Global Writing Contest Winners Announced
Though the loss of life and limb was great, the ocular fortitude of our judges allowed them to see the job through: the winners of the 2010 Blizzard Global Writing Contest have been chosen. Many judges were felled by the 18 million words that made up this year's competition, but whilst their souls are now forfeit to the contest's patron deity, C'Thun, their sacrifices were not in vain. Behold, the victors!
Any hopes Tirion Fordring had been harboring for a peaceful and orderly day were dashed when the so-called champions of Ironforge and Sen'jin yanked each other off their chargers in a seething fit of rage. The crowd screamed bloody murder and took to the tourney ring, leaving Tirion and his companions seated alone in the stands, and within moments the façade of civility had crumbled into chaos. Racial epithets in Zandali and Orcish and Dwarven and Common flew free as arrows, and it was all Tirion could do to refrain from adding his own curses to the pile.
The breath from his exasperated sigh fogged the chilly air. He raised his palm to his eyes, unwilling to watch as yet again Barrett Ramsey and his overworked peacekeepers made a valiant but ultimately futile attempt to restore order to the tourney grounds. The staccato din of steel on wood echoed off the outer walls of the Crusaders' Coliseum, drowning out the oblivious music of lute and harp dancing feebly on the frozen winds. Beside him, a high elf dressed in the tabard of the Silver Covenant clicked his teeth in haughty indignation.
"Really, Jaeren, the company you keep these days." Arelas Brightstar swept a lock of pale golden hair from his eyes and crossed his arms. "Savages with no concept of honor, these barbarians of the Horde."
Seated on Tirion's other side, Jaeren Sunsworn frowned in contempt. His mane of blazing red hair matched the colors of the Sunreavers in which he was adorned. "You name them savage, but they have a thousand times the honor of your human allies. An orc wields his axe in his hands. A human hides his dagger in his smile."
"Enough," grumbled Tirion, his voice brusque and harsh as he rose to his feet. "I suggest the two of you assist Crusader Ramsey before your representatives embarrass you further. All men are capable of honor, though you wouldn't know it from the men you've brought with you."
The highlord turned and walked away, leaving the elves to their bickering. If only they knew how they both vex me, he thought to himself, perhaps they would realize they have more in common than they think.
Along the walls of the corridor leading to the coliseum's gates, statues of the Silver Hand's and Argent Dawn's fallen heroes stood a stalwart vigil. Tirion glanced up at their stony eyes, intending to pay his respects, but his shame would not permit him to meet their gaze with the clamor of the brawl still ringing in the air. He climbed the wooden steps to the walkways above, sturdily constructed despite the haste with which they were erected. He nodded a silent greeting to a crusader standing guard at the edge of the terrace and turned toward the northernmost catwalk.
A coastal breeze wafted up to him, carrying with it the savory aroma of frying fish and roasting boar and the familiar cries from the merchants' stalls below. It was a welcome respite from the riot that broiled behind him. The vendors had come slowly at first, but as word of the tournament spread they started arriving in increasing numbers. Now they lined the base of the coliseum on all sides, feverishly advertising their wares and services to the soldiers who answered the call of the Crusade, their banners and toys and apparel to the spectators who followed.
Their presence brought a smile to Tirion's face. Eadric had huffed and puffed about them at length, claiming, as he often did, that their mercantilism brought shame and sin to their doorstep. Tirion, by contrast, found them quaint. They reminded him of the tourneys he had hosted at Hearthglen, seemingly a lifetime ago, the bugles blaring and the sweet sound of laughter on the summer winds of Lordaeron, the succulent flavor of meat and mead on his tongue, the excitement in Taelan's eyes as knights from across the Eastern Kingdoms took the field.
A gust of frigid wind brought the highlord back to reality, biting through the seams of his armor like a dire wolf's teeth through silk. With a heavy heart, he reminded himself that the summer winds of Lordaeron were nowhere to be found in this land of eternal winter, and that Taelan's eyes would never open again. The merchants were all that remained.
"Do you know what the Scourge envy most about the living, Tirion?"
The voice was cold and rasping, and Tirion knew to whom it belonged before turning to face him. Darion Mograine had made a habit of starting every conversation by asking Tirion, quite pedantically, if he "knew" something. He had forgone his armor, choosing to dress himself in the deep violet robe of his alter ego, the Ebon Watcher. A fitting name, in Tirion's opinion, given that since the tournament began Darion and his Knights of the Ebon Blade had been merely spectators and not participants themselves.
"Welcome, Darion. I was not informed of your arrival."
"It's your capacity for hatred," Darion said, ignoring his greeting. "It's incredible."
"I've personally heard from a good number of the Scourge that they hate the living."
"They do," the death knight answered, "but that hatred is borne of cold, dead hearts. It's a pale shadow of the real thing."
He tilted his head back, listening to the sounds of the riot behind them. Tirion caught a faint grin creeping across his cracked and frozen lips.
"Oh, but the living," Darion continued. He sounded almost wistful, hard as it was to tell with his voice warped by the darkest of magics. "Their blood boils; they foam at the mouth; they howl so loud the world shakes all around them. The living hate one another more than the Scourge ever could. If you only knew how badly they wish they could remember what that feels like, to harness and control it."
"And do you?" Tirion asked in a tone more accusatory than he'd intended. "Do you remember what it means to hate someone?"
Darion's eyes met his, the unearthly azure glow of undeath masking the deep, natural blue they were in life. The frost in the air clung to Darion's amber whiskers and turned them a stark white. A chill climbed Tirion's spine as he took note of how it made the two of them look so much alike.
"I remember," Darion answered after a moment, "perhaps better than you. I'm not the one who set age-old enemies against one another and armed them with sticks."
Tirion exhaled in frustration. His patience with Darion's idea of conversation was wearing increasingly thin, and this was a topic they had treaded into ruin. "This tournament is a necessity, Darion. We cannot attack Arthas with sheer strength of number lest he turn that strength against us. You know this better than anyone."
"What I know is that you've been less than honest with those who've taken the field. You say this tournament's purpose is to find the strongest soldiers in Azeroth, but I know your true intention is to snuff out the fires of war that Wrynn and Hellscream have stoked. And for that, I name you a fool."
Tirion bristled, but Darion had the right of it. He had, deep within his heart, hoped that the armistice he'd imposed would foster a spirit of cooperation, even a temporary one, between the Alliance and the Horde. It didn't take much in the way of observation to see that no such thing had occurred.
"If we are to defeat Arthas, we must all stand together as one," he conceded. "Give them time, Darion, and they will see the truth of it."
"They've had years, Tirion. It will not happen."
"It already has," Tirion replied. He'd pushed Darion in this direction before, but he saw that the need for the latter's compliance was growing stronger with each passing day. "Within your own order of 'knights.' If the champions here were to see them stand side by side, human and Forsaken, orc and night elf, if you would pledge a regiment and raise a pavilion here..."
Darion's laugh was like the shattering of glass. It turned the heads of several crusaders around them and made Tirion's skin crawl. "No," the death knight replied. The tone of his voice brooked no argument.
Tirion could feel the anger boil within him, and had to take a breath to stop himself from spewing venom in Darion's direction. "If you will not send me your knights," he said, struggling to remain civil, "then why do you bother gracing us with your presence?"
"My knights and I have been formulating a plan of our own. Not with quite the pomp and circumstance of your operation here, but then again, we tend to do things differently than you."
A peculiar look flashed across Darion's face as he turned to face him. Had Tirion not known the man better, he might have thought he looked abashed. "I'm here to request that you visit the Shadow Vault to weigh in on it."
Tirion furrowed his brow. This, he had not expected. "Why not simply tell me of the plan here? I cannot leave the tournament unattended."
Darion's eyes flicked to the side. "I would rather reveal it to you privately," he confided, his voice barely above a whisper. "I am certain Eadric can handle matters here for one day. And Barrett Ramsey seems to be doing a fine job keeping the peace. When I was in the Argent Dawn, Tyrosus had him shoveling dung. Glad to see he's moving up in the world."
A dull pain had seeped into the space behind Tirion's eyes, and for a fleeting moment of madness he found himself longing for his old cottage on the banks of the Thondroril River, for a life free from the burdens of leadership and warfare. But that life had cost him far too much in the end, and there was no going back.
"I will meet you on the morrow, Darion." His voice croaked with age and exhaustion. "And we shall see how you intend to bring down Arthas."
"The Lich King."
Tirion opened his eyes. Darion was looking at him, through him, his face a mask as always.
"Pardon?" Tirion responded, unsure why the clarification was needed.
"You call him Arthas, but Arthas is long dead."
Darion took a pointed look around the tournament grounds, to the merchant stalls below them, the training dummies in the rings that surrounded the coliseum proper, the aspirants and valiants and champions supping together on tables and benches between their jousts, the lute and harp entertaining those who had come to watch and wager on their outcomes.
"He died the day he plunged Frostmourne into his father's heart," he said, the smugness gone from his voice. When he once again met Tirion's eyes, it was with a look that almost spoke of compassion. "And Lordaeron died with him. Remember that."
Darion's words trampled him like a stampede of wild elekk. The Ebon Watcher offered a perfunctory salute in farewell and made his way down the stairs.
The sounds of the riot had subsided, replaced once again with the relatively peaceful hawking of the merchants and the banners flapping in the wind, but a much more violent tumult stirred within Tirion's heart.
Though he had heard descriptions of it in passing, Tirion was taken aback by just how imposing the Shadow Vault was in person. It towered over the surrounding mountain peaks, a spire of saronite that echoed the design of Icecrown Citadel itself. The Knights of the Ebon Blade had only recently wrested control of it from the Scourge, and Tirion was left to wonder how much of the latter's influence was left to continue haunting the place.
He found Darion amidst a cadre of his knights, huddled conspiratorially around one of their grotesque runeforges. He was fully armored now, and seemed all the more commanding for it. The message was clear: he was highlord here, not Tirion. Upon catching sight of him, Darion dismissed his companions and gestured for the paladin to meet him in a secluded corner of the hall.
"I was beginning to think you wouldn't come," he confessed, his unnatural voice echoing within the confines of his helm.
"There were matters that required my personal attention," Tirion answered. "King Varian and the lady Jaina flew in aboard the Skybreaker this morning. Warchief Thrall and Overlord Hellscream arrived shortly thereafter."
"It's good to know Azeroth's leaders can find the time to enjoy a good joust in the midst of war."
Tirion ignored the jab. "Wrynn cares little for the tournament itself, but recognizes the importance of solidarity when facing the Scourge. Thrall has always shared my opinion on the matter." He paused before continuing, his voice a low grumble. "It's Garrosh that seems to be of a mind with you."
Death had not robbed Darion's chuckle of its sardonic mirth. "Perhaps there's hope for the Horde after all."
Tirion frowned. It was a subject that plagued his thoughts. "Thrall sees the father in the son. I hope he remembers everything Grommash Hellscream did in life, and not just how he died."
"A father seldom sees his son for what he is," Darion said. There was something enigmatic in his voice, and Tirion found himself wishing he could see the expression hidden behind the helmet's mask.
An Ebon knight approached them, wordlessly handing Darion a scroll of parchment before saluting and returning to his post. It took Tirion a moment to realize no order had been issued, nor gesture made, on Darion's part, and he was left to wonder how the command had been given at all. Just as Arthas commands the Scourge, he thought, deeply unsettled.
"Do you remember what I told you when we first breached the walls of Scourgeholme?" Darion asked the question almost casually as he unfurled the parchment and examined it.
"You told me to fire my artillery upon my own men," Tirion replied, making little effort to veil his contempt. "I would have none of it."
"If that's all you remember, then you missed the point. I told you that the Lich King knows no boundaries." Darion turned the parchment to face Tirion and placed it in his hands. "And that if we are to defeat him, we must extend our own. That is my plan."
At first, Tirion was not sure what he was surveying. The scroll was littered with arcane runes with which he was unfamiliar, but gradually he began to notice the trappings of a blacksmith's plan. Upon closer inspection of its details, his stomach began to turn.
"Darion," he said, his voice thin and unbelieving. "What is this?"
"Our key to victory," the death knight replied. Tirion could hear the sickening smile playing upon his decomposed lips. "Hewn from piles of primordial saronite, shaped around Light's Vengeance itself. Fitting that we use his own weapon against him, is it not?"
Tirion shook his head feebly, his eyes still transfixed upon the parchment. "No..."
Darion continued, relentless. "Once the blade has been forged, it will be bathed in the blood of his most powerful minions. Then it will drink the souls of a thousand more."
The world spun madly around Tirion. Merely holding the plans made him feel unclean. "Enough, Darion." A measure of strength returned to his words.
But Darion's voice had become pitched with excitement, and he seemed not to hear or acknowledge Tirion's protestations. "And finally, it shall be adorned with fragments from the Frozen Throne itself. We will turn the very source of his power against him! All I ask is the assistance of the Argent Crusade's craftsmen. The speed with which they built that coliseum –"
"I SAID ENOUGH!"
Tirion's voice boomed across the hall. Several Ebon knights, surprised by his outburst, halted their tasks and craned their necks to spy on the argument. Darion stood his ground, unmoved and unfazed.
"I take it you find Shadowmourne's creation objectionable."
"'Shadowmourne'?" Tirion spat the name like a curse. "Have you gone mad, Darion? A weapon forged of undiluted saronite, that devours the souls of those it slays? Adorned with shards from the Frozen Throne? The throne Arthas sits this very moment, the throne that claimed his soul?" Tirion crushed the plans in his hands and threw them at Darion's feet. "By its very name it's clear you realize how foul an endeavor this is! You walk a path no different from that of Arthas himself!"
For a moment, Darion said nothing and merely gazed at the crumpled scroll upon the floor. When next he spoke, the fervor from moments earlier was replaced with the coldest ice. "Watch your words, paladin. I will not be compared to him."
Tirion flared. The anger in him rose to the surface, bearing its righteous fangs. "Is that so, Mograine?" He stepped forward, to within inches of the death knight. "As I recall, he is not the only one who killed his father."
He would never have guessed the dead could move so quickly. Darion's mailed fist flashed through the air like lightning, and a heartbeat later Tirion was falling to his knees, the taste of blood tickling his mouth. The hall rang with the song of a dozen swords unsheathed, but the Knights of the Ebon Blade stayed their hands. Whether it was by their own discretion or their highlord's, Tirion did not know.
Darion wrenched off his helm and dropped it clattering to the ground. Tirion wiped the blood from his lip, turned his head to look at him, and was shocked by what he saw. Black tears streamed down Darion's illuminated eyes, freezing before they fell, cracking open rifts into his cheeks and making a ruin of his face. Tirion hadn't known the dead could still cry.
"Arthas Menethil murdered his father." Darion's voice quavered with raw emotion, as it had when he was still alive. "I granted mine peace."
Tirion opened his mouth to say something in response, but the words choked and died in his throat. Darion unfastened the latches on his breastplate and let it fall beside his discarded helm. He wore no shirt underneath, thereby exposing the long, jagged scar that traveled the length of his sternum.
"Do you remember how I died, Tirion?" The dark magic warping his voice did nothing to mask his pain. "Arthas ran his sword through his father's heart, but I ran it through my own. I died so that my father's anguished soul might go free. I ask you, did Arthas make any such sacrifice for his father? I died for mine. I loved him, as only a son can. You should know that better than anyone."
A cold silence filled the Shadow Vault, bereft of breath save Tirion's own. The heavy weight of guilt sat upon the paladin's heart and cowed him into shame. Once again, Darion had the right of it. But to forge such a blade...
"Darion," he said as he rose to his feet. "I am sorry for what I said. But my stance remains unchanged. We cannot wield the powers of darkness against the Lich King lest we descend into darkness with him. We must stand in the Light." Tirion rested his hand on Ashbringer's pommel. "Your father once wielded this sword against the Scourge, and drove fear into their fearless hearts. Thanks to you, it is with us again. It will be our key to victory."
Darion's rasping laugh echoed in Tirion's ears. Gone was the sardonic mirth and self-satisfied sense of mockery from earlier. Now it was only cold and bitter. "You criticize Shadowmourne, but you would place your faith in a sword with such a checkered past itself? Ashbringer and Frostmourne have faced each other before, on hallowed ground, and still only met in a stalemate. We now take the fight to the foot of the Frozen Throne, his seat of power, and you hope to defeat him with it?"
"It's the Light I place my faith in, not a sword." Tirion set his mouth in a line, unwilling to budge.
"I too placed my faith in the Light once, Tirion." Darion kicked his armor aside, turned toward the forges, and began to walk away. "I have learned a great many things about 'faith' since then."
The pit of Tirion's stomach sank into oblivion. The course of action Darion had set for himself was the highest folly. Couldn't he see where this road led? Was he so blinded by his grief and his desire for retribution? Tirion could not simply stand aside and watch it happen. Not again.
"If not to faith, then listen to reason," he called after him.
"That is exactly what I am doing," Darion answered. "You, clearly, are not. Take your precious craftsmen, build your stands and coliseums, play your summer games, and be gone. We will march on Icecrown Citadel, Shadowmourne in our hands."
"Please." Tirion reached out to him, a desperate gesture to match the tone of his voice. For the first time in years, Tirion felt old.
"I said be gone." Darion turned his back on him.
"Damn it, Taelan, will you listen to me?"
The words had left his mouth before Tirion realized what they were. Taelan's name bounced off the walls for everyone to hear, Tirion most of all. An acrid sting overwhelmed his eyes, and he found that it was his turn to cry. Darion stopped and turned to face him. He wore an incredulous look, as if seeing Tirion for the first time.
The silence was unbearable, thick and heavy like a harbor's fog, and as eternal as death itself ought to be.
"You wield his sword," Darion said at last, "but you are not my father."
A pair of Ebon knights silently stepped forward to escort Tirion off of the premises, and he knew his welcome had been worn. When he arrived at the tournament some time later, Mariel Trueheart aided him in applying a salve to where Darion had struck him. It stung like fire, but not nearly as much as Darion's parting words.
Alone with his thoughts, Tirion sat upon the broken stone and reflected on all that had been lost: Wilfred Fizzlebang, dead as a product of his own hubris. Accusations of treachery and deceit, placing peaceful relations between the Alliance and the Horde in an even more precarious position than they had been before. And the final blow, the embarrassing revelation that they had built the entire tournament atop a network of nerubian ruins. Tirion now sat within those ruins, amidst the rubble of the coliseum, and thanked the Light that the champions had at least been able to defeat the twice-risen Anub'arak yet again.
Still, the tournament had cost the Crusade dearly in terms of men and resolve. Tirion looked into the dank pool of water at his feet, noting the fatigue that had crept into his eyes throughout their campaign in Northrend. He was beginning to look as pale as the Scourge. Any way he looked at it, the tournament had been an unmitigated disaster. What had been the point of it all? Had good men and women truly died for the sake of the Crusade, or had they laid down their lives solely for his farcical notion of recreating what he had lost long ago?
Arelas and Jaeren might have made some choice observations about it, had they not been murdered by cultist machinations earlier in the tournament. They were buried in a small plot of land up the hill from the coliseum, their graves resting side by side. How Tirion missed their bickering.
A chill danced across his skin, and Tirion realized he was not alone. He raised his head and was greeted with the unexpected sight of Darion Mograine and three of his knights standing upon the surface of the water, which had frozen around them at their unholy command.
"Darion." Tirion's voice croaked as he spoke. It was the closest to a cordial greeting he could muster.
"Tirion," he replied. This time he had donned his armor for the visit, and his voice seemed once again under his complete mastery. "This is Crok Scourgebane, my hand-selected champion. With him are Illyrie Nightfall, my mistress of horse, and Zor'be the Bloodletter, my master of arms. Their pavilion will be situated on the northern face of the coliseum. I trust that will be satisfactory."
Initially, Tirion was struck too dumb to respond or understand. He thought for a moment that they might be playing some sort of prank.
"Yes," he said in a cautious tone. "It will be."
The orc by Darion's side, the one named Crok, stepped forward and bowed his head. "Hail, Highlord Fordring," he said, in the gruff and confident tone that came so naturally to his race, "I am honored to set foot on your tourney grounds and to represent my brothers and sisters within your lists."
Lordly courtesies found their way back into Tirion's command. "As we are honored to host you, Crok Scourgebane. I look forward to witnessing your prowess on the field."
Crok and the other two Ebon knights saluted and made their exit, leaving the highlords and the memory of their quarrel to themselves.
"An orcish champion," Tirion offered. "An interesting choice."
"To send a message," Darion replied. "That the squabbles of race are of little importance to us death knights, as they should be to everyone when faced with a foe such as ours. We must all stand together as one, after all."
Tirion bit back a foolish grin. "Of course," he said, then after a moment he added, "If you have set forth to make a mockery of my tournament, Darion –"
"I have not."
A new silence fell over them as Tirion remained seated upon his stone and Darion stood atop the frozen surface of the pool. The death knight crossed toward him with an air of apprehension, the ice crackling underneath his boots as it froze and thawed and froze again along his path. He took a seat beside Tirion without a word. The silence was as pronounced as it had been at the Shadow Vault three days prior, but the cold hostility from before was conspicuously absent. To his mild amusement, Tirion noted that it felt more awkward than anything else.
"Do you know why I chose the name Ebon Blade?" Darion asked at last.
A laugh, unbidden, escaped from Tirion's lips. Apparently, new habits died as hard as the old. Darion, his face hidden underneath his helm, turned to glance at him. Tirion shook his head. "No, I don't."
"It is because we are a weapon, Tirion. Tempered and hardened, cold and unforgiving. Ours is a path of pain and death. That is our lot, and we embrace it."
Slowly, Darion raised his arms and removed his helm. His face bore the scars from his frozen tears. He set the helmet gently upon his lap and looked down into the water. Tirion could only imagine what thoughts he entertained as he stared at his reflection.
"But a weapon is only as good as the hand that wields it," he continued. "And a weapon such as Shadowmourne requires a special hand. A strong hand. A pure hand." At last, he turned to face Tirion. The unholy light behind his eyes belied the humanity buried within them. "A silver hand."
It was then that understanding dawned on Tirion. Darion had not come to make mockery; he had come to make peace. "The victor of this tournament," he said softly. It was neither question nor decree.
Darion nodded. "Which is why I have chosen to support it. I..." He trailed off, as if debating whether or not to go on. "I may have been hasty in dismissing the merit of these champions. To face the Traitor King alone, in his home, and emerge victorious... that is truly impressive."
Tirion watched the younger man closely, taking his time to reply. "Yes," he said, with no trace of smugness in his voice. "The tournament has produced a number of excellent soldiers." Now he hesitated, as Darion had, sounding his own internal debate. At length, one of the two voices rose over the other. "Surely, one among them will prove worthy to wield the blade."
He watched for it, and it was there, however small: a glimmer of reaction in Darion's dead eyes. "My knights will aid in the reconstruction of the grounds," he replied. "And then Scourgebane will set to testing those who would call the blade their own. The ultimate decision will be mine."
"As you wish, Highlord Mograine."
Darion stood and bowed his head before turning to leave, his helmet tucked under his arm. Tirion watched him walk across his path of frost for a number of paces, the waves of a new decision crashing within him.
"Halford and Grimtong," he called out to Darion as the latter was about to walk out of earshot. Darion looked back over his shoulder, a quizzical look on his face. "Two of the Crusade's finest smiths," Tirion explained. His decision had been made. "No doubt you will find their assistance invaluable."
Darion was some distance away, but Tirion thought he could make out a faint, almost imperceptible smile as it graced his lips. "Thank you, Ashbringer."
Tirion felt suddenly discomfited. "That title belongs to Alexandros Mograine," he said.
"As do a few others," Darion replied. He turned toward the shadows at the edge of the cave and continued onward. His voice was barely audible, but his words rang loudly in Tirion's ears. "You would wear them well." He sounded almost wistful.
Darion didn't look back after saying it. Tirion watched as he disappeared from sight, leaving him alone with his thoughts once again. "A silver hand to wield an ebon blade," he said aloud to no one. He hazarded another glance at his reflection in the water, and thought his complexion had somewhat improved.
It was some time before Tirion came up from the depths of the nerubian ruins to take stock of the situation. The sun had crossed its zenith hours beforehand and now dipped gently below the mountainous peaks to the west, dwarfed as they were by the tower of the Shadow Vault. Its long shadow stretched east across the range, as if it were reaching out to the tourney grounds. The thought of it brought a smile to Tirion's face.
All around him, the Crusade and various volunteers toiled to repair the damage done by Arthas's intervention. Crok Scourgebane and the other death knights had pitched their tents amidst a row of vendors. A few seemed put off by their new neighbors, but others looked excited at the prospect of new customers. The Silver Covenant and the Sunreavers still supped on opposite sides of the coliseum, but the poisonous enmity that had been hanging in the air for the past few weeks seemed to have been washed away.
As he passed by the stands en route to the Argent Pavilion, Tirion took note of a boy and a merchant he vaguely recognized watching the Ring of Champions in eager anticipation. Following their line of sight, Tirion witnessed two such champions, a human from Stormwind and an orc from Orgrimmar, mounting their steeds.
"So which do you favor, Timothy?" asked the man.
The boy pointed squarely at the orc. "Him, Father."
The man seemed surprised. "Truly?" he asked. "Why?"
Timothy shrugged. "I like him."
The father raised his eyebrows, but appeared to accept the explanation. He fished a coin from his pocket and tossed it to another man standing in the aisle between the stands.
"One gold on Orgrimmar." He then stood, cupped his hands over his mouth, and yelled, "Lo-katir ogier!" in mangled Orcish at the top of his lungs.
The champions gave the man a series of odd looks. Tirion watched as the orc's gaze travelled from the father to his son, who was all bright eyes and wide smiles. Apparently, they were infectious. The orc tapped his lance to his shield amicably, and yelled, "Lok-tar ogar!" in return. The champion from Stormwind chuckled, and the two began the most sportsmanlike joust Tirion had seen in weeks.
Tirion walked away with renewed vigor in his step. Perhaps Darion had been halfway correct in his original assessment of the tournament. In his heart of hearts, Tirion had foolishly sought, on some level, to recapture those lost summer days in Lordaeron. But the land itself was razed, his home overrun by misguided fanatics, and his son taken from him forever. Nothing he could do now would change that.
But he could, and would, rebuild. As would all of Azeroth. And in so doing, perhaps they could build a new Azeroth, one where the sight of a young human boy squeezing his father's hand and cheering with all his heart for an orcish champion was not so unheard of.
Perhaps, all things considered, this tournament was not such a farce after all.
"Defiant" by Corwin D. Riddle (Warcraft)
Summary: Denied payment for their work and left with nothing, a young Edwin VanCleef and his friend Baros rally the Stonemasons for one last chance at compensation—with tragic consequences.
"We must draw the king's attention before Lady Prestor and her puppets take action," Edwin stated, rolling a small gear over the back of his hand. "If Varian was forced to act today, he would honor our contract—we need only isolate him from the nobles and open his eyes."
"They shield him from us as if they were a suit of armor," replied Baros dismissively, gesturing toward the keep. "We've no chance of reaching him."
"That's why," said Edwin, his eyes wandering, "we need him to come to us."
He paced for a few more steps, coming to an abrupt stop and dropping the gear into his pocket. He was staring at something distant in the city's skyline, but Baros was unable to figure out exactly what or where.
"And," Edwin began, his eyes lighting up, "I know just how to do it. We tear down the city. We make good on our word."
"Your word," said Baros, correcting him.
Edwin stood tall, holding his head high in an exaggerated pose of noble importance. "As acting guild master of the Stonemasons," he said, pretending to brush a bit of dust from his shoulder, "I refuse to see the difference."
"Entombed" by Saif Ansari (Warcraft)
Summary: In the midst of the assault on Icecrown Citadel, an aged chaplain of the Argent Crusade and her young ward work to give the dead their last rites. As the struggle continues and the Crusaders advance deeper into the citadel, the chaplain encounters her ward's dark secret, which had been waiting for an opportune moment to be revealed.
In the endless night of the glacier, deep inside the eternal dimness of the cathedral, it was impossible to tell time. Soldiers rotated in and out, and the rear guard went up to the front lines and collected the wounded, the dying, and the dead; no sense in leaving armament for the beautiful yet eerie val'kyr. Time slipped away into a meaningless blur, her senses dulled, and when Brother Jacob came up with the last rotation and laid his trembling hand on Mia's shoulder, she was shocked by his presence. "Take your rest, Sister." He smiled, the lines in his face creasing, his hand shaking in the frozen heart of the cathedral. "And take the boy with you. We will take over for a little while."
Mia bowed her head, and when Alfred took the brother's hand and kissed his ring, she saw just how tired the boy was, his eyes half closed, the censer drooping in his hands just an inch above the steps, and she sighed. This place drained her, took all of her strength away until she could focus on only her duty. It narrowed her consciousness down, and she had neglected the poor child, unfed and driven for countless hours.
"I will get you out with the next patrol that leaves to replenish supplies," she told him quietly, too proud to apologize but humble enough to correct her mistake. She would carry out the duties alone.
"Fresh" by Meghan O'Hara (Warcraft)
Summary: His fellow Forsaken may have become apathetic about their former lives, but Henry Walker has no intention of forgetting... or forgiving. Discovering a way to keep his human emotions burning—at a terrible price—Henry races against his darkening mind and deteriorating body toward Hearthglen and his revenge.
They've been walking for five days, and only he and Ratslin are left.
There had been sixteen of them when they left Cinderhome. There was no plan; they'd simply realized there were others like them on the road and had moved together for safety. Minds broken free of the Scourge, their kind has become the hunted; the Scourge, the Legion, the humans, and the traitor prince batter them from all sides.
But the other fourteen hadn't fallen in battle, and the truth of it makes Henry shiver from a cold he shouldn't be able to feel.
"In the Blood" by Celine Taillefer (Warcraft)
Summary: When the Lich King raised Blood-Queen Lana'thel as his commander, he gave her lieutenants to keep her purpose—and devotion—strong. After the blood princes meet an untimely demise, however, Lana'thel becomes weary of politicking with an increasingly unsteady Lich King. What darkness lurks in the chambers below the Blood Wing, and what secrets lurk in the chambers of Lana'thel's heart?
Behind the armoire was a door. Her fingers brushed the dark wood softly, seeking the latch to slide it aside. A trick learned from Arthas. She laughed bitterly; would she never stop owing him?
The tunnel behind the armoire twisted downwards, dusty and full of old webs. Near the door was a torch, and she lit it with a small tongue of sorcerous fire. Ever since the princes had brought her the Darkfallen Orb, she'd had no need for older, more barbaric techniques. Desperate times, however... She let the cobwebs cling where they would; they would be washed off soon enough. She clamped her wings in tight to prevent scraping their delicate membranes along the roughened stone walls of the stairwell.
She smelled the room before she saw it, the staircase falling away to a large, damp cave smelling of mildew and worse. Lana'thel's eyes picked out the features in the flickering dark: here a small stool with a bucket next to it; there a sunken hole, dark with old blood; here... Her eyes traveled upward and the queen shuddered slightly. Here, chains and mechanisms dangled from the ceiling, rusted and vicious.
Lana'thel shut her eyes, closing out the room but not the fear. She hated this, hated the ceremony, hated the necessity. When she had worked out the orb with the blood princes, she had quivered with joy at the thought of no longer needing this room. The princes could access the blood's dark power without her channeling it for them through this wretched ritual. She had closed the armoire for what she'd thought was the last time, savoring the click of the door closing behind her.
Once again, disappointment held court in her heart.
"Loose Ends" by Pedram Javidpour (StarCraft)
Summary: While on the hunt for defector Montgomery Lazaro, Dominion Ghost X5149F discovers a saboteur in the one place where he should have ultimate control: his own mind.
William Glass is dangerous. A sociopath. He's difficult to read, which makes me all the more curious to explore his psyche. Of course, I never find anything pleasant. Like all tormentors, his life is a chronicle of abuse. Abuse from his father, from the old Confederacy, from himself. While incarcerated, the Dominion recognized his penchant for brutality as a talent and put him in a suit. A cage with arms and legs. Cages are meant to demoralize animals, make them feel powerless. But he wears his cage with pride. It only whets his appetite for violence. He's addicted to it. Too much power for someone with such a fragile mind. He'll probably take his own life if they ever set him free.
"See, I keep my kills right here." He taps the chest of his exoskeleton with the tip of his steel puppet finger, gesturing to the dozens of tally marks scratched into the surface. "Out in the open, where everyone can see 'em."
I count one hundred seventeen. Exactly.
"Memories of the Future" by Michael D. O'Reilly (StarCraft)
Summary: Light years from home, the crew of the Morgenstern, on a mission of peace, sets the stage for the great war that lies ahead in humanity's future
"This was all he had, Captain," Wilde said, a foot to my right.
I jumped and looked over: he was holding the admiral's pistol out to me. I took it reluctantly.
"I'd give you mine, but I have a feeling we're fighting our way out of here." He holstered his pistol and unslung a huge rifle from his back, brandishing it menacingly. The anger that had been evident in his face a moment before had gone, replaced with a frightening calm. Cold-blooded. The normal Wilde. I shivered against my will.
Sonny spoke up for the first time since we'd entered the room. "What do we do with fatty, Abe?" He pointed the gauss rifle at Tarson.
"Kill him," said Wilde. There was no malice or emotion. Just a simple statement of fact. He pointed his own rifle at the admiral.
A thought occurred to me before I could agree. "No," I said. "No, damn it. We can't hope to establish peace from across the galaxy if the first thing we do is kill their leader. We need to get the hell out of here. Figure it out later."
Wilde looked at me. I could almost see the disagreement in his eyes, but instead of arguing, he simply said, "There's a reason there are no real altruists left, Talman," and dragged a finger across his throat. "But you're the boss."
"Don't you forget it," I said, brandishing the pistol. "Let's go."
"The Wicked and the Righteous" by Marika Kermode (Warcraft)
Summary: Sent by the Shen'dralar to engage in diplomacy with the people of Darnassus, Archmage Mordent Evenshade struggles to make sense of how he fits into the new order of kaldorei society after his extensive time in exile. He is deeply troubled by the hypocrisy he encounters upon his arrival, and attempts to explain the profound need for the Highborne and kaldorei to mend their fraught relationship.
The soaring columns that surrounded him were identical to those that had once stood at Suramar, right down to the intricate pattern of lunar sigils that had been delicately chiseled atop their capitals. However, the way they had been grafted on to Teldrassil's alien boughs unnerved him. He felt as if he had just woken up from a dream—moments ago, everything would have made sense, but now all that remained was a disjointed series of evocative memories. Try as he might, he could not piece them together, and that terrified him.
A chilled autumn gale howled, and Mordent drew in his breath as it scraped and bit at his fingertips. He glanced at his hands, little more than twigs of bone wrapped in rice-paper skin, and curled them into the coarse brown refuge of his woolen cloak. The tang of silverleaf incense emanated from the temple's door, beckoning him inside. He didn't resist. To an old man, the prospect of warmth overrules misgivings about politics.