A week later, Idira lay on the settee reading one of her favourite fairytales, though her thoughts kept drifting back to her dream of Khadgar. She wondered for the thousandth time what happened after her dream ended, had he continued to call for her? Had he cursed some more? Had he used his magic to try and find her? Over the past nine months, she had played out hundreds of scenarios in her mind. She settled back against the cushions, searching for a new and tantalising alternative with which to entertain herself, but lassitude filled her and she felt herself succumbing to the pull of sleep. Perhaps she would dream of Khadgar. She had just begun to drift off when running feet and shouts of alarm breached the quiet. She opened her eyes, uncertain whether it had been real or she had dreamed it. A explosion reverberated somewhere deep in the mines. A heartbeat later, a dull boom pounded through the cavern. She bolted up from the settee, her book falling to the floor with a heavy thump.
Vanessa looked up from the floor where she had been playing with the toy animals Kip had made for her, her eyes huge in her thin, pale face. 'What's happening?' she cried.
Idira didn't have to guess. A shout revealed the first gate of the mine had been breached. Idira bit her lip. There could only be one explanation. The champions from Stormwind had finally come to fight their way into the cavern from the mine's entrance far above. What else could it be? Above, men continued to shout, struggling to get the ship free of the scaffolding, preparing to cast off. VanCleef bolted out of his room, buckling the last straps of his armour, his eyes filled with fire, looking more like his old self than he had in months.
He clambered up the ladder, gripping his belt and scabbarded swords in one hand. His booted feet hurried across the office and out onto the deck.
'Come to me!' he bellowed, desperate, hungry to fight. 'My swords long for your blood!'
Kip hollered out another command, and the sound Idira had spent every waking moment longing to hear burst into her senses: shouts of Heave! Ho! echoed through the cavern and the winch came to life, its spikes clanging against the water gate's massive chain. The rest of the men swarmed over the ship, working to free it from the ropes and beams, their feet running to and fro under Kip's frantic commands.
Idira crept up the ladder to the cabin, Vanessa following close behind, whimpering. Unambi materialised out of the cabin's shadows and stood in front of them, barring their way to the open door.
'Dis be bad,' he said, his eyes sliding in the direction of the mine's tunnel, uneasy. 'Dey got powa'ful dark magic wit' dem, Unambi be feelin' it, an' som'ting else, too.' He hissed, his eyes narrowing into slits. 'A demon. Da boss can't fight dat.'
Over Unambi's shoulder, Idira caught VanCleef striding back and forth, his swords in his hands, his face alight, glaring at the closed gate over the tunnel to the mine shaft, his eyes glittering. Every now and again he would rush to the side of the ship, impatient, and yell at those coming for him, taunting them. The champions drew nearer, the dying screams of those within the mines growing louder with each heartbeat. Idira shuddered. VanCleef's enemies were moving fast, Unambi hadn't lied, they were powerful. Very powerful. Kip's yells increased, desperation tingeing his commands.
The winch clanked on, slow, too slow. Shouts and screams came from right outside the gate to the cavern now, the explosions on the other side so loud they made Idira's ears ring. The last of the explosions faded away. Silence fell. She held her breath, waiting. The silence stretched on. A tendril of hope took root in her heart, growing as the silence continued. Perhaps VanCleef's men had won.
The men at the winch kept working, valiant, despite their proximity to the gate. With a tremendous groan, the doors split open. A thin beam of light pierced the darkness, sliding across the cavern and over Idira's face. She lifted her hand to her eyes, blinking in the sudden glare. Daylight. A gust of fresh sea air swept past. She inhaled, deep. Her heart swelled, wild with hope. They were going to make it. They were going to be free. Stormwind's champions had done the impossible, they had ended Idira's long imprisonment within the bowels of a mountain. She wished she could go to them and thank them, kneel before them and kiss their hands in gratitude. The beam of light widened. More air rushed in, hungry, washing the cavern free of the stink of its emptied latrines, cleansing it of the smoke of the torches. Freedom. She felt tears filling her eyes, her heart coming back to life. After almost a year trapped in the suffocating dark, she was finally going to be free again. She stepped toward the cabin's door, drawn to the light.
A huge blast shook the cavern, sending the gate flying outwards, rocks tumbled down from the cavern's roof, clattering against the cannons and rolling across the deck. Flaming pieces of timber, remnants of the gate, thudded against the ship's scaffolding; several chunks landed on the ship's deck, skidding across its surface, still burning. Vanessa screamed, her eyes wide. She clung to Idira, shaking with terror.
'Is that all you've got?' VanCleef sneered as he flung the burning pieces back at the champions.
'I want Mommy!' Vanessa wailed.
Idira drew Vanessa back into the shadows, her heart plummeting as she heard the screams of the men dying at the winch. She looked up at Unambi. He glanced at VanCleef, standing on one of the cannons, yelling insane things at the champions even as his men fell, one by one to the champions' magic. They had already cleared the cavern and were at the bottom of the scaffolding. Unambi lifted his finger to his lips and shook his head.
Quiet, he mouthed.
She nodded and knelt beside Vanessa, brushing the hair back from her niece's eyes. 'I want you to go down and hide in the cupboard between our beds. You must be very quiet, don't cry or scream no matter what happens. You need to be very, very brave. Can you do that for me? When this is done, I will come for you and we will leave this place and go back out into the sunshine. That will be nice, won't it?'
'With Daddy?' Vanessa sobbed, standing on her toes, watching as VanCleef leapt back onto the deck from the cannon. He pulled a red scarf from his tunic and tied it over the bottom half of his face.
'You will pay for the one I lost!' he screamed, his whole body quaking with anticipation, his fingers flexing on the hilts of his swords. 'Today you die!' he spat.
Idira nodded. 'Yes, with your daddy.' She hurried Vanessa back to the hatch and helped her down the ladder. She heard Kip bellowing to the men at the top of the scaffolding, warning VanCleef the champions had reached him. She half-turned, listening, horrified as he fell, crying out in agony. Her heart clenched. Not Kip.
'Go! Quickly!' She pushed Vanessa down the ladder and closed the hatch, praying the child would do as she was told.
She turned to Unambi, panting, her heart pounding. They would kill him too, once they found him. She looked around the small cabin, there was no place for him to hide. No. She wouldn't lose him too. Not after all she had been through. She felt her Light rising up, only this time, it didn't make her feel sick, and she wasn't afraid; it connected her to Khadgar, it had saved them from Papa at Klaven's Tower, the Light had to be good. She closed her eyes, welcoming its presence as it suffused her, surrounding her. She took Unambi's hand.
The tread of booted footsteps neared, a voice she didn't recognise gave commands, cold, efficient. Fighting. A scream, a grunt, and two more bodies hit the deck, lifeless.
She closed her eyes, concentrating. Make us invisible. A surge of power swept through her, responding to her request. Euphoria filled her, and raw power, unlike anything she had ever felt before coursed through her.
She opened her eyes. The cabin burned with violet light.
'Ya eyes! Dey be glowin' brighta' den da sun!' Unambi leaned away from her, lifting his hand to shield his eyes.
He shimmered, wavering as though under water, then vanished. She caught her breath. Had she really done that?
'Is dat ya who be doin' dis?' Unambi asked in a hoarse whisper.
'Can you see me?' Idira whispered back, shivering with delight as the light cascaded through her, streaming like falling stars through her body.
'Ya be gone, and da Light, too.' He squeezed her hand, proud. 'Whoeva' ya be, ya be real special, Idira, real special.'
VanCleef's shout made Idira turn. The champions approached him, hostile. Two wore heavy armour made of plate metal over their whole bodies, slits for their eyes and mouths in their helms were all that revealed someone human existed underneath. One of them carried a pair of enormous two-handed swords that glowed with enchantments, one glowed white, the other red. The other warrior held a mace with a long spike and a chain, glowing blue, in his other gauntleted hand he held a massive shield.
A female moved nearer to the group, she stood much taller than the two warriors, her green hair and pale green skin matching her intricate brown and green leather robe, gloves and shoulder armour. In her hand she carried a gnarled wooden staff, curled into a loop at the top, flowers bloomed on it, and it glowed green, verdant with life. An illusion of leaves cascaded from it, a continual stream. She smiled and cast a spell, green light flared up around the one carrying the two swords.
'A night elf druid,' Unambi breathed, impressed. 'Powa'ful heala's.'
The other two moved forward, both human, a male with long black hair, tied back into a long tail, wearing a beautiful cloth robe, bearing purple and black designs, his staff bore a rotating black crown at the top, suspended in the air. It streamed an inky vapour a putrid shade of purple, so dark it seemed almost black. Beside him, a huge blue-black shadowy being hovered, shaped like a massive inverted drop of water. It made strange sounds as it waited for its master to command it, a cross between a groan and a shudder, as though it suffered, just by existing.
'Da demon,' Unambi murmured, wary. 'Dat warlock's dark magic summoned dat ting from da Void.'
The last champion stepped forward. Idira gaped, impressed. A beautiful, proud human female—her waist-length silver hair held back in a blue-gemmed silver circlet—looked over VanCleef, disdainful, her lips curving into a sneer. Her gown barely covered her slim body, her cleavage straining at the almost transparent material. Circular blue symbols rotated around her head and hands, glowing, crackling with magic. In her hand she carried a staff, far more impressive than any of the others'. Little bolts of blue lightning chased each other along its shaft and around its crest, a silver confection surrounded by rotating blue circles and shooting out little bolts of lightning.
'Da mage be da one wit' da most powa',' Unambi muttered, 'an' she be knowin' it, too.'
'VanCleef,' she said, cold, her tone arch and elegant, reminding Idira of Nin's accent. She wondered if the mage was noble, too. 'Today you die for the crimes you have committed against the people of Stormwind, for your thieving, your butchery, and your intention to attack the city of Stormwind.'
VanCleef scoffed. 'I don't think so.'
He moved so fast, Idira barely registered it. He threw one of his swords into his other hand, and pulled a blade free from his tunic, it flew from his hand and into her beautiful breast, impaling her heart. Her eyes widened, disbelieving, as she clutched at the dagger's hilt and fell to her knees, the blue symbols surrounding her fading as her blood blossomed outwards, leaching into her gown, covering her hands. No longer arrogant, she struggled to pull the blade free, crying out in agony. Another blade fled from VanCleef's hand and slammed into the base of the druid's throat, stopping her from casting her spell to aid the fallen mage. Her mouth opened and closed in horror, no longer able to speak or cast spells as she scrabbled at the thing, choking and spluttering blood.
The two warriors eyed each other, one of them made a move to go to the druid, the one with the two swords shook his head.
'Not so clever now, are we?' VanCleef taunted from behind his mask. The warlock rushed forward with a desperate cry, his hands lighting up, fiery, his demon sliding toward VanCleef, wailing, agonised. The warlock's eyes moved for a heartbeat to the fallen mage, his love for her plain. A throwing star thudded into the space between his eyes. He collapsed to the ground, lifeless, the demon sighed, and vanished.
'Fools,' VanCleef sneered, eyeing the warriors, 'love is weakness. Love destroys everything.' Another star slammed into the druid's throat, severing her jugular. She slid to the ground, bleeding out in a deep, hard gouts around the blade's serrated edge. She lifted a hand to the warrior carrying the shield and mace, imploring him to go to her. He glanced at the other warrior, and with a murmur, he turned away and knelt beside her, pulling off his helm. He eased the blades from her throat and held her against him, watching her, his eyes glistening with tears as she died, unable to speak, clutching at his arms, her eyes wild with fear and pain.
VanCleef laughed, cold. 'Welcome to The Night's Cutlass, where love comes to die.'
The druid slumped in the warrior's arms. He stared at her, disbelieving, even as her blood continued to leave her body, spreading out under him, staining his armour. He stood, trembling, furious, and lifted his shield and mace.
'Now it's a fair fight, don't you think?' VanCleef spat as he pulled his swords free and ran towards the warriors. 'Come to me. Let us end this, champions of Stormwind.'
The warriors flanked him, working together, toying with VanCleef, trying to tire him, though they laboured to keep up with his quick, cat-like movements. VanCleef dodged and slid between them, his eyes burning bright, working his blades against their armour, searching for an opening. He ducked, sliding across the blood-soaked deck under the raised arm of the warrior bearing the two great swords, his curved sword slicing deep into the unprotected space under the warrior's arm, his blade finding its way between the warrior's ribs, cutting deep, all the way into his heart. Blood splattered against VanCleef's face and mask. He leapt away, panting, and roared, triumphant.
The warrior staggered, struggling to remain on his feet. Bellowing in agony, he fought to lift his sword. It fell from his grip and hit the deck with a heavy thud, its glowing light fading. He turned. Idira could see his blood pumping out, bright red, sliding down his polished armour, streaming, relentless. He stumbled, his legs buckling under him. He slammed down onto his knees. Falling back onto his haunches, he raised a shaking hand to his side. It came back slick with blood. He looked up at the other warrior and shook his head.
The last warrior rushed at VanCleef with a roar, his armoured feet slamming, loud, against the deck. He swung his mace, stepping to one side, aiming to strike VanCleef's chest. VanCleef moved away, just as the warrior shifted his weight and turned, completing his feint, and dropped his mace, swinging it low and back up again. The chain slammed against VanCleef's back, sending him crashing into the fallen warrior.
Idira clung to Unambi's hand as the fallen warrior shifted, his gauntleted hand reaching out, slow, inexorable, to grasp VanCleef's ankle, catching him in his iron grip. VanCleef staggered and howled, furious, twisting and slashing, frantic to free himself, his blades crashing against the warrior's plate-sheathed arm, the screech of blade against metal harsh, jarring. The other warrior rushed at VanCleef. Swinging his mace high, he spun it round, so that its spike faced VanCleef's chest.
Idira screamed. VanCleef turned just in time to see the spike. He let go of his swords. They tumbled, clattering, useless, to the deck.
'Myra,' he cried, flinging his arms wide, preparing for the spike's deadly kiss. 'My life for yours.'
The spike slammed into his chest, he juddered as its point burst out between his shoulder blades. Blood and gore exploded from him out onto the fallen warrior, hitting the warrior's armour with a sickening slap.
VanCleef fell to his knees, lifeless, his body spasmed hard, twice, then went limp, hanging, impaled upon the spike.
Stunned, Idira stared at the panting warrior, who sagged, exhausted, over his quarry. She blinked. After all this time, just like that, VanCleef was dead. It was over. She was free. The warrior pulled his mace free from VanCleef's body with a grunt. He shook it, sending bits of gore and blood splattering over the deck.
He knelt beside the fallen warrior and pulled the warrior's helm away. He was too late, the warrior was already dead. He stood up and looked over the carnage, at the fallen bodies of his comrades and his lover. He bent over, his armour clanking, and picked up one of VanCleef's swords. He kicked VanCleef onto his back and raised the sword high. Idira felt Unambi's hand move over her eyes. She shoved his hand away, impatient. She wasn't a child anymore.
It was already done. The warrior reached down and grabbed hold of VanCleef's dark hair in his metal fist. Blood sprayed from VanCleef's severed arteries, splattering the fallen champions as the warrior walked around, rummaging through the crates and stacks of supplies, grim. He found a hessian sack lying on top of a pile of coiled ropes and dropped VanCleef's head into it. Within heartbeats, blood saturated the bottom of it, seeping out in thick, viscous drops. He tied the sack to his belt and went over to the druid. He picked her up into his arms, shuddering with grief. Clutching her against his blood-smeared armour, he spoke several words, a spell. White light surrounded him and in a heartbeat he faded away, leaving nothing but the impression of a halo of light burned in the backs of Idira's eyes.
Idira sank to her knees, sensing the warmth of the Light leaving her. She looked up and caught Unambi gazing at the fallen, numb. A quiet sound came up from beneath them, the hatch opened, and Vanessa looked out, her eyes sliding to her father's body.
'Daddy?' she called, tremulous. Unambi tried to catch her but she was quick, just like her father. She darted past him and out onto the blood-soaked deck.
She stopped in front of VanCleef, staring, silent at her father's headless, gored body.
'Daddy?' she whispered as she knelt in his blood. She took his hand in hers, and looked at the fallen champions, her eyes narrowing.
'You killed my daddy. I won't forget this. Ever.'