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Thread: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

  1. #101
    Join Date
    Mar 2010

    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XV-V. Scarlets and Shackles
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    When they came out of their hiding place, Jaina only stared. Before her stood not the one ranger squadron under Kalira, but four. And kneeling in front of them were no less than twenty men and women in dirty red garments and mail and leather armours. Their hands were tied together in a long line and their eyes had been covered by strips of cloth sheared from their shirts and cloaks.

    ”Twenty, Dark Lady.” one of the new rangers reported in Thalassian. Jaina guessed she might be a lieutenant like Kalira and Anya. ”One dead, one lightly wounded.”

    ”Good work, Anthis.” Sylvanas answered without any hint of surprise. ”That makes our total twenty-one. That should even your odds a bit in the negotiations don’t you think, Lady Proudmoore?” she added towards Jaina.

    ”Er…yes, ah, of course…” Jaina stammered. She didn’t know if she was most taken aback by the sudden appearance of eighteen rangers that Sylvanas had kept her in the dark about, or how they had seemingly without any difficulty, or even much effort, been able to capture a matching number of armoured enemy soldiers. She didn’t know what to quite think of what she saw. The rangers each held daggers or short swords ready, and their faces were impassive and their eyes on Sylvanas only. Jaina could see their prisoners’ different state of mind. Clenched jaws on some, trembling chins on others. Shaking, laboured breathing. Bloody but shallow cuts here and there, dirt and mud. Dark stains on their trousers.

    It was war and Jaina hated it.

    But it was still war.

    She closed her eyes briefly and tried to steady herself. Her mission remained the same. Negotiate. Find a solution that did not have to be paid for in blood, if she could. For the sake of both sides.

    ”Anya! Tell the guard to be ready if needed.” Sylvanas called out. Was that what she had named Anya’s squadron? Jaina shook off the thought, she had more pressing concerns.
    Sylvanas walked up close to Jaina. She seemed to struggle with something.

    ”Lady Proudmoore…good luck.” Sylvanas’ jaws were working as if she debated whether to say something or not. ”Cyndia matters greatly to me and all of us. But she is not alone in doing so.” Sylvanas handed Jaina three gilded medallions. ”Here. These are likely their officers’ insignias, hand them over as proof that we have their scouts. You have one hour.” Sylvanas said curtly, almost tense.

    It was a strange sensation to be alone again.

    Jaina walked across the open fields from the edge of the forest towards the town gates and felt…how did she really feel about this? She had been forced to adapt to being watched closely during just about every waking hour and most sleeping ones too she assumed. But the unnerving presence of emotionless rangers around her had turned into a comforting one of guardians and friends, and while Jaina would not deny that they were at times a bit too close by (she could do without someone standing guard outside her bathroom) she found herself missing her dark companions very much right now.

    The terms for the negotiations that Brokk Ironpick had been sent with were simple. The Scarlets would meet her outside their walls and Jaina would relay the Banshee Queen’s terms and then withdraw. It was almost as simple as it could be, and Jaina could not imagine herself appearing as a threat with the heavy brass shackles weighing down her forearms.

    The weather was clear but the sky cloudy, and under other circumstances it would have been a fine autumn day to walk along a muddy road towards a Lordaeronian town. Jaina could see red-clad guards by the gate, and that they had spotted her. They looked like they were expecting her approach and Jaina dearly hoped Brokk had been earnest with them.

    Like with most towns Jaina knew of, there were some houses outside the walls too. Farms, tanners, an outlying tavern that catered to thirsty peasants making camp outside the walls for market days, sometimes a sawmill. The same was true for Hearthglen.

    When Jaina was nearing the gates a Scarlet soldier pointed to a small house to the side of the road.

    ”In there!” he ordered.

    Well, Jaina hadn’t exactly expected them to be friendly.

    She swallowed and approached the door. Before she had gotten close enough to knock it was opened by a man in red robes and a hood. He stepped aside to let Jaina come in without a word.

    The inside of the house, or cottage perhaps being more apt, was as sparse as the exterior. A low ceiling and a single table with crude benches on each side greeted Jaina. Opposite of her was seated a man and a woman in red robes and pieces of ornate armour, both older than Jaina and with deep furrows in their brows and coarse faces. She got a distinct impression that neither of them used to smile or laugh very much, or encourage others to do that.

    ”Ahem, greetings.” Jaina made a small bow, careful not to bang her head against the ceiling when she rose. ”I am Lady Jaina Proudmoore of Theramoore, representative of Queen Sylvanas Windrunner of Lordaeron.”

    ”If that was true you would know that a lady curtsys, young miss.” the woman told her condescendingly.

    Jaina added a curtsy, but did it with an ironic half smile that signalled that she gave in to a request she thought silly or overly stubborn. The Scarlet priestess (at least Jaina guessed she would be) just huffed at her.

    ”Now, now, let us sit down and begin.” the man began in a more kindly tone. ”I am Brother Hans of the Righteous Order of the Scarlet Crusade and this is Sister Grete. My child, we tank the Light that you have been allowed to escape the tainted clutches of the undead and come back to us. Will you accept the Light’s blessing?”

    Jaina had to fight down an instinctive urge to ask if there also was an Un-Righteous Order of the Scarlet Crusade. She had a feeling that Brother Hans and Sister Grete would not appreciate that logic to the same degree as Areiel or Velonara would.

    ”Yes, I guess so?” Jaina answered. To her knowledge Light spells were rarely harmful - to the living – if that was the intention and not simply reciting something.

    Brother Hans did indeed channel Light magic. Jaina could not detect what it was like she could with most arcane spells but she had seen enough priests at work and been healed enough times to note that it appeared more like an small wave washing over her than a lingering actual blessing. She ignored it for now, it wasn’t why she was here.

    ”Well, Brother Hans and Sister Grete, since we meet here I take it that master Brokk Ironpick has briefed you on the premises of the negotiation. The queen holds in captivity one Henry Turner, a member of your armed forces.” Jaina cleared her throat. Did the Scarlet Crusade actually have anything but armed forces? ”She offers to exchange him in return for any Forsaken you hold captive.”

    ”That much poor Brokk has told us.” Brother Hans nodded sadly.

    ”Then I first need to inform you that the circumstances have changed on that point.” Jaina carefully put the three medallions on the table. ”The queen now holds twenty-one Scarlet Crusade soldiers to exchange.”

    ”May the Light shelter their souls.” Brother Hans bowed his head momentarily, solemn as if Jaina had told him they had all died.

    ”So the queen is ready to exchange them for the return for those of her people that you may hold captive. She has asked me to inquire specifically if you hold a formerly elven ranger by the name of Cyndia Hawkspear captive.” Jaina asked as normally as she could. A bad feeling was growing in her.

    ”My child, I would like to believe the words you speak, but the Light is not fooled by trickery. It sees the truth in us all.”

    Jaina frowned. What did he mean?

    ”I do not follow, Brother Hans. I assure this is no trick of any kind.”

    He looked sadly at Jaina.

    ”Yet still I detect Fel magic about you, my child. So I must regrettably ask you, what manner of demon are you?”

    As he spoke the last words Brother Hans just about lit up with channelled Light spells, rising from his chair with Sister Grete following suit.

    ”No! I am not a demon!” Jaina frantically tried to make sense of it all. ”These are magically warded shackles, nothing else.”

    Witchcraft.” Sister Grete sneered. ”Mages deal with corrupting powers that human hand were never meant to touch.” she declaimed.

    ”No, I swear, it isn’t like that…”

    ”Maybe you are human and your heart was once good, my child, but you are tainted by Fel magic and you openly consort with the vile undead without any sense of remorse or revulsion.” Brother Hans said as if delivering a final verdict. ”The taint of Fel and Undeath are like a plague, and must be purged from humankind at any cost. You must turn from it’s dark ways, my child, and repent so that at least your soul may be redeemed.”

    Jaina recoiled, terrified and disbelieving.

    ”Find comfort in the Light…”
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
    An Orcs Tale, a Third Age AAR - Completed.
    Reviewed by Alwyn in the Critics Quill
    My Dread Lady, a Warcraft Total War AAR - A few chapters done.
    Home to Midgard, a Third Age AAR about two dwarves, a spy and a diplomat - Completed (pictures remade up to chapter 19).
    Reviewed by Boustrophedon in The Critics Quill

  2. #102
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
    Content Director Patrician Citizen

    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    United Kingdom

    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    It doesn't sound as if negotiations with the Scarlet Crusade will get very far, considering their zealous determination to purge humanity of the taint of their enemies! I'm wondering what will happen to Jaina. Good update!

  3. #103
    Join Date
    Mar 2010

    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XVI. Rams and Rage
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    ”Sylvanas!” Anya screamed.

    ”I see them, damn it, I see them!”

    Sylvanas continued to curse in Thalassian interspersed with the tongue of the Amani trolls as she witnessed three Scarlet figures dragging a fourth away from the lone cottage towards the town gates. The fourth one had a sack or some kind of cloth covering the head but the clumsy pants and wide mariner’s jacket stood out, as well as the shackled hands when she twisted and managed to elbow one of her captors and almost hammer down with her fettered hands before staggering forward after a blow to her stomach from another of them.

    Sylvanas was already smoking, struggling with finding a reason not to sweep down over the city in her banshee form and personally rip each and every living thing in red to pieces. She had unconsciously taken a step forward she realised when Anya reached out to touch her shoulder.

    ”Dark Lady, we are with you wherever you go. But it’s a long way and the sun is still up.” Anya pointed out woefully.

    She was right.

    Sylvanas bit down a wordless snarl.

    She had to be better than this. She was their Dark Lady. She could not afford to make decisions in this state. She could not afford another Cyndia.

    But the Scarlets had her mage.

    ”Back to the camp.”

    Their camp was of course little more than an open patch next to the road overlooking Hearthglen. Sylvanas stormed through their sentries’ line and her demeanour was enough to inform Kalira and the rest about the general state of things.

    ”They will not negotiate.” Sylvanas growled through clenched teeth.

    ”And Lady Proudmoore?” Kalira asked, even though the answer was rather obvious.

    ”Taken by them.”

    Sylvanas’ vision was reddening when her eyes fell on their pitiful prisoners, those pathetic stains upon the race of humankind not fit to breathe the same air as someone like Jaina Proudmoore, those loathsome, filthy vermin who would dare to even think about laying hands on a woman endlessly worthier than themselves that they were not even fit to lay eyes on!

    There were dark rangers posted all around them with drawn blades with their eyes on her. Sylvanas angrily raised a clenched fist.

    ”Dark Lady!” Anthis Sunbow’s clear voice cut through the air. ”Forgive my obvious mistake, but for a moment it almost seemed like you were going to waste valuable assets just out of rage!” she called out sharply in Thalassian.

    Sylvanas and Anthis stared at one another, neither so much as blinking. Sylvanas finally lowered her fist slowly. Anthis was right, of course, just as Anya. And now that she had mentioned it, Sylvanas could think of one or two uses for that human blight.

    ”Bring up the guard.”

    It took little time for Baron Frostfel to march the deathguard and dreadguard into position before her, their column stretching far along the road and each armoured soldier marching in perfect lockstep beneath the critical but undeniably proud and eager eye of the baron.

    ”Baron Frostfel, are the rams prepared?” Sylvanas inquired curtly. Her anger still simmered beneath the surface and only waited to boil over. It was likely evident for anyone who knew her the slightest, but it did nothing to deter the baron’s enthusiasm.

    ”Zey are, My Queen! Give ze order and we will break those gates like dry twigs.” He indicated three thick logs carried in roped slings by formations at the back of the column.

    ”How many torches?”

    ”Torches, My Queen? Let’s see, I would guess around thirty. Why, do you think we will need them? I was under ze impression zat we aimed to surprise ze Scarlet rabble?”

    ”We will need more torches, baron. Much more. And do not worry, we will indeed have a surprise for them.” Sylvanas instructed through gritted teeth.

    ”I shall see to it. Zere is a groove of pines up along zat ridge zat should do fine for firewood.”

    ”Post dreadguards with the prisoners, and see to it that each one is given a torch. You may inform them that they will soon bring their holy Light into the darkness. Be ready to attack by sunset.”

    ”Certainly, My Queen!”

    ”Anthis! You three are to take your squadrons and circle around out of sight of the walls. Kill everything in red you encounter, I want them blind and deaf when we advance!”

    Her orders were being carried out and Sylvanas resolved herself to her least favourite part of warfare - waiting. There would be at least three hours left of daylight she reckoned. Enough for her three outer ranger squadrons to get a good look at the surrounding area and for Baron Frostfel’s guards to hack down enough wood for a good number of torches.

    And more than enough time for the Scarlet Crusade to do something despicable and permanent to Proudmoore.

    When Sylvanas had been a new ranger Areiel had once tried to have a serious talk with the group about respect for the enemy, the enemy at that time being the Amani. She hadn’t gotten through, at least not in the way she hoped to, of that Sylvanas had been sure. While the classical reminders of not underestimating your opponent - and in their case not mistaking the trolls’ seemingly bestial ways for a lack of cunning and planning - had been received without comment Sylvanas had been sure that Areiel wanted to touch upon something deeper with her lecture. Too many elves had come to regard the trolls as simply evil, and something of a pest to be controlled, which was a dangerous path to walk without becoming complacent and without giving in to habitual brutality that over time turned commanders reckless and soldiers into the beasts they claimed to fight. At least that was her impression of the point Areiel had been trying to make.

    She had made a comment then that came to Sylvanas as she waited. Areiel had pointed out that if captured, one should hope that the enemy would turn out to be a downright evil bastard. An honourable enemy would finish you off quickly, and maybe more likely not capture you in the first place, while a cruel one would want to take the time to toy with their prey. And that time meant more time to escape.

    Which one were the Scarlets? When it actually came to a living human in their hands? Sylvanas could not know. Logic pointed towards them trying to get all information they could out of Proudmoore, but logic was not a defining feature of the Scarlet Crusade. Sylvanas knew too little of them to be able to accurately predict their intentions, she realised. On the one hand most of them hailed from Lordaeron and Proudmoore had a lot experience dealing with that kingdom and it’s people, which even made up the majority of her own subjects in Theramoore, and should be able to turn that to her advantage. On the other, what if the Scarlets in their twisted fanaticism would consider her former ties to Arthas as grounds to brand her as some sort of traitor? The similarities with Sylvanas’ own rhetorics during their walk from the Lordaeron harbour did not escape her and it left a bitter taste.
    Anya kept near her, and as usual read her like an open book.

    ”I’ve posted Clea and Kitala to keep watch, in case they bring Lady Proudmoore outside for some reason.”

    ”Good.” Sylvanas glared ahead of them. ”Anya…do you think they will kill her?”

    ”No. Not now. I think they would do it publicly in daylight in that case, and make a show of it.”

    ”Why are they doing this, why would they abandon twenty of their own like this?”

    ”Do they fear Lady Proudmoore being free more than they want their people back?” Anya suggested quietly.

    ”But she’s one of the living, and a human as well. Why would they?”

    ”And she is a mage, what if they fear her magic?” When Sylvanas didn’t answer Anya continued. ”Like we do.”

    Sylvanas caught the hint of sadness and accusation and she did not object. Anya was right, wasn’t she? Sylvanas had treated Proudmoore with only suspicion, fear even, despite everything she had done for them.

    Hadn’t she?

    Keeping her mage locked up, no matter the potential risks of her wandering around in a hostile city, did not sit so well with her anymore.

    A new and terrifying thought struck her. Sylvanas feared the Scarlets harming Proudmoore, but what if they were in fact not treating her badly and what if Proudmoore would…turn sides? Sylvanas wanted the idea to be absurd but it would not leave her and with it her older misgivings resurfaced.

    The living did not trust the dead.

    Proudmoore had not been unkind to any Forsaken but none of them had a beating heart and never would have. Sylvanas had worried about her exposure to the Forsaken in Lordaeron but should she have feared exposure to the remaining living of Lordaeron? She had seen one of them hit her with her own eyes, and she wanted to break every bone in his body for it, but Sylvanas had personally nearly killed her with a banshee Wail. What would they have to tell her about Sylvanas and the rest of them, not least her dark rangers, and would Proudmoore believe them? What people would she favour if it came to that, the dead or the living Lordaeronians? Who would her own people in Theramoore prefer her to choose?

    What would Sylvanas do if Proudmoore had really turned against them?

    The thought would not leave her alone while she joined her squadron in keeping watch and waiting for the impossibly slow sun to sink beneath the tree tops behind her. She could not decide which frightened her the most, her mage coming to harm or her mage abandoning her.

    Finally the last rays disappeared behind her and the shadows grew long until they fell over everything. Sylvanas rose, and saw that Kalira was already waiting with her squadron behind her.

    ”Forward.” Sylvanas growled, and her banshee form boiled inside her.


    Anthis, Amora and Vorel had done their job well and three separate columns of deathguard and dreadguard infantry were guided under what cover there was to be found to be in position facing the northern, western and southern of Hearthglen’s town gates. The town was a market town and while the mostly open ground around it benefitted a defender it had neither moats nor reinforced gatehouses.

    With each column were also seven red-clad torchbearers each escorted at swordpoint by a dreadguard, and more torches were distributed among dreadguards spread out behind them. When each column advanced within sight of the walls it gave the impression of a vast army spread out in the darkness, further reinforced by small groups of soldiers marching back and forth so they were visible coming in and out of the torchlight as if units were constantly forming up and regrouping.

    True enough the town was soon filled with shouts and ringing bells, and the Scarlet garrison manned the walls quickly. Priests chanted and called on the Light but found themselves targeted by black arrows and forced to focus on protective spells for themselves and their allies closest to them. As of yet there were no paladins visible in the Scarlet ranks, or at the very least none of visibly high skill in Light spells.

    None had noted the two dark ranger squadron coming from the east, where the Hearthglen keep was built into the town wall.

    The keep was shaped like a large square tower, around four storeys high with a flat roof overlooking the walls and the town. Sylvanas led her and Kalira’s rangers to the foot of the wall and then, effortlessly enough that it should be considered downright cheating, simply floated quietly up to the roof in her banshee form along with those of her sisters who could do that. Sylvanas had time to remember that Cyndia had been one of the few that actually liked to stay in her banshee form, hovering among the treetops to watch the moon on quiet nights. Anya and Clea had dispatched the tiring lookouts without a sound and it was quick work to throw down a rope and haul up the darkfallen rangers.
    A hatch led down to the top floor of the keep and the dark rangers spread out in pairs to search them, Kalira at Sylvanas’ side. Time was against them but they also could not risk alerting someone that might decide to use Proudmoore as a hostage against them.

    Or…no. Sylvanas would not have that thought.

    The upper floor and the next had been hastily evacuated when the human kingdom of Lordaeron fell and still held mostly the living quarters of some lord and lady that had once resided there. Moving downward the rangers met up with some stragglers of the garrison but with surprise and for once even the numbers being on their side they had little difficulty against common Scarlet soldiers. Servants’ quarters and barracks gave way to the kitchens and storerooms as they descended. The keep had four storeys above ground. It had two below.

    When finding no sign of either Proudmoore or Cyndia on the upper floors both Sylvanas and Kalira had quickened their pace in mute agreement, and they were the first to reach the dim and narrow stairs to the first level of the damp cellars. Only a lone lamp illuminated a long corridor lined with bolted doors but it was of little consequence.

    ”Keep watch.” Sylvanas whispered and began to examine the doors. Some were barred but unlocked and contained various kinds of food kept cool beneath the ground, or tools and various spare materials. Even some barrels of arrows, she noted with contempt at the idiocy of leaving them inaccessible in the basement instead of near the rooftop where they could be put to use. But there were no empty rooms she could find on this level, and no sound came form the locked doors that Sylvanas did not dare to break open yet for fear of discovery. More and more her attention was drawn to the next stair that yawned as a dark maw at them from the other end of the corridor.

    When the three ’Naras – Nara, Lenara and Velonara – tiptoed hurriedly down to join them Sylvanas beckoned to Kalira to follow her and hissed to the others.

    ”Keep searching this floor but do not break open any doors until I say so.”

    She and Kalira descended the last stair on quiet feet. The lowest level had fewer rooms and were quite clearly the keep’s dungeons. A few doors had small barred windows, others not. The walls around them were coarser and dirtier than the floor above, and even with her dulled sense of smell Sylvanas could pick up a something foul ahead. She and Kalira stood still to listen and watch for movement. It was pitch dark apart from a faint light coming from something further down the corridor. It would be a lamp or a door. Sylvanas signed for them to move forward slowly, until the crack of a whip and something between a gasp and scream and sob sounded from the faintly lit opening ahead.
    In the blink of an eye Sylvanas was at the door. In another she kicked it in and sent it splintering against the wall on the other side.

    Her mage was slumping with her face against the hither wall, hanging by her shackles tied to something above her. Her frayed jacket had been cut in two and hung like limp broken wings from her arms. Her badly fitting shirt was ripped apart to reveal her back. And her back was covered in thick red stripes.

    A Scarlet priestess of some kind just looked up and time seemed to slow as Sylvanas took in her frowning face, her harsh and disdainful appearance and the whip in her hand that dripped with blood.

    Jaina’s blood.

    Sylvanas had centuries upon centuries of battle experience and training with the finest swordmasters Quel’Thalas had produced, with legions of rangers that longed to bring their fabled Ranger-General down in the sand, with her wicked big sister and her farstrider friends. She forgot it all in an instant and hurled herself half in banshee form upon the vile excuse for a woman in front of her, bringing them both crashing into the stone tiles of the floor. But as much as her banshee form was harder to harm with common weapons it was also all the more vulnerable to the power of the Light. A shield shot up around the priestess and physically repelled Sylvanas, searing her very being. She crawled back and willed herself to resume her corporeal form.

    I must not Wail.

    Sylvanas’ daggers were out in an instant and the Scarlet priestess hefted a mace to meet them, but Sylvanas sent her flying backwards almost contemptuously with a hard kick. Whatever protection the Light afforded did however dampen the fall enough for the priestess to raise her hand and send a bright flash of something out around her, momentarily blinding Sylvanas. Before her eyesight had fully returned the blurry shadow of Kalira flew past her shoulder with her sword drawn and cut the priestess’ mace in two with a downward slash. Holy Light washed over Kalira who snarled, and met the lunge of a conjured glowing blade with her own, swatted it aside and with the return slash opened a deep gash across the priestess’ throat.

    The sneer gave way to wide-eyed terror as the woman sputtered and gurgled, in vain trying to stop the bleeding with her hand clasped tight over the laceration. She glowed with what was no doubt some manner of healing spell but Kalira’s blade interrupted the attempt when she thrust it through the mail armour beneath the priestess’ breast plate, with enough force to send her slamming against the wall behind.

    ”Where.” Kalira made an upward thrust, further impaling the priestess who now thrashed in a last, terrified attempt to escape her. ”Is.” There was a grating sound and a sharp crack when the tip broke through her spine. ”My.” Kalira pressed close against her with both hands holding the sword hilt that was now right at the wound. ”CYNDIA!”

    But no answer came apart from a choked gurgle when the limp body of the Scarlet priestess fell over to collapse in a twitching and bleeding pile before Kalira, who spared it one last kick before she looked up again.
    Sylvanas turned around. She took in the cut skin on Proudmoore’s back in detail and the blood still trickling from some of the deepest gashes.

    I must not Wail.

    She slowly approached her mage’s side, almost tentatively so as not to spook her.

    Proudmoore looked up at her, and Sylvanas caught just a glimpse of the dark, swelling bruises on her cheeks and the look of utter despair and distress before the mage turned her face away again, shaking and breathing in short and shallow gasps that grew ever more frantic, as if she could not stand a moment more of being seen by Sylvanas in this state.

    It was like the way Proudmoore had once shied away from her gaze and curled into herself, that first morning together when she had gotten her first meal onboard the Banshee’s Wail. Only so very, very much worse. Sylvanas felt like something cracked and broke inside her upon seeing it.

    How could she ever, ever, have had the despicable idea of imagining Proudmoore turning on them?

    Sylvanas wanted to find the words to express how infinite the wrongness of her mage suffering like this and feeling ashamed for it was. She would give what twisted remnants that were left of her soul for something that could take away the crushing look of guilt in Proudmoore’s eyes. But no words came to her, and all she could do was to haul herself up by one hand to reach to hack at the thick ropes that suspended her mage’s shackles.

    Kalira appeared near her while Proudmoore stumbled a little when her arms were cut loose. The ranger lieutenant had visible burns but just snorted dismissively when Sylvanas briefly looked her over. But at least Kalira’s appearance made Proudmoore look up once again.

    ”Cyndia?” Sylvanas tried so hard to keep her voice soft and gentle but the banshee inside her boiled and wreathed and made her voice echo more than usual.

    ”I saw no one else.” Proudmoore croaked, with her voice thick and hoarse. ”It’s just me.” she added miserably, and seemed to shrink before Sylvanas and Kalira as if it was something she was to blame for. ”Apart from the dear Sister Grete that you’ve just had the pleasure of meeting, that is.” she remarked bitterly.

    I must not Wail.

    Sylvanas viewed the repulsive room, reflexively looking for any faint clue that could tell her something of Cyndia. There was a bed of coals still glowing in what seemed like a fireplace, and some iron pokers lay half embedded in it. Rusting chains hung from various places along the walls and different pieces of twisted mockery of furniture set with restraints and spikes – who came up with such things? – lay scattered across the floor after the fight with the Scarlet Sister Grete.

    She did not trust herself enough not to Wail in Proudmoore’s presence right now.

    ”Kalira.” She could hear how otherworldly she sounded. ”Escort Lady Proudmoore to the keep’s gate. We’ll meet up there.”

    Sylvanas hurried up through the stairs, calling up her rangers as she passed them. How long had it been? Was the battle already underway outside the keep?

    The ’Naras and her own squadron had gathered by the gate when Kalira caught up with them, half leading and half supporting Proudmoore.

    ”Lady Proudmoore is alive but wounded and we have found no trace of Cyndia.” Sylvanas had just informed them, cold and stony.

    ”How is she hurt?” Lyana demanded, because of course Lyana would not even think about shutting up about that.

    Kalira wasted no time on answering but simply spun the mage around. Proudmoore made no motion to resist it, only hanging her head as far away from the others as she could with her tangled hair falling over her like a curtain.
    Upon seeing her exposed back, the rangers cursed. All but Anya.

    Anya cried.

    It was a pitiful, anguished scream of hurt that was something between a sob and the cry of some wounded beast, and a pair of black tears trickled down her cheeks.

    ”Kalira, sweep the rest of the keep with your squadron and clear out any remaining Scarlets, then cover the south wall from the rooftop.” Sylvanas commanded icily with a voice that now crackled with power.

    ”Clea, Kitala, guard the southern side of the gate.

    ”Lyana, keep watch over Lady Proudmoore. Clasp her ears.”

    Sylvanas started walking towards the thick oaken door of the keep.

    ”Anya… Kill.”

    With a resounding crack of splintering wood and clattering metal the keep’s door flew across the outside street to impact against a nearby house.

    The Banshee Queen stepped out to rise above the ground in swirling, boiling black mist.

    And she Wailed.

    From three directions around the town of Hearthglen rose the uniform metallic beating of weapons against shields and iron-shod feet marching as one when the deathguard advanced. In their middle came tight formations with their shields held up around the battering rams that were being moved into position.

    Sylvanas stepped onto the ground again in time to catch Anya’s quiver being thrown to her from somewhere to her right. She pulled her own bow from her back, nocked and drew, all in one deathly cold motion. There was no escape from black arrows coming from the wrong side of the battlements and all across the northern wall Scarlet soldiers huddled behind their raised shields in anticipation of the next one.

    A little bit to their side shadows formed, hardly visible to anyone except the most keen-eyed dark ranger. Under the hail of arrows from the Banshee Queen, the shadows danced among the defenders and left only blood and death behind.

    And the shadows sang.

    ”Shadows to the right of me
    Shadows to the left of me
    Only darkness I shall see
    Death ahead of me…”


    It may have been only minutes or it may have been hours that Lyana held her close with her own cloak draped over Jaina’s shoulders and her hands clamped down over the hood covering Jaina’s ears. Jaina could not recall. Eventually something happened that made Lyana rise and tug at her to follow the ranger out of the small guardroom where she had taken Jaina.

    The town of Hearthglen was a slaughterhouse. Blood covered the streets and bodies were visible almost everywhere. Jaina absently registered what she had been taught and what she had seen for herself of sieges. A heap of bodies near the gate, heavy fighting once it had been breached. Bodies lining the ground next to the wall, shot or thrown down. Bodies in the streets facing away from the gate, a retreat turning into a rout.

    It all sickened her. Jaina hoped it always would.

    Lyana guided her towards the western gate of the town. Sylvanas was there, along with Kalira and a burly Forsaken knight with great white moustaches and flowing hair. He was complimenting her eagerly in thick eastern Lordaeron accent.

    ”…only a true hero of ze Forsaken could mastermind such a crushing victory! It is a true pleasure to fight at your side, Dark Lady.” Then the knight looked like someone who suddenly remembers himself and turned at once to Kalira. ”And at your side too of course, ah…Fair Lady. Ze swordplay of yours is a thing of beauty rarely seen!”

    Another time Jaina might have smiled at someone calling hard, strict, no-nonsense Kalira ’Fair Lady’.

    Sylvanas turned to her. There was blood on her arms and legs, and her eyes glowed in the darkness. Jaina averted her eyes. She could not bear to face Sylvanas right now.

    ”How is she?” Sylvanas asked Lyana.

    ”These wounds need cleaning.” Lyana said determinedly. ”I don’t want to bring her back into the keep but I think our best options are the bedclothes and maybe some spares form the upper levels. And water. Lots of water. Clean. And wine or something to purge the wounds.”

    She was probably right. Jaina winced every time Lyana’s cloak bounced against her stinging back and she was starting to shiver in the cold night.

    ”Lady Proudmoore.” Jaina looked up towards Kalira. Cyndia’s squadron commander. What would she have to say? ”We found no trace of Cyndia, and I understand that you did not learn anything of her while you were captured.” Jaina nodded regretfully. ”You still did a brave thing for her sake and for my rangers. You have my gratitude for that.”

    Hard and harsh or not, Jaina decided then and there that she could probably learn to like Kalira.

    Anya, Clea and Kitala had gathered around Sylvanas and Kitala was whispering something to her to which Sylvanas nodded.

    ”It would seem that most of our torchbearers actually survived the night.” she noted dryly. ”I would say, Lady Proudmoore, that they are all yours.”

    ”I want to see them. Now!” Jaina blurted out, to her own surprise.

    Sylvanas led her through the grisly street towards the western gate. There were seventeen Scarlet soldiers remaining, each kneeling with a dreadguard behind that looked like he was only waiting for Sylvanas to give the order to behead the lot of them.

    Jaina breathed heavily. The patronizing, surreally calm voice of Brother Hans and the accusing eyes of Sister Grete came back to her. The contemptuous strike with the back of her hand that turned to beatings with a stick. Her cutting Jaina’s clothes apart and baring her back. Jaina trying to stay quiet and unmoving when the first lash landed on her. Her own screaming and tears of pain when the next ones bit down into her flesh where it was already cut. Her fear of never leaving that awful place.

    Kitala’s fingertips brushing over her ear brought Jaina back to the present. Anya looked at her with wide eyes and smudged black lines running down from them. Clea and Lyana stood behind her, covering her from the light breeze just like the rangers had when she was exhausted at sea.

    Jaina would be brave for them.

    With as much dignity as she could muster, Jaina removed her cloak and handed it back to Lyana. She slowly approached the Scarlet Crusaders with her head held high, despite wanting to hide away.
    Jaina regarded them silently.

    ”I was foolish to think that your order would respect an envoy like civilized people.” Jaina swallowed. She tried to keep her voice clear and steady but it was hard.

    One of them spat at her.

    Jaina could hear Sylvanas hiss and knew she would be just about ready to give the order for the dreadguards to finish them all.

    Jaina held out her hand to halt her.

    ”The Queen of Lordaeron considers you to be of no further use. But I came here with a very simple mission, so I will ask you one very simple question. Do one of you know of a dark ranger by the name of Cyndia Hawkspear?”

    ”Traitor! Traitor of all humankind!” The words came from the woman closest to Jaina. She was tall, and not very alike Sister Grete, but Jaina was suddenly sure that she would have received the same treatment from the one before her.
    She met the eyes of the other prisoners. Sullen, hopeless looks and fervent anger was returned at her, but none deigned to answer.

    ”I came here with an offer of peace!” Jaina’s voice quivered.

    ”Peace? There can be no peace with undead monsters!” a swarthy man with a bloody gash along his arm yelled at her. He sounded enraged, and at Jaina even more than the Forsaken dreadguards around him.
    All around him, Jaina could see the others eyeing her with matching expressions. Disgust. Contempt. Loathing.

    They hated the undead, but they hated Jaina even more for not sharing in that.

    Jaina slowly turned around. She reached for the flapping rags that had been her shirt and pulled it aside.

    ”WHO…” she shouted, and hated herself for how she could not keep her voice steady. ”…ARE THE MONSTERS HERE?!”

    Jaina had briefly closed her eyes to hide her pathetic tears and steel herself against the stinging pain when her cuts were stretched by the movement of her arms and shoulders. When opening them, she found herself looking right into Anya’s.

    Beautiful, precious Anya.

    Her cold and smooth fingers caressed Jaina’s damp face and wiped away her tears, so gently that they may as well have been a light wind brushing against her cheeks.


    Jaina straightened herself. She faced the tall Scarlet woman reminiscent of Sister Grete without wavering.

    ”I would rather be a ranger’s whore, than anything that you are.” Jaina met her eyes without flinching. ”And one day, the Dark Lady will trust me enough to no longer wear these.” She raised her wrists slightly to display her shackles. ”And then we will revisit that comment.” Jaina said icily and then turned to the dreadguards in silent vigil. ”Soldiers of the Forsaken! Your blades deserve better than to be sullied.”

    Jaina lifted up her sleeve-like remains of the jacket and spared the Scarlet men and women no further look when she walked demonstratively to Sylvanas and almost defiantly made a deep courtly bow before her.

    ”Dark Lady. I am finished here.”

    ”As you wish, Lady Proudmoore.” Sylvanas replied with equal formality. ”Are you sure about this?” she added much lower, and in Thalassian. ”You want me to let fanatical enemies of all undead just go?”

    ”Let them see for themselves what it is like to be alone out in the dark and the cold.”

    ”They hurt you!” Sylvanas hissed and Jaina caught sight of the smouldering anger in her eyes, buried just beneath the surface. The battle, it seemed, had not sated Sylvanas’ lust for Scarlet blood.

    ”But you rescued me. You’re better than them. Be better than them. Please.” Jaina whispered.

    ”I most certainly am not.” Sylvanas almost sighed, in a way that Jaina couldn’t interpret. ”But I stand by my word and the decision is yours, however inadvisable I think it is. They will hate you all the more for this act of chivalry, I believe.”

    ”If any of them dare to show their faces near the Undercity I swear I will shoot them myself, Dark Lady.”

    That actually made Sylvanas smile.

    ”You had best start practicing then, ranger Proudmoore. Perhaps we can arrange something one day.”

    Jaina was about to reply but could not hold back a shiver from the cold air and started to cough.

    Sylvanas frowned and held out her cloak invitingly. Jaina would likely have blushed terribly any other day but she was too cold and tired to care right now, and she also found that she desperately wanted to be close to Sylvanas. The Banshee Queen held the garment up around Jaina with her arm so it wouldn’t touch her back too much, and Jaina edged maybe a little bit closer to Sylvanas than she absolutely had to.

    ”I’m…” Jaina coughed again. ”I’m sorry, Dark Lady. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I was totally wrong, and your people had to suffer for it.” Jaina whispered and felt so very small before Sylvanas. ”I feel so stupid.”

    Jaina shied away from the Banshee Queens gaze and looked down, but remembered herself when she realised that it would leave her staring more or less at Sylvanas’ upper chest. Before Jaina could come up with a better direction to divert her gaze to she felt Sylvanas’ other hand carding through her hair and carefully forcing Jaina to look up at her.

    ”I have already told you once to not talk nonsense or shoulder the blame that belongs to others, Lady Proudmoore.” Sylvanas held her firmly, not so it hurt Jaina but enough to prevent her from looking away. ”Do I need to repeat myself?” she whispered threateningly and Jaina let out a small and quiet, sad laugh.

    ”I failed you. And because of that all of those people had to die. And there were Forsaken among the dead too, I saw it.”

    ”Deathguards. Devoted volunteers, our best heavy troops. They have found their true death in battle against our worst enemies and given my people their first victory. They do not deserve to be pitied, but respected.” She eased her grip on Jaina’s hair a little. ”And Kalira is right. You did a brave thing and if the Scarlet Crusade fail to see reason when it is staring them in the face the fault is theirs and theirs alone, Lady Proudmoore.”

    Jaina found that she was breathing easier. Calmer. Sylvanas frightened her something terrible when she was like this but Jaina was still calmed by her. At least for the moment, the Banshee Queen was frightening enough to scare her anguish and anxiety away.

    ”You’re not...angry with me?” Jaina asked and still felt small against Sylvanas.

    ”Oh, I am furious with you for getting yourself hurt like this when being brave for me, little mage.” Sylvanas whispered, like thick smouldering honey dripping into Jaina’s ear. ”But it is you who is owed an apology, Lady Proudmoore. I was wrong to move so early in the day, I should have sent you forward close to the sunset instead so there would have been no need to wait before attacking. Please forgive me.”

    Sylvanas’ hand had left Jaina’s hair and now cupped her cheek. Jaina felt more tears welling up, out of relief or exhaustion or lingering fear, she didn’t now.

    ”I want to go home.” Jaina whispered. ”To the Undercity, I mean.”

    ”So, you prefer my dungeons to those of Hearthglen?” Sylvanas asked wryly.

    ”I would rather have your dungeons and your rangers than a castle brimming with maids.”

    ”Then we shall waste no more time out here. But I fear we must get you inside first to see your back tended to, or Lyana will have both our heads.”

    Sylvanas turned to look over her shoulder towards Kalira and the Forsaken baron.

    ”I will return to the Undercity with my squadron shortly. I want this hovel turned inside out and every scrap of supplies ferried home. Kalira, you have the command. See to it that the Scarlet prisoners are released as per Lady Proudmoore’s request.”

    Still with her cloak held around Jaina, Sylvanas guided her to the nearest building, which ironically enough was the small cottage where Jaina had first met the Scarlet Crusade priests. Jaina could hear Sylvanas’ rangers shout suggestions to Kalira of useful things to pillage as they followed Jaina and Sylvanas inside.

    ”Maybe some nightgowns from the upper floors of the keep, and bedclothes and pillows!”

    ”Some food from the cellars too! Not even Kul Tirans can live on fish alone!”

    ”New boots!”

    ”A cloak or a coat for the nights!”

    ”And a nice dress!”

    ”And herbs and potions if you can find it! And clean bandages if there are any!” Lyana was the last to add to the grocery list as she closed the door behind them all.

    The building was just as cramped as last time but Jaina did not mind it. Clea lit a fire and Anya and Lyana went to make a quick inventory of the bedroom and kitchen. It quickly turned out to be unsatisfactory.

    ”We can’t make do with this, I need something to cook in. And we have to find some bloody potions!” Lyana muttered loudly. ”Lady Proudmoore, come into the light here, let me take a better look at you.” she continued in a much kinder tone.

    Jaina obediently sat down in front of Lyana. She wasn’t quite comfortable with her body being the focus of so much attention but at the same time the dark rangers’ care for her was comforting and Jaina would do as she was told. They had risked their lives to rescue her. It was the very least she could do for them.

    Lyana’s fingers were gentle when she folded away the tatters of Jaina’s shirt but it still stung to have it touch the cut skin and Jaina winced and gasped from it.

    ”You poor thing…” Lyana's finger trailed the unbroken skin on Jainas’s back. ”Dark Lady, we have to rinse her back at least and bind the wounds. I’ll need a better pot than this junk, and something to hold a lot of water and to use as bandages. And some wine or such.”

    ”Clea and Kitala, search the nearest houses for what Lyana needs. I have to see to some things with Kalira and Anthis in the meantime. Lady Proudmoore, you will be in good hands. Lyana is extremely skilled.”

    Jaina nodded. She was starting to feel warm, maybe feverish even, and honestly too tired to have an opinion of much at all.

    Sylvanas, Clea and Kitala left, and while Lyana sorted through whatever useful things she could find inside Anya carefully cut away the last bits of Jaina’s ruined clothing from her arms. Jaina leaned forward on the table and rested her head in them. She closed her eyes, until Anya edged a folded blanket under her arms. She stroked Jaina over her hair.

    ”You’re burning, Lady Proudmoore.” Anya said tenderly, and Jaina could only manage a tiny nod. Equally tenderly, the dark ranger put her pleasantly cool hand against Jaina’s forehead. ”Try to sleep if you can. We’ll watch over you.”
    Jaina suddenly noticed how Anya smelled of blood up close. Her dark attire didn’t reveal much but Anya had obviously not spent the night fighting from a distance.

    ”Anya…are you…are you…alright?” Jaina whispered weakly.

    ”I am now.”
    Last edited by Maltacus; March 07, 2023 at 02:58 PM.
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
    An Orcs Tale, a Third Age AAR - Completed.
    Reviewed by Alwyn in the Critics Quill
    My Dread Lady, a Warcraft Total War AAR - A few chapters done.
    Home to Midgard, a Third Age AAR about two dwarves, a spy and a diplomat - Completed (pictures remade up to chapter 19).
    Reviewed by Boustrophedon in The Critics Quill

  4. #104
    Alwyn's Avatar Frothy Goodness
    Content Director Patrician Citizen

    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    United Kingdom

    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Nicely done, I particularly enjoyed the build up to the Banshee Queen's Wail, the reactions of the rangers when they saw Jaina - and Jaina's request to Sylvanas.

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