Tales of the Hand #1

Moonglade, Kalimdor
Two weeks after the fall of Naxxramas

The twilit sky was filled with the same soft glow that permeated the treetops, casting a gentle light over the secluded region. At the southern shore of Lake Elu’nara, a tall figure sat in contemplation of the tranquil waters, clad in a strange, richly detailed suit of plate armor that looked like black, red and golden robes, with a pair of pauldrons shaped like open tomes and emblazoned with the scales of justice. Its face was hidden by a mask of the same style and a black cloak was hanging from its back. As it heard footsteps, it got up and turned around, revealing the black and silver tabard of the Argent Dawn.

Before him stood a hunched, lurching undead, clad in flowing black robes with silver embroidery and clutching a long staff topped by a round glowing red gem. He pulled the hood off, revealing his shaved head and addled bluish skin. His mottled eyes had a dull yellow glow and he took a deep breath, apparently enjoying the air despite his undeath.

“So… did you have any trouble getting here? I hope the Timbermaw didn’t hassle you too much.” the armored figure said.

“Gaining their trust is a simple task.” the newcomer replied in a hoarse voice. “It is all a matter of selective destruction. And removing the corrupted furbolg tribes will make the restoration of Felwood easier in the long run.”

“Good. So, what news do you have for me, Somber?”

“Naxxramas has fallen. The Argent Dawn has finally gathered a sizable force of volunteers. But even though the head of Atiesh was recovered at last, there is something amiss.”

“It was only a matter of time. I wish I could have been there, but I was delayed in Silithus. But what’s the matter Somber?”

“For starters, Mograine’s second son has vanished… and the Ashbringer along with him. To make matters worse, Kel’thuzad’s phylactery has disappeared without a trace. It was supposed to have been turned over to the Argent Dawn to be properly destroyed, but Eligor Dawnbringer claims it never reached him. I would not be surprised if the Cult of the Damned was involved.”

“And what of Heldall and Anerion? Weren’t they in the area?”

Somber sighed and looked into the distance.

“Somber?” the paladin asked.

“They are… missing in action.”

“What? What happened?”

“Things got messy. From what I gather, just as they were making their way out, Scourge reinforcements started flooding into the place. That is all we know. Garum and Elrhon are combing the Plaguelands for any sign of them.”

“I should have been there… Anerion is still a teenager… I promised his mother I’d keep him safe.”

“Elyseon… You cannot be everywhere at the same time.” Somber said. “Now I know you will want to fly there as soon as possible, but trust our companions. They are seasoned trackers and if they are still there, they will find them. Besides… I have more news that require our attention. The demonic infestation at Darkwhisper Gorge worsens by the day. We must act before it spreads across Winterspring. Hyjal is safe for now, but the outlying areas must be secured.”

“Never a dull moment…” Elyseon said. “Well, let’s go then. The sooner we deal with this the sooner I can get to the Plaguelands and join the search.”

As Elyseon whistled a short melody, a white charger clad in golden armor trotted towards him from the woods. Somber uttered a word of power and a seven horned black dreadsteed with fiery eyes, spiked mane and burning hooves materialized in a burst of flame.

“I know you’re undercover, but I didn’t think you’d go through the trouble of getting one of those.” Elyseon said with a hint of amusement as he climbed on the charger.

“It would seem suspicious for a warlock to go around in a regular mount. Just be glad you are not the one working on the Horde side. The Forsaken are twisted and beyond sadistic. One trip to Hillsbrad and you would want to kill them all.”

As soon as both of them had settled on the saddles, they swiftly rode towards Timbermaw Hold, the dreadsteed startling a couple of druids who were sleeping under a tree. As they made their way through the tunnel, some furbolgs smirked at the dreadsteed’s hellfire. They hardly needed another reminder of the extensive corruption of Felwood and their kin, but they knew this particular warlock was on their side in the fight against the taint and those seeking to spread it further.

The two were soon riding across the frozen land of Winterspring, the dreadsteed’s fiery hooves leaving sizzling puddles in its wake. As they took the road to the south, riding past Everlook, Elyseon remembered his odyssey in the Plaguelands to save the soul of Joseph Redpath and release both the honorable man and his daughter Pamela, who had been wandering as a ghost in the ruins of Darrowshire since its destruction. With some help from the Bronze Dragonflight he had bent time to join the battle and alter its outcome, saving a good man from the grip of the Scourge.

“Do you remember our battles in the Plaguelands?” he asked.

“How could I forget?” Somber replied. “In your fury, you barely managed to keep your powers in check. I almost thought you were going to explode.”

“By the way, I wonder what Haleh has been doing. I imagine Mazthoril gets pretty lonely now that Onyxia and Nefarian are dead and nobody goes there looking for her advice.”

“We should probably stop there along the way. The extermination of the demons in Darkwhisper Gorge also concerns the Blue Dragonflight, since they occupy part of this land.”

As they made it to the mouth of the cavern, they came upon the six-limbed dragonkin that patrolled the area. Those creatures usually attacked anyone on sight, but a glare from Somber was enough to send them on their way. They remembered what had happened the last time they had gotten in his way. Leaving their mounts outside, they walked through the winding cave, until they reached a glowing blue rune on the ground, standing out amidst the ice. As they stepped on it, they were teleported to a plateau atop Mazthoril, where a being in the shape of a female high elf with golden hair and blue eyes clad in blue robes stood, looking into the distance.

“Well met.” Somber said in Draconic. Haleh turned around and nodded.

“Welcome once again, Stargazer and Starstrider.” she replied. “What brings you to Mazthoril?”

“We were on our way to Darkwhisper Gorge to take care of the demon infestation once and for all.” Elyseon said. “We thought you’d like to know.”

“I see. I am glad that someone is taking care of that at last. I would go there myself, but there is something that has filled me with unease.”

“What seems to be the matter?” Somber asked.

“There is… something strange about the ley lines. Some great disturbance in a far-off place. I fear there is something happening in the frozen wastes of Northrend. But none of my flight have answered my call.”

“These are dark times for dragonkind.” Somber said. “The Green Dragonflight is being warped and twisted by the Emerald Nightmare, driven to madness… Deathwing’s bastard offspring still infest the dark corners of the world, despite the destruction of their apparent leaders… Ysera sleeps on, silent… and the Blue Dragonflight is still scattered to the winds.”

“And then there are the arrogant fools from the Bronze Dragonflight.” Elyseon said. “Chromie is reasonable enough, friendly even, but that idiot Anachronos keeps attacking people on sight. I imagine he’s guarding something, but there’s no need to be such a jerk.”

Haleh smiled at Elyseon’s incensed remark.

“Indeed, some of the Bronze could use a lesson in humilty.” she said. “But while you are out there on your journey, would you do me a favor? If you hear anything of the Blue Dragonflight, anything at all…”

“Say no more. I will let you know at once.” Elyseon replied.

“Now to destroy the demon filth, and remove their taint from the local water sources.” Somber said. “By your leave.”

Eastern Plaguelands, Eastern Kingdoms
Two days later

The orc grumbled as he finished cleaning his gun, a special long-barreled sniper rifle he had received as a gift from the Argent Dawn. He took a moment to carefully wipe the scope’s lenses and then grabbed the leather strap and hung it over his shoulder. Wiping some of the grime from his black chainmail armor, he stroked the head of the large tiger that was lying down next to him and turned his gaze to the blackened sky. There he saw a particularly large owl flying towards him.

“Well well… Cronus is coming. I wonder if the elf has found something…” he thought. The bird landed on his shoulder and he carefully removed a small rolled up piece of paper from a tube strapped to its leg.

“Mannoroth’s blood…” he cursed as he quickly read the message.

'Still no sign of them. The Argent Dawn is still trying to sort the corpses. Petty fighting between mercenaries and would-be adventurers for the towers is complicating the search, but at least things have calmed down on Stratholme now that Balnazzar and Rivendare have been dealt with. Will be staying at Quel’Lithien for the night."

Garum remembered the Quel’Lithien Lodge all too well. He had worked with Nathanos Blightcaller, the Banshee Queen’s champion, to cull local pests such as plaguehounds and overgrown bats, and undertaken some missions against the Scarlet Crusade. But when Nathanos had ordered him to attack the Lodge, slaughter its inhabitants and retreive some registry that apparently contained some personal information he wished to destroy, he had told the Forsaken to take his orders and shove them in a place the Lich King wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.
He knew how much the elves had suffered by the Scourge’s hand, and as a hunter, he felt a kinship of sorts with them. Though he had fought against Alliance forces at times, he was wary of the constant squabbling, which in his eyes was merely weakening both sides while other threats lurked.
The one exception to this feeling, the one act of destruction he was proud to have commited was the razing of Bael’Modan in the Barrens. The imperialist dwarves of Ironforge had displaced and butchered an entire tauren village, and all for what? Some so-called archaeologic excavation! To him they were no better than the Venture Company, which had already devastated most of the Stonetalon Mountains and had even had the insolence to encroach upon Mulgore, thinking their presence would be tolerated.

He had some strange views for an orc, and those views had eventually led him to cross paths with the elusive Forsaken he knew as Somber. The seasoned hunter had a feeling there was more to the warlock than met the eye, and he had been proven right when Somber had introduced him to three paladins, Elyseon, Heldall and Anerion.
Elyseon was a wanderer who seemed to be on some vague mission. He could be reasonable for a human, though on some issues he was completely inflexible. He didn’t trust the Forsaken as far as he could throw them, except for Somber, and he absolutely hated cowardice. Garum had seen him hurl curses, stones and hammers of solid light at thieves, troublemakers and idiots, and he had beaten up adventurers and mercenaries from both the Alliance and the Horde when he had caught them ganging up on some poor sod who was minding his own business.

Heldall was a grizzled veteran of the Silver Hand and a former resident of Stratholme. The slaughter of its inhabitants by Arthas had driven him temporarily insane and cursed him with the ability to hear the whisperings of the dead. Elyseon and Somber had found him at the city’s gates, mad from grief, barely conscious and half starved to death. Once he had recovered, he had joined the Argent Dawn and sworn to reclaim the city, both from the Scourge and the lunatic zealots of the Scarlet Crusade.

Anerion was the youngest of the group, barely sixteen. The son of a paladin who had perished during the fall of Lordaeron, he and his mother had escaped to Northshire, where they had eventually met Elyseon. The boy was more than eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, and with a more experienced paladin to guide him, he had managed to persuade his mother to let him become his apprentice.
Along with a few others, they were part of a secretive covenant, an organization akin to the Argent Dawn, though they never mentioned its name in public.

Quel’Lithien Lodge

The tall elf clad in dark green camouflaged chainmail yawned, staring at the bleak sky as he lay on the roof. Elrhon Ciryatan was tired and frustrated from another day of fruitless searching. The dread citadel, Naxxramas, had disappeared from the skies over the Eastern Plaguelands, leaving a mixture of hope, ominous silence and countless corpses in its wake. Valiant sacrifices had been made for the sake of the world, and despite the tremendous victory for the Argent Dawn and all mortal races, he felt little joy. Kel’thuzad’s phylactery had mysteriously disappeared, though only a select few were aware of this disturbing fact. There was still the danger of the lich returning to torment the living. And though the cleansing of the Plaguelands had reached a turning point, no one knew what was going on in Northrend.

For the time being, he was still on edge, and he would only truly be able to relax when Heldall and Anerion had been found. Perhaps by then some clue to the whereabouts of the phylactery would have been unearthed.

“Maybe tomorrow…” he thought. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll find them. And maybe this hellish tint will vanish from the sky. This entire section of the continent is blighted. How I long for the sun’s pure light!”

He was an odd elf, to say the least. While he had the elegant features of a high elf and the matching skin tone, he was more muscled than most of them and seemed even more used to life in the wilds than the Farstriders. The night elves knew him and welcomed him despite their usual distrust of their magically addicted kin, and he had demonstrated to have a keen, creative mind, making the most of the opportunities provided by nature in order to surprise his opponents. He had made friends among druids and rangers from the Ghostlands to Teldrassil, braved Un’goro and Felwood, and fought in the sands of Tanaris and Silithus, always looking for something new with the curiosity of a child.
Still, despite his growning renown, nobody could trace his origins. He had no known relatives, his family name was completely unknown both in Darnassus and Silvermoon, and he wasn’t exactly forthcoming with personal information. It was almost as if he had suddenly popped up on Azeroth one day.

Elrhon sighed and stared at the darkened sky until he drifted into a deep sleep. Little did he know that someone was watching him from afar. A feminine elven figure stood in a chamber atop an elegant Thalassian-style tower somewhere within the borders of Quel’Thalas.

“Yes… sleep, woodsman. You’re going to need your strength for what lies ahead…” the woman whispered in a gentle, silky voice as she watched his image in a scrying orb. The image then faded into a swirling mist, from which a floating necropolis appeared.


The dread citadel Naxxramas suddenly started moving, rising farther into the sky, slowly at first, and then picking up speed. In the tainted lands below, incredulous watchers gasped and prayed that the nightmare had finally ended. The zealots of the Scarlet Crusade made quite a ruckus with their cheering despite the horrible casualties they had suffered in the previous weeks. Amidst the crowd was a middle-aged man clad in a worn suit of plate armor of the Order of the Silver Hand. Running a hand over his graying beard, Tirion Fordring gazed into the sky.

“Taelan… They did it…” he muttered to himself. “Six men braved the den of evil while the rest held the Scourge at bay… But this is just the beginning…”

Meanwhile, in the dread citadel’s inner sanctum, the eerie, skeletal figure of the lich Kel’thuzad stirred. The former member of the Kirin Tor and founder of the Cult of the Damned stared into the distance.

“Fools… They think they have won… They have no idea! Acherus beckons! And where one Mograine fell, another shall take his place.”

“Your ambitions will be foiled yet again, lich!” a weak voice clamored from a corner of the chamber. Kel’thuzad turned and stared at the two humans before him. The younger one had unruly golden hair, blue eyes and was clad in a suit of silvery Argent Dawn plate. The older one had black hair at shoulder length and his eyes, though also blue, had a chilling glimmer to them. The young man was clutching his side while the older one was struggling to get up, unable to feel his legs. His suit of plate armor was dented and covered in blood stains. Both were trapped in sinister looking cages.

“A child and a broken follower of the Light! How can you hope to stand against the might of the Scourge?” the lich gloated. “Still, there’s something about you two…”

The older man’s face twisted into a mask of rage as he clutched his head.

“Get the hell out of my mind you abomination!” he growled.

“Ah… Trauma… Death… You carry those things with you. And mingled with them… yes… hate.” the lich whispered. “You hate the Scourge, you hate the Lich King… but your hatred for the Horde is just as strong. Amusing.”

“The Horde and the Scourge are abominations!” he snarled. “Both are monstrosities that would cover the land in the blood of the innocent. The only difference is the Horde scum are alive and do what they do by choice! In that regard they are worse than the Scourge!”

“And this is why you could never hope to vanquish the Scourge.” Kel’thuzad interrupted. “Your petty hatreds divide your attention, and even in the face of total annihilation your first concern would still be your ancient enemy. You are doing our work for us, paladin.”

“The orcs deserve to die. They are nothing but green skinned animals. The same goes for trolls. The Forsaken and their whore queen are monsters like you who enjoy torturing and slaughtering innocents! They hate the living just like you!”

“Hate? Is that what you think, foolish human? Oh, you will learn. The Scourge is nothing like those upstarts. What we do is not out of hate. We merely want everyone to be like us. Free from the anguish of mortal life and its limitations. We bring a new way. A way free of suffering. Free of all the evils of mortality. With us there is no greed, no hunger, no injustice, no want, no loneliness. We are perfect. And soon you will see the splendor of it all…”

“Nihilist freaks, that’s what you are!” the young man spat. “You weren’t content in sitting your own wrists, so you want to slit everyone else’s. But you will fail. There are more living creatures now than the sum of all those that have died, and once the prophecy has been fulfilled, death itself will be meaningless.”

“Pray tell, mortal… Prophecy? Another fabrication by those Scarlet simpletons?”

“Words whispered to the true followers of the Light in their raptured dreams. Those Scarlet fools are lost to the Light. Simple lunatics manipulated by demons. Oh yes, we know of Balnazzar. And just as we slew him and Rivendare, so will we cast you down into the earth’s embrace. For you, only oblivion awaits. For us, a possible death, perhaps… But even if it takes a thousand generations, we will succeed in defeating darkness and death itself, for we are the heralds of life, the hands of the divine.”

“Time will disavow you of such ridiculous notions, foolish child. And while you speak of life’s inevitable triumph, your thoughts still betray you. You wish to preserve life, yes, but also to take it. You are strong beyond your years, but not strong enough to hide your true nature from me. You wish to revive or reincarnate all the victims of all tragedies and wars… but you also wish to slaughter the orcs wholesale, just like your friend there.”

“Because everything that has happened to Azeroth in the last three generations has been their fault! They broke into our world and spread like a plague, ravaging all in their path! And don’t try to excuse it with their demonic corruption. If anything, the way they gave themselves over to the Legion only serves to prove their vileness. The razing of Stormwind… The great wars… All because of those filthy greenskins! And I know your master’s true name, before he merged with the traitor Arthas. Of course, it had to be an orc too! Ner’zhul, enemy of all life! Every orc I kill will bring the world closer to what it is meant to be!”

Kel’thuzad cackled maniacally as he stared at the young man.

“You have great hate in your heart. You will make a fine champion of the Scourge… but first, I will break you.”

“Do your worst! Anerion of Elwynn fears nothing! I was trained by the Starstrider, whose name strikes fear into the hearts of fiends far worse than you!”

“And Heldall of the Silver Hand shall not cower in fear either!” the older man groaned. “And even if we die here, others will take our place. We will keep on coming until you and Arthas and Ner’zhul are no more!”

Heldall conjured a blazing hammer of solid light and smashed the cage door open. Leaping out, he reached for an abandoned sword on the floor and lunged at Kel’thuzad. At the same time, Anerion pried off the door to his own cage with a sudden burst of strength. The lich didn’t even bother dodging Heldall’s attack, casually swatting him aside with his bony hand.

“You shouldn’t be able to move by now…” Kel’thuzad muttered. “Very well, gnats! Give me your best shot! I relish the exercise!”

The two paladins charged at him in unison with a savage growl, their hands and eyes glowing with the power of the Light. Kel’thuzad gathered the icy winds of the north. Everything went white as the unleashed energies clashed.

Sorry I hadn’t commented here until now, Manus, but as you can see from my other posts I’ve been busy struggling with my own writing problems. Anyway:

I like the story so far. I like paladin characters, when they’re handled well. And lots of high-fantasy concepts when thrown together in a way that makes sense. I must congratulate you, both for the pacing of the story so far, and especially for the way you’ve handled the exposition; the conversations reveal what we need to know but still sound natural. Not bad.

Keep up the good work; I’ll continue to read it. :slight_smile:

Dun Morogh

“I feel something…” Elyseon muttered, clutching his chest. “We must hurry!”

“You’re more attuned to those paladins. Something happened to them, didn’t it?” Somber asked.

“I can’t say for sure, but something tells me we’re too late. Wait… Look up there! Isn’t that Cronus?”

The owl screeched and dove towards him, landing on his shoulder. Hesitantly, Elyseon looked for the small tube strapped to his talon and pulled out a small rolled up piece of paper."

“Naxxramas is gone. Took off and headed north by northeast.” he said, closing his eyes and lowering his head with a sigh. “For all we know, those two were still in there. There was no sign of them anywhere else. That thing should be over the ocean by now.”

“Then we have failed.” Somber said. “If they are still inside, then they’re either dying, dead, or worse.”

“But as far as I know, necropolii don’t have any form of remote control, and those mindless Scourge reinforcements couldn’t steer it either.”

“Well, now we know what happened to the missing phylactery.” Somber said grimly. “Kel’thuzad has escaped.”

“Then the time for disguises and lying low is over. We must rescue them.” Elyseon said, slamming his fist on his palm.

“So what’s it going to be? Teleport, portal, spaceship?”

“We’ll use the ship’s sensors to pick up the trail, and then we’ll intercept.”

Elyseon reached for something under his cloak and produced a small pouch. From it he took a small notebook, tore a page from it, scribbled a message with a pen, then wrapped it and placed in the tube Cronus was carrying.

“Fly swiftly my friend.” he whispered. The owl nodded in understanding and took flight. Elyseon then stashed the notebook and pen into the bag again and reached for his left vambrace, touching a spot with his index finger. As soon as he did that, he and Somber disappeared, along with their mounts, as if they had never been there.

The Silver Seraph
High orbit over Azeroth

Elyseon and Somber quickly ran through the white metal halls until they made it to a large door that opened with a gesture, giving them access to an ample room filled with machinery. A single large window spanned three of the walls, and a piloting seat stood near the center, facing a circular holographic projector that was mounted on the floor.

“Engage voice control!” Elyseon said. “Sensor lock on flying object over the northern ocean, headed north by northeast.”

“Object found.” an artificial voice replied. “Bearing northwest at thirty kilometers per hour.”

“Ready fighters. Plot an intercept course. Medical bay on standby.”

“Fighter engines calibrated. Weapons ready… Warning! Class 5 storm approaching target. Likelihood of interception distruption: 90%”

“Curses! What about our stasis field generator?”

“Atmospheric disturbances render the device unreliable. Additionally, high ion concentration in the atmosphere may lead to field instability.”

“Supercharge fighter shields and set thrusters on maximum power. Arm fighters with tunneler missiles and prime recall anchors.”

“You want to go in, storm or no storm?” Somber asked. “This should be interesting.”

“We’ll ram that thing with the shields on maximum density if we must, but I’m not going to let those two be hauled off to Northrend. Dead or alive, you know what they’d do do them.”

“Why not just take the Seraph, use the stasis field at close range and teleport in?”

“The cloaking device is on maintenance. By the time we finished putting all the pieces back in place Naxxramas would be gone. If we take the Seraph down there like this, all of Azeroth will see us. I don’t want Arthas to know we’re coming, and the Horde and the Alliance would get suspicious. I’ve been working hard to maintain our cover.”

“While I appreciate the need for discretion, I couldn’t care less what they’d think in this case.” Somber said with a scowl. “Maybe seeing something of this size up close would give them the scare they need to stop their foolish clashes. Something to make them realize how small and insignificant they are in the big picture. We can handle Arthas with or without them, and frankly, I do not think they can be trusted. All they care about is their squabbles over land and their petty hatreds. Even Anerion and Heldall are tainted by that racism and warmongering.”

“So what are you suggesting? That I take a dump on the Horde and the Alliance and straighten up this whole world without getting the locals involved? If they’re not a part of this, then they won’t appreciate the effort, and they will learn nothing from the experience.”

“Get the Argent Dawn then. They are the only enlightened faction in the middle of all this.”

“Ah yes, the Argent Dawn… It’s probably the best source for hopefuls for the Order of the Hand too. But right now they’re stretched too thin. They need time to reorganize.”

“Object has entered the storm. Compensating for atmospheric disturbance.” the computer said.

“Shit!” Elyseon muttered. “We can discuss this later. We’ve got to hurry!”

Without wasting more time, the two relied on the ship’s teleportation system to deliver them to the hangar where the two white sleek fighters awaited them. They looked like a cross between a Terran Valkyrie and a Protoss Corsair, with wide bladelike wings that concealed hundreds of miniaturized rockets and a pair of disruptor cannons, an ample reactor exhaust in the rear end and a wide cockpit canopy that afforded a panoramic view. Each fighter had two seats, a pressurized cockpit for atmospheric and space flight, and was equipped with state of the art Extropian technology, including an onboard microsupercomputer and a specialized medical system for lifesign monitorning and emergency treatments. As the two leapt into the craft and right onto the comfortable nanoweave covered seats, the machines came to life and the massive hangar doors opened just enough to let them through, while a forcefield kept the chamber’s air pressure. They swiftly closed the canopies and the two machines darted out into space, leaving two streaks of blue in their wake as they began their plunge into the atmosphere. Putting subtlety aside for a moment, the two set the craft’s shields on maximum power, and the two fighters forced their way into the atmosphere, the friction against the powerful shields causing the air around them to explode and creating two bright spots in the sky above Silvermoon for all to see. The land vanished from below them in a flash as they made their way into the sky over the North Sea, and soon enough they found themselves facing the storm, with the dread citadel hovering right in the eye.

“Weapons locked on!” Elyseon said, pusing a button.

“Targeting systems synchronized.” Somber replied.

“For great justice!” Elyseon roared.

The two ships opened fire, uneashing a barrage of rockets that blasted through the enchanted stone and opening a gaping hole right into one of the four wings. As the two fighters moved to approach, however, something hit Elyseon’s shields.

“What the hell was that?!” he growled.

Suddenly a warning flashed on his screen as the ship’s systems picked up hostile craft in the area.

“Who the hell would come bother us all the way on Azeroth?”

Just then, a series of Y-shaped cruisers were picked up by the systems, heading towards them along with a swarm of fighters. The markings the cruisers bore were unmistakable.

“Gladius!” Elyseon spat. “How the hell did those space Nazis find us?”

“Foolish whelps!” a voice cackled on the radio. “The sword is mightier than the hand! None shall stand before our glorious conquest!”

“Oh shut up you morons! I’ve heard it all before!”

Elyseon bit his lips to hold off a string of expletives as the flying necropolis started to pick up speed. His assailants weren’t going to stop until he made them. Already they were clumsily trying to shoot him down, their blows glancing off his shields. With a grumble, he fired a rocket laced with a tracking device into Naxxramas, before turning around to face them.

“All right you jackasses! You’ve caught me in a very bad mood, and you’re going to pay for interfering with a rescue operation! Let’s go get them Somber!”

Somber nodded from his cockpit and turned his ship around as well, and the two started tearing through the attackers.

Soon the Gladius fighters were nothing more than clusters of burning debris plummeting towards the ocean. The last three made a mad dash towards the cruisers, disruptor blasts sending shockwaves through the air around them.

“Let us in! For all that is holy, let us in!” the pilots screamed through the airwaves. “They’re eating us alive!”

“We are not beaten yet!” another voice said. “Cruisers, fire all weapons!”

Just as Somber obliterated yet another fighter, the cruisers unleashed a barrage of lasers that lit up the sky and spectacularly missed their targets.

“I grow tired of playing with these imbeciles.” Somber said. Darting towards the cruiser at the head of the formation, he unleashed a barrage of his own, the small fighter completely obliterating the much larger ship. Elyseon’s fighter glowed with a white light and seconds later a huge blue energy bolt erupted from the front, running through another cruiser.

“False saviors! Imperialist scum!” Elyseon spat as he made his way to the middle of the formation. “Your existence is an affront to the Order of the Hand and all it stands for! Begone or perish!”

“What the hell is that maniac doing?!” a voice shouted through the airwaves.

“He’s coming right for us!” another voice shouted back.

“That’s it, I’m heading for the escape pods!” a third one was heard saying.

“Cowards! There are just two of them! Come back here!” the commander cried out, his voice filled with a mix of rage and fear.

Somber followed close behind, and the two fighters soon came to a halt back to back as the cruisers clumsily attempted to turn around to fire on them.

“Overdrive mode?” Somber asked.

“Exactly.” Elyseon replied.

The two fighters moved even closer and started glowing white, and then started spinning in unison, vomiting torrents of energy and missiles that pelted the cruisers like a meteor storm, the Extropian weaponry tearing through the primitive alloys that formed the hulls.

“Not this again!” someone shouted on the radio.

“How the hell do they do that?!”

“Fall back! Fall back!”

Ravaged by the tremendous onslaught, the ships beat a hasty retreat. Two of the cruisers exploded before they could make it out of the atmosphere, and the others sported large gashes and burns across their surface. By all accounts, it should be impossible for such small fighters to carry that kind of firepower, but Extropian technology had accomplished miracles of miniaturization, and the opposing ships were simply inferior in every aspect.

“We’ve wasted enough time with those clowns.” Elyseon said. “Let’s go before that damned necropolis gets away.”

The Order of the Hand had been founded with simple goals. Fight against darkness. Spread enlightenment. Contribute to the betterment of civilization. Tend to the downtrodden. Its message appealed to many, and many more were under its protection. Armed with sacred power, magic, the Force and technology advanced enough so as to seem magical in itself, they were spreading their ideals across the cosmos. However, there were some that looked upon the benevolent crusaders with greed and envy. Some that resented their power and popularity. Some that had been cast down from places of power when their corruption and wickedness were exposed. Some that had been rejected by the Order for their selfishness and lust for power and glory. From an assortment of such individuals, the Gladius had taken form.
Backed by a few obscenely wealthy individuals, they had assembled a fleet and hired a sizable mercenary force. While the Order sought to protect, they sought to dominate. They had taken to preying on weaker worlds and harassing the Order’s operations at every turn. The Order swatted them like the annoying buzzards they were, but it had been unable to mount a large scale operation to put an end to their activities, since they had to contend with the problems of the entire multiverse.
Elyseon had vowed to stop them once and for all once the troubles on Azeroth were over, but his mission was proving to be exceptionally difficult and tiresome, with the Horde and the Alliance constantly at each other’s throat. After months of undercover work, he had concluded that Azeroth’s best hope for survival lay with the Argent Dawn, and so he had sent operatives to their aid and recruited likeminded individuals on Azeroth, all while keeping the existence of the Order a secret from the Alliance and the Horde, for he knew they would attempt to steal its technology to fuel their senseless fighting.
There was something bitter growing within his heart, however, from watching the constant fighting, and just how dirty both sides were willing and eager to play in their overt and covert war for supremacy. There were times when he felt tempted to abandon Azeroth and never reutrn, leaving the bickering factions to their fate. There were times when he felt an overwhelming urge to walk up to each of the faction leaders and give them the beating of their lives. There were times when he wished he’d never heard of Azeroth, the Alliance or the Horde.

“The storm! Damnit, we’re too late!” Elyseon growled.

Just as they were about to catch up with the fleeing necropolis, it flew right into the middle of a veritable hurricane. The sky raged and the wind howled, and lightning arced between dark clouds as the sea below rose up in huge waves. Naxxramas somehow just hovered through, swaying now and then from the sheer strength of the winds, but unfaltering ints course. Elyseon and Somber, however, struggled to keep their craft steady. Even through Extropian technology had provided them with such wonders as hardened electronics that were impervious to electromagnetic surges, their antigravity drives were being sorely tested by the chaotic winds. It was as if they had a mind of their own, as every time the two managed to maneuver closer to the necropolis, a massive gale started pushing them off course.

“Curses! Do I have to overload the engines?” Elyseon growled.

“That would be unadvisable.” Somber replied. “I suggest that we get out of this storm, head around it and try to cut them off before they reach Northrend. These ships are fast enough to do that.”

“Well, we did lodge that tracking device into Naxxramas, so there’s no risk of it getting out of sight. Anerion, Heldall… hang in there. We’re coming.”

Kel’thuzad’s Chamber

The two paladins lay unconscious on the cold stone floor. They had fought tooth and nail, pouring everything they had into their hands, but the lich had overwhelmed them with his malefic powers. Kel’thuzad clutched his chest as he stumbled towards his throne. He had not expected such tenacity, and they had hit him harder than he would admit.

“Oh yes, they will do perfectly… Bloody wrath, the chill of the north, and… an interesting experiment… Yes, I think I know exactly what to do with the young orc hater.”

Settling down, the lich expanded his senses to encompass the entire necropolis. He had heard a loud explosion that had rocked Naxxramas, and the way the loud howling of the wind echoed throughout the corridors told him that there was a breach somewhere.

“The death knight wing… But what could have done such damage?”

He sensed no other living creatures within Naxxramas besides the two paladins, but still he felt uneasy. Conjuring a large translucent blue orb, he cast it out through a window before shutting it. He needed peace and quiet to finish formulating his plan, but he also needed to know if he was being pursued. The magical eye found no trace of Elyseon and Somber, who were already speeding out of the storm, and the lich, satisfied, returned to his machinations. Calling upon the cold winds of the north, he encased the two paladins in blocks of ice.

After dashing around the storm as fast as they could, Elyseon and Somber slowed to subsonic speed above the Frozen Sea, southwest of the Borean Tundra. The paladin examined his instruments and sighed.

“Naxxramas is being delayed by the storm, and its course is difficult to predict. If I wasn’t so damn prudent I would have tried to run the fighter into the hole we blasted, but we don’t know how sturdy thact accursed place is. I’d hate to make it fall to pieces with those two still inside.”

“The Force is silent.” Somber said. “Something is about to happen, but I cannot tell for certain. The undead are holes in the Force, holes I can only sense at close range, and as for the two paladins, I know they are alive, but nothing else.”

“Well, while we’re here, we might as well do some scouting. I get the strange feeling we’ll be hiking through these lands sometime in the not-so-distant future. I’d rather take a look now, before the Horde and the Alliance bring their warmongering here.”

Flying low at a relatively low speed and with their cloaking devices on, the two fighters flew towards the shore, passing a small village made up of tents of fur and whale bones. They saw a few locals, odd humanoids that reminded them of walruses, busily fishing with nets and cooking in large pots.

“Ah, Northrend. It looks so peaceful at first sight, but then you remember Icecrown and the horrors of the Scourge. There’s a strange substance all over the continent that keeps our sensors from penetrating deep beneath the surface, but I estimate there’s at least a million undead just waiting for Arthas to let them loose upon Azeroth. The dead of Lordaeron were a significant part of his forces, but we don’t have an estimate on how many nerubians he managed to raise.”