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Silence fell upon the steppes for a few moments. Crianas began walking back toward his horse and its packs, a neutral look on his face as if he hadn’t just put a Kaldorei out of his misery. Sprit followed, also seeming somewhat cheery, given the circumstances. I turned, irate.

“At least be respectful and have a moment of silence for our companion,” I said, unable to contain myself.

The warlock turned back to me, looking confused. “What are you talking about?” he asked. I suddenly heard a tone, as if a large bell had rung, and swiveled to see a blast of violet light shoot skyward from the elf’s body, and I heard a cough. Kalendrian gagged for a moment, then began breathing. He then suddenly sat up and produced a round, purple stone in his hand. He looked up at Crianas, who simply nodded, turned back toward the dreadsteed, and said, “You owe me one.”

The baron clapped. “A soulstone! Wonderful. Utterly wonderful. Come, let’s get out of these orc infested lands.”

I stood, still bewildered, but then followed the others back toward the horse. Crianas mounted up, and we began moving west once more.

With Sprit exhausted and Kalendrian still not up to full strength, we traveled in a group from that point on. We came across a couple of orcs, but Crianas simply made them run screaming while his dark magic wore them down to nothing, siphoning energy from them the whole time, until by the time we left the orc territory behind, he looked to be in much better shape. He also continually conjured healthstones for us, handing one out to each of us periodically, stating that any higher dosage could be severely harmful.

“Why?” I asked.

He looked at me as if I was a child. “Because these are made from soul shards,” he said condescendingly. “There’s an awful lot of wrath within one of these things, and if-”

What?” I said. “Soul shards?”

“Yes, soul shards. Are you really that ignorant about magic? Here’s more news – Kalendrian here follows the teachings of Cenarius, and tauren shamans serve the elements.”

I handed back the stone he’d recently given to me. “In that case, I’ll pass.”

The warlock rolled his eyes. “Fine, your call. If you get killed out there, don’t come crying to me.”

Somewhat taken aback, I turned to the druid. “Kalendrian, how can you put up with this?”

The cat reformed as a night elf. “The way I figure it, there are two possible sources for these stones. Perhaps this man has only slain those that deserve it, deriving these shards from demons and satyr, silithid and orcs. In that case, this treatment of using them as nourishment is just.”

Crianas grinned unbearably down at me.

“Otherwise, it is entirely possible that this warlock is out killing keepers of the grove for these things,” Kalendrian said. Crianas turned and glared at the druid, and Kalendrian smiled a wry smile. “I wouldn’t put it past him. In that case, it is prudent that we use these remnants of their spirit to heal, to nourish, and thus give them back to nature.”

Crianas turned and faced forward, and said nothing else for a while. Sprit giggled at his misfortune, and he shot a look at her, but he seemed to have lost his power of intimidation. The Baron, having come out of the previous combat unscathed, simply continued walking at the head of the group, and I could not see his reaction.

Before much longer, the mountain loomed before us. A grand stone bridge led up to the cavernous entrance to the mount. The Baron raised his left arm, and pointed to the west. “We’ll set up camp west of the entrance itself. Tomorrow we’ll make for the interior of the mountain.” When he raised his arm however, I watched Crianas start staring intently at the Baron’s arm, and then flinch as if struck. I looked at him, and a look of disbelief came over his face. I looked to see what had troubled him, and saw that there was a slash through the Baron’s robes on his left arm. Beneath it, strangely, the skin was smooth – no cut, no scar, no anything except muscle. Crianas was visibly shaken at this point, almost rocking back and forth, and saying something softly: “No… it can’t be… Holy Light, what do I do…” he said to himself over and over. I stared at him, and he caught my attention, and oddly, looked down at me with what appeared to be pity and remorse mixed with fear.  The Baron and everyone else began to move forward once more, and the two of us followed.

We made our camp a short distance west of the entrance to the mountain, just beyond sight range. Kalendrian seemed to have recovered nearly fully, and spent the evening tending to each of us individually. He healed my leg up to the state it had been in before the battle today, so I expected to be able to sleep in peace. Crianas continued to look a little crazed through the night. He was aloof as Kalendrian tended to his wounds, eventually fixing the shadowy scars until nothing but mild bruising remained on his face and side. When he disrobed for the druid to examine him, I noticed terrible markings up and down his torso, twisting lines with unspeakable words running diagonally across his body. They weren’t scars so much as tattoos, and not tattoos so much as runes… it was odd. Unnatural. And for the first time that I had ever seen, the warlock almost looked ashamed. The Baron didn’t seem to notice his unusual behavior, though Sprit had. After the meal, she volunteered to take the first watch, and Crianas instantly, and insistently, said he’d take the second. We agreed and retired to our tents.

Troubling thoughts overtook me as I lay trying to sleep. Crianas was a pompous jackass, but he’d been overconfident enough when we took on the orcs earlier that day. Now he was a wreck. What could be bothering him so much about a near miss when the Baron was attacked earlier? I tried to quell these fears and trust in the Light to lead the way, but the ashen, barren landscape had seemed lightless for so long. I eventually fell asleep out of physical necessity.

I was awakened in the middle of the night, however, by a gnome tugging at me. Sprit held one finger to her mouth, then pointed at my armor. Confused, I went to speak, but she shushed me. She simply pointed at my armor once more, looked at me sternly, then disappeared out of the tent.  So I donned my armor as quietly as I could, picked up my spear, sword and shield, and slowly clambered out of the tent. I saw the outline of the gnome on a crag a short ways away, and tiptoed as best I could toward her. Past the ridge, I saw Crianas standing a ways away, staring off into nothingness. I approached, and noticed a dark panther brush against me. Sprit came up behind me, still nearly invisible in the inky blackness.

Kalendrian assumed his elven form, and Crianas turned around to face us.

“Lady and gentlemen, we have a severe problem,” he said. “Have any of you noticed anything unusual about our trip?”

“Like what?” I asked.

“What have we been carrying with us this entire time?” Crianas asked.

“Armor and food,” Sprit answered.

“And why in the Nether should we need to carry food when we have a mage that should be able to conjure food and water?”

“Perhaps he did not learn those spells when he trained,” Kalendrian offered.

Crianas shook his head. “That’s basic stuff that any mage that trains in Dalaran learns. I’d know, I grew up there. And the Baron claims to have been educated there.”

“How exactly does that put us in danger?” Sprit asked.

“The Baron has a reason to lie about his past. To fabricate it.”

“Maybe he just wants to impress us,” the gnome said sarcastically.

“He’s too straightforward for that. We all know it,” Crianas countered.

“What are you getting at?” Kalendrian asked.

“Why doesn’t the Baron have a cut on his arm?” Crianas asked, dodging the druid.

“The swing must have missed his flesh and just torn his robes,” I said.

The warlock once again shook his head. “I saw the whole thing. That strike hit his arm straight on. And yet there’s no scar or blood, and neither my healthstones nor the druid’s magic was applied.”

“What are you saying, Cri, that the Baron’s an extra-powerful mage?” Sprit asked.

“Seems like it. More importantly, he’s hiding it. If he’s strong enough to mend wounds like that, he’s probably strong enough to level that entire force of orcs sent after us with one magical blow. And yet he didn’t, he held back and nearly let us all be killed.”

“I still don’t follow you,” Kalendrian said, starting to look irritated. “I’d be glad to have a stronger ally in a place like this. He might just be saving energy.”

“No. We are all in incredible danger. I think that it is vitally important that we not proceed into Blackrock tomorrow,” Crianas said.

“We all should be fully healed, assuming that our stalwart defender here feels okay,” Kalendrian said, gesturing toward me. “I feel fine, and you have too much pride to delay us for your sake.”

“I’m not worried about the dwarves in there,” Crianas replied.

“Then what, the Horde? You’re worried about Rend Blackhand’s collection of trolls and orcs?”

“No, dammit, I’m not worried about anything inside the mountain. I’m worried about what’s out here! Or more precisely, what’s not.”

“What are you talking about?” Sprit asked. “We’ve run into Blackrocks and Dark Irons, seen ogres and scorpid from afar.”

“Yes, we’ve dealt with dwarves and orcs, but what haven’t we faced?”

“I don’t understand,” I said, feeling incompetent.

“Our path has been far too clear,” Crianas said, then paled as he looked over my head. I turned to see a human shape contoured on the ridge behind us, and knew the baron was approaching.

“Kalendrian, you know a hibernation spell, correct?” Crianas asked.

“Yeah, but it only works on beasts,” he said. “Why does-”

“Cast it on the Baron now,” Crianas ordered.

“What are you talking about?!”

“It bothers me to see my four companions keeping secrets from me,” the baron said, looking irritated as he swiftly walked toward us.

“If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There’s no time to waste, cast it or we’re all dead!” the demonologist said, irate.

“Don’t order me around, human, I’m not your servant!” Kalendrian snarled.

“Now!” Crianas howled. “He’s been clearing the path for us, he’s been keeping his allies out of our way, and-”

The warlock’s words were cut off by a runic symbol over his mouth, and he could no longer speak. Baron Krestan held a glowing hand out, nearly running toward us. “What is the meaning of this treason?” he demanded, and glared at me intensely. I took a step back and began to open my mouth when suddenly the Baron’s face soften, and his head fell forward to loll in front of him as he stood, motionless.

I swiveled to see that Kalendrian had, indeed, cast the hibernation spell. A look of puzzlement was on his face. “I… I don’t understand. Hibernation only affects beasts,” he said.

Crianas could still not speak, but he looked extremely worried. A look of fear also came across Sprit’s face.

“And dragons,” she said.

>>Chapter 5: Journey’s End

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