Khadgar cast a teleport to Dalaran and stepped through it into a sumptuous room. Straight ahead, a beautiful being made of the purest light floated in the air. Idira caught her breath. The Na'aru Xe'ra. Her head and torso were formless, featureless, nothing more than dense clusters of pure white light. Above her light-driven core, an elaborate crystal filigree of a crown hovered. Around her torso, the Na'aru's crystal wings rotated, fragile and thin. Her light pulsed, soft, each pulse accompanied by ephemeral chimes resonating with quiet, ancient power.
Idira stepped through the teleport's residue. Two others waited with the Na'aru. Archmage Kalec, and another, Archdruid Malfurion, she presumed. She glanced at him, then away. She had read once about him, how he had become so attuned to the power of nature, he had begun to manifest the aspects of the druid in bodily form: the wings of a stormcrow; the paws of a bear; the feet of a cat; the antlers of a stag. He eyed her, a towering being, far taller than Khadgar, his look approving.
Khadgar nodded at the group. ‘Idira Northshire, may I present Archmage Kalec, Archdruid Malfurion, and Xe'ra, Na'aru of light.’
Kalec tilted his head to her in quiet acknowledgement. He glanced at Khadgar, his expression unreadable.
Malfurion bowed low. ‘My Lady,’ he said, in a warm voice, seasoned with age and wisdom.
Xe'ra's wings spun faster, her light brightening. Soft chimes tinkled as the Na'aru's gentle voice pierced Idira's mind. And so the reckoning is come.
Khadgar blinked, taken aback. He eyed the Na'aru, waiting, as though expecting her to say more. When she remained silent, he looked at Idira, uncertain. She met his look, steady. He swallowed, his jaw tensing, a touch of dread passing behind his eyes. A slight shake of his head. His thoughts coming to her as he used the spell from the font. Don't do it, whatever it is.
She didn't have time to answer. Kalec cleared his throat. Khadgar turned, his demeanour shifting imperceptibly, once more commanding, the Leader of the Kirin Tor.
‘Xe'ra and Idira are the most powerful among us,’ Khadgar said, crisp, meeting the eyes of the other men, ‘they will deal with freeing Illidan and Tyrande. Our task will be to occupy Gul'dan until we can get away. It is not our prerogative to defeat him today, our sole objective is to get the others away. Kalec you will portal us back to this room. It has been warded in preparation for their arrival. Are we agreed?’
The men murmured their assent. Khadgar nodded at Idira, a terse look of warning sparking in his eyes, reminding her of his earlier words. ‘Then let us begin, and may the Light protect us. Idira, if you would teleport us to Hope's End.’
Idira visualised the cavern with the ancient temple ruins. Her Light thrummed, responding to her call as she swept her staff up and brought it down against the tiled floor. Within a heartbeat they stood in the dripping, dank cavern of Hope’s End. Kalec and Malfurion turned full circle, defensive, eyeing the broken ruins of the ancient temple.
Against the solid face of the stone wall, the residue of the tunnel's opening beckoned to her. She pressed her hands against the damp rock face, frost streaking away from her palms as she worked to sense the current pattern. There. The fifth pattern. Calling to her Light she uttered the dark incantations, all seven, in the correct order.
Demonic runes flared alight on the smooth surface of the stone wall, outlining the tunnel's opening. The stone vanished, opening the way into a dim tunnel, glowing with the faint light of fel. Idira touched the nearest rune. Frost crackled away from her fingers, spreading around the opening's edges, freezing the runes, holding the way open for the others.
Her Light prodding her, urging her on. She stepped into the dripping, fel-infused tunnel, its depths reeking of evil, misery, and death, and descended the stone steps into the tunnel's bowels, the light surrounding her staff flaring. A star. At the bottom of the steps, she turned. Khadgar followed close behind, his staff alight, pulsing with latent power, responding to the tunnel's fel taint. Kalec and Malfurion came after, cautious, wary, Xe'ra drifting in their wake, her light sliding over the fouled rock, cleansing the fel. Khadgar touched her arm as he passed her, taking the lead. Stay back, it's dangerous, he warned. She fell back, grateful to have his powerful bulk between her and the dark Citadel, sensing the bleakness within its grim walls, the despair, the desolation. The last place on Azeroth she would ever see.
The tunnel descended deep underground before finally levelling off. The walls sweated, the tunnel's stale moisture sliding into black puddles limned by the malevolent glow of the fel torches. The weight of the sea bore down on them, and despite her having left the tunnel open in the cavern, the air was rank, nearly unbreathable. She heard one of the men behind her shudder, claustrophobic, as the tunnel began its slow incline. Several long minutes passed before they reached the base of another flight of slick stone steps, grimy with damp. At the top, Khadgar stopped. They had reached a dead end. A wall of solid stone blocked the way into the foundation of the Tomb of Sargeras and the Chamber of the Eye.
She brushed past Khadgar. He edged closer to her, protective, looking over his shoulder, wary, watching for danger as she read the wards, sensed the weaves. She murmured the dark incantations and unlocked the runes, silent, stealthy, alerting no one of their presence. The wall shimmered and the way opened. Khadgar muttered a low spell, cloaking them in invisibility, even the glimmering Na'aru. She touched the nearest rune on the wall. Frost spread from her fingers, encasing the edges of the opening in ice, leaving the way open.
Khadgar took the lead, his form only visible by its faint blue outline. He moved out of the tunnel into a wide corridor, its ceiling high, hidden in shadow. Ahead, the corridor curved away, a slow descent, foreshortening her view. A man screamed, locked in torment. His brutal cries raked through her, shearing into her. The agonised bellows ebbed, muted by the thick walls of the corridor. Fear slid into her.
She touched Khadgar's arm. Wait. He turned, preoccupied. Kiss me.
For a heartbeat she thought he wouldn't. Please. He relented. His lips touched hers, tender, his kiss quiet, filled with promise. A sharp inhalation from Malfurion. Patience from Kalec. The screams came again. Khadgar pulled away, abrupt, taking her hand in his, leading them along the corridor. They descended its long, slow curve, passing numerous openings, lined with glowing runes, delving deep into the living rock, her Light stirring, awakening.
The corridor came to an abrupt end. Tucked into the inner curve of the corridor, a vast opening loomed, its edges limned with hundreds of fel-tainted runes. The runes glowed, malevolent, hungry. Her Light shifted, visceral, kindling. Alone, Khadgar edged ahead and looked in. Several long moments passed, slow. He motioned for them to follow. Idira moved to the opening, Khadgar's hand caught her arm. He pulled her back, firm, and eased her behind him.
She edged past him to see. Within, a massive circular Chamber, its ceiling lost to deep shadow. Over the centre of the stone-flagged floor, a complex circle of runes pulsed with the fetid green of fel. Gul'dan, the orc she had watched obliterate King Varian stood with his back to them, holding his skull-encrusted staff high. Sinuous lengths of fel tethers writhed out of it, plunging into the darkness of a large portal set into the opposite wall, returning soon after clutching a fragment of fel light in their maws. They slammed, vicious, into the ravaged body of a massive being, the one she recognised as the Betrayer, Illidan. He bellowed as his body tore open in a dozen places, his flesh reforming with each brutal attack, morphing piece by piece into a dread lord. His wrists and ankles had been bound by fel tethers, holding him suspended, mid-air, spread-eagled. He strained against them, struggling, desperate to free himself.
Opposite Illidan was another, also held suspended by fel tethers and spread-eagled against the wall. Tyrande. She still looked the same as Idira remembered from the day she had seen her in the Citadel, although unlike Illidan, she did not fight, she hung in her bindings, limp, silent, and still. Only her eyes had changed, churning with fel.
Khadgar raised his staff and brought it to the ground. The invisibility spell melted away. A wall of arcane energy burst from his staff and slammed into Gul'dan's back. The orc lurched forward, stumbling, gripping onto his staff, struggling to keep his balance. He turned, his eyes blazing, his fingers moving, rapid, already casting. Khadgar and Kalec threw up their wards, preparing to attack once more, but Malfurion hit him first, silencing his spell, buying them more time.
‘Malfurion.’ Gul'dan narrowed his eyes at the druid. ‘You are just in time to see your consort's transformation. She has a new master now. How fitting for you to be her first gift to Sargeras,’ he smiled, slow, exposing his rotting teeth. Tyrande turned her head and looked at Malfurion, impassive, the fel flames within her eyes igniting, bright and hungry.
‘Tyrande, my love,’ Malfurion said, stepping toward her, his voice aching with remorse, ‘I am here. You are safe now.’
Gul'dan scoffed and cast another spell. Quick as lightning, a barrier snapped up around him, just as the spells of Khadgar and Kalec slammed into it, their arcane power melting, harmless, down its sides.
The men's voices rose, sharp, commanding, channelling their power, their eyes hard, focussed, as they cast their spells; the thrum of their combined energy making the room vibrate and hiss. Her Light prodded her, responding, intuiting, showing Idira the way forward, the aid she could give. Even though Gul'dan wasn't attacking, she threw an icy shield over the group. Blue fire exploded from Kalec and Khadgar's hands. Enormous amounts of arcane power crashed against Gul'dan's barrier. The Chamber juddered. Pieces of masonry broke free. They tumbled down, ricocheting against the ice barrier. Gul'dan laughed, full of scorn, their spells sliding off his shield, useless. He turned his back to them, continuing to send tethers through the impossible portal into the black-dark Nether.
‘His barrier is fed by the fel power in this Chamber, our spells will never break through it,’ Khadgar bellowed, his body quaking with the raw power of the arcane. ‘Xe'ra, it is time!’
Her wings spinning, Xe'ra slipped through Idira's shield and into the Chamber, her light blinding, reverberating. A powerful beam of light exploded from her core and pulsed through the portal into the Twisting Nether. It returned within a heartbeat carrying what was left of Illidan's ragged spirit, pierced and gouged in a thousand places to Illidan's body, merging them together. She flared again. Three more beams of light shot out, wreathing around Illidan's body, cleansing him, burning the fel tethers from his arms and wrists.
Gul'dan chuckled, amused. ‘A Na'aru. How desperate you are.’ His malevolent voice grated, sinister. ‘But you are too late. Sargeras comes. Even your Na'aru's Light will not stop him.’
Freed from his bonds, Illidan rose up, a bizarre creature, half-demon hunter, half-dread lord. He towered over Gul'dan. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I will not succumb. I will destroy you first.’
Gul'dan lifted his hand; an indifferent gesture. Illidan slammed against the wall.
‘Not you, fool. Your will has been . . . troublesome. You have, however, brought me another whose will was much more easily broken.’ He chuckled once more, pleased, and waved his staff. A vision appeared within the center of the circle of runes. One by one, the men stopped casting, watching, horrified as the vision played out in total silence. Idira watched, confused, as Illidan transformed, turning into a dread lord, his eyes opening, burning with hate, Sargeras's avatar. She glanced back at Khadgar, watching, tense, poised to cast again.
‘A small spell,’ Gul'dan continued, speaking to Illidan. ‘A token really, but enough of Tyrande's spirit was broken for her to believe the illusion I played for her. Now she sees what I tell her to see. When she saw your transformation, she lost all hope and became—’ he turned his hand palm upward and closed his fingers into a fist, ‘—mine.’
Idira cut a look at Tyrande, watching them, expressionless. Her eyes burned, hateful, cold.
‘No,’ Malfurion whispered, stricken.
Safe within his shield, Gul'dan turned. He lifted his staff. ‘And now, Illidan,’ he sneered, triumphant, ‘prepare to fulfill your new purpose. Between your fel-enhanced spirit and hers, there is more than enough to grant Sargeras his avatar within her. You die. She lives. How romantic.’ A bolt of fel energy streamed out of his staff linking Tyrande and Illidan together, they rose up into the air, each encased within a fel sphere.
With a cry of despair, Malfurion rushed forward, reckless, leaving the protection of the shield. ‘No!’ he shrieked, casting spells, wild, desperate, trying to break through Gul'dan's barrier. Nothing worked. Every spell he cast slid off the odious thing. He tore at it with his claws, frantic.
‘Tyrande!’ he screamed. ‘I am here! It is not real. Gul'dan lies!’
‘Break the link,’ Khadgar commanded, cold, his eyes as hard as steel. ‘If we do not stop this, it will be too late.’ Idira called to her Light, adding her own spells to those of Khadgar's and Kalec's, even Xe'ra fired her light, weakening the tether, but as soon as they severed it, another snaked up from Gul'dan's staff to replace it.
Khadgar began to pant, sweat bloomed, beading on his brow; his chest rose and fell, straining, as he wielded blistering amounts of arcane energy, calling out new commands, responding to Gul'dan's ever-changing magic. Despite the enormous power between the group, Gul'dan easily resisted them, behaving as though they were not even there, his powers enhanced both by the latent energy in the Chamber, and the growing presence of Sargeras. They were failing. Idira stopped casting at the tether, and called out a new spell, sending the temperature in the room plummeting. Another spell left her lips and a bolt of ice crashed into Gul'dan's barrier, freezing it. Malfurion fleeted a grateful look at her and attacked it with renewed energy, his breath frosting in the air. She sent another harsh bolt of ice into the barrier. Under his bear claws, the ice chipped. Malfurion dug, frantic. A small crack appeared. He threw his weight against it, slamming his bear's paws against it. The crack lengthened, but held. He bellowed, frustrated, and pulled back. He ran at it, screaming. The crack gave way, and the barrier shattered. He slammed through the jagged shards of ice into Gul'dan, the force of his blow knocking Gul'dan's staff out of his hands. It skittered across the floor, clattering, useless.
Idira wasted no time, a quick spell tumbled from her lips. A heartbeat later the fallen staff lay buried under a dense layer of solid ice, frozen to the floor. Malfurion and Gul'dan slammed into the opposite wall, grunting. The druid reared up, enraged, roaring, pummelling the orc, tearing at his face and torso with his bear claws, his wings beating back Gul'dan's arms, preventing the orc from defending himself. Khadgar and Kalec ignored him, continuing to focus on destroying the tether binding Illidan and Tyrande, their expressions fixed, intent, determined to stop Sargeras. To escape.
Though she knew she should be helping with the tether, Idira continued to throw more spells at Gul'dan, helping Malfurion, riming the orc's face and hands with ice, slowing him, preventing him from retaliating, giving the druid more time, willing him to finish the creature, the cause of so much misery. The wretched orc fought her spells, fel energy crackling around his body, every spell she cast, he diverted it, still, her efforts were not being wasted, what little scraps of time she gained were not lost to Malfurion. His claws dug into Gul'dan's neck, tearing him open, mauling him, the orc's blood splattering Malfurion's face. The druid bellowed, hungry, his animal instincts taking over. A flicker of fear showed in Gul'dan's eyes. Malfurion pulled back and slammed the orc down onto the floor, landing on top of him on all fours. His cat claws digging deep into Gul'dan's torso. The orc squirmed, shrieking with pain. Malfurion reared up, smashing his bear paws into the creature's twisted face, crushing bone, breaking teeth. His claw hooked into one of Gul'dan eyes. It came out, the orc screamed, agonised. Idira's heart pounded, Malfurion, the brave, reckless druid was winning. He looked up at Tyrande, a savage smile on his lips.
Khadgar cried out, despairing. The tether snapped free. Illidan crashed onto the floor, his massive weight cracking the stones beneath him. Tyrande came to rest on her feet. She raised her hand, slow, her eyes flaming. In a moment of pure horror Idira realised her mistake. She should have helped Khadgar, Kalec, and Xe'ra. The eyes of Sargeras glared at Malfurion, filled with hate. A thick stream of fel fire burst out of her hand, driving deep into her consort's torso.
He shuddered and fell, clutching at a gaping hole, seething with fel energy, roiling into him, tearing him apart. ‘Tyrande,’ he cried out, devastated, his eyes never leaving hers, ‘forgive me.’
Gul'dan moaned and rolled onto his side, struggling to get up. Idira eyed him. Malfurion had done his work well, the orc's butchered face was unrecognisable. A gaping hole where his nose had been exposed the bloody interior of his throat; the socket of his missing eye seeped, a glutinous, viscous hole. Blood matted his beard, and both his bottom incisors were gone, snapped off at their bases, one of his ears hung loose, dangling on a thin piece of bloody flesh.
Freed of the tether, Illidan staggered to Malfurion's side, his chest heaving. ‘Brother,’ he whispered, stricken, eyeing his fallen sibling. He turned and lifted his cloven hoof, slamming it down onto Gul'dan's ravaged, bleeding torso, shoving the orc back down onto the stone floor.
‘Even if you kill me, the Legion still wins,’ Gul'dan rasped, his words soaked in blood.
‘The Legion hasn't won yet,’ Illidan said, grim, pushing his weight against Gul'dan's torso, crushing him against the floor.
The orc chuckled despite his obvious agony, taunting Illidan. ‘Wait and see. Nothing can stop Sargeras. Nothing. I just wish I could be here to see you try.’
Illidan bent over and slid his hands around the orc's throat, squeezing it, cutting off his air. The orc didn't fight him, he lay passive, letting Illidan do his work. It didn't take long. Gul'dan shuddered, his eye rolled back into his head. A heartbeat later he went limp.
‘Illidan,’ Tyrande breathed, her voice darkened by the taint of Sargeras. ‘You will be my commander. Together we will cleanse the Great Dark of all life and defeat the Void.’
Idira shivered, not from her inner cold, but from the voice. Sargeras. Idira knew it. It was familiar. Visceral. She eyed Tyrande, the avatar of the titan, knowing the moments were fast dwindling until their final confrontation, until her own annihilation—until she broke Khadgar's heart. Tyrande towered over them, powerful, magnificent, deadly. Idira didn't waste any time, she cried out a spell, directing a shield of ice to rise around Illidan.
Tyrande laughed, soft. ‘How quaint. Even when all is lost, still they fight.’
‘Do not look him in the eyes!’ Khadgar cried to Illidan.
‘Too late, little mage,’ Tyrande taunted. ‘He is already mine.’
Illidan raised his arms and slammed them against the ice, freeing himself. Tyrande smiled and held out her hand to him. He went to her and kissed it, reverent. She stroked his brow, tender, as he knelt before her.
‘My love,’ he said, ‘I am yours. Whatever you ask of me, I shall be that to you.’
She looked at the little group assembled at the entrance of the Chamber. Disdain touched her lips. ‘Kill them.’
He stepped towards them, his lips curving into a dark smile, malicious. Hungry.
‘We have no choice. We must finish him,’ Khadgar ordered, hard, cold. Kalec nodded, grim. Arcane power blossomed in their hands.
Wait. Xe'ra called, urgent. Her wings spun, turning faster and faster, the pressure in the room increasing, her chimes resonating, powerful, deafening. White light exploded from her torso, surrounding Illidan, burning the fel out of him. Her light flared again, blindingly bright, searing Idira's vision. She turned away, her eyes watering. Time slowed, a blip passed, a mere heartbeat, but Idira sensed within it something critical had happened in the intervening time, brief for her and the mages, long for Xe'ra and Illidan. A heavy shroud of silence filled the space. A low, mournful chime sliced through the wall of silence.
The sharp crack of splintering crystal. The light cleared. Idira stared, astonished. Gone was the half-demon hunter, half-dread lord of Illidan. In his place stood a male night elf, unblemished, handsome, powerful, his eyes glowing a brilliant untainted amber. Scattered across the floor, the blackened, broken remains of Xe'ra, her light extinguished. Idira stared at the fragments, dismayed. The last Na'aru. Gone.
‘No,’ Khadgar breathed, stricken. ‘No.’ He turned to Illidan, roaring, hitting him with the full force of his rage. Illidan staggered, but did not attack. Instead, he turned and cast spells against Tyrande, his face a mask of anguish.
‘Xe'ra has returned him to us,’ Khadgar cried, cursing as his spell, already released, slammed into Illidan, sending blue flames licking over the night elf’s body. Illidan staggered, enduring, grimacing, continuing his own fight against Sargeras.
Tyrande's face twisted, ugly, darkened by the rage of Sargeras. She thrust out her arms and aimed at Illidan, the fel energy within her crackling, gathering. Idira threw a wall of ice between them, shuddering as her spell absorbed enough fel to demolish a city. She clung to her staff, prevailing, holding, protecting Illidan from the hatred of a titan as more spells crashed against it.
It was all she could do to hold up both the barriers, praying, hoping, willing the men the strength to destroy the woman's body and rob the titan of his avatar.
She glanced at Khadgar, seeing him in a new light: the warrior, courageous, determined, unwavering, even against terrible odds. Fel slammed against the ice wall again, Idira swayed, holding, tenacious. Tyrande screamed in frustration. The hate of the titan filled the room, creeping into Idira's mind. She resisted, sensing the others waging their own internal battles.
The attacks went on, endless, the combined powers of the men tearing into Tyrande, burning her, yet somehow she still lived, possessed by the fury of Sargeras; her eyes aflame, her body ravaged. Sections of her flesh hung loose. Her skin blistered and bubbled, melting, liquefied.
One of Illidan's spells hit Tyrande, hard. She staggered and fell to her hands and knees, quivering, panting. She turned her head and looked up at them, her eyes smouldering. She laughed, and for the first time when she spoke, nothing remained of her voice. Her lips moved with the deep, silken voice of Sargeras.
‘You think you have defeated me? Fools. There will always be another, you will never stop me. Azeroth will be mine.’
Silence fell. Tyrande dragged herself across the floor, trailing flesh, blood, and fel behind her. She reached Gul'dan and lay down beside him. Fel energy spiralled within her, sliding, sinuous into Gul'dan and across the room to the others, slithering around them, tightening, holding them captive within its grasp, linking them together, creating a new avatar.
Her heart aching, Idira watched Khadgar and Kalec succumb to the might of Sargeras, their fists clenched, powerless, at their sides, their arms pinned to their torsos, the titan's power overwhelming them. Sargeras had won. There would be no reprieve for her. Her Light prodded her, gentle. It was time.