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A Cord of Two Strands — Part 7

This is the final part of a 7 part series. If you’re new to the series, you can start at the beginning with start at the beginning with Part 1 or you can go to an index of all seven parts.

I’m honestly kind of sad to end it; it’s been fun to share it with you.  But there are more stories waiting to be written, and I can’t write those without closing this one.  I hope you guys have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing and posting it.

From Part 6:

“The chase ends tonight, Markcus!” Aleron replied hotly.  Markus only laughed again, sending a dark bolt sailing in his direction.  The mage blocked the attack, but only just.

“You are willing to fight, but what about your little apprentice?  Have you taught her enough, Aleron?  Arcis was stronger than she, and still she was not strong enough to defeat me.”

“Do not touch her, Markus!  This is our battle alone.”

“Is it?  I was aware of no such restrictions,” he replied.  This time, the attack came whizzing towards Sonora, close enough to singe hairs.

“So, you like to play.  I enjoy a good game myself…shall we?”

The Parting

Suddenly Aleron’s vision clouded.  He tried to fight the influence, but it overtook him, and he sank to his knees.  Then Arcis stood before him, fighting the battle of her life once again.  He reached for her, trying to throw shields up to defend her.  “I will never become one of you!” he heard her yell at her assailants.  “I would sooner die!”

“You may have that chance, little mage,” said a voice that sounded like Markus, if Markus was ten feet tall.  Aleron called out, but spells rained down upon her again the same way he had seen it in his nightmares night after night.  If only he could get closer!  He fought, crawling towards her, desperate to save her.

Sonora watched in horror as her mentor crawled upon the ground like a child, lost in a vision she could not see.  “Leave him alone!” she cried.  “You have tortured him long enough!”

Warlocks now crowded around them, watching their master toying with the prisoners.  “Have I?” Markus finally replied to Sonora, not bothering to look at her as he quite delighted in Aleron’s struggling form.  “Then perhaps it is your turn.”

Sonora gasped as Markus began to grow and change grotesquely.  In a few seconds, a tall, dark form stood where Markus had been.  She didn’t know what to call him, but “Markus” seemed inadequate.

“Sarah!” the deep voice called.  “Sarah, come forward!”  A hooded figure stepped out from the crowd.

“My lord,” she replied, kneeling.  She alone seemed to be unsurprised by this change.  Even the others in the crowd took a step backwards.

“I tire of these trifles,” he told her.  “And you still need to prove yourself to me.  Dispose of the girl first.”  Sarah stood and turned to Sonora.  In a flash, the draenei fell to her knees, a dull ache in her chest where the spell had hit her.  Had Markus’s spell hit her like that, she would be long dead.  Sarah was a  more even match, but Sonora still did not like the odds.  She struggled back to her feet and sent a blazing ball of fire at Sarah’s head.  The spell hit the warlock enough to cause her to stumble and knock her hood loose.  Cascading brown hair fell down around a still beautiful face, and in an instant, she knew this warlock for who she was.

“No!  How could you?!” Sonora screamed at her.

“I did what I had to do,” she replied coldly.  “I am an outsider no more!”  Another spell came flying at Sonora, and she pushed herself to the side; it took effort, since the ache in her chest still caused her to lean over, panting.  She could not do this alone.  She flew at Aleron, landing on her knees next to him.  “Leave him!” Sarah shouted at her, launching an attack that sent Sonora tumbling away from him.

She felt sore all over, but struggled to her knees again, this time preparing a shield she hoped would last long enough for her to get back to Aleron.  Sarah continued to cast shadows at her, but Sonora gratefully noticed that they were being absorbed by her shield for now.  She sent another fireball in Sarah’s direction, catching her hand this time and causing the woman to curse.

“Aleron!” Sonora cried desperately, finally reaching him.  “You must wake up!” She felt as though she were talking to an empty shell; Aleron was lost somewhere in a memory.  She grabbed his shoulders, grunting with the effort.  “Aleron!  ALERON!  ARCIS IS DEAD!”

A voice far away called his name.  He could not leave his daughter; could not let her suffer alone!  He turned back to Arcis, but while he had been distracted, she had fallen and now lay still.  The voice spoke to him again.  Arcis is dead, the voice repeated. But I am not!

It was the same thing he had heard from another female voice.  He remembered his wife, turning away from him in anger and slamming the door behind her as she disappeared forever.  And then he remembered the imprisonment, and Sonora, and Markus.

“What have you done?!” Aleron shouted in rage as his mind returned to the present.  He surveyed the scene.  Sonora lay next to him, a weak shield protecting her as she clutched her chest.  A true-to-life nightmare stood in front of him; Sonora may not have known what to call him, but Aleron did—an Eredar warlock, straight from the pit of hell and the Burning Legion—and at his side—

“Sarah!  What are you doing here?  Has he taken you prisoner, as well?”

“No, husband.  I am not a captive, but a servant.”  Aleron looked at her in shock, some piece of his heart breaking at the sight of his wife pledging her loyalty to this demon.

“Why, Sarah?” he asked weakly.

“You and Arcis were always together.  The more she came into her power, the less I mattered.  And then she died, and you spent every waking minute in your tower, every day swearing you were close to finding those responsible, and every night leaving me alone!  Markus offered me what I really wanted—we are equals at last, you and I.”

“Enough!” the Eredar bellowed.  “This ends now!  Finish her!”  Aleron watched in amazement as his wife—the woman he had loved because she was strong and stable and normal—channeled a spell that would certainly mean death for the weakened draenei.  Aleron had only a moment to act, but the choice was clear.  She was not the woman he had pledged his life to; this was a monster.

He felt the ground between them shake, and anticipated the spell before the dark runes appeared at Sonora’s feet.  He leapt for her, pushing her off of the circle of death forming below and taking the full brunt of the attack.  The pain writhed within him, but he had built up a tolerance to this in the year of his captivity, and he turned to face the surprised warlock.

Aleron used Sarah’s distraction to his advantage, muttering a few words that conjured a ball that was not frost nor fire, but some unlikely combination of the two.  He watched in agony as it hit her fiercely in the chest.  The searing cold burned her from the inside out, and she collapsed as the warring elements within her combusted.  Aleron looked away, unwilling to watch her die.

UK Frostfire

Sonora stood slowly, shocked at what had just taken place and feeling Aleron’s heartbreak washing over him in waves.  Then she noticed Markus muttering, and inhaled sharply.

“Aleron,” she said quietly.  He understood, and looked up in time to deflect the spell the demon warlock sent at him.  But a curse followed, and the sorrow he already felt welled up inside of him so great it pained him.  It threatened to engulf him entirely, and he warred against the internal agony.

He fought through the curse and cast a counterspell at the warlock, followed by a series of bolts similar to the one he used against Sarah.  A few of them landed well; Aleron noticed the Eredar cringe as his arm began to bleed.

The warlock began to rain fire down upon the two, and Sonora’s shield weakened and broke.  Aleron spoke a word that interrupted their attacker, but it would not last against the stronger magician’s resistances.  Aleron sighed deeply, and Sonora looked closely at him.  He was still weak; this man who had been too weak to safely portal them away was fighting the battle for their lives.

And then she realized—part of his strength was within her.  They had siphoned it from him and given it to her.  There was only one way to survive Markus—she must give it back.  Sonora placed her hand on Aleron’s shoulder as he stood before the warlock and pictured the magic flowing through her and into him.  Her experience was not enough to fight this demon, but his was.  If she could give him strength…

Suddenly Aleron felt warmth wash over him, and felt Sonora’s hand.  “It is the only way,” she said quietly, before he could protest.

“But how?”

“The Light,” she stated simply.  What it had taken the warlocks months to perfect, the Light could do in a single act of wisdom and sacrifice.  Sonora and Aleron had become two strands bound together by fear, torture, hope, persistence, and ultimately Light.

With renewed vigor, Aleron turned to face the warlock.  “You have torn apart my family, Markus.  You have left only me, and that is where you have erred!”  Spurred on by the pain of his losses and Sonora’s faithful spirit, Aleron began to hurl spell after spell at the warlock at a speed even he could barely comprehend.  The two exchanged attacks, until finally, Aleron focused his energy on a powerful blast that caused the Eredar to fall back, breathing with some difficulty and blood dripping from several wounds.

Aleron himself had not been spared a few battle scars.  A gash across his face dripped blood into his mouth that he spat onto the ground.  His hand burned where he had been seared by one of the warlock’s spells, and his head throbbed with pain he couldn’t place.

But Sonora had suffered most.  The amount of energy she used channeling her own power into Aleron had weakened her considerably, and she had already been attacked several times that day herself.  She felt dizzy and weak, and stumbled a little.

Feeling her hand slacken, Aleron turned to look at her.  “Sonora, are you okay?”

“I feel weak,” she replied honestly.  “I do not know how much I have left to give.”

A dark laugh replied,  “You have nothing to give.  Arcis was a powerful mage; she would have been great within the ranks of the Shadow Council, and greater still as a part of the Legion!  But she gave her loyalty to her father, and it left her a weak, simple-minded fool.  You have a way of doing that to people, Aleron.”

Too late, Aleron noticed Markus’s spellwork.  “No!” he shouted, putting himself between them.  But the curse had already taken effect.  Sonora lay on the ground, rocking as if trying to comfort herself.  The pain washed over her in waves she couldn’t bear.

Aleron knelt beside her, cradling her head as she whimpered.  Then slowly, the whimpering stopped.  Her breathing came in shallow gasps, and she turned unusually sunken eyes to him.  “He is wrong about you, Aleron,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.  “Arcis was strong and faithful because of you.”

“Sonora, you have been so brave,” Aleron said, tears welling up unexpectedly at this draenei who had become as much daughter as friend.

“You made me brave,” she replied softly.  “Do not blame yourself, my friend.  I am proud of you, as Arcis must have been.”  She lifted feeble fingers and touched the center of his chest.  Light glowed at her fingertips.  “The Light leads us down paths that are difficult to follow, but follow them we must.  May the Light bless you; may the Naaru grant you their gift. Be strong, Aleron; be strong for Arcis…and for me.”  A rune appeared above Sonora’s face, and Aleron knew that this was nothing arcane—this was a magic older and stronger than either one of them.  The light from her fingers warmed him.  He felt stronger than before, and fully replenished.  He watched as Sonora took a final breath and collapsed in his arms.

He stood and turned to Markus, scowling in anger and hatred at the injustice this one evil soul had wrought upon his life.  Aleron began attacking, fireball after fireball coursed from his fingers, entwined with the light Sonora’s gift had bestowed within him.  The glow from the fire he swirled in his hands reflected on the angry tears streaming down his face.

Where his spells alone had injured the Eredar, the light within him now burned the warlock, and he grimaced at the hot white pain each blessed spell carried into his skin.  He fell to his knees, trying to fend off the mage’s righteous fury.

“Help me!” Markus said, casting a spell into the ground.  Aleron waited for something to happen, but the earth remained still.  The warlocks in the circle stepped back, doubtful and afraid.

“NO!” the demon shrieked.  “Do not abandon me!”  He pounded on the ground in a futile display of desperation.

“This ends now.”  Aleron now stood above the quivering, injured beast.  He cast a spell that was not his own; it came from somewhere within him, from the pieces of Arcis and Sonora tucked away in his soul.  He placed his hands upon the warlock’s back as light flowed through them.  Where the light touched, the Eredar burned.

“No!  This cannot be!” cried the smoldering demon.  Several moments later, what was left of the monster he knew as Markus lay shriveled on the ground, an empty husk of ash.

Fingers of sunlight curled over the horizon as day broke.  Aleron took a deep breath, not moving for several seconds as the myriad emotions of everything that had just happened passed over him.  He had no one to go home to, and no foe to chase.  His heart felt like a rock thudding within him; solid and unmoving.  He had known true loyalty and love, and it had disappeared like a vapor.

But a small warmth stirred within him, and he found comfort in it.  He tucked it away.  He must not be weak; they had trusted him with themselves, and he must be strong for them.  He was injured and worn; he would allow himself some rest, as the warlocks had all scattered with the death of their master.

***

When he awoke, it was dusk and the area remained abandoned.   Perhaps he would seek out the Kirin Tor; perhaps they would let him come back to Dalaran.  But right now, a task remained, one that broke his heart.

Aleron sighed deeply, picturing Shattrath City in his head, and vanished.

THE END

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A Cord of Two Strands–Part 5

This is part 5 in a 7 part series. If you’re just joining us, you can start over at Part 1 or go to an index of all seven parts.

Becoming

After breakfast the next morning, Sonora looked at him expectantly.  “What did you mean last night?”

“As I said then, I believe you might be the source of our escape,” Aleron replied, trying not to sound desperate.

“Surely you are not serious,” Sonora said in surprise.  “Aleron, I do not want you to lose hope, but I think you are mistaken.”

“Lose hope?” Aleron replied.  “I lost hope months ago, Sonora!  But this idea has a fair chance.  It will not be an easy route, but it might be the only one.”

“What is your idea, then?” Sonora asked, quelled by his earnestness but still dubious.

“They underestimate you, Sonora; and me.  They are imbuing you with the very powers they have sought so hard to keep me from using.  If I can teach you to use what you are being given, then perhaps we can use their arrogance against them.  I must warn you, though; it will be risky and painful.”

“What is it you ask of me?” Sonora asked, afraid of the answer.

“You must force yourself to stay alert and receptive during their spells.”

“That is beyond my control!” Sonora exclaimed.  “The pain is more intense than anything I have ever felt, and it consumes me.”

“You can keep it from taking over, Sonora; but it will take great strength and concentration.  They will continue to do this until they are satisfied regardless of whether or not you accept it; if they are going to put you in this pain anyway, use it against them!”  Sonora looked down at her hands, turning them over.  Just last night she had ignited straw; what would she be capable of in a week, or a month?

“I am not sure I want this ‘gift,’” she said softly.  Aleron placed his hand on her shoulder gently.

“It comes with great responsibility,” he admitted.  “It will most likely change your life, and I cannot promise it will be for the better.”  Aleron paused and sighed, struggling with the reality of their situation.  “But if you do not…”

“Then I may not have a life to change,” Sonora finished for him.

*****

Over the next several weeks, the transfers continued.  Each time, Sonora felt as though her body would melt away from her.  Sometimes she felt as though she were close enough to touch death, but Aleron would look at her across the room, and it gave her strength.  She fought against it with a valiance few warriors could match, and the elder mage respected her for her tenacity in the face of such an overwhelming task.

At night, Aleron attempted to teach her things.  He started small, working with the straw until she could start a blaze to keep them warm and the room lit, and progressed to explaining the way magic worked together in its forms.  Things he could not risk her trying, he detailed for her in personal stories and experiences.  Sonora proved to be a dedicated student, and began to understand the nuances of what she held inside of her.

When she slept, she continued to dream things that did not fit; dreams of Aleron and the young girl.  She saw him teaching Arcis just as he now taught her, although without the urgency.  She saw discord in his marriage, and felt sorrow too old for her to fully appreciate.  She felt as though she were being told his most secret things behind his back, but couldn’t find a way to ask him.

aleron & wife

She stored these things away, and used them for motivation.  Aleron deserved her best, and though she could not replace his daughter, she would give to him as Arcis would have; willingly and wholeheartedly.

*****

As they sat around their self-made fire one night discussing what she had learned, Aleron mulled over a new lesson—a difficult one to teach, but one extremely useful to them.  “Sonora, I have something new to teach you.  It is possible, sometimes, to see something that is going on outside of where you are.  It is not easy, and without a scrying orb, it will take significantly more effort, but I think you might at least be able to follow magical signatures with which you are already familiar.”

“Markus, you mean.”

“Yes; Markus.  It would be useful to know where he is when the time comes, and what he plans to do.  Close your eyes and focus.  Try to push through your eyes; try to push through these walls.  Look for something that feels familiar, that glows slightly.”

Sonora did as instructed, but she sat for a long time pushing against the blackness behind her eyelids.  Finally, in a moment that startled her so much she almost fell backwards, her sight pushed outwards.  It was moving, but it shook weakly.  She encouraged it on without much control of what she could see.  She did see a dull glow ahead, and tried to steer her sight there.  Thankfully, it seemed to be drawn towards the glow without much help.  The range was very limited, and she could only see a small circle of space; everything beyond was dark.

And then there was Markus.

She could only barely make him out in the small circle of her vision, and he seemed to be radiating a dark glow that gave her an uneasy feeling, like a nervous child spying on a parent.
She watched him, standing behind some kind of elaborate table.  Candles, daggers, and lots of things she didn’t recognize cluttered the surface.  He gestured grandly, and looked pleased; boastful, even.  She looked closely at Markus, feeling as though he could surely see her, although he seemed to take no notice.  A few words she could read on his lips, and they were, “magic, channel, nearly finished, and dispose.”  She thought of the way those could string together, and the thought made her stomach turn over.  Sonora lost focus and felt as though some invisible force pulled her sharply back; when it stopped, she toppled over before opening her eyes and looking up into Aleron’s curious face.

“You look terrified,” Aleron said bluntly.  Sonora related what she saw, and the look on Aleron’s face grew grim and cold as she told him about the words she read on Markus’s lips.

“I expected this,” he sighed, “just not so soon.”

“You knew they would decide to kill us?”

“I knew they already had.”  Sonora looked taken aback, but Aleron knew there was no time for emotion; this required action.  Their training would have to be cut short.  Cut short, he thought, pacing; Markus has a way of cutting things in my life short.

“What do we do now?”

Aleron stopped mid stride and turned.  “We escape.”

Click here to continue to Part 6:  One Way or Another.

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A Cord of Two Strands–Part 1

My short story for Blizzard’s creative writing competition didn’t make the cut, but my mageboy has encouraged me to share it anyway.  Because it’s pretty long, I’m going to post it here in parts.  This, then; is Part 1

A Successful Experiement

Runes hung in the air, glowing brightly.  Each one was a different shape; a different spell—but all of them were incomplete.  The fingers tracing them looked worn, but flew across the space with deceptive speed.  Lips moved in barely whispered incantations and many uttered curses.

One of the runes glistened for a minute, then a sound like a small explosion echoed through the chamber, followed by a violent curse from its creator.

A door creaked and a voice bellowed from behind it, “Keep it down in there, Your Highness!”  Then came a short snicker drowned by the slamming of the door.

A tall female with pale blue skin and hooves sat next to a fountain, looking incredibly lost.  “Diplomacy,” her father had said, “is an important part of our life now.  As a people, we have adjusted to many changes with this new alliance with the humans, gnomes, dwarves, and elves of Azeroth and Kalimdor.  Forging these bonds is imperative to your adult life.”  Faced with her father’s insistence, Sonora reluctantly agreed to a trip to the human capital of Stormwind.  She felt like an oddity here; many of these humans were unfamiliar with her kind, and looked at her strangely.

Just when she was sure she could take no more, her escort finally arrived.  A strikingly tall human, he introduced himself as Markus.  Brown hair and blue eyes, Sonora found him not unattractive.  “Sonora, I presume?” he said with a smile as he extended a hand, and she placed her hand in his.  “Peter at the Stormwind Visitors Center sent me to welcome you to Stormwind and show you around.  It is very nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine, sir,” she said in her soft voice as he closed his fingers around hers and assisted her to her feet.

“Oh, please call me Markus,” he replied with another smile.  Her blue cheeks flushed slightly purple.  This blush did not escape Markus’s attention, and he grinned inwardly with delight.  She was just what he had been looking for.

Morning came, and he could sense the building waking up around him.  Today would be another day they could torture him.  For 475 days he had been in this room that served as his cell; days without magic that crawled by through his one dim window.

The guard outside his door handed him a small mug of water and a plate with gruel and a piece of hard bread.  Immediately after his capture, he had refused to eat, but found that this only made the torture more painful.  Using the bread as a makeshift spoon, he forced the tasteless mush into his mouth.  When it was gone, he tore at the bread with his teeth and sipped the water to help him swallow.

When he finished, he threw the plate at the door and put the mug next to the straw and joke of a blanket that served as his bed.  Several minutes later, a familiar voice called to him.  “Good morning, Ultraking,” the female voice sneered.

“I am more noble than you will ever be,” he growled back at her.

“That may well be true,” the voice replied from under a dark hood. “But this is my palace.  You would be wise to watch your manners.”

The captive clenched his jaw, and the tall elf in front of him took it as a sign of acquiescence.  She began to cast, her voice low and guttural.  The crown of inky black light above his head—serving as both the mind-control spell that kept him from blasting his way out and the source of his nickname—began to swell and brighten.  He braced himself, knowing what would come next.  Her shorter partner withdrew a trembling orb from her robe, and the circle of darkness above his head dropped down into his body.  He writhed in pain.  The first time they had tried this, and several times after, he had been forced to his knees and blacked out.  He now knew to force his body to relax as much as possible, though he clenched his teeth tightly against the burning swell within him.  After several agonizing moments, a stream of light tore from the center of his body and whipped to the orb with frightening speed.  The searing pain was gone, but it had been replaced with the feeling that his soul was being ripped from his body.  They had certainly gotten better at this, he noted with some difficulty.

Finally, when the orb had been filled, the draining ceased.  Impacted by the sudden stop, he fell to his knees.  He looked up at the orb, and grimaced with concern.  It was completely unclouded; they had extracted his magic without infusing any of their own.  He wanted to believe that they would now release him, but he knew better.  The thought of what they planned to do with his concentrated power concerned him; there were many ways he could think to use it, none good.

Click here to go on to Part 2: An Introduction.

Click here to go to an index of all the parts.

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