The summer Idira turned twenty-two, Logan came to the house with news. He paced back and forth in the kitchen, his arms crossed over his chest, his leather armour creaking in the warm, dry air. He turned to look at her, his shoulder-length dark hair tied back in a leather thong. A recent scar across his cheek made him look older than his twenty-five years. He hadn't shaved, but his stubble suited him. He had tried to kiss her once, the first day he had seen her in her new dress, made from the material he had bought for her. Despite her misgivings, curiosity overwhelmed Idira, so she let him. Their lips had barely touched before he had pulled back, abrupt, and stared at her, taken aback, rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth. It's like kissing my sister, he'd shuddered. Idira nodded, fighting the urge to gag. It had felt just as wrong to her too. From then on, the innuendoes stopped, and he treated her as a brother would, as fiercely protective of her as Unambi.
But right now Logan was furious. It seemed not only had Idira and Unambi survived the champions' attack on VanCleef's ship, but VanCleef's daughter Vanessa had also survived and had remained hidden in plain sight at the Saldean's farm; the child they had taken in and named Hope had grown into a young woman who pretended to be an upstanding member of Westfall's community. He eyed Idira, suspicious, distant.
'In all these years, why didn't you ever tell me?' he asked, anger edging his words, making them sharp.
Idira rubbed her palms up and down against her hips, nervous, rucking up the smooth material of her dress. She had never seen Logan like this before. He frightened her a little.
'You would have killed her,' she answered, quiet. 'She ran away the night we arrived. I thought she just wanted to put everything behind her, have a normal family after all she had been through. She was just a little girl!'
'Indeed,' Logan grated out the words, 'except that VanCleef's blood courses through her veins.' He slammed his fist into his hand. 'Just when we were starting to reclaim Westfall this had to happen. Until today I had no idea who our new aggressor was, despite all my investigations. We only knew someone was gathering forces to their cause, while killing my spies in Moonbrook. But now I know the truth!' He glared at Idira, hostile. 'I discovered it quite by accident while I rode here, to see you! One of our patrolmen writhing in his death throes, lived long enough to say she told him her name as she cut him, saying 'Hope' is a lie.' He moved closer, menacing. 'But here is the bitterest irony of all, that conniving, vengeful creature will take anyone into her ranks, even the enemies of her father.' Logan nodded, terse as Idira raised her hands to her mouth. 'Before she killed all my infiltrators, I had been getting reports Jac was losing control, his men in-fighting and jockeying for power, the entire structure of his organisation fragmenting. We were using it to our advantage, but now she has come along, determined to gather Jac's disaffected to her cause, the little bitch wants Moonbrook for herself. Now once more, our enemies are organising, and under someone we could have easily contained long ago.'
He glared at her, quivering with rage. When she said nothing he scoffed and turned away. Anger emanated from him, hitting Idira like a wall. He clenched and unclenched his fists.
Idira went to him and touched his arm. 'Perhaps I could talk to her, explain to her she is wrong. She is still young. She only turned sixteen last month.'
Logan scoffed. 'Talk to her? It's far too late for that. Do you know how many have fallen to her blades?' He turned and glared at her, uttering the number as though it were Idira's fault. 'Twelve. Friends, all of them. You should have told me.'
'Yes,' Idira murmured, trying to keep up, struggling to reframe the image of the little girl who played with wooden animals and listened to fairy tales into a cold-blooded, vengeful killer, willing to work with the very men who had bombed their home and driven them into the mines. 'I see that now, if I could turn back time, knowing what I now know I would do things differently. But what good does it do to—'
She stopped. The glass panes of the windows had begun to rattle. From far out in the sea, a deep rumbling rose, a low, ominous reverberation unlike anything she had heard before. The hairs on the back of her neck lifted, fuelled by a sudden deep sensation of dread. On their hooks against the wall, the copper pots and pans trembled, their clatter growing with each passing moment. The cupboards jiggled free of their latches, their doors falling open one by one, the plates and bowls stacked inside juddering to the cupboards' edges, tumbling to the floor. Jagged crockery shards slammed into the walls and furniture, and smacked against Idira's skirts.
Logan grabbed her hand and dragged her to the door, dust from the rafters tumbling over them. Idira stumbled after him, choking, trying not to trip on the hem of her dress as he bolted down the porch steps and around the side of the house toward the cliffs. He staggered to a halt, panting.
'What in the Light?' Logan breathed.
Idira gaped, incredulous, as she stumbled to find her feet. Logan caught her, steadying her. It was like something from one of her fairytale books. Only this wasn't an illustration. It was a real monster, living and breathing, coming straight at them.
At least five times the size of VanCleef's ship, a massive molten dragon flew low over the ocean, its enormous red and black wings beating a powerful, deep cadence. Waves rushed away from their heated blasts, building in force, rising up as high as the buildings in the square of Moonbrook, slamming into Stormwind's battleships trapped in the creature's wake, the waves battered them, tearing the juggernauts apart as though they were no more than toys.
As the creature drew closer, Idira stared, horrified. This was no typical dragon, nothing at all like the ones from her books. Its body had been covered by massive black metal plates, sheathing it like a suit of armour, but its armour had been bolted right onto his flesh with gigantic rivets. Molten lava seeped out from in between the cracks in great viscous drops, wherever they landed, the seawater evaporated into explosive geysers of steam. Clouds of thick ash spiralled out from the dragon's wake, spreading out across the hissing, burning sea. The dragon lifted its head and opened its mouth, its lower jaw crafted from a massive piece of metal, jagged and vicious looking. A vast swathe of molten fire spewed forth from it, incinerating the ships caught in its path. As it neared, the ground's shaking intensified, quivering from the deep reverberation of the dragon's wings. The cliffs cracked open and huge chunks of the hard-packed, dry earth loosened and tumbled away, carrying boulders and bushes with it, smashing them against the rocks on the beach far below.
She felt Logan tighten his grip on her hand, pulling her against him, protective. Down on the beach, a blur of movement caught Idira's eye. Margle ran, his little legs pumping, racing, desperate to reach the cliff path, keeping one eye on the incoming tsunami, its wall of water churning with shattered and burning pieces of ships, the water thundering so loud, it drowned out even the deep pounding of the dragon's wings.
Idira waved at the murloc, frantic, urging him on even as he reached the bottom of the cliff path and rushed up the hill, zigzagging around the falling rocks and earth. Idira bit her lip, begging the Light to protect him. She went to move closer to the path, to look down and watch his ascent, but Logan yanked her back, his expression fierce. He shook his head.
'It's too dangerous!' he shouted.
Her heart pounding, she turned her attention back to the sea, as the tide fell back, sucked far into the sea, exposing the hidden depths of the sea's floor. She eyed the climbing wall of water and the cliffs, gauging their heights. It was going to be close. Margle bolted up over the crest of the cliff, and ran behind Idira's skirt, clinging to it, gibbering in terror.
'Ya be gettin' up on da roof!' Unambi bellowed as he came barrelling towards them from the wheat field, his grass hat skittering behind him, buffeted by the wind, caught by its strap around his neck. He rushed over and scooped up the quaking murloc and ran to the house, with one quick movement he lobbed the poor thing up onto the roof's tiles. Idira followed after, tugging on Logan's hand. He stood stock still, transfixed by the dragon flying over the waters, burning Stormwind's ships, those still afloat desperately firing their cannons at it.
'Logan!' Idira yelled. The wall of water had met the tide and now a solid barrier rushed towards them, gathering speed, furious.
He started and turned. Still holding onto Idira's hand he bolted toward the house where Unambi waited, ready to hoist them up onto the roof. Idira ran as fast as she could, but her skirts kept tangling in her legs. Logan's arm went round her waist and she flew up into the air, landing on her stomach with a rough thump against his leather clad shoulder. She hung upside down, his arm gripping the backs of her thighs so hard it hurt. She lifted her head. The water had reached the crab pots. They exploded, smashed by the water's onslaught.
'Hurry!' she screamed. Unambi's strong hands took hold of her, and she lifted even higher. He spun her round. The roof loomed before her. She reached out, grabbed hold of the eaves, and scrambled up to the roof's peak, Logan and Unambi right behind her.
'What about Blackie?' Idira cried, searching the yard for her cat, frantic. 'And the chickens?'
'Dere be no time for dat,' Unambi hollered, the wind gaining force, tearing his hat free, sending it sailing up into the sky.
They clustered together, clinging to each other, watching, horrified, as the roaring, churning wall of water rushed towards them. It slammed against the cliffs, with a deep boom that shook the house. A spray of freezing water exploded over the cliff wall, drenching them and splattering the roof with seaweed dredged up from the deepest parts of the sea. Idira clutched onto Unambi and Logan, as the sea surged against the top of the cliffs, frothing, white, angry; ships' masts and shattered hulls roiling and turning in the violent waters.
The waves rose, inexorable, breaking over the crest of the cliff, rushing, hungry toward the house, knee deep, the bodies of dead fish, crabs and octopi tumbling, helpless in their watery grave. The sea crashed around the house's stone foundation, submerging the vegetable garden beside the kitchen. It swept under the porch, smashing into the steps, the force of it carrying them away into the yard. It raced, hungry, toward the chicken pen, the birds scuttled to the opposite side, huddling up tight against the wire, pushing their feathered breasts against it, trying to escape. Idira pressed her fists to her mouth, tears burning her eyes. Please. Not the chickens. She searched for her Light, seeking to protect them. Nothing happened. She tried harder. Still, nothing. She whimpered. Logan's arm came around her shoulders, squeezing her, reassuring her. He pressed his lips against her hair, distracted, kissing her head as though she were a child, hushing her.
Halfway across the chicken pen, the waters slowed, its depth decreasing even as it continued to creep towards the chickens, menacing, oblivious to their desperate, terrified cries. The wave stalled, the edge of the waters seethed but moved no further.
Stillness came, a dense bubble of silence settled over the farm, so still Idira's ragged breathing sounded like a roar in her ears. Far to the east, the acacia trees dotting the horizon leaned sideways, caught in a sudden blast of wind. It rushed towards the farm across the plains, flattening the wild grasses, and driving the tumbleweed, reckless over the land toward the cliffs. The wind slammed into them, cold and humid, heavy with the rich, briny stink of the deep ocean. It swept back over the cliffs and across the sea, returning to wherever it had come from. The waters followed it, sliding backwards, gaining speed as it scythed back to the cliffs, streaming, frantic, back to the sea, sucked by the force of the ocean's gravity struggling to return to its equilibrium. It poured over the edge of the cliff into the retreating sea, littering the mud-swept yard with dead and dying sea creatures.
Out over the sea, having no more boats left to destroy, the dragon roared and changed course, its body tilting at an improbable angle. It lowered its head, opening its mouth wide, preparing to exhale.
'It's heading straight for Stormwind,' Logan said, rising to his feet, pale. 'They can't fight that. No one can.'
The metal-encased molten dragon disappeared behind the mountain range separating the coast of Westfall from Stormwind's harbour. In the distance the faint sound of horns blared, what sounded like hundreds of them. The sound of explosions and screams carried to them on the heated air, driven across the mountain range by the power of the dragon's great wings, the cries of the dying reaching all the way to their farm in Westfall. Above the mountains, the sky darkened, blackening with ash, soon even the light of the sun was lost as the city's cinders spread out, covering the sky's canopy, enclosing the world in gloom. The underside of it glowed orange, reflecting the flames of Stormwind as it burned. The dragon emerged from the other side of the mountains, gliding over Elwynn Forest. It flew on, veering to the north, incinerating everything in its path.
Logan sank down, his jaw slack, disbelieving. 'Stormwind is gone. It's the end of the world,' he whispered, stricken. He sat, pale and trembling, staring out at the burning wreckage of the ships strewn across the sea.
From across the water came the wails of the survivors, mourning their dead. What about Nin, Arinna, and Bishop Mattias? How could they ever have survived that? She pressed her hands against her head, overwhelmed. Was everyone she loved meant to die? It was too much, too sudden, too vast, too strange. She looked down at the chickens. They still huddled together, frightened, pressed up against the fence, at least they had survived. She looked at the broken pieces of the porch's steps laying in the middle of the yard. It had gone far. She blinked. A sodden patch of black fur lay tangled within the splintered wood. No. Her heart started to pound. No. Please. No.
'Blackie!' she cried, scrabbling to get down from the roof, her eyes never leaving the cat, hoping against hope Blackie still somehow lived.
Ignoring Unambi's pleas for her to wait, to let him help her get down, she tumbled down from the roof, and landed spread-eagled, face first in the mud. She leapt to her feet and ran to the shattered steps, tripping over shipwreck debris, dead fish and crabs. Within the tangled mess of wood, Blackie lay silent and still, her body small and limp. Idira could hear Unambi coming, but she couldn't wait. Her heart in her throat, she tried to lift the sodden wood, but it was too heavy, and all she managed to do was tear her hands on its sharp, jagged edges. Unambi reached out and pulled the pieces away, careful not to hurt the cat. Blackie slid free, boneless, down onto the mud.
Her hands shaking, Idira picked up her cat and cradled its lifeless body on her lap. Seawater leaked out of Blackie's open mouth, her wide-open eyes, filming over in the drying air, betrayed her final moments of pain and terror.
Idira choked, tears burning her eyes. 'She hid under the porch, the place she always went whenever she was scared.' She lifted the muddy, soaking cat up against her chest, cuddling her against her filthy dress. 'Why didn't I think of it? Why didn't I go to you?'
Logan and Margle arrived; the murloc reached out to touch the cat, tentative, it gurgled, sad. She felt Logan's hand on her shoulder. He squeezed it, murmuring how sorry he was for her. She shook him off and shifted, putting her back to him, clutching the dead cat to her chest.
'Just leave me alone, please,' she whispered, her throat aching.
One by one they left, making desultory attempts to clear the yard. Idira looked down at her lost companion, grief and guilt overwhelming her. She cradled her in her arms, like a baby, stroking her face and kissing her nose.
'I'm so sorry,' she sobbed, as her tears spilled onto the cat's fur. 'I loved you, so much.'
After all their years together, just like that, Blackie was gone. She lay limp in her arms, the reflection of the burning skies the only light left remaining in her companion's silent, empty eyes.