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Dreams, Regrets, and Dragonhawks...
#1
Clouds of dust choked out the blazing sun as the new tenuous alliance between the Horde and the Knights of the Ebon Blade fought to drive back the Lich King’s scourge forces. Those Death Knights who now rode under the new banner, free of the Lich King’s control struggled to find their place in a new world. They were trapped between life and death, remembering their old lives, but unable to step back into them.

The battle had been raging for hours and was beginning to take its toll on the beleaguered Horde. An Orc warrior was pinned against a partially ruined wall by a massive flesh construct. The putrid odor of the scourge behemoth filled the air around him, combined with the nearly choking dust and smoke of the battlefield, the Orc longed for the fresh, clean air of his homeland. Blood stained his battle scarred armor in many places, much of it his own as well as that of the scourge. A vicious blow from the abomination knocked the warrior’s axe from his grasp and shoved him hard into the wall at his back, bringing his focus sharply back to the moment. Swallowing hard, he growled defiantly at the creature as it raised its weapon for the final, killing stroke.

A blood curdling bellow of rage and pain erupted from the abomination just as the cruel glowing tip of a Death Knight’s runeblade pierced its chest from behind. Ripping the blade free from the creature, the Knight kicked it aside with a heavy, plated boot and acknowledged the Orc with a grim nod before turning away. The Orc quickly stepped forward and grabbed the Blood Elf’s shoulder, stopping him in mid-stride, and stared hard at him, searching the Knight’s face as he turned back around.

“Valen? Valen Darkthorn?” His voice questioned even though he knew in his heart this Death Knight was indeed what had become of his oldest and best friend.

Pale, frost blue eyes flashed with fury and the Knight’s vicious runeblade’s tip rose toward the Orc’s chest. “Never!” He hissed through clenched teeth, “Never utter that name, ever again. So help me, if you do I will slit your throat before your heart can stutter out its next beat.” The icy edge in his voice could have made Icecrown itself seem warm.

“No matter what Arthas and his damnable scourge did to you; no matter what you have been through… I know you. I remember you. Look me in the eyes, Elf, and tell me you do not know me!”

Slowly, almost reluctantly, the runeblade was lowered; but the stern, unyielding expression on the Blood Elf’s face never changed. “I remember you, Nakkar. However, Valen Darkthorn is dead, and I never want to hear that name spoken again.”

Nakkar nodded solemnly, “What then shall I call you?”

The Death Knight sighed heavily as he sidestepped and beheaded a ghoul that charged at the pair. “Val’shar. You may call me Val’shar.”

“Very well, old friend.” Nakkar extended his hand in friendship.

Accepting and clasping hands with the Orc Val’shar regarded the warrior incredulously, “You would still name me such? Even now?”

“Yes. I am an Orc. We are a simple people, but when we make a pledge of allegiance or offer a vow of friendship, these are not taken lightly. They are not easily forgotten or broken. We were brothers in arms, friends for many years. Nothing that has passed since then can change that. You are still my friend, by whatever name you wish to be known now.”

A slight smile flickered across the Elf’s grim countenance. “Come then, Friend, there is still much to be done here.”

**************

Crimson streaks of sunset tainted the sky like bloodstains upon a new shirt. For once the howling winds had died down, leaving only a slight breeze to ruffle the cloaked figure’s hair and clothing. Standing still, as unwavering as a statue, the Blood Elf scanned the distant horizon. Lost deep in thought, he only barely acknowledged the approach of a grizzled Orc warrior.

“What do you seek, old friend?” The Orc stepped up beside his companion and cast a glance at the stern expression on the Elf’s face. It had been three months since the two had found one another again on the field of battle, but even now he struggled to fathom the real story behind his friend’s behavior. “Every day you stand here watching the sun set, yet you are not here m’thinks, but elsewhere, far away.”

A moment of silence passed before the Elf slowly lowered his gaze from the sunset, closing his eyes briefly before turning to face the Orc. “Seek? What I seek no longer exists, Nakkar.” A deep shadow of sorrow tainted the Death Knight’s pale gaze, but only briefly before he once more buried his thoughts.

“Peace? It still exists, Val’shar.”

“Not for me, never again.” Val’shar turned back to the now deeper crimson and scarlet sky. “Look at the sky, what do you see?”

“I see a blood red sky, like many we have seen lately.”

Val’shar nodded absently. “Blood, so much blood has been spilled over these lands, and others. It has been said many times that history is written in blood.” He looked over at Nakkar, “It is true, I was there. I wrote many chapters of history in the blood of others. Not because I wanted to, mind you, but it was what I thought was right at the time… before…”

The Death Knight’s frost blue eyes blazed as deeply rooted emotions flared and he turned away from his friend. Understanding some part of the pain hidden within his companion, Nakkar nodded. “Doing what we think is right, that is all we can do. You can’t blame yourself for that.”

“Perhaps, but they blame me still, every last one of them.” Val’shar sighed heavily, his voice tinged with contempt and frustration. “You alone truly accepted me, but you know as well as I do the rest never will. They do not accept me or trust me, and they still blame me and those like me for everything.”

“People tend to fear or hate what they do not understand. We’ve been through too much for me to turn my back on our friendship, no matter what happened to you over those years away.”

“Aye, and they could never possibly begin to understand what I went through.” A cold, distant look settled in Val’shar’s gaze.

“I’ll leave you be, friend, but remember one thing. You can not begin to seek forgiveness from others before you find it within yourself first.” He turned and left Val’shar standing alone with his thoughts.

The Elf turned his gaze back to the darkening sky. “Some things can never be forgiven, or forgotten. I have come to accept that fact.”

Val’shar swallowed hard against the torrent of memories that surged forward unbidden. Most painful among them was the memory of his beloved sister’s face as he tried to remember it, only to see it overridden by the final, horrible image of her lifeless body laying at his feet. “Shayalla…” He sank to his knees as that horrible moment played out once more in his tormented mind, as vivid as the day when it had first occurred.

***********

Evening had just begun to close in over the land when the Death Knight was summoned to appear before the Lich King, although it was often difficult to tell with the heavy clouds constantly blocking out the sun. The feeling of dark beings coming out to work their mischief was the telltale sign of night’s descent. Quickening his pace, Val’shar tried to quiet the unease he felt as he reminded himself that Arthas disliked being kept waiting. Finally reaching the chamber Arthas had chosen for this audience, Val’shar knelt and lowered his head.

“My Liege, I have come as you commanded. How may this humble Knight serve you?”

“Rise. You have consistently proven your worth to me, Val’shar. You are becoming a true champion of the Scourge.” The Lich King stood and stepped forward, “However, I have one final test to put before you, and if you do as I command without hesitation then you will earn your place among my chosen few. If you fail, I will destroy you.”

“My will is yours, my King. I will not fail you.”

A cold laugh filled the chamber as the Lich King returned to his seat, motioning to the guards. Two nodded and left the room, only to return moments later with a female Blood Elf between them. As she struggled to break free of their grasp, Val’shar noted the tattered clothing and he could see bruises marring her delicate features when she looked up at him.

The guards released their grip on her, and the Elf ran forward to him, a mix of fear and relief upon her face. “Valen? Oh dear brother, it is you, isn’t it?”

Arthas spoke, his words echoing in the large chamber, “She is an enemy of the Scourge. Kill her.”

Val’shar felt the twisting pain within his soul as he recognized her. The way she looked up at him, it hadn’t changed. For a brief second he saw them once more as they had been in their youth, even then she looked up at him the same way, trusting him to protect her. Now those bright emerald eyes looked on him as they always had, but there was something new there as well, fear.

“Valen, what have they done to you? Please, you can’t do this; don’t you remember who I am?” Her small, delicate hands touched the armor covering his chest, and then one hand reached up to gently touch his cheek. “Valen, fight it! This is not who you are. You were a hero of the Horde, you are my brother. Remember Silvermoon! Remember our lives together as children, remember how you always said you would protect me after Mother and Father died. Don’t let them turn you into some mindless killing machine. You are Sin’dorei! Valen, please fight him!” Tears flowed down her bruised cheeks as she pleaded with him.

“There is no mercy. A Death Knight does not hesitate or question. Kill her now! Fail me and I will kill you both!” Arthas growled, his eyes narrowing in anger.

Shayalla leaned in and kissed her brother’s cheek, “There is no more time for me, you can’t save me now. Do what you must, Brother, quickly. Save yourself, but please promise me you will fight him, and don’t forget me. I love you and I forgive you.” She closed her emerald eyes, fighting back more tears as she sank to her knees before him.

Val’shar felt the Lich King’s will closing around his own, bending his thoughts and actions. He struggled to fight against Arthas’ command, wanting to save his beloved sister. The Elf felt a deep part of himself die as he realized that he had failed her so completely in his weakness. The Lich King’s control snapped tight around his own mind and he was helpless to stop himself as his runeblade sated its hunger upon his own sister’s blood as her lifeless body collapsed at his feet. She had died bravely, forgiving him for it even as her last breath escaped her.

The burden of what was his ultimate failure closed in around Val’shar. He had sworn to protect his sister, and now her blood stained his hands. The Lich King loosened his grip on the Death Knight’s mind, satisfied that he had forged another flawless killing machine in his chosen Knight. He was unaware of the truth, and could not have foreseen the depths of dissention and hatred that had been sown in Val’shar’s heart and mind at that moment.

***********

Shaking his head and growling under his breath, Val’shar fought the painful images back into the darkest corners of his mind. “I know you have forgiven me, Sister, but I can never forgive myself for that. I will not rest until I have Arthas’ head at my feet.”

Pulling his cloak tighter around himself as the wind regained its normal vigor; Val’shar turned away from the sunset and made his way down the rocky path back towards the camp. He and Nakkar had been sent with a small scouting force to what was rightfully called the Howling Fjord. Icy winds and frequent snow made the land extremely unwelcoming. Although the cold did not truly bother the Death Knight, he was aware that it could take its toll on the rest of his party, most of which was comprised of orcs and trolls who were accustomed to far warmer climates. Progress for their exploration had been slow, almost painfully so to Val’shar who was eager for battle, rather than the more tedious role he filled now.

Just about to settle down by the fire beside Nakkar, the Elf paused, his keen ears picked up a new sound beyond the howling wind. Spinning around in the direction it was coming from, his eyes narrowed. Dark shapes spilled over the snowy rise in the distance. “To arms! Enemies approaching from the north!” He shouted as he drew his own weapon.

The camp exploded into action at the sound of his shout, and Nakkar moved to stand beside him. “Well, perhaps now you will stop complaining of being bored, my friend.” A friendly smirk crossed his face.

Val’shar chuckled, “Perhaps, for a moment at least, if only long enough to stop your complaining as well, Orc.”

Behind them, the rest of the group spread out, weapons drawn and ready to face the charging foes. Within moments the dark shapes materialized into a swarming mob of Vrykul, they’re fierce war cries shattering the silence. Val’shar and Nakkar charged into the fight with their own war cries answering their enemies. As the two forces clashed, the sounds of clashing steel rang out across the small valley. Distant howls and screeches of disturbed animals added to the cacophony of noise.

Outnumbered almost three to one, Val’shar’s small band of warriors was quickly flanked and surrounded as the Vrykul pressed in around them. Standing fast against the churning sea of bodies rushing at them, the valiant Horde fought with all their hearts, and against the odds the Vrykul numbers started to thin. Unwilling to accept defeat here in this inhospitable, frozen wasteland, Val’shar and Nakkar rallied their beleaguered group, forming a tight knot where each member could help to defend one another.

The Death Knight’s eyes burned with a fierce passion as he twisted and parried the clumsy yet strong blow aimed at his head. The Vrykul warrior grunted as the Elf’s heavy boot slammed into its stomach, but did not have time to recover itself as the glowing runeblade sank into its chest. Wrenching his blade free Val’shar swung around to help Nakkar fend off two more of the massive Vrykul. The pair traded off with the practiced coordination of having spent so many years fighting at each other’s side. The Orc shoved one of his attackers toward his friend and the Vrykul howled as the runeblade bit deeply into its flesh. Soon they stood back to back, sides heaving from the exertion of the fight. Around them, their camp was littered with bodies, blood soaked snow, and discarded weapons. Wearily, they turned and nodded to each other and then turned their attention to helping their comrades dispatch the last remaining Vrykul.

Finally as the last of their foes died, Val’shar was able to take stock of their own casualties. Of the thirty Horde warriors who had accompanied him and Nakkar to Northrend, four had been killed, and three others were severely wounded, although none had come through the fight unscathed. Hissing with pain as he moved, the Elf was reminded of his own wounds. Nakkar too had his fair share of injuries, but for the two of them, their wounds were minor. They worked to help with their less fortunate companions.

“Sir, what should we do about our dead?” The question came from one of the few other Blood Elves in the group.

Val’shar sighed, “Be certain to record their names, so that their families back home can be notified. We must burn the bodies; I’ll not give the Scourge the chance to find any of our fallen comrades.”

The younger Elf nodded, “Yes, Sir.”

With grim efficiency, within an hour the dead had been burned, the wounded were tended to, and the camp struck as they prepared to move under the cover of nightfall. Val’shar and Nakkar had both agreed that they needed to find a new place to camp. The party moved on, their progress slowed by the wounded who could not keep a fast pace.

***********

The gardens of the mage city of Dalaran were warm and filled with the scents of the many flowers planted there. Val’shar sighed as he settled himself onto a bench near a small fountain. It had been two months since he had first set foot upon the icy shores of Northrend, and there was still a great deal to be done in the war against the Lich King. However the respite offered by the city of Dalaran was extremely welcome to many weary warriors and adventurers. Val’shar also was allowing himself a few days to rest and restock on needed provisions.

Perched on his shoulder, a small golden dragonhawk thrummed softly as it rubbed its head against his neck. It was one of the permanently small varieties that the Sin’dorei had selectively bred as pets over the years. He leaned back, letting his eyes close as he absently reached up to pet the dragonhawk. His mind drifted back to a time long passed, when he was still young and had not yet met the specter of war. Memories of his sister dancing through the gardens of Silvermoon brought a small smile to his face, although it was also tinged with a deep ache in his heart.

“I see you found yourself a new friend.” Nakkar strode over and sat down on the bench beside Val’shar. “Haven’t seen one of those critters in a long time.”

Val’shar opened his eyes and glanced over at his friend, “They aren’t as common as they once were. I like to keep one when I am able to though. They help me to remember better, happier times...”

The Orc nodded, “Aye, although from the look in your eyes, I would venture to say they also remind you of something else, or rather, someone…”

Val’shar nodded, a pained look on his face. “They do remind me of Shayalla. I can’t help but to remember her when I see a dragonhawk or a garden such as this. She adored and spent a great deal of time around both.”

Nakkar placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Val’shar, the burden of what you have been through and the pain of your loss will always be there. It is a part of you now. But my friend, you shouldn’t torment yourself so over it. She forgave you, accept it and forgive yourself. If you had stood and fought the Lich King then you both would have died, and your efforts wasted. She knew that, now it is time to move on. Always remember and honor her memory, yes, but do not doom yourself to a life of bitterness and regret.” He motioned to the beautiful garden around them and the small dragonhawk napping on Val’shar’s other shoulder. “She still lives, Val’shar, in all the good and beautiful things in this world. Accept her forgiveness and find your own.”

Val’shar’s jaws clenched as he fought with the turmoil of emotions surging through his heart and mind. Nakkar sighed, “Just consider what I said, my friend. Shayalla would not want you to still suffer as you do.” He stood up and walked away, leaving Val’shar to his thoughts.

Sensing his unrest, the dragonhawk woke from its nap and fluttered around, cooing and squeaking until he was able to quiet it back down and reassure it enough for it to settle back down on his shoulder again. He sighed as he pulled a berry from a nearby shrub and offered it to the tiny creature. “Nakkar’s probably right.”

A soft, almost musical laugh caused his heart to skip a beat. “Of course he’s right. You should listen to that Orc friend of yours more often, Brother.”

Eyes widening in disbelief, Val’shar stood up quickly, nearly dislodging the dragonhawk from its perch. Suddenly he spotted her, an ethereal shadow of her living self, but no less beautiful. Sinking to his knees, fighting to make sense of the tidal wave of emotions cascading over his mind, Val’shar struggled to speak. She drifted closer, smiling warmly.

“Be still, Valen, I’ve always been with you and I always will be. Your restless heart keeps drawing me to the living world, even though I do not belong here. This is just the first time you’ve been at peace enough to see me.”

“At peace? Shayalla… I…”

“Shh… Please, my dearest Brother, let me go. It has been long enough, please, this world still needs you but my time was over. Do not punish yourself for that, for all that we may wish that things had been different, all things happen in their own time for a reason. There is a greater destiny awaiting you, but if you allow yourself to stay blinded by the past, you could miss out on the things that matter most, here and now.”

He looked up at her, then lowered his head and closed his eyes. “I miss you, Shaya. But I will try.”

“When you miss me most, Brother, just look around you, and look inside your heart. I’ll always be there.” The vision of his sister began to fade, “Good by, Brother. Take care of that little dragonhawk, she’s a pretty one.”

Looking back up in time to see her form shimmer and disappear, he felt the warmth of her love wash over him and he felt a sense of tranquility that he’d not felt in many years. Nodding to himself, he stood and reached out his hand to the small dragonhawk. Gently stroking its head, he smiled. “Well, I suppose you need a name?” The dragonhawk nipped at his fingers playfully, and fluttered around in circles. He chuckled, “I see, well, come along then Shaya, let’s go find that Orc who calls himself a warrior. He’ll be amused to know he was right, again.”
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#2
well done! Big Grin
enjoyed reading that.
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