Tuesday, November 13, 2012


A collaboration with the player and writer of Eredis Orill.
Written while listening to Pompeii and Arise by E.S. Posthumus.

((I just realized that my magnum opus, the longest piece I've written in a decade or more, isn't on this blog. Since it was co-written with Eredis, it's on his blog but I think it belongs on mine too. So here's the big one, and ironically posted on the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Menethil. We wrote this piece collaboratively over two years, e-mailing it back and forth. Coincidentally, this work formed the beginning of our relationship in person. And seriously, pop those music links open in sequence in another window or something and give them a listen; they really frame the pacing of this piece.))

. . . . . . Golden dawn light limned the sails and almost lent beauty to the war-torn, ice-battered boat docked at the harbor at Valiance Keep. The dawn light struggled in vain against the puffs of sooty steam from the ship’s main power source, the coal fires banked while the ship sat at anchor. On the wooden docks, activity bustled as quickly as if it were well after noon. Pairs of deckhands carried large wooden crates between them from the ship’s hold to the land end of the docks while a leather-skinned man with a flat nose which took up half his face and wearing a grimy quilted coat, screamed threats in a voice more suited to the penguins on the ice floes than the visage of a grizzled old bosun. 
. . . . . . The bosun hadn’t been up more than three hours and he was already in high dudgeon – stuck on the docks like a common longshoreman instead of up in the rigging where he belonged. “If’n ya go droppin’ those crates in ta th’ water, ya best be ready ta jump in afta ‘em, ‘cause those black-‘earted deaders are worse th’n th’ frigid sea!”
. . . . . . A low, raspy voice came from over his left shoulder and about two feet up, “My heart is more of a navy shade, vhat parts of it are not yet vorm-eaten.”
. . . . . . Leathery brown skin visible between a gray woolen cap and an equally bland scarf went slightly green-tinted. “Naga’s tits, ‘ow’d ya sneak up on me wit’ those ‘ooves?”  
. . . . . . “Practice,” the draenei female in heavy plate armor behind him said with a strained chuckle. A brisk wind off the seawater ruffled her short, tarnished white hair but did nothing so kind as to bring extra color to her stiff, ashen ebon-gray face. The glint of dawn off her bladed pauldrons showed the inordinate care she took for her armor. Not even the sea mist or the coal smoke marred the battle-pocked surface. Slung across her back rested a most curious large axe – the blade’s runed edges and the crossed nails hammered into the pommel seeming to hold a fresh-from-the-forge glow despite the winter’s chill.
. . . . . . “Vhen zis is done vith, I am goink somevhere tropical and green,” she muttered to herself, just loud enough for the bosun to overhear. “Perhaps I can convince zat damned dead elf to lose herself in Stranglezorn.” Frowning suddenly, she reached underneath her right pauldron, plated fingers scraping noisily between her breastplate and the shoulder armor as she pulled a small, stiff, blackish-navy worm from the gap allowed by shoulder articulation. “My blood vorms are all frozen over!” she grumbled. The small frozen worm was dropped into a black leather pouch strapped to her belt.  
. . . . . . The bosun turned greener still, harrumphed, and tried his level best to ignore the looming deader at his back and her gruesome parasites. “Watch it, ya addle-pated, bow-legged bilge rats! Tha’s expensive damn cargo!”
. . . . . . Shaking her head, Commander Valdiis left the bosun to scream imprecations at the crew and followed a pair of deckhands up to the land-side of the dock where Major Eredis Orill and the ship’s captain were deep in negotiations. Valdiis presumed it was about payment for shipping and unloading all these supplies for the unit, so she cocked a plate-covered hip against a tall crate and waited. The dockside smelled of stale fish, frigid sea, and coal steam – the mélange sharpened by the winter’s bite that almost made the air itself sparkle with frost. Floating almost innocently in the steely-gray waters were the tips of much larger floes of ice, interspersed with the occasional fin of something predatory and suited to frozen waters.
. . . . . . It wasn’t until one of the deckhands came over to Valdiis and sheepishly motioned for her to abandon the crate that she was leaning on that she stopped sniffing the air and daydreaming about warmer climates, and started paying attention to what the Major and the ship’s captain were saying to one another.  

. . . . . . Two men oversaw the unloading of the ship whilst the Commander instilled a rightful fear into the hearts of the longshoremen and crew. One was in a dirty amalgamation of rags, cloth, and furs – save the captain’s hat atop his brow – and the other seemed subdued in clothing choice, but not in spirit. One could easily tell from the blackened saronite plating and the runed hammer at his belt that this man was one of Mograine’s Own – one of the better terms that death knights were called. Less telling and more confusing was the weighted, spiked, and runed mug hanging from a saronite chain at his other side. It was clear he was fairly high up in his organization with the Lordaeron Oak Leaf that was the sigil of a Major in military service pinned to his unit’s tabard.
. . . . . . “Spoilage is low this time,” he said. His voice was warmer than the draenei terrorizing the bosun, as if well-used even throughout his tenure as something other than just sentient. “You must’ve made good time.”
. . . . . . “Had to, to get you damned deaders your ‘special equipment.’” The ship’s master looked cold and surly, one probably leading to the other. “Had to bu—” Eredis cut the man off with a look. The captain stammered, then fell silent as he realized his bid for more payment disappeared in the dead stare of the Major.  
. . . . . . “That’s nice,” he replied.
. . . . . . “So... If that’s all, then m’boys will be on ou—” The captain of the ship stopped again at another stare.
. . . . . . “Do you know who I am?” he asked.
. . . . . . The ship’s master shook his head.  
. . . . . . “Eredis Orill,” said the death knight. “Quartermaster. And I have a case of Alterac brandy that needs factoring in Stormwind. Two bottles and twenty golds should take care of the stacks you nearly melted getting up here with haste, hmm?”  
. . . . . . For a long moment, the only thing one could hear was the chill wind blowing off the Frozen Straits, causing warm-blooded longshoremen to wave at Valdiis leaning against a crate to move so they could finish offloading it. Of course the ship’s master had heard of him. There were few in the transport industry who hadn’t.  
. . . . . . The moment passed, and the captain cleared his throat.
. . . . . . “Done. Who do I drop it off to?”  
. . . . . . A parchment changed hands with a bag of coins. “All the details are there.”
. . . . . . The two men parted company, Eredis waving Valdiis over as the crates were stacked on the dock. He turned thereafter and waved at another group of plate-clad Knights to come over and start loading the crates onto the wagons, each pulled by Deathcharger.
. . . . . . “Commander, let the Captain handle the loading. We’re getting coffee.”

 . . . . . . “Coffee,” Eredis started, “is one of the greatest developments to come from Dalaran since sharp cheese.”
. . . . . . They sat within the dockside inn, the roaring fire enough to warm even the chill wafting off the Major although both he and Valdiis sat half a floor above it at a small table on the landing. The inn personnel seemed more used to death knights than the average Stormwind citizen, which was a delight in itself – they didn’t have to worry about rotten fruit and poorly-worded epithets. The bloodstains from the Major’s inaugural visit had long since been cleaned up, and the cultist who was the cook in back had since been replaced.  
. . . . . . And the coffee was wonderful.
. . . . . . Two such mugs rested on the table with a tea service between them. One remained black, though there was evidence of sugar around the mug. The other mug was full of a rich, light brown liquid with swirls of white to which Valdiis added another spoonful of sugar.  
. . . . . . “Zis tastes horrible, Major.” Valdiis made a stiff but clearly displeased face. “Zis tastes like roots. Dirtied roots, at zat.”  
. . . . . . Eredis laughed. “Just drink it, Commander. It’ll warm your core while the Captain bungles the loading operation. Then think of the taste and how it makes you feel while you yell at them all for screwing up.”  
. . . . . . She harrumphed, taking a second sip and nodding approvingly, “Not so bitter now. Vhy are ve here offloadink instead of fightink?”  
. . . . . . Eredis rolled his shoulders in a shrug. His mug was already half empty, and he was assessing the battered pot that contained the rest with a calculating eye. “Because it’s our duty, Commander. The General wants the gear there so we can break straight in this time, instead of cracking open holes for everyone else to scurry into.”
. . . . . . “Hmph,” she replied. “Stupid to vaste good fighters on supply runs.”
. . . . . . “It’s sti–…”
. . . . . . Eredis’s response was cut off by the shrill cry of a young lad out of breath, running for the inn door. “Major! Maaaaaajor! It’s haaaaappening!”
. . . . . . Coffee forgotten, the Major was on his feet and to the door as the fur-clad stable boy burst in, cheeks pink from exertion.  
. . . . . . “What is it, Jimmy?” he asked, stopping him with an ungloved hand on the boy’s shoulder.
. . . . . . “It’s like you said, sir!” the stable boy replied, heaving for breath. “They changed the time! The two Colonels – I just got word from the Temple caravan! They left this morning with mounts and a full combat squad from Scourgeholme! The assault is today!”
. . . . . . Valdiis and Eredis shared a look. No words were exchanged, but there was a conversation lasting several moments contained therein.
. . . . . . We should be there.
. . . . . . You’re right, we should.
. . . . . . But we are supposed to be here.
. . . . . . We can ask for permission to engage. Once we get there.
 . . . . . . “CAPTAIN!” Eredis bellowed as they both raced outside, “You’re in charge! Get those supplies moving double-time! Pack them on gryphons if you have to! The Commander and I are going ahead!”
. . . . . . Inside, Jimmy took what had been Valdiis’s seat at the table and beamed at a huge frosted cupcake before him.  
. . . . . . Two shrill whistles echoed in the morning air, answering shrieks coming from the tundra. Within moments, a green netherdrake and a snowy hippogryph were on the ground, waiting for their riders.
. . . . . “Let us move quickly!” Valdiis shouted as she threw a hoof over the hippogryph’s saddled back. “Zere vill not be anyzink left by ze time ve get zere!”  
. . . . . . “I don’t think that will be a problem,” came the somber, but entertained reply.  

. . . . . . The trip went fast, both parties silent as they urged their mounts as fast as they could go. They flew into the glare of the sun, unable to see if there were errant Scourge waiting. The tundra below flew by, Taunka pointing up and grunting an alarm as they darted over the hunting camps that the tribes had retreated to. Few other living creatures moved, the entirety of Northrend waiting, breathless, for the events in Icecrown Citadel to play out.
. . . . . . “1113th, this is Major Orill,” he started on the unit-wide communicator. “Colonels Frostsprocket and Celuur have initiated engagement at Icecrown Citadel. Commander Valdiis and I are moving to reinforce – all available assets are to move to the Citadel immediately. Arthas dies today. That is all.”  
. . . . . . Eager to get a situation report, Eredis set his communicator to ‘General Chatter,’ patching into the open Allied line. The whistling of the air and the beating of drake and hippogryph wings turned into the panicked noise of a massive assault on the Citadel itself. Everyone, literally everyone, was massing on the tower.
. . . . . . Netherdrake and hippogryph crested the unusually silent cliffs of Wintergrasp, and the source of the radio chatter became as clear as the chill sky that surrounded the Citadel itself. Black specks cycled through the air in a hypnotic dance of carnage, gnomish recon fighters and goblin heavy bombers firing at anything that moved. Both Knights could see Skybreaker and Orgrim’s Hammer on opposite ends of the engagement area, the early afternoon sun’s rays shining against the glow of heavy rounds burning through the air, of rockets finding gargoyles, and of val’kyr and frostwyrms harrying interceptors and airships alike.
. . . . . . The flagships were aflame in places, damage sustained from fighting the Scourge and fighting each other. The Hammer meant little, but the Skybreaker would be too valuable to lose. Eredis shouted into the communicator, “Skybreaker, this is Major Orill with the ‘Thirteenth. Get fire control on deck! The Knights of Menethil will keep your skies clear!”
. . . . . . Skybreaker wasn’t long in responding. “Negative! Keep the val’kyr off the tower! We have an assault team near the Lich King now! … But if you can slow down the frostwyrms long enough for us to take a shot, we’ll take it!”
. . . . . . “Understood, Skybreaker!”  
. . . . . . Keeping an ear on the chatter for a moment, Eredis yelled, “Commander! We’re on air interdiction! Whoever kills the most val’kyr wins dinner!”
. . . . . . “Vhat about ze vyrms?”
. . . . . . “I’ll bake a cake for every one that dies!”
. . . . . . Galvanized by the battle before them, both mounts spurred forward, talons ready. A cloud of spectral, winged figures around the Citadel’s spire caught their attention, and Eredis waved to Valdiis.  
. . . . . . “Pull off as many val’kyr as you can! I’ve got a dragon to slay!”  
. . . . . . “Yes, sir!” she cried in response, her weapon already readied in one hand as her hippogryph took the lead. Eredis tucked into her left flank as the distance closed, goblin flak rockets exploding alarmingly close as they sped through the center of the combat zone.
. . . . . . Abruptly, Valdiis was without support as the Major braked, then gained altitude as the cry of a frostwyrm rang out in the air, followed by the huffing of its breath as it tried to freeze the marines aboard the Skybreaker. Her backup now otherwise occupied, she chose a val’kyr getting perilously close to the platform where she could see tiny figures fighting another she knew to be the Traitor Prince, Arthas Menethil.  
. . . . . . Leaning forward to create less resistance, she yelled a battle cry as her hippogryph crossed right in front of the val’kyr intent on mischief. It sounded more like a harpy than a death-maiden of the Scourge as it shouted an alarm, and not one but four val’kyr broke off from their attempts at harrying the strike force to give chase. A feral grin upon her features, Valdiis nudged her mount higher, bleeding off airspeed before she banked and dropped, turning both draenei and mount into a ballistic projectile.
. . . . . . A scream muffled by the thin air of high altitude mingled with the snicker-snack of an axe-blade biting home into a form more spectral than corporeal. It was no less susceptible than any other form to a blade imbued with death magic aimed directly for the core. As the axe found its mark, so too did the edge of a glaive against the hippogryph’s left side. The low and armored saddle stopped what Valdiis’s armored leg did not. Flexing her plate-covered knees – the first set of them – against the sides of her specially-bred Argent war hippogryph and ignoring the spurt of blood from beneath the crumpled titansteel greave, Valdiis guided the white-feathered Kamilorah out of the way as the val’kyr’s motionless form plummeted out of the sky.  
. . . . . . A bubbling glow of decay faded from the edges of her axe, though the ever-burning metal still glowed hot. Wielding the giant two-handed blade in one hand as easily as if it were a small hatchet, Valdiis whistled a note to her hippogryph and together draenei and mount dove for another of the spectral val’kyr fighters which had broken off from harrying the forces battling on the Throne’s platform to give chase.
. . . . . . “Zat is one!” she shouted to the Major over the roar of air past her ebon-gray face, the stiffness of death subsumed beneath the exhilaration of battle. Spiraling back upwards after catching a val’kyr’s ire with a well-placed coil of blackish-green death magic, she came quite close to clipping the netherdrake Verdein’s right wing and laughed it off. As long as the spectral death-maiden was chasing her instead of carrying off the strike team below, everything was according to design – even the near misses and blood trails.

 . . . . . . Aboard Skybreaker, a draenei and a dwarf lounged near a quiescent cannon while marines hurried about, putting out fires and fending off frostwyrms, gargoyles, and val’kyr. Their attention was focused on the tiny figures darting in and out of the defense zone, drawing off Scourge forces as best they could. The cannon was silent, but prepared for anti-aircraft fire. For the most part, they were left alone – their job had begun with transporting the strike team to the upper floors of the Citadel itself, and now it ended in spotting the frostwyrms so the cannoneers could get a clear shot.
. . . . . . “Rosoe,” the dwarf abruptly drawled.
. . . . . . “Bergmann,” the draenei responded.  
. . . . . . “I bet ye...fi’ silvers tha’ th’ lass gets three afore she gets de...thingied.”  
. . . . . . “What? Archimonde’s shriveled balls! That is preposterous!”  
. . . . . . “Why d’ye think tha’? I figger m’ spirits know more th’n yer spirits.”  
. . . . . . “It is not about the spirits! She is a trained draenei fighter! She will take down at least seven, and still stay aloft! And I thought you fought with her!”
. . . . . . “...An’ I’m sayin’ three. Fi’ silvers on et.”
. . . . . . “...Five silvers.”  
. . . . . . “Aye.”  
. . . . . . “Alright. I will take pleasure in you losing money.”
. . . . . . “I dinnae see tha’ happenin’.”

 . . . . . . Eredis could see Valdiis antagonizing a whole host of val’kyr as the body of one dropped on three more. A chorus of cries filtered down to the cloud that was starting to disperse from the Citadel’s spire. The Major smiled, nudging Verdein across a frostwyrm’s line of sight for a third time, throwing the bone dragon’s aim off.  
. . . . . . After three such passes, it took the bait. With a howl that could only be described as draconic rage, the frostwyrm gave chase after the comparatively small enemy. Its jaws started snapping after the netherdrake, and the Major risked a look back to see how close it was.  
. . . . . . It was at this moment that Eredis realized that a frostwyrm’s breath stinks.
. . . . . . “Dive!” he cried as he flattened himself against Verdein, the netherdrake abruptly dropping into a controlled spin and narrowly missing doom at the jaws of the Scourged wyrm.  

. . . . . . High above the frozen ground, the thin air seemed to amplify the distant sounds and muffle the closer ones. The gentle, feathered whuffs of Kamilorah’s wing beats were drowned out entirely by the sounds of the battle on the Throne far below. Fireballs exploded with arcane power and blades blessed by the righteousness of those fighting for life clanged. She could have sworn she even heard an Alliance battle cry somewhere amidst the incoherent shouts.
. . . . . . A battle-lust of such fervor and certainty as she had not felt since years before her death overtook Valdiis. These val’kyr were just vrykul spirits without the strength given by the Light to regain their freedom like she had or the ability to hold a solid body together like she could. They were nothing more than fleeting obstacles between her and vengeance for all the pain she and her brothers – in arms and in blood – had suffered. They could not even hope to reach her skill with a blade. They had no chance of landing a bl-…
. . . . . . As she wove among the three val’kyr surrounding her, her axe-blade singing last rites as it moved, the few seconds of icy battle clarity Valdiis had shattered. So did the bones of her right hand. The val’kyr pressed its spectral form against the draenei as it tried to use the mace that had just crushed her hand to catch the downward curve of her axe to disarm her and its body to unseat her. Kamilorah cawed nervously as his wing became entangled with the val’kyr’s legs and the three of them began spiraling sharply down and to the right.  
. . . . . . Runes glowed like reddened coals against the molten orange of the blade’s edge as Valdiis drew on their power, coaxing the nascent magic of spilled blood to mingle with blood runes inscribed on the titansteel vambraces strapped over her forearms. The runes on her vambraces seemed to pulse with a slow heartbeat while the val’kyr and draenei struggled against one another. Her right hand useless for holding the axe anyway, Valdiis released her grip on her axe with it and snapped her forearm up beneath the val’kyr’s chin, releasing the magic of the runes in a strike that ordinarily would have gone for the heart, but instead left a gaping hole beneath the val’kyr’s chin.  
. . . . . . Abruptly, Kamilorah’s rightward spiraling stopped, although they were still losing airspeed at an alarming rate. The val’kyr’s shriek was more of a gurgle as it fell back, translucent wings beating heavily as it tried to recover for another maneuver. It seemed proper somehow that the battle far below at the Throne was louder to her than the crunching grate of bone shards as she forced her right hand to obey her commands anyway, unwinding a length of chain from her waist as her left hand held her axe in a defensive stance across her torso.
. . . . . . The hippogryph stabilized and began climbing, dodging the three val’kyr while his rider recovered. Dripping ichor from the wound it had been given, the val’kyr shot upwards and then folded its wings to drop down on Valdiis. Another grate of bones being forced to do what they were no longer truly able to and the length of chain snapped out, wrapping around the val’kyr’s ribs and wings. A chill beyond even the frigidity of Icecrown’s peaks flared briefly and the chain links locked in ice around the val’kyr. Flightless, it tumbled away with a gurgling cry.
. . . . . . “Two,” Valdiis gasped out as her not-deadened-enough nerves set up an extra strong hue and cry over her hand. There were moments when the regenerative powers Lord Thorval had taught her to bring her body’s systems back to a muted sense of ‘life’ really…really…sucked.  

. . . . . . In the skies above Icecrown, two dragons fought. One was entirely dead, fleshless and imbued with unholy power. One was alive and well, though carrying an entirely dead but ambulatory human on its back - also imbued with unholy power.
. . . . . . It had all the sinuous movement of a pair of cats fighting. Verdein darted in with talons and teeth, Eredis with mug and hammer, and they would chip a bone or break a femur before moving off for another pass. The frostwyrm spat blue flames at them or tried to buffet them with its bone wings, focused more on the larger problem of the Skybreaker.
. . . . . . During one of those moments of diverted attention, Eredis and Verdein directed a precision strike. Coming in low as if a shark in the skies above the battlefield, Verdein flipped in a fast roll to snatch a talon off the frostwyrm with his own, righting himself just in time for Eredis to smash a second with his three-spined hammer. As the fragments rained down on the field below, the air split with a furious screech of a disarmed construct.

 . . . . . . In a flurry of white feathers and darkened plate armor, Valdiis and Kamilorah rolled in midair to the frustrated shriek of the val’kyr on the hippogryph’s streaming tail. The soft strands of bluish-white hair that made up the tail were smeared with red and navy blood, but his wings still beat strong and his beak was sharp. That sharp beak whipped to the side in tandem with a distracting feint from Valdiis’s axe. The val’kyr – intent on the death knight’s weapon – missed the fact that a trained battle mount is just as much of a weapon in a death knight’s hands as a blade.
. . . . . . The spectral-but-solid val’kyr cried out some sort of curse about her master having the final word as the hippogryph’s beak ripped through her side, but it was lost amidst the howling winds buffeting the spires high above the Throne. Valdiis tapped a knee against her mount’s right side and he canted left to allow the val’kyr’s corpse fall free.  
. . . . . . “Zat is three!” she shouted to the winds, tilting her head back to look up away from the Throne and try to spot Eredis and Verdein. She only searched for a second or two though, knowing that a fourth val’kyr was still in the air. Where was…? Aha. There. With a low whistle that was barely audible in the winds, but clear enough for Kamilorah to hear, she directed her mount into another upwards climb. The val’kyr in the air several dozen feet above her didn’t seem to have realized that its quarry was below it now.  
. . . . . . Valdiis hefted her axe in her left hand and drew upon one of the runes of death inscribed on the blade, gathering a coil of blackish-green magic to smash into the val’kyr as she approached. Before she had enough power gathered, the val’kyr’s wings folded and it dropped rapidly, spinning as it did so with a wickedly-curved spear pointed towards the draenei. Caught off-guard – how did the val’kyr know she was approaching? – Valdiis could only squeeze her legs tightly against her mount’s sides as he banked left to dodge the spear.
. . . . . . Too late, too little, too slow. The spear tore through the bird’s wing with a splash of red blood and a flurry of white feathers. Despite the thin air, his shrill, pained caw was loud as he jerked the wing to his side, the spear embedded in the meaty flesh of the upper bend of the limb. The val’kyr holding onto the haft of the spear was jerked in by the movement and used the added momentum to barrel into the hippogryph’s rider. Battle cry mixed with surprised yell mixed with pained shriek as the three of them tumbled over and over in the air high above the glacier.
. . . . . . Valdiis released the coil of death magic into to the val’kyr’s face as she caught a glimpse of another wickedly-curved blade. The val’kyr’s dagger scraped against her saronite breastplate with a horrendous screech, but she was protected. With a howl of rage, the death-maiden scrabbled against Valdiis’s breastplate with one hand, plunging the dagger against her armored body over and over with the other.
. . . . . . Her left leg shook from the effort of clinging doggedly to the saddle, the crushed plate on her calf seeming to press her leg away from the saddle even as her knee pressed inwards. Another tumbling roll. They were falling fast. She had to do something about this val’kyr quickly.
. . . . . . And then the val’kyr did something about itself. It braced its spectral legs against Kamilorah’s side, wrapped its arms around Valdiis’s waist, and kicked backwards, yanking them both free from the injured hippogryph. A Draenei curse ended on a swiftly indrawn breath as the val’kyr’s dagger burned a white-hot line up Valdiis’s ribs – the damned spectre found the gap where her breastplate closed.
. . . . . . Valdiis chanced a glance downwards, watching Kamilorah’s blood-spattered form spiral away below her as the val’kyr kept stabbing frantically at the gap in her armor. Each stab was tainted with the very Scourge magic Valdiis twisted to her own ends, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t damned uncomfortable. The blade jammed between two of her ribs. Her battle training told her where to strike to break the grip on her waist, to knock the val’kyr unconscious or dead with a blow – but some entirely uncharacteristic instinct kept her hanging on to the val’kyr instead of delivering the killing blow. It tried to break the draenei’s grip on its torso, bobbing and dipping in the air, screeching in frustration. This turn of events had left the val’kyr and the death knight in an odd - if temporary - stalemate.
 . . . . . . He’d lost precious seconds antagonizing the frostwyrm when he saw Valdiis dismounted by an irate val’kyr. Verdein evidently saw it as well – somehow he’d taken a liking to the draenei, Eredis thought – and both of them moved as one. The netherdrake dove, pulling up sharply as Eredis left the hammer aside and took his tankard by the saronite chain, swinging it as the dead-weight it was about to make the death-maiden.
. . . . . . What began as a faraway speck quickly formed into an amalgamated blob of draenei and spectre wrestling with one another, the weight of the death knight’s armor causing an instinctual reaction to hang on instead of simply let go. Verdein saw it, and the drake turned so Eredis had a clear shot as they sped from below to above in the fraction of a second.  

. . . . . . There was a massive jolt above her and the spectral grip on her waist was gone. Top-heavy from her pauldrons, Valdiis pitched forward in the air and began falling head first. Far below her, she could see the flashes and fires of the forces battling on the Throne itself. A slithering hiss, a clank and a rattle – and the chain around her neck caught on the curve of her horns, the small, pearly orb encased in delicate mithril filigree swinging free to fall between her face and the battle hundreds of feet below.  
. . . . . . The Light. Faith. Righteousness, she thought as the wind shrieked past her ears, the orb a symbol to her of all these. Dagone helping her forge the mithril. Kensaij teaching her to do the intricate filigree. Eredis nonchalantly passing her the box in which he’d packed the orb. Friendship... Images and memories flashed through her mind in seconds. Celuur helping her lay her eldest brother’s ghost to rest. Kylea giving her an awkward hug at the fire shrine in the Exodar. Bergmann praising her command at Pyrewood. Watching from the shadows of the Stormwind streets as her brothers, Diyos and Athos, leave their bookshop, alive and safe and well.
. . . . . . The wind whistling past became a deafening scream and the battle – still far below – became a flash of blue-white light so brilliant that she was forced to close her eyes against the glare. Her leg ached, her side ached, her hand ached. She was so tired…
. . . . . . At least I got my three kills.
. . . . . . An ear-splitting screech of talons on metal accompanied a second, massive jolt and the pain in her side increased exponentially as her downward plummet arrested. Her eyes snapped open only to see the world spin madly around her as she was caught in – she twisted her head to look – a netherdrake’s talons. A familiar netherdrake’s talons… Major Eredis Orill’s boot was just visible around the mount’s side.  
. . . . . . “Not done yet, Commander!” he yelled as Verdein took a better hold despite the draenei’s pained scream. “I still want my dragon!”  

. . . . . . “Rosoe.”
. . . . . . “...Bergmann.”  
. . . . . . “Tha’s fi’ silver.”
. . . . . . “...I hate you.”

 . . . . . . They became less like a drake and rider and more like a ballistic dart. Verdein’s wings folded back along his spine leaving Eredis between them and Valdiis below. Before the unlikely trio, the frostwyrm the Major had been hunting was making a strike on the Skybreaker’s port engine, breaking off as the flash of shadow against sunlight clued it in that hostile intent was fast approaching.  
. . . . . . As quick as the gunners on the Skybreaker could blink, a saronite-and-emerald blur had flashed past both airship and frostwyrm, a blast of unholy energy getting the construct’s attention. With a hiss, it forgot about the battery-bristled airship and gave pursuit.
. . . . . . Eredis let the tankard fall to his side and swing from the chain while he took his other mainstays - the three-spined hammer anchored to his belt with another length of saronite chain, and the rope-tethered throwing-spear he’d had on Verdein’s back ever since he stole it from the Hyldsmeet - and managed an ungainly stand on the drake. 

. . . . . . “Commander!” he shouted, readying the spear. “Get back to the Skybreaker and remount when you can! Verdein, get her there!”
. . . . . . He could see the frostwyrm diving from a higher elevation, and he readied the spear. Wait for it...
. . . . . . The moment came. Eredis threw the spear, the rope around his wrist as he saw it fly true.
. . . . . . “Verdein! Break!”
. . . . . . The netherdrake juked hard right then rolled left, bucking Eredis off as the frostwyrm dove towards the ground. It was only a moment before the Major was jerked after the wyrm, the rope snapping taut then becoming slack again as inertia closed the gap. He scrabbled for his hammer as the frostwyrm leveled and prepared to turn to attack the retreating netherdrake, readying for a potentially deadly collision.

. . . . . . “Rosoe!”
. . . . . . “BERGMANN, WH—”
. . . . . . “No’ now! Get on th’ cannon!”
. . . . . . “For what? We are not going to hit a frostwyrm!”
. . . . . . The dwarf pointed at a dark speck near such a frostwyrm that was leveling out. Draenei and dwarf both watched the speck collide, and the wyrm’s screech echoed throughout the valley as it bent under the impact in midair, then started bucking wildly.
. . . . . . “Bergmann, you are crazy!”
. . . . . . “No! Tha’ man’s crazy! ‘E’s goin’ tae give us a shot!”  
. . . . . . “Fine! FINE! We have six rockets!”
. . . . . . “Fuse ‘em fer contact! We’ll get one wee sho’ at et!”

 . . . . . . The wyrm’s shrill cry wasn’t the only one. The human on its back was crying out with it – less a cry of pain than of irate annoyance, the saronite plating on his legs buckled and bone jutting from one leg. The three-spined hammer was embedded in the frostwyrm’s ribcage now – but so was the Major’s foot. He had certainly gotten the construct’s attention.
. . . . . . Hovering almost even with the front gate of the Citadel, the bony frostwyrm began bucking in midair, trying to throw the plate-wearing monstrosity off its back. Each undulation brought additional elevation, but could not dislodge the death knight who was quite attached to his new steed. It heaved with great bone wings, hissed, roared, and spit blue flames at the battlefield below – yet it could still feel the spines of a heavy saronite hammer lodged near what once were vital areas.
. . . . . . It was the rocket burst that finally drew the wyrm’s attention away from the ineffectual Knight on its back. A rickety bomber of goblin design had broken away from the sortie higher above, where val’kyr, fighters of both Horde and Alliance, and gargoyles all scrambled together in one giant ball of blood and ichor. Figuring on an easy kill, the little green pilot had fired a barrage from his wing-mounted pods, but only one had gotten close enough to make the dragon feel the explosion.  
. . . . . . As the frostwyrm changed modes from hover to evade, the pattering of heavy-caliber rounds walked down the tail and up the spine, moving perilously close to Eredis. He inscribed a fast frost rune so the rounds chipped away at a thick sheen of ice which covered his armor and flesh – though the burst sheared through the rope holding him to his spear and he lost the weapon in the smoke and movement.  
. . . . . . The next moments were a blur to everyone on the field as a fast-moving goblin interceptor chased a faster frostwyrm through clouds of gargoyles and val’kyr, too fast for anything to take aim at. Bullets ripped through the air where the wyrm had been moments before, sending a gnomish bomber down in flames. The flying drew close and closer to the Orgrim’s Hammer, flak cannon on board still tracking even as the flight crew worked to put out the fires and repair the damage incurred during the short fight with the Skybreaker at the Citadel’s spire.
. . . . . . Through the smoke and frosty air, Eredis could see the trailing tip of his Hyldsmeet spear and the rope, just a few feet from where he was stuck. The weapon had gotten tangled around the frostwyrm’s neck and it didn’t notice, occupied as it was by the pursuit of the goblin and the large airship about to fi-...  
. . . . . . Explosions ripped through the air once more as the cannons fired and shells burst around them. The wyrm banked sharp left, away from the airship and into the grand melee around them – and then rolled hard right to head straight for the Hammer itself with the goblin fighter in close pursuit. Shouting erupted from the Hammer as the flight crew saw the frostwyrm hissing steam, creating a cloud thick enough that Eredis couldn’t see.
. . . . . . And if the Knight couldn’t see, the goblin in the plane behind him certainly couldn’t either. The wyrm flashed past the dual airbags of the Horde airship, just skirting the deck as the fighter impacted against the deck itself. Eredis could feel the heat of the exploding plane as its payload ignited, sending orcs, trolls, and every Horde in between for the evacuation gigs.
. . . . . . The wyrm shook itself a few times and seemed satisfied with the result. Lazily, as if it felt it had achieved total victory, it drew its attention back to the other airship in its skies. Eredis realized in but a moment what had happened: the wyrm had forgotten.
. . . . . . He looked around, gaining his bearings, and saw a flash of green behind him. Neither Commander nor netherdrake had listened to his order - he did make the order, didn’t he? - and were gaining ground. The chatter from his comm told him that the Skybreaker had its hands full and could do little, if anything, about the frostwyrm coming up on its aft.  
. . . . . . Well then, he thought, it will just have to be up to us.
 . . . . . . He leaned forward just far enough that he could grab the spear as the shattered bone in his leg ground against the saronite boot he wore. The anchor rope attached to it was still too far out of reach! The Knight gritted his teeth and continued to strain and pull as the rope grated across the wyrm’s neck - and at this, it took notice and began to buck again as it got closer to the Skybreaker. Eredis could tell it meant to hit it from below, nice and fast, to try to detonate the large bomb in the bay.
. . . . . . Nothing for it, he decided. They can put back together what’s left.  
. . . . . . With a battle cry, he threw himself forward and felt the tendons and ligaments that kept his knee attached to the rest of the leg separate. His hand extended out as far as he could reach, his fingers could just touch the frayed end of the rope where the goblin had shot through it.  
. . . . . . The Skybreaker grew closer. The wyrm flew faster. The Knight reached just a little farther...  
. . . . . . And pulled back as hard as he could. As if by instinct, the frostwyrm flung its wings out to catch a draft and flew up instead of forward, right past the propellers that kept the Skybreaker aloft. Right past the cannons that had been pouring fire into Scourge air units and ground units alike. All forward momentum had stopped as it graced the top of the flight deck, illuminated in the afternoon sun.  

. . . . . . “TITAN’S TESTICLES! FIRE!” 

 . . . . . . The chill of the afternoon air gave way to an incredible heat and pressure as his world detonated. The force of the blast blew him off the frostwyrm as it exploded, the rope and saronite chain attaching him to his anchors incinerated in the blast. White-hot pain faded back to the dull, chill ache of dying flesh and icy air. Surrounded by scraps of bone, many battering his armor before he fell free, he was to herald the arrival of a white rain of decay onto the ground of the glacier below. 
. . . . . . It took Eredis a moment to reorient himself, as high up as he was. He could tell he was falling but not how, until he shifted and could see a flash at the top of the Throne tower as he sped by it. The jolt that accompanied it caused his heart to beat once, and magnify all of his pains a hundredfold. 
. . . . . . Arthas had fallen. The strike team had succeeded.  
. . . . . . As quickly as it came, the feelings faded. A satisfied smile on his face, Eredis twisted in the wind to face the ground as it rushed towards him. His feet above him and facing directly down, he closed his eyes.
. . . . . . Hell of a ride.  
. . . . . . The falling Knight heard a whistle and a silvery flash of feathers flying straight up met a plate-clad stone falling down. Eredis felt ribs separate as four cries split the air - two animal, two other - and opened his eyes. 
. . . . . . Kamilorah, Valdiis’s hippogryph, had caught him. One wing looked to be in terrible shape and they were merely gliding towards the Skybreaker flight deck with no control of speed. The creature seemed dazed, feathers and fur matted with blood. Above him, Eredis could see glistening bone in Verdein’s right flank, shrapnel from an exploding frostwyrm changing the way the netherdrake was flapping his wings.  
. . . . . . That is to say, flapping them not at all.  

. . . . . . “Clear th’ deck! Two comin’ in hot!”  
. . . . . . The shout startled marines and support crew aboard the Skybreaker to scatter, two wavering specks in the sky solidifying into a netherdrake carrying one Knight in his talons, and a hippogryph with a second Knight barely mounted. Neither looked like they were particularly rated for flight at the moment, but the trajectory both had chosen was one that didn’t exactly require a lot of skill. 
. . . . . . One of the specks dipped erratically, gaining speed as the Skybreaker’s crew cleared as much space as they could allow. It wasn’t enough for the netherdrake to land, but he didn’t seem to mind it as he released his undead cargo unceremoniously onto the deck and banked off in a right-ward, one-winged glide for greener pastures – or snowier glaciers. 
. . . . . . The hippogryph had no such fortune. A vicious crosswind whipped up, shearing the bird off his intended landing pattern and he skidded across the deck, finally throwing his passenger off as his front talons scrabbled to find purchase on the polished planks. 
. . . . . . The plate-clad passenger clattered against the decks before finally coming to rest contorted most painfully against a pile of crates that marines had been more recently using for cover against both frostwyrm and val’kyr during the assault on the Citadel proper. From the state of his equipment, onlookers could easily see he knew all about both aerial foes, and they had seen both him and the draenei the netherdrake dropped off attempting to deny Arthas his sky-borne assets to deploy against the strike team on the Citadel’s Throne. 
. . . . . . The ringing in his ears subsided, and his vision swam until it focused on two plated boots standing in front of him and – farther off – another pile of saronite and titansteel armor that had to have been Valdiis. She didn’t look much better than he did.  
. . . . . . “Is our air secure?” Eredis asked. His voice sounded like he’d swallowed a pound of gravel. Looking up, he saw the plated boots were indeed attached to legs which were attached to a shining crimson beard. Of course it would be the dwarf. The dwarf was everywhere. 
. . . . . . “Oh aye, Major,” the dwarf replied. “Brilliant bit wi’ th’ frostwyrm. Rosoe go’ a nice piece of et.” 
. . . . . . Eredis coughed, trying to look around. It still sounded like his ears were ringing a bit.  
. . . . . . “I’ll have to bake her a cake. What’s the status of the rest of the battle, Sergeant Bergmann?” 
 . . . . . . He could swear he saw the dwarf smile somewhere in the recesses of that beard. “Kinnae ye ‘ear, Major? Arthas ‘as fallen, an’ et was by th’ grace o’ th’ Light an' th' spirits the’selves tha’ they ‘eard me clear th’ deck for ye.” 
. . . . . . Amidst the cheers of the crew he could now hear, there was another distinctly draenei voice, “Major Grumpypants said he would bake a cake? Ask him when!”  
. . . . . . The dwarf said something back which Eredis didn’t catch, then looked down at him again. “Ye be in a bad way, Major. Ye kinnae keep doin’ this, else ye’ll no’ live t’ see th’ sun rise!” 
 . . . . . . Despite the pain, Eredis started laughing, a low roar that started to rise above the cheers on the deck. “Hear that, Valdiis? We might not live to see sunrise!” 
. . . . . . He heard an answering hysterical cackle from the other pile of saronite on the deck being tended to by corpsmen. Eredis closed his eyes, satisfied.  
. . . . . . “Tell your gunner tomorrow, Sergeant. We’ll celebrate tomorrow.”

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