When she had begun her journey, Aishen Thornewood had no idea what to expect. She knew that she had lived a relatively sheltered and secluded life, as had the rest of her people. She knew that the world outside would be completely different to the one she had lived in so far; a place of conflict, of strange and alien races, of arcane magic and much, much more. And she knew that she couldn't predict who she would meet or what friends she would make.
She certainly wouldn't have imagined that one of them would be a Warlock.
She'd first met Verien on her first trip to Stormwind. The young human was relentlessly cheery and pleasant, and they had instantly hit it off. That she was a polar opposite to Aishen didn't seem to be a problem at all. Verien was simply very friendly, very cheerful and instantly likable; a stark comparison to Aishen's generally shy and indrawn nature.
When she'd discovered that Verien was a Warlock, it had been a shock. Her experiences with Warlocks, not to mention millennia of her race's lore, told her that they were dangerous, sinister and evil beings, ones who sold their souls for power, and were the corrupt servants of the Burning Legion.
On the other hand, Verien was anything but. She was a nice, friendly girl with a cheery disposition who just happened to summon demons from the Twisting Nether and bid them to her will. She also liked cute animals (Or what she thought was cute; they'd met when Verien had patted Zaber and declared "such a cute little kitty!") and made plush toy animals.
Right now, Aishen had a fuzzy toy Nightsaber hanging from her pack, a present from her good friend.
"Thanks very much for helping me with this." Verien began as she checked over her equipment. Her own pack had numerous toys hanging off it; amongst them Aishen could count a Kodo, a Furbolg, a Gnoll and a couple of human figures.
"I am always willing to help a friend." Aishen replied with a smile. In truth, she had an ulterior motive for helping Verien, but she knew she would have aided the young Warlock regardless.
"Thankies!" Verien began as she looked around. The pair of them were at Talrendris point, the Alliance's foothold in the land of Aszhara. At one time the capital of the Highbourne, much of the land had sunk below the ocean during the great Sundering. Now all that was left was a land of ruins, populated by the sprits of its former inhabitants, as well as their twisted descendants.
When she'd heard that Verien needed to go there, she was instantly concerned. The land had been shaped by great powers, and remnants of them still lay here. To say that it concerned her as to what Verien could need here was an understatement.
"This land..." Aishen observed, examining the area around her. "Is steeped in ancient and terrible power. I can still feel it too... a sort of deep, lingering menace, an air of evil that pervades all around it." Which was the truth. There was a certain feeling here, a certain unease and sensation of something sinister lurking in the background, something that she couldn't identify. A growl form Zaber, her Nightsaber companion, seemed to emphasise this point.
"And its so pretty too!" Verien beamed. "So colorful, with all the reds and golds and browns... and the ruins make it so picturesque."
Which was also true, Aishen would admit. The autumnal colours did make for an attractive display, while the ruins scattered around had fallen into a state which made them attractive after a fashion... but it couldn’t help offset her unease. Still, it was the sort of thing Verien would say, something she couldn't fault the young Warlock for.
"What did you say you needed here?" She asked.
"My instructors wanted three Highborne runes." Verien explained. "Form three differnt sites... they said one was at Elderath, one was on an outlying temple and one was in a camp further to the North-east."
Her trainers, Aishen thought. That makes a disturbing amount of sense. Verien's trainers were a pair of senior warlocks who she was sure had some sort of ulterior agenda, some insidious plan. That they would want Highbourne relics seemed to be proof to Aishen. To her mind, anything associated with that race carried an evil taint, no matter how innocent it may seem.
"Of course." She replied as she climbed onto the back of her Stormsaber mount. "I think I know where they are."
"Thankies!" Verien beamed. "I knew you would 'cause you're such a good navigator and you seem to know all about this place. I guess that's because it's an ancient Elf city or something, right?" Pausing, she stepped back, stretching out her arms. Fel energies reached out form the ground, encircling the young woman in brilliant purple strands, while purple glyphs traced themselves across the ground. "SPARKLES!" She shouted out.
There was an eruption of flame and a sinister cry; moments later Verien reemerged mounted atop a sinister black horse, flames billowing form its eyes and feet. it also sported numerous bright ribbons and beads woven into its mane and tail, somewhat offsetting its otherwise demonic features. "Let's go!"
"That's..." Aishen struggled for words. "A most impressive steed."
"Sparkles is so neat." Verien beamed. "But I'm hoping soon to learn how to summon my Doompowney!"
"Yeah!" She cheered as Sparkles reared, flames billowing form its mouth. "Now that will be nifty!"
The first of the three sites was an old temple, perched atop a rocky outcropping. The building was half in ruins, its roof mostly gone and many of its pillars long since collapsed into rubble. While some vines had begun to claim its sides and the scattered rubble, it still retained much of its old majesty.
The pair of them dismounted, keeping low and stealthily moving around the side. As she went, Aishen observed the site, looking for signs of its occupants. In Azshara, she knew, what at first seemed to be an empty and abandoned structure would often be anything but. The fel creatures that blighted this land would often use the ruins left behind by the Highbourne for their own twisted ends. Surveying the landscape, Aishen tried to hold back a desire to out and attack the creatures, feeling full well that whatever she did to them would be justified.
Instead, the pair of them ducked behind a fallen column, one that had been largely covered with fallen leaves. "Looking the building and judging by the tracks around it and certain artifacts, I'd say that there are Satyrs inside it." Aishen began. "They've probably long since corrupted this place into one of their own foul shrines... which means that your relic is almost certainly inside it."
"Yeah, I knew it was Satyrs." Verien replied. "In fact, its lots of them."
Aishen raised a brow. Her observation was based on months of practice and training. learning to identify the subtle signs of movement form different animals, as well as other beings. She'd deduced the presence of the Satyrs from some very careful observation, but didn't know the Warlock had also practiced such skills. "You did?"
"I can sense demons!" She beamed. Aishen blinked. "Its a spell I learned to help me find when they’re about., Its real useful like, because I work with demons and stuff."
"Speaking of which..." Aishen trailed off. "Where's your Voidwalker? You're rarely seen without it."
"Zaggie's been a bit of a grump of late. I think he needs a holiday." She casually replied.
"A... what?" As far as she knew, Voidwalkers weren't even sentient, let alone capable of expressing themselves.
"Anyway... I think I have an idea." Verien continued. "But... I firstly need a single Satyr. Can you get me one."
"Uhh... sure." Aishen nodded. "I think I can manage that."
Wondering what she was up to, she set off, cautiously moving through the field of ruins. Zaber padded along behind her, moving a lot more silently then his bulk would suggest. She could feel his apprehesnion, knowing full well that the Nightsaber didn't like this place any more then she did. "Don't worry." She whispered. "We'll be done here soon."
Aishen would have been the first to admit that she talked to her companion, often acting like she was expecting an intelligent response. It was commonplace; she and the Nightsaber had spent so long together that they had developed a certain bond. While they couldn't talk directly to each other, they did have an ability to understand each other's feelings and get an idea of what the other was thinking. Verien had even joked that Aishen talked more to Zaber than she did to other people; something that, at least in her earlier days, would have been hard to deny.
She couldn't understand, however, the way Verien talked to her minions, especially Zag'juk, her Voidwalker. The demon was a souless blob of inky blackness, a creature that possessed no overt signs of intelligence or any ability to communicate. She could command, true, but that was the limit of it.
A lone Satyr, a large one with red and orange fur, prowled the outer edge of the ruins. For the moment, the demonic being didn't seem to be aware of her presence, instead studying the area around him. Remaining low, she drew her bow, focusing on the creature. Then, confident she had her mark, she let fly. The arrow shot through the air and imbedded itself in his arm, the bow crippling but far form lethal - as she had planned it.
The creature bellowed in pain, then turned around, seeing her lurking nearby. Confident that she had its attention, she broke into a run Zaber dashing along on her heels. The Satyr roared, then charged after her, chanting some fel incantation as he moved. "Verien!" She called out. "I got you your Satyr!"
"Yay!" Verien leaped up and cheered, before landing with her arms outspread. Again she began chanting, the same energies surrounding her. A purple beam shot forth, striking the Satyr in the chest. He staggered back as otherworldly chains emerged form the energy, encircling his body. The creature stopped, then stood still.
"What... what did you do?" Aishen asked.
"Oh, I binded him to my control." She cheerfully explained. "Say hello!"
The Satyr waved its hand slowly, a low moan emerging form its mouth.
"Um..." Aishen was lost for words. "That's... uhh..." Verien had just displayed an ability that not only was Aishen unware of, but frankly frightened her.
"Anyway, I know what to do with him now!" Verien continued. "Ready?"
The Satyr nodded slowly.
"Okies! Go into the temple and stir things up, please." She commanded, but in a way that sounded like she was asking politely. The Satyr turned, then slowly plodded towards the temple, moving like he was only half awake or not fully aware of his surroundings.
"Oh!" She continued. "He knows a few spells. This should be very interesting!"
The Satyr entered the temple and then, to Aishen's surprise, began casting. Second alter, a wave of inky black energy emerged form his hands, washing over another unseen target. Shouts came from within the temple as the Satyr charged in, followed by the sounds of spells being cast. Aishen glanced at Verien, observing the warlock as she appeared to be guiding or directing the Satyr's actions. "Yeah, keep going, keep going... try that one again... ouchies. That's going to hurt a bit."
"Well..." She grinned nervously. "I think the temple's safe to enter now." She jumped over the fallen pillar, then walked up to the entrance. Turning back, she waved excitedly. "Come on up, Aishen! But... its bit messy in here."
Entering the ruin, Aishen could see that Verien was understating the obvious. Besides the usual regalia one associated with Satyrs, the place had taken on a somewhat different air. The bodies of at least half a dozen Satyrs lay scattered around the place, having apparently killed each other. "Um..." She began. "What happened?"
"That one Satyr had a curse that causes people to go nuts and attack each other." Verien offered. "So everyone here went all crazy and stuff." She skipped deeper into the temple, approaching an altar that was decorated with what appeared to be animal skulls and dried blood. "Aha! Here's the Rune thingy!"
Aishen apprehensively looked around the temple. It seemed safe now but, like everything else in this land, it worried her. She still wondered if there wasn't something else afoot, some deeper significance to these three runes that she was being asked to retrieve. Despite the fact that none of the demons still lived, she held her bow tightly, making sure that she would not be caught unawares.
Zaber, as if sensing her thoughts, padded up next to her, letting out a low growl. "I know." She replied in Darnassian, her voice nearly a whisper as she scratched the Nightsaber's head. "And I'm sure she knows what she's doing." She added as she watched Verien extract the stone form the altar. "Of course, that may not be a good thing."
"Got it!" The girl called out. "Allrrighty! Off to the next point!"
"oooooooh." Verien began as she looked down from their vantage point on top of a cliff. "Now that's neat looking."
Below them lay the ruins of Elderath, once the greatest city if the Highborne. Today it was in ruins, its buildings scattered in amongst the rocks; some still standing while others were long gone. Despite this, it was still a majestic site in its decay, suggestive of the enormity of the place and the power it must have held in its prime.
"It is impressive, I'll admit." Aishen offered. "The Highbourne achieved great things in their time. Unfortunately, they were tainted by great evil, and let their power control them." She shook her head. "It would be nice to think that this city is all that remained of them. However, they linger still."
"Still... its neat. And this is a great view."
"I suppose so." Aishen sighed. Again, Verien was missing the point of what she was saying. "Shall we get moving?"
They traveled down a well-worn path, heading into the city proper. Around them, the ruins loomed up over them, casting strange shadows onto the carpet of fallen leaves. In places, old paths still existed, hinting at the original layout of the city proper. Aishen cautiously watched the area around them for any sighs of movement, any hit of what creatures may still lurk in the ruins. She knew full well that while the Highborne were now extinct, it didn't necessarily mean that they were no longer a danger.
She paused, examining a track on the ground. It was a single path, resembling nothing so much as a snake's trail, albeit one of a very large and board creature. As she analysed it, she began to realise what it was, and the danger that it represented. Her eyes widened in alarm as she heard a low, hissing noise nearby, one that confirmed her fears.
"Verien!" Aishen called out as she stood. "Behind you!"
Zaber launched himself into action, dashing past the Warlock to leap on a creature standing behind her. Taller then a man, it had a reptilian head and serpentine lower body, contrasting with its thickly muscled torso and arms that clutched a wicked trident. The creature snarled in alarm as the Nightsaber pounced on it, sinking its claws into the creature's flank. Taking careful aim, Aishen let fly, the arrow imbedding itself in the creature's chest.
"There's another!" Verien called out, spinning around. Its companion shared the same serpentine lower body, but that was the end of the similarities. Its body resembled that of a woman's, as did it head, albeit with a finned crest. More distressing, however, were its four slender arms. An arrow narrowly missed Verien, the warlock replying with a quick chant that sent a ball of flame flying at the attacker. Moments later, it was enveloped in a cloud of searing flames, burning with magical force. Not letting up, Verien unleashed several more spells, each one seemingly inflicting a worse pain on the creature.
Aishen turned back to her first foe, sending another few arrows into its chest. The creature bellowed, then reared up before collapsing back, crashing to the ground. A second later, there was an ear-piercing wail as the creature attacking Verien messily expired. Glancing over at it, Aishen could barely recognise its form.
"Phew." Verien began.
"Naga." Aishen shook her head. "I should have figured."
"I've seen them before." Verien spoke up. "There were some ion Stranglethorn, and others off the coast near Southshore. I didn't know they lived over here too."
"It makes sense." Aishen continued. "This was their city after all."
"Oh?" Verien asked. "I thought you said it was a Highbourne city."
"But Nagas live underwater." Verien continued. "So was this city Uunderwater then?"
"And it has stairs. Nagas wouldn't need them. They'd use, I dunno... slithery ramp things."
"Well-" Aishen sighed. "Thing is, the Nagas were originally Highbourne." She offered. "As were the Satyrs."
"Wha?" Verien looked genuinely surprised. "You mean they used to look like you?"
"More or less." She nodded. "They looked like other Kaldoeri; tall, purple skin, elongated ears... all these traits."
"So what happened? I mean... I guess that turning into snake people isn't normal for your people."
"No." Aishen shook her head, sadly. "The Highbourne were corrupted by their power and their use of demon magic. They were transformed by the Burning Legion to become their servants."
"Now that is weird." Verine commented. "I mean, they don't look much like Night Elves." The enormity of the revelation seemed to have totally passed her by. "But them I suppose it was a long time ago."
Aishen also noted that she had missed her comments about Demonic energy and the like. "So did they say where this rune was?" She asked, giving up.
"Let's see..." Verien commented as she looked around the ruins. "Its not one of those sparkly crystals, its not one of those shiny obelisks and I don't think it's in any of those ruins... ooh! That's where it will be!" She turned and pointed, a smile on her face.
Aishen looked up at where she was indicating, the massive temple of Zin-Malor, the centerpiece of what had once been the city. She had a sudden feeling of foreboding and dread as she realised that the pair of them would have to step into that accursed place, as well as whatever it was that lurked inside would be steeped in its fel energies. "Of course." She replied, apprehensively. "Lets go then."
"Hold on a sec..." Verien began. "I suppose I should be prepared." She stepped back, again beginning the summoning ritual. A moment later, the ground next to her erupted in a cloud of inky blackness, a form emerging out of it. Teardrop shaped, it was midnight-blue, with two thick arms and a crude approximation of a head, surmounted with two glowing white beads of light for eyes.
I don't like it here
Aishen almost stepped back in surprise. She hadn't heard the words as much as they seemed to have formed inside her head. It was a shock to her, however, se they appeared to have come form the Voidwalker itself, a creature that she didn't even know was capable of communicating. She blinked in surprise, then turned to Verien. "Was that..."
She nodded. "Yeah. I dunno what it us but, well, Zaggie's been a lot more talkative of late. And he seems to be upset about something."
"I can't imagine." Aishen commented, which was the truth. She couldn't even begin to understand the mind of a Voidwalker.
The pair of them cautiously approached the temple, weapons at the ready. Looking around, Aishen could see signs that the area was well-used by the Nagas; they seemed to have little or no reason to avoid it. "Well..." Verien began. "I can't sense any demons in there."
"Nagas aren't demons." Aishen simply stated.
"But Satyrs are?"
"Interesting. You’d' think that since they come form the same source... ah well! Not important right now!" She shrugged and smiled.
As they stepped inside, Aishen immediately noticed how dark it was. The whole place was bathed in an eerie, unworldly purple light that seemed to filter down from the dome's roof. The second was the sinister hissing noises issuing form all around the room, as at least a dozen pairs of sinister reptilian eyes turned towards the pair of them.
"I think..." Verien began. "That we could be in a bit of trouble."
"I think." Aishen replied. "That you may be right."
Looming over the pair of them, standing in the middle of the room, was the biggest Naga either of them had ever seen, a massive, heavily muscled male. With a loud hiss, he charged towards the pair of them, the other in the room following his lead. "Get back!" Aishen called out. "Get back now!" She began to back up, bow at the ready as, all across the room, the Nagas began to move, heading towards the pair of them. "Run!" As she backed off, she began firing into the darkness, aiming less to put down specific targets and more to slow their would-be attackers.
They dashed out of the temple with Zaber and Zag'juk on their heels, the Nagas following them. "We're in trouble!" Aishen called out as she looked aorund for cover, seeking some place that she could use to hide from the incoming horde and use for cover.
"I've got them!" Verien called out. "Go Zaggie!" With a barely audible roar, the Voidwalker charged forwards, plowing into the largest Naga. He, and several of the others, suddenly turned their attention to the demon, seemingly ignoring its master and her companion.
"Now get clear!" Verien called out as she began casting. Aishen didn't need to be told twice, ducking behind an obelisk. Moments later, the sky seemed to erupt into flames as balls of fire plummeted down onto the group of Nagas. Zag'Juk continued to lay into them, seemingly unaffected as the snake-like humanoids writhed and burned.
Taking Verien's lead, Aishen drew her bow and began to unload volleys of arrows into the group, not aiming for specific individuals but more to fire into the group. It had the desired effect; several who had not already fallen to Verien's fire went down under her arrows. Several more suddenly broke away, fleeing away from the front of the temple, leaving their dead and dying comrades behind.
"That was amazing." Aishen began, turning to the cute girl who had unleashed so much chaos.
"It was nothing." She replied. "Besides, every now and then, a girls' just gotta rain fire form the sky." And then she smiled in a very cute way. Disturbingly such.
"Right then... let's retrieve your rune, shall we?"
Aishen had used the information Verien had given her, as well as her knowledge of the area, to track down the third rune. Unfortunately, it promised to be, if anything, even more difficult then the first two. It was in a group of nearly completely fallen ruins that, like so much else of the land, had been claimed by interlopers. However, unlike the Nagas and Satyr, these intruders were hardly natives to the region. A group of men and women roamed the campsite; they were tall and slender, with blond hair, green eyes, fine features and elongated pointed ears. They were dressed in either robes or somewhat revealing armour, all of which was a single colour - blood red.
"Blood Elves." Aishen muttered, an angry, hostile tone in her voice. "It figures that they would travel to this blighted land. They probably feed off the evil here, reveling in it."
"Bad?" Verien asked.
"The Blood Elves are traveling down the same paths that the Highborne did." She explained. "In time, they may suffer the same fate... or doom us all."
"So you don't like them then?" Verien asked. "I mean, I know they’re not nice."
"Blood Elves are one of my four least favorite things." Aishen began. "Along with Nagas, Satyrs and wa-" She stopped, looking at Verien.
"W?" Verien replied. "W what?"
"Its not important."
"Worgen?" She asked. "Walruses? Wildebeest? Wailing Caverns? Warthogs? Will, that nice Shaman we once met? White dro-"
"Shh." Aishen cut her off, half to keep their presence a secret and half to stop her from rattling off every word she could think of beginning with 'w'. (Which Aishen knew she would.) "We need to be cautious. If we're lucky, we can try to steal past them."
"I wonder though..." Verien began. "Why would Blood Elves want an old Highborne Rune?"
For the same reasons your trainers do, I'll wager. She thought. Instead, she replied. "I couldn't say. But whatever it is, I'm sure it's not pleasant. Blood Elves are power-mad creatures who feed of Demonic Energies to satisfy their foul cravings."
"But their robes are kind of pretty." Verien spoke up. "Sort of my own robe."
"My robe's made of Satyr blood, by the way." Verien continued. "And it's pretty, so they can't be all bad."
"That's... nice." Aishen studied the group, trying not to htink aobut the young Warlock's robe or what else she may have used to make it. "I think I may have a way. Follow me, and stay quiet."
Verien nodded, the two of them padding along on the outside of the Blood Elf encampment. ”Now... I think I can get one of them if I'm careful..." She nodded to Zaber, who gave a quiet growl in reply. Slinking low to the ground, the Nightsaber stalked forwards, heading towards a Blood Elf on the outside of the group. Clad in red leathers and armed with a bow, he looked to be a Hunter much like Aishen was. Fortunately, however, she could see no sign of a companion.
He remained unaware of the Nightsaber's presence until the last moment; Zaber launched himself at the elf, erupting from cover in a shower of golden-brown leaves. With a roar, the tiger leaped at the Blood Elf, sinking his claws into its chest. He cried out, both in alarm and pain, only to be silenced by an arrow to the throat from Aishen.
Another Blood Elf, a female mage spun aorund in surprise as her companion went down. She began to call out, but was cut off by Verien's own cry out to her Voidwalker. Zag'juk charged forwards, slamming into the mage and sending her reeling. Angered, she began casting, directing the fury of her spells at the inky-black demon.
"Behind you!" Aishen called out. Verien spun around to see another Blood Elf, this one dressed in scanty robes approaching. She raised her hands to cast, but instead was struck by a burst of green light from the would-be attacker.
"Wooo..." Verien began. "Trippy... I feel a bit wonky. Can I sit down now?" Shaking her head, she began to cast a spell. However, this time there was no surge of power at the enemy. "Wha?"
"Dammit" Aishen snarled, turning around. She loosed an arrow just as the Priestess began casting, the shot striking her in the shoulder. She staggered back, the green energy building up in her hands dissipating. A moment later she let out a squeal of alarm as Zaber leaped on her, sinking his claws into her exposed skin. With a yelp, she went down under his assault.
"You okay there?" Aishen asked.
"Well... I think so." She blinked a few times. "Something happened there..." Then, turning around, she focused her attention on the Blood Elf that Zag'juk was still grappling with. After a quick gesture, flames leaped from her hands, steaming towards her opponent. With a flash, the Elf was incinerated, collapsing to the ground in a smoking ruin. "All better!"
"Interesting... I wonder what it was that happened..." Aishen looked over the bodies of the fallen Blood Elves. "Maybe it was some magical ability of theirs, something that comes form their nature. I couldn't say." Looking around, she could see some more of the red-clad Elves in the distance; these ones remained quiet, as if they weren't aware of what was going on in the camp. Hopefully we can get out without too much more strife. Which was not entirely true. As much as she knew that they were outnumbered, she allmost wanted an excuse to attack the other Blood Elves.
"Could be. Oh well." She finished, then shrugged. Darting into the camp, she began sorting through the possessions that the Elves had left there. A moment later, she emerged, a runed stone in hand. "Got it!" She called out.
Aishen nodded. "Good. Let us leave this cursed place then." Shaking her head, she sighed.
"Awww, do we have to? It's so pretty here..."
The Hunter smiled at her friend. "Come on. I'll help you deliver these to your trainers." She finished, changing the subject. That way, I can try to assess what hty are planning - and stop it, if needs be.
"Okies!" Verien finished, stepping back. "You're such a neat person, Aishen."
"I try my best."
"Don't you ever change, okay?"
"I won't." She nodded. "And don't you either." Because I fear for what you may become.
- This story was co-written