Blood Queen Lana’thel and The Spider’s Nest

There have been a couple stories floating about (no doubt if I took the time to honestly search, rather than lurking, I’d find more than a few) detailing in grand exposition of how PCs in warcraft came to be the rare few that toppled Icecrown citadel.  Given how expansive the world is and how very small one character is, the idea that my simple, quiet assassin could have made it in an elite group to battle the greatest threat to humanity and Azeroth seemed to be a rather grandiose display of ego.  Of course, that’s just my opinion.  If, as an author, I made efforts to minaturize the world  (or grow my toon) in order to make this a reality, it would not be so far a stretch.  But I don’t have that kind of time.  I’d rather operate under Kadriun being a Plot Magnet in my own little world–and in this world, she and her friends have obtained great honor to battle the Lich King.  Its my story, my toon, and you can’t do anything about it.  So there.  (-: 

ANYWAY, here is my version (expanded and adapted for story’s sake) of the battle with the San’layn queen, Lana’thel.

The axe clattered to the ground loudly, echoing in the cavernous halls, down the winding ramp to the rising spire within the citadel.  Empty eyes lifted, and lit with a hungry gleam from within, dead ears turned towards the sound that littered the vacant air and hung, wrapping around the spire for several moments before finally fading.  The shadowed cathedral returned to its state of watchful undeath.  Sonuvalich flushed, his icy-grey skin merely deepening in hue rather than turning red and he hurriedly picked up his weapon.  Boaz glanced back, shot the death knight an annoyed look, and tightened his grip on his own weapon.  Kadrian peeked behind them.

“Well, they know we’re here now,” she muttered. 

“If they didn’t already, Arthas is an idiot,” Monagan snarked. Kadrian flushed, shooting the dwarf a swift glare.

“You think maybe we’re just being played?” Wrynna wondered.  The assassin frowned. “What do you mean?”

“SHH!”  Boaz hissed from ahead of them, as he watched the undead Sal’layn pacing atop and around the corner.

“I mean, all things considered, this is supposed to be the Lich’s King’s bastion of power, so to speak,” the mage continued, albeit in a soft whisper.  “I rather expected there to be more…opposition.”

“Oh, like, lessee here, that great bone-creature we killed last month, and we had to kill that orc-“

“Saurfang,” Wrynna interrupted.

“Yeah, him, to even get into the upper citadel–”

“Which would have been much easier if the Horde wasn’t being such a pain,” Poundlord added, joining the conversation.

“And then that undead chemist guy who made those crazy abominations that smelled horrible—“ Galinal shuddered.

“And don’t forget that battle with the Cult of the Damned,” Kadrian added.  “We almost got mobbed that time.”

“Like I’m gonna forget anytime soon,” Wrynna said wryly.  “Being forced to listen to the lich prattle on about the “weakness of flesh” and so on was really grating.”

“YOU can see through the fog of lies that hangs over this world like a SHROUD, and grasp where True Power LIES!!”  Kadrian announced in an eerily-similar fashion to the lich Deathwhisper.

Everyone groaned.

“How can you remember that?”  The gnome grimaced.  “That was weeks ago.”

Kadrian shrugged.  “Some things just stick in my head.”

“But it hasn’t been a total walkthrough,” Monagan finally finished, clearly annoyed at the constant interruptions. “We’ve had to fight against things that nearly killed us all.”

“And did, if you remember,” Galinal added soberly. “I remember quite clearly how many people I have to resurrect by the grace of the Light. This has certainly been no picnic.”

“I know, I know all that,” Wrynna said, waving it off.  “I’m just saying, there should be more!  I mean, think about the Bombardment in the Icecrown glacier.  There are millions of scourge down there, hundreds of millions-and yet here, in what is supposed to be the most sacred of the Lich king’s domain, we meet what might be considered, in the array of things, relatively little resistance.”

“so you would rather have us break down the door and immediately be mobbed over by hundreds of thousands of undead, many of them former alliance—“

“—or horde,”  Kadrian added.

“—or horde instead?  Monagan asked.

“Well, I don’t know about you, I rather like this idea better,” Sonuvalich mused.  “You cannot fathom His mind, though. I feel there is something behind the ease in which the Argent Crusade and the Ebon Blade has come.”

“You really think he’s just playing us then?”  Kadrian asked.  “That the Lich King is fully aware of our progress, and actually lets us get this far?”  The death knight started to say something again, but closed his mouth, his shadowed eyes thoughtful under his helm, as Likjar snorted disbelievingly.

“And freely lets us just kill all his…whatever they are, lieutenants, just for kicks?  Whatever for? So he can let us get really good and then kill us to take their place?”

Silence met this disturbing revelation.

“Or, you know, it could be that we’re just that good, and we’re just getting paranoid,” Thecigster joked after a moment.

“I’d prefer to go with the latter opinion myself,” Boaz said, coming back to join the group.  Sherman followed him. “I, for one, don’t really see myself as the next greatest threat to Azeroth, even if the Lich King raised me from the dead.  No offense, Sonuvalich,” he added to the death knight, who shrugged it off.  “Either way, we’re doing what needs to be done.  The Lich King must be killed, or the world will eventually be turned into a world of only undead. It doesn’t really matter if we’re being played or not, if the Lich King takes one look at us once we finally find him and wipes us off the face of Azeroth with Frostmourne.  If we die because we were being conned, well, that’s life, and someone else will come behind us until Azeroth is free again. Either way, we’re doing what must be done.”

“Nice pep speech, Bo.” Kadrian smirked.  “Nice and optimistic.”

“Well, I’ve got the gift,” the dwarf warrior grinned.  “Now listen up:  It looks like Tirion was right, it’s the same high elf who wielded Quel-delar.  Of course, she’d a San’layn now,”

“A rather freaky-looking one, to be honest,” Sherman quipped.

“Yeah, she’s got bat wings,” Boaz added off-handedly. “But anyway, what with the information his spies managed to get back before they were all horribly killed- ”

Wrynn’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline.

“-is that she works in shadow magic. And he said she…” he pursed his lips.  “Well, he said she…bites people.”

“huh? Like, cannibalism?” Likjar asked.  “That’s not so bad; at least I’ll be dead when it happens.”  Kadrian grinned.

“No, no, she bites you when you’re alive and, well, the report he got was spotty at best.  It seemed that one of the spies who was bit went mad and started gnawing on everyone in sight…and the one who did manage to get away died shortly after getting his message to the Crusade.”

“The paladins couldn’t save him?”  Poundlord seemed affronted.  Boaz shook his head.  “It was something that ate at him from inside, I guess.  Tirion wasn’t exactly upfront about it.”

“Well, he should have been, that might be something helpful when he sends us up here to take care of it!”  Sonuvalich argued.

Boaz set the hilt of his axe, as tall as he was, against the floor. “Likely so. But one doesn’t pressure the wielder of the Ashbringer so rashly.  Besides, we’ve got back-up; they still setting up downstairs?”  Kadrian nodded.

“Valithera is helping, they’re dug in pretty well in the council room, now that they’ve officially disposed of the bodies.”

“Are we sure they’re dead?” Monagan laughed.  “That’s marks it as the second time I’ve killed ‘em.  Better make sure he doesn’t rise again.”

“They really do get the short end of the stick, don’t they,” Wrynna mused. “Death’s just a small setback for most of the scourge, I guess.”

“Wonder if they get a pay cut every time they die,” Monagan quipped to general snickers.

“I think they burned the corpses, so we’re good this time,” Sherman said lightly. “Lets focus on who we’ve got ahead of us.”

“Right.  Anyway-if she manages to bite uh…anyone, just make sure they don’t…you know…” Boaz shrugged in the direction of the healers in their little group.  Galina gave him a reassuring smile.

“Ya’ll just watch out yourself, if you think someone’s about to go about gnawing on the rest of us, knock them out, something,” Thecigster added.  Wrynna shuddered visibly.

“Ughhh.  Can we go back?”

They knew the drill; having worked together for several weeks now, the 10 of them acted like a well-oiled gnomish machine.   Kadrian slunk inside the circular room, taking account of the layout and size that Boaz or Sherman could not do by way of peeking around the corner, utilizing her enchanted cloak to blend into the grey wall: just another small shadow.  She waited as the others prepared themselves in their own ways, Poundlord, Sherman and Galinal whispering prayers Light glowing around Poundlord’s hammer like gold, Thecigster tapping into the elements of Azeroth for power as he shifted effortlessly into a treant, the scent of ancient oak and honeysuckle surrounding him: a welcome switch from the constant stench of death and decay rife in the empty halls.

The high elf, tortured and raised from death as a San’layn, paced quietly back and forth upon her circular dais in the center of the room, her great grey-green wings tipped with ferocious spikes, her ice-grey eyes gleaming behind her tall headdress.  She stood taller than any of them, her form lithe but still athletic, even in death. Or…undeath.  Kadrian watched as her eyes roamed her empty room, as supple flingers tipped with sharp nails twitched, and knew that the San’layn queen was aware they were here. She merely waited.  A small, satisfied smile rested upon thin, blood-red lips.

Boaz glanced around the corner, and raised his bushy eyebrows.  Kadrian nodded.

“CHARGE!!!!”  Boaz dashed into the circular room, his voice rising to echo heavily its cavernous depths.  Swinging his axe before him, he slashed at the San’layn, who grinned eerily, white teeth glinting behind blood-red lips and ice-ashen flesh.  She dodged his swings with ease, but was caught heavily as his shield arm came to slam against her middle, throwing her back several steps. The easy smile disappeared to be replaced with a feral snarl, her eyes glimmering.

“You have made an…unwise decision…fool,” she hissed, her words slipping through cracks in armor, sliding across flesh and bone alike, streams of freezing water that shook the blood.  Her voice was like the winter snows of Icecrown itself: cold, crisp, with undertones of fury, scorn and never-ending agony, whipping across the room like harsh winds.  Sherman ducked under her arm, taking her blow across his chest.  His look of wary concentration disappeared into sudden alarm as he was tossed halfway across the room.  The San’layn queen barely glanced his way, intent on bearing down on the dwarf warrior.

“Lothar’s beard!”  Sherman swore, limping to his feet.  “She’s stronger than she looks!”

“Get your butt over here, Sherman!”  Boaz yelled.  “I can’t–AAARGH!!”  He took a particularly harsh blow that knocked his shield from his grip, leaving him vulnerable.  Lana’thal smiled, hands and finders outstretched as though she meant to rip his pulsing innards right from his body.

“SURPRISE!!!” Monagan’s wolf growled ferociously as he gnawed at the highest part of the witch-queen he could reach–her knee, while Mongan rapidly fired gunshot after gunshot into her torso, smoke enveloping where the dwarf was standing with a cacophony of exploding gunpowder.  The onslaught tore Lana’thel from the dwarven warrior, to meet Sherman’s sword flying into a swing she barely fielded. Kadrian ducked and wove under her wings, avoiding their deadly tips as she went to work with her daggers, wisps of the deadly poisons leaving trails of sickly green in the air.  Sonuvalich wielded his great bone axe fearlessly, his teeth bared in mirror to the San’layn, doing his best, as tall as he was, also to avoid her wings that whipped and flapped, threatening to throw them off the dais she stood upon.  Saved from the imminent demise by the attacks of the others, Boaz let the Light’s power rejuvenate his weakness, felt his injury stitch up even as he stood.  Sherman glanced at him.

“Don’t go so far next time,” the dwarf joked, determined to stay upbeat, as the undead high elf towered above him.  She locked eyes with him for the briefest of moments

“Are you having fun yet?” She smirked, a knowing smile creasing her thick lips.  Her wings flapped high into the air, tossing Sonunavlich, Poundlord and Kadrian back, rolling down the stairs.  With a half-turn of her body, she eyed the gathered fighters, and let her gaze fall upon Thecigster.

“SUFFER!!!!”  She screamed into the frigid air, her voice cracking like ice itself as she waved a graceful, sharp-tipped hand towards the druid.  She even lifted several feet into the air, rising slowly over their heads as she channeled her spell at the druid.

“Look at me, you overgrown bat!”  Boaz yelled. “You mother was an orcish whore!!”  Lana’thel whirled back to the warrior, her face a mask of fury…and Thecigster froze in horror.  Billowing shadows rose around the druid, and he began to stumble, horrifyingly, his shape shift flickering and finally fading as he struggled to maintain the effort to keep his form and prevent the shadow magic from enveloping his body.  Wrynna, near him, felt the encroaching tendrils of the purple-black magic stroke her side and yelped, her half-finished incantation of arcane magic faltering.

“Get away from me!”  The druid yelled frantically.  “It grows—“

“Where do you suggest I go!”  The mage yelled, indicating how little room she had before she would be too far away from the undead queen for her magic to work effectively.  “You get away from me!”

“Where?!?”

“Try the wall!”

Thecigster pulled another flash of healing from his connections to Azeroth, barely keeping the shadow magic at bay, and dashed without thinking for the circular wall of the foyer.

“Not that wa—oh, sh—“ Likjar practically danced away from the fleeing druid as the billow magic left swelling trails behind him, his tail automatically acting to correct his balance, although knocking one of his totems to the floor.

“It’s still on me!”  Thecigster frantically brushed himself off, feeling the magic encroaching in his skin like tiny bugs, feeling it eating, devouring, shearing, like knives, tiny, thousands, tiny blades….

“Then keep running!!”  Wrynna screamed back at him over Boaz and Sherman’s mocking taunts, Lana’thel’s angry sceeches, and the consistent explosion of Monagan’s gun, his wolf’s loud growls and the general cacophony of battle.

“YOUR TURN!!”  Lana’thal’s hands gripped in mid-air as she screamed, and Wrynna shrieked as shadow magic began to course through her body, illuminating dark light through her skin, ripping in and through—lancing and searing across eyes and nerves.

She screamed, kneeling, huddled over from the pain she was unable to heal, unable to move as the encroaching magic dug its talons into her body.  Likjar lunged, light reeling from his hands, and the healing stream plunged into her chest like spear of golden energy, bouncing to hit Monagan and Galinal in turn, all three reaping the healing energy.

“HIT THE WALL, WRYNNA!”  She heard Thecigster yell.  The mage spared a brief moment to shoot a scathing glare at the druid, but in the moment of relief that Likjar’s healing stream of Light had billowed around her, she gathered her power and instantly disappeared, re-appearing right at the wall, miraculously leaving the room clear of the brilliant shadow residue.  The gnome, held up by the healing spells of the priest and dranei shaman, stumbled into a run to stay ahead of the shadow magic that reached out for her like ephemeral, ghostly claws.

Suddenly, the San’layn queen smashed her wings down to the ground, throwing Kadrian, Poundlord and Sonuvalich to the floor, simultaneously laughing herself into the air.  Her exultant laugh shrieked high and loud as she gazed down upon the 10 gathered fighters below her, her fingers spread wide as if to reach out and rip the still-beating hearts from their chests.  She licked her lips seductively as she cast a spell, and a blood-red shadowed bolt of magic spilled from her cadaverous hands to slash directly towards the human priest standing off to the side.  Galinal tried to dive away, but the deathly bolt of magic followed her, paralyzing the woman just a moment in such agony that her long blonde hair stood on end, the light of her protective shield absorbing the power of the incantation, exploding in flashes of brilliant golden and crimson light.  She screamed and collapsed, and everyone bolted as dark-red bolts of shadow magic were launched through the air from her prone form.  Monagan dove to the ground, slamming his head hard against the steps of the dais, but shook it off, knocking his helm against the stairs again to set the helmet straight.  Poundlord spun away to avoid one speeding bolt, and slammed into Kadrian, who immediately crumpled as the collision put her directly into one deadly bloodbolt’s path.

Kadrian groaned, huddled over her torso as the corrosive magic ripped into her body.  Likjar rushed closer to heal her, while still casting a wary eye on the others, even as Galinal began to recover, as they all frantically tried to avoid the bloodbolts that swirled around the room like vengeful ghosts.

“Just a taste…” Lana’thal whispered, floating down slowly, her outstretched hand reaching towards Sonuvalich.  The death knight barely had the moment to run away before her great wing spun him back to her, forcing him into the reach of her arms. Sonuvalich punched both fists against her temples, but the San’layn queen beat her wings down, lifting the two of them up into the air so forcefully the death knight’s head was knocked back; so hard had he not been wearing the heavy armor his neck might have broken.  With eyes that were nearly black with hunger, she bared her teeth and sank them into his neck.

“GAAHH!!!”  Boaz hurled his axe directly at her back, ripping a huge gash in her wing.  Lana’thel screamed in rage and dropped the death knight to the floor, where he lay, stunned but alive, his own blue blood dripping from a gash in his neck.  He shook his head, disoriented, but stumbled to his feet. Thecigster rushed forward to check on the death knight, but jumped away, rebuffed when swelling black shadows erupted in his path.  Lana’thel whirled back to the dwarf warrior with fury in her black eyes, though her laugh still ricocheted against the pearled white ceiling; shades of purple glistening in the shadows like blood, her long black braid whipping Kadrian off her feet just as the small woman had found them again.

“Damn it!”  Kadrian scrabbled the slippery floor, made so by the dripping blood from the wide slash across the undead elf’s enormous wing to pick up het fallen dagger  and ripped it across the only part of their foe she could reach–the shin.  The keen blade sliced across the taught muscle like a scythe, and the resulting screech of pain was enough music to their ears that she found herself turning with a grim smile of satisfaction to Sonuvalich.  But the death knight was blinking, confusion blurring his visage.  His hands had fallen to his sides,  the blood-stained tip of his bone-linked axe still as his hand explored the jagged wound at his neck.

“Watch OUT!!!” another scream echoed behind them, and Kadrian spun out of reflex from where she stood, spinning further away from Sonunavlich.  Poundlord, his golden armor gleaming from his holy spells was knocked into the death knight, who snarled un-intelligently, words garbled from the spell that had locked him into the strange lethargy.

“Get with it, Sonuvalich, what’s the problem?”  the paladin snapped, punching the tall elf in the shoulder.  “This isn’t—“ his words drifted off as a widening understanding flooded his face.  He backtracked, attempting to put some distance between himself and the tall elf when Sonuvalich lunged for the paladin, his teeth bared in feral facsimile to Lana’thel’s attacking grin. Kadrian shrieked, seeing their ally abandon the fight and turn to attack the paladin, and she leapt upon his back, both daggers still clenched in tight fists in such that she nearly sliced his neck when both arms wrapped around his shoulders.  But Sonuvalich seemed filled with some unholy power—he came upon Poundlord with a crushing force, despite the weight of the rogue on his back, hands outstretched to grasp the human’s neck, squeezing the life from his body.

“Sonuvalich!  WHAT are you DOING!!?!”  Thecigster yelled, the oak-like consistency of his skin practically glowing a bright green as he constantly channeled his healing power. His cry caught the attention of Sherman, who rebuffed Lana’thel’s attack skillfully with his shield, raking the undead elf’s arm with the serrated edge in a spray of black blood, and glanced ever so briefly underneath to see the unfolding drama: Sonunvalich choking Poundlord, his teeth bared as though he saw his next meal, Kadrian’s arms wrapped frantically around his neck and shoulders as she tried to yank him back.

Lana’thel raised an aristocratic eyebrow, a curious and unnatural motion of calm in the fury of battle.

“Know my hunger, little one,” she murmured, spoken like a lover, caressing and sliding through the room like amethyst silk.  Time seemed to stretch, pulled hard and slow.   Her hands spread wide, and she smiled at Boaz and Sherman who faced her; a knowing smile that shook their courage. “Know it well, and feed.”

Sonuvalich sank his elvish teeth into Poundlord’s bared neck.

“NO!!” Kadrian bashed the obsidian hilt of one of her daggers into the death knight’s temple, simultaneously kicking her boot into the crook of his knee, immediately dropping the death knight to the floor.  She barely managed to roll out from under him as he dropped in a puddle of limp flesh to the floor.  “What the hel—!!“ Poundlord stumbled away, eyes wide and betrayed, locked onto the stunned death knight’s.  Kadrian stepped away, her knuckles white on her weapons, the San’alyn temporarily forgotten.  The paladin clapped a hand to his neck, where Sonuvalich had drawn blood; his hand came back red.  He grimaced and whispered a few words: a prayer: a blessing to heal the injury.

“You alright?” Kadrian asked him, her eyes shadowed with suspicion and worry.  The paladin nodded.

“I…think so.  I didn’t think—“

Sonuvalich suddenly lurched up between the two of them, stumbling a little; Poundlord’s eyes narrowed dangerously and Kadrian dropped into a fighter’s crouch—but he shook his head, dizzy, as though he’d awoken from some drunken stupor. He rubbed his head, wincing, and then caught sight of both Kadriun and Poundlord glaring at him.

“What?”  He said, frowning.  Poundlord gaped.  “You just bit me!  You attacked me!”   The death knight opened his mouth to refute, but his eyes roved across the paladin’s neck, where the wound had refused to heal, still seeping crimson blood down Poundlord’s neck. Sonuvalich twisted his mouth buty shrugged.

“You look fine to me.”  He spun the long haft of his axe in his fingers and sunk it into Lana’thel’s flank, eliciting a snarled screech from the towering undead elf. Poundlord glowered, but Kadrian blinked, suddenly seeing the death knight again.  He looked different. Sonuvalich seemed taller, fiercer, harder: it almost seemed as though he glimmered with power: In front on the San’ayn, Boaz caught a glimpse of the death knight and almost swore a curse he’d promised his wife he would never use:  Sonuvalich was literally glowing with a dark red nimbus of power: his hands moved like lighting, spinning and twisting using the deadly axe to its greatest efficiency. Lana’thel screeched as that axe sunk into her undead flesh, digging and catching, tearing part of her wing to shreds, showering them all with a rain of black blood that itself seared into skin and armor.

“Huh.”  Monagan gaped, his rifle smoking.  “That….was weird.” He watched the death knight for a brief moment, the attacks and movements blurring past the smoke of his gun.  But he shrugged, stuffed a capsule filled with a mixture of arcane dust and a gnomish explosion into the trigger, snapped it shut and fired again, this time the explosion a lovely splash of arcane energy.  He grinned and fished for another.

“What in Loken’s pants just happened?” Wrynna called, dodging Likjar as he dashed to the wall, taking what she and Thecigster had decided in that split second was the best idea for getting the dangerous shadow magic away from the rest of the group.

“I have no idea!”  Kadrian called back, having accepted Sonuvalich’s unusual actions into stride.  “Guess we’ll figure that out later, if we manage to survive this stupid, demon-whor—“ her words were torn from her mouth as the bedraggled, shredded yet still SOMHOW functional wings of Lana’thel whipped back, tossing each of them several feet away.

“ALL SHALL SUFFER!!!” Lana’thel shrieked; her outstretched hands shone like a red sun, backlit by the icy blue light of the high cathedral-like room her screams reverberating high across the halls as she began to channel a spell, bolts of glimmering crimson radiating from her fingers, stabbing across the room.

Everyone scattered, forgoing order or battle placement, Galinal found herself face to face with Sherman as they evaded the scarlet magic, Kadrian tumbled over Wrynna, and forced herself not to make a sudden remark about the gnome’s height even as they ran for their lives.  Only Sonuvalich stood where he was, and it was an odd thing indeed, the bolts of magic streaming from Lana’thel’s hands avoided him entirely; his eyes followed the San’layn and he waited in calm precision for her to return to his axe.  Thecigster found himself next to Poundlord, and as he turned to face the paladin: the hammer dropped from the human’s hands and instead shoved the druid down, bashing him against the marble floor, the force of the tackle knocking the night elf out of his treant form.  Thecigster yelled as human teeth broke flesh by his neck.

“SON OF—“ Likjar grabbed Poundlord and bodily yanked him off the slender druid: the dranaei being nearly 6 and a half feet tall,  a feet easily managed.  Thecigster clapped a hand to his neck, and brought back a hand stained with the red-purple blood of his people.  Likjar tossed Poundlord to the floor, his face contorted with disgust.  The paladin shuddered, and murmured a cleansing spell as he recovered form whatever spell had overtaken him as Likjar watched warily and Thecisger tried in avail to close the wound in his neck.  A soft golden light billowed around Poundlord, suffusing the purple aura of power around him to glow a deep crimson-plum, as he suddenly rose to stand several inches higher than the draenei shaman.

As Likjar stared, aghast, Monagan’s lips pursed in sudden thought.

Wrynna’s head suddenly whirled to meet his eyes, her own wide with abrupt comprehension.  Her mouth opened to speak, but Monagan beat her too it, gears in his head spinning to connect one horrific act with the undeniable results.

“Hey Cigster!  BITE ME!!”

Wrynna’s could not help it; she rolled her eyes, but Monagan laughed in exultation.  “I have ALWAYS wanted to say that!”  The druid looked at the dwarf, his eyes the blurred amalgamation of an unnatural hunger, anger and confusion, and Monagan lowered his gun, baring his neck, although he had to shove his considerable growth of beard out of the way to do so.

It worked like a charm.  Grinning like a wolf that saw easy prey, the druid dove for Monagan.  And in a moment, Wrynna understood.  While Poundlord, Sonuvalich, Boaz and Sherman did their best to keep Lana’thel busy, two death knights and paladin imbued  with what appeared to be the San’layn’s own power and abilities, the rest of the group swiftly organized a chain of bites—Thecigster bit Monagan, the dwarf hunter didn’t even wait until the unnatural thirst overcame his mind, and immediately set his teeth into Wrynna, who dashed forward, albeit nervously, to gnaw at Kadrian.  The assassin set her eyes on Likar, and so the cycle set its way around.  Suddenly, the fight seemed much fairer-augmented by the undead power of the San’layn by the magic of her blood, the power, speed, agility and strength of every attacker seemed multiplied.  Lana’thel still cast the billowing shadow magic at whoever her gaze fell upon, the pleasure clear on her lips as she whispered terrors, but as the fight wore on, such whispers fell upon deaf ears, her smile grew faint, and her attacks grew frantic.  Defiant, unintelligible shrieks were the only noises from her mouth; the long black braid had been hacked off and littered the floor underfoot like a snake, slippery with black blood, of her own and the red-blue of her attackers.  One of Likjar’s totems had been smashed, and slivers of wood glinted with remains of his magic cracked underfoot.

“NO…NOO!  YOU ARE MINE!!!!”  Lana’thel screeched in defiance—and a glinting, ice-white blade sunk into the connection of her spine at the back of her neck.  Like a stone tower crumbling, the 8-foot tall San’layn stumbled, tripped, and collapsed to the dais, the elaborate headdress making a loud crash against the floor, her wings, barely recognizable anymore, looking all the same as tattered curtains of grey-red leather streaked with crimson and ebony blood quivered, finally coming to a limp stillness.

The moment Lana’thel fell dead to the floor, every member of the troupe felt a heavy weariness fall upon their shoulders.  Galinal, Wrynna, and Thecigter collapsed, Kadrian grabbed Sonuvalich, who barely managed to stand himself, the others finding various means to keep themselves from fainting.  Silence filled what had been a cacophony; harsh breaths the only accompaniment to the faint whispers of the dead.

“That….was…unnerving,” the death knight finally said.  He glanced at Poundlord, nervous worry on his face.  The paladin touched the spot on his neck where the death knight had bit him, but he wasn’t alone: Wrynna was ruefully rubbing her arm where she’d been bit, Kadrian was stifling a smile as she watched the gnome; clearly trying to wait until the tension cleared before she let off of her typical smart remarks, and Likar was just shaking his head, gathering up the shattered remains of his broken totem. Boaz was grinning widely, the sort of toothy grin they’d come to expect as a’ we-just-cheated-death-AGAIN-and I-have-no-idea-how’ grin.

“That was…weird,” Galinal agreed with a small shrug.

“Well, I did say she bit people,” Boaz said, still grinning. Wrynna rolled her eyes.

“I know you said you were hungry before we came, I didn’t expect you to take it literally, Monagan,” she told the dwarf hunter. “Next time you feel the need to have a snack, bite the OTHER dwarf.”  Boaz scowled at her.

“Nice job, everyone,” Kadrian said from her lounging position on the stairs before the two got into their usual teasing arguments.  They may have been different races, but the gnome and the dwarf were as made for one another as they could be.  “We just killed a giant vampire bat.”

The joke wasn’t really that funny; but the resulting laughter was the kind necessary after a battle that shook the foundations of humanity in every person there.  After all, forcing yourself to bite your friends was not something people took lightly; Poundlord still cast disgruntled glances at Sonuvalich.  The death knight, as was wont for him, shrugged apologetically.

“’bite me’, eh Monagan?”  Thecigster said wryly, resting on his elbows on the stairs of the dais, a few feet away from the dead… undead… elf.   The sounds of voices, friendly, this time, echoed down the hallways behind them; the Argent Crusade had heard their victory.  The dwarf tossed his head jokingly.

“Always wanted to say it,” he said with a grin.

 Thirty-Seven Days later…

Several weeks passed before Monagan showered them again with his constant jokes and comments: several weeks made hard by the insurgent rise of undead, aware of their progress deeper into the citadel that had each of them struggling to survive on their own, away from the sheltering armies of reformed death knights of the Ebon Blade or the Argent Crusade. Sonuvalich was sporting a new scar across his face and even Wrynna, ever upbeat, slumped against the marble-stone stairs as she counted and gathered supplies as they settled into the briefing session at the Light’s Hammer. One of their number was gone: not dead, but Sherman had been called back to Stormwind by the order of the Grand Marshal, and not even Tirion’s Crusade could argue that. Instead, they were joined by a paladin that seemed to be everywhere at once: Kadrian had met him through a campaign in the Naxxramas citadel in Dragonblight a year ago, but Wrynna and Boaz both seemed very friendly with him; it was by Boaz’s invitation he was joining. Galinal had recently met him through a mutual friend, and Thecigster greeted him like an old friend. He stood up front, resting casually on the hilt of his shining mace, speaking with the selfsame dwarf warrior, who’d removed his helm to reveal the shocking sight of his completely bald head.

“So what’s it gonna be this time, eh Kad?” Monagan smirked, ignoring the sharp look the assassin sent his way at the nickname. “Creatures with too many eyes, tumors and ooze and poisonous gas, or just some more normal undead. Its been a while since I’ve fought something that still lived and breathed. I almost miss it. OW!” He rubbed the back of his head as Galinal smiled behind him, pulling back her hand.

“You don’t listen, do you?” she admonished him. “Taslor and Boaz have been talking about it for almost as long as you’ve been running your own mouth.” Monagan stroked his beard down onto his chest and shrugged. “I listen when its important.”

“Might as well cut off your ears then, for all the good they do you,” Kadrian added, grinning, and ducked the cuff the dwarf sent at her. She grabbed the barrel of his gun as it swung towards her and twisted it, spinning the hunter off balance to land him right on his rear a couple feet away. Laughter erupted amongst the crew and Kadrian accepted the high-five Wrynna held up. Monagan however, decided to lay back and crossed his arms behind his head, for all intensive purposes intending to take a nap. Nearby, a dark-skinned night elf, her eyes glowering strangely with the blue-grey cold of the undead death knight order, cast disdaining glances at their lighthearted banter. It seemed none of that caste permitted any sort of levity-Sonuvalich tolerated it, for the most part, and although he was far more open and personable that most of his order, he was still a far cry from congenial. Galinal endeavored to ignore the attention their antics garnered and rummaged in her pack, smiling to herself as she brushed several strands of hair behind her ear. She started shoving several things aside, searching, and finally pulled a handle of statuettes from the pack, finding what she needed underneath them.

“Here-“ she tossed several of the small figurines to Thecigster, who fumbled with them before holding one up to his eyes. He was slightly shortsighted, and squinted as his eyes took in the delicate detail.

“What’s this?” He said, tossing one back to the priest, who, having tied the clasp back on her pack, caught it deftly with one hand. She traced the engraving on it with one finger as she spoke.

“A symbol of Divinity: made and blessed by the Cathedral of Stormwind. It helps me focus the Light when I cast spells.”

“huh.” Galinal reached for the other, but Thecigster tossed it over her head, where Poundlord grinned and caught it, and held it over his head, where the shorter human woman could not reach it. Galinal scowled.

“Come on, guys, give it back. I’ve only got a few left!”

“Shouldn’t have let him have it,” Kadrian laughed, but quickly caught and tossed the symbol back up into the air when Poundlord lobbed it to her. Wrynna nearly missed and Galinal almost had it, but she spun it across the floor to Monagan, where he still lounged. He tossed it back up, but a quick hand snatched it out of the air. Boaz fingered the figurine, casting an annoyed look at the others who avoided looking at him, before bowing and handing it back to the priest. Galinal snatched it back, glaring at the others. She turned back to pick up her sack: to find it missing.

“Hey!” The rest burst into laughter as Boaz tried to sneak off, innocently carrying the priest’s satchel.

“Guys, come on, cut it out,” Taslor said from speaking with Crusader Eigen. “I told everyone you were serious about this, but you’re acting like a bunch of kiddy gnomes with a new robot.” The laughs quieted into grins and snickers and Galinal fanned her flushing face. Taslor had a lot of bark, but honestly he was just as goofy as the rest of them. Wrynna folded the top of her pack back over the tied it shut with a final pat.

“We’re set,” she announced. “Although I’m not carrying this, it’s almost as heavy as I am.”

“Make Tas carry it,” Monagan said from the floor, rubbing the edge of his jerkin on the shining bowl of his gun. “Great spoilsport.” Taslor heard him, as evident by the cock of his head as Crusader Eigen regaled him with news of the latest threat blocking their advance, but refrained from interrupting the long-winded paladin to argue back at the dwarf.

But Wrynna handed the satchel off to the death knight, who hefted it with no apparent effort and swung the long strap across his shoulder so it hung at a comfortable height across his back. There was little that bothered the former night elf as far as creature comforts were concerned, and the addition of one more weight would weigh little on him. He did smile slightly though as he accepted the pack from Wrynna, a twist of the lips so fleeting one almost missed it. Kadrian grinned to herself as she leaned against the wall, the brazier of blue-white flame flickering beside her.

“Allright, people,” Taslor announced as he returned, framed by the arching buttresses topped by grinning skulls that lead to the broken body of Marrowgar. It was likely the Argent Crusade had removed the last of the body, just piles of bones held together by lingering traces of Frostmourne’s dread power. Still, it was re-assuring that they’d gotten the teleporter to work, leaving them able to move directly to the Upper spire without slogging through the long miles of the Lower. Monagan, to the laughs of all, was most pleased with this development, having rapidly discovered a fear of heights when they’d boarded the Skybreaker on the first trip up.

“—haven’t been able to scout much past it, regrettably. Now this time, so we don’t run into a similar problem,” Taslor glanced at Monagan, who whistled innocently, tracing the patterns on the floor with feigned interest, “if you’ve got a fear of spiders you might want to just sit this time out.”

“If anyone here has a fear of spiders, it’s a wonder they’ve gotten this far,” Likjar said with a shudder. “Crypt fiends are as close to the real thing you can get without the extra legs.”

“Well, these happen to have the extra legs, Likjar,” Taslor said with a shrug. “And from what we’ve seen, they’ve got a fair massive nest below Valithera’s room.”

“Are you sure that’s the only way to get past?” Kadrian asked. “It seems a bit backwards to be going down to get to the spire.” Her comment was met with agreeing murmurs.

“Aye, it does sound backwards,” Boaz explained. “But Sindragosa –“

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Poundlord interrupted. “Are we seriously up against Sindragosa!?” His comment was also met with agreement-although of a more alarmed sort.

“This is the Queen of the Frostbrood you’re talking about here, Bo,” Likjar said. “They can’t be-“

“That dragon is twice the size of the Skybreaker!” Monagan added. “That’s suicide to go against her with less than an army!”

“I KNOW!!” Boaz called, his bass rising above the swift opposition. The argument culled a few glances from the surrounding Crusade, but Boaz pushed on.

“Damn.” Monagan muttered, shooting a glare at the shimmering white-green stone underfoot. Poundlord shrugged. “No wonder he’s dug up half the glacier for this stone. Certainly has its advantages.”

“So we’re being bottlenecked into going one direction, is that it?” Wrynna asked. Taslor nodded. “Looks that way. Arthas is not taking any chances—and is banking that his pet dragon will end us before we can go any further.”

“A fair bet,” Likjar muttered.

“Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call the ‘Queen of the Frostbrood’ a ‘pet dragon’” Kadrian murmured back. She bit her lip to keep a wide smirk from spreading across her face. “Think of the droppings he’d have to clean up!” Likar grinned, and even Galinal stifled a giggle.

“–So, everyone, head for the teleporter, we’ll have another briefing once we get close,” Taslor pressed, moving for the rune that floated over the glowing circle of floor. Boaz eyed the smoky portal with a wary eye as Taslor stepped into the haze, closed his eyes, and vanished in a loud flash that sounded like cracking ice. He shuddered. “Magni’s beard, it’s cold enough here to have to suffer that thing,” he muttered. Kadrian jumped up past him, posed jauntily within the smoke with a grin, and vanished. Another loud crack. Wrynna followed, more soberly, and two swift cracks broke out at almost the same time. Finally he followed, and the staging area called the Light’s Hammer was empty again with nothing but the low murmur of the Ebon Blade guards.

Another sharp crack announced his arrival, and Boaz shivered as he hurried out of the creeping chill of the teleporter, running his hands down his beard just to make sure it was all still there. This particular teleporter set them just within the foyer of the Upper Spire, and as he moved forward to join the rest of the group his eyes roamed across the citadel: miles upon miles across: smoking braziers of cold blue-white fire set into dark alcoves of shadow, thin, spider-silk bridges that arced across the dread, never-ending fall. Hanging the in the cool empty air, he watched the great spire rise, far into the sky. If one strained their eyes, the far horizon of the spire’s tip ended among the ever-storming clouds high above the glacier, spearing at the atmosphere like a sharp claw. It was utterly silent. Boaz came behind Wrynna and hugged her, and the gnome shivered in his arms.

“I would give almost anything to go back to Azeroth, where it is warm,” she murmured. “I almost forget what life is like when you don’t have to crack the ice on your clothes every morning before you put them on.” The dwarf smiled and blew across her hair, sending tendrils of her burnt auburn hair flittering. Sonuvalich shifted the shared pack across his shoulders unconsciously, the only physical sign of his anxiety, but Kadrian saw the motion out of the corner of her eye and stopped her own fingers from tapping the hilt of the curved blade resting on her right hip: her own nervous habit.

Aside from their murmurs, it might have been audibly silent, but the threat in the atmosphere was thick and deafening all the same.

“Its-“

“If you say, ‘its too quiet,’ I’m going to punch you,” Monagan hissed at Taslor and the paladin grinned despite himself.

“Actually I was going to say ‘it’s down this way’, but I can do that instead if you want. It does fit the mood.”

“And as soon as you do, something will happen: we’ll be bombarded by entire armies of undead, or Arthas himself, or-“

CRACK!

Monagan jumped with a most un-dwarflike shriek as the teleporter echoed that loud sound, and Likjar appeared, a little abashed to be the last. Wrinkles creased around his bright eyes as he watched the rest of the group trying to stifle their loud laughter as Monagan flushed, attempting to regain whatever dignity he had left. Galinal was almost catatonic with laughter, hanging on her staff for balance, and even, to the surprise of all, their resident death knight seemed to be cracking a small smile.

“Don’t ask, Likjar,” Taslor said with a wide grin. “You had to be here. Come on guys, fastest way is across the bridge.” He pulled at Thecigster, who was stifling his guffaws with effort that shook his entire body. They moved out into the chilly antechamber, but no one was very eager to take the first step onto the bridge. The ceiling was lost to the grey heights, and no one was sure if the spire did not just rise directly into the sky, if a ceiling existed at all. It would account for the blistering cold: barely set bay by the braziers set at the corners of the angular walkways, icy blue flames licking at the barren air. Great silver-black chains sparkling with icicles rose high above their heads, each link taller than any of them. They stretched across the mile-wide chamber, connecting four thin, parabolic bridges to the center of the spire. Monagan, behind his thick brown beard, turned pale.

“Do we…” the hunter twisted his thick fingers into the rangy fur of the winter wolf beside him, and the great animal whined. It was the closest thing the courageous dwarf had ever come to truly appearing afraid. Kadrian eyed the closest bridge, taking a small step towards it, reaching out to take a firm grip on the nearest brazier as she peered over the edge. Her eyes widened as they stared down into a grey morass of fog, empty and silent. Not taking her hand securely from the saronite brazier, although the metal radiated the fire’s heat painfully, she fished a small rock from her vest pocket and dropped it down. She tried to watch the projectile as it fell, but merely seconds passed before it disappeared into the emptiness. She strained her ears in the silence…but instead of the sound of it hitting the floor, only a shivering whisper: unintelligible, barely audible shuddering wail seemed to reach out from the depths, as though the pebble had disturbed some slumbering ghost.

“…ooook, that’s scary,” she said after a second, pushing herself away from the edge, moving towards the center of the group as though a merest wind could push her right over the edge again. She gripped the hilt of her dagger tightly, her knuckles turning pale.

After the brief laughter at the teleporter, the sudden switch in the group’s mood was disorienting. Taslor moved forward, and took the first step onto the bridge. Wind ruffled his blond hair and he hefted his shield, but took another step. The soft crying began to wail, weaving around them, now louder and insistent, the moment Taslor’s foot touched the bridge.

“What the he-“ Boaz spun around, searching for the sound.

“It’s up here, Bo,” Taslor announced, pointing to the ground beneath his feet. “The floor is carved, so the wind screens though the floor, and it makes that noise.”

“It wasn’t screaming before you went up there,” Galinal said quietly, her voice shuttered with anxiety.

Thecigster shivered.

Wrynna, slightly more confident about the height (maybe because she was closer to the ground), came forward next to Taslor. Her steps were ginger, but once she was on the bridge, she kept her eyes firmly away from the edges and reached out a hand to her husband.

“Come on, guys, we’re beaten greater things that heights before. Just hold hands, so no one gets left, and we’ll be over in no time.” Boaz took her hand, and he grabbed the other dwarf.

“Just watch my back, Mon,” Boaz assured him. “Don’t look down, and follow me. Keep the wolf behind you.” The hunter nodded wordlessly and took his first faltering steps onto the slim, ethereal bridge. It was less than a man’s height across, and despite the room, it was a nervous crossing for all. The fierce wind whipped around the center of the rising spire, and it snatched and shoved at each of them, threatening to tear them all off to fall, forever, into the cavernous, yawing depths. Taslor reached the center of the spire first, and set his shield against the wall, reaching out to help the rest across. Wrynna shuffled forward, and Boaz was right behind her: Monagan tottered forward with undisguised relief and lay on the ground in the very center of the circular chamber, thanking the Light profusely under his breath while his wolf scratched next to him. Sonuvalich gazed around, a shuttered look on his face, and Kadrian slipped around him to peer outside the opposite end of the circular platform. The four bridges arced outwards at the cardinal directions. Directly across the one they’d come, she could just make out the haze of mist that was the newly-operative teleporter. She turned around, and met Poundlord, who was looking across the one they had yet to take.

“Another teleporter over there, I think,” he said quietly, pointing with one gauntleted hand. Kadrian squinted. Just at the floor of the opposite end of the bridge, there was a small circle, colored differently from the grey-white saronite.

“Maybe,” she replied. “I can’t see it as well as you.” Her disappointment was evident; the assassin, though past her days of active contracts, was slowly loosing her clear sight and more and more often had to rely on a pair of special lenses.

“Why don’t you try to have a priest heal that for you?” The paladin asked as they watched the quiet. Kadrian shook her head, somewhat distracted as she stared out into the spire.

“I’ve tried. Every time though, it seems to suffer some sort of diminishing return-and they keep getting worse. I can work with lenses; Wrynna knows some gnomes in Kharanos who make very sturdy glass: almost unbreakable.”

“I’m sorry,” Poundlord said simply. Kadrian shrugged. “Could be worse. I could be afraid of heights.” The paladin grinned and turned back to see Monagan had recovered, although was sitting quite comfortably in the center of the platform, the farthest away he could get from every stark drop.

“Don’t they believe in railings?” Galinal complained. “It wouldn’t be nearly as bad if I just had something to hold onto.”

“I doubt it was the first thing on their mind when The Lich King designed the place: railings to make the goings easier for invaders,” Kadrian joked, still facing outwards, searching the rising walls and shadowed coves across the room for threats. “Besides, it would really destroy the whole asthetic.”

“Still would be nice,” the priest mumbled as she leaned on her staff, the glowing orb atop it shimmering reflections across the glossy saronite walls. Likjar and Poundlord began to chat, anything to keep one’s mind off the threatening silence, keeping their voices low but even so, the soft echoes of their whispered were carried far into the spire despite all their attempt to keep quiet. It was not so much that they attempted to keep the sound of the arrival secret, far from it: the Lich King was intimately aware of all that occurred in his Citadel. It was rather a hush re-enforced by the unnatural silence around them, one they dreaded to break. Kadrian lifted the hood of her shadowed cloak and slipped around the slanted walls of the platform, moving a few steps further down the open bridge, skittering on crouched legs and outstretched arms, not at all trusting her balance as she scoured above, keeping her eyes to the ceiling, where shadows twisted and moved beyond her sight. The enveloping and enchanted folds of the cloak hid her from spying eyes: thus, out in the middle of the bridge, she was the first to spot the flickers against the wall that revealed their hidden watcher.

Boaz stopped halfway in his response to Likjar’s question when Kadrian scurried into the group, her hands held out for quiet. Recognizing the motions and the look on her face, he took his great-axe from the loop across his back.

“What have we got?” he asked quietly, as the rest gathered closer.

“A valkyr, just the one, it looks like. She’s flying high, up in the shadows where the spire narrows. Wait a second-“ She moved to one of the four openings, where the bridges connected to the platform. “Look-“ she pointed out, and Boaz followed her fingers, and squinted, before he caught the play of flickered light and was able to make out the shape of the ghostly valkyr against the grey-white stone. She hovered over the long drop, a tall spear in her hands, her great wings like shredded cloud, beating the air as she waited. Taslor shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s a wonder she missed us on the first trip across. If we’d been forced to engage her on the bridge…” He shuddered.

“So do we attempt the crossing while she’s up there?” Wrynna asked, sitting comfortably cross-kneed on the floor.

“Not bloody likely!” Monagan exclaimed. “Lets get her while there’s somewhat solid under our feet.”

“I can agree with that,” Galinal said wholeheartedly. The idea of fighting a valkyr, above a seemingly endless drop on a thin webbed bridge wasn’t too high on anyone’s desires.

“All right. Let’s get ready. Monagan, do you think you can handle pulling her down to me?” The hunter shrugged the gun off his shoulder and stuffed a magically-enhanced slug into the chamber, snapping it shut.

“As long as I don’t have to step out onto that damned bridge, I’ll pull everything in the citadel to you, Tas,” he said with sincere relief.

“Kad—I’m sorry, Kadrian,” Taslor quickly amended the nickname when the assassin shot a dark look at him, “you help him move her in, and-“ he continued the directions, but Monagan took a couple nervous steps towards the edge of the platform, trying to avoid looking down as he scoured the sky above for the valkyr. Kadrian shouldered him reassuringly.

“Don’t fret. I’ll stay on the outside edge. Just move a few steps more, make the shot, and move in.”

“Easy for you to say, twinkle-toes.” the dwarf muttered. “I hate heights.” But despite his argument, he took a solid stance and lifted the gun to his shoulder, bracing his shoulder against the wall, Kadrian manning his right side, putting her just a few steps from the edge. She hung tightly onto the wall and tried not to think about the drop.

Two hours later….

“Why we are fighting a dragon seventeen times taller than me, I’ll never understand,” Boaz muttered to himself as he waited for the lift to drop.

“Seventeen times taller than you is not so great a challenge,” Kadrian said. Boaz made a face at her, and she replied in turn.

“We’ve an air-tight strategy,” Taslor said, as though reassuring himself. “The research performed by the Crusade and other companies definitely gives us a secure advantage.”

“I’m just not sure how much of an advantage that is against a dragon larger than the gunship,” Monagan said.

“We’ve run the simulation dozens of times,” Likjar sighed, hefting the sack he was carrying across his shoulder. “We should be able to handle this. Besides, Lord Darion and several courts of the Ebon blade are standing ready too.”

“They’ve never fought a hundred foot dragon, either,” the dwarf said to himself, although everyone else heard it. It was difficult not to, in the echoing lift.

“Oh, come on,” Poundlord argued bracingly, rubbing the sheen on his gauntlet to avoid looking at the rapidly passing grayscale wall as the lift dropped swiftly. “There have been several times we’ve come up against a fight we’d thought we’ve had no chance and pulled through.”

“Never against a hundred foot undead dragon,” Monagan muttered again. Finally everyone gave up trying to encourage the dwarf, who might have been channeling all their thoughts, despite the exhortations they repeated to themselves. The great dragon Aspect of Magic, Malygos, had been killed by mortals, and other dragons still. But even then, the aid of the Red dragon flight, or others of grater power had been there to help. Despite the promises of aid from the Ebon Blade and the Argent Crusade, no one could deny that over all things, it was just a bunch of mortals against one of the most dangerous dragons alive. Or, undead.

“Least it’s slightly warmer down here,” Wrynna offered, to lighten the mood. She exchanged a bright smile with Boaz.

“It has been getting warmer, I’ve noticed,” Likjar agreed thoughtfully.

“Well, in that case, pull out the lawn chairs and beer, been months since I’ve had a decent vacation,” Kadrian muttered, mostly to herself, full aware that her tendency to get more light-hearted and joking as they entered a fight tendered to unnerve the others, despite how it eased her own anxiety. She forced her fingers to still their incessant tapping of the obsidian hilt on her hip and instead shoved her hands deep into her pockets. Both hands came out quickly though with shared reactions from everyone else in the crowded lift as the descending platform came to an abrupt stop with nary a sound or warning. Galinal stumbled against Likjar, who caught her and steadied them both while everyone else bumbled and bumped amongst each other from the sudden stop.

“Starting to hate this place,” Monagan said grumpily, as Taslor slapped him congenially on the back with a teasing grin, and Sonuvalich stepped boldly out of the parabolic doorway into a tall, echoing antechamber. Kadrian slipped out barely two steps behind him, and even moved ahead, lifting her shielded cloak over her head as she went. Taslor began sending information through the communicator the Argent mages had invented, that allowed them to send messages to those still atop the spire. The sooner she declared the room clear, they could move forward and let the other advance guard move up.

“Careful!” Wrynna hissed as the assassin slipped noiselessly past the group. The thin woman winked and ducked into the tall foyer, pressed against the wall, the saronite chill and smooth on her skin.

“It looks creepy,” Thecigster muttered, glancing out with a wary look. Likjar grabbed his arm and pulled him back in with a warning glance.

“Try not to attract attention,” he said, indicating upwards. At his words, everyone who had already made it to the bottom automatically looked up. Wrynna blanched, sharing similar looks with the priest and, surprisingly enough, Boaz. High in the ceiling, resting in sticky grey-white webs, were perhaps dozens of spiders: several of them taller than the gnome mage, and wider (if you counted the legs) than Likjar was tall. Kadrian kept close to the ground as she skirted the edge of the room, and everyone shared a sudden intake of breath when one spider above hissed at her movement, turning towards the woman, searching out her faint figure under her enchanted cloak: the noise alerted those nearby, and several of the arachnids shifted, the soft clicking of jointed legs echoing eerily in the silence. Kadrian froze as she was, crouched almost flat against the wall. Wrynna held her breath as they watched the assassin and blinked, confused, when the woman suddenly seemed to disappear entirely. Sonuvalich physically jerked in surprise as the assassin vanished from their sight, and looked back at Boaz, concerned.

“—do you want to move the-“ the sound of the Argent Crusader’s voice atop the spire crackled from the gnomish radio, and Taslor nearly dropped it in his frantic efforts to lower the volume. Thecigster jumped at the sudden noise, but Wrynna didn’t take her eyes from the room, watching the spiders move along the webbing, their movements slow, but deliberate and articulately menacing. Galinal whispered a few words, and a slight shimmering nimbus glimmered around them from the ground up to complete a translucent golden dome. Taslor nodded thankfully to the priest, who smiled smugly.

“Stifles sound as well as incoming damage,” she explained, with a bit of a smug tilt to her lips.

“Good. All the whispering makes me twice as nervous,” Thecigster said with a sigh of relief. He peeked around the corner towards the room and shuddered. “Give me crypt fiends any day,” he muttered.

“I hate spiders,” Boaz muttered moodily, smoothing his beard. “Even the small ones.”

“And the big ones,” Kadrian added from his shoulder. The dwarf let out a most unmanly cry of alarm that, thanks to the muffling golden dome, melted away quickly. The redness of his face was no so quick to do so as he slapped the assassin on her arm.

“ow!” Karian pouted and rubbed her arm, although it likely was no harder than a friendly pat. Sonuvalich actually smiled as everyone turned to find the small assassin reappear behind the entire group, looking somewhat smug and unharmed.

“How’d you manage that?!” Wrynna gaped, glancing back out to the webbed foyer. “I was watching!”

“Trade secret,” Kadrian answered, shrugging it off. “It I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

“Do you want to? I can set up a contract!” Boaz joked, and Wrynna shot the dwarf a scathing glare. Kadrian raised a sardonic eyebrow.

“You couldn’t afford me, Boaz,” she replied with a confident smile, earning several ‘oo’s’ of appreciation from the rest of the group.

“How bad does it look?” Taslor asked, fiddling with the dial on the gnomish radio. Kadrian beckoned him forth to the edge of Galinal’s shield and pointed up. “I don’t claim to be an expert, but there are several holes along the ceiling, and they appear to be connected: the spiders can move in and out between several entrances at will—“

“ooh, lovely, they can come from behind,” Galinal shuddered. “Again: I hate spiders.”

“—but there is also some mechanism on the west wall, right next to the third hole, there.. I think it might be connected to the gate at the far end—over there…” She pointed, and through the gray mist they searched out the black bars of a thick grate: the only other exit.

“Let me look,” Boaz said, moving up beside them. He squinted out into the miasma, his eyes following and analyzing the layout and details of the gate at the far end. Finally he nodded. “A simple enough portcullis: the trick is the trigger, its managed by a counterweight in the center of the floor. See there-“ he pointed along the saronite floor in the room, and Taslor could barely make out a slight crack in the stone, making a circular panel in the very center.

“It’s a weight trigger. Get enough people on that thing, and it’ll open the far gate.”

“Brilliant. Think we’ll be enough to get it open?” Likjar asked. He pulled his mace from his waist and hefted it. “I’m all for a quick rush in, everyone jump at the same time and a quick rush out.” Wrynna laughed aloud. “Who gets to count it down, then?”

“I volunteer!” Monagan called, lifting his hand. Likjar shoved the dwarf’s arm down, so Monagan raised the other one, and waved it eagerly. Boaz chuckled.

“Wish it was that simple. But that’s one hell of a gate. Made of saronite for certain, and I think that’s adamantium plating on the crossbeams: all of us together wouldn’t be half enough to move it.”

“Because that would just be asking too much for it to be so simple,” Galinal moped.

“Exxxxactly!” Kadrian grinned, giving her two thumbs up. The priest stuck her tongue out at the assassin, who returned in kind.

“Ok. So, we’ve got a plan. Boaz, you and I will move in first. Get the spiders off the ceiling, any means necessary; Monagan, and Sonuvalich,” he turned to the death knight,” We’ll need you to help, so they don’t chase after the more…squishy people first.”

“Much appreciated,” Wrynna bowed. “although I’d rather not be called,’squishy..’” she muttered in a low voice. Boaz grinned as Taslor continued.

“After that, it’ll be rough keeping them organized, I’m not betting they’ll be sentient like the fiends, so they’ll go after whoever is making them angriest—so try and make sure if you’re going to cast anything wide-ranging, to watch your back.”
”Got it, boss,” Monagan saluted.

“If we manage them in the center, Galinal, Wrynna, ‘Cigster, you stay inside the circle, so Boaz and I can block their attacks. Poundlord, you’ll need to stay around them, keep them safe.”

“Can do,” the paladin agreed, unsheathing his sword with a clink of his plate armor.

“good. Then, once enough dead weight is on the trigger mechanisms, if Boaz has read it right,”

“You doubt? That hurts, Taslor,” the dwarf warrior said with false injury

”—then the gate will open,” Taslor continued without stopping. “When that happens, we’ll need to make all haste towards it: it’s a fair bet they’ve a massive nest of these suckers behind those walls and they can probably keep coming until the end of Azeroth.”

“Recommend someone calls out if they see it open? Boaz and Taslor are gonna have their hands full.” Kadrian’s comment was met with widespread agreement. Boaz nodded.

“Perfect. Galinal, Wrynna, Cigster, you three need to move first: you’ll probably attract some attention by doing so, but Kadrian, Likjar, stay with them. Kadrian, use that rope-dagger-thing you’ve got, that thing is killer.” The rogue grinned crookedly and pulled an innocuous-looking cord from around her waist.

“What is it?” Poundlord asked, frowning.

“I invented it, after a fashion,” Kadrian said with a touch of pride. “Look:” she flipped some switch, and all along the six-foot cord, razor sharp teeth poked out both sides. “You spin it’ round, like a whip. If you can crack it fast enough, it’ll break bones.”

“Urgh…” Galinal shivered. “How did you ever come up with something like that?” The assassin shot the priest a side-along look, and folded the cord back around her wrist.

“That’s my job.”

“Annnyway…” Taslor said into the suddenly awkward silence, “that’s the plan. Stick together, call out if you get in trouble, and we’ll be fine.”

“Right-o,” Boaz agreed. “Here we go. Buckle your seat belts, and prepare for departure!” And it was with a laugh that the warrior and the paladin rushed into the room with matching cries of battle and the combat began in earnest.

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