The next day, paladin spent all morning in thoughts. He did not want to report to the commander of the Fortress of Valor about the failure of their team to Ziggurat and the death of the priest. But there was nothing else to do. Although formally Bolingar has already lost the title of a paladin, but he has not yet forgotten what honor was.
The commander did not blame the paladin. He believed that Bolingar did everything possible to save the lives of his team. Perhaps, he was one of those people who believed that paladins were great heroes who could not commit impulsive acts, betray or fall into heresy. This stereotype often led to the death of recruits who, believing in the power of their holy commander, were eager for hard battles. And only there they understood that the light was not omnipotent, but that understanding came to them a second before death.
Paladin even tried to persuade the commander to send a detachment under his command there, but vainly. Bolingar himself saw that there weren’t enough troops anyway. There is frankly nobody to even send on patrol. Not to mention the crusades.
He understood the commander. He understood the situation. And he understood that this battle with a Nerubian played a fatal role in the life of their team. He was considered to be a commander, the main force in their group, but Caitlin was the real leader and strategist. And now she is missing. And Kurly… Bolingar hoped they all were able to find a different exit. But no one returned to the inn, neither that day nor the next. Paladin spent some time helping the commander of the Fortress to clean up nearby mines and track down cultists. But none of his team members ever returned. The owner of the inn was waiting for the first three days, but on the fourth he came to him with the desire to free the rooms of Kurley and Caitlin. It is understandable, it was not profitable for him to refuse new clients for the sake of those who are possibly…
With broken hopes, having lost faith in everything, paladin wandered off to collect things. He had no idea what to do now. Kurly’s room was empty. Not surprising. The dwarf traveled lightly, besides almost all of his belongings were on a horse. As for Caitlin… Bolingar hated the idea of rummaging through other people’s belongings, but he had to know what made her do this. After a thorough search of Caitlin’s backpack, which she left in her room in the inn, he did not find anything interesting, only useless junk: a flute that she had not learned how to play; the guitar that made them great company in the evenings by the fire; a bunch of feathers, which raised only more questions from the paladin; the claw of a huge sabertooth, who she personally killed while hunting and which she carried as a souvenir; other rubbish like cloth, bandages, potions and gemstones. Bolingar remembered that she wanted to enchant them, but did not have enough gold for this.
An amulet with a wolf’s head fell from the bottom of the backpack, drawing the attention of the paladin. Man picked it up. The artifact glowed dimly with energy, as if it was enchanted. But with what spell? And why had Caitlin never used it in front of them?
Bolingar continued to peer at the amulet, hoping that it would give him answers. But the medallion only dimly gleamed with the blue light.
Paladin was overwhelmed with memories again. He stood and saw how he was serving again at the forefront of the Silver Hand. Saw how the Order was almost completely destroyed by a Scourge. How his fellow paladins turned away from him and called him a coward and a traitor only because he did not agree to go to a certain death only in the name of Light. Unfortunately, Bolingar was right that time. The mission ended in tragedy. However, this did not bother anyone anymore. He received the news of the failed mission already being far away from the Order.
Being rejected and expelled from the Order, he wandered around the Eastern Kingdoms for a long time. There paladin met shooter Kurley.
They met Caitlin when they were fighting the undead near the Light’s Hope Chapel. It has been a long time since the great battle between the paladin Tirion and the death knight Darion Mograine.
Finding out that the Lich King specifically sent the knights to death, Mograine made an alliance with paladins, which was more of a non-aggression pact. As a result, the knights almost completely disappeared from the world map. And the Ebon Hold of Acherus was deserted. The undead, left without their master, became uncontrollable, and were to be destroyed.
However, after the loss of the paladin title, he was not concerned about such matters at all. Bolingar cast aside his memories and examined the amulet from all sides. Nothing. Man hoped that at least some message would be scratched on the back, but it was perfectly smooth.
Suddenly a thin palm touched his shoulder.
The paladin turned around. A draenei stood before him. She was wearing a long snow-white cloak, and a mantle was visible under it. The face was hidden under the hood. She rested one hand on the staff, mounted at the top with a huge purple crystal, around which rotated four smaller crystals.
— Who are you? How did you come in? And what do you want? — Bolingar tensed and immediately blamed himself for his carelessness, noticing the door to Kate’s room was open.
— I just wanted to help you, — the draenei said, clearly offended by such a question.
—Thank you, but I don’t need help, — paladin answered sharply. Why would he even trust her? — Although…
Suddenly, paladin realized that she could know what kind of magic was hidden in this amulet. After all, her outfit, shimmering with magical streams, and a strange stick with a crystal at the top made it clear that she was versed in magical art.
— Wait! — Bolingar called out to the draenei, who was about to leave him. — Forgive my rudeness. I really need the help of a mage, — Bolingar handed her a strange amulet with the head of a wolf.
The girl carefully took the amulet from the paladin’s hands and started to examine it.
— Hmm. Beautiful trinket. Wait a minute. What is it? — she noticed a strange glow. — What is this enchantment? Even I can create a much better enchantment ! — the mage was outraged.
— What kind of magic is in the amulet? — paladin asked.
— Either the spell is very ancient and has already partially lost its strength, or it was imposed by a not really talented enchanter. There are several magic streams. And they are all mutually exclusive. Such an enchantment simply cannot exist! The range of possible enchantments is too large. The only thing I can say is there are the flows of the nature magic, ice magic and dark magic. I am more and more inclined to believe that this is an ancient enchantment.
She fell silent, continuing to study the locket. Suddenly her hand squeezed him with all her strength, and the draenei’s eyes opened wide, emitting an unnaturally black light. A thick dark purple fog tumbled out of her eyes. The room got filled with black haze. With a sharp movement of his hand, the paladin grabbed the locket out of the mage’s hands. As soon as he pulled out the amulet, everything returned to how it was, the haze instantly evaporated, and the draenei regained consciousness.
— What happened? — asked Bolingar fearfully.
— Throw it away! Destroy! Burn! — the draenei shouted. — It’s dark magic, it blows with a grave cold, — she kept on. She was shivering.
The paladin was overwhelmed with panic and despair. What did Caitlin get into? And why she has an amulet filled with dark magic? And most importantly, what should he do now?
An awkward silence hung between them. Deciding to change the subject, the paladin asked:
— What is your name? — Bolingar wanted to know at least a little bit about the mage who had just helped him, even though it was a questionable help, since he had even more questions now than before.
— Lassara, — this time she looked around fearfully, as though someone assumed she was involved into some kind of necromancer cult.
— Bolingar, — he reported out of habit. — Now let me ask you something. — Why did you come to such a hostile and cold land?
— I was sent here from Dalaran for… — the draenei hesitated. — However, this is my personal business. I can’t talk about the tasks the Council of Mages assign me.
It sounded convincing. Dalaran loves to poke its nose in everything that happens on this godforsaken continent. It was their direct duty. Dalaran was the stronghold of the entire expansion into Northrend.
— I agree — Bolingar nodded to her, and the draenei, excusing herself, disappeared into the hall.
Paladin glanced out of the window. Evening drew nigh. According to his estimation, the next ship, on which it would be possible to sail, would arrive only in two days. Putting everything aside, he decided to go downstairs. But involuntarily froze next a window in the hall.
Usually, torches were lit throughout the Fortress of Valor in the evenings. The guards were occupying their posts, starting patrols, and the workers, having finished their shifts, were disappearing into inns, while some of them went fishing. Paladin was always questioning what was that attractive in this occupation during dark and cold evenings. But, there was nothing in this idyllic scenery that he could focus on. All that Bolingar usually was left to do was watching the sun going down. However, today he was not destined to enjoy his solitude.
— To whom belonged that locket? — the same draenei asked, approaching the paladin.
Bolingar took a deep breath. He took the locket out of his pocket again and squeezed it with strength.
— I found it when I was looking through Kate’s backpack. But I never saw her wearing it. But her betrayal, this mysterious medallion — all this is undoubtedly connected. But I don’t even know where to start the search. And Kurly, — Bolingar sighed heavily. — I let him down. I swore to myself that I would protect him while I was near. This is the second time I break my promise. What kind of a paladin I am after that?
— Kurly was not a dwarf, by chance? And Caitlin was a tall girl on a black horse? Right? — Lassara interfered. — Did you leave together in the morning a few days ago?
— Yes, that’s right. How do you know?
— I saw you that morning. Perhaps it’s my fault that everything turned out like this, because I could have warned you, — Lassara said sadly.
— How? What? Why are you… — paladin asked her, almost shaking her shoulders.
— There were magical currents coming from both of you. And here’s what’s interesting: a stream of light magic was coming from you. So you can say whatever you want about your unfulfilled debt, but the Light is still with you. But what about the girl: the same energy emanated from her as from the medallion. It was dark. — Lassara froze, as if returning into that morning. — Now I’m starting to see the picture more clearly. Your mission to a Ziggurat. She foresaw such a turn of events. And she was ready for such an outcome. — Lassara stayed silent for a moment. — It seems that this was part of her plan.
— What! Can not be! We went through a lot together, — Bolingar squeezed his mug of beer, refusing to believe in the words of the draenei. — Yes, she was strange. — She was the only mercenary who was not interested in gold. But for her to join the dark forces? After all that we survive? This cannot be … — suddenly Bolingar fell silent. — Although … A dark medallion, Kate’s dark aura, her betrayal. — And a Nerub! She had already met Nerub somewhere. He knows something about her! — paladin turned pale.
Actually, he knew about her. We killed him.
An awkward silence fell. They had no more information. Feeling that the silence took too long, paladin coughed.
— Thank you for your help. Can I offer you some dinner? — Bolingar felt that he should at least somehow thank her for her help.
Letting the girl forward, Bolingar himself went to the bartender and ordered pork ribs and a beer. Then he realized that he did not know what to order for a lady who was already waiting for him at one of the tables. At first, paladin thought of choosing one of Kate’s favorite dishes: a charcoal steak. But remembering that girl loved to burn meat completely to a crisp, he changed his mind immediately. Fortunately, there were salads and desserts on the menu.
Having paid the bartender, Bolingar carried dinner to the table. And only half way through he realized that he had forgotten to buy her a drink. Perhaps the wine would do.
Stepping closer, paladin was surprised. The table was already full, there was a variety of rolls, muffins, cookies and glasses filled with either milk or a milkshake, sparkling white and blue.
— I did not know what you usually eat, so I took a salad and dessert. Although as I see, you have already set the table, — the paladin muttered in confusion.
— No, thank you, — the draenei exclaimed and added:
— Although mana buns look delicious, I am so sick and tired of them. I don’t want to see them anymore. But maybe you will like it.
Paladin sat at the table and took a small pie. He was curious; he had never eaten mana buns before. But after a small bite, he understood why Lassara had such an opinion of them. Baked goods tasted like dry food, no, not even like dry food. Absolutely tasteless, not possible to even describe it. Paladin was curious if all mana pastries tasted like this, or only Lassara cooked so badly.
However, Bolingar tried not to let himself show that this was a tasteless stuff. Instead, he overpowered himself, ate a pie and started on normal meat. He did not take risks to drink a mana cocktail because there was a time-proven beer.
— You know, all the rooms for the night here are occupied. May I take the place of Caitlin? Lassara asked. — I have absolutely no place to sleep here.
— Of course, — paladin could not refuse her such with a trifle request, moreover, the innkeeper still demanded his former mates’ rooms to be vacated.
Memories flooded again on the paladin. He still hoped it was just a stupid coincidence and that Kate had survived and would explain it all was her crazy plan. This was stupid, but he was hoping. Hoping to the last.
This evening in the Fortress of Valor paladin spent in a pleasant company of draenei.
Another foggy morning. It seemed to Bolingar that a little bit more and he would learn how to distinguish local days by fog. On their first morning the fog was dense. All other days it was surprisingly translucent, as if it was guilty, literally scattering in a couple of hours. Now the fog was somewhat reminiscent of that impenetrable darkness of the first morning. But this smoke quickly cleared.
Bolingar was especially happy that a ship was due to arrive tomorrow. Tomorrow he will be able to sail away, run away again. He walked around the Fortress, trying to figure out what to do today. He was thinking of inviting Lassara, but she had already managed to escape on her business. Paladin walked along the wall, admiring the waves breaking on the walls. Maybe he should try fishing? But he did not want to spend money on a fishing rod and bait for the sake of one day. And he was not a fan of this activity.
Closer to dinner, after aimless wanderings, he went to the commander of the Fortress, deciding to ask for another mission, but it was too busy even without him there. Therefore, Bolingar returned to the inn and haven’t noticed how he dozed off.
The ringing of bells woke him up. Jumping out of bed, he did not realize straight away that it was Fortress of Valor’s alarm. Grabbing his hammer, Bolingar hurried away from the inn.
It was already starting to get dark. There were more soldiers than usual, and they all ran to the entrance of the Fortress, riflemans and archers were already standing on the walls.
Paladin started to have a bad feeling inside. He caught one of the squires by the shoulder, trying to figure out what was going on.
— The outpost of the Alliance was attacked. Scouts said that the undead army burned it and is heading right here now! — fear was visible in the eyes of the young soldier. — But you will help us to fight back, right?
Another naive young man who believes that a paladin is able to protect them from everything.
— Of course I will help. It’s my duty! — Bolingar decided not to dissuade him.
The army of darkness was already on the horizon: skeletons, ghouls, nerubs — everyone were there. Paladin started to doubt that the Fortress would stand. But they had no other choice. Bolingar felt trapped again, as if he had returned to that ill-fated day. He pushed away unpleasant thoughts from himself and looked at the undead army: there were no siege weapons. They had a chance to hold out until dawn.
Bolingar stood in the forefront of defense. The closer the undead approached, the brighter his hammer was glowing, filling the nearby soldiers with faith. Like an aura that will protect them.
It was getting dark. As if the army of the dead carried darkness and gloom with them.
— These lands belong to the Scourge, — he said in a dead voice. — Your fortress and all its inhabitants are sentenced to death. Your Light will not help you. But I will give you five minutes for your last prayers. So that you can see for yourself that the Light will not save you from death.
He did not have time to finish the speech. The first trebuchet volley demolished the thin necromancer. And a couple of ghouls who stood behind him.
— For the Alliance! I will show you the justice of the Light! — the captain, who launched the trebuchet, shouted.
A chilling horn sounded. Bolingar saw a dark tall silhouette that stood next to an undead army on a slope and was blowing this horrible bugle.
Suddenly, gargoyles appeared in the air. They flew into the fortress, knocking down the shooters on the walls and instantly tearing them apart. The rest of the undead rushed to the central aisle.
— No stepping back! — Bolingar shouted .
The battle has begun.
The paladin fought fiercely, killing skeletons and ghouls with one wave of the hammer. A nearby Nerub finished killing the soldier and rushed to the paladin. The undead quickly dodged the hammer, but could not deliver a blow powerful enough to penetrate the paladin’s plate armor.
Bolingar waved his hand, his fist in a plate shining with a dazzling light, disorienting the enemy. Nerub didn’t recover as the subsequent stroke of the hammer smashed his skull.
The first front was broken. The remaining forces, led by Bolingar, took refuge in the fortress, locking the gates. But they will not last long. Suddenly several soldiers fell from the walls, and paladin raised his head to see the commander of the Fortress fighting with the huge death knight. The enemy was one and a half times taller than him. The knight skillfully wielded his two-handed sword, the commander had no choice but to fight off attacks. As soon as he tried to counterattack, the knight knocked the blade out of his hand and pierced him through with his sword.
Having finished with the commander, a figure in armor jumped off the wall and disappeared in between the houses. Bolingar rushed to intercept the death knight. But it was too late. The undead broke the gate, and now the battle has moved to the fortress itself. Paladin looked at the sky. A few hours remained before dawn. They will not make it to the dawn. Bolingar continued to fight, as there was no other option. Although with every killed guard of the fortress his faith was fading away. The undead was setting fire to the houses. The roof of the inn was blazing like a lighthouse. Out of the corner of his eye, paladin noticed that the knight broke the door and walked in there. Bolingar rushed after him. Entering the inn, he looked around. Death and devastation reigned everywhere. Sound of battle were coming from the second floor. But while paladin was making his way there, it became too late. All three soldiers were dead. But most of all he was surprised by the knight himself. It was not a human, and it was digging into Kate’s backpack. As if it was looking for something particular in it. Suddenly a terrible, growling female voice sounded:
— Where’s the damn locket? — The knight turned to face Bolingar. — Give me the locket, paladin. — And I will save you your life and lives of the remaining soldiers.
Bolingar was in shock. It really was not a human, but a werewolf! Her growth, ominous grin and claws, along with armor, soaked in dark magic, caused horror.
The paladin grabbed a hammer tight in his hands.
— You were always an idiot, Bolingar. — Do you really think you can handle me? — the knight said.
The paladin swung his hammer, but his attack was countered, and it flew past the knight. Hitting the balcony railing, paladin barely got up, and then a flurry of blows immediately hit him. The knight was quickly strucking with a two-handed sword. Keeping in mind the commander’s mistake, Bolingar wasn’t even thinking about counterattacking. However, the knight acted differently. A clawed paw grabbed his throat and threw the paladin from the balcony to the ground.
While Bolingar was trying to get up, a draenei jumped up to him.
— Let’s leave, faster! I will open the portal, — Paladin wanted to object to her that he would not leave the soldiers.
But looking around, he realized: there is no one to save. And those who is still alive will soon be devoured by death.
Suddenly, paladin grabbed the mage’s hand.
— Medallion! Where is it!
— Calm down, I have it, I took to the laboratory to study, — Lassara took out a medallion on a chain and, holding the chain, showed it to paladin.
The conversation was interrupted with a rumbling of an armour. Knight jumped from the balcony and confidently started walking towards the mage.
— Open the portal! I’ll hold her back! — Paladin shouted.
This time he had a different battle plan with the knight. Instead of starting hand-to-hand combat, he waved a hammer, making an arc around himself. The hammer shone with flames. Paladin pointed a blazing hammer at the knight and uttered Еxorcism.
As if from afar, the bell rang. Exorcism smashed the death knight, knocking all the dark magic off him and depriving him of his strength. The werewolf howled and collapsed to the ground. With every attempt to get up, paladin was using exorcism again and again.
— I will not be able to do it for much longer — Bolingar shouted.
— I’m trying! — Lassara answered him.
— Enough! — the knight shouted, enveloping himself with an anti-magic shield.
Suddenly a deafening roar was heard from above the fortress.
The night lit up in flames. A blue dragon flew above the fortress, incinerating the entire fortress with all of the undead with magic fire. The death knight was completely consumed by the fire, but in a few moments she calmly came out of the flame. However, no trace was left of her anti-magic shield. She raised her blade and pointed it at the blue dragon.
— Azar! Kill this lizard! Immediately! — the knight commanded to the one of the skeleton-like nerubs.
— It’s ready! — the draenei shouted.
But then the knight rushed to her. Lassara disappeared for a second and appeared behind the knight. Her hands started to fill with cold, crackling with frost. With her next movement she abruptly spread her arms, and a frost nova formed around her, freezing all undead within fifteen meters. The knight’s paws froze to the ground. In response, knight waved a sword and sent a clot of dark magic in the form of a skull directly to Lassara. But she fought this attack off with a magic barrier.
The werewolf’s eyes burned with hatred from powerlessness. But there was nothing she could do.
However, before entering the portal, all three heard a deafening screech.
— Hassara! Back! — a cry of a nerub was heard. The paladin, the magician and the death knight raised their heads at the same time: the dragon started to fall right on them!
Knight glanced back at her frozen paws, then turned her gaze to the falling dragon.
— I’ll get you no matter where you are! — he knight growled, looking at Lassara.
Paladin, without thinking twice, grabbed the draenei by the hand and pulled her into the portal. As soon as Bolingar and Lassara were in the Mage Tower, the portal slammed shut.