The screams jolted him awake. He lay there for a few minutes, unsure of himself. Intense nightmares sometimes left detailed afterimages in his mind, not just scenes but sounds and feelings too, like a pervasive atmosphere of threat. But when he heard the screams again, he threw back his duvet and got up. Anduin dressed hastily, forgetting his boots, his mind racing. His room was guarded at all times, but when he pushed open the doors he found no one there.
Anduin’s bare feet slammed against the stone floor as he hurtled towards the rising cacophony outside. He had left the Tavern in the Mists several months ago, shortly after the defeat of Lei Shen and the Zandalari. With the fall of that dread emperor and his allies, Pandaria’s peace seemed secure. The rest of Azeroth, however, remained in turmoil, as tensions between the Horde and the Alliance exploded on a daily basis. No territory was neutral anymore. Garrosh demanded that even the tauren druids choose sides—swear allegiance to the Horde or be branded its deadly enemy.
Conflicts had erupted within the factions, too. Criticisms against both Varian and Garrosh had turned to protests, which then threatened revolutions. Fearing for his son’s safety, Varian Wrynn had demanded—ordered—that Anduin return to Stormwind. No amount of protest, reasoned argument, or attempted mind control could sway him, so Anduin went, sullen and reluctant. He had spent the days since in protected, maddening isolation, half-aware of current events and constantly sick with worry.
He relied on carefully worded letters from his father and the hushed gossip among the keep’s guards to keep himself informed. But, one month ago, the letters had stopped coming. Anduin shrugged off assurances that no news was good news; that the king was simply preoccupied.
War on this scale was an endless preoccupation. Something was wrong. But Anduin had no power to stop it, or even to find out what had happened.
“Prince Anduin.” A smooth, familiar voice greeted him as he reached the throne room. “How good to see you again.”
“Wrathion,” Anduin breathed. “What are you doing here?”
It was an automatic, unthinking response; a survey of the room made Wrathion’s purpose obvious. Dead guards were scattered near the doors, by the throne, across the steps. Anduin could hear pounding from within the chambers that encircled the room—desperate, erratic, and accompanied by frightened cries.
Wrathion took a step towards him, flanked by two bodyguards. He smiled at Anduin, wistfully. “What I must. I really am terribly sorry.”
“My father,” Anduin said, his eyes widening with realization. “What have you done with my father?”
Wrathion shook his head, making a ‘tsk’ sound in his throat. “He fell in single combat against Garrosh Hellscream, I’m afraid. A dark moment for us all.”
Wrathion took another step. Anduin recoiled. “No—it’s a lie—I would have known! Word would have reached me …”
“It was only hours ago, dear prince. You see, I came personally to deliver the news.”
Anduin’s breath stuck in his throat. He looked from Wrathion, standing before him with perfect, ice-cold ease, to the taut, ready posture of his bodyguards. Their knives were already streaked with red.
The fallen guards had glass eyes, lightless, and their skin was ashen, their armor shattered. Anduin had seen battlefields, had personally healed fire-hardened flesh and protruding bones, but this was a massacre. An acrid scent permeated the air, made it muggy with sulfur and bile and stone black with smoke.
Anduin swallowed his terror. He called the Light to his hands, and a diaphanous shell encased his body, shimmering bright in the dark chamber. “You have not come to deliver a message. You’ve come for war.”
Wrathion shook his head, as though disappointed. “Not so. War implies two enemies with a roughly equal chance of victory. Your Alliance no longer has a chance.”
“Wrathion,” Anduin said, inhaling sharply. “Stop this madness. My people—”
“—are wise enough to see reason,” Wrathion said. He gestured to the long corridor behind them. Several figures emerged from the smoky darkness, recognizable as champions of the Alliance. They spanned the races, from human to night elf, from gnome to draenei, but all of them stared at Wrathion with perfect, unquestioning devotion.
A blood sigil glowed on their foreheads, livid like a wound.
“You’ve controlled them,” Anduin whispered, in dumb shock. “I warned them not to trust you!”
Wrathion took a last step forward and grabbed for Anduin, catching him by the left wrist. He squeezed the delicate bones, murmuring. “Hypocrisy is beneath you. How many of your subjects have you sent away with similar methods?”
Anduin winced, both in pain and guilt. “It’s not the same! I never forced anyone to commit atrocities.”
Wrathion didn’t ease his grip, but his expression soured. There was regret in the twist of his mouth. “I truly did not wish for this outcome. I had no interest in your guards’ lives, either, until they forcefully denied our very polite request.”
As he spoke, more of his agents appeared, some of them from the armories and libraries that surrounded the throne. The cries of surprise and terror had gone silent, which was far more unsettling to Anduin than the noise. He saw the blood glistening darkly on one Blacktalon’s armor and he shut his eyes, his heart cracking like dried clay.
“What do you want?” he said, his voice toneless, drained of rage.
“Unequivocal surrender,” Wrathion said. “And, of course, you.”
Anduin’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”
“The people of the Alliance love you, your Highness,” Wrathion said. “You are a symbol of Light, a beacon of hope … they will fall in line with you, no matter what you say, because of this love. You will announce an end to this war.”
“What are you planning to do?” Anduin growled. “Are you going to let Garrosh Hellscream ravage this world?”
“Of course not. Though I did admire his tenacity.”
“You—” Anduin began, and Wrathion nodded, his smile beatific.
Anduin knew, in that instant, that Wrathion’s account of his father’s death was probably a lie. He also knew that he would likely never learn the truth.
“I won’t be your puppet.” Anduin broke Wrathion’s grip, though his felt his wrist crack in the process. He stumbled back, his mind reeling, trying to think of an escape route. There was a hidden passage in one of these rooms, he knew it.
But Wrathion closed the distance between them immediately, all casual humor gone from his face. “As I said. You don’t have a chance.”
Magic crackled around his palms, and the spell cut through Anduin’s defenses like a knife through a heart. Paralysis gripped Anduin’s every muscle, and he stood there, trapped in a cage of hissing black magic.
“I am sorry,” Wrathion said again. He set a hand against Anduin’s chest. “You won’t believe me—I’m certain you won’t—but I did try to avoid this outcome. I think you wore off on me more than either of us realized. I kept hoping that some tide would turn, some accord might be reached—but it didn’t happen. Your war only got worse.”
He let his hand fall. “We all do what we must, Prince Anduin. The safety of this world is my priority, above all other concerns. Perhaps you will come to understand that, in time. I want you to. I think we could work well together.”
Wrathion stepped away, motioning for his guards to come forward.
Anduin could do nothing but watch helplessly as they reached for him.