- - by Sigmar
So long after leaving, Stormwind seemed very foreign compared to Outland, with its high, white walls and orderly construction. The sheer amount of green felt like it would blind Sigmar’s eyes, and seeing so many people in high spirits was odd. In all, Sigmar felt rather out of place in his adopted city.
Despite the alien feel that Stormwind projected, the sight of the Keep, the bustling activity, and the smell of street-side food vendors brought memories to Sigmar, some new, some old. He was home.
The strangest sight, however, was the line of statues that one passes as they walk into Stormwind. They were the statues of those presumed dead along with the Expedition: Danath Trollbane, Khadgar, Kurdran Wildhammer, Alleria Windrunner, and Turalyon. It was strange because Sigmar and the rest of the Alliance now knew three of them to be alive, and two who were most likely not dead.
As Sigmar made his way through the Trade District and into the Cathedral District, he knelt when he came in sight of the Cathedral of Light itself. After ascending the marble stairs, he knelt again in traditional prayer and then entered quietly, attempting to mitigate the noise of his plate armor.
There was a small sermon occurring at the altar, led by Archbishop Benedictus himself, but other than that, the Cathedral was inactive. There was no sign of activity from the right wing of the building, newly inhabited by the Scarlet Battalion. Sigmar made a left and walked through the wing, entering a common sleeping quarters. He traveled to the far side of the room and began to remove his armor and weaponry, setting it on the proper armor or weapons rack. Once finished, he approached one particular mat on the ground and opened the chest at its foot, pulled out fresh clothes, and changed. He then picked a ragged, brown bag out of the coffer.
The paladin sat at a nearby table while opening the bag and spreading out its contents onto the wooden surface. The memories from earlier came flooding back, this time accompanied with other, far older ones…
…memories of Lordaeron, and memories of his birthplace, Elwynn Forest…
That journal belonged to his father, and that necklace to his mother. Sigmar slowly flipped through a stack of letters while reading a few words from each. His fingers touched relics of the past. He reached deep into his mind and pulled out long-buried recollections of happier times. Even when the Orcs were the primary enemy, everything was simple: there were no fragile alliances, and there was quite a bit of hope for humanity. Now, those days were gone.
Sigmar knew he was deliberately avoiding what was to come next. He forced himself to take both the wooden trinket from the pile and his brother’s trinket from the string around his neck, the one that he recovered from Ackland’s belongings. Even after all these years of wear and tear, they were identical… except, his brother’s felt heavier. Well, there was one way to discover why.
The pegs from one fit precisely into the grooves of the other. Something clicked. Gingerly, Sigmar pried open the newly revealed fault in his brother’s. It opened slowly…
And Sigmar shut it closed immediately. Something was inside the trinket. Something dark, something infused with shadow magic. He muttered prayers of protection. The faint holy glow around his hands was strengthened by the aura of the Church, and once again, he opened it.
A black rock. No more than an inch by a half inch. It fit snugly within the trinket. As Sigmar peered closer, he noticed runes on the surface, presumably orcish or demonic. The paladin studied it for a few more minutes before closing the trinket again. His hands were shaking. Why in the Light’s name would his brother own such a thing? How long did he have it? Or did Ackland place it within? Damn him for defiling the memory of Alaric, if so. The last thought Sigmar found odd, as he was fairly certain Ackland was already thrice-damned.
Sigmar replaced the artifacts with care and returned the sack to the chest, where he closed and locked it. With him he took both of the wooden trinkets. He knew he would have to discover what the stone meant. As he left the Cathedral, Sigmar concluded that now was a good time to call in an old debt…
* * * * *
Finding Domo wasn’t as hard as Sigmar thought it would be. Apparently, the former rogue had left behind vestiges of his past life and embraced a more ethical lifestyle: he was now a member of the League of Netherguard, and devoted himself to protecting Azeroth from the denizens of the Nether. Despite being a member of the League of Netherguard, Domo was not at Netherguard Keep. Instead, his current location was Stormwind itself, and Sigmar was directed to the Old Town, at the military barracks.
Domo looked much better since Sigmar last saw him. Of course, that encounter had been at the Scarlet Monastery, and Domo had been a prisoner of the Scarlets. He was tortured, beaten, and eventually, his right hand and upper forearm were severed by an Inquisitor. Sigmar never caught the Inquisitor’s name…
Domo, bald like Sigmar, dark-skinned, and dressed in simple clothing, would pass for any other citizen if they hadn’t known who to look for. The only difference was the emblem of Netherguard on a small wristband, and that his right hand was gloved. The severed hand. It seemed that Domo had found a… what did they call them… prosthetic limb.
Sigmar arrived in time to catch Domo as he left the barracks. At first, the other man did not recognize Sigmar, but as he approached, a broad grin spread across his face.
They shook hands, Sigmar making sure to offer his left. “Vaughan, I haven’t seen your ugly mug in weeks!”
Sigmar smiled slightly. “I’m glad to see that you’re doing well after the Monastery incident.”
Domo nodded. “It’s been hell since then, but I’m pretty much recovered. Except for this,” he held up his gloved hand, and then punched Sigmar’s shoulder lightly. It certainly felt artificial. “Made from dark iron. I was lucky to find someone who could do such work.”
“I’ll have to learn from him sometime, then. I certainly couldn’t.”
“Her,” Domo corrected. “You’re an engineer?”
Sigmar shrugged, “I have some skill, usually making grenades. They help in a pinch.”
“Ha! Come, let’s get something to drink. Now, the engineer’s name…”
They walked to a nearby tavern, where Domo insisted on paying for two mugs. Though not necessarily close friends, they talked as if they were. In the back of his mind, Sigmar pondered on how one life-changing event such as the occurrence at the Scarlet Monastery could forge a friendship.
“Domo, I have a favor to ask of you.”
“’Course. I can’t owe you enough favors, Vaughan. Saving someone’s life tends to have those privileges.” He laughed.
Sigmar pulled his brother’s trinket from a shirt pocket and held it out in one hand. “What can you tell me…” already unlocked, Sigmar twisted the trinket and revealed the black stone, “about this.”
As if Domo sensed the dark magic emanating from it, he moved back. His curiosity got the better of him, however, and he leaned forward for a closer look. “May I?” Sigmar nodded and handed the piece to Domo. The former rogue inspected it closely for a few moments before looking to Sigmar again. “I can’t tell you anything. Foreign languages aren’t my specialty.”
“Is there anyone you know that may be able to translate it? Perhaps you have a few old contacts?”
Domo’s expression became serious. “I broke from my past life, Sigmar.”
“Well, what about the League of Netherguard? Please, this is extremely important to me.”
The man thought for a few seconds. “I don’t know anyone personally, but it’d be strange if the League didn’t have someone who knew about our enemy. I can look into it.” He shot Sigmar a cautious look, “Why do you need to inspect something so obviously corrupted?”
“It was my brother’s… he owned it. I want to know why.”
He seemed to accept this.
“Thank you, Domo,” he sighed in relief, “You don’t know how much I needed this done.” The stone would not go untranslated.
Domo pocketed the trinket and they talked for a few more minutes. Then, they paid the tab and left, giving parting words and going their separate ways.
There was one more stop in Stormwind that Sigmar would have to make. He had a meeting with the Scarlets.
* * * * *
“Sigmar Vaughan, Captain, retired.” Sigmar bowed deeply to the Scarlet Battalion soldier, attempting to give a show of respect. His contempt for the Scarlet Crusade had been slightly abated in the past few weeks, due to the wider threat posed by the Burning Legion.
The Scarlet bowed only slightly in return. Sigmar studied her again, attempting to guess her thoughts, but came up unsuccessful.
Her hair, copper-brown in color, dropped to her shoulders, and her brown eyes had a piercing gaze to them. She was slightly tanned, perhaps because of a life outdoors. A farmer, maybe. Unlike many of the Scarlets Sigmar had seen about, she was neither armed nor armored, but instead wore a simple red robe and a belt of a Crusader. She looked young, twenty or so.
“Ethne Woodward, member of the Lightbringer Division.” Her voice held a certain caution to it. Sigmar had had run-ins with the Battalion before: it was possible his name was on some sort of blacklist. It was speculation, of course. One could never tell with the Scarlets.
She sat on a bench within the Cathedral, crossing one leg over another. “Now, Sir Sigmar, I understand you need records of some sort?”
He remained standing. “I do, and the Battalion is the only entity that would have access to such records. I’m looking for information on Josef Ackland.” He stopped before adding, “He was reasonably high in the chain of command, perhaps having control over forty or fifty troops.”
The girl’s expression did not change. “The Crusade’s records are not open to everyone, especially concerning one of its officers. Why should we release such records for your use?”
Sigmar fought back in kind, keeping his face steady. “Because I am reasonably certain that he is no longer a part of the Crusade. He wields shadow magics. He used the Dark Portal for his own nefarious purposes. Right now, he is in Outland, doing Light-knows-what to better his position.”
“And you have proof of this?”
“Only my word and another’s. Niain Bloodraven is her name, if you wish to speak with her.” As soon as Sigmar mentioned Niain, he regretted it. They just might go ‘talk’ to her. Talk with instruments of torture and confinement and blinding lights. But, at the same time, Niain was not one to be taken away easily. She would undoubtedly avoid all attempts at kidnapping, and fight if she had to.
“We may do that, later. Another question: why do you want the records?”
Sigmar decided to keep his brother’s fate out of the conversation. The Scarlets wouldn’t sympathize with one man’s story of loss. “As I said, Ackland is a potent manipulator of shadow energy, and I believe him to be a threat to our newly-arrived forces in Outland.”
The girl seemed to consider this. She continued, asking more questions, most of them hardly relevant or concerning Sigmar’s personal information. Probably standard procedure, he mused. After a few minutes of this, Ethne stood. “I will look into the records of Josef Ackland. If, in fact, he is found to be a dissident, then you may have access to our papers. Under close supervision, of course.”
“Of course. Thank you, Miss Woodward.” He bowed again. She did not do the same, but instead left for the Battalion’s quarters in the Cathedral.
Two for two.
* * * * *
The message came in the form of two Scarlet Battalion infantry, who insisted on escorting Sigmar to the Cathedral and into its basement. He was taken to a cell and placed inside, two soldiers within, one without.
The cell held only a table, chair, and lamp, all three of which looked very out of place. It was likely that the Battalion had only temporarily set up a prisoner’s cell for this particular occurrence.
He waited. Minutes passed, which slowly became hours. He passed the time deep in his own thoughts, holding the trinket that was the twin of his brother’s. It seemed like an eternity until the cell door opened once again, and Ethne came through with a thin stack of papers. She set it on the table. It wasn’t much.
“Ackland did indeed go missing some time ago, and there were rumors that he was involved in dark arts. You have whatever time you need to go over these.” With that, Ethne left.
Sigmar sat at the table and began. The information within was about as sparse as how it looked: there was little background on Ackland, other than that he was born in Lordaeron into a family of nobility, and was raised as such. After the Third War, he and his brothers joined the Scarlet Crusade in hopes of driving the Scourge from the lands. Both of his siblings died in battle thereafter. Ackland rose through the ranks to become a sub-commander, with authority over, as Sigmar guessed, fifty soldiers. He executed lightning raids upon the Scourge and Alliance survivors alike, all in the name of the Crusade and the Light.
It was around that time that Ackland began to show signs of corruption, signaled by his increasing isolation and unkempt appearance. A few soldiers even died in his presence under mysterious circumstances.
Sigmar turned another page, rubbing his eyes. Nothing important yet. But then one word on that page jumped out as soon as it fell to the table.
The paladin began to read slowly. Sweat already beaded on his brow by the time he finished the first few words.
Scarlet Subcommander Josef Haubern Ackland commissioned his entire regiment, not an unusual event. His reason for doing so is explained, in his own words, below:
"Respected Commander Mograine,
I have reason to believe that there is a grave threat within the lands of Lordaeron, other than the Scourge itself. This threat is tiny, and seemingly inconsequential, but should be dealt with immediately.
Through our information network, I have discovered that a heathen Forsaken, whose name I do not know, came in possession of a small, black, rectangular stone, heavily corrupted by dark magic. This stone is not only a massive focal point for the Burning Legion to fix upon, and thus threaten our world again, but is also a bearer of an inscription. I do not know the words of the inscription, but the Forsaken became extremely busy recently, and was undoubtedly planning on using the stone for his own purposes.
However, the Forsaken was slain by a member of the misguided Lordaeron survivors to the south. The man’s name is Alaric Vaughan, and has some importance within his own military order. That order, of course, is one of the many that sees us as their enemy and attacks the Monastery frequently.
I formally request permission to go forth with my regiment and take the stone from Vaughan, by force if necessary, and bring it to the Monastery for safekeeping.
Always faithful to the Light and the Crusade, Subcommander Josef Ackland"
Sigmar’s hands trembled as he finished the short letter. When he first heard about Alaric’s death, he thought it was simply the Crusade, in their blind zealotry, killing members of the Alliance. When he discovered that Ackland had looted Alaric’s body and taken only the trinket, he wasn’t sure what to think.
Now, Sigmar knew that the raid that killed his brother had been specifically targeted for him, and it had been set in motion by Ackland.
His feelings were a mix of shock, rage, and confusion. Perhaps the guards within the room saw it, as they looked at each other, then to Sigmar again. One of them spoke with the guard outside, who left his post.
Ethne entered a few minutes later. She tilted her head. “Have you found what you are looking for, Sir Vaughan?”
Sigmar answered quietly, “I have.”
“Good. I hope our records were of service to you.”
She looked to the guard next to her, then back to Sigmar. “If you don’t mind me asking, what will you do with this information?”
Sigmar did not look at her directly. When he spoke, it was with cold rage. “Josef Ackland is planning something. I do not know what, but you have my word that he will be stopped.”
* * * * *
“Sig! Sigmar, wake up. I’ve got something that you’ve wanted to know.”
The paladin’s eyes shot open. He was lying on his mat in the Cathedral. Domo’s figure hovered over him, waving his good hand in Sigmar’s face. Sigmar pushed it away, understanding what was going on.
“The inscription?” Sigmar stood quickly.
Domo nodded, “Yep. Turns out that one of my colleagues was in Stormwind, and was able to translate it. I’ve got it right here…” He reached into a pocket to produce both the trinket and a paper. As he unfolded the paper, Sigmar reached for it, but Domo pulled it out of his range.
“Hey, let me read it you to you first.”
Sigmar breathed deeply. A few seconds are not going to ruin everything. He nodded.
The man cleared his throat. “It’s demonic alright, one of the many tongues of the Burning Legion. It took my friend longer to find out which one than to translate it. Here it is:
In stone it lies, embedded, a stone itself, The pyyr hidden from the world. The Gate lies close, waiting for its purpose to be fulfilled. The mountains around the pyyr rise high, The northern edge is its home”.
“What… what is a pyyr?”
Domo shook his head, “Dunno, and neither did my friend. That was just the best pronunciation of the word.
“Let me see that.” Domo handed Sigmar the paper and trinket. “The Gate. That’s the Dark Portal, obviously. That means this stone was probably engraved by Orcs. The Legion probably wouldn’t have made this in the time between the opening of the Portal and the death of my brother. And the mountains…” Sigmar thought back to his trek from Shattrath. “I know where they are, in Outland.”
“Oh? You’ve been there?”
“Aye. It was an interesting sight.”
Sigmar thought on the events of the past few hours. Things still didn’t connect. The only thing he was sure of was that whatever Ackland was looking for, it was farther north than where Sigmar had found the trinket in the first place. Apparently, Ackland’s goal was this… this pyyr. Chances are it would not be in the Alliance’s best interest to have a warlock in possession of the pyyr.
“Thank you a thousand times over, Domo. You may have saved lives today, and for that, I am in your debt.”
Domo only laughed. “Just call us even.”
“Deal,” Sigmar said as he pocketed the translation and trinket. He walked to the armory rack and began the tedious process of placing on his armor.
“So you’re going to this place?”
“I am.” He pulled on his plate army boots.
“Then… good luck Vaughan. You’ll need it. Just don’t get yourself killed out there.”
“I’ll try not to.”
* * * * *
Someone flicked the back of Sigmar’s skull. There were few people who could approach Sigmar without being noticed by his battle-honed senses.
“It looks like you’re preparing for a fight.” The night elf rounded the table Sigmar was at and sat on the opposite side. She wore her standard assassin’s outfit, leather armor, and carried her daggers. Sigmar’s attention shifted from Niain to the table. Screws, bolts, boxed powder, and fuses littered its surface. To his left was a stack of grenades, and at his hands was another, partially-constructed explosive.
He returned to his work. “I am.”
“May I ask where?”
“Is this about that Ackland fellow?”
He paused. “Yes.”
“Then I’m coming with you.”
He stopped. “No, you are not.”
Her expression became serious. She did not like such blunt answers. “Don’t you remember, all those months ago? I said that I’d help you find this man, wherever he might go. I intend on keeping that promise.”
“It wasn’t a promise, Niain. Besides, you already have helped me. Without you, I’d probably dead at the hands of that demon.”
“I’m still coming.”
He leaned back in his chair. “Niain, I may not return from this endeavor. In fact, I’m willing to bet that I’ll die out there, on the cold plains of Draenor. You are the leader of our Circle, and you are needed here. Don’t bring the guild down with me.”
For the first time since Sigmar had met the night elf, she faltered. She knew that he was right, and Sigmar could tell that she did not like being out-worded. Silence overcame the workshop in the Dwarven District.
They stared at each other for a long time before Niain broke the gate. “Fine. I will stay. But if you don’t come back, I’m going to at least make an attempt at a rescue.”
Sigmar went back to the grenade. “That is acceptable.”
Niain stood and shook her head, and made as if to leave. Before she exited, though, she turned around. “Don’t die out there, Sigmar. You are a valuable member of the Circle. You’d be missed by many, including me.”
He only nodded.
He finished the grenade, and set to work on another.