Episode 1: Valiance Keep
The winter air blew, unrelenting, against the side of the ice covered ship as it moved into the docks. Heavy lines were thrown from the dockhands as eager soldiers, farmers, blacksmiths, and cooks all started to gather at the edge of the vessel. The Kraken had finally arrived at her destination in Northrend.
The crew had been waiting for this day for months now, some of them even over a year. The Alliance forces were deeply entrenched in the war against the Lich King Arthas and the time to bring that monster to his final end was drawing near.
While the crew ran chaotically around the deck, I had chosen to stand in the open area of the deck, so that I could lean against a wooden frame that led to the opening for the storage area beneath. I no doubt looked a mess to most of the passengers. I hadn’t cut my hair in nearly a year and I had done little to care for it, so it tangled and matted over my eyes. I watched the young, eager, men and woman who seemed so prepared to face their own death. In a small way, I envied them. I wished that was still naïve enough to think that this was just another adventure, not a suicide mission against an almost unstoppable foe.
No, as I moved my hair, I could help but think of how I had felt that way as a student back in Dalaran, as the third war had started to erupt around me. It had been years since then, and now I did not believe in such delusions.
“Sionis, oye, where’d you get off to?” I heard a voice asking from the storage area.
“I’m up here,” I answered.
I turned to see the dwarf, Methick Ironfist, if that was his real name, as he struggled to climb the steps to the deck.
“You still haven’t cleaned up?” the dwarf stated more than asked. “I figured you’d have changed into your regalia by now.”
“There’s plenty of time for that,” I said casually. “Where’s the Commander?”
“Somewhere around here,” the dwarf answered. “Listen, Sionis I wanted to talk to you about what you said to me, about why you’ve come to Northrend. I’m just not sure—”
“The time to talk about such things is past,” I said firmly. “I was drunk and willing to share that information, but now that I’m sober I’d rather not dwell on it.”
“A broken heart ain’t an easy thing to live with, I get that and all, but—”
“Methick, I said I’m not talking about this,” I snapped, cutting him off again. I could tell the dwarf wasn’t ready to give up, but thankfully the Commander had arrived on deck and was coming straight for me.
“Sionis Sepher,” the Commander said with a grin. “The Fire Mage of Stormwind.”
The Commander gestured to the crew of the ship and let out a loud whistle that caused most of the workers to settle down and turn toward him. When he was certain he had their attention, he gestured to me and I realized the stage lights of Alliance propaganda had just come on. I suddenly wished I had changed into my regalia. Still, not wanting to disappoint, I put on my best behavior.
“Soldiers of the Alliance, today we have reached Northrend!”
Cheers went up around me. I waited for it to quiet down again.
“For many, this goal has been long sought. For others, fear of losing what they love has driven you here. Others still, prisoners offered their freedom if they fight with us. All of these are admirable reasons. I do not pretend to know the danger that lies ahead, but I do assure you that I understand danger! I served with the Kirin Tor during the Third War. I survived the destruction of Dalaran and I was there at the World Tree on the day Archimonde fell. Through all of these things, I have gained and lost many things. It is not an easy path, to tread in the darkness of war, but it is a rewarding path.”
I felt myself growing louder. The emotions of my past were charging my words and with each new sentence I pulled in another audience member.
“I see that some of you wear insignia of the Outland Campaign against Illidan and the Burning Legion. I too served in that conflict, fighting alongside the Alliance and the Horde as we faced a foe so powerful that Azeroth’s existence was quite literally in our hands. We were triumphant. Now, today we stand against the next powerful foe, a familiar foe that many of us have a personal score to settle. Do not be frightened. We will be triumphant. Today marks the beginning of the end Arthas the Lich King. I tell you now that not all of us will return home on this vessel when the war is at its end, but those who do, will keep our spirits alive with the stories of our sacrifice and bravery in the face of total annihilation!”
It was almost too easy. A chorus of praise and applause broke out and the crew was practically jumping from the ship to line up for recruitment. I, on the other hand, knew that the last bit of my speech had been the most important. Many would fall to Arthas. So many would never see their loved ones again.
But that truth wouldn’t win a war.
So I swallowed the sadness and turned my attention back to the Commander.
“Now that,” the man said loudly. “That was a speech!”
“So, tell me mage, why are you here?”
I was surprised to hear the question. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve been off in the Mage Quarter of Stormwind for two years now, just teaching younglings how to make frost breath. What’s got you up here in Northrend?”
“My business is my own,” I said flatly. “I assumed you would be happy to have me?”
“Oh, I am,” the Commander said with a smile. “You keep up talking like that speech you just gave and you’ll be worth your weight in gold. Did you see that excitement? I bet they’ll be knocking on the doors of the citadel by dinnertime.”
“So we don’t have a problem, then, do we?”
The Commander’s smile faded. “Well, it’s just that I know about you and Night Elf woman. That things went south with you and her. I just wanted to make sure you’re here for the right reasons.”
“I didn’t come up here because of Keaira.”
“You’re not feeling brokenhearted and looking for a way to put a stop to it? Say on the blade of your enemies?” the Commander pressed.
He was so close to the truth, I sometimes wonder if he could feel it. Thankfully, it was truthful that I did not intend to get myself killed. Suicide might not solve my actual problem, so I honestly told him no and waited for him to back off.
“So why is it then?” he asked, not pressing the topic of Keaira. “Why are you here?”
“Because,” I said, trying to think of a good reason. “I want to be here when it happens.”
“When what happens?”
“The door to Icecrown Citadel is breaking,” I explained. “Arthas can’t keep us out forever. Soon, and very soon, he is going to fall. I want to be there when it happens. He destroyed my life in Lordaeron and I intend to destroy his in return.”
“I doubt you can do much to destroy his life now,” the Commander replied, “but perhaps you can put a stop to his undeath. You’re a good mage, Sionis, all of us from Stormwind know it. I want you off this boat and reporting to the Barracks by sundown. The General here at Valiance Keep will know exactly what to do with your power.”
I nodded. Getting in contact with the military here was a good idea anyway, so I might as well play along for now. I turned back to where Methicks had been, but the dwarf had already deboarded from the looks of it. I said farewell to the Commander and fetched my duffel bag of things. As I was finally making my way off the ship, I heard the Commander shout one more thing.
“You’re going to make us all proud, Sepher!” he yelled.
I looked back and nodded at him before continuing on my way. My real plans in Northrend had little to do with helping anyone here, or filling them with pride. No, I was here for selfish reasons. I needed a magical spell, one that I thought had been destroyed when Dalaran had been assaulted during the Third War. Now, however, I knew the truth. Dalaran lived, teleported here to Northrend by the powerful mage of the Kirin Tor.
I had to get there. I had to find a way to fix something I had broken.