- - by Sigmar
The twisted blades threatened to cut Sigmar into pieces. He parried one with his hammer and grabbed the wrist of another attacker, sending it off balance. The goblin screeched as his wrist was broken and his rusty sword sent scattering.
Sigmar pushed away the second attacker and swung his hammer around, smashing its weighted end into the goblin’s side. It went flying, quite literally, into a nearby crevasse.
The first goblin scrambled on all fours with fear in its eyes. Sigmar would not let it get away so easily. He muttered words, conjuring holy energy into his hand, which took the shape of a hammer. The paladin threw the summoned weapon at the fleeing goblin, catching it square in the back in an explosion of yellow light and finally finishing it off. It lay still.
They’re like mites. Hardly worth any effort.
Regardless of what Sigmar tried to tell himself, the frequency of attacks was wearing him down. But he was almost there, almost to the northern edge of the Blade’s Edge Mountains. Once there, though, he had little idea of what to look for.
And so the paladin marched forwards. More attacks came, but he fended them off without injury. Most of them were goblins, but occasionally they had a felorc or two that would give Sigmar a fight. Either way, the Light always prevailed in the end.
Minutes turned into hours, which turned into what felt like a day. The mountain edge grew closer but always seemed so far.
And then, Sigmar suddenly found himself along a solid wall of rock. He was here.
But which way to go? He had to find the pyyr, and find Ackland, and he had no sense of any direction.
He decided to trust in his instincts and the Light and go east.
Onward he went, passing numerous caves, but none of them drawing his attention, none of them showing any signs of demonic activity or Ackland’s mark. Another day passed. The Light gave Sigmar the strength and fortitude to travel without sleep, but eventually, he would become weary. He prayed that he would find whatever he was looking for before then.
Then, Sigmar noticed that the air about him was becoming darker quite fast. He continued in his direction, and his visibility was cut from limitless to a few miles to only a few hundred feet. There was no smoke in the air, nor ash, nor mist, but for some reason, he just couldn’t see that well.
And then he found it. A cave entrance, very, very small. It was only large enough to accommodate two men entering side by side, but some feeling told Sigmar that this was it.
The path only became narrower and darker, until it was pitch black and Sigmar had to feel his way through the tunnel. Soon, the light started to come back, and ahead there were strangely-shaped torches along the walls. Sigmar stopped to inspect one. It held runes of similar design to the one on the stone. This was undoubtedly the place.
The path widened. He walked, then stopped and listened.
There were sounds of battle ahead.
He continued cautiously, the path ever widening until it opened suddenly into a massive cavern. It must have been a good hundred by hundred feet and had a ceiling that was impossible to measure. In the center was a strange altar of some sort, and upon the altar lay the decomposed body of… something. There was a spear stuck in its chest.
But the sounds of exchanging spells took place on the opposite side of the altar. Sigmar slowly rounded the construction until he got a better view.
Josef Ackland fought a red-tinted orc. The bodies of other orcs lay about. Both of the combatants’s eyes blazed with red light, and both wielded dark energy. They threw shadow bolts at one another, occasionally moving in close for melee combat.
Sigmar watched as Ackland summoned another bolt of shadow magic and sent it forward. The former Scarlet then charged, keeping his staff to his right and stabbing with it at the last moment. The orc, focused on dodging the bolt, took the attack in the ribs and roared. It tried to backfist Ackland, but he ducked the swing and smashed the orc’s jaw with his weapon. For such a small man to be able to fight one-on-one with an orc… he had to be infused with magic.
Thus, when Ackland swept the orc’s legs from under him, drew a dagger, and stabbed the orc in the heart, Sigmar took the opportunity and ran forward. He slammed into Josef from behind and sent the warlock to the ground. Sigmar attempted to keep him down, but the man spoke demonic words, and a sphere of black magic extended from his body, sending Sigmar crashing into the altar.
When Ackland saw that his new attacker was not an orc, but a human, a human that he recognized, he paused. His look of confusion was replaced by one of anger. “Vaughan! You don’t know what you meddle in!” he roared.
The paladin stood. “No. You do not, Josef Ackland. To play with dark magic is inviting death.” He charged again.
Ackland had gained strength since the fight at the Portal, for he warded off the blow and expertly used his weapon to hit the back of Sigmar’s knee. Sigmar stumbled forward but quickly regained his balance in time to see Ackland firing another bolt of magic in his direction. He used his hammer to absorb the bolt; it stung his fingers.
The paladin held an outstretched hand and called upon the Light. A flare of Holy energy encompassed Ackland for a few brief moments, and the man yelled in pain.
Physical attacks were exchanged. Sigmar was already weary from his trek, but despite Ackland’s magic, the warlock was becoming wearier, faster. He barely parried another swing from Sigmar’s hammer, and had to take another to his stomach. Ackland grunted, but laughed. An unseen force pushed Sigmar several yards away, where Ackland had time to begin another spell. Before Sigmar could react, the spell was completed, and Sigmar flew back to the other side of the cavern.
“Leave now, Vaughan! Leave! My work must be finished!”
“Damn your work,” Sigmar managed weakly.
Ackland let out a guffaw. “Can’t you tell? It already is.”
Sigmar stood slowly. Out of sight from Ackland, he unclipped a grenade from his belt. The engineer pulled the pin, counted a few seconds, and hurled it in the direction of his foe.
Ackland watched it with an odd expression, as if he didn’t know what it was. Only when it landed to his rear did his eyes widen and he ran in the opposite direction.
The bang was amplified by the confines of the cavern. Almost immediately, rocks begin to crumble from one wall, and then from the ceiling. Sigmar prayed that he would be safe where he was. Ackland only stood there in shock.
A particularly large boulder came loose. It fell down the wall, heading straight for Ackland. The man dodged it.
But he didn’t dodge the second.
Sigmar watched events unfold, a feeling of righteousness coming to him when he saw the man crushed.
Once the avalanche stopped, thankfully without bringing down the entire cavern, he walked to Ackland’s position.
He was still alive, amazingly, under the rock. Ackland’s breathing was ragged. He would die soon. His eyes looked up to the paladin standing over him.
“You fool, Vaughan. You are such a fool…”
“I believe that honor goes to you, Josef. Retribution is always dealt to those who mess with things they should not.”
“In that case, no, the honor is yours…” Ackland’s eyes rolled up into his head briefly. They came back. “I had hoped to stop it… but you followers of the Light are always so blind. You didn’t see what was really occurring, did you?”
“I saw your plan. You wanted the pyyr for yourself. You took the stone from my brother. I don’t know why he had it, and I don’t know why you wanted it, other than to track down the pyyr, but neither can be good reasons.”
Ackland coughed up blood. “You are incorrect on the former, correct on the latter. I needed it for a perfectly good reason.”
Sigmar knew these were the ramblings of a madman, but his curiosity got the better of him. “Then tell me.”
“I suppose I have to… you’re the only one left to stop it.” He coughed up more blood, and gestured to Sigmar’s belt. The paladin took his hip flask and set it within reach of the warlock. Ackland took a sip. “You already know about the pyyr. Do you know what it is?”
Sigmar shook his head.
“A geology lesson for you, then. Pyyr is a material. It has the feel of stone but is forgeable like metal. It exists only on Draenor, and with the destruction of this world, it is an extremely rare substance. Extremely rare, and incalculably valuable.
“Why is it?”
“I’m getting there. Pyyr is so valuable because it is very… agreeable… with magic. It can be enchanted with ease, and there are virtually no limits on how powerful an enchant can be placed upon it. But, as I said, it is rare. There are so precious few pieces of pyyr weaponry and armor in the entire universe. Oh, you do not understand? That enchantability makes it ideal for weapons and armor, because it is also a tremendously hard substance. Harder than diamond, many say, but as light as a feather. The perfect material with which to make tools of war.
“And you wanted it for yourself.”
“No! I wanted it because the Burning Legion wanted it! I was the only person who understood the meaning of that stone, which is also pyyr by the way, and I was the only person who could recover the material.”
“So pyyr is very valuable and powerful, and the inscriptions were directions to a stash of pyyr. How much is located here?
“Not much. Enough to make a weapon, perhaps a few pieces of armor,” Ackland coughed again, and took another drink.
“Then why is it so imperative that it be recovered? One weapon cannot be so important.”
“That is where you are wrong, my dear Vaughan. Let me give you an example. Do you know,” he paused, “the story of the Ashbringer?”
The name sent chills down Sigmar’s spine. Of course he knew of the Ashbringer. The sword of the Light, the blade of Retribution, the weapon that burned legions of undead Scourge without it ever being drawn. It was a work of legend, and far more powerful than anything else Sigmar knew of.
Ackland wasn’t suggesting that…
“I can see by your reaction that you do. Now, here’s the bit of information that will truly allow you to see the truth. What if I told you… that the Ashbringer was forged from pyyr?”
“Blasphemous lies. The Ashbringer was forged from pure Light, and handed down from the heavens itself to be made by mortal hands.”
Ackland laughed but turned to a fit of coughing. The chest of his gray robe was darkened by all the blood. “Misguided fool, always believing what the Church says without a question.”
Sigmar was about to correct him, and cite his own doctrines, but he bit his tongue.
“No, the Ashbringer is not made of pure Light. How could it have been corrupted, then? It was made from pyyr which had been touched by the Light, and so it absorbed those energies and became as close to pure light as an inanimate object can be. Remember how I said pyyr was easily enchanted?”
Suddenly, Sigmar understood. A weapon of such power, crafted from pyyr, but touched by darkness… by the gods, that would be unthinkable. A twin of the Ashbringer, but a tool of the Burning Legion. The original Ashbringer had lost much of its power when it was corrupted. An Ashbringer forged to be corrupted from the beginning would be far more powerful.
The past few months came crashing down. All this time, he had hunted Ackland, believing him to be a truly evil person. Perhaps he still was. But in the end, Ackland was simply trying to preserve the world, and fight the Legion. His use of shadow magic was a tool to find the pyyr, and his killing of Alaric, though extreme, was somewhat necessary.
“I see now,” the paladin whispered.
“Then you must recover the pyyr.”
“But first… if you could remove this rock, so I can die with some dignity.”
Sigmar nodded again, and managed to heave the boulder out of the way. Ackland made no move to attack Sigmar.
Ackland retched. “Go.”
There were no more orcs. Within Sigmar’s mind, there were no more thoughts, save one. I must find the pyyr.
He traveled down into the depths of the earth. The air became unbearably hot. In the distance, he heard a hissing noise that sounded like the rising of steam. It took him only a few additional minutes do discover the source.
Sigmar entered a forgeroom. The room was somewhat large, but not quite as large as the previous cavern. It held shelves of books, racks of weaponry and armor, several forges, anvils, hammers, and all other tools needed for a blacksmith. There was no one in sight…
Except… wait… was that movement over there? Sigmar rounded a bookshelf, and saw a figure. He was human, by his look, and about Sigmar’s height. He was simply standing there, running a hand over one of the many black anvils of the forge.
The man turned and grinned at Sigmar.
It was his brother.
“No…” Sigmar managed weakly.
“Oh yes. Hello again, Sigmar. It’s been many years.” Alaric’s voice was calm. He looked young, probably in his thirties. His dark brown hair was cut to just above his shoulders, as was his short beard.
Sigmar sagged to his knees. “Alaric… no… you’re dead.”
“Am I? I’m standing right here, before you. Do I look so dead to your eyes?” Alaric held up his arms. “This is my forge, as you can see. Quite adequate for anyone’s smithing needs.”
Alaric frowned. “Yes, you’re right. Alaric is dead. I’m not truly Alaric. Rather, I’m part of him. The… enlightened side of him. The side of him that came out when he discovered the stone.”
Sigmar was in some sort of trance. “Why?”
“Why did I have such a piece of evil? It was not Alaric’s fault, really. It was mine. When he recovered it from that Forsaken, I took over. Alaric died long before his body was slain by that insane man, Josef Ackland. I’m the Legion’s pawn,” he grinned, “and so are you.”
It was several seconds before Sigmar snapped out of it. “What?”
“The Legion. They’ve been guiding you; can’t you see it, Sigmar? They guided that Forsaken, and they guided me, and they guided Ackland, and now they’ve guided you. You’re the end of a very, very long chain, my brother. The Burning Legion has been planning this for a long time.”
“Planning… planning this new weapon?”
Alaric smiled in triumph. “Yes. As soon as the Ashbringer was originally forged, they set this in motion to combat it. I don’t know who it started with, but it all comes to you. We’re their pawns, their minions, their game pieces. They’ve used us. Of course, it doesn’t bother me one bit.”
He turned around and picked up something large from behind the anvil. He turned back. It was a massive obsidian blade, grey in color. He held it in one hand clumsily. To bear the weight of such a weapon in one hand, though, was still a feat.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? I finished it some time ago. Well, almost finished. All it needs is something in your possession.”
Sigmar was unable to control his actions. He reached into his side pouch and produced the trinket. He opened it and used one fingernail to pop out the stone.
Alaric smiled and pointed to a rectangular slot in the weapon’s hilt. A perfect fit.
“Bring it to me, Sigmar. Let us finish what they started.”
Sigmar stood, but took no further action. “N… no.”
“Bring it here, Sigmar. Otherwise, your brother’s death will have been in vain.”
The paladin fought the urge. His body trembled, attempting to move both forward and backwards at the same time. His eyes shut tight, his muscles tensed. Finally, he yelled out.
Alaric growled and leapt in the air, bringing the blade down in an arc.
Sigmar moved to one side and retrieved his hammer. The blade came around again, and it was blocked by the hammer’s handle.
Alaric spat out, “I don’t want to kill you, but I will.”
“In that case, there is still some of my brother left in you.” He switched hands on his weapon. “I will not be the Legion’s slave.”
Alaric attacked again and again. The blows put chips into the handle of Sigmar’s weapon. It was only through the grace of the Light that it did not crack into pieces.
Sigmar swung his weapon around and smashed into Alaric’s chin. The other’s head tilted to an inhuman angle, then returned to position. The blade came again.
The paladin was forced to give ground. A bookshelf fell over, spilling tomes everywhere. Sigmar dodged a particularly strong attack that fell onto an anvil. It cleaved a straight line halfway through the solid metal object.
Sigmar’s attacks were useless against Alaric, who was definitely not human. His holy energies were seemingly absorbed by him as well. Nothing Sigmar could do was working. He even attempted to use a grenade, but the explosion only knocked out his own hearing temporarily.
“Either you will give me the pyyr stone and live, or I’ll take it from your dead body!”
“I choose the latter.”
Blows continued to be exchanged. Sigmar was losing all of his strength; even the Light could hardly help him now. Finally, the blunt end of Alaric’s weapon made contact with Sigmar. For the third time that day, he flew through the air and slammed into a solid object.
I can’t beat him… he’s not human. He’s not even a demon.
Sigmar had lost his hammer, and would probably never recover it. He only looked at Alaric and waited for the end.
His brother approached slowly, no expression on his face. He was five feet from Sigmar when the unexpected occurred.
Alaric howled in pain, spinning and grabbing Josef Ackland by the throat. Apparently, the warlock had managed to crawl his way to the forge and do… something that was effective. The back of Alaric’s shirt was burnt to a crisp, and the skin underneath charred black.
But, as soon as Alaric touched Ackland, the point of contact began to smoke. What was going on…?
On a hunch, the paladin retrieved the stone. He dragged himself over to Alaric, grabbed his head, and used it to slice across the man’s throat.
There was a gurgling noise. Black smoke poured from the wound.
Alaric fell over and simply… disappeared.
Sigmar and Ackland both crumpled to the ground.
There was silence for many minutes.
Finally, Sigmar managed to speak feebly. “Ackland?
The return voice was raspy, “Yes?”
“How did you manage that?”
“I don’t really know. I had to stop him in some way. Apparently, he wasn’t really a being of dark magic, just a conjuration of them. I don’t know why, but only shadow magic was harming him.” Ackland let out a hacking cough.
“Ackland, I can’t forgive you for killing my brother…”
“And you have damned yourself by embracing foul magic and slaughtering innocents.”
“But it was for a good cause. You are, inside, a good person. Perhaps misguided, perhaps insane. But a good person.”
“I hope so, Vaughan. I hope so…”
Sigmar began to pray, one of the first prayers he learned. Ackland joined in. The prayer was not long, and when they ended, Sigmar spoke again. “May the Light have mercy on you, Josef Ackland.”
Ackland nodded barely enough to notice. Then, his eyes widened. “The Light…” he whispered. He was dead.
Sigmar muttered another prayer and closed Ackland’s eyes.
Sigmar rolled over and sat up, leaning against another anvil. He drew Alaric’s blade closer, setting it across his lap. It was magnificent, perfectly balanced. The hilt was somewhat ornate, and the blade itself was flawless. He ran a hand over its smooth obsidian surface.
The paladin opened his right palm. The stone still remained within. He closed his palm and prayed in his mind. He prayed hard, prayed earnestly, seeking a solution.
When he opened his hand again, the stone was still there.
It was now a bright, mithril color.
Wordlessly, Sigmar took it between two fingers and placed it into the hilt of the blade.
White light enveloped all he saw.
* * * * *
Sigmar was floating… no, was he? Flying, maybe? He couldn’t tell. He was high up, somewhere. Clouds floated beneath him. A white-blue sky was above him. There was no sun.
He looked down. His body was not there, but he could still feel his arms and legs. What was going on? Where was he?
Was this The Light?
He felt as if he had control of his movements, and could fly, but he really wasn’t sure.
“Where am I…” the question sounded very childish.
“You are here,” a voice echoed from nowhere.
Sigmar paused. “Where?”
“Where is ‘here’?”
“Here is here.”
Sigmar glanced around. “Who are you?”
“Who are you?”
Sigmar didn’t like playing games, but he had no other real choice. “Why am I here?”
“You are here because of your actions.”
“Don’t you remember?”
He did remember. He had taken the stone, blessed by the Light, and placed it within the weapon.
“What does this have to do with the weapon?”
“The weapon… hrm. That weapon is the Ashbringer.”
“Yes, you’re right. It’s not the Ashbringer. Rather, it is what the Ashbringer should have been. This new blade is uncorruptable. Not as powerful as the original, but uncorruptable.”
“…why? Why me?”
“You are the last link in a very long chain.”
“That is what Alaric said. He said the Legion was using me… us…”
“That is what the shadow of Alaric thought. That is what the Legion thought. But they were both wrong. You were a servant of the Light the whole time, Sigmar.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Light was planning this, manipulating your actions and the actions of the Legion in order to create a new Ashbringer. The old one is almost beyond redemption, and thus a new one was made. You were chosen to wield it. As for ‘why you?’ Because you are one of the few who truly understands the Light. Many devoted followers do not leave room for interpretation of the Light’s doctrines, and they attempt to force it upon others. But you do not, Sigmar. You are pure. Or, at least as pure as a mortal can be. A human mortal.”
“So why am I here?”
“You were taken out of space-time so that you could be attuned to the new Ashbringer. It is a lengthy process.”
“How long will I be gone?”
“In Azeroth’s time, perhaps months, perhaps years. In your time… it will be decades.”
His heart slumped, but at the same time, rejoiced. He would certainly spend those decades here, if it meant being so close to the Light.
“Are you a naaru?”
“Are you The Light?”
“Unless I’m Elune. She’s the only true ‘god’ you know. The Light is more of a philosophy.”
“Then who are you?”
“Can’t you tell?”
“I am you.”