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Having finally regained his voice, Crianas spoke softly. “Well, he knows. It’s too late to run now. Kalendrian, channel that spell, try to keep him out as long as possible.”

“The three forces in the Burning Steppes are Dark Iron dwarves, Blackrock orcs, and the black dragonflight,” I stated. “I guess I’m the last to figure things out.”

“Don’t worry about it, human,” Kalendrian said. “If he’s black, is that why you told him your pauldrons were from the red?”

“Nah,” Crianas said. “That was luck. I was lying, I found these pauldrons up in the plaguelands. I’m not a tailor, I’m an alchemist.” And with that, he tossed me a vial, which I immediately drank unquestioningly. “Fire resistance, Crianas said. “No time to make more, I’m afraid.”

The baron was beginning to stir in his sleep, and suddenly broke free of the spell and silenced Kalendrian before he could re-cast it. Crianas tossed him a vial of yellow liquid.

“So. You little brats have discovered my secret. I’ll have to go call back the servants that I had hide away so that we could reach the mountain.” He turned to leave when thick, thorny roots burst out of the ground and entwined themselves around him.

“Purification potion,” Crianas said.

“You’re not going anywhere, dragon,” Kalendrian said. “I don’t care how good of a mage you are, we’ll be escorting you back to Stormwind.”

Krestan snorted. “You think your pathetic roots can hold me?!” he asked, his voice shifting up and down in pitch. His body began to glow, and he suddenly started morphing and gaining in size. The roots snapped around him as he grew. I sensed Crianas summoning a demon behind me, but stared at Baron Krestan as he grew, and grew, and grew, and when the glow stopped, a monstrous black dragon stood before us. Forty feet long if he was an inch, he stretched his wings and reared on his hind legs for a moment before slamming down before us.

“Well, if I’m not allowed to leave,” he said, “I’ll just kill you all myself.”

He raised one massive claw, a fire spell channeling around it, when I heard a snarl from behind me. Crianas’s felhunter charged forward and silenced the dragon the same way the dragon had silenced Kalendrian. Undaunted, he charged ahead, and I was all that stood between him and the rest of the group. I lifted my shield, held my spear in one hand, and braced myself for his attack. He raised his claw to swing when he suddenly curled back, howling, from some attack that I could not see. With a kick from his two hind legs, he launched himself into the air, where a shadow bolt from Crianas hit him in the shoulder. The warlock seemed livid, and issued a constant stream of words in what I can only assume was demonic the entire time he cast. Whether for power or simple stress relief, I do not know.

“Raka melar nakrazoth ereduanar sanledag trophanor werklag mal’sanoth!” he cried, hurling shadowbolt after shadowbolt at our foe as he circled skyward. Some hit, many missed. A skull sigil appeared above the dragon’s head and I watched his scales begin to shimmer as shadow energy coursed over them.

When the dragon turned so that we could see his back, we saw the source of his torment. Sprit had managed to sneak onto Krestan’s back and was burying her daggers into it at intervals up the length of his spine. The dragon snaked and curled in midair, trying to shake off the gnome or burn it with his fiery breath, but could not succeed. We watched the dragon fly higher and higher, until Crianas’s spells could not reach it and we could barely see the beast. When he was nearly invisible to the naked eye, he suddenly turned and dove, racing downward in what seemed like an attempt to catch a falling black speck. That speck gradually formed into Sprit, calmly diving downward. My jaw hung slack as I braced for her fatal impact, but suddenly she pulled on her cape and it bloomed, forming a large patch of cloth that slowed her descent significantly.

Unfortunately, it was when she did this that the baron caught her, and with one quick dive, breathed vicious fire at Sprit. The parachute went up in flames, and Sprit fell uncontrollably down. She was still too high, and I stared as she plummeted and hit the ground with a sickening thud and Sprit Spritetoggle the Second moved no more.

The baron charged at us again, and I moved to keep myself between him and my two remaining companions. I heard a feline roar and watched Kalendrian suddenly dart away, running past the dragon and between its legs. Our enemy roared in insult, and started to turn to chase the druid when I charged in, taking my spear in both hands and with one strong stroke slicing through the scales of his hind left leg and deep into the muscle below. He howled and turned, and a vicious looking fireball smashed into the point where Krestan’s left wing met his shoulder. Krestan shot a wreath of flame at me, but I shrugged it off from behind my armor and shield. When his claw came after, I braced myself and caught it against my shield, jabbing my spear into it at the same time. The point penetrated between his talons, but the strength of his blow swept me aside. I barely maintained my footing after dropping the spear, and he hurled the weapon out of reach. Reluctantly, I drew my sword and stood in front of him again.

A blast of green light appeared behind my enemy, but I had no time to investigate. I dodged a swipe from his other claw, ran beneath him, and slashed upward with my sword. He tried to rear up and away, but the tip of my sword still drew blood in a line across his torso. The dragon slashed again and knocked me to the ground, then grabbed me with his unhurt claw. He began to squeeze me, and I felt his talons puncture my armor, the armor I created myself. Despair gripped me as I began to feel useless and weak. I watched spell after spell of Crianas’s slam into the dragon, and suddenly heard a high pitched battle cry, and a miraculously revived Sprit sprinted up Krestan’s back and jabbed both daggers into the dragon’s neck. He released me with a cry of pain, and I fell to the ground, unable to feel my right side. It was then that a warm green light enveloped me, and I felt my wounds begin to close. I could see Kalendrian on a nearby ridge channeling healing spells at me. Renewed, I struggled to my feet once more. The dragon breathed a torrent of fire toward me, but I pressed on through it toward his maw. I felt my armor heat, begin to burn my skin, but continued. Kalendrian continued mending me through my progress forward, and I raised my sword when the Baron suddenly twisted his neck and bit down into me, clamping his teeth into my body and hoisting me into the air.

I lost the feeling in my side, in my legs. My shield fell from my arm onto the ground. Kalendrian continued trying to heal me, but I knew he could do no good. My head swam in the sounds of the battle around me. I heard my ribs crack, and suddenly thought of my skeleton, when a moment of clarity pierced my deathly haze.

I pictured my skull on the top of my skeleton, and that image in my head linked with another, the place I had seen skulls recently: Crianas’s mantle.

The skull is hollow, I thought. I felt a shadowbolt hit the dragon’s head, causing a respite in the dragon’s attempt to crush me. My mind focused on the image of the skull, and I realized that the warlock’s armor only had the top half of a drake’s skull on it. Without its lower jaw, there was no protection from below.

I summoned every bit of strength I had remaining. The Baron continued trying to chew through my armor, and though only seconds had passed, it felt like years. I slowly pulled my sword to my body, and with my last ounce of strength, I called upon the Light to help me do my job – to protect my companions, to protect Stormwind, to protect Azeroth. Clutching my blade in both hands, I thrust it upward through the dragon’s soft pallet. His vice grip on my body loosened slightly, and I felt his head and my body falling, falling, falling toward the ground. Everything went dark, and I never hit the earth.

I awoke what felt like six lifetimes later. Near silence greeted me, with only the sound of a soft wind reaching my ears. Am I healing in Northshire? I thought. It’s too quiet to be Stormwind. I tried to open my eyes, but could see nothing but dark shades of the same color. My vision was blurry. I moved one hand in front of my face, and it appeared hazy and pale. I tried to stumble to my feet, and realized that my bad leg no longer felt injured. My vision began to clarify, and I realized that I was still, terrifyingly, inside the dragon’s maw. I panicked, and tried to pry it open with some newfound strength, but realized my hands… were passing right through his jaw. I stepped backward, and my field of vision passed directly through his snout, and I was suddenly staring at his face. His eyes were clouded, and he was clearly dead. And then, in a moment of complete surrealism, I saw my own body inside his mouth.

I tried to vomit, but nothing came. After retching, I stood, and prepared to accept that I was now a wandering spirit. I looked upward to see an unfathomable void swirling endlessly into the sky. I quickly turned away from that horrifying sight, and saw the hazy forms of Crianas, Sprit, and Kalendrian standing before the dragon. They talked quietly, and all appeared sad – even Crianas. I could not hear what they said, however, merely snippets of words that felt like they washed, like waves, into my ears.

“…Rebir-hiss-time-late,” Kalendrian said.

I wanted to cry, to scream, but felt strangely devoid of emotion. The gray, phantom forms of Crianas and Kalendrian began to argue, whereas Sprit simply shook, seemingly terrified with her near-death experience. The druid gestured toward the dragon’s mouth, and my physical form, looking disgusted. The warlock pointed at Krestan’s remains, then at the distant southern hills, looking at the druid like one does a misbehaving child. I could no longer hear what either said. The argument eventually ceased, however. Crianas summoned his horse and began to head back to the east. Kalendrian and Sprit slowly turned and began to walk away. Sprit picked up my shield from where it had fallen, and I wished she’d return it to my parents in Southshore.

I was depressed, at first, that they did nothing for my body, but I realized that if they lingered to bury me, the other dragonkin may return – I eventually realized that my remains must have been the subject of the warlock and druid’s argument. Besides, being dead had an effect on me in that things like my little corporeal form weren’t important. I was glad just that my comrades were safe, that I had in some way accomplished my task. I had defended the kingdom, slain the dragon, lived up to the tradition of the heroes of myths and folk tales. I hoped that my acceptance would help me depart this world for whatever comes next, but my relative internal peace did no good in that regard.

The next day, dragonkin indeed returned from the hills, and took the body of Baron Krestan away. I could not bear to follow, to watch my own body be eaten or burned or worse by those beasts, so I remained. I still don’t know what happened to me.

So, I lingered. I couldn’t count how many days I paced around that blighted land. I think that if I had been alive, the boredom would have driven me crazy, but I had nowhere to be and plenty of time to get there, so it was less pressing on my mind. I gradually realized that my form was becoming brighter, and that I might even be visible to the living soon. I also tried to talk, and noticed that I heard echoes of my voice in the same tidal, intermittent way that I had when Kalendrian spoke. I thought that fact promising, and began to spend time close to the road through the area in hopes of finding someone. And as luck would have it, it would only be two days before I did.

I began to pace closer to the entrance to Blackrock Mountain, and one day I encountered an elf riding a nightsaber toward the mountain. I drifted ahead of him and tried to will myself visible, which must have worked. I watched the elf do a double take, then halt his cat to stare. It was only when he stopped moving that we stared at each other and recognized one another. His hair was longer, and he had an eye patch now, but through the immense powers of luck, or fate, this was most assuredly Kalendrian Boughwhisper. His eyes went wide and his jaw slack when he saw my spirit standing before him.

Two weeks later and here we all are again, minus the Baron, of course.  Kalendrian has an eye patch now, and white armor with antlers – I’m not sure I believe some of the tales that he’s told me about the Dark Portal reopening and the return to Draenor.  Crianas’s hair is a bit lighter, and his armor has gone from purple to teal, with floating spikes above his shoulders and little sparks of lightning around his head.  He’s no less intimidating, though, or distant, though I haven’t yet seen him argue with Kalendrian. He stands now, scribbling down my words, looking up at me with a smirk as I say this.  Sprit looks much the same as she did, but her black leather armor has a blue tinge to it now, and her goggles are even more ornate.  Her squirrel looks a little worn, but loved.  She stands beside Crianas, tinkering away at something else, smiling at me.

I’ve told them my story to give to my parents and those at the cathedral, and that Crianas may publish it if he wants. Crianas says that he has no idea why my spirit has lingered here for so long.  Kalendrian thinks that perhaps it’s this very narration that the fates have waited for before I finally rest – that my story is why I linger.  So I stand here, saying my goodbyes to these comrades from the most significant battle of my life.  Crianas voraciously records every single one of my words in a tome he’s brought for the occasion, saying that he will write every sentence until I say no more. I am struck by an odd feeling: that once this tale is finished, maybe at the end of this very sentence, I may move on from this world forever.

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