The monster’s escort to Acherus never bothered introducing herself, so neither did he. The frost wyrm, untroubled by fatigue, flew nonstop until they reached the southernmost reaches of the Howling Fjord. Here, for the first time, he saw the skeletal outposts the Horde and Alliance left behind when the war in the north ended.
“Vengeance Landing,” his guide explained when he indicated one of the outposts. A sentry riding astride an enormous bat spiraled toward them from one of the outlying structures, and the woman nudged the frost wyrm further south. “I can’t get too close,” she explained, her voice echoing from within her helmet. “Humans aren’t welcome there.”
This gave the monster something to think about for some time as the terrain below gave way to the seemingly endless expanse of the roiling sea. Horde and Alliance… those who assailed the Citadel in the last days of the war had worn many faces, many races, many banners. Yet apparently humans were still unwelcome at certain encampments. Had the truce died along with the king?
There was much he did not know. Some remnants of his memories showed the soaring violet spires of Dalaran. That place, he knew. The mages of the Kirin Tor had moved their entire city to the very doorstep of Icecrown Citadel, but his memories placed it further south, where the ache of winter was fleeting and seasons passed more normally. So, he had once lived in Dalaran. Before the war. But which one?
And before Dalaran? His life existed in bits and pieces – flashes of memory like the shards of a shattered mirror. The pieces still reflected, but could not show him the greater picture. Only fragments. There were a pair of elf girls, blonde and blue-eyed. Dalaran. More elves, with green eyes this time. Naga. A gnawing hunger.
Questions darted through his mind like glassfin minnows, but for now the monster held his tongue. This woman had come to him in Icecrown bearing freedom. He ignored the brief thought that perhaps she had only pointed out what had been his all along. There would be plenty of time for questions when they reached their destination.
The first light of dawn revealed a gray blur on the horizon, too low and dark to be mist.
“The northern shore of Lordaeron,” his guide called over the roar of the wind in his ears. “Or, what used to be Lordaeron.” He squinted at the landmass, willing it to take shape beyond the featureless smudge at the edge of the sea. The distance was still too great. He turned to the left and saw that the shore continued east and north, where the faint silhouette of mountains suggested real, tangible terrain. He pointed.
“Quel’thalas! I can’t take you there,” she said. “We’ll get one of your own for that journey, when you’re ready to go home.”
Something clenched within him, then. For a moment, the monster felt a shadow of doubt. He regretted leaving the Court of Bones, though he could not have said why. It was the first flash of real emotion he could remember. Not an echo, not the memory of emotion. True regret. For some reason, staring at that stretch of distant shore – indistinguishable at this distance from the shore ahead of them – the monster felt. His fists tightened on the frost wyrm’s spinal ridge until the saronite plates of his gauntlets screeched in protest.
No, he thought. Acherus. They traveled to Acherus. Something was happening, that was what his guide had told him. Something bad enough that even a half-mad monster like him was needed.
With any luck, whatever it was that had happened had done so as far away from Quel’thalas as possible.
He closed his eyes for a moment and dredged up a fragment of memory. Killing made remembering easier, but there was nothing at hand to serve as a sacrifice. His guide, perhaps, but he quickly excluded her and her steed. He needed them. It was harder to remember without killing, but he could do it. Slowly, the memory swam to the surface of his consciousness.
Two girls with silvery-blonde hair were laughing. The taller one had hiked her skirts up and waded into a pond up to her knees. She bent at the waist and waited, her gaze intent on the shallow water. A moment later, one hand flashed out and with a splash and a crow of triumph, she held up a squat, squirming frog. She brandished the startled amphibian at the other girl, who squealed and darted away from her. Their laughter echoed through the trees, a sound as golden and hazy as the late spring sunlight reflecting from the surface of the pond.
The monster opened his eyes again, and the shore of Lordaeron was beneath them now. He could not remember who the girls were, but something told him that they were important to him. Part of his old life. The memory faded again, and the only sound was the rushing wind and the great wingbeats of the frost wyrm as the two riders approached the Ebon Hold.
High above the now-desolate fields of Lordaeron, the necropolis hovered. Sentries riding skeletal gryphons spotted their approach and escorted the two riders toward the opening near the base of the floating fortress. The human woman dismounted first, once more removing her helmet so that she could face the pair of heavily-armed guards who waited for them.
“Angharaad. You, we know,” the one on the left said in a hollow voice. “Him, we do not.”
The woman, Angharaad, gestured at her charge, and he slid from the frost wyrm’s shoulders to join her in front of the guards.
“Lump here isn’t the sharpest sword in the armory, but he’s one of ours. I brought him in for… whetting.”
The second guard peered at the monster beside Angharaad with a degree of intensity that would have made a mortal squirm.
“Can’t go in armed, if he’s not one of us.”
The woman sighed and turned to face the man she called Lump. “You’ll have to leave your axe here.”
“Armor, too. Till he’s approved by the Highlord.”
She rolled her eyes, though the guard could not see. The monster, Lump, handed his greataxe to one of the two. The runes etched into the blade flared briefly as his contact with the weapon broke. Without protest, he began removing the heavy saronite plate he wore and setting it carefully on the ground at the other guard’s feet.
Beneath the armor, Lump was much less physically imposing. His complexion was the color of old mushrooms, and seemed almost stretched over his frame, as though there wasn’t enough skin to cover him. His glowing blue eyes stared out of sunken sockets and his face was framed by scraggly silver hair. Two long, pointed ears rose above the crown of his head, their tips an even sicker color than the rest of his skin. The most noticeable feature by far, though, was an unhealed scar that encircled his entire neck at the throat. The flesh had been sewn together with coarse spider silk, but since it was dead it had never truly healed. The edges of the old wound were ragged, as though something had tried to tear out his throat and decapitated him on accident. Grotesque as it was, neither his guide nor the guards seemed fazed by the wound.
The human woman waited for him to finish. When he stood in nothing but the quilted linen leggings and tunic he wore beneath his armor, she nodded. “Good enough, boys?”
The guards exchanged a glance, then stepped aside. “If he’s cleared, his stuff’ll be at the armory.”
Lump didn’t bother to look back as he followed his guide deeper into the Ebon Hold, his feet in their threadbare woolen stockings slapping quietly on the bare stone floor.
It was time for some answers.