zuros had done to him, what seemed a lifetime ago.
Aethas Sunreaver knelt on the ground in the Sunreaver Onslaught before Lor'Themar Theron. "Regent-Lord, is everything done as you wished?" he asked, head bowed.
Lor'themar smiled. "Indeed it is." He put a hand on Aethas' shoulder, squeezing lightly. "Come, walk with me." Aethas rose, and Lor'themar put an arm around his shoulder. "Ranger-General Brightwing, please review the troops," he said, and then he walked Aethas a little way out of the camp.
"We have not spoken privately since your return from Dalaran," Lor'themar began when they were out of earshot from anyone else.
"No, my Lord," agreed Aethas.
"Take off your hood," Lor'themar commanded. "I need to see your face."
Aethas removed his hood, and self-consciously ran a hand through his hair. Lor'themar stopped walking and turned to face him, his hands on Aethas' shoulders.
"The Kirin Tor have set up camp on the other side of the island," he said, looking into Aethas' eyes. "Proudmoore is with them."
"So my spies have told me, my Lord," answered Aethas. He felt suddenly quite nervous.
"She has sent to me, demanding I turn you over to her," Lor'themar continued. "I intend to tell her no, of course, but before I do, I need to know definitively whether or not you had orders from Hellscream concerning the Divine Bell." As Aethas opened his mouth, Lor'themar put up a hand to forestall him. "I don't want to know if you knew, or even if you helped in any way. Simply yes or no, whether you had orders from the Warchief."
Aethas took a deep breath, relieved. "No, my Lord."
Lor'themar nodded. "Good," he said. "In that case, I can more easily protect you. Proudmoore shall not have you, and you will take orders from only myself or the Grand Magister."
"Yes, my Lord." Aethas felt almost faint with relief.
"Good," said Lor'themar again, and they walked back to the camp together.
~*~ FIN ~*~