Beyond the Dark Portal | Chapter 24 of 36

Author: Aaron Rosenberg | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 4101 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Alleria had stayed with Turalyon that night. They had talked for a long, long time, and the chasm that had yawned between them had been bridged. When they could speak no longer, they let their hearts and bodies continue the healing. They had emerged from his quarters together the next morning, and if there were knowing grins from their friends, both knew there was also genuine happiness. Even though they faced death today, they would do so knowing that there was much joy waiting for them if they survived.

And they would survive. Turalyon was not about to let her go, not now that they’d found each other again.

He had kissed her hard, and she had slipped off in the predawn light with her rangers. They had discussed signals and such, and finally decided on a time.

“We will douse the lights for ten heartbeats, then relight them if we have taken the watch tower,” she had said. “If we haven’t taken them all by the time the sun is about to clear the horizon, come anyway,” Alleria had said. “They will be able to see as well as you an hour later and this plan will have been for naught.”

He’d nodded. Turalyon was at peace with her fighting out of his sight now; he knew she would take no unnecessary risks. She had returned to herself again.

Danath would lead the initial, decoy charge, while Turalyon would bring up the main offense once the Horde forces had engaged them in combat. Danath and his men would be outnumbered, but not for long.

“It will be harrowing for a while,” Turalyon warned him. “You’ll have to trust that all is going according to plan.” He hesitated. “It might feel like the portal battle all over again, Danath.”

Danath had regarded his commander with steely eyes. “No it won’t. This time, we’re the ones who are taking those green bastards by surprise. I trust you, Turalyon. The ghosts of those dead boys will be fighting alongside us. They’ll be at peace when we trap the orcs between two fronts.”

Turalyon had shivered a little. “Danath…” he had begun.

Danath had waved it aside. “I’ve no death wish,” he said, “don’t worry about that. I want to get home one day, and to bring these boys home with me. I don’t want to write one damned more letter that begins ‘It is with deepest sympathy.’”

Turalyon had gripped his second-in-command’s shoulder and nodded. Danath would hold the orcs long enough for the second force to crash upon them like a tidal wave.

Kurdran and his gryphon riders, along with Khadgar and some other magi, would be ready to be part of that wave. Turalyon would miss the mage’s presence—they had been together throughout the Second War, and it would feel strange to go to battle without Khadgar by his side. But if all went well they would meet up and celebrate their victory.

Now he waited in the chill predawn for the signal. Danath’s group had gone around and would be attacking from the rear with horses and loud shouts while Turalyon’s group had moved carefully, quietly, on foot to a place close enough to see the signal but far enough away that the night still hid them. He gazed at the citadel, at the mile-long, solid wall that encased it. At intervals along that wall, huge braziers burned sullenly, casting just enough illumination to show the barest hints of the iron spikes that adorned the citadel. Jagged, powerful, dark—the building had a vivid presence. Turalyon somehow felt that not only would they need to defeat the orcs within its walls—the living ones and the death knights—but they’d have to defeat the citadel itself. It was an utterly hideous place, angular and organic at the same time, as if it were some massive beast whose flesh had melted in places to expose the sharp bones that had given it form.

He stared at the watch towers until his eyes ached from the strain. There…one of them had gone out. And then been relit. Once the final light had been doused and relit, Turalyon heard the sound of human voices raised in a battle shout and the thunder of hooves. He wanted desperately to charge in, but he forced himself to wait. The rangers would need time and the opportunity to get to the gate, and that would only come when the orcs manning it had been called to fight Danath’s men.

Every second was agony. Finally, when he heard the sound of weapons clashing and the bellow of orc war cries mixing with those of his men, he knew the moment had come. Turalyon lifted his hammer and raised it to eye level, where its dull metal head caught the early morning light.

“May the Holy Light grant us strength,” he said quietly, and those gathered around him nodded, a murmur spreading among them as his hammer began to shine and then to glow from within. “May it guide us in this endeavor, leading us to victory, to honor, and to glory.” For an instant the hammer seemed composed of white light. Then that light burst outward, washing across them all in a wave, and Turalyon knew the others felt the same strength and peace he did. A faint aura clung to the hammer and to each of them, outlining them against the red rock all around, and he smiled at this open sign of the Light’s blessing.

Turalyon led his men at a fast lope toward the wall. The citadel loomed before them, and the closer they came, the more oppressive and mammoth it grew. He could see the gate now, looking like a mouth in a hideous face.

And then, right when he was wondering if he had mistimed the charge, the gate began to open.

“She did it,” one of the men whispered.

“Of course she did,” Turalyon said softly. “She’s Alleria Windrunner.” Light, how he loved her.

They were not the only ones who had noticed the gate opening, however. Even as Alleria and her rangers darted forward to join with Turalyon’s group, a handful of orcs raced after them. Turalyon caught a glimpse of Alleria’s golden hair in the faint light, and he sped up, breaking into a full run. His hammer rose almost of its own accord and began to glow again, a gleaming white light held high above his head. That caught one orc’s attention, and the creature turned toward him instead of the rangers. It charged, and for a moment he thought it weaponless and mad—until he saw the scythe that served the creature for a hand.

“For the Sons of Lothar!” the paladin cried, tongue liberated as the need for stealth evaporated. He brought the hammer crashing down, crushing the orc’s skull. Even as the first orc dropped, Turalyon hauled his weapon back around, striking a glancing blow to one in front of him before smashing an orc two paces over with his full strength. Another orc raced toward them, but an arrow suddenly protruded from its left eye and it toppled without a sound. A fifth snarled and swung the heavy club at its side, but Alleria leaped forward, ducked the blow, and thrust, her sword blade piercing the green-skinned creature’s throat and emerging from the back of its head. Turalyon had spun and finished off the orc he’d stunned, and now he charged up the stairs at full speed, Alleria and her rangers and his men right behind him.

A troop of orcs met Turalyon as he rounded a bend in the stairs halfway up. They had the advantage of size, strength, and position, but he had momentum and determination. Holding his hammer before him, his hands gripping it just below the head, Turalyon used it like a small battering ram, slamming into one orc after another. The force of the impacts jolted him, and he had to fight not to totter back a step, but the orcs found themselves tossed aside and either slammed into the wall or toppled from the stairs, and fell to the ground below. The orcs that retained enough presence of mind to attack him in turn found themselves pierced with arrows, courtesy of Alleria and her rangers, and any orc Turalyon stunned but didn’t kill the men behind him finished off as they raced up the stairs behind him.

In what seemed like minutes, but Turalyon knew had probably been longer, he reached the top. The citadel’s ramparts stretched out before him, far longer than Honor Hold’s but less even, more chaotic and oddly shaped. Some orcs stood here, heavy spears in hand, ready to hurl them down upon the approaching army, but most of the Horde had poured out of the front gates, Turalyon saw, and were running to meet the Alliance head-on. He also saw long black figures circling above, and knew the black dragons were just waiting for the right moment to join the fight.

“Alliance!” Turalyon shouted, holding his hammer high and racing to the rampart’s front edge. “Alliance!” From here he spotted Danath riding near the front of his group, and the warrior raised his sword in response. He was covered with blood and gore, but none of it was red human blood. Nor had he lost many men. The Light was with them!

Then what orcs were still up here reached him, and Turalyon was busy defending himself and clearing the ramparts of their defenders. The sounds of battle were everywhere: metal against metal, stone against plate, flesh against flesh, mixed with growls and roars and bellows and cries. The bodies were all mingled together, the green of the orcs against the pink of the humans and the browns and blonds and blacks of the horses, with the gleaming sheen of armor and the dull luster of axes and hammers mixed in as well. At one point when he was able to spare a glance, Turalyon managed to pick out Danath again, and watched as the warrior impaled a charging orc upon his sword, yanked the blade free, and whirled to slice another’s throat open.

Turalyon had just smashed down the last orc when he heard a loud shriek from above. Glancing up, he saw a cloud sweeping down toward the citadel, carrying a blast of hot air with it. He grinned at the sudden moist heat. The cloud had broken apart, forming a haze that settled over the citadel, blanketing it in fog that blurred edges and hid shapes and details.

The fog played tricks with sound as well, and so when a loud whoop sounded, Turalyon could not pinpoint its location. Neither could the dragons, it seemed, for they flew in circles, necks curling as they turned their heads this way and that, seeking the source of that sound. They didn’t have to search for long—a small shape plummeted out of the fog, dropping like a stone toward one startled dragon. Just as they seemed about to collide the shape extended, long wings unfurling, and its rapid descent became a sharp wheeling dive. The gryphon—for such it had to be—banked around the surprised dragon. The dragon snapped at it, like a dog at an insect, but the half-lion, half-eagle creature was too fast. It darted beneath the dragon as the mammoth jaws closed right where it had been, and the dragon followed. It reared back and magma spewed in a long, fiery blast from its muzzle.

Again the gryphon and its rider were too quick. Over a dozen orcs shrieked in agony as the dragon accidentally incinerated its allies, too intent upon the swift gryphon to notice where it had directed its attack.

The dragon screamed in anger, slamming into the citadel and cracking the sturdy walls with a tremendous noise. Before it could gather itself and attack again, the Wildhammer atop the gryphon stood in his stirrups and hurled his stormhammer at the fearsome beast. As it struck the dragon in the eye, a thunderclap tore the fog asunder and brilliant sunlight streamed down. The Wildhammer whooped, his hammer returning to his hand as his gryphon soared back up, the sunlight gleaming on its feathers. Shocked, dazed, the dragon tried to fly, but the merciless Wildhammer dwarf led it on a merry chase, striking repeatedly at its wounded eye until, half-blinded and dizzy, it again slammed into the wall, which collapsed beneath the unintentional assault of the great beast. The dragon slid down to the earth, shaking it with its dead weight, a victim of its own violence.

The remaining dragons screamed their rage and hurtled toward the lone gryphon rider, who turned to meet their furious headlong flight. But just as they neared him, more gryphons burst from the remaining clouds above and descended upon the dragons. Each dragon was easily four times the size of a single gryphon, but the gryphons had speed and agility, wheeling about the larger beasts, luring them to the fortress, directing their fiery attacks or sending them careening into one another as they tried in vain to catch the elusive aerial dancers.

It looked to Turalyon as if Kurdran’s earlier boast might in fact prove to be true. His Wildhammers were having enough success with the dragons already that they might well be done with those creatures soon enough to lend a hand with the main assault.

One of the gryphons broke away from the rest, heading toward Turalyon. It bore two riders, one small and the other far larger, and the latter leaped down while they were still a short ways above the broad stone walkway, violet robes streaming around him. Turalyon felt his face stretch in a grin. Khadgar!

The mage waved his thanks to the Wildhammer who had carried him as the gryphon beat its wings and rose back up to rejoin the aerial fray. Then he turned his white head toward the main tower, eyes narrowing.

“I’ll come help you when I’m done here,” the mage said to Turalyon, gripping his staff in one hand and drawing the sword at his side with the other. “There’s someone in there—an ogre mage. I need to deal with him first.”

Turalyon nodded. He’d seen more than enough magic over the past few years to respect Khadgar’s opinion on the matter. He turned as two men stationed by the far stairs came hurrying over, broad grins on their faces. Before Turalyon could ask why, he heard footsteps from that direction. And then heads appeared as several figures charged up the stairs and onto the ramparts. Figures wearing Alliance armor.

“Sir!” one of them called as they approached. “We have cleared the north wing!”

Turalyon nodded and returned the soldiers’ salutes. “Good. I’ll leave a few men here.” He glanced at Alleria, who readied her bow. “The rest of you, come with me. We’ll sweep the citadel to make sure it’s clean, and then throw open the gates for the rest of our men.” They cheered, and he led them down the walkway Khadgar had just taken, turning off it halfway across to follow a narrower stair down. As he’d hoped, it led him into the heart of the orc stronghold, and soon Turalyon was too busy fighting off the orcs who had remained within to worry about Khadgar.

Khadgar paced the walkway slowly, his senses extended to study the area ahead of him. The ogre was still there, he knew, but did not seem to be doing anything—no spellcasting, no rituals. It was simply waiting.

Waiting for him.

The walkway ended at the tower, and Khadgar stepped inside. The room he entered was large and oddly shaped, not quite circular and with unevenly spaced angles, as if it had been carved from something rather than constructed. At the far end rose a monstrous chair that seemed to be pieced together out of colossal bones—he shuddered to think what beast might have yielded such specimens. Its high back reached almost to the arched ceiling above, and torches guttered to either side. But the throne was empty.

“My master is gone,” a deep voice rumbled, as a massive figure detached itself from the shadows and moved to intercept him. Khadgar had seen ogres before, of course, but they had been down on the field and he had been back with the other magi, striking from a distance. This was his first encounter with one up close, and he found himself gulping as he stared up…and up. The creature’s head nearly brushed the ceiling, and while its features were brutish, its deep-set eyes glittered with intelligence.

Then he registered what it had said, silently thankful for the ring that enabled him to understand it. “Gone?”

The ogre grinned, revealing surprisingly small, sharp teeth and large fangs. “Indeed,” it answered. “He left here some time ago. Even now he is traveling to perform the ritual, while your Alliance is fighting its way past us.” The creature scowled, then set its jaw. “We may die, but our deaths will ensure that the Horde lives on, and conquers worlds without end!”

“Damn!” Khadgar cursed, seeing what had happened. The orcs had tricked them! They’d allowed this attack simply so Ner’zhul could escape. “Nonetheless, if we’re fast enough we can still go after him,” he told the orc defiantly.

“You could,” the ogre agreed. “But first, you must get past me.” It raised its hands, each one larger than Khadgar’s head, and they began to glow with a sickly green light that seemed to rise from beneath the skin. “I am Dentarg, of the Shadowmoon clan.”

An honorable duel, then. “Khadgar of Dalaran,” Khadgar replied. He raised his staff, and the tip began to shed a bright violet glow.

The ogre executed a clumsy bow. Then it struck. Both of its massive hands slammed forward, as if physically shoving Khadgar back. Green light erupted from them in a wave of energy that threatened to envelop and crush the human mage. Khadgar raised his staff, the violet light growing more intense, and the green wave split around him before bubbling away to nothing.

Next Khadgar struck, pointing the staff at the ogre’s chest. The violet light lanced forward, stabbing toward the ogre’s heart. But Dentarg batted the energy beam aside with his hands, the green still suffusing them, protecting him from any ill effect.

“We are well-matched,” the ogre remarked, clapping its hands together. When it spread them wide, darkness billowed up between them, a great curtain of black that swept across the room.

“Perhaps,” Khadgar replied. He did not move as the darkness fell, and within seconds he had vanished from sight, as had everything else. Through his other senses he could still locate the ogre, however, and knew that his opponent was searching for him. Khadgar waited another moment, unmoving, then slammed his staff down upon the floor. The shock wave split the darkness, cracking it as if it were blackened glass and leaving slivers and shards of it upon the floor, and threw the ogre from his feet as well. The crash Dentarg made as he fell was almost equal to the first shock wave, and the ogre groaned in pain.

Khadgar swiftly closed the distance between them. The light around his staff increased, until it was a beam of solid light, too bright to be violet though still tinged with that hue. He slammed the beam-encased staff against the rising ogre’s throat and held on as Dentarg screamed, his flesh smoking where the staff touched it.

It was not a magical attack that saved the ogre then but an instinctive one. He heaved Khadgar off bodily and managed to regain his feet, though his neck bore a charred black line across it. Dentarg snarled, showing his fangs, and charged Khadgar, head down. But the human mage sidestepped the attack and swung his sword as the ogre stormed past, slicing the creature’s upper arm.

Dentarg’s cry changed from one of rage to one of pain. Green light rose again from his hands, though it flickered here and there and flashes of crimson shot through it. Bringing his hands together again, Dentarg let the energy build between them, until he had a globe of pure magic that writhed and roiled with hatred. This he hurled at Khadgar, putting all his force behind it.

Khadgar studied the fast-approaching globe calmly. Then he sheathed his sword and held out his hand, palm outward. The globe connected with his flesh, striking the palm squarely—and vanished into him, absorbed without a trace.

“Thank you,” he told the astonished ogre. “I feel much better now.” He stamped one foot and a minor shock wave toppled Dentarg again. The ogre landed heavily on his knees, and bowed his head, knowing he was in the presence of a superior opponent. Khadgar spared him any further humiliation, drawing his sword again and bringing it down upon the ogre’s exposed neck with all his might. Flesh and bone parted cleanly, and he stepped back as the ogre’s head rolled across the floor, spraying blood in its wake.

For a moment he caught his breath, looking around the throne room, though he knew Dentarg had spoken the truth. He looked down at the ogre corpse, nodded, satisfied, and hurried back to find Turalyon. They would need to move quickly.

“Good news!” Turalyon shouted when he caught sight of Khadgar again. “We hold the citadel!”

“We were tricked,” Khadgar said without preamble. “Ner’zhul is not here. He left well before the attack. He must have taken the artifacts with him. I wonder if he took the skull as well.”

Turalyon stared at him. “It was all a diversion, then?”

“And we fell for it,” Khadgar confirmed.

Turalyon frowned, trying to find the good in this. “Still—this was undoubtedly the bulk of their warriors. And we crushed them! We’ve also taken their citadel—even if Ner’zhul himself wasn’t here, this was still their headquarters, and now it belongs to us. Their military might is broken for good.”

“Aye, they’ll not field another army again,” Danath said, approaching them in time to hear the end of Turalyon’s statement. His armor was battered in places, and he bore several cuts on his arms, legs, and face, but he seemed unfazed by the injuries as he reined in and dismounted beside them. Turalyon clapped him on the shoulder, happy to see that his lieutenant had survived.

“You did a fine job,” he told Danath. “But Khadgar has discovered some ill news. Ner’zhul is not here—he knew we would attack, apparently, and stole away before we arrived. And we think he took the artifacts with him.”

Alleria and Kurdran had joined them now, and Turalyon filled them in as well.

“Well, we’d best be after ’im, then, eh?” Kurdran replied.

“Do you know where they’re going?” Alleria replied.

“I don’t know,” Khadgar said. “But I can find out.” He smiled. “I know Gul’dan’s magical aura from the war, and I know the Eye of Dalaran as well. I can trace both of them.” The others stepped back as he closed his eyes, muttering something beneath his breath. The air around him seemed to shimmer slightly, and a wind appeared from nowhere, tugging at their clothes and hair. Then the mage’s eyes snapped open. For an instant they glowed a brilliant white and showed strange images dancing within them. Turalyon shuddered, looking away. When he turned back his friend’s eyes were normal once more.

“I found them,” Khadgar reported, leaning slightly against his staff. “It wasn’t easy, though. Turns out they’re in two different locations.”

Alleria shook her head. “The skull and the Eye aren’t together? Why would Ner’zhul let either one out of his sight?”

“I don’t know, but he has. The skull went north, but the Eye is headed southwest, through what I think they call Terokkar Forest. I sensed the Book of Medivh there as well, which makes me think that’s the way Ner’zhul went. I’d assumed that he needed the skull for the ritual, just as I need the book and skull to close the portals. But apparently he sent the skull somewhere else, though I can’t imagine why.”

“And you need both? The skull and the book?” Turalyon asked.

“Yes,” Khadgar replied. “I can’t close the rift completely without them.”

Turalyon nodded. “Then we’ll have to go after both,” he decided. He glanced at the others, weighing options in his head. “Danath, I think you’d like to kill a few more orcs.”

“Indeed, sir, yes I would.”

Turalyon sighed. It pained him to see those he was fond of so revenge-ridden. But who was he to judge—he had not seen his whole contingent slaughtered while he fled to get aid. Danath would have to make peace with his pain in his own way, as Alleria had finally done. He would need to learn that you could fight without hate in your heart—fight for something, rather than against it.

“Then you go after Ner’zhul. He’s got a head start on us, so Kurdran, you and your gryphon riders scout ahead and find Ner’zhul and his companions. Attack them at once—kill them or at least slow them down and report back to Danath. He’ll be following with ground forces.”

“Take some of my rangers with you for scouting,” Alleria said.

Turalyon smiled his thanks at her and said to Danath, “Your job is to destroy Ner’zhul and bring back those three artifacts.”

“Consider it done, lad,” Kurdran replied, and turned away to his gryphons. Danath nodded, saluted, and went as well, to gather the men and get them ready for travel.

Turalyon turned back to Alleria and Khadgar. “Getting that skull and closing the portal are my responsibilities. Khadgar, you’re the only one who can trace the blasted thing. And Alleria…” He smiled softly. “I promised you I would never leave you behind.”

“Indeed you did, my love. And do not think I won’t hold you to it.” He extended a hand, and she took it and squeezed it tight for a moment. There would be no more partings for them…until the final one.

And maybe not even then.

She grinned. “Let’s go.”

Together the three friends turned away from the conquered citadel and the portal in the distance. They would find the ghoulish relic that would seal that rift forever, or die trying.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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