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It had once seemed to some of the Kirin Tor, the magical conclave that ruled the small nation of Dalaran, that the world of Azeroth had never known anything but constant bloodshed. There had been the trolls, before the forming of the Alliance of Lordaeron, and when at last humanity had dealt with that foul menace, the first wave of orcs had descended upon the lands, appearing out of a horrific rip in the very fabric of the universe. At first, nothing had seemed able to stop these grotesque invaders, but gradually what had looked to be a horrible slaughter had turned instead into an agonizing stalemate. Battles had been won by attrition. Hundreds had died on both sides, all seemingly for no good reason. For years, the Kirin Tor had foreseen no end.
But that had finally changed. The Alliance had at last managed to push back the Horde, eventually routing them entirely. Even the orcs' great chieftain, the legendary Orgrim Doomhammer, had been unable to stem the advancing armies and had finally capitulated. With the exception of a few renegade clans, the surviving invaders had been rounded up into enclaves and kept under secure watch by military units led personally by members of the Knights of the Silver Hand. For the first time in many, many years, lasting peace looked to be a promise, not a faint wish.
And yet...a sense of unease still touched the senior council of the Kirin Tor. Thus it was that the highest of the high met in the Chamber of the Air, so-called because it seemed a room without walls, only a vast, ever-changing sky with clouds, light, and darkness, racing past the master wizards as if the time of the world had sped up. Only the gray, stone floor with its gleaming diamond symbol, representing the four elements, gave any solidity to the scene.
Certainly the wizards themselves did nothing in that regard, for they, clad in their dark cloaks that covered not only face but form, seemed to waver with the movements of the sky, almost as if they, too, were but illusion. Although their numbers included both men and women, the only sign of that was whenever one of them spoke, at which point a face would become partially visible, if somewhat indistinct in detail.
There were six this meeting, the six most senior, although not necessarily the most gifted. The leaders of the Kirin Tor were chosen by several means, magic but one of them.
"Something is happening in Khaz Modan," announced the first in a stentorian voice, the vague image of a bearded face briefly visible. A myriad pattern of stars floated through his body. "Near or in the caverns held by the Dragonmaw clan."
"Tell us something we don't already know," rasped the second, a woman likely of elder years but still strong of will. A moon briefly shone through her cowl. "The orcs there remain one of the few holdouts, now that Doomhammer's warriors have surrendered and the chieftain's gone missing."
The first mage clearly took some umbrage, but he kept himself calm as he replied. "Very well! Perhaps this will interest you more.... I believe Deathwing is on the move again."
This startled the rest, the elder woman included. Night suddenly changed into day, but the wizards ignored what, for them, was a common thing in this chamber. Clouds drifted past the head of the third of their number, who clearly did not believe this statement.
"Deathwing is dead!" the third declared, his form the only one hinting at corpulence. "He plunged into the sea months ago after this very council and a gathering of our strongest struck the mortal blow! No dragon, even him, could withstand such might!"
Some of the others nodded, but the first went on. "And where was the corpse? Deathwing was like no other dragon. Even before the goblins sealed the adamantium plates to his scaly hide, he offered a threat with the potential to dwarf that of the Horde...."
"But what proof do you have of his continued existence?" This from a young woman clearly in the bloom of youth. Not as experienced as the others, but still powerful enough to be one of the council. "What?"
"The death of two red dragons, two of Alexstrasza's get. Torn asunder in a manner only one of their own kind -- one of gargantuan proportions -- could have managed."
"There are other large dragons."
A storm began to rage, the lightning and rain falling upon the wizards and yet touching neither them nor the floor. The storm passed in the blink of an eye, a blazing sun once more appearing overhead. The first of the Kirin Tor gave this latest display not even the least of his interest. "You have obviously never seen the work of Deathwing, or you'd never make that statement."
"It may be as you say," interjected the fifth, the outline of a vaguely elven visage appearing and disappearing faster than the storm. "And, if so, a matter of import. But we hardly can concern ourselves with it for now. If Deathwing lives and now strikes out at his greatest rival's kind, then it only benefits us. After all, Alexstrasza is still the captive of Dragonmaw clan, and it is her offspring that those orcs have used for years to wreak bloodshed and havoc all over the Alliance. Have we all so soon forgotten the tragedy of the Third Fleet of Kul Tiras? I suspect that Lord Admiral Daelin Proudmoore never will. After all, he lost his eldest son and everyone else aboard those six great ships when the monstrous red leviathans fell upon them. Proudmoore would likely honor Deathwing with a medal if it proved true that the black beast was responsible for these two deaths."
No one argued that point, not even the first mage. Of the mighty vessels, only splinters of wood and a few torn corpses had been left to mark the utter destruction. It had been to Lord Admiral Proudmoore's credit that he had not faltered in his resolve, immediately ordering the building of new warships to replace those destroyed and pushing on with the war.
"And, as I stated earlier, we can hardly concern ourselves with that situation now, not with so many more immediate issues with which to deal."
"You're referring to the Alterac crisis, aren't you?" rumbled the bearded mage. "Why should the continued sniping of Lordaeron and Stromgarde worry us more than Deathwing's possible return?"
"Because now Gilneas has thrown its weight into the situation."
Again the other mages stirred, even the unspeaking sixth. The slightly corpulent shade moved a step toward the elven form. "Of what interest is the bickering of the other two kingdoms over that sorry piece of land to Genn Greymane? Gilneas is at the tip of the southern peninsula, as far away in the Alliance as any other kingdom is from Alterac!"
"You have to ask? Greymane has always sought the leadership of the Alliance, even though he held back his armies until the orcs finally attacked his own borders. The only reason he ever encouraged King Terenas of Lordaeron to action was to weaken Lordaeron's military might. Now Terenas maintains his hold on the Alliance leadership mostly because of our work and Admiral Proudmoore's open support."
Alterac and Stromgarde were neighboring kingdoms that had been at odds since the first days of the war. Thoras Trollbane had thrown the full might of Stromgarde behind the Lordaeron Alliance. With Khaz Modan as its neighbor, it had only made sense for the mountainous kingdom to support a united action. None could argue with the determination of Trollbane's warriors, either. If not for them, the orcs would have overrun much of the Alliance during the first weeks of the war, certainly promising a different and highly grim outcome overall.
Alterac, on the other hand, while speaking much of the courage and righteousness of the cause, had not been so forthcoming with its own troops. Like Gilneas, it had provided only token support; but, where Genn Greymane had held back out of ambition, Lord Perenolde, so it had been rumored, had done so because of fear. Even among the Kirin Tor it had early on been asked whether Perenolde had thought to perhaps make a deal with Doomhammer, should the Alliance crumble under the Horde's unceasing onslaught.
That fear had proven to have merit. Perenolde had indeed betrayed the Alliance, but his dastardly act had, fortunately, been short-lived. Terenas, hearing of it, had quickly moved Lordaeron troops in and declared martial law in Alterac. With the war in progress, no one had, at the time, seen fit to complain over such an action, especially Stromgarde. Now that peace had come, Thoras Trollbane had begun to demand that, for its sacrifices, Stromgarde should receive as just due the entire eastern portion of its treacherous former neighbor.
Terenas did not see it so. He still debated the merits of either annexing Alterac to his own kingdom or setting upon its throne a new and more reasonable monarch...presumably with a sympathetic ear for Lordaeron causes. Still, Stromgarde had been a loyal, steadfast ally in the struggle, and all knew of Thoras Trollbane's and Terenas's admiration for one another. It made the political situation that had come between the pair all the more sad.
Gilneas, meanwhile, had no such ties to any of the lands involved; it had always remained separate from the other nations of the western world. Both the Kirin Tor and King Terenas knew that Genn Greymane sought to intervene not only to raise his own prestige, but to perhaps further his dreams of expansion. One of Lord Perenolde's nephews had fled to that land after the treachery, and rumor had it that Greymane supported his claim as successor. A base in Alterac would give Gilneas access to resources the southern kingdom did not have, and the excuse to send its mighty ships across the Great Sea. That, in turn, would draw Kul Tiras into the equation, the maritime nation being very protective of its naval sovereignty.
"This will tear the Alliance apart...." muttered the young mage with the accent.
"It has not come to that point yet," pointed out the elven wizard, "but it may soon. And so we have no time to deal with dragons. If Deathwing lives and has chosen to renew his vendetta against Alexstrasza, I, for one, will not oppose him. The fewer dragons in this world the better. Their day is done, after all."
"I have heard," came a voice with no inflection, no identifiable gender, "that once the elves and dragons were allies, even respected friends."
The elven form turned to the last of the mages, a slim, lanky shape little more than shadow. "Tales only, I can assure you. We would not deign to traffic with such monstrous beasts."
Clouds and sun gave way to stars and moon. The sixth mage bowed slightly, as if in apology. "I appear to have heard wrong. My mistake."
"You're right about the importance of calming this political situation down," the bearded wizard rumbled to the fifth. "And I agree it must take priority. Still, we can't afford to ignore what is happening around Khaz Modan! Whether or not I'm wrong about Deathwing, so long as the orcs there hold the Dragonqueen captive, they're a threat to the stability of the land!"
"We need an observer, then," interjected the elder female. "Someone to maintain watch on matters and only alert us if the situation there becomes critical."
"But who? We can spare no one now!"
"There is one." The sixth mage glided a step forward. The face remained in shadow even when the figure spoke. "There is Rhonin...."
"Rhonin?!?" burst out the bearded mage. "Rhonin! After his last debacle? He isn't even fit to wear the robes of a wizard! He's more of a danger than a hope!"
"He's unstable," agreed the elder woman.
"A maverick," muttered the corpulent one.
The sixth waited until all had spoken, then slowly nodded. "And the only skilled wizard we can afford to be without at this juncture. Besides, this is simply a mission of observance. He will be nowhere near any potential crisis. His duty will be to monitor matters and report back, that is all." When no more protests arose, the dark mage added, "I am certain that he has learned his lesson."
"Let us hope so," muttered the older of the women. "He may have accomplished his last mission, but it cost most of his companions their lives!"
"This time, he will go alone, with only a guide to bring him to the edge of Alliance-controlled lands. He shall not even enter Khaz Modan. A sphere of seeing will enable him to watch from a distance."
"It seems simple enough," the younger female responded. "Even for Rhonin."
The elven figure nodded brusquely. "Then let us agree on this and be done with the topic. Perhaps if we are fortunate, Deathwing will swallow Rhonin, then choke to death, thus finishing forever the matters of both." He surveyed the others, then added, "And now I must demand that we finally concentrate on Gilneas's entry into the Alterac situation and what role we may play to diffuse it...."
He stood as he had for the past two hours, head down, eyes closed in concentration. Around him, only a dim light with no source gave any illumination to the chamber, not that there was much to see. A chair he had left unused stood to the side, and behind him on the thick, stone wall hung a tapestry upon which had been sewn an intricate, knowing eye of gold on a field of violet. Below the eye, three daggers, also gold, darted earthward. The flag and symbols of Dalaran had stood tall in their guardianship of the Alliance during the war, even if not every member of the Kirin Tor had performed their duties with complete honor.
"Rhonin..." came a voice without inflection, from everywhere and nowhere in the chamber.
From under thick, fiery hair, he looked up into the darkness with eyes a startling green. His nose had been broken once by a fellow apprentice, but despite his skills, Rhonin had never bothered to have it fixed. Still, he was not unhandsome, with a strong, clean jaw and angular features. One permanently arched brow ever gave him a sardonic, questioning look that had more than once gotten him in trouble with his masters, and matters were not helped by his attitude, which matched his expression.
Tall, slim, and clad in an elegant robe of midnight blue, he made for quite a sight, even to other wizards. Rhonin hardly appeared recalcitrant, even though his last mission had cost the lives of five good men. He stood straight and eyed the murk, waiting to see from which direction the other wizard would speak to him.
"You summoned. I've waited," the crimson-tressed spellcaster whispered, not without some impatience.
"It could not be helped. I myself had to wait until the matter was brought up by someone else." A tall cloaked and hooded figure half-emerged from the gloom -- the sixth member of the Kirin Tor inner council. "It was."
For the first time, some eagerness shone in the eyes of Rhonin. "And my penance? Is my probation over?"
"Yes. You have been granted your return to our ranks...under the provision that you accede to taking on a task of import immediately."
"They've that much faith left in me?" Bitterness returned to the young mage's voice. "After the others died?"
"You are the only one they have left."
"That sounds more realistic. I should've known."
"Take these." The shadowy wizard held out a slim, gloved hand, palm up. Above the hand there suddenly flashed into existence two glittering objects -- a tiny sphere of emerald and a ring of gold with a single black jewel.
Rhonin held out his own hand in the same manner...and the two items appeared above it. He seized both and inspected them. "I recognize the sphere of seeing, but not this other. It feels powerful, but not, I'm guessing, in an aggressive manner."
"You are astute, which is why I took up your cause in the first place, Rhonin. The sphere's purpose you know; the ring will serve as protection. You go into a realm where orc warlocks still exist. This ring will help shield you from their own devices of detection. Regrettably, it will also make it difficult for us to monitor you."
"So I'll be on my own." Rhonin gave his sponsor a sardonic smile. "Less chance of me causing any extra deaths, anyway...."
"In that regard, you will not be alone, at least as far as the journey to the port. A ranger will escort you."
Rhonin nodded, although he clearly did not care for any escort, especially a ranger. Rhonin and elves did not get along well together. "You've not told me my mission."
The shadowed wizard propped back, as if sitting in an immense chair the younger spellcaster could not see. Gloved hands steepled as the figure seemed to consider the proper choice of words. "They have not been easy on you, Rhonin. Some in the council even considered forever dismissing you from our ranks. You must earn your way back, and to do that, you will have to fulfill this mission to the letter."
"You make it sound like no easy task."
"It involves dragons...and something they believe only one of your aptitude can manage to accomplish."
"Dragons..." Rhonin's eyes had widened at first mention of the leviathans and, despite his tendency toward arrogance at most times, he knew he sounded more like an apprentice at the moment.
Dragons...Simply the mention of them instilled awe in most younger mages.
"Yes, dragons." His sponsor leaned forward. "Make no mistake about this, Rhonin. No one else must know of this mission outside of the council and yourself. Not even the ranger who guides you nor the captain of the Alliance ship who drops you on the shores of Khaz Modan. If word got out what we hope from you, it could set all the plans in jeopardy."
"But what is it?" Rhonin's green eyes flared bright. This would be a quest of tremendous danger, but the rewards were clear enough. A return to the ranks and obvious added prestige to his reputation. Nothing advanced a wizard in the Kirin Tor quicker than reputation, although none of the senior council would have ever admitted to that base fact.
"You are to go to Khaz Modan," the other said with some hesitation, "and, once there, set into motion the steps necessary to free from her orc captors the Dragonqueen, Alexstrasza...."
Day of the Dragon copyright © 2001 by Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.
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