the Dark Portal
She had found him above the crowds which piled up around the marketplace of Orgrimmar, where representatives of all the aligned factions of the Horde mingled and paraded between the banks and the auction houses. Azu’mah had sat on a rock, idly spinning the point of his blade into the red dirt beneath his feet as he watched something down below with amusement.
The leather harness and associated straps he wore left little to the imagination, and held a small assortment of throwing knives and a long-handled mace that was affixed to his back. His face was young, yet perilously sure of itself. Faded markings around his eyes and chin revealed the warpaint that he had not bothered to renew or wash away.
I'm not sure what I expected. Oblivion. A vague plunge into the void, and then… nothing. If I closed my eyes, if I held my breath as I stepped through – but the Dark Portal failed me. This world I stepped into seems wholly indifferent from my own.
I collapsed into the first chair I could find, propping a foot up on my desk, barefoot and tattooed, all I wanted was a smoke. As I loaded some maiden’s anguish into my late father’s pipe, I took in how much my body hurt, and how my fel tainted arm throbbed as if it had a pulse all its own. I couldn’t remember when I had such a busy day as this, honestly, I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed and forget about most of it.
Artisania Marveloso was confused.
She arrived in Stonard prepared, bottles of water clinking together in her bags, her staff burning brightly in the haze of evening in the swamp. Dismounting from the wyvern she walked to the center of the outpost, looking around her expectantly. A passing orc guard grunted at her with a short nod; beyond, the blacksmith pounded away at some glowing spear of metal. The hiss of steam interrupted insect-song as he plunged his work into a nearby barrel of water. Artisania stared, tilted her head, and looked around.
Oh my Sun King, Diary, some folks just don't make any sense to me. Scartaris most of all. I mean you'd think she never cast a spell, she gets so freaked out by black magic. And now she's snoozing away over there in the bed. Drank herself into a stupor because she so worried about me. And WHY? I ask you, Diary! Well not really, I mean I'm going to tell you why, but you get the point. You don't? Well here let me explain.
Taneel sat glaring into the great ominous portal. After about thirty seconds he blinked and looked away. Staring contests really required both parties involved to have eyes, and, to a lesser extent sentience.
Log Entry 1
This is a poor idea, but I fear if I don't do this I will go mad. The fevers are still eating at me, though I seem to have hidden it well enough. My memories continue to elude me, despite the exercises and rituals.
The 28th day of the fifth month of the year 28.
I hate the Outlands. HATE it. If it weren’t for the alchemist and the medic out there, I’d NEVER go back. NEVER.
I write to inform you that I shall be returning home for my leave soon. I do not have a precise time, as this recent catastrophe has sent all form of military order into shambles. I fear also, that you may not know me when I arrive. War is a more terrible thing than I had imagined, yes, but no battlefield in Azeroth could have prepared me for the sights I have seen these last few days.
I've missed it! Day in and out, through the night and into the twilight, standing guard fighting off any demon what went and poked his chubby skull through that blasted portal, and I take one day, one day to rest and what happens? We push them back! We finally overwhelm the good for nothing two bit face eaters and secure the otherside of the portal, and I'm asleep! Aaaaarg. This. Makes. Me. Angry. Arg! I've heard talk of people pouring, pouring through that portal to see what's on the other side, to fight demons, and so on and so forth, but do we even know if it's livable?
The red gravel crunches under my boots like shells or brittle bone. I can't bring myself to look up yet. I don't want to loose my nerve. So long, and I'm so tired. How many times have we turned them aside? Ever since I can remember, when my mother told us stories to scare us to make us behave, it was their faces she conjured to terrify us. They've hounded my people for millenia. Nothing we have been able to do has stemmed the tide. They breed, swelling their number behind the folds of the world. Then they burst forth again and again, like some pus-filled pestilent sore. It's always only a remission of the cancer. Just a reprieve. It might last a year or a thousand, but they'll be back. They always are.
Lorith ducked into the tower, Tanner following close behind. She was covered in mud and soaked through, bloody bandages hanging off her, hastily applied and hardly doing any good. The dim space within the tower dampened the constant booming of the thunder but did little for the strange consistency of the air: neither dry nor humid, neither warm nor cold, it sizzled around her like a thousand crystals striking her skin and whirling in and out of her gasping lungs. She coughed, leaning back against the stone wall to slowly slide to the floor.
“You allright?” the guard asked, looking toward her with concern. Lorith merely raised a hand and shook her head; she would be fine, just needed a moment to catch her breath. Her glazed eyes stared up unsteadily at a hanging skeleton, a dim spectral creature's bones suspended in the airy blackness above. As she blinked a vison of a dragon filled them and she caught her breath, suddenly sitting up and shaking the nightmare from her mind.
Her gaze turned to Tanner, who had flopped down on the floor beside her, licking his wounds and scratches, cleaning muck and moss from his paws. She reached out to his great head — he had grown larger than she — and laid her hand upon it. He had suffered much in the swamp, and she dared not ask him to return there with her.
With slow, painful movements she slid her packs from her body, and peeling back soggy leather and mageweave pulled out her ledger. Thankfully, it remained dry, and her pencil within unbroken and still holding a point. She turned to a blank page.
I been all over th' world an' ended up 'ere. 'Ere in this godforsaken, blighted place that sends chills through me very bones. We hunted in th' Barrens, Tanner an' me, an' killed our fair share o' the beasts there. We traveled through the desert towers o' th' Thousand Needles, an' brought down a dozen er two o' the wyverns there ta gather their venom sacs — Aye, th' great beasts that bear the orcs an' tauren as th' gryphons bear ourselves. Under th' desert sun, we ran across th' Shimmering Flats, right by the raceway with th' flags all a'blowin', an' over the hills into Tanaris, to stay th' night in a goblin inn with all the business of Gadgetzan aroun' us.
I went back to Desolace, to th' place o' my birth, though never saw that road. Stopped only at Nijel's Point where they remembered me Da but hadn't seen 'im, an' they asked me to help 'em with th' centaur problems there. Ran through the Arathi Highlands, such a beautiful place, to the forest of Hillsbrad ta kill murloc for a good-for-nothin' soldier there. I'll do 'is dirty work though, iffen it gets me somewhere. An' I came back to Duskwood, to slay the dead, all their haunted bones takin' over th' land o' th' livin'. Spoke ta ghosts, skinned werewolves, got diseased an' cursed an' stupidly set an' abomination on th' town. That feller Stalvan, who's letters I'd been findin' an' readin', sent 'im to his rest. An' now a feller 'as set me up to face a cursed black wizard named Morbent Fel, but th' darkness around 'is place was too much for me an' I returned ta Stormwind's Light.
Back to th' Stockade there with a willing bunch o' adventurers, an' we took the place out easy, blade an' magic, tooth an' curse. Found a letter there that lead me on a subversive journey all about town — I didn't know what ta make of it, jus' get ta th' point, I said — but ended up takin' out Defias spies, an' th' young king 'imself gave me a powerful enchanted ring for th' work I did. It's a sweet thing but I still 'ould rather just 'ave a horse.
So they tells me they need someone to gather up supplies that got lost in the swamp, the swamp th' orcs live in, cursed by dragon an' troll an' a thousand others. I said to meself, what could it hurt ta try? They told me ta aim fer Nethergarde Keep in th' Blasted Lands. Aye, th' Blasted Lands. There were a few places me Da wouldn't take us all, and it was one of them. I remember seein' 'im off outta Duskwood, the wagon shiftin' back an' forth as he an' me uncle went off ta deliver supplies there. Ach, I knew about th' land, what had happened there. But it wasn't until Da let me brother come with 'em that I understood... Ryon 'ad come back with 'is face white as snow, 'is eyes haunted, an' didn't speak a word about it fer three whole days.
I dodged th' orc scouts at th' edge o' the swamp an' came ta th' red lands. I heard the thunder of the blighted skies an' saw the shafts o' lighting. An' I ran, as I've run everywhere, toward the safe goal... but 'ere I got lost, missed a turn. All along the roadside, the bones o' th' dead strung up like sentinels, their weapons an' armor pinned to their ribs. Burnt out lumbar an' brush scattered 'ere an' there — there isn't a living plant 'ere, not one! An' the creatures, sickly carrion birds an' boars aflame with th' dryness o' the stones, wanderin' around ta eat off each other or their own dead.
An' then in th' distance I saw it, 'overin' like a great storm on th' horizon, a black dragon with orange-red, firey wings. 'E was huge, spannin' th' road, an' comin' straight for us. Needless ta say I ran, I ran as fast I could, an stumbled into a pile o' th' dead, rattlin' bones trippin' me up... I couldn't even look, just scrambled to me feet an' got to where I couldn't run to more, the edge o' a great crater... an' it stopped me there.
Venibeth sat on the window sill, looking back into the room she’d shared with Alexiia for months now. Alex slept peacefully, her blonde hair unbound and laying across the pillow like a spill of sunlight. Her eyes, icy blue eyes that only Venibeth could bring warmth too were closed now and for that Veni was grateful.