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Thread: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

  1. #81
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XI-IV. Magics and Misconceptions
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    The sight that met Sylvanas when she stepped onto the deck was one she had not once imagined seeing since her mage had stepped onto her deck for the first time. The woman had the steadiest sea legs she could ever have imagined but none the less Sylvanas found her bent over the reeling, retching and coughing.

    What is going on here?” she ordered rather than asked.

    Proudmoore waved at her with her hand, as if asking for time to explain. With a visible shudder she straightened herself somewhat and turned around.

    ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry…I can’t eat this.”

    Sylvanas’ eyes were drawn to a plate of fried fish at Proudmoore's feet. It did not take a genius to deduce what had prompted the reaction.

    ”Just how old is that fish?” Sylvanas demanded from the crowd of concerned, and by now increasingly shame-faced crewmembers gathering behind Proudmoore.

    ”I’m very sorry, my lady. We can’t smell the difference anymore.” one of them answered solemnly.

    Proudmoore did, of course, wave the apology away. ”Just take it away and toss the rest overboard. I’ll conjure some mana bread, or something…”

    Her mage had sunk down on the deck, leaning back with her eyes closed and pinching her nose. Anya was right. She really did not look well.

    ”I do hope the food is better in your lands, oh queen of Lordaeron.” she mumbled.

    ”To be fair none of us have really bothered to find out lately.” Sylvanas knelt next to her mage. ”But my people do swear that tasting the famous Lordaeronian grain is nothing less than a life-changing experience...”

    ”Oh, spare me please, it’s too early in the day for morbidity.”

    ”I would normally advice against taxing yourself without proper sustenance but since I can regrettably not provide anything better in that regard I think it would be more becoming of me to keep quiet.”

    ”So abducting innocent archmages and making them run your ships is normal procedure but in this particular case you just happened to be short on victuals, Lady Windrunner?”

    ”Oh, you have no idea, Lady Proudmoore.”

    ”Seriously though, is there any food in Lordaeron?”

    ”Yes. It is hard to find and nowhere near to support any notable living population, but not everything is blighted or devastated. Rest assured that I will not let you starve, Lady Proudmoore.”

    ”I’ll look forward to you inviting me for dinner when we arrive then, Lady Windrunner.” Her mage groaned and rose up. ”Let’s get this ship underway.”
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
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    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).
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  2. #82
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XII-I. Tears and Touches
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    For the final time, Sylvanas walked arm in arm with her mage down to the main deck before the entire crew. They had lined up all along the way towards the gangplank now laid out and properly secured. Proudmoore looked outright terrible but she held her head high and Sylvanas kept her pace adjusted to her out of respect just as much as concern.

    ”Captain Bonecarver and all the crew of the ’Banshees Wail’…” Sylvanas began. Yes, they had finally given the poor vessel a name, suggested by the captains daughter Haley after finally dropping the alternative ”Windrunner”, ”Tiderunner” or ”Seas Daughter”, because as she put it ”things only got interesting aboard after you started to Wail a little, banshee Lady”. Sylvanas hadn’t know what to answer to that but her mage had laughed for the first time in two dreary days and that settled it as far as she cared.

    ”…I salute your hard work and unquestionable skill. Let lesser nations be in awe of a ship whose maiden voyage consisted of crossing an ocean, and let Scourge and Scarlets look upon her prow with fear!”

    And may they all tremble before the Daughter of the Sea. Sylvanas thought quietly as the crew cheered.

    Each day had drained Proudmoore more and more, causing her to display all the symptoms she had previously alluded to. Still she would yield to neither wind nor rain nor exhaustion and her rebukes of the rangers’ suggestions that she should rest grew all testier until Velonara remarked that Proudmoore now sounded like the Dark Lady. When her mage had been ready to snap at that Sylvanas had run her clawed fingers down along her back, and that at least had seemed to make her mage relax quite a bit. It made Sylvanas feel marginally less bad for putting the woman through this.

    Her rangers were largely relieved of guard duty during these day shifts of her mage, but they found all possible reasons to linger. Now that Proudmoore no longer needed to focus on directing the ship she could find cover from the increasingly cold wind behind them. While they had no warmth to share, the rangers would hold out their cloaks in a ring around and over their ward and form an improvised tent for her. Proudmoore did not snap at them any more after that.

    ”Captain Bones.” her mage saluted like Kul Tirans did.

    ”Navigator Proudmoore.” he returned it, grinning.

    ”Scrap that blasted forecastle.”

    ”Hey mage lady, when ya not falling asleep where ya stand you’ve gotta come back and race with me in the longboat! With me at the tiller and you doing your streamy current tricks we’re gonna own everyone!” Haley Bones exclaimed.

    ”Do I still get to be yer first mate, captain Haley?” Velonara asked as she threw the girl high in the air.

    ”Aye!”

    Clea carried Proudmoores staff, oddly fitting as she was the one who had brought it aboard. Anya held a small sailcloth bag that contained the mages almost pitifully meagre luggage. Sylvanas had no idea where or how she had acquired the things but had little worry to spare on such trifles. When the rangers had asked her mage had just shrugged and remarked how mages, as everyone was aware of, were known to conjure all sorts of strange things out of thin air.

    Sylvanas cast a last glance around the deck of the Banshees Wail. She was secretly starting to like the name.

    Actually, that was always an option she supposed, but one glance at Proudmoore made her ashamed of even thinking about it. It was bad enough what she intended to do. But there was no putting it up any longer.

    Her lack of enthusiasm for the art nothwithstanding, Sylvanas’ current form brimmed with necromantic energy and she was able to perform some limited yet highly useful feats of the dark arts, one being to Raise simple skeletons for a short period of time. She rarely practised it though, as it was invariably an inefficient use of her time and energy on or off the field of battle. She could move faster on her own if she needed and her bow and blades were infinitely more lethal than a few mindless puppets. Now however could have been a time to actually make use of that talent and call forth a mount for her mage, but Sylvanas decided to leave it for another time. She had one of her escort ranger squads out ahead to scout and going too fast would defeat that purpose. Besides that, a long walk towards the Undercity would be a convenient opportunity to have a very unpleasant talk with Proudmoore.

    She also tried her best not to think too much about how a long walk would conveniently drain her mage’s energy even further to make her less able to escape.

    As they passed out of the Lordaeron docks and into the countryside Sylvanas pondered how to broach the subject of Arthas. It was, after all, not her favourite one. In the event however Proudmoore beat her to it.

    ”What happened around here…?” she looked around at the ashen trees, leafless despite it being only early in the autumn.

    ”Blight. It has receded, but it has killed off everything that once grew or could have grown here. Every tree, every straw of grass, every seed waiting to grow. There are some areas not too far away that are still afflicted by it but as far as we can tell it takes some kind of actual Scourge presence to maintain the blight.”

    ”I saw the blight at work in Ashenvale when the demons were advancing. And earlier when…” At that Proudmoores voice trailed off.

    They kept walking, with their escort of rangers spread out in a wide circle around them. It suited Sylvanas fine. She preferred not to have their eyes upon her right now.

    The road between the docks and the city had been well travelled and shops, inns and some villages had sprung up close by. They were all ruins now, broken walls and soot-blackened beams sticking out at odd angles or sometimes forming a burned out skeleton of the barn or granary that had once stood there. Here and there the devastation was underlined by the presence of the odd intact object, an overturned wheelbarrow that lay where it had been left a year ago, or a clay cup dropped in the mud.

    Proudmoore would stop to gaze at the bleak reminders of the kingdom that had once been, but did not speak about what she looked at. Not until they came upon a burnt out windmill, or perhaps it had been a granary, that appeared to have collapsed in on itself on one side as the fire consumed it.

    ”Lady Windrunner…what is that?” Proudmoore pointed at something among the rubble.

    Sylvanas followed her direction and had no difficuly discerning what it was or reading the grim scene.

    ”Skeletons.” she said tonelessly.

    Proudmoore looked in mute horror for a moment, and then rushed blindly through the dry, withering grass, hindered by her ill-fitting boots and too large clothes. Sylvanas had no trouble keeping pace with her.

    Before them was a pile of burned beams and spars, and partly underneath them the charred remains of two humans.

    Her mage had fallen to her knees before them, staring quietly at the blackened skulls and bones.

    ”A man, judging by the size” Sylvanas commented ”and a child. Perhaps his son or daughter seeking shelter with him in the granary when the Scourge found them?”

    Prudmoore looked up at her, and she appeared paler than usual. The dark patches that had formed under her eyes during the last days stood out atrociously against the whiteness.
    ”That is how I interpret it.” Sylvanas continued, still with the even tone of a ranger delivering her report. ”It would have been a tall structure, reasonably defensible, and their pursuers set it on fire. Perhaps it collapsed upon them and trapped them here, perhaps they were succumbing to the smoke and the building toppled over them afterwards. Although…”

    There was a small detail that had caught Sylvanas’ attention, a dent in one of the bones that seemed to have otherwise avoided the collapsing building.

    ”What is it?” Proudmoore almost whispered, her voice thick.

    ”This indenture here” Sylvanas pointed ”may be the mark of a weapon, which would suggest that whoever started the fire was waiting for them down here.”

    ”Did that…did it…?”

    ”Kill them? Possibly. Or perhaps he was only wounded and left to suffer and his child with him, maybe the child would not abandon its father and stayed to die from the smoke. It happens more often than you might think, like children hiding inside a closet as the building burns.”

    It did actually look a little like the smaller skeleton was leaning over the larger one. Sylvanas furiusly fought down whatever small, foolish voice inside that tried to cry out that even a banshee queen was allowed to feel something before such a miserable sight.

    Her last sentence had caused her mage to stare at Sylvanas in shock.

    She nodded slowly.

    ”We were his slaves, Lady Proudmoore. Fettered by the Lich Kings will and incapable of even trying to resist his commands.”

    ”Were you…” her mage had to cough to find her voice. ”Were you…aware?”

    ”I do not know for sure about everyone but as for me and for the rest of the rangers yes, we were perfectly aware of what we were doing.”

    She looks at me in horror now. Will she bolt, or lash out at me? I had better keep talking to keep her focusing on something else than panicking.

    ”It is not a subject we are keen to dwell upon, but the most formidable of the undead are always those that have enough of their mind, or perhaps their soul, left to function independently and put their innate skill and reaction to use. As a consequence the most intact and powerful among the Forsaken are invariably also the ones left with the most vivid memories of what they have done in the Lich Kings name.”

    ”What did he make you do?”

    There is fear in her voice. She wants to know but dreads what she will hear all the same.

    ”Come, walk with me, Lady Proudmoore. There is still a long road ahead of us to the Undercity.”

    Proudmoore followed her out from the dismal ruins and as they resumed their walk Sylvanas delved into her darkest moments as a banshee shackled to anothers will.

    ”When Arthas returned from Kalimdor with news of the Burning Legions defeat it was a surprise to the dreadlords who had until that point commanded the Scourge on the Legions behalf. They fled before him but Arthas’ first order as ’King Arthas’ of Lordaeron was to scour his grand realm of any remaining living inhabitants. He, I and his pet lich Kel’Thuzad each commanded separate forces to cut off the escape routes leading to the mountains and highlands around central Lordaeron. I commanded most of the dark rangers and banshees, Kel’Thuzad the available necromancers and Arthas the heaviest infantry, or what passes for that in the Scourge. I obeyed fully, writhing and screaming as much as I may in the small tortured corner of my mind that remined my own there was no way to resist the Lich Kings will. Not at that time.”

    She could see her mage taking in the information, her revulsion not stopping her analytical mind from sorting, cataloguing and filing it away for later.

    ”Our designated sector was not here but what you have seen so far is representative. We set fire to every dwelling, tainted every well and despoiled every edible thing in our path. Me and my sisters killed all that moved without hesitation. Man, woman, old, young. I suppose we were allowed to do it quickly and efficiently this time, since the good king was too busy elsewhere to amuse himself with thinking up new exciting atrocities for us to debase ourselves with.” Sylvanas spat. ”A dark ranger would not have done what you saw back there. She would have set fire to the structure and killed both of them with a precise strike and moved on to track down their kin without wasting time.” She didn’t know if it was contempt or a tint of twisted pride lacing her voice.

    Why is she quiet? Why doesn’t she condemn me as the monster I am? What are you waiting for, my mage?

    ”A banshee is not created to be allowed to rest, or be at peace. Our anger, our grief, our shame will burn inside us until it consumes every conscious thought and we lash out in muderous rage or a banshees Wail at whatever is near. Every moment of our existence is at some level an inner battle against that happening.”

    Sylvanas hesitated for a moment.

    ”My rangers are well respected among the Forsaken for their deeds but have few friends and even fewer of them close. They keep to themselves, for…several reasons. Arthas used to enjoy placing those of us who were Raised as banshees with elven captives as a punishment for our defiance when he attacked Quel’Thalas. In our rage and distress at what we had become, and before we had learned how to keep it under control to the extent we do know, it rarely took long before we would Wail and kill our former people, on our own you might call it. I can still hear him laughing at me most days whenever I close my eyes.”

    But that is not strictly true. Not anymore. Now I hear your heart beating at night and the breaths you draw and can think of nothing else. Now I see you reminding my rangers every day how they are not the monsters Arthas turned them into.

    ”Did you know it…what he was becoming?” Sylvanas asked lowly.

    What a low blow. No, there are really no such rules in battle. But what an unworthy, ugly thing to say.

    And Proudmoore did flinch. Confused? Affronted? Hurt?

    ”No, no...” She shook her head. ”That’s not why I left, I never thought he would…but I should have…”

    She was trailing off. Sylvanas frowned. Proudmoore had left Arthas at some point? How and when and why the hell had she done that? She cursed her incomplete foreknowledge, it was clearly more fragmentary than she had hoped.

    Nothing to do but push forward and hope to keep her reeling from sheer discomfort then.

    ”Would you care to clarify, Lady Proudmoore? You are not making much sense right now.” Sylvanas said brusquely.

    ”At Stratholme. When Arthas…when he ordered the city to be…purged… And I left to heed the prophets warning and gather the people for the expedition to Kalimdor.” Proudmoore frowned. ”You didn’t know about that?” she thought aloud as much as asked. ”What was you referring to, Lady Windrunner?”

    In response, Sylvanas reached inside a pocket to procure the old marriage contract drafted for the crowns of Lordaeron and Kul Tiras.

    What a strange document that is. It prompted the entire expedition to Theramoore in a way yet we have never talked about it until now, just as we have never properly talked about the night I brought her aboard. And if it hadn’t been for the dwarves being so thorough and, in all fariness, unintimidated by me we would most likely never had found it.

    She let Proudmoore read through it in silence, watching for how her mage would react.

    ”It appears like you were quite close.” Sylvanas commented, doing her best to sound indifferent.

    ”We…we were…but not at this point. I think I know when this would have been written. Anyway… We were lovers once.”

    She spoke it quietly, guiltily, as a confession of a serious crime. Which should have been perfect, and exactly what Sylvanas had aimed for, and all according to plan.

    Should have.

    ”We met when I was travelling to Dalaran to begin my studies. We were just children them, nothing serious. But then he visited Dalaran and I visited Lordaeron and we became a couple. Lovers. A pair. Whatever you call it. We snuck away. Took walks. Had dinner. Rode through the countryside. …slept together.” she almost whispered.

    Sylvanas wanted to recoil, perhaps not from Proudmoore as such but the thought of…

    Why the hell is she telling me this? Wait. She is…confessing her crimes. She is so damned stubbornly honest that she would do that.

    ”I thought we would marry at that time, I suppose I even hoped we would, and Arthas did propose to me but then he broke off the engagement and I went back to studying and he to squiring for Sir Uther. I think that marriage contract would have been drafted around that time. Someones wishful thinking, maybe… Then, when the plague hit Lordaeron, Master Antonidas sent me to investigate and me and Arthas met up again.”

    Proudmoore was looking down, not daring to meet her gaze.

    Well, this is what the plan was, I should be celebrating really.

    ”I…I think some part of me hoped that we could pick up where we had left or something of the sort. I…you must think I’m very silly. Or…very horrible. At first things went well, we tracked the distributed infected grain and managed to halt the onslaught of that Cult of the Damned of Kel’Thuzad’s. But we were always too late, the grain had been shipped out. So when we marched to Stratholme, where that dreadlord in command of the undead was supposed to reside, we found the plague spreading and the people…they were becoming undead before our eyes.”

    Her mage was trembling now, swallowing and curling into herself like if she didn’t deserve to take up any space in the world. It was pitiful.

    Good. Almost there.

    Sylvanas was sickened by the thought and by herself for thinking it. But it was true in more than one way. Timbered ruins were giving way to broken down stonework and the torn walls of the capital city were becoming visible behind a wooded hill where the road turned.

    ”What happened at Stratholme?”

    ”He…he ordered that the people infected, or believed to be infected, were to be killed. Culled, to save the rest. Like their lives did not matter on their own. I told him not to do it. He was angry with me, shocked I think, and kept insisting that there was no other way. I don’t know if he meant no other way to save the city or no other way to defeat the Scourge at work there amassing an army.”

    Her mage was crying.

    ”I told him that I could not…could not…” Proudmoore sniffed, visibly trying to regain control of herself. ”Could not watch him do this.”

    Something immediately fell into place in Sylvanas’ memory. The first night. Her mage had been plagued by nightmares, waking up to scream at one point, and thrashed in her sleep while she mumbled something that now became terribly clear.

    ”…can not watch you… …do th… …thas…”

    I can not watch you do this, Arthas.

    So you returned to Stratholme in your sleep that night and Belore knows how many others, my poor mage. And now I have dragged you back there yet another time.

    ”And that is when you left.” Sylvanas concluded.

    ”Yes.” Proudmoore whispered. ”I told Sir Uther about it and he confronted Arthas but he wouldn’t listen to anything. And Arthas sailed to Northrend to pursue that dreadlord and I returned to Dalaran to report what had happened to Master Antonidas and convince him that we should prepare for an expedition to Kalimdor as the prophet had predicted.”
    Ahead of them, Sylvanas could see Kitala signing to her that it was clear to advance. She must have conferred with the scouts ahead. Sylvanas nodded at her. Her mage seemed to distressed to have noticed.

    Just through the city now, and then I can let you be.

    There had been a grand gatehouse flanked by solid towers guarding the northern gate. An almost whole arch was all that remained now.

    ”We used to walk here.” Proudmoore sounded hollow.

    ”Apparently so did he, or so I am told. As a death knight he always fought mounted on that skeletal horse of his, so the last time he walked here would have been when he returned from Northrend to murder his father and betray the entire kingdom to the Scourge.” Sylvanas mused.

    ”Terenas. He was…he was always kind to me. I think he would have been a good king. Patient.”

    Somehow that incensed Sylvanas. A good king? Good enough to let his accursed son run rampant and good enough to let himself get killed and have that same son proceed to desecrate Quel’Thalas and…

    No. Focus.

    ”What a pity his son shared so few of those admirable traits then.” Sylvanas sneered venomously. She could not help herself. It was Arthas’ fault that she was what she was, Arthas’ fault that she had to stand here and mistreat a woman infinitely better than him. She currently had no wish to hear a single positive word about the Menethil family.

    Proudmoore curled into herself worse than ever and had her eyes so firmly fixed on Sylvanas’ feet one could be led to believe that those had suddenly been polymorphed into hooves.

    ”I wish he had never picked up that cursed sword…” she breathed, almost inaudible.

    ”Frostmourne.”

    Even speaking the name made Sylvanas perpetually cold chest feel colder.

    ”You know about it?”

    Sylvanas wanted to scream at her and laugh madly at the same time. She was seeing black at the edges of her vision. Her physical form was bleeding black smoke now, the banshee inside her fuming and boiling. In one furious motion Sylvanas grabbed hold of her upper body armour and pulled it down by the middle to expose the jagged, icily discoloured, and unendingly hated scar between her breasts.

    Trust me” the banshee queens voice crackled with power as she sneered through her clenched teeth ”I am well acquainted with it.”

    Proudmoore stared, transfixed by Sylvanas’ chest. Under other circumstances that could have been associated with a profoundly different kind of reaction but now her eyes widened in shock as realisation dawned on her of just how personally the banshee queen had suffered at the hands of her former lover.

    ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” She illogically clutched her mouth as she continued to apologise. ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

    It would seem Proudmoore had finally been broken.

    I have reduced a good-hearted and courageous woman to a rambling wreck. A woman who toiled for weeks to get me here. And all in a days work. Good job, Sylvanas.

    ”Please forgive me I should have stopped him I should have done…”

    Tears were running freely down her cheeks from clear blue eyes that never left the jagged wound over Sylvanas’ heart. Was that what she would be now in her mage’s eyes? Nothing but the scar tissue left by the cruelty of a petty and spiteful death knight?

    I am not what you have made me, Arthas! I am not!

    But the state of her mage in front of her told a different story.

    Proudmoore was crying.

    For Arthas’ sake.

    Because of her.

    Her mage.

    Her Lady Proudmoore.

    Her Jaina.

    TO HELL WITH THIS!

    ”Lady Proudmoore.”

    Her words elicited no response.

    ”Proudmoore!”

    Did her lovely human ears even register a word Sylvanas was saying?

    ”Snap out of it!”

    Sylvanas’ hand came down faster than the eye could see.
    Last edited by Maltacus; November 11, 2022 at 11:04 AM.
    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

  3. #83
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    I'm enjoying catching up with your tale, both the lighter moments such as Velonara pretending to be an archmage, and the more serious thoughts, such as Lady Proudmoore's reaction to Lady Windrunner's statement that the Forsaken aren't elves anymore.

  4. #84
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XII-II. Tears and Touches
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Jaina recoiled. Her cheek was burning. What had happened…

    Sylvanas had slapped her?

    Jainas jaw trembled and new tears welled up in her eyes. Was Sylvanas that angry with her?

    She felt the banshee queens cold hand grasp her chin and tilt her head upward to meet her eyes that Jaina had avoided with all her ability. She flinched at the chilling touch and the feeling of those pointy claws on Sylvanas’ gauntlets against her skin, but at the same time she felt drawn to it and wanted to lean closer into her hand, into anything that was not Sylvanas resenting her completely.

    ”Lady Proudmoore.”

    Her voice was so deep, like in Jainas dreams, and the ethereal echo also more prominent than otherwise. Jaina melted before it even as she looked up at the smoking form and furiously burning eyes of Sylvanas. The banshee queen was utterly frightening in this state, and yet she was not. Somehow, Jaina didn’t fear that Sylvanas would actually harm her.

    ”Enough of this nonsense. Arthas’ actions were his own.”

    Like before, when the visage of captain Bonecarver had made her panic, Jaina felt herself calm before Sylvanas’ gaze. Her guilt and shame and anxiety slowly evaporated into smoke under the banshee queens uncompromising glare until the only things in the world were Sylvanas’ eyes, Sylvanas’ voice and Sylvanas’ clawed hand upon her.

    The banshee raised her other hand to brush slowly and carefully over Jainas cheeks and wipe her tears away.

    ”You are not his.” Sylvanas whispered, so gently that Jaina sighed and closed her eyes when all tension came out of her. In her dishevelled state she must have misheard Sylvanas whisper something more, or just imagined hearing more of that wondrous voice.

    You are mine.”

    Whatever the words, Sylvanas’ whisper was intense enough to make her shiver all the same.

    ”Come. Let us proceed to the keep, shall we?”

    Sylvanas held out her arm, and Jaina hooked hers around it. Her chin already missed Sylvanas’ hand on it. She leaned a little against the banshee queen, who glanced sideways but made no mention of it. Jaina was starting to feel her lingering exhaustion now, and how drained she was after being so emotional previously. They walked quietly for a while along broken cobblestone and torn walls towards the looming walls of the former seat of the Lordaeron crown.

    Clea was signing to them from ahead. Even Jaina could see it. Or perhaps Clea wanted her to see her signing?

    ”What’s she saying? With the hand signs?”

    Sylvanas smirked slightly.

    ”All clear. Friendly unit near. Explore cave.”

    ”Explore cave?”

    ”The ’cave’ in this case would be the actual Undercity, but somehow elven ranger hand signs had not accounted for us dwelling in murky catacombs.” Sylvanas explained.

    ”Is that where we’re going?”

    ”Not strictly speaking. I intend to quarter you closer to the surface, on our upper floors you might call it.”

    At the entrance to the keep Jaina could finally see Anya and Velonara standing on guard at each side. It was strangely comforting to have them within her sight again. Anya looked at her intently when they passed inside and came upon the once magnificent throne room.

    Or, it still had a broken and solemn sort of majesty, in Jainas opinion. Like a withered grave monument of a venerated ancestor. The roof had collapsed enough to let in the pale autumn afternoon sun and it shone upon the cracked stone throne still on its dais.

    Sylvanas irreverantly threw herself back on it, sprawled across the seat in the most un-royal manner.

    ”Welcome to my humble abode!” she spread her arms out magnanimously.

    Jaina didn’t really know what she was expected to do, so she followed Sylvanas and sat down on the steps in front of the throne. Beneath the queen. She wondered how Sylvanas would look in a finely wrought crown. Probably completely ridiculous.

    Jaina found to her surprise that she was smiling.

    ”Are you expecting any more guests, my queen?” she asked suitably humbly.

    ”Who knows? I am sure my dark heralds are spreading the word of my triumphant return even as we speak. Someone is bound to turn up.” Sylvanas drawled.

    ”Where do, ahem, where do people live around here? I thought we would have seen someone.” Now that Jaina had time to think about it, it was a bit odd that they hadn’t seen any other Forsaken, wasn’t it?

    ”Ah, but the actual city lies far beneath us and we are but at it’s gates, Lady Proudmoore. It is after all not called the ’Undercity’ for naught.”

    Out of an alcove, and silent as a cat, Kitala appeared. She looked with interest at Sylvanas lazily stretched across the throne and Jaina seated beneath her, after which she hurriedly saluted Sylvanas.

    ”Dark Lady, I couldn’t find Kalira but I’ve sent word for her.” Jaina noticed she spoke Thalassian now and strained her ears to keep up. Thalassian in books were one thing – spoken and unrefined it was clearly a field where Jaina had a lot to learn.

    ”Keep searching! I want her reporting promptly.”

    Kitala nodded and was gone in a blink. How did they do that?

    Jaina leaned back against the base of the throne. It wasn’t the most comfortable but she appreciated having something to rest her back against. Now that she was sitting so close to Sylvanas, a part of her hoped that she would touch her again. She wondered how Sylvanas claws would feel against her skull if she carded Jainas hair like Anya once had.

    ”Who is Kalira?” Jaina asked, partly to have something to say and partly out of curiosity.

    ”A dark ranger lieutenant. She has held the overall command of the defense of the city in my absence.”

    ”That’s a huge responsibility. You must trust her a lot.”

    Sylvanas smirked at that, with something ironic about her.

    ”Sure, I do trust Kalira a lot.”

    ”Tell me about her. Please? Just while we wait?”

    Sylvanas regarded her with a trace of amusement.

    ”Fine then. Kalira is about as tall as I am, almost, broad-shouldered and dark-haired. She is fast and strong and utterly deadly with a blade. She is a better archer than me on a good day and both she and I know it. It galls her to no end.”

    ”Why?” Jaina frowned.

    ”Because on every other day I best her and because I have the nerve to appear content with that.” Sylvanas chuckled quietly. ”Kalira is my rival. She trains as hard as anyone, drills her squadron until they are on the verge of mutiny, and will accept any assignment no matter how dangerous, all in order to best me and prove everyone wrong who ever cheered ’Sylvanas’ at some moment in their lives.”

    Jaina tried to imagine what it would be like to have to work close to someone who disliked you to that point. Sure, she had seen some of the academic rivalry of Dalaran, but this?

    ”Nothing would please Kalira more than to be able to save my skin a dozen times over and be there to say ’I told you so’ afterwards. I respect and admire her skill and dedication and she – most grudgingly – finds herself forced to return the sentiment. Kalira is unflinchingly honest. I can trust her to speak the blunt truth as she sees it before a hall of naysayers any day. There is no better councillor that I can think of to keep you honest. Velonara is normally part of her squad, partnered with a ranger named Cyndia Hawkspear – you are familiar with the concept of ranging partners, I take it?”

    Jaina nodded, and secretly and stupidly felt a little proud with herself that she had picked that up.

    Before Jaina could indulge in her curiosity further Velonara herself hurried inside as if the mention of her name had summoned her.

    ”Dark Lady, I think you’d better come. And…it might be best if you brouht Lady Proudmoore with you.”

    Jaina watched her eyes narrow, and then widen in understanding. It looked as if Sylvanas’ ears peeked up slightly, listening to something Jaina could not distinguish. In a blink all languidness had left her and she stood up with smooth grace and regal bearing.

    A crown would still have looked misplaced. Like a toy among expertly crafted tools.

    The Banshee Queen of Lordaeron had no need for a crown.

    ”Come, Lady Proudmoore. It is time for you to meet my people at last.”
    Last edited by Maltacus; November 19, 2022 at 04:35 PM.
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  5. #85
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XII-III. Tears and Touches
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Sylvanas had been silently berating herself ever since the walk from the gatehouse, after which she had truly not known what to do. She had screwed this whole plan up, and badly so, because she had not the rotten, black heart to see her mage suffer just a little longer. She truly hadn’t. And now she had been sitting and waiting stubbornly for Kalira to arrive as if that would in some inexplicable way solve her mage problem. The truth was that Sylvanas was stalling. And now something all the more vexing was sure to be happening or Velonara would not have come to fetch her.

    Outside, facing Anya and seven more rangers with Velonara, were dozens upon dozens, hundreds of Forsaken. Forsaken all kinds and trades, from almost human with ghostly skin to wretched ghouls with twisted backs and missing jaws, from artisans to apothecaries to dreadguards.

    They were not happy.

    No deathguards were present. Those would have joined ranks with the rangers without a sliver of hesitation.

    Sylvanas strode forward to the top of the stairs. She did not hesitate. Nor did she attempt to give a speech or deflect the sentiments with some witty joke. No, she would at the very least be more honest than that.

    ”Speak your mind.”

    At first there was no responce. Only silence. Then…

    ”You left us!”

    ”Coward!”

    ”Runner!”

    Abandoned. Betrayed. It was not unexpected words. Sylvanas had told herself the same many times over. She stood her ground in silence, accepting whatever condemnation her people apparently wanted to throw at her. She had promised them free will and she would stand by her word.

    ”Why did you come back?”

    ”How dare you show yourself!”

    ”Where did you run to?”

    ”What do you have to show for it?”

    As if to answer that, Proudmoore stepped in sight, flanked by Anya and Lyana on one side and Clea, Kitala and Velonara on the other. Their unimpressed demeanour made it clear that as much as they guarded the mage they would also guard her from whoever would challenge them for her.

    Unfortunately it only seemed to incence the crowd even further.

    ”Is that a joke?”

    ”What business does the living have in our city?”

    ”She brought back a little pet for her rangers, is that it?”

    ”Death to the living!”

    ”Ranger !"#%&!”

    Sylvanas growled, and black smoke started to trail from her.

    Yes, she understood well their sentiments about her abandoning her post to chase a fleeting hope across the sea only to return with nothing but a hostage to show for it. Yes, she did admittedly keep her rangers very close to her and yes, no matter how many dangerous assignments she gave them it would inevitably outward appear like the favouritism it perhaps was.

    But that.

    The offender was a Forsaken soldier, not a dreadguard but one of the better equipped. Sylvanas itched to crush those cheap iron plates between her hands with the wearer still in them. Yet before she had the chance to do anything he stumbled, and a jet of icy cold water shot out from Proudmoores hand and hit him squarely in the face.

    ”I think you had best wash your mouth after speaking such foul words.” her mage said, and had the nerve to say it innocently, as the armoured infantryman slid on the spot of ice that had mysteriously formed right under his feet, smooth like a polished mirror. He cursed, and the surrounding crowd was starting to edge away slightly.

    ”You filthy little piece of…”

    Another jet of water knocked him off his feet this time, the iron-shod boots finding little purchase against the magical ice.

    ”It seems like he was in deep waters already…”

    Proudmoore snapped her fingers theatrically and at once his heavily armoured feet were frozen to the ice.

    ”…but maybe he got cold feet and preferred to lay off?”

    True enough, Proudmoores magical frost had now also fused his cuirass and one of his arms to the icy ground where he lay. Belore, it sounded like her mage was close to laughing. She was quietly giggling. Giggling.

    ”SILENCE!” Sylvanas shouted and her ethereal voice echoed across the city.

    ”Yes! I. Did. Fail. I left you all to fend for yourselves and sailed off in search for one last chance for an alliance with another realm. I was met with hostility and drawn weapons before I had a chance to plead our case. I returned with nothing to show for it except for the mage now in my custody. My custody. There you have it! And if anyone, anyone, thinks that makes me unworthy to lead you then step forward now or shut up!”

    The crowd was silent as the grave. No, no, the crowd was deathly silent. No, the crowd was just silent and Sylvanas was not becoming Areiel and that was that.

    ”And you, little mage…” Sylvanas turned to take Proudmoore by the ear and drag the mage towards her, who yelped and stumbled. Sylvanas roughly grasped a fistful of her golden hair to pull her head back so that her mage was staring right up at her with clear, blue eyes. ”…will learn to behave yourself, is that understood?”

    Her mage nodded. ”Yes, Dark Lady.” she mouthed breathlessly. Her eyes were still fixed on Sylvanas, not teary this time but shiny. Glazed, almost.

    Insufferable woman. Had she no sense of caution or self-preservation at all?

    Still furious, Sylvanas marched off without sparing the mob a second glance. She dragged Proudmoore with her, the mage’s head forced forward by Sylvanas’ hand in her hair and stumbling and yelping as she tried to keep up. Down corridors and stairs Sylvanas dragged her, with her rangers in tow, all the way to the lower levels of the keep until they reached the largest magically warded cell.

    Sylvanas threw open the door and hurled her mage inside, still fuming.

    ”Ow! What the hell!” Proudmoore exclaimed and clutched the ear Sylvanas had previously grabbed. ”There’s no need to drag my ears out to elven ones, I am perfectly fine with human sized!”

    ”Do you” Sylvanas stormed across the room until she was right in front of and looming over her mage ”have any idea how close you were to instigating a riot?!”

    ”I was trying to deflect their anger! Better that people are angry at me who is their enemy anyway than you!”

    ”They would not have dared to harm me, but you are a different matter.”

    Proudmoore rubbed her ear. ”Damn it.” she muttered.

    ”If you want to act the disobedient pet like you just did I will have to act my part, and pray that people think more about me reprimanding you, than about you making a fool of that guardsman.”

    ”He was making a fool of himself just fine…”

    ”Proudmoore!”

    Her mage looked up at her with big eyes.

    ”I’m sorry I’ve caused you trouble, Dark Lady.” she whispered.

    Sylvanas sighed.

    ”For the time being you will have to stay down here for your own safety as much as theirs, until I know more about the sentiments in the city.”

    ”So you’re not going to reprimand me any more now?” her mage asked in a small voice but still with that odd glazed look.

    Sylvanas slowly brushed her thumb across her mage’s lips and further down along the captivating womans chin, making her breath hitch.

    ”Not until you give me reason to, little mage…”
    Last edited by Maltacus; November 23, 2022 at 03:53 AM.
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    Home to Midgard, a Third Age AAR about two dwarves, a spy and a diplomat - Completed (pictures remade up to chapter 19).
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  6. #86
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Lady Proudmoore seemed fairly safe on the Banshee's Wail because of her useful magic, but it seems like her magic is likely to get her into trouble on land - and yet, she had the sense to use non-lethal magic against the Forsaken soldier in plate armour. Good update!

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

    Chapter XIII-I. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    ”Name?”

    ”Halvdan Blacksilver.”

    ”Class?”

    ”Pardon?”

    The balding and bored Guildmaster and Administrator of Ironforge’s Contracted Irregular Forces looked up from his ledger for the first time during the conversation.

    ”Yes, your class. What’s your occupation, your specialty, your area of expertise?

    ”Ah, discreet scouting of hidden locations and acquisition of hard-to-acquire information.”

    ”Alright…I’ll put you up as a rogue then…” Jondor Steelbrow added some lines in the prodigious list of champions operating under the scrutiny of the dwarven realm and proceeded to fill out a printed form that he then handed over to Halvdan. ”This is not a formal license to operate within Ironforge but signifies that you’ve reported to the crown with all due process. It’ll be up to the respective contracting parties within the realm to form their own opinions of your competence.”

    ”That sounds good. So I am free to take on whatever quests the people of Khaz Modan need help with now?”

    ”That’s right! Better stay clear of the more gruesome ones until you’ve gotten some experience under your belt, though, and always have a word about the expected skill level for the job. We don’t want to see any more foolish wipes around here.”

    ”Wipes?”

    ”When a patrol or raiding party goes missing in its entirety and we have to wipe their names from the list. And we can’t afford to have any more of that, so make sure you bring some healer or potions with you, and keep a sharp lookout! Remember, if you wake up something nasty you better be prepared to deal with it – you pull it, you tank it!”

    ”Indeed. How do you mean, ’tank’, by the way?”

    ”Uh, you know, ’tank’, ’contain’, ’hold’…like a fuel tank of the flying machines. Someone in the party needs to keep the bastards occupied while the rest support or attack from the side.”

    ”Alright, acting the heavy infantry, hammer-and-anvil, got it! I think my stalwart colleague will be thrilled to take on that honourable task and we shall take every precaution to prevent any unbecoming, ah, ’wipes’.”

    ”You might want to pick up a journal too to keep track of your quests, these things tend to pile up before you know it.”

    ”You really think so?”

    ”Aye, you should see those really snowed-in guilds of raiders out there…not a thought left for anything but the latest enchanted pauldrons or the next epic expedition. They’re dedicated, sure, but there’s something to be said for taking a night off at the tavern to keep your feet on the ground too. Well, off you go! Next!”

    Halvdan passed by Runar outside the office and discreetly offered a vaguely encouraging nod. But he was a master spy for a reason and decided that he should keep tabs on how the rest of the party was doing. It was a matter of professional pride, after all.

    Runar had just introduced himself when Halvdan came within earshot.

    ”…class? Means profession, if that needs explaining.”

    ”Diplomat. Although I assume you are referring to how I prefer to handle the less diplomatic encounters we are sure to experience… I prefer a crossbow if possible. Always convenient to settle things from a distance. So…dwarven ranger.”

    There was a small but distinct tinge of pride when Runar made the last statement. Their homeland had ranger units that depended heavily on their crossbows, and from whom Runar had learned to handle the weapon long ago, but Halvdan had a very poignant feeling that his best friend had a quite different kind of rangers on his mind right now.

    ”Huh, what is it with all these names people make up today… Right, hunter it is then. So, a real purist I see! Don’t want any blunderbuss noise and smoke giving you away, right? Make sure you get yourself some solid fellow between you to tank the buggers while you reload and all will be well. And if you need any gear repaired be sure to check with Skolmin Goldfury, he’s always well stocked. Or so I’ve been told. Objectively speaking…ahem…”

    Halvdan grinned. He could practically see before him how the unimpressed raised eyebrow and expressionless face of Runar was making the apparently slightly less than objective administrator squirm. While diplomats were of course expected to be discreet about their own opinions, Halvdan knew very well how little understanding Runar had for officials who did not do their best to keep personal interests and biases from influencing their professional conduct, and he could be eerily good at delivering subtle but no less unnerving hints about that. While Halvdan generally shared the opinion on an ideological level it was also an established fact that the spying profession benefitted from unscrupulous corruption among other factions to a greater degree than the diplomatic profession.

    When they were on their way out of the administrative wing Halvdan decided to broach the subject of tactics. There was, after all, a bit of a rather large hole in their planning.
    ”…so anyone can see the logic in you being our outward face and representing our main one-man battle line in an impeccable way for sure.” he finished a well-thought and – in his opinion – concisely presented argument.

    ”Why, thanks so very much, but I’m quite sure that any enemy of not will be wanting to catch a notorious and doubtlessly soon-to-be infamous dwarven rogue before they do anything else. A grander bait – meaning of course decoy – could not be imagined.”

    ”Come on, how am I supposed to sneak around in full plate?”

    ”How am I supposed to reload a crossbow with a shield in one hand?”

    ”You could strap it to your back.”

    ”And you could cover yourself in a cloak.”

    They glared at each other in only half sincere irritation for a moment until both begun to find it hard to suppress a smile.

    ”Aren’t we supposed to be smart enough to come up with something a little better than this crude ’tanking’ thing?” Runar asked.

    ”Hmm, I find myself in agreement. Actually…”

    ”I know that look. You are cooking up something of questionable sanity and unquestionable danger to the public and society as we know it.”

    ”I have a plan. Timed and ready to the smallest detail. We will need eight rolls of rope, two shovels and picks, one standard size barrel of nails, a smithy…
    Last edited by Maltacus; November 29, 2022 at 04:19 PM.
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  8. #88
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Cool! I enjoyed the conversations with the explanations of the gaming lingo, and I look forward to finding out what the plan will be (and how the listed items will be involved)...

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

    Chapter XIII-II. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    One load of umbral ore, six copper axes and ditto chain belts, an odd number of reports and a set of honorary picks delivered later, Runar and Halvdan pocketed another days earnings and proceeded toward their rooms at Firebrew’s Inn.

    ”I swear, if I have to hear one more of these ridiculous requests to keep our feet on the ground… As if we would accidentally soar to the skies like kites if we weren’t careful or something just as stupid.”

    ”I think it’s just a form of well wishing.”

    ”We should buy one of those flying machines just to spite them, gyrocopters or whatever they’re called.” Halvdan suggested vengefully.

    ”Are you completely out of your mind?”

    Runar did not get an answer as they both became busy with more important things such as the late dinner menu and positioning their armchairs at the optimal spot before the fireplace. The inn was a comfortable place that had so far exceeded expectations and only the outrageous prices marred the overall impression of it. The dwarves did after all have many expensive projects planned that would require substantial amounts of gold coins. These simple jobs they had been able to be entrusted with so far were not especially lucrative and combing Dun Morogh for pelts or tusks felt like something of a grind.

    As Runar and Halvdan were laying into a stout serving of Loch Modan longjaw mud snapper and fried potatoes each a visitor emerged from the general crowd seated along the louder tables more to the middle of the room. It turned out to be none other than the administrator Jondor Steelbrow.

    ”Evening.” he nodded.

    ”Oh, good evening master Steelbrow.”

    ”How’s the questing of yours going?”

    ”No wipes so far it would seem” Runar commented dryly ”but my party members seem to be pulling out each and every of these sour trogg fellows of the whole forest.” he continued with a grin.

    ”Only because my party members are too dense to actually do their jobs as hunters and track the blasted creatures.” Halvdan immediately added between two bites of mud snapper filet.

    ”But it might be just as well because at least we’re more prepared than some poor merchant along the road to Thelsamaar – with all the troggs around it beats me how you manage to have any sort of regular trade going on here.”

    ”They’ve certainly become a nuisance lately, and I’ve heard you are becoming popular among some of our shopkeepers and artisans which is all well and good of course. Although…” Steelbrow took a sip of from his tankard and scratched his ear. ”…there have been some talk among the quest administrators. Some of your, ahem, tactics, are a tad bit unorthodox.”

    Runar and Halvdan looked at each other and then turned their equally frowning faces towards Steelbrow.

    ”How so?” asked Runar.

    ”I have been told that you are in the habit of luring troggs and such to elevated positions where you take shelter out of their reach and shoot at them from above. Very unsportsmanlike.”

    ”Unsportsmanlike? I was under the impression that this was a military assignment, not a game! Those creatures prey on dwarves and attack on sight, I would very much like to point out.”

    ”Yes, well, that is by all means true but there are traditions, and sense of propriety to observe here in Ironforge.”

    ”If these nuisances are too daft to climb rocks or trees it is – or should be at least – a wonder how Ironforge could need any help at all against them. It is not our fault if troggs are to thick to climb, if that is supposed to be a fault at all. But our contracted parties pay for success and results and not any special effort invested and that is all we have to say on the matter.”

    ”Ahem, I see… I suppose that will have to do for the time being. There is in fact a matter you could look into that might be suited to your…unusual…methods. There is a farmstead, Amberstill Ranch, with a herd of rams that has been thinning steadily these last months. Folks talk about a particularly nasty and frightening wendigo living far up the mountainside above. If you could lend a hand there are quite a few who would be grateful.”
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
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    Reviewed by Alwyn in the Critics Quill
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    Home to Midgard, a Third Age AAR about two dwarves, a spy and a diplomat - Completed (pictures remade up to chapter 19).
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XIII-III. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    ”Next one. Nail, please!” Halvdan called out, bent over one of the public forges in the middle of the dwarven capital. Beside him were a number of increasingly decent shaped caltrops made from four nails each, joined together in the middle so that one would always point up no matter how it fell or rolled.

    ”Coming!” Runar handed another nail to his friend. ”But… Halvdan, isn’t the point with these to always prepare the ground before we engage any nasty monster so we can lead them over the pointy area?”

    ”Yes.”

    ”Then why can’t we just hammer them into planks or something instead and leave them upturned in the snow?”

    ”Because…because…I’ve just gotten the hang of this, blast it!”

    ”And you’re doing great, and I’m sure there is a blacksmithing apprenticeship with your name on it waiting somewhere, but in the interest of expediting things maybe we could modify our plans to only forge half of them into caltrops and nail the rest through some poles or something?”

    ”Heh, ’pole arms’ again?”

    ”Always a sound option in the mountains during winter.” Runar grinned back.

    While learning a new craft, or improving an existing one, is often a joyous thing in some regard it is also just as often the result of long hours of toil and repetition. Before long, Halvdan conceded that crafting caltrops from nails was a learning experience that could suffer to be postponed for a time until he really could approach it with the dedication that the noble art of smithing deserved.

    Therefore, both dwarves were soon underway with their new materials loaded on a small sled to ease transportation throught he snow. They had received a number of amused looks, as apparently the size or model was supposedly intended primarily for very young dwarves as a means of transportation downhill, but it suited their needs very well. Their backpacks would always be harder to drop at a moments notice than the handle of a sled and it was surely less cumbersome to pull the sled than carry everything on their backs. Despite the constant need to be ready for ambushes, both Runar and Halvdan felt that the realm of Khaz Modan had a somewhat lacking appreciation for the noble art of skiing and thought longingly of traversing the snowy landscape in that effective way instead.

    Despite the primitive logistics they eventually found themselves greeting Rudra Amberstill who met them outside Amberstill Ranch in just a green dress despite the cold and a lantern in her hand. She needed little prompting to go into details about the fierce and hungry wendigo who lurked in the mountains above.

    ”We heard the cries in the middle of the night. Then this morning, sure enough, the herd was missing two rams. That dastardly beast known as Vagash has been preying on our livelihood. With most of King Magni's army off in distant lands fighting with the Alliance, there is no one to keep Vagash at bay. Perhaps you are brave enough to seek out the beast and slay him. Bring me one of his fangs and I will reward you. Vagash lurks just above the ranch here, but be warned, he is deadly.”

    It was late in the afternoon and she was all but happy to invite Runar and Halvdan to stay for the night for the promise of being ready in case Vagash would appear again. While neither of them slept well there was no sign of any wendigo and come morning they begun the trek upward that soon became almost a climb. They had left most of their packs at the ranch but were now just as burdened by coils of rope and bundles of pointy and unpleasant objects that were neither easy nor safe to bring with you when mountaineering.

    It was not without a growing sense of worry that Runar and Halvdan studied the uncomfortably broad tracks in the snow and the ominous cave they were leading up to. Halvdan peeked out from behind a spruce – also a thing that gave rise to fond memories of another nerve-wracking expedition of the past – and took note of the cliffside with every available care before edging back to Runar.

    ”It could work. There are rocks near the side, and the snow is powdery. I suggest you do the work of setting it up and I scout, as I am the obvious choice as a spy when we are in enemy territory.”

    ”I agree, but I must point out that it is apparent to anyone that it is the rangers job to keep watch when we are in the wilderness, which we indeed are.”
    A moment of silence followed.

    ”Fifty-fifty split?”

    ”Deal. You take the first watch.”

    When they were done the sun was lowering and it was well past noon. It was high time to commence their attack because none relished facing a hungry wendigo in the dark in its home territory.

    Runar reluctantly made his way up towards the cave. It presented a complication that none knew exactly how deep the cave was. He had no wish at all to explore deep and dark tunnels with this kind of inhabitants waiting behind the next corner.

    Hoping for the best, Runar picked up a stone and hurled it as far as he was able into the dark opening. It clattered quite noisily against the stone.

    ”Vagash! Eater of adorably woolly rams! Come out, ye gluttonous bastard!” he shouted and heaved another rock for good measure.

    At first there was only silence as the echo of his voice slowly faded.

    And then a bloodcurdling roar.

    Runar nearly tripped over himself in his haste to turn on the spot and hurry as fast as possible down the slope towards the trees growing by the cliffside. As he turned around he beheld Vagash.

    The monstrous creature was at least four times his height and seemed nearly as broad, with enormous horns and claws and far too notable teeth that he bared when opening his jaws to let loose another roar.

    Runar took aim, and planted a crossbow bolt in Vagashs upper chest. It was not a bad shot, but it only seemed to enrage the wendigo further. Runar hurriedly dropped his crossbow and readied a long-hafted, halberd-like axe, hoping that the increased range could keep some distance between them. Unfortunately Vagash did not appear intimidated by it’s blade or spear tip and barrelled into Runar who had to threw himself to the side to avoid being trampled by the charging wendigo.

    Vagash turned to the side and roared again, and Runar felt his limbs grow cold as if the bitterest winter winds had all just hit him from every side. Vagash was a dark-furred beast with scars criss-crossing his massive frame all over and the stench of rotting meat reeked from his mouth. He charged again across the evenly groomed patch of powdery snow that Runar had been circling and swiped widely with his one claw which forced the dwarf to quickly duck and jump to the side to avoid the return slash.

    Some distance behind them one of the snow-covered rocks rose and cast off it’s cloak to reveal a dwarven rogue with half a dozen ropes in his hand.

    ”Now!” Runar shouted as he retreated even further back and around a deceptively even part of the snow-covered ground as fast as he could.

    Vagash snarled and barreled after him.

    The wendigo’s heavy foot crushed right through the snow and into the pole that had been hidden underneath, a pole with nails hammered into it in every direction.

    As Vagash roared another time and furiously shook the foot he had just impaled on several of the spikes to free it from the debilitating piece of wood now stuck to the foot, Halvdan pulled with all his strength on the six snares also hidden underneath the snow, overlapping so that every part of the spot next to the nailed poles was covered.

    Vagash had stepped right into one and distracted as he was by the state of his other foot, or simply too wrathful over the puny bearded things audacity, he was not quick enough to prevent Halvdan from pulling the snare taut and hurry towards the cliffside and the opposite ends of the ropes. He would perhaps have rushed after Halvdan if not Runar had stepped forward to distract him with a quick slash against his paw.

    Just as Vagash was about to retaliate a sudden tug made him lose his balance. Halvdan had pushed the rock tied thoroughly to the other end of one of the ropes, ropes which were also tied together, and proceeded to push the next one over the edge. They were all positioned so that each rock would help drag the one closest to it down the cliff and for each one that Halvdan kicked over the cliffs edge Vagash was more and more firmly yanked, until he lost his footing completely and was dragged backwards, clawing at the snow, by the weight of all six boulders hanging from his ankle. Runar and Halvdan rushed in to strike at Vagash’s arms and paws until the strength of the great wendigo failed him and he slid over the edge to tumble down the steep mountainside below.

    Panting, Runar and Halvdan looked at each other.

    ”Well, as Jondor Steelbrow would say, if we pull it, we tank it…” Runar huffed.

    Halvdan let out a despairing sigh and hid his face in his palm.

    It was only then that they realised the slight flaw in their otherwise successful plan. How would they now acquire one of Vagash’s fangs?

    The trek down the mountain was profoundly easier than up without the hindering amount of field fortification materials they had been forced to drag with them, but the prospect of having nothing to show for their efforts did dampen their spirits. There was no telling where Vagash’s broken carcass would have ended up and if any fang was still at all salvageable.
    However, when they arrived at Amberstill Ranch, Rudra laughed heartily at them as she ushered them in to share a most welcome dinner after a long day climbing in the snow.

    ”Hah! Think nothing of it, the whole valley heard him crashing down the mountainside if they didn’t see it! And now we can skin the beast for the fur and mount his ugly head over the hearth. Very well done! Veron will be so happy when he hears the good news. To kill Vagash is no easy task. I imagine one day you'll be fighting alongside King Magni's men on the Alliance Front.”

    Runar and Halvdan privately found Rudra Amberstills idea of decorations to be of somewhat questionable taste, but her cooking was on the other hand unquestionably tasty.
    Last edited by Maltacus; December 08, 2022 at 11:29 AM.
    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

  11. #91
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XIII-IV. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Halvdan slowly pushed an oversnowed birch a little out of the way to view the sparse encampment below. He sometimes found it peculiar how all camps and dwellings seemed to be so conveniently situated for spying on them. Cover form the wind was of course always desirable but why did it not go hand in hand with cover from sight?

    Him and Runar had spent the better part of an hour crawling through a series of low hills and ridges with flaring white cloaks draped over them and snow in their mouths. Especially the latter had made him bloody cold by now. He supposed it was still less uncomfortable than taking a spear through the skull from someone ahead of them.

    Marginally, at least.

    Halvdan signed quietly to Runar to fall back, who nodded and matched Halvdan's sluggish crawl back from the top of the ridge. Halvdan spat out his serving of ”a scout’s lunch” as the dwarven term was for the snow you chewed on to keep the breath cool and leaned back against the slope. He felt stiff and slow after the uncomfortable crawl.

    ”So these things really are trolls…” he mused.

    ”Yes. Not like home.” Runar remarked thoughtfully.

    ”Not like home. When they wanted to send us against a camp of troll brigands I thought it was a bad idea of a joke or that someone had had way too much ale… Things are so different here sometimes.”

    ”Not like the ghostly elves or anything, right? Those are completely every-day.”

    ”Don’t even think about calling A…them everyday, you diplomatic disaster.” Halvdan admonished absent-mindedly. ”But trolls that aren’t large and thickheaded is the height of nonsensical things. I mean, what’s next, green orcs?”

    ”Who knows, kind-hearted red dragons maybe? Those tusks look a bit nasty, though.”

    ”How can they eat like that?”

    ”How may did you see?”

    ”Five.”

    ”Where was the fifth?”

    ”The tree to the right of the fire. They’re keeping watch. We need to approach from the pines to the west I think.”

    ”Five is a bit many. How about if we could persuade them to each wait for their turn before hacking us to pieces, if things go badly?”

    ”And how exactly, oh master of negotiations, are we supposed to achieve that diplomatic feat after said things have gone badly?”

    ”Pointed arguments and webs of intrigue.”

    After a cold lunch fit for other dwarves than extremely stoic scouts Runar and Halvdan made a wide sweep around to approach from the lower ground west of the trolls’ encampment. The Dun Morogh pines were relatively low and bushy, forming a snowy maze. There were plenty of spots to hide in, for good or ill.

    ”Here.” Runar determined. ”This is a good lane, we have a clear line of sight but it’s not too wide.”

    ”It will get ugly real fast here. For once I vote for heavy armour.”

    ”For once I will agree.”

    ”Alright then.”

    They got to work creating a half circle of unpleasant surprises hidden from view as best as possible until only the chosen approach of Runar was left. Even there the dwarves discreetly left a trail of spike traps in the snow on one side.

    ”Make sure you stay on track. You know I would never let you live it down if you stepped on one of your own traps…” Halvdan said cheerfully as he pulled down his wool-lined helmet.

    ”Be ready to move over when I get back, it wouldn’t do if I had to waste time kicking you out of the way.” Runar muttered and went going towards the open ground outside the canopy of the trees.

    Halvdan strained to register every sound. Despite their constant jabs about baits and distractions he never was and never had been comfortable with staying hidden while Runar exposed himself to danger out of his sight. Too many images of roots and stones under the snow floated before him, of boots that got caught and spears and arrows that tore into the exposed neck between the helmet and the shield Runar carried strapped to his back.

    In the distance there was a distinct sound of talking but Halvdan could not quite make out the words. At first.

    ”…Usurper! Stealer! Thief!” It was a strange variation of Common, gnarly and uneven somehow.

    ”Please, can we talk about this!” Runar's voice was rapidly coming closer.

    ”Murder-thing!”

    There was Runar, running as fast as any dwarf in heavy mail could before five fur-clad Frostmane trolls. They carried spears and axes and looked altogether fierce enough to make up for what they lacked in size. Runar nearly crashed into their small free path while Halvdan took aim and shot the foremost troll in the shoulder which made him cry out and roll to the side. The rest spread out as the experienced hunters they were but among the dense pines they ran into the web of ropes that crisscrossed the entire place and underneath those lurked a multitude of various spike traps and caltrops buried under a thin layer of snow. Angry shouts and curses in a strange language resounded but the largest of them howled a battle cry and charged through the narrow passage directly towards the dwarves. It wasn’t long before he had treaded on a spiked log and Runar and Halvdan had each put a quarrel through his chest. By now the rest of the trolls had begun to cut their way through the ropes, hobbling but furious.

    ”This way!” Halvdan called out.

    He and Runar ran left and surprised the outmost of their hunters who had been about to climb over and under the impeding ropes. The trolls displayed impressive agility despite their crippling injuries and after they had succeeded with a surprising slash at the leftmost, the rest of the pack were bursting and cuting through the defenses and throwing themselves at the dwarves. Runar and Halvdan fought close together with Halvdan at the front with hammer and shield and Runar behind with his longer axe. Their mail and helmets took several hits but the craftsmanship withstood the test. After two more trolls had fallen the remaining two, one with the first bold embedded in the shoulder, ran and Runr and Halvdan breathed out. The chaotic battle had been short, far shorter than it felt.

    ”All…all in one piece?” Runar grunted.

    ”Uh, yeah…but next time we’re building a tower to defend instead…”

    Halvdan led their advance out of the forest. There was no sign of the remaining trolls as they were searching the encampment.

    Runar was leaning over an upturned crate next to the campfire. He took hold of it with unusual care for moving such a thing.

    Underneath was a small pile of bones, and the saddest thing Halvdan had seen since arriving in Khaz Modan. A reddish-brown squirrel, terrified and in pain, dragging itself frantically away from them on its front paws and one leg, the other bent at a very, very wrong place.

    ”Keep watch!” Runar commanded while he threw his gauntlets to the ground and fumbled with his girdle of potions. Neither of them had been unfortunate enough to have to try out these brews for themselves.

    Runar scooped up the squirrel with one hand as gently as he could with the frightened creature struggling to get away and biting his thumb viciously in the process. Runar somehow managed to produce his wooden mug and pour a little of the potion into it, but it proved useless as the squirrel would not even deign to look and much less drink.

    ”I’m sorry, but you’ve got to get this in you somehow…” Runar mumbled apologetically and poured the vials contents over and into the squirrels mouth. It sputtered and twisted but suddenly, as if it had just caught a trace of a delicious taste, it started to lap and gulp down as much as it could of the red liquid.

    ”Halvdan…look…” Runar whispered.

    The bent leg…straightened itself. A tiny creaking, and the squirrel raised its head in confusion at its now mended leg. It was painfully obvious how it relaxed and thrived from no longer feeling the pain and the sight was utterly heart wrenching.

    Runar slowly lowered the squirrel to the ground, but it no longer thrashed to get away and if anything was curling up and holding on to his sleeve.

    ”He must think he will be hurting again if you put him down.” Halvdan realised. ”Poor thing. I’ll go look for some pine cones or something.”

    The deeply frozen pine cones Halvdan could find did not interest the squirrel in the least.

    ”It’s got to be too much bother in this cold. How about some bread?” Runar suggested.

    ”What would you like, normal bread or corrupted one with raisins and nuts?” Halvdan asked, and presented a piece of each alternative. He could see the nose twitch and the squirrel raised its head in the direction of the latter.

    ”Haha! A fellow of exquisite taste, wouldn’t you say?” Runar declaimed in a smug voice.

    ”Bread with raisins is still a twisted idea.” Halvdan protested, but not very sincerely.

    You’re just uncultured. Looks like he likes it. Ha! Overruled! Bread with raisins rule the day!”

    After he’d had his fill of their provisions, Runar tried to put the squirrel back on the ground. But he wouldn’t move and buried his claws deep into the dwarf’s sleeve and pressed himself flat against it.
    Runar frowned a little.

    ”We’re happy to help, but we need to go now.” he tried. ”Our home isn’t very, ahem, homey, not a tree in sight anywhere and I don’t think any other squirrels live there…”

    ”Either your squirrelish needs work or you seem to have gained an ally, or vassal even. Or maybe he considers you to have accepted vassalage?” Halvdan smirked.

    ”But we can’t keep a squirrel… Or can we?” Runar hesitated. He actually hesitated a lot as he looked down on the tiny creature clinging to his arm.

    ”We’re not keeping anyone, we’re letting him tag along if he wants to. Heck, for all we know the trolls could have caught him miles away and he’ll be lost in the cold without a nest and food if we leave him now.”
    Runar knelt and shouldered his backpack again, careful not to pinch any paw or tail underneath the straps. He then raised his arm and placed the squirrel on his left shoulder.

    ”Onward then, to discover all the nuts of Ironforge!”

    The squirrel squeaked enthusiastically.

    Halvdan half expected their new companion to bolt anywhere along the trek back to Ironforge but by the evening the three of them passed under the massive vaults and into the bustling Commons closest to the main entrance. Vendors were packing up the days merchandise here and there and packs of restless children would usually skirt the premises on the hunt for snacks and melon juice or other life's necessities. Runar and Halvdan had learned far too late to keep up a discreet appearance in that company and were as usual quickly swarmed.

    ”What is that?”

    ”It’s a squirrel, you dunce.”

    ”You moron.”

    ”Now, now, please don’t start another war of three hammers…” Runar yawned. ”We rescued him from a band of trolls earlier and he followed us home.”

    ”Is he your animal companion?”

    ”Did they break his legs?”

    Halvdan frowned. How did they know that?

    ”Trolls take small beasts alive, and then they break their legs so they can’t run and get all frightened, and then it makes them wet themselves and then afterwards the trolls eat them alive when they are still warm. Mom says they will eat my little brother if we stay out after dark.” one of the young dwarves explained solemnly.

    ”No they won’t! They will eat you instead!”

    Halvdan thought of the overturned crate and the bones in the troll encampment and felt slightly sick. Did trolls around here really do that? What happened to just biting the head off everyone like a decent cave troll back home?

    ”What was that about an animal companion?”

    A girl of maybe ten winters looked at him like it was the stupidest question ever asked in the history of Azeroth.

    ”A hunter has an animal companion.” she lectured. ”A big and strong animal that can track and guard him and such. Like a bear or a lynx or a wolf or something. Not a squirrel. That is dumb.”

    ”Oh, I don’t know…” Runar grinned. ”What if this is secretly a Miniature Giant Space Squirrel, for example?”

    The doubtful look he got in return did not speak highly of the credibility of that idea.

    ”Did you know, I actually had a squirrel years ago for a time. Sort of. Halvdan here was turned into one when we fought against a wicked wizard who had imprisoned a green fairy's little sister in a great jar of glass. They can be such nuisances sometimes... The rogue squirrels I mean. Wicked wizards too of course, for that matter.”

    ”Yes, so long as you can refrain from feeding this one into the jaws of a hungry wolf like last time you should be doing great.” Halvdan remarked acidly.

    ”Don’t be like that, they only tossed you around a bit and then you got to toss them when you were returned to dwarf form.” Runar dismissed the criticism. ”And yes, I suppose he is my animal companion now and helps us negotiate.” He offered the squirrel a nut. ”This is what you call a trade rights agreement.”

    ”More like an alliance in exchange for tribute.” Halvdan snickered.

    No matter the terminology, the children wished to see Runar's new animal companion at work and promptly decided that everyone should follow him and Halvdan back to Firebrew’s Inn.

    ”Make him woo Gwenna so she gives us melon juice!”

    ”Woo Gwenna!”

    ”Woo Gwenna!”

    Gwenna Firebrew was the barmaid of the inn. She was busying herself with wiping a set of tankards when Runar and Halvdan and their tail of followers entered.

    ”What have they put you up to?” she asked at once while absently scratching the squirrels ear.

    ”Blackmail and extortion, my lady.” Runar promptly admitted.

    ”Let me guess, melon juice again is it?” Gwenna sighed as the squirrel leapt down on the bar and looked around and up into her eyes. Halvdan almost thought it looked like he tilted his head. ”Alright then, but only one mug each!” She tried to sound stern but the corners of her mouth twitched when the horde of young dwarves rushed forward and lined up before the bar.

    ”Great woo!” they congratulated.

    ”Voo? Is that what they call you?” Gwenna asked as she handed the squirrel a couple of nuts. ”Now remove those dreamy eyes from my bar before he makes me give away the entire larder.” she told Runar.

    Runar picked the content squirrel up and scratched his neck.

    ”That’s my boy, go for the eyes Voo.”
    Last edited by Maltacus; December 15, 2022 at 04:19 AM.
    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

  12. #92
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XIII-V. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    It was evening in Dalaran. Rhonin was reclining in his bed with Vereesa's head cradled in his arms. She almost appeared to be sleeping.

    ”There weren’t any news today either, unfortunately.”

    It had become a dreary nighttime ritual of theirs. Rhonin would report how he had still no news about Vereesa's sister or about any concrete plans of the Kirin Tor to investigate the matter or to contact any other faction that might know more or to do anything at all in response to the introductory letter he had delivered what seemed like endless months ago despite being closer to two. Vereesa would report her shameful and unacceptable lack of energy and inability to do her part for her fellow elves in the city despite her privileged position as ranger captain and wife to a high ranking Kirin Tor mage.

    Rhonin knew today had been a bad day.

    There had been many bad days lately.

    ”The Scarlet Crusaders are not too talkative. I actually don’t know for sure if they keep secrets from us or if they actually don’t know. I get the feeling of some sort of disarray among them but then again they were not very stable people to begin with.”

    ”Thank you for trying, love. I know you do all you can.” Vereesa whispered.

    Rhonin stroked along her eyebrow with the hand that was not holding up her head.

    ”I’m so sorry I can’t be of any help to you.” Vereesa continued. ”I’m not of any help to anyone.”

    ”Stop apologising.”

    ”If I can’t apologise to you then to who should I apologise! I’m useless.”

    ”You are not useless, you’re enduring magic withdrawal and the greatest grief of millennia.” Rhonin protested vehemently. ”And so is Spitzamina and all the others and if anyone has anything to say about it, it will be my pleasure to turn them into toads. Knobbly ones. With warts. And three eyes.”

    Vereesa sniffed, something that may have counted as a sad laugh these days.

    ”What is wrong with people anyway who expect someone to let things like that just slide? Are we just pieces on someone's chessboard? Dibs on being a rook by the way.”

    Vereesa had once gifted Rhonin with a very finely crafted set of pieces, with mounted archmagi as knights, mage towers as rooks and so on. Rhonin had loved it and to this day he could become distracted by the masterly craftsmanship in the middle of a game, and his own creative ideas of how the pieces could be enchanted to enhance the immersion of the game. Vereesa had strictly forbidden any such experiments at home after listening to some of those ideas.

    Vereesa moved a little.

    ”I’m so tired, Rhonin. So tired.” Her voice was not exactly a whisper but it was so dreadfully heavy somehow. As if every word was made of lead. ”I can’t help my rangers anymore, or their close ones. I have no ideas. I can’t think of anything.”

    Rhonin had long since run out of counter-arguments to that. And he felt very much the same most days. What was the point of being an archmage if your magic couldn’t do anything to ease your wife’s suffering? He would trade every knowledge of every spell he knew for something that helped against this bottomless lethargy and, more and more, melancholy of Vereesa.

    ”Sylvanas always did her best to look out for everyone. Every single ranger. She would have known what to do.”
    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

  13. #93
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XIII-VI. Snares and Squirrels
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Throughout their travels, Runar and Halvdan had faced many intimidating sights. But the vast throng now arrayed before them could give pause to the bravest of champions.

    ”I was thinking…” Halvdan began.

    ”You were?! The time of wonders has not yet come to an end!”

    ”That comment is an annoying and immature habit unbecoming of any diplomat worth the title. Yes, I was thinking that if you could pull your wits out of your backside for a minute, should we try to find the same colours and patterns for all or should we vary them?”

    ”Ah, yeah…team colour versus individual tastes?”

    Halvdan nodded.

    ”Hm, to start with, do we even know their, ah, favourite colour? I mean, what if dark red is universally considered deeply offensive for instance?”

    ”I guess scarlet is out of the question at least…”

    ”Yeah, that would be pretty embarrassing… Besides, maybe it would be prudent to not have something uniform that could look like some inner circle marker or similar thing for a select few either?”

    ”Fair point, we’ll go with varying colours then. Might be a good thing actually to encourage people to remember to be individuals and not just a bunch of fiends lumped together. So, I scour the stalls to the right and you the ones to the left and we meet up then?”

    Runar watched the Loch Modan autumn market ominously. Vast swathes of a labyrinth of market stalls spread out before them and seemingly uncountable hordes of shouting vendors and elbowing buyers.

    ”Good luck. See you on the other side.”

    ”If I fall, save yourself.”

    Even for an experienced spy, the mission presented substantial complications. Halvdan had to use every bit of his slyness and agility to avoid being bumped into, having his toes stepped on or becoming the target or various pieces of greasy or sticky, but doubtlessly tasty, pieces of food and refreshments that were dropped or spilled by an overenthusiastic visitor.
    It was especially paramount that the spoils of their effort would not be, so to say, despoiled in such a manner. It would not do to send anything but the finest.

    After nearly an hour of gruelling wandering among decorated cups, newly sharpened pickaxes, jars of eleven variants of marmalade and forests of knitted shirts Runar and Halvdan rendezvoused on the other side inspecting the fruits of their labours and lightened purses in Thelsamar's thriving tavern. The finest wool that Khaz Modan could produce lay neatly folded in a sturdy wooden box before them, in a dozen different colours and square-like patterns.

    ”So…time to finally put this postal service of presumably legendary reputation to the test.” Runar concluded.

    ”With all the extra fees and tips we have invested it had better deliver.” Halvdan muttered.

    Runar snorted. ”Deliver...”

    ”Yes, yes, and I am sure the couriers need to be armoured in mail too and whatever… By the way, we should write something. Apart from the report I mean. Like a gift card.”

    To my dark sweetheart Alina whose eyes put the reddest of roses to shame…” Runar pretended to recite until Halvdan's boot connecting with his shin put an end to any further poetic obnoxiousness.

    ”Kindly leave sensitive matters in the hands of the professionals. And it’s supposed to be addressed to all of them, in case you’ve forgotten.”

    ”Right.”

    As the sun was setting outside and Voo constructed a nest among dwarven mittens, Runar joined Halvdan in earnest in finding a suitable phrase that would move hearts that no longer beat.

    ”…maybe something other than ’warm’? Gentle?...”

    ”…no, ’warm’ is good, don’t change that…”

    ”…’in a world that offers too few’…”
    Last edited by Maltacus; December 26, 2022 at 02:22 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

  14. #94
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Chapter XIV-I. Ears and Embraces
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    Sylvanas had found Kalira.

    She was starting to wish that she hadn’t.

    ”…so we have been pushed back to nearly within sight from the city walls or what’s left of them. If it wasn’t before, the Scourge is organised now. I have recalled our forces to prepare for a siege rather than attempt to hold territory for the sake of it, but that unfortunately means that the Scourge may be fortifying their positions close to us and assemble more of their local forces.”

    Kalira held nothing back, neither sugar coating nor exaggerating the things she had to say. Sylvanas knew that well enough. So when she did deliver bad news they came with a special weight to them.

    Kalira’s briefing was a summary, a quick overview of the developments of the last month. Sylvanas would have an imposing stack of reports to go through in detail later to absorb every excruciating aspect of their current predicament.

    It was a mess.

    Their diversion against the Scarlet Crusade had worked out well enough but the Scourge had missed the memorandum about nicely sitting still and letting it all play out before their bloodshot eyes. While the Forsaken exposed themselves to set the woods in the east aflame the Scourge launched an all-out attack from the south. Kalira had called for a retreat and conserved their manpower, but at the cost of territory painstakingly gained and kept. Sylvanas agreed with the decision though, it was the right call in Kalira's situation and she had been ordered to hold on first and foremost in preparation for Sylvanas’ return and the good news that had been supposed to come with it.

    While the Forsaken would not starve in the normal sense they needed herbs for the apothecaries’ medicaments, raw materials for construction and metal for their blacksmiths. Without those their capabilities would diminish over time.

    ”What about the unrest among our people?” Sylvanas inquired.

    ”I believe you saw most of it at the keep.”

    ”That was more than enough. I can not afford those kinds of spontaneous outbursts of idiocy. Gathering hundreds in a spot in the open like that is practically begging for someone to sneak artillery or a good spellcaster a little too close to the city. I need details.”

    ”I see.” Kalira paused for a moment. ”I did not expect the reaction, not at that scale. So it stands to reason that I am not the best source of information about the sentiments of our people outside of the rangers. I think you should ask those questions to Varimathras.”

    Were it someone else, Sylvanas’ might have had second thoughts about whether they were trying to dodge an uncomfortable question.

    ”I will have to do that, then.”

    Sylvanas’ mind sorted through the information Kalira had given her and what to do next, what things could wait and what required her immediate attention, who she should speak to next and what she would have to inspect personally.

    ”I am putting Areiel back in charge of the rangers, report to her and resume command of your squadron for the time being.”

    ”It shall be, Dark Lady.”

    ”And Kalira…”

    Kalira looked up.

    ”Thank you for holding the Undercity for us.”

    Kalira nodded, but remained on the spot.

    ”Is there something else?”

    ”Sylvanas… I am sorry.”

    Sylvanas froze. Kalira never, never used her first name when on duty.

    ”The Scarlets cut us off when we retreated in the smoke. They had paladins.”

    Kalira’s voice had become hollow.

    ”I lost Cyndia.”
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
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  15. #95
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Note: This part is quite unpleasant.

    Chapter XIV-II. Ears and Embraces
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

    She wondered if her skull had actually cracked when the hammer swept her aside like nothing. Did she actually have a brain anymore or was her head just full of disordered threads of necromancy? That would explain why her thoughts were so tangled and tricky to follow.

    No, not follow. Not follow the thoughts.

    Only watch. Watch them from a distance.

    Not think. Not feel.

    Not hurt.

    Not listen. No, not listen!

    ”I know you can hear us, thing. It is time for you to wake up now…”

    Not think!

    Not feel!

    Cyndia screamed and in her scream opened her eyes wide.

    There was faint smoke drifting in front of her eyes. Her smoke. Tangled smoke. Tangled threads of smoke.

    Not follow the threads. Watch them. Watch them from a distance.

    ”See, Westley… This thing is a sly one. You can’t let it disappear back inside that pretty little head again, then you’ll have to start over…”

    New name. Not heard it before.

    Not think.

    Only look. Watch from a distance.

    Her vision was blurry. Why was it blurry? Maybe the hammer had cracked her skull after all. Then tangled thoughts could fly out of it and escape. Cyndia could escape.

    Why could she not fly? Where was her banshee form?

    No. Anger hurt. Not think. Not hurt.

    Only watch. Watch from a distance.

    Straw-coloured hair. Dirty shirt.

    ”Westley! I’m talking to you!”

    Tall. Reaching over the one in red.

    Little. Doubling over from the punch in his stomach.

    ”You will listen to me, you little !"#%&! Get me brother Gessel and tell him he can have another go with his Light-forsaken attempts.”

    Forsaken. Funny. Not think. Only watch.

    Big eyes. Staring. Disbelieving.

    Funny. Scarlet Crusaders should be good at believing, shouldn’t they?

    ”Or do you wanna warm it up instead? Or…is that it? You don’t like it down here, do you, Westley?”

    Bad. Bad voice. Bad sign.

    Run.

    Run, Bad-At-Believing Westley.

    ”You think that thing should be spared, is that it? Is that it?! SPEAK! No, don’t actually. Take up the poker. Put the fear of the Light back inside it.”

    Little. Doubling over.

    Sick. Retching.

    ”You disgust me. Worthless little rat. Keep to the muck in the stables then, boy. That’s the only thing you’re good for.”

    Watch. Watch from a distance.
    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).
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  16. #96
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

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

    Westley couldn’t stop himself from trembling. He held onto the door post of the stable and his legs felt like they were held up by him rather than holding him up.

    What had he gotten himself into?

    Nick and Vicky knew something was wrong, and greatly wrong. They stomped and whinnied until Westley approached their stalls to lean on the wooden post separating them.

    ”Vicky…” Westley whispered ”I…I can’t do this anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, I…” He tried to breathe in. ”There are…there are some really bad creatures out there. Dead creatures. So I took you here, because here was the only safe place, you see. I didn’t want them to harm you and Nick. I couldn’t let anything happen to you. You know I couldn’t. But now…now I don’t know anymore…”

    Vicky leaned forward to push softly against his cheek, her warm breath all around him. Westley patted her head and leaned on her. It always made things feel a little better, a little less terrible.

    ”Vicky…they have one of these dead creatures. Wroth has it in the cellar, in…that room. And the thing is, this dead creature…it’s…it’s not a creature…it’s a girl. She’s an elf. Wroth…he hurts her. He…burned her. She screamed. How can she be a monster? What did she do? What’s the point?!”

    Westley slammed his fist into the post so it shook. Nick snorted and huffed from beside them and Vicky pushed against the gate keeping her from Westley.

    ”I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have frightened you. Shhhh…” Westley reached out so he could put his hand on Nick too. ”I have to keep you safe. I know that. I just…I don’t think I’m cut out for this.”

    Westley sighed deeply.

    No, he wasn’t cut out for this. He hated and feared the undead that had set fire to his home and taken all his friends and family from him, taken everything except Nick and Vicky. But mostly he feared them, and famine, and the plague. Everything that could take Nick and Vicky away.

    ”So we’re here.” Westley croaked. ”They keep you fed here, and let me take care of you. And the undead don’t come here. At least they haven’t yet.” He shook his head. ”Except her. She’s here. And I saw her and she…” He shuddered. He had no words left. They had run out.

    No, he wasn’t cut out for this.

    Did he even want to be?

    Westley couldn’t stay too long, he had to report for an evening shift of some hard or dirty work that he’d welcome with open arms so long as it kept him as far away from Wroth as possible.

    The stables lay next to the wall, built into it in a practical way so that it’s roof served to support the wall as an improvised tower or storage area. Unfortunately it also meant that Westley would be reporting for his work on the other side of the courtyard and crossing it meant going right next to the tiny iron barred holes letting in dim light into the cellars.
    He walked quickly, wanting to be on the other side as soon as possible. It was getting dark and there was a light coming from…no. He couldn’t look that way. He couldn’t…

    A high scream tore through every desperate thought of what Westley could or couldn’t do. He froze on the spot, literally feeling the blood drain from his face and cold enough to shiver. Without thinking he took a step and then another towards the cellar windows, drawn despite wanting nothing more than to put as much distance as possible between himself and that nightmarish place.

    ”Westley!”

    Westley looked up. Rodoh, one of the servants like himself, hurried up to him.

    ”Good I caught ye, mate. Ye got a busy day tomorrow. Have ye fed the horses yet?”

    ”No, why?” Why was Rodoh here asking about that of all things?

    ”Well, don’t. Just got word, they’re goin’ tomorrow. Gonna butcher ’em in the afternoon and they don’t want their bellies full, you know. So, ah, guess ye’re gonna be needed a lot then. Sorry, mate. Know ye like ’em.”

    Rodoh’s words echoed. They turned to thunder in Westley’s ears. His breaths echoed. His heartbeats echoed.

    ”Yeah, well, gotta go.” Rodoh looked at him uncomfortably and backed away from Westley’s blank stare.

    ”Who was it?” Westley almost coughed, he was so hoarse. ”Who decided it?”

    ”Wroth. Uh, see ye…”

    The world spun around him. Westley staggered, seeing only blackness, and grabbed at the cold stone surface of the wall. His vision slowly returned, hazy and dimmed, but his breaths still echoed in his mind.

    Then another scream cut through the echo, so close. So very, very close. And the sound of something…hissing, and a putrid smell.

    Westley fell to his knees, and threw up everything he had ever eaten.
    Last edited by Maltacus; January 05, 2023 at 08:27 AM.
    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

  17. #97
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

    Halvdan and Runar are great characters, and I'm enjoying catching up with your tale.

  18. #98
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

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

    Sylvanas did not sleep and did not dream, but her night felt not a little like it anyway. A few hours of refuge from the bleak realities of being the Banshee Queen of the Forsaken. A few hours of warmth and…peace? By Belore, how could she ever have been in a hurry to get back to Lordaeron?

    She picked up another report from the pile as she heard the change of guards outside her quarters. Ten o’clock in the morning, already.

    They had captives.

    Two of them, a dwarf and a human, held at some ruined farm outside Brill. The immediate question was whether to move them inside the Undercity and expose them to the foul air there or let them be and risk them harmed by potential Scourge incursions. Inscourgeons, Areiel would probably say. The more final question was what to do with them.

    Sylvanas would have given a hundred captives for not losing Cyndia.

    Who could have expected the Scarlets to suddenly rally and somehow manage to intercept her retreating central column of rangers and banshees in the middle of fire and smoke?

    She could, because she was supposed to know better than to underestimate the fanaticism of the Scarlet Crusade. Their disregard for their own lives made them reckless and at times sloppy, but at times also unpredictable.

    She heard the sound of rushed footsteps outside. A messenger? There was some hushed conversation with her deathguards before her door was slammed open without even a knock by a frantic-looking Kitala.

    ”Dark Lady, Lady Proudmoore is trying to escape!” she nearly yelled.

    ”What?! How?!”

    A dozen terrible images of broken walls and dead rangers flashed before Sylvanas. How could this have happened? And by Belore, why? Why now? Kitala evidently caught on to her trail of thoughts for she shook her head quickly.

    ”We have Lady Proudmoore contained inside her room, we haven’t harmed her and she hasn’t attacked anyone. But she’s been shouting at us for nearly two hours straight and tried to barrel her way through matter what we do or say. Anya’s seriously considering just locking the door and waiting outside.”

    ”But?”

    ”These dungeons were designed by the human mages, right? And Lady Proudmoore is one of their best, and we know she is freakishly powerful. Anya told me to ask you just how sure we are about those wards if someone like her would really set her mind to picking them apart, Dark Lady.”

    Sylvanas cursed.

    ”Walk with me, Kitala. And keep talking! How did this start?”

    ”Vel came to visit and we…learned about Cyndia.”

    Kitala’s voice was heavy and Sylvanas could not find it in herself to blame whoever had dragged Velonara over and started this. Anya, most likely. She was Velonara’s best friend after all. Sylvanas had a distinct feeling she could guess how this story would continue.

    ”Then Nara and Lenara came by looking for her and found her telling Lady Proudmoore everything and filled her in with their opinions that Cyndia could have been captured instead of killed but nobody knew for certain. Lady Proudmoore and Anya had sort of grabbed hold of Vel but when she heard that she flew up and demanded to see you and that we should use her as a negotiator to determine if Cyndia actually was captured and get her released. And the ’Naras sort of agreed. That’s mainly how things have been since then. None of us want to hurt her but we don’t know how to talk her out of this either. Lady Proudmoore can be quite stubborn as you know and I think she cares a lot for Vel even if she’s such a tease.”

    That sounded just like her mage, Sylvanas had to agree as they both climbed hurriedly to the surface.

    ”New orders - find Kalira at once and send her to Lady Proudmoore’s quarters!” she commanded as she marched as quickly as she could down towards the dungeons. Control was everything in this situation and she would not appear hurried or unbalanced. Besides, it was always useful with a few moments to take stock of the situation before you.

    It was more or less as Kitala had described it. Anya and Lyana barred the doorway with their bodies while Clea restrained her mage from behind, all while they were engaging in what seemed like little more than a shouting match with one another. The three ’Naras, as they were usually called, stood beside mostly silent. Sylvanas felt a pang of guilt as she took in their forlorn appearances. She should have visited them during the night. Queen or not she was their Dark Lady and they were her rangers. But where the hell had Kalira been?

    ”Good morning, Lady Proudmoore!” Sylvanas raised her voice slightly as she strode inside the room. ”May I ask the reason for this commotion?”

    ”Lady Windrunner, how extremely fortunate! I am merely entertaining some guests.” Proudmoore’s tone was as sharp as her own and made it clear that she knew fully well that Sylvanas knew the answer to her own question.

    ”I see. Am I to understand from this rather loud entertainment that you are now turning your linguistic studies from Thalassian to Banshee Wails?”

    Under normal circumstances, that and a stern glare should have shut Proudmoore up. But now it only solicited a slight reddening of her cheeks, which may just as well have been irritation rather than embarrassment. Sylvanas realised that she was seeing her standing tall in just the same manner as when she had gripped her mage staff to channel her magical current at sea. Before her stood Lady Jaina Proudmoore of Theramoore, with her mind set upon someone other than herself.

    ”We have no time for that. One of your rangers is missing and we need to get her back if at all possible. I can help with that. The Scarlet Crusade may attack you all on sight but I can serve as your ambassador to negotiate with them to exchange prisoners.”

    Such as a certain dwarf and human mentioned in her reports, no doubt. Sylvanas glared harshly around the room.

    ”Since when are we in the habit of divulging military matters to foreign heads of state?” To their credit, her rangers had shame enough to at least shift uncomfortably.

    Seriously? And just how am I supposed to cause you harm with that information under watch inside a magically warded dungeon?” Proudmoore asked impatiently.
    She had a point, after all. Sylvanas decided to drop the matter.

    ”Lady Proudmoore, I appreciate your willingness to help but ranger Cyndia Hawkspear was reported lost weeks ago and is presumed to be dead. What makes you think there would be something for us to negotiate over, even if we could?”

    That did in fact give her mage pause.

    ”But…they tell me she got separated in the smoke from the fires. So if she was fighting she would have had a good opportunity to escape out of sight. But if she was surprised she could have been quickly knocked down and overpowered, and in that case the enemy would want to keep a valuable prisoner for questioning or ransom, right?”

    It was not without logic, if also a far too simplistic reasoning. But her mage did not know the relentless hatred of the Scarlet Crusade. She hadn’t seen the fanaticism in their eyes, their recklessness with their own lives in the name of eradicating undead. Just as Sylvanas prepared to answer a new voice interrupted her from the door.

    ”Dark Lady. I believe I should say something now.” Kalira had apparently followed her example in familiarizing herself with the scene before announcing her presence.

    Sylvanas waved her inside.

    ”I heard the latest bits” Kalira began without further ado. ”and now that we are all standing here like wishfully thinking fools I understand that I need to make a public confession. During the retreat shortly after that Cyndia had not reported in, our path crossed the foot of a steep ridge that goes about parallel with the road east to Hearthglen. The road and a lot of ground around it is visible from the top. I abandoned my column to scale that ridge and look for Cyndia. I caught sight of Scarlet forces withdrawing east but saw no trace of her amongst them and no wagons or anything else that would have hidden her. I stayed put for nearly an hour until there was nothing in sight and returned to catch up with my column, which I did before we reached the Undercity.”

    Kalira turned to Velonara.

    ”I was in command and acted wrongly. I will accept the consequences of that. But I would not have abandoned Cyndia without a fight. If I had seen her I would have descended that slope to free her. Please believe that.”

    Velonara looked down into the floor but Sylvanas could see her make a small nod.

    Sylvanas clenched her jaw and made a mental effort not to say anything too rash. It was damned hard. How were you supposed to lead when people didn’t tell you things?

    ”We will talk about this later, Kalira. It does however change little. For all we know Cyndia could still have been incapacitated or perished somewhere out of sight.”

    ”The smoke would have cleared now. If we find the place where Cyndia got separated we can search the ground…” Anya suggested.

    A trail over a month cold. Sylvanas sighed inwardly.

    But she could see that the idea had ensnared them. Everyone was talking at the same time.

    Hope was a dangerous thing. Sometimes it could hurt you deeper than anything else.

    Sylvanas looked at her mage. Proudmoore was standing next to Velonara, whispering something to her that made Velonara nod a little.

    Hope was a precious thing. Sometimes it could keep you standing when no other thing would.

    She looked at Kalira. Had it been Sylvanas in her place she might very well not have waited to seek a good vantage point but dived headlong back into the smoke.

    It would be a fool’s errand. But all military commanders of note soon learned that sometimes you were forced to make foolish decisions. And perhaps what her people needed right now was a reckless, foolhardy dash into enemy territory. Because her people were not mindless animated corpses. They were Forsaken, with thoughts and feelings of their own, and it was growing all too clear that morale was at an all-time low.

    Sometimes…hope was worth a risk.

    ”Rangers! Attention!” Sylvanas barked. ”This bickering is pointless. Kalira, you will prepare for a far ranging mission with your own squadron and one in support to determine the fate of Cyndia and anyone else not accounted for. Your secondary objective is to reconnoitre current Scarlet positions and activity in the area.”

    ”Not good enough!”

    All eyes turned on Proudmoore.

    Sylvanas was fuming. Sometimes… The nerve of that girl.

    But her mage met her with eyes that were the storm itself.

    ”EVERYBODY OUT!” Proudmoore shouted. ”Lady Windrunner and I have something to discuss promptly.”

    Yes, how sure was Sylvanas now about those wards?

    Sylvanas nodded towards the door and her rangers left the room, bewildered and in the case of her own squadron somewhat uneasily.

    ”So, Lady Proudmoore, we have something to discuss?” Sylvanas asked icily.

    ”Yes, Lady Windrunner, we certainly do. We have put this conversation off far too long.” Proudmoore straightened herself to her full length and took a deep breath. ”As ruler of Theramoore it is my pleasure to invite you, Lady Sylvanas Windrunner, Queen of Lordaeron, to the first round of official diplomatic negotiations between our two realms.”

    Belore, how her mage shone. Her voice rang, clear as a bell, and she sounded…proud.

    ”As our first step towards the establishment of permanent diplomatic relations between our realms and subsequent military alliance against the Scourge, I suggest joint negotiations with the Scarlet Crusade with the immediate aim of obtaining the release of any Forsaken individual held captive, and the long term aim of effecting a cessation of all hostilities against Lordaeron and a treaty of mutual non-aggression.”

    Sylvanas’ body could no longer shake, nor could her heart beat faster since it did not beat at all. But her eyes could widen slightly in disbelief and she could, apparently, still be rendered speechless.

    This can not be. This is a cruel joke.

    But just like several times when they had shared the cabin onboard the Banshee’s Wail, Proudmoore seemed to look right into her soul, for she took a step closer, right in front of Sylvanas.

    ”This is for real. You are not alone in the world.” her mage whispered. ”Now, would Her Majesty like to take her seat on the cold, hard stone floor or the rumpled, uneven bedrolls?”

    ”Wherever My Lady prefers it.”
    Last edited by Maltacus; January 10, 2023 at 05:38 AM.
    The Misadventures of Diabolical Amazons - Completed.
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    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

  19. #99
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

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

    Hours later, seated at the head of her Council of War, Sylvanas concluded that while perhaps overly trusting and naive Proudmoore knew her business as a negotiator. Her reasoning was sound and rational and Sylvanas had found herself agreeing on most details without much deliberation.

    She had laid out the main details to her councillors and now leaned back in her chair and let them absorb it and raise questions. She considered her war council in the meantime. It was time for some alterations, she realised it more with each report she caught up with and each briefing she received.

    She should change the leadership structure too as soon as possible. Her Council of War was too big and included too many rangers. While that gave Sylvanas many advisors she new she could trust it also aggravated a lot of her Forsaken. She should cut down on the number of members and limit it to strictly military matters, freeing up some ranger lieutenants and lessening the impression of favouritism. Areiel, Anya and Kalira would be enough.

    Civic issues would be better handled by a city council and she could hardly wait to put Varimathras there and at an arms length from her army. When they needed his expertise – which they unfortunately did a lot – she could call upon him for that and nothing else. Most importantly, it would open up a place for the civilian Forsaken to take part in the governing and present their issues and grievances that now took up too much of her own time. Sylvanas would be free to focus on…what, exactly?

    That would need some thinking. But the Undercity could not be allowed collapse into rioting the moment she went outside the door.

    Perhaps offensive operations against the Scourge was the next step, to reclaim territory and open up for the eager masses of prospective new champions Areiel had briefed her on to begin gathering resources in earnest. Or undertake quests as the proper term was of course, as Sylvanas had after all suggested herself on the way to Kalimdor.

    But first the Scarlets needed to be handled after all. It brought Sylvanas’ thoughts back to the matter at hand.

    Proudmoore had immediately suggested releasing the dwarf as a show of good faith. While giving away one of two assets as an opening move was not the most economical idea, her mage had raised some very valid points. It was unlikely that the Scarlets would believe anything less than a testimony from one of their own, or their allies in this case, about living prisoners in the clutches of the Forsaken and until they did their prisoners were worthless. Secondly, with the dwarves’ sense of kinship and what they considered honourable it was also probable that their bearded prisoner would consider any lack of effort to save one of their own as foul play, which would sully the crusaders’ reputation with Khaz Modan which Sylvanas guessed must be a major source of supplies and materials for them.

    Her mage had not met the prisoners personally but Sylvanas counted on them having plenty of time to talk during the march east, which would give Proudmoore time to get a feeling for the Scarlet sentiments and perhaps work her charm on them. A definite strong point about their plan was that it did not rely on any particular secrecy, on the contrary it would probably be beneficial to inform both human and dwarf of their intentions.

    But there were no guarantees. And even faced with the humiliating question of how an undead in their grasp could outvalue a Scarlet brother in captivity there was no telling how their leadership would react.

    Sylvanas reached a decision.

    She would give the Scarlets a chance, but she was not inclined to take one.

    ”Baron Frostfel.”

    The middle-aged, if such a term was truly applicable for an undead human, commander of the dreadguards turned to her at once. He was an imposing figure clad in dark grey full plate, and with a prodigious moustache and flowing hair the epitome of strong-jawed blustering Lordaeronian nobility. But for all his pompousness – which he had enough of for a company – the baron had proven himself both loyal and a very knowledgeable commander of heavy infantry, and Sylvanas and Areiel owed a lot of their revisions of tactics in order to better accommodate human Forsaken infantry to him.

    ”My Queen?”

    ”Ready the dreadguard and deathguard for march in two days.”

    ”How many would you require, My Queen?”

    ”All.”

    ”Zat shall be my pleasure!” he assured her and stretched his fingers eagerly. ”If zere is nothing else, I shall get right to it.”

    Sylvanas nodded.

    ”Areiel, alert Amora Eagleye, Anthis Sunbow and Vorel after this meeting. I want their squadrons ready to march as well.”

    Areiel nodded, but did not hesitate to voice her concern.

    ”The guards and rangers are a small portion of our forces but the most crucial one. What of the defence of the city in the meantime?”

    ”The entire Undercity will be locked down in my absence with only minimal sorties to scout. Entrances will be trapped or sealed completely.”

    In the tight confines of their winding maze superior numbers would count for little and even average infantry would be able to cause great harm to a besieger.

    ”Now, there remains the small but crucial detail of escorting Lady Proudmoore to the Scarlet stronghold of Hearthglen where she can act as our representative. She will be under the guard of dark rangers but her magical prowess makes it imperative to restrain her spellcasting abilities. To that end I need every magic user of the city with any knowledge in enchanting to report to me immediately, regardless of current orders, for the task of crafting anti-magic shackles that fit her. Time is of the essence.”

    ”My Queen, if I may, I believe I can solve that particular problem in little time, as it is of the essence as you say.” Varimathras’ claws touched each other the way someone else’s fingertips might do when in deep thought and his eyes gleamed green deep inside their impenetrable blackness.

    There was no change of tone or twitch of the face that hinted at anything at all. Sylvanas found herself nearly wishing there had been.

    An hour later Sylvanas and Anya stood in Sylvanas’ quarters bent over a set of brass-coloured shackles on the desk. Sylvanas had stared for minutes at every inch of them and had a junior mage and warlock of the Forsaken summoned to each try them on without any other immediate effect than the loss of access to their respective mana. The shackles were uncomfortably heavy but perhaps they were made to be able to contain demons and other uncommonly strong creatures, who could tell?

    ”I can not spot any inconsistencies.” Sylvanas finally conceded. ”These will have to do.”

    ”Perhaps you should try them on yourself, Dark Lady? Just to be sure.” Anya’s voice was the personification of innocence. ”Or maybe I could have a pair crafted for stubborn queens who won’t take their baths…” she shrugged.

    ”Oh, would you now?” Sylvanas loomed threateningly over Anya.

    ”It’s just something someone sort of suggested one time…” Anya grinned mischievously.

    Sylvanas should really put her obnoxious ranger in her place and wipe that smirk off her face. She should put Anya in her proper place - her place being, more precisely, squeezed tightly between the wall and Sylvanas - and wipe that smirk off her face with another kiss. Because how dared she be such an aggravatingly lovely dark ranger and how had she the gall to always unerringly know how to take Sylvanas’ mind off the troubles that plagued her?

    Speaking of which, though…

    ”Anya, Lady Proudmoore is not to know about anything regarding this meeting.” Sylvanas said seriously. ”Inform her that we set out first thing tomorrow and see to it that we have supplies enough for her and our two Scarlet guests.”

    Anya nodded, attentive and focused again.

    ”What of the guards and the other squadrons?”

    ”They will have ample time to catch up. The living need their rest after all.”

    ”Let’s hope these are enough to keep her in bed, then.” Anya smiled and disappeared through the door with her rattling burden.
    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

  20. #100
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    Default Re: [Warcraft Total War AAR] My Dread Lady

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

    Sylvanas had Raised three skeletal mounts for Proudmoore and the two prisoners. She had done so before meeting with her squadron and her mage, fearing that an open display of necromancy would upset her. Sylvanas could still scarcely believe that they had actually talked like they had, in their official capacities as heads of state, and that Proudmoore had not yet begun to laugh at her for believing the jest. The last thing she needed was to remind the woman of just how saturated with dark magic her very being was, Sylvanas reckoned.
    Her rangers had bolted and heaped together mismatched saddles for all, little more than piles of cloth and padding, and tied the riders’ hands to the neck of their mount. Lyana had suggested making an improvised bridle for each to give the impression that the skeletal horses were actually more than piles of animated bone and would become unruly if anyone tried to cause trouble. Now each had a dark ranger pretending to lead them, in a ghostly parody of a riding lesson for very young beginners. The comical side of it had not escaped her mage but Brokk Ironpick and Henry Turner behind her grumbled about unwieldy horses and glared darkly at their surroundings. It may have contributed to their mood that Anya and Velonara had quickly renamed them Broke Ironlick and Henry Turnip.

    The journey initially proved uneventful and their nighttime rests gave Kalira’s squadron ample opportunity to scout ahead. The land around them was sooted and ashy, but not completely burnt down. Here and there trees and bushes had weathered the fire and scattered new plants had sprouted on some spots.

    The heavy shackles were a hindrance to her mage but she did not complain, although that had not stopped Sylvanas’ ranger squadron from both fussing over and taunting her at every opportunity. Sylvanas had been forced to remind them on several occasions not to appear to familiar with Proudmoore in front of the dwarf they intended to release as messenger, lest she would be seen as too closely and eagerly connected to the Forsaken. The rangers had brought her tent with them too, leisurely sharing the burdens of a single sister and the two less appreciated retainers between themselves and the horses.

    Proudmoore had stuck dutifully to their planning and had several conversations with the Scarlet dwarf and human. She appeared to have gained their ear but Sylvanas reckoned they may just as likely be pretending to listen out of a sense of self-preservation.

    The road was still deserted when they neared the spot where Cyndia had been lost. Kalira, Nara and Lenara described what they could each recall and Sylvanas sent pairs to scout the area in a wide circle but nothing turned up. Every track had been smudged by the rains and every broken twig that could have offered a lead consumed in the flames. The discovery, or perhaps the lack of discovery of anything, led to Kalira and the ’Naras tensing visibly when Sylvanas ordered the group to continue towards Hearthglen. It was as if they had all embraced the possibility that Cyndia might still be found somewhere out there, unlikely as it may be.

    By that point Sylvanas had already been notified that Anthis Sunbow and her rangers were ready just out of sight behind them.

    The surrounding farmlands around Hearthglen lay in a low portion of land between the ridge to the south that Kalira had told about and hills and deeper forest to the north. It was a fertile part of Lordaeron but the town was a market town and not fortified. The local keep was a single stout tower, but Scarlet Crusade banners flew from the wooden town walls.
    Sylvanas had accompanied Anya and Lyana to scout ahead. They had no difficulty surveying the Scarlet positions well out of range and sight of a human lookout.

    ”We can see patrols leaving and entering in three directions towards us.” Anya whispered. ”I will bet my boots that those relieve a sector of posted sentries. They are not keeping a sharp eye on their surroundings when they march, they are on their way to a specific destination without delay.”

    ”Very good, Anya.” Sylvanas whispered appreciatively. ”We may yet make a captain of you…”

    ”Please don’t start…” Anya mumbled while Lyana shook her head, all too used to the age old dispute between them.

    Sylvanas carefully withdrew from her position.

    ”Lyana, send the dwarf ahead. Anya, relay their positions to Anthis.”

    Anya and Lyana nodded and left quietly, noiseless on the wet ground and melting into the shadows under the trees. Sylvanas meanwhile made her way back to where Clea and Kitala were waiting with Proudmoore and their packs behind some moss-covered boulders. Her mage was chewing on a piece of Lordamere pike. The rangers had noted that fishing was going to be both the easier and more appreciated way of feeding her even on land.

    ”Enjoying your meal, Lady Proudmoore?” Sylvanas asked quietly when emerging without a sound from behind the stone.

    Her mage yelped and almost dropped her lunch, her shackles clattering.

    ”Well, hello to you too, Lady Windrunner. I must have missed you knocking.” she huffed and tried to look disapproving but the sight only made Sylvanas want to smile.

    ”How are you feeling?”

    ”I’m about to waltz down into a nest of reputedly bloodthirsty maniacs to negotiate the release of an elite member of their arch-enemy’s army. Never been better!” Proudmoore chirped flippantly.

    Sylvanas paid no heed to her strained tone. To expect anything else would be inhuman. But she did not look too good.

    ”You look pale, Lady Proudmoore. Are you unwell?” Sylvanas asked and watched her thoughtfully.

    ”No, I just… To be honest, I don’t know. I feel slightly nauseous. Have for days. It’s probably just my diplomatic stage fever.”

    Sylvanas frowned. She didn’t like it, but after all Proudmoore had only gotten a single evening and night’s rest after coming to the Undercity before throwing herself into this venture. It would take longer than that to recover from the strenuous work of propelling a frigate for days with nothing but mana buns to live on at the end.

    She let her mage finish her meal and waited. Sylvanas had never gotten used to waiting. She wanted something to do in the meantime, big or small it didn’t matter very much. Whenever she had been scouting or having to stay hidden she had always kept her mind busy by taking stock of her surroundings in minute detail or naming all the rangers in the company and their specialties, and every high elven military unit and it’s equipment and whatever else she could come up with. People had called her considerate and thorough for those kinds of things but Sylvanas had never felt like she deserved it. She just had to pass the time with something. She was no Anya. Anya could remain still as a statue for hour after hour and then rise like it had been a minute.

    ”What about you, Lady Windrunner? How are you feeling?” Proudmoore interrupted her mental fidgeting.

    ”Impatient. Restless.” Sylvanas answered truthfully.

    ”You? Really?”

    ”Me, really. Does that surprise you, Lady Proudmoore?”

    Her mage tilted her head a little, thoughtful and peering at Sylvanas. Like other times, it felt like she could see every single thing Sylvanas would want to hide inside herself.

    ”I think it does. You are always confident when I see you, you manage to be in control no matter the situation. Sometimes I’d really like to know how to do that.”

    If only you knew, my mage… I feel like I barely rule my own city.

    ”Do not sell yourself short, Lady Proudmoore. You possess far more confidence than you give yourself credit for.”

    And you inspire it.

    Do you see it, my mage? How my sailors stand straighter when you are around? How you make my rangers smile again?

    ”Well, I wouldn’t dare to argue with a banshee over a question of possession…” Proudmoore’s mouth twitched at the corners and Clea and Kitala looked like they tried very hard to keep themselves quiet.

    Sylvanas’ thoughts of a suitably caustic reply were interrupted by the whistle of Velonara close by.

    ”Time to get going and work your magic, Lady of Theramoore.” Sylvanas bowed with a flourish and indicated the path behind her. ”After you.”
    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

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