"My blessing upon you will seem humble compared to those which have been bestowed upon the others: the managing of time, of life, of dreams and magic. I offer you the earth. The soil, the ground, the deep places. But know that the earth is the basis of all things. It is where we are rooted. Where you must come from, if you are to go to. Here is whence true strength comes. From deep places…within the world, and within oneself.” - Blessing to the Black Aspect
Wrathion scowled at the sky. The eternal sunset of the Timeless Isle bothered him. Sunsets bothered him. There was always something depressing about the end of a day; too many things left undone and another reminder that the Legion was coming and his time was running out. Prince Anduin wasn't even around to distract him with board games anymore. Wrathion scowled harder. That was Garrosh's fault. The damn fool.
Footsteps on the sand heralded the arrival of Kairozdormu in his elven guise. The bronze dragon crossed his arms as he looked out over the sea. The waves rippled unevenly, sometimes too slow, sometimes crashing rapidly. Wrathion's scowl deepened as the bronze remained silent. He didn't have time to waste. The bronze should have been thankful he'd even delayed his departure from the Isle so they might speak.
"Surely you didn't request my presence so we could look over an eternal sunset," Wrathion said, breaking the silence. "As romantic as this location is, I am only two and you're not exactly my type."
The bronze snorted a laugh. "I have a modest proposal for you, Black Prince, but not of that nature."
Wrathion waves a hand. "Speak then."
"First, a question. You appear to be displeased with the results of the Siege. Specifically with the Alliance's decision to allow Garrosh to stand trial in Pandaria. Is that the case?"
Wrathion snorted, a puff of smoke curling from his nose. It wasn't exactly a secret, his argument with Anduin had been loud, but it wasn't precisely tactful. "It does not bode well for Azeroth. Your proposal?"
"Right to the point then. I can appreciate that." The bronze inclined his head. "I believe the Alliance is too hesitant to stand against the Legion. But I think the Horde, at least as it exists now, has also proven too weak. We need something stronger. Something more tempered."
Wrathion's eyes slid from the uneven undulations of the sea to the bronze. The bronze continued to watch the sea.
"I think Garrosh is an example of how merciless the Horde could be. The Legion will grant no mercy. You agree, I think, that the Legion must be met with force. The Alliance cannot bring that to bear."
Wrathion gritted his teeth. "I imagine Garrosh be beheaded soon enough. What is your point?"
"Imagine a Horde with someone as driven as Garrosh at the head. Imagine the technological innovations he championed but given appropriate time to develop."
Such an image was not hard to imagine; Warmachines that clanked across battlefields, crushing dead foes underneath, warriors riding iron-bound beasts and self-propelled wagons, the skies blackened with burning industry. And probably lots of metal spikes.
"To what end?" Wrathion asked. He could envision a number of reasons why Karioz would present this image to him, but he wished to know the Bronze's reasoning.
"To the conquest of Draenor. Then Azeroth. Then Outland. Then, perhaps, more alternate versions of Draenor and Azeroth. Possibly even other worlds in the Great Dark. An army built to meet the Legion in battle, forged from conquest, finally united under a single banner. An infinite army."
Wrathion's lips curled back in a sneer. "I thought you were Bronze, not Infinite."
The bronze dragon's smile was slow and dangerous. "I am Bronze but I see the usefulness of those who have lost themselves to Nozdormu's eventual madness. They too can serve the Horde and thus Azeroth."
"Time travel is still the domain of the bronze flight. What do you want from me?"
"We both want the security of Azeroth. I know you treated with Champions of both sides and work with Alliance and Horde equally." He nodded to Right and Left who stood at a respectful distance, eyes always watching for threats. "What does it matter the banner that security comes under?"
"You may have all the time in the world, Karioz, but I do not," Wrathion snapped. "I've had years worth of planning disrupted and some of us need to get back to work."
"Peace, Black Prince," Karioz said, lifting a hand. "Garrosh will be held for trial. I need assistance breaking him out. From there I will take him elsewhen so he can forge a Horde greater than the one dismantled here."
"What do I get out of it?"
"Support for your plans for Azeroth. From myself and from Garrosh. There are also advantages that might become available should we succeed." He grimaced. "My vision of the timeways is not what it once was, but I can see several intriguing opportunities that will become available once Azeroth is united."
Wrathion scowled out at the sea. "Your vision of time is not what it was. What makes you so certain this is the right course?"
"What makes you so certain your vision will come to pass," Karioz returned, arching a pale eyebrow.
Wrathion had to concede the point. "I will consider this."
"Do not take too long, Black Prince."
"What, we're running out of time?" Wrathion asked, arching a brow of his own.
The bronze smirked and made a sweeping bow. "The Legion comes." He straightened and turned away. "If you agree to assist, then meet me in the Vale tomorrow." He inclined his head once more. "Prince Wrathion."
"Kairozdormu." Wrathion returned to looking at the sea, dismissing the Bronze. The footsteps on the sand faded into the uneven cadence of the waves.
An infinite number of Hordes? That... that could be something. The Horde was close to being the powerhouse Azeroth needed now that the Alliance had proven to be too weak-stomached for what was required to keep their world safe.
Except perhaps we could be united by peace, said a small internal voice. It sounded far too much like the damnable Prince of Stormwind.
Wrathion gritted his teeth. If different choices had been made, if he'd been born earlier perhaps he could have had a greater effect. The world was too far gone now. Honestly he'd hoped the Alliance would subjugate the Horde.
The Tauren would find a home easily as the most respected group. The Blood Elves had been speaking with Wrynn before Garrosh had set off Dalaran's Council. The Orcs and Trolls would be a harder sell but the Orcs had been subjugated before and had survived. The Banshee Queen would have likely taken her people and left, but the other members of the Horde had little love for the Undead and routing them from their Undercity would have been possible. As long as the trade princes got their fair share, the Goblins would work for anyone. And, selfishly, he'd have been able to retain a valuable human ally in a key position to influence policy.
Once the Legion arrived, the bitter pride would be set aside for grim determination as it had been for Deathwing. But one side would not bend knee to the other without a clear victory. The campaign in Icecrown had proven that. Varian Wrynn had led an opportunity go. The fool.
Clearly Anduin already had too much influence; just the wrong kind.
Wrathion didn't like Garrosh, but his rule had been effective at building the Horde war machine. Garrosh wouldn't have shied away from tough choices as Anduin's father had. Pity the elder Wrynn hadn't listened to Proudmoore. Now that she wasn't talking about useless peace, which could be ripped away on a whim, she actually had some good ideas. The incident at Wrathgate had shown how truly fragile "peace" could be. Better to conquer and leave no doubt.
Unleashing Garrosh on Draenor would be a gamble, but the pressing urgency of his vision itched between his scales. He'd removed his own father from Azeroth and built a quiet network of agents but his plans and maneuvering had come to nothing. Jokes about time travel with Bronze dragons aside, he was running out of time. He could feel it the way he felt the steady, slow heart-beat flow of molten rock below the surface.
Wrathion turned from the sea towards the landing which would return him to the mainland. "We're leaving," he commanded. His bodyguards fell in on their respective sides. There was much to consider and for him to decide.
The Vale was not as it was. An ugly scar had been torn from the heart of the valley and sickly, pale energies still stained the ground. Wrathion perched on the saddle before his bodyguard, talons digging into the leather as the gryphon's wings beat a steady cadence. Right's beast soared overhead but the details were easy for a dragon's eyes to pick out. Pandaren as well as members of the Horde and Alliance worked to cleanse the vale. Some were tilling soil and planting while others were using their Shamanistic or Druidic gifts to cleanse the land. Others were simply hunting manifestations of the Sha and dispatching them with blade and spell.
See? It can be done if we work together, Wrathion imagined Anduin would have said. They were probably doing it for a reward, he thought with a snort. As they passed overhead a group of Undead got into an argument with some Night Elves. He turned away as weapons were drawn and some nearby Pandaren ran to intercede.
Peace? Not even for gold and favor with the Celestials. Wrathion snorted again and turned his head towards their destination.
Kairoz awaited them at the far end of the Valley, perched upon a rock in his elven guise. Wrathion imagined it was partially not to draw attention and partially because human fingers were so damned useful at manipulating small objects. Granted they took awhile to get used to, but they had their advantages. Karioz was tinkering with something small and golden. He sat tailor style on the rock and a fabric pouch with many minute tools lay in his lap. Golden energies flowed in and out of the device he was working on, catching the sun. Even at this distance Wrathion's sharp eyes had trouble making out what it was the bronze was working on, though. The gryphon landed smoothly and Wrathion lifted into the air to hover before the older dragon.
"I have decided your idea has merit but I will have your assurance I will have Garrosh's support." He landed on the next rock over, putting him at eye level with the bronze dragon.
Kairoz's eyes blinked at him then focused. He grinned. "You have my word, Black Prince. And to help seal our agreement, I am going to give you a gift." He held up the device. It looked somewhat like a sailor's astrolab had mated with a gnomish pocket watch and been dipped in gold. The center of the device held a very small hourglass with sand that glowed. Gears within gears surrounded the vial of sand. The number and orientation of the gears seemed to shift and change when Wrathion wasn't looking.
"A trinket?" Wrathion sneered as he attempted to discern the device's use on his own.
"A tool." He finished tightening something deep in the exposed heart of the device with a tool then nodded to himself. "Once I have seen Garrosh's new start, I will return and instruct you in its use." Kairoz closed the device and the many rings settled against one another until it looked like an inscribed medallion with an hourglass in the center. He held it out towards Wrathion.
Wrathion shifted into his human form and took the medallion. The metal was warm to the touch and hummed with the somewhat scratchy power of the bronze flight. The sand in the hourglass did not move. "A tool of your flight?"
"One of my own design. Consider this as part of your payment and a show of my support for your plans. I have imbued this device with some of my own power, given freely to your use. Think of it as a key, Black Prince, one that may yet open many doors you cannot even see. Its power is limited so I would keep it safe until you decide to use it."
"What, exactly, does it do, Kairoz? You will not tell me how to use it now?"
"No. You and I both have duties to attend to but there will be time later." The Bronze grinned askance at Wrathion as he ordered his tools and put them away. "And consider it half my payment up front. A guarantee you will see this task to the end."
Wrathion snorted. "As you like." He slipped the disk into a pocket. "So what is my expected part in your grand plan."
"I know you have been invited to witness the trial by Prince Anduin of Stormwind."
Wrathion crossed his arms and shot a glance at Right who scowled. His private correspondence was supposed to be just that; private. Right took charge of such things for him and she was not pleased.
"For a bronze dragon you appear to enjoy wasting the time of others, Kairoz. Get to the point."
The bronze sighed. "I am not the only bronze Dragon to be assigned to assist in the trial. While my own magnificent skills were enough to craft one of the tools the court will be using, the Celestials have decided that each side should have their own representative from the bronze. Are you familiar with Chronormu?"
"Bronze dragon who looks like a little gnome woman? Yes, I am familiar. She is one of the more powerful dragons of your flight is she not?" Wrathion asked, apparently studying his nails. He could see the bronze stiffen ever so slightly out of the corner of his eye.
"The same," Karioz said, his voice carrying none of the reaction Wrathion had seen. "It wouldn't do for one side to have a lesser dragon than the other, of course."
"Of course," Wrathion agreed.
"You will need to subdue her."
Wrathion looked up from his nails. "What?"
"Chronormu's addition is somewhat new, hence the limited notice to you and the need for speed. The trial begins tomorrow as you know. I do not think it will be difficult to subdue her in her mortal form. Trapping her someplace where she does not have the space to transform will limit her. Knocking her out will also prevent her from acting." He pursed his lips. "You could also possibly kill her."
Wrathion frowned. "Will it be necessary?" While if it was required he would do so, but he greatly disliked the notion that he might be seen as some sort of mercenary, some assassin for hire by other dragons; a pawn used to kill rivals. He was no-one's pawn.
"Situational," Karioz said, his eyes glowing gold and expression distant. "This trial is a great confluence of decisions and possibility. The timestream is murky, the details clouded though I see the direction the river takes." He smirked. "To abuse a metaphor."
Wrathion nodded. "When?"
"Before the sentencing. All eyes will be on Garrosh and the Celestials. Subdue her just beforehand and make your own departure. I have made other arrangements for myself and Garrosh."
"You realize that leaders and champions of Azeroth, Horde, Alliance and Pandaren, will be present. The Celestials are not without power and we will be in Xuen's temple." Wrathion preferred not to offend one of Pandaria's wild gods if he could help it. He had enough trouble without courting vengeance from such a being.
"I have arranged for a distraction, Black Prince. If you fear retribution from the White Tiger then I suggest you withdraw now and tend to your squeamish stomach in that tavern you so favor."
Wrathion's lips curled up in a sneer then he forced his face to return to a neutral expression. "I remain committed." As long as he didn't kill anyone, he doubted the White Tiger would be too angry. The Legion's approach would vindicate his actions in the long term.
"Good. I leave the details to you and your compatriots. I will give you a signal as to when you will need to strike." He turned to leave, walking away so he had the space in which to transform. The dismissal was clear to Wrathion.
"You had best not betray me," Wrathion snapped at his back. How dare the bronze treat him so!
Karioz transformed, suddenly towering over Wrathion and his guards. Right and Left fell into place at his sides. Wrathion lifted his chin and glared at the older dragon. He remained in his human form which had the benefit of being taller even if it was less dignified than his natural scales.
"Betrayal will not come from me, Black Prince," Karioz said, shaking his massive head. "Great things were done on Azeroth when the flights were united. It will take great things to protect this world still. I will see you soon." He gathered his feet under him and leapt into the air, huge wings carrying him away. His scales flashed golden in the sunlight then he was somehow gone between one heartbeat and the next.
Wrathion growled under his breath. "Tie the gryphons."
"Your highness?" Right asked.
"I am in the mood for some hunting," he said then stalked in the direction of the most damaged area of the vale.
He found his first target after a short stalk towards the heart of the Vale; a many limbed creature of angles and sickness. Fluid yet chitinous, it was an alien creature born of a dead evil. Wrathion slew the sha manifestation with quick efficient strokes of his daggers. He had been taught by a master bladesman after all. He burned his kill with dragon flame then continued onwards.
Right and Left followed in his wake, assisting as needed and protecting his flanks. He avoided the shaman and druids, choosing instead to venture into the areas still most affected. There was a sickness in the earth that eased as each manifestation died, yet the soil remained tainted. Garrosh had caused this here. He had poisoned the earth with his actions. The same sickness that had led to the death of his father and his entire flight. Leaving him alone. The only one left sane to hold the Charge.
Wrathion killed another manifestation. Then another. He'd not practiced his bladework in a while but the steps and strikes he remembered from his first lessons came back as he moved. Strike. Parry. Feign. Dodge. Strike. Parry. Feign. Dodge. StrikeParryFeignDodge. Strikeparryfeigndodgestrikeparryfeigndodge.
Cutting a swath across the Vale in a daze, Wrathion's attention was drawn to angry shouts and the clash of steel close by. Looking up from his latest kill he saw the same groups from earlier and this time they had allies. The Pandaren forces were trying to diffuse the situation to apparently little avail.
Wrathion turned on his heel and stalked towards the combatants. An Undead warrior was exchanging blows with a human in heavy plate, their respective healers tossing their own spells as well as insults to one another. A Pandaren wearing the tabard of the Golden Lotus was trying to get the two to stop fighting, lest they rouse the Sha. It was too late though, a larger creature was emerging from the ground and many smaller ones after it. None of them had noticed.
He stalked into the impromptu combat ring, drew a deep breath then roared flame. The two warriors dove away, shouting curses. The others paused in shock. Wrathion spared a glare for each warrior and spoke into the sudden silence.
He threw himself at the rising sha as it roared. Right and Left followed in his wake, their own weapons brought to bear against the creature. He struck and feigned, avoiding slashing claws and gnashing teeth. He used his fire sparingly but to great effect. The Horde and Alliance joined the the battle.
This place should not be filled with sha corruption. This should have been a sealed vault containing the heart of a dead god. Garrosh had destroyed the Vale to revive it. Wrathion struck out at the largest manifestation with yell. His blade struck true and the creature began to topple. He lept off the body and landed, looking for another target. He found a smaller manifestation advancing on a downed priest. Wrathion struck it way from the Undead then took two quick steps to engage with one about to overpower a dwarf.
He slashed and cut with his knives then willed power into them so they blazed with the heat of the deep core of the world. The sizzle as they touched the Sha was a pleasant sound. Better was the death rattle as the creatures died. The Vale had been corrupted and he was going to free the man who'd been responsible. But the gain would be Azeroth's future. He slashed and struck. Conquest would forge the unity needed. He whirled and a sha that had advanced on him died, struck by a bullet from Left's weapon. Another died to Right's blades before they could strike an unsteady Pandaren monk.
Wrathion felt the ground shift before the largest creature appeared. It shifted the bedrock and soil, a wave of foulness and corrupted wrong heralding its arrival. It emerged from the ground and howled sanity-ripping rage. The impromptu warband paused before it. Wrathion could see eyes widen in terror and ears fold back. That would not do.
"To me!" he called, standing over the body of his latest kill, one glowing blade lifted. They didn't listen, unable to hear over the sound of their own pounding hearts and the screech of the manifested creatures. That simply would not do! He drew on the powerful healthy warmth of the world deep below, deeper than even this layer of corrupt rock and soil. "Warriors of Azeroth, to me!" he bellowed. They turned and he could feel the fire kindle in their hearts, see their eyes blaze. The group responded with war cries, weapons raised against the monster. Wrathion launched himself into battle.
He could feel each footstep on the ground as the others followed in his wake. The creature turned to face him. He made a claw with one hand and thrust it upwards. The ground responded with sharp spikes of earth that impaled the beast. They didn't last but they wounded and distracted the manifestation. His motley warband descended on the creature. It attempted to draw on their fear once again, but the power found little purchase. Spirits of fire and earth were called, the Light was invoked and shards of ice joined fireballs in the battle. Vines grasped from below and piercing moonlight speared from above. Blade and fist destroyed supporting limbs and the creature was brought down, its howls of anger turned to distress then silenced as the two warriors who'd been fighting landed final shattering blows.
Wrathion looked around, breathing heavily. He felt cold. Drained. The earth was still sick and he did not know how to heal it. The Legion still came and he did not know how to stop it. The only option before him involved the freedom of a useful psychopath who might be ruthless enough to get the job done. Wrathion hated.
"Fools," he growled.
The only sounds now were the creak of armor and heavy breathing as the combatants looked at one another, dazed expressions on every face. Wrathion noted them only distantly. He held out his blades and Right took them; they would be too hot to sheathe for some time and he wanted to fly. He nodded back in the direction of the gryphons then turned.
A Pandaren Monk stood in his way. He bowed. Good but Wrathion did not have the patience for even the monks. Wrathion brushed past him. He shifted into his true form and hovered for a moment.
"Fools," he said again, then flew in the direction of the mounts.
He beat Right and Left but not by much. He sat on Left's gryphon, claws flexing into the leather with soft popping sounds.
"We will secure a place to retreat to once the trial is over. Tomorrow we are expected at Xuen's temple," he said. The two bodyguards exchanged looks then bowed.
"And the Black Talons?" Right asked.
"We will remain in discreet contact. Those who might abandon the cause because of the trial aren't worth having around anyway."
They bowed again.
"Yes, my Prince."
"They want me to ride in a cart."
"That is correct, Your Majesty."
"Drawn by yaks."
"I am told they are of a high pedigree."
"Even the King of Stormwind and the Warchief of the Horde have ridden in these carts."
"If you would get into the cart, Your Majesty?"
The assembly at the trial was astounding in its variety. Never before had there been such an assemblage of leadership on Azeroth in one place. Yet despite what Anduin would have claimed, the people here were there for blood. Too bad they were going to be disappointed, Wrathion thought with a silent smirk. He found a seat as far from Alexstrasza and her sister as possible. It gave him the added benefit of having his back closer to the wall and gave him a good view of the proceedings. The distance was no issue for his superior eyes, even in this form. Right and Left settled into their respective sides and watched the crowd with scowls. Tension was thick in the room, as was a predatory anticipation.
Anduin gave him a small smile and covert wave from across the room. The Prince of Stormwind was seated between his father and Archmage Proudmoore, whom he called aunt. Seated beside the Archmage was Kalecgos. Interesting. All the flights were represented yet not in conflict. This likely hadn't happened in ten millennia or so.
Wrathion smiled in acknowledgement of the other Prince then turned to look at Jaina who was staring at him intently. She had lost much to Garrosh and Wrathion had no doubt she wished to see him dead. He almost felt sorry he would have to disappoint her. Anduin had learned his more peace bent attitudes from Jaina; yet he could see the desire for vengeance in her eyes. The Lady of lost Theramore, once one of the leading voices for peace had called for conquest. He smiled. If anything, Lady Jaina Proudmoore calling for blood, for Varian to dismantle the Horde as had been reported to him, showed his course was the true one.
He turned his attention to the proceedings and sat back to watch the drama unfold.
By the end of Velen's testimony Wrathion was grateful when Taran Zhu called for a respite. As fascinating as the proceedings had been, he wanted to get up and stretch his wings. Slipping through the crowd he made his way in the direction of the fewest people. He was about to shift into his natural form when he spied Prince Anduin at one of the overlooks. He considered flying off, but his feet took him towards the human instead. Their less-than-cheerful parting before had felt like snagged scales; rough and itchy. It was a loose thread and Wrathion preferred his business to be orderly. And, perhaps, he'd missed having the company of someone who was almost a peer.
"Do you wish Solitude, or may I join you?" He asked from the archway. It was polite to inquire as Anduin had been here first. He was heartened to receive a smile in reply, though Anduin's face was tight with pain. No doubt his injuries were bothering him again.
They spoke of Velen's testimony and the case High Priestess Whisperwind was building. He thought it odd, the way she was choosing to build her case based on the actions of others. Anduin pointed out Garrosh did not have the excuse of having drunk demon's blood. Still, painting all orcs, as Tyrande seemed to be doing, with the same brush was... He didn't like it. Too often he was lumped in with the likes of Onyxia and Deathwing. He might be related but he was a perfect and uncorrupted black dragon.
"Nuance is required," Wrathion concluded with a self-satisfied nod.
"You always think nuance is required," Anduin practically snapped.
That was somewhat shocking as he rarely seemed to lose his temper. Wrathion could only laugh. Wrathion tried to impart his view of the world to the other prince, that while all things were mutable, some things were more solid than others. Bedrock would eventually be worn away by time and tide, but for awhile it was solid. Lasting. Nothing was ever truly solid, universal and everlasting. The world was chaotic and subject to change. One sought out the bedrock but accepted it would shift eventually. He thought perhaps he was finally getting through when Anduin turned to him. The pain in his eyes was surprising. Perhaps a deep discussion about the feasibility of fundamental truths wasn't welcome when Anduin was clearly in pain.
"Wrathion? Do you think of us as friends?" he asked, surprising the dragon again.
Friends? Were they? Were the late night debates, shared pots of tea and talking history or science or nothing of consequence at all what friends did? His Titan-given database did not have an entry for such things but perhaps it was so. And yet, he had a Charge to uphold and as much as he enjoyed Anduin's company, Azeroth too precedence. But as he had been saying one built firmly where they could and accepted that the ground would likely shift eventually.
"Yes. As much as I can have a friend, at any rate," he finally answered.
The prince grimaced either in response or in pain. "Then can we just stay here in silence for a while? As friends?"
"Why yes, of course." Wrathion said then spoke no more. He shifted into his natural shape and lept onto the thick chain railing, stretching his wings. Anduin paid him no mind and continued to observe the horizon almost meditatively. When the end of the Respite Period was called, Anduin appeared to feel better but Wrathion felt, if anything, slightly irritated.
On the second day of the trial, Prince Anduin Wrynn was called to the stand. He made his way down to the stand with commendable dignity, though Wrathion noted the white-knuckled grip on the cane he carried. Garrosh was the reason for the cane and the reason the human prince had ended up convalescing at the tavern. This was going to be interesting. He caught his friend's eye and Anduin appeared to find something amusing as he sat in the witness stand.
From the first part of Anduin's testimony, he painted Garrosh as someone who didn't understand all the nuances of leadership. There was more than the battlefield. Leadership involved a lot of planning and logistics. Something that Garrosh had begun to understand as he forged the Horde into something even more militaristic.
The second part of the testimony showed the moment where Anduin confronted Garrosh over the Divine Bell. His friend had been both brave and foolish. He shouldn't have run in when he did and not alone. Far better to come in with a larger force and utterly beat the enemy so they could not rise to confront you again.
"There is much I do not know about this artifact," Garrosh of the vision stated. "The weak-willed cannot control this sha energy, but I will master it." Then he had bid his people to leave him to think.
Anduin's testimony concluded with the Prince stating his belief that Garrosh could change.
Wrathion pursed his lips as he considered the vision and the other Prince's words. If Garrosh changed, would he be able to lead the Horde as Kairoz wanted? Possibly not. He would be as weak as Varian was now. But the Orc leader had been learning and had a drive to understand. Granted he'd been driven to understand the powers of the Sha and the Old Gods, but he had been relentless in his pursuit and in the end had mastered it for himself. That was commendable even if Wrathion was opposed to the source.
Garrosh was dangerous and bloodthirsty, but he'd inspired the Horde to great industry and creation in a short period of time. He was driven to understand that which he did not know. He was still dangerous but pointed against the Legion as Kairoz suggested, against an enemy common to all of Azeroth, he would thrive. And Wrathion would let him live only so long as he continued to be useful.
Wrathion met with Kairoz late that evening at the Bronze Dragon's invitation. They met in their natural forms, away from the temple.
"After today's testimony I wanted to see if you were still committed, Prince Wrathion," the bronze asked.
Wrathion glared. "Yes but I hope you understand what a risk Garrosh is."
"Your friend gives testimony, you see the moment he was hurt and you have doubts."
"I had doubts from the outset. You and I both know Garrosh is dangerous. He's still the best chance to create powerful Horde, but he may need to be eliminated. Are you aware of that?"
"I am aware of the dangers. I have foreseen many and taken measures."
Wrathion narrowed his eyes. "I think I will need more than that Kairoz. What assurances can you make? What are these plans you have in place? I refused to be a pawn of the Reds. I will now be a pawn of Bronze or Infinite."
The bronze huffed and stared down at him. Wrathion held his ground. If he was going to commit to such a gamble, and the trial had only highlighted how much of a gamble it was, then he needed to know more of the plan.
"As you like. The Celestials will not be able to interfere. The Sha of the land will prevent them from acting against my agents. The emotions stirred by the trial already have had impact and I am confident they will not intervene. I have also made arrangements for reinforcements from Garrosh's supporters to arrive at the appropriate moment."
"Which is fine for now, but what about when you take him whenever you plan to do so?"
"We will be going to Draenor and stopping the Legion from taking the orcs. It denies them the might of the Horde and gives us time to build."
"Garrosh is driven and does not listen to others. What makes you so certain he will listen to you? What leverage do you have?"
"I have foreseen myself successful. I have seen the Iron Horde he forges. At Garrosh's heart he has a need for approval from his father. He will at once gain that approval and save his father from choosing to drink Manneroth's blood. He has a deep love for the the Horde and for glory and honor."
"And surrounded by his people and praised as an intervening savior, he will have those ideas reinforced. His ego will feed on the idea of the successful conquering Horde," Wrathion mused. Garrosh had done everything for his own ego and the Horde was an extension of that. Even his adaptation and learning had been prompted by feeding that ego.
"You see clearly, young Prince," Kairoz praised. "But even then I have some backup plans. The medallion I gave to you is one such plan but will have use even if it isn't needed as such." He eyed Wrathion. "Are you satisfied?"
"For now." Wrathion turned and flew away. The reasoning was sound but he would still keep an eye on Garrosh. He would consider the bronze's reasoning and attempt to find the flaws.
"What in Khaz'goroth’s name happened?" Wrathion shouted.
Anduin's smile faltered. "I'm sorry?"
"You should be sorry! It was probably your influence that has shattered all my careful planning!" Wrathion bellowed. "Even your auntie Jaina see the need for conquest! I practically handed the Horde to your father on a platter and what does he do?"
Anduin's expression closed off into one of polite neutrality but Wrathion could see the flash of anger in his blue eyes. "He showed mercy."
"Mercy? Mercy!" Wrathion actually spat, the phlegm came out hot like lava and sizzled when it hit the mist-chilled stone. "The world cannot stand against the Legion unless we are united!" He stalked a little ways away down the beach towards the water.
"Because my father has shown mercy, I believe that peace talks are possible, now more than ever," Anduin said, his voice carrying over the waves. Wrathion turned to sneer.
The prince of Stormwind's chin was lifted and his shoulders straight, though he had both hands resting on the cane he still carried. His eyes held Wrathion's in a steady gaze, unblinking, unflinching. Wrathion had seen statues of warriors standing thus with their swords and they had not looked half as determined. Wrathion felt something stir in his chest, an odd relief and lightness. A spooling feeling of hope.
Time shifted sideways and the warrior before Wrathion was a grown adult in plate adorned with otherworldly materials, the glow and helm obscuring his face; all but the determined blue eyes. The warrior before him was filled with the Light.
Fel green suddenly suffused his vision and the golden warrior suddenly ceased to exist, turned to golden sand on the wind. Many banners were raised against the Legion but the rain of green fire consumed them all.
In the space of a heartbeat the image shifted back to Anduin, the teenage human prince, standing on the shore of the Timeless Isle. Wrathion knew what the next line was; he'd said it only days before.
"Peace cannot bring Azeroth united under one banner! The Legion comes and we cannot be divided! All my plans have been utterly shattered because your father was too weak-willed to do what was necessary!"
Anduin took a deep breath then let it out. "I disagree and I wish you could see what I do. We are stronger because of one another."
Wrathion sneered silently, the Prince's words far too close to the simple waiter who'd dared to speak to him like a mere child.
"I'm returning home, now. I hope that you will come to see my way of thinking, Wrathion. Azeroth will be better able to meet the Legion if we are not at one another's throats. With Garrosh gone, we might be able to build that single banner you've spoken of."
"Peace is fragile!"
"Conquest breeds resentment."
"The Legion will not wait for you to play parlor games!"
Anduin sighed, world weary and Wrathion felt a deep ache in his own bones hearing the sound. He tilted his head to the side as he looked at Wrathion with... pity.
"You've done more to promote peace and cooperation than most of the people sitting in leadership positions. You could do so much to inspire but you're hiding in shadows, scheming and manipulating. Why don't you-"
"Step into the Light? Let the Light take my troubles? Trust in it that all will be well?" Wrathion snapped. "I think not. Your Light is just another power to be manipulated. Believe what you wish, but the rest of us have to make our own destinies manifest."
Anduin closed his eyes and appeared to master himself. With a calm serenity Wrathion hadn't thought the other Prince could command, Anduin lifted his head and regarded Wrathion steadily. "Goodbye for now. I hope and pray you come to understand we're stronger together than apart. I leave you to your scheming but you're welcome in Stormwind when you are less ill-tempered and ready to discuss things rationally without being insulting." Anduin turned and walked away without another word. He collected the guards who'd stood at a respectable distance but who'd no doubt heard every word.
"Ill-tempered?" Wrathion sputtered. He growled to himself as the other prince walked out of sight.
The dream shattered around Wrathion and the whelp looked up from the nest of blankets he'd made of his bedding. Stretching his forelimbs and wings, he yawned.
"Yes, Left?" he asked as he extricated himself from the bedding. The dream had been odd. When he'd spoken with Anduin in the days before the trial he'd not seen such fanciful images. It was somewhat nightmarish actually.
"Breakfast is ready for you. The today's session starts in two hours." The orc inclined her head then retreated.
Wrathion yawned mightily and finished stretching out. Perhaps he would have Tong forego the fish rolls tonight. The previous evening had given him strange dreams.
If someone had told Wrathion that he would feel pity for a red dragon, if he would feel fury on behalf of one, he would have laughed in their faces and had his Black Talons toss them out of the Tavern. Today he knew better.
Wrathion had returned to the Vale to slay minor sha and vent his rage. Right and Left were hard pressed to keep with him, but had wisely remained silent. Wrathion used the sick feeling in the earth to wind his way through the Vale, finding the worse emanations and dispersing them ruthlessly. Night had fallen but he had excellent low-light vision and he could tell where every root and rock was.
His bodyguards weren't as lucky. He whirled and snarled as Right tripped for what seemed like the hundredth time.
"If you cannot keep your feet, then you should leave," he snapped.
Right's face became a blank mask. "I have a duty to see you safe, Your Majesty," she replied in an even tone. Left's face was equally impassive.
"Argh, fine!" he stalked towards where they had left their mounts. His bodyguards were doing the best they could. It was not their fault they weren't dragons. "We're going to get dinner at the Tavern," he ordered. Three more manifestations died on the way back to their mounts.
He growled and sat before Right as a way of apology. As the gryphon flew, Wrathion chewed on the testimony of the fifth day. He had not expected Tyrande to call Alexstrasza to the stand to testify. He'd heard of what had transpired for the reds held in Grim Batol, but to hear it from her mouth was... He seethed silently. What the orcs had done was a crime that called to his soul to see righted. He had not been an egg so long ago and to hear of orcs shattering children across their parents... And these were the people Garrosh chose over the Tauren or the Trolls.
They landed and Wrathion sent his bodyguards in with an order for food and the threat of dire repercussions if his yak steak got within ten feet of a flame. He shifted and took flight, needing to seethe privately.
He'd not wanted to think of Alexstrasza as a person; better for her to be a faceless puppetmaster. Hearing her story made him feel some sympathy, despite his desire not to feel such. He'd known Rhea's methods were largely devised on her own, though she had the blessing of her flight leader to conduct her experiments. But had what Rhea done to his own mother been so much different than what had happened to Alexstrasza? Had Alexstrasza even known the details? It seemed, as much as he was loath to admit it, that she would not have condoned forced egg laying after she herself had been subject to it. How could a red dragon allow such a thing if they were all about preserving life? Except that was what Rhea had been doing after a fashion. This wasn't about breeding war mounts, but had been about trying to restore the black dragons. Rhea had sacrificed one of her own children to save his egg. If she'd managed to perfect her process there would have been more dragons like him. Possibly even volunteers from the dragons who weren't as far gone into the voices and madness. Maybe. It was all speculation and it made him feel slightly queasy as well as angry.
Wrathion settled onto a rock a little ways away from the inn to brood. Alexstrasza had said she would forgive the orc who murdered her child, but he'd heard she'd eaten Nekros once she'd been freed. Was this more hypocrisy? Yes, probably, he decided. Though he probably would have done the same. It was the wiser course of action not the forgiveness she'd mentioned in her testimony. Unless Nekros fell into the same category of danger Deathwing and Malygos had fallen into.
Wrathion blew out a jet of flame. Alexstrasza and her reds shouldn't have been in that situation to begin with. The black flight wasn't there to protect her when they should have been. His claws dug into the rock under his feet. The black flight had created the instrument of her capture. It was all the fault of the Old Gods. The Reds had taken his Charge because there was no one left from his flight to uphold it. Except he was there now. A single black dragon. A whelp. Only a few years older than the ones shattered on Alexstrasza's face. He hunched over, scowling into the middle distance.
Large wings in the darkness and the heavy thump of a landing announced the arrival of another dragon. Wrathion bared his teeth at the approaching bronze.
"Good. You're here and can explain how you think that creature will give you and me an ounce of respect?"
Kairoz huffed and tossed his head, but Wrathion was fed up. Right had a phrase for situations like this. He was being treated like a mushroom; fed on shit and kept in the dark. He had enough of other dragons treating him like a mere child when he had already accomplished more than adults with several millennia had ever done. If he was not given proper respect by Kairoz then Wrathion doubted he would get any from Garrosh. Garrosh had segregated the Horde which was fine with Wrathion, except he also had chosen to ally with the Dragonmaw. Knowing the full scale of the sins of the Dragonmaw clan, Wrathion was less than inclined to believe Garrosh would be as amenable as the bronze seemed to believe he would be.
"I am going to need something more," Wrathion said. "What do you have for me that is worth hanging everything on this self-serving psychopath?"
"Do you currently have better plans?" Kairoz drawled.
Wrathion hissed at him, wings flaring. "If you have nothing then I believe our business is concluded. I will find my own way."
"Wait," Kairoz held up a paw. "Wait. I can tell you what my plans for the medallion are."
"Speak. And it better be worth the risk."
"I explained it is a key. But it is also a map and a guide."
"Oh for the love of Khaz'goroth's beard-" Wrathion gathered his feet to take off.
"I think I can restore the black flight."
Wrathion paused. "What?"
"The medallion. You still have it?"
"I scoured the timeline. I believe I may have found when the corruption took hold of your flight. I marked several places in time before then. Places where there are uncorrupted black dragon eggs that can be taken and brought forward."
Wrathion opened his mouth then closed it again, thinking. "But they would be eggs and the Legion is coming soon! Even if they hatched beforehand they would be younger than I am!"
Kairoz took a step forward, leaning towards the black whelp. "But all of time is open to us, Black Prince. I have told you I wished to find infinite numbers of Hordes from many timeways. We can take those eggs, and you yourself, back into the past on one of those Draenors. I'm somewhat limited in how far back I can go there as opposed to Azeroth," the bronze admitted with a scowl. "But fifty years is easy. Done a few times and you return to Azeroth moments after you left as an adult black dragon, at the head of your flight, with perhaps even a second generation."
Wrathion fell back on his rump, at a loss for words. It was an insane plan but... It might work. He wouldn't be alone. He could revive his flight. Bring an entire wing of talented black dragons to bear against the Legion. They could train and plan. He could have time.
Wrathion's eyes narrowed as he tripped over the last part of what Kairoz had said. "How could we have a second generation? The flights are barren."
"Which is why I said perhaps," Karioz said. "I actually came to this plan while trying to see if I could find a solution to the current population issue we face. It is possible that dragons who were not present on Azeroth at the moment Deathwing was defeated might be the key."
"So I would be a test case."
Karioz shrugged both sets of shoulders, his wings rustling as they shifted. "You lose nothing. Nozdormu decreed we cannot pilfer eggs from other times because we could not be sure we weren't subjecting new children to the same fate. I think it was shortsighted of him." His tail twitched as if he meant to thrash it from side to side in anger.
"Wouldn't removing dragons from earlier in time cause issues?" Wrathion asked, trying to poke holes in the plan before he became too committed. His heart was pounding in his ears and he felt an ache in his chest.
"I have been very careful in my research," Kairoz sniffed, chest puffing out in pride. "These are all nests where losses happened due to natural disaster or raiding by Trolls or rampaging elementals. I even witnessed you and your team removing them from some timeways. It is quite complicated for a non-bronze but the short answer is that if you go to these specific nests and eggs, then it has already happened."
"And naturally I will need a bronze dragon to assist me."
"Of course. I need your support to get my plan started. You cannot expect me to give everything to you before you've acted."
Wrathion grunted. He supposed that was true enough. He looked up at Kairoz. "I need a final reassurance. You will extract from Garrosh the promise that no dragons will ever serve as war mounts against their will." He lifted his snout to stare down the bronze.
Kairoz tilted his head to the side in acceptance. "Of course. I was not unmoved by Alexstrasza's testimony, young Prince."
Wrathion snorted and rolled his eyes. "Then we still have an accord."
"You may go," Wrathion said, waving a paw. "I have dinner to eat."
The bronze dragon chuckled and bowed, holding his wings out to either side with a bit more flourish than was necessary. Still, he was going to give Wrathion two things which would change everything about the coming war; allies to help uphold the Charge, and time itself.
Wrathion turned and flew away, wishing he were in a larger body already. He wondered if he would develop great curling horns as Fahrad and Onyxia had worn or if he would have straighter horns like Deathwing. Left melded out of the shadows as he approached, never having been far from her master.
Wrathion frowned. Mortal races were generally short lived. He would need help for decades and he did not wish to lose any of the power he had currently. Perhaps he would be able to convince his Black Talons to work in shifts of perhaps a year or two. Then when the Legion came, he would have the full strength of his powerbase at his call.
There were options. Many wonderful and intriguing options. Feeling much better about his choice to assist Kairoz, Wrathion shifted into his human shape and strode into the inn. "Let's have some of that wonderful rice wine," he called out. "I'm in a somewhat celebratory mood tonight." He grinned at the surprised looks on his bodyguard's faces as he seated himself before the small feast that had been prepared for him. If the price of Azeroth's future was freeing Garrosh, he supposed he could pay it. The return on investment was not something he could pass up.
The night before the last day of the trial, Wrathion, Right and Left made their final recon of the temple. They had several infiltration and exfiltration plans laid out and Wrathion had spent the last few days flying in small arms and using his abilities to bury them around the grounds.
His part was to subdue Chromie and anyone else who might try to stop Kairoz from fleeing with Garrosh. They had outlined a plan based on what the other bronze dragon had done heretofore in the trial.
Wrathion did not want to kill her. To do so was a waste as she was quite talented. She'd be angry with him, but once the Legion arrived, everyone would be needed. There was also the not-so-small matter of his own flight's future. Killing bronze dragons when he would need their support seemed to be a bad idea. He had tried to distance himself from his mad relatives, and he, a black dragon, killing dragons from other flights, would not be looked upon kindly. Also Xuen would likely be displeased with him and angering a Wild God by taking a life needlessly in his temple seemed to be a poor choice.
Also a small part of him knew that his friend would have been more than a little upset if he just had the other dragon executed. There were many reasons to be non-lethal.
It had not gone according to plan.
Chronormu, or Chromie as she preferred, had noticed Kairoz tinkering with the Vision of Time. She had begun asking Kairoz questions. The bronze had made vague excuses but the other dragon had persisted. She wasn't where she was supposed to be, when she was supposed to be.
Fortunately for Kairoz, Wrathion had been nearby. His human form had enough power to knock Chromie cold with a sharp blow to the back of her head with the butt of his dagger. Left had stepped in and hauled the unconscious bronze over one shoulder like a sack of flour.
"Garrosh will be moved shortly," Kairoz said, his voice strained.
"I'll handle Chromie. You handle Garrosh."
"We'll meet at Mason's Folly tomorrow. Well, tomorrow from your perspective," Kairoz said, regaining some of his usual pomp.
Wrathion nodded and gestured to Right and Left, leading the way. Garrosh was being moved soon, but should Chromie be discovered, it was certain the rest of the plan would fall apart.
Slipping through the dark halls in the lesser travelled areas, Right stripped her jacket and handed it to Left who covered Chromie. They stopped by a small training area and Wrathion paced to where he'd hidden weapons. He touched the ground and focused. The earth moved and shifted, giving up a water-proofed bundle. Right picked up the wrapped weapons and the group moved back inside towards the cells.
The detour outside had largely allowed the audience to file back into the chamber. They waited for the last few stragglers to enter and the huge doors to thud closed. Wrathion crouched, placing his hands on the smooth stone of the temple. He focused on the stone itself, trying to get a sense of the movement around him. The number of footsteps dwindled to just a few guards taking up positions and a handful of others who milled about in the courtyard but who were not watching the drama of the trial unfold to its conclusion. When he was satisfied that the chance of discovery was minimal, he motioned for the others to follow.
The small group slipped down into the holding area. The two Pandaren guards, brothers Li and Lo Chu were chatting quietly. Left placed her burden on the ground then Right handed her a crossbow.
"Try to be non-lethal," Wrathion reminded them.
They nodded at him, then at one another, and pounced on the Pandaren. The two were able to spin around and recover with remarkable speed, but his bodyguards had gotten the drop on them. The two pandaren went down in a heap as they applied unyielding crossbow stocks to their heads.
Wrathion approached and could see they were breathing. He nodded in satisfaction and gestured to the bronze dragon. While Chromie was contained by Left, he and Right searched for the keys. They locked Chromie away then locked up the two Chu brothers.
"I think we've accomplished our task," Wrathion said. "Secure our escape-" He paused as the crowd above roared in fury. "Left, go." The orc woman nodded and went to secure their escape. Wrathion crouched to see if the commotion above would lead to their discovery. One set of steps approached. He waved Right down the hall. Wrathion shifted into his true form to hide in the shadows of the high rafters.
He did not expect Anduin to run down the hall, a frantic look in his eyes. He waved Right away. he would handle this. Chromie was still held within the cell and true to Kairoz's predictions, the other bronze did not shift shape to escape. He dropped to the ground and Anduin was beginning to figure out who had harmed the two guards and locked Chromie away. He had not wished for it to come to this, but he knew what he needed to do. The future of Azeroth dictated his actions. It was a shame to lose an ally as he knew he would. To lose a friend. But the Legion didn't stop for the wishes of small whelps.
"I should have known." Anduin said, equal parts anger and sadness.
"Perhaps you should have, but it is not yet within you to suspect treachery, Anduin Wrynn," Wrathion said. "If it is any consolation, I am deeply sorry for what I now must do." And he was sorry. The prince's expression went from surprise to hurt to anger and scorn. Anduin's glare sank unexpected claws into his chest.
"Sure you are."
He shrugged off Anduin's words. "Believe what you will, but it is the truth. We are friends, you and I."
"Friends? Friends don't kill each other!"
Anduin's comment actually hurt. Hadn't he allowed the Chu's to live? The captive bronze? Hadn't he shown the mercy he valued so deeply in his father? Wrathion expressed all but the last and the other prince scowled.
"Wrathion, what is going on here? What are you doing?"
Pity. He'd thought it was obvious. Perhaps it was a matter of Anduin not seeing as clearly as he did. So Wrathion explained. "You once asked me to watch and listen, and to make up my mind as to what is best for Azeroth. I have done exactly as you bid." Hm, perhaps a simile would explain better. "You are the heir of Stormwind. You have a duty to keep your kingdom safe. You do what you believe is best." He could hear the words of Khaz'goroth in the back of his head, they rang out like the strikes of a forge hammer. "As the last black dragon, the former charge of my flight - to keep Azeroth safe - falls solely to me. I must honor that charge."
For a moment, he thought perhaps the other prince understood, but the bronze clearly did not. And after he'd bothered to spare her life. It was a little bit rude, but it only underscored that peace was the lesser option.
"This is keeping Azeroth safe?" Anduin asked.
More than he knew. "In this case, I assure you, the end does justify the means. It is my deep hope that you will understand. And on that day, you and I will face a terrible enemy." Despite his better judgement, despite his common sense telling him to leave it, he continued. "Perhaps we shall even do so as brothers." He saw Right slip down the hall, silent as a shadow and just as ignored, out of the corner of his eye.
He did not have the time to explain. Not now. Perhaps later he would. It seemed the mercy Anduin favored might indicate that their alliance, their friendship was not entirely doomed. But the time for explanation was not now.
Anduin stretched out a hand, pleading. "You don't have to do it this way. Tell me what's going on. We can work together. We can find some way to-"
Wrathion briefly caught Right's eye and he subtly nodded. "Farewell for now, young Prince," he said, lifting his hand. Right fetched him a sharp blow and Anduin crumpled to the floor. Right followed him down then checked his pulse.
"He lives?" Wrathion asked.
She nodded. "We have secured our route out. There are zeppelins on the way."
Wrathion turned and they both left, beating a hasty retreat. "Kairoz's distraction no doubt," he said. She was still frowning. "What?"
"Left used her scope. Says the zeppelins aren't alone."
"Meaning?" they ascended and slipped out into an empty corridor, making good time towards the portion of the courtyard they'd marked for escape, the one area without the magical suppression field.
"We need to leave," She said instead, pulling out the scrolls of recall they'd brought.
Wrathion accepted his. He felt the slight tingle as magic returned to the area. Perhaps they hadn't needed this quiet corner of the temple grounds after all. They burned their scrolls and were whisked away by their magic and deposited near Right's startled gryphon and Left's wyvern.
"The zeppelins have company. You should see for yourself." Right nodded and Left handed him the scope from her rifle.
Wrathion was about to scoff that he needed no assistance to see, but the winged figures moved in a way that made him wish to be absolutely sure. Infinite dragons. And on their backs, Orcs. Dragonmaw Orcs.
Wrathion turned to one side and roared, flames spewing forth in fury. That... Had everything been a lie? Had he be made a pawn? He vented his rage to the sky as the battle engaged in and around the temple. To his astonishment Kalecgos rose into the air in his true form. He dove, using his immense tail as a club that suddenly ended the lives of several in the courtyard. Wrathion watched in mute astonishment as people died to Kalecgos of all dragons. Then a second Kalecgos rose into the air and Wrathion understood the full extent of the distraction. As he intended to send Garrosh to other timeways, he had somehow pulled others into this reality as well.
"We're leaving." Wrathion said, numbness falling over him like a blanket. The zeppelins and infinite dragons brought their full power to bear against the crowd on the temple's top and he felt strangely cut adrift. "We're leaving," he repeated, as fireballs flashed and the first reports of gunfire reached their perch, echoing off the mountains.
He shifted shape and sat on the closer mount, Left's wyvern, and they group left at speed.
He could only hold on to the faint hope that Kairoz hadn't betrayed his trust as well, and would meet him the next day.