When the dormitory's portal finally flared back to life, Idira was waiting for it. She slipped into it before anyone arrived, keen to escape the inevitable questions of how she could have survived Dalaran's move to the Broken Isles. She hurried across the grounds, expecting to find devastation and destruction, but the campus looked exactly the same as when she had last seen it, not even a leaf looked out of place.
From out of the buildings, residents of the Academy slowly emerged, blinking and hesitant, looking slightly dazed and disoriented but otherwise unharmed. At the Academy's gate, she collected a pass card from the empty booth so she could get back into the grounds before hastening to make her way along the still mostly deserted streets towards the concealed grassy alley that led to the foul-smelling steps down to the sewers and on to the tavern.
At the bar, no one was around. She went into the back, searching through the blanket of greasy cigar smoke for her niece. She was just about to leave when she saw a plume of cigarette smoke curling up from the shadows of one of the alcoves.
‘Looking for me?’ Vanessa's familiar voice asked, though she sounded a little rough.
Idira let out a sigh of relief and rushed over to the table. ‘You're alive!’ she said, sinking down onto one of the stools. ‘But how?’
‘Stealthed,’ Vanessa shrugged, grunting with pain as she leaned forward to stub out her cigarette. ‘There was a warded place for us to go, we'd had flyers thrown down the stairs last week about it, but the date was scheduled for tomorrow. It happened so fast, there wasn't enough time to get to the portal. I was the only one in here who survived.’
‘Baxter?’ Idira asked, suddenly sorry for the surly barman.
‘Saw him go. Shrank down to a tiny speck. Vanished into a point of light,’ she grunted again, as she rolled her shoulder. ‘Not nice.’
Idira shuddered, recalling her own experience. Vanessa got up, groaning, gesturing for Idira to follow her. At the deserted bar, Vanessa went behind the counter, pulled out a pair of shot glasses and a fat, squat bottle of something the colour of amber. She filled both glasses to the brim.
‘Drink,’ she ordered, throwing back her hood and tossing the liquid down her throat, finishing with a hearty sigh.
Idira picked up the little glass and sipped. Fire burned over her tongue and down her throat, followed by heat, then a pleasant numbing sensation. It felt good. She tipped the rest back in one go.
‘That's my girl,’ Vanessa murmured, bending down to rifle behind the bar. She stood back up, hefting an iron-bound money box. She opened it. The soft gleam of gold winked back at them in the candlelight.
‘Jackpot,’ she smiled, closing the lid and tucking the box under her arm. ‘Let's bank this first. I'll split it with you fifty-fifty, then we may as well go and watch the show.’
Idira had no idea what show Vanessa meant for them to see. She wondered if they were going to watch some sort of magical event, perhaps in the park while enjoying some more sandwiches from the Bagel Brothers. She soon realised just how wrong she was.
Outside the towering walls of the city, Idira found herself standing once more in the courtyard where she had gone to join the Kirin Tor. At a safe distance from the little courtyard wall, she gazed out at a changed world. The dull-grey mountains of Deadwind Pass were gone, replaced by a sparkling deep-blue sea. Its whitecap-flecked surface stretched away to the horizon, a pristine expanse marred by the scar of a massive, charred island, completely devoid of any kind of vegetation, its surface torn ragged by rivers of churning, foul-green lava. At the island's far end, a vast, blackened structure towered up into the sky, its broken spires and decaying finials surrounded by pulsing jets of energy, lurid-green. Above the structure, the skies churned, a tumult of black clouds, seething, tortured, relentless, caught in a maelstrom of dark power, the vortex emanating from the hold's centre.
Vanessa lifted her foot up onto the wall, pulled out her tobacco pouch and spread a rolling paper against her leather-clad thigh. ‘And so, the Battle for the Broken Shore begins. Front row seats, not bad, eh?’ she said as she tipped a little tobacco onto the paper.
Idira didn't answer. Juggernauts appeared from underneath Dalaran, hundreds of them, slicing through the ocean's waves, moving toward the island's southern shore at full speed. One of the great ships pulled ahead of the others, opening the way. Though the distance was great, the sound of the ships' horns rose, carrying across the sea to them, faint.
Close by, a sudden blast of horns answered back, startling Idira. Emerging from either side of the elongated curve of the city's walls, dozens of airships came into view, flying in formation, the heavy pulse of their propellers deafening as they swept past, cutting across the skies; to the right, the ships bore the insignia of the Alliance, to the left, however, other airships flew past, of a different design to the ones from the Alliance, their vast envelopes not blue, but red, or purple. Logan's words returned to Idira: We are going to bring the fight to the Legion's stronghold, all of us, friend and foe, fighting together as one. She examined the opposing faction's airships as they sailed past, curious. So these were the ships of the enemies of the Alliance, of the faction known as the Horde. On one of the ships she glimpsed a troll standing at its rear, dressed similar to how she remembered Unambi had looked in his armour. Her heart lurched, for a moment believing it was Unambi she was seeing, and not another.
‘Vol'jin,’ Vanessa said around her cigarette as she lit it, nodding at the ship as it sped by. ‘The Warchief of the Horde. A great warrior.’
‘Just like Unambi,’ Idira breathed.
Vanessa met Idira's eyes, though she didn't ask the question Idira feared she would one day have to answer. What happened to Unambi? Instead Vanessa said, soft, ‘Yeah, I thought so, too.’
The sound of horns rose again from the ships in the sea, answered once more by the deep, bellowing war-horns of the airships of both the Alliance and the Horde, the powerful reverberations of their long, harsh notes resonating up Idira's spine. She crept closer to the edge, her fear of heights dwarfed by her dread for what she was about to witness. Though the distance was too great to see anything in detail, it was clear enough that the blackened island seethed with demons, its surface heaving and shifting like a living thing. The juggernaut which had pulled in front of the others was fast approaching the rocky shore. Another blast of horns and it barrelled up onto the coast, slamming right into the beach: Logan's soldiers, tiny as ants leapt off the ship, hundreds of them, swarming onto the beach, the glint of sunlight reflecting against their blades as they pushed their way into the boiling wall of demons.
Vanessa pointed her cigarette at the beachhead. ‘Those men right there,’ she said, her voice low and thick with respect, ‘those men are the real heroes of Azeroth.’
Idira felt her fingers curling into fists, her fingernails cutting into her palms. Logan was down there, in the midst of them, fighting for Azeroth, for her. She leaned over, her heart in her mouth, wishing she could see more clearly, wishing he could know she was there, staying with him right to the end.
Other juggernauts were pulling in now, fast approaching the beachhead, riding the waves up to the shore, more soldiers jumped out, joining the fray. Idira's heart skipped a beat, hope filling her. Maybe Logan would survive, maybe—
Across the cursed isle, horns blared, deep, rough, and ragged around the edges. Out of the upper reaches of the tower, thousands of demons burst forth, unfurling their leathery wings as they tumbled through the air, their screeching, hateful cries tearing at Idira's ears, like daggers yanked against glass. They filled the skies, blackening it, blocking out the light of the sun as they swarmed over the airships, their talons tearing into wood and steel. The soldiers on the airships fought, valiant, but more demons arrived, slamming their vile bodies into the ships' envelopes, puncturing them, their flesh melting away, liquefying in the envelopes' gases. One by one, the airships in the vanguard staggered, faltering, tilting at crazy angles as the demons landed, clawing their way over the sides, hauling the soldiers overboard, sending them tumbling through the skies down to their watery graves.
‘That's Varian's ship,’ Vanessa said, eyeing the one at the front, tense, no longer interested in her cigarette, burning to a stub between her fingers. Idira watched, horrified as the king's airship, swarming with demons, went down, its soldiers leaping overboard before it crashed into the waters, its deadly propellers still beating, steady and purposeful, throwing up vicious geysers of seawater.
Yet despite the overwhelming odds, the combined forces of the Horde and Alliance continued to push forward, determined, one boat out of four making it through the chaos to the shore, unloading their desperate cargoes of warriors, paladins, mages, warlocks, druids, shamans, priests, hunters, death knights and even the newly joined demon hunters, followers of the long dead half-demon himself, the Betrayer Illidan.
All across the shoreline, desperate bursts of light flashed and glimmered as practitioners of the four schools of magic struggled to drive the demons back, fighting to maintain the foothold Logan's men had bought with their lives. A deafening crack filled the air, reminding Idira of the sound of lightning hitting a tree. A massive burst of blue spread out from the middle of the beachhead, its burning, hissing light clearing half the shoreline of the demonic filth. The nightmarish creatures howled in agony as they fell to their knees, writhing in flames of blue fire. Flashes erupted from them as they expired, the beach flickering to life, dotted with blossoms of lurid green as hundreds of fel-infested souls returned to the Void.
Vanessa let go of her extinguished cigarette, pointing with a tobacco stained finger at the ring of arcane power still spreading across the island, undulating, destroying every demon in its path as it disappeared into the distance. ‘That could only be Khadgar's work,’ she said, not bothering to hide her admiration. ‘He insisted on joining the front lines of the fight, although how long he'll be able to keep on casting spells of that magnitude is anyone's guess.’
Idira couldn't see him, lost among the smear of men and women fighting for Azeroth, the beach littered with the dead and dying, both Azerothian and demonic, explosions of blue, green, yellow, and orange light erupted, constant now in the wake of Khadgar's spell; a bizarre fireworks display of death, the screams of the dying carrying on the wind, the voices of the dead still living on in Idira's ears even after their last breath had been exhaled.
Within her breast, Idira could feel her own Light stirring, awakening, itching to join the fight against the demons; as though having tasted their deaths back in Westfall, it hungered for more. She watched as the forces of Azeroth moved further into the island, pushing fresh onslaughts of demons back, relentless, until the Azerothians were almost at its centre. For a wild moment, it seemed to Idira they would win, would overcome their foe, when suddenly, everything went wrong. The Azerothian forces split into two and just as each side began to press forward once more towards the terrible, seething citadel, thousands more demons arrived, far more than the men and women of Azeroth could possibly handle. They fell, hundreds of them, maybe a thousand within mere heartbeats. Horns blared, sounding the retreat, an airship bearing a purple envelope arrived. A ship of the Horde. From high atop a hill their survivors fled, a mere handful. Left alone, the forces of the Alliance carried on fighting, though they faced a rapidly losing battle.
‘Why don't they retreat?’ Idira cried out as hundreds more fell, scythed down by the single blade of a dreadlord, as tall as a cathedral spire.
‘Help is coming, look,’ Vanessa pointed at an Alliance airship approaching fast, veering in from the beach at a crazy angle, cannon fire erupting chaotically from its sides. Rope ladders tumbled out, their dangling ends quickly seized upon by those still alive below. Caught in the ship's reeling evasive manoeuvres, the survivors struggled up the ladders, clinging like beetles onto the knotted ropes as the ladders snapped, violent, from side to side.
The ship tilted, its propellers roaring, and hurtled away. Still, the fighting continued, a knot closing in, surrounding one warrior, fighting on, alone.
‘They left one behind!’ Idira screamed. ‘Go back!’ She waved her arms, frantic, at the ship racing past Dalaran. ‘Go back!’
‘They can't hear you,’ Vanessa said, cold, her eyes riveted on the one left alone, fighting, valiant, demons falling around him, left and right.
‘Who is that?’ Idira breathed, her heart trembling, wondering if it might be Logan.
Vanessa reached into her tunic and pulled out a slim tube, keeping her eye on the one left behind, she pulled on one end of the tube. It extended out to the length of Idira's forearm. Vanessa brought it up to her eye.
‘No,’ she breathed. She handed the strange item to Idira, who took it, clumsy.
‘Look through the lens,’ she ordered, impatient as Idira lifted it, uncertain, to her eye, ‘it brings things far away up close. Hurry up, before it's too late.’
Idira pressed the tube against her eye. At first she couldn't see anything, just black, and then the sea, the white caps frothing, up close and in detail.
‘Hurry!’ Vanessa snapped.
Idira slid the lens along the shore, following the path of the dead to the centre of the island and up towards the gates of the dark tower. In her haste, she skimmed over the demons gathered around the solitary warrior too fast, and had to go back, slow.
Then she saw who had been left behind. It wasn't Logan after all, but she wasn't sure she felt any less terrible as she watched King Varian, a glowing sword in each hand, slaughter the last of the demons gathered around him. His chest heaving with exertion, he approached a bent and hooded creature, standing on the steps of the tower. It waited, arrogant, leaning on a staff encrusted with skulls. Around the creature's neck another assortment of skulls dangled. Idira caught her breath, she had seen these creatures before, in her books. An orc, male. He looked up, amused, and sneered at Varian who strode towards him through the churning, sickly, green-tainted light. From under his hood, the orc's eyes glowed a malevolent red. They flared bright. He said something, brief, his lips curving, smug, around his sharp incisors as he lifted his staff and pointed it at the King of the Alliance.
Foul green light burst from the staff and slammed into Varian, sliding over him and into his body. His eyes and mouth opened wide, the light tearing him apart from the inside out, fragmenting him, pouring out from between his armour, blistering out from his eyes and mouth, beams of green fire. He fell to his knees, his arms open wide, as though imploring to the Light to aid him, in this, his final ordeal. The sickly light within him throbbed, pulsing, building in strength. He sank to all fours, his chest heaving. Blinding waves of foul light emanated from him, surging with an incomprehensible intensity. In total silence an explosion of yellow-green light burst away from him, so bright Idira turned away. A heartbeat later the filthy light washed over her, reaching all the way to the walls of Dalaran behind her. The light retreated, racing back across the distance, it slammed into its epicentre, who used to be Varian, it pulsed once, then faded away. Idira lifted the lens back to her eye. Nothing remained of Stormwind's king. Where he last stood, his fallen swords lay forlorn and lost, the magic within them fading. One by one they winked out, following their master's soul to the Light. With a satisfied smirk, the orc turned and walked away, sweeping back up the steps of the dark citadel, his cloak billowing behind him. The demons followed after him, their hooves treading over Varian's swords, burying them into the blackened earth, shattering them into unrecognisable pieces.
Idira lowered the lens, her hands trembling. They had lost. The king was dead, the great hero, Varian Wrynn was gone, and so easily overcome by that orc. She lifted the lens back up again and searched the beachhead, trying to find Logan, but there were too many fallen, bodies lay heaped one on top of the other, not all of them intact. It was impossible. She would never find him. She handed the lens back to Vanessa, who slid it down into its compact size and tucked it back into her tunic.
‘Well,’ Vanessa said, after a long silence. ‘This changes everything.’