Fate and Chance
- - by Sigmar
I should have passed this way long ago…
The feeling was odd, to say the least. First, there was a wave of extreme heat, followed by one of bitter cold. Then, Sigmar felt as if he was suspended in nothingness, floating, without weight. This feeling lasted only brief moments, however, as another wave of heat washed over the paladin and his feet landed on solid ground. He shook his head, found his bearings, and looked up.
The sight that greeted Sigmar was extremely difficult for him to describe. The proper term in a proper land may have been “Red, as far as the eye could see,” but that was not true here, for the earth ended abruptly to the south (was it south?) in what seemed to be a sharp drop into blackness. Floating chunks of rock, clay-red in color, were scattered about at all altitudes and in all formations and sizes. The far-off landscape held tall mountains and flat plains alike, and the ground was littered with bones, boulders, ash, and wreckage.
Sigmar surveyed the alien scene for a few more moments before he became aware of a soft crackling to his back. The paladin turned and gazed up at the Outland’s own Dark Portal. It seemed even more dark and foreboding on this damned world…
A shape fell lightly through the Portal’s shimmering surface, which was followed by another shape, then another. The forms of Sigmar’s allies stood slowly, collecting their wits and gazing outwards in awe. They, too, were bewildered by the remnants of Draenor. Soon, more than fifty members of the Alliance and Horde stood on the Dark Portal’s stone platform, exchanging whispers and comments.
He gazed outwards again. Dark energies permeated the air, the stone, the land itself. Sigmar felt safe within his own immediate area; his presence seemed to drive away the shadow. Safe, but confined.
Hopefully, it would remain that way.
Jarrick Mason’s eyes found Sigmar, and he walked towards the paladin.
“Unbelievable. I’d never imagined in all my years that I’d see such a sight…”
Sigmar responded with only a nod. He should have seen the sight years ago with the Expedition itself, but the meeting with Khadgar had changed all that…
The conversation suddenly died off. Sigmar broke from his musings and took a quick look in every direction, but saw nothing nothing. What was…
And then, he heard it. The sound was like a thousand marching feet, accompanied with unearthly voices and groans. Sigmar slung his shield over one shoulder, chained his mace to his belt, and drew his two-handed war hammer. He turned towards the Dark Portal’s steps in time to see a horde of demonic beings swarming from below.
Sigmar wearily brought his weapon over one shoulder. Motioning to his comrades-in-arms, he yelled, “Do not let them past! Not one! They will regret their decision to invade our world!”
The crowd roared in defiance, readying themselves. Yelling a battle cry, Sigmar broke into a run, leading a charge that was determined to stop the demons in their tracks.
* * * * *
A final holy word ended the prayer. Sigmar finished healing the last of the wounds the Orc had taken. The greenskin nodded in thanks and heaved his form up, heading towards the rest of his Horde comrades.
Sigmar wiped the sweat from his bald head while gazing over the carnage. Though the demonic advance had been stopped, the price was not settling: many of the Azerothians had taken wounds, and at least a dozen lay dead. Still, the enemy wave had not reached the Portal. Whatever it takes… Sigmar thought.
The paladin began to make another round to check for more wounded, but a soldier waving at him caught his eye. He made his way towards the soldier.
“Sir Vaughan, there is someone here who wishes to speak with you.” The man turned and gestured towards the far end of the stone platform. There, a body of men stood that Sigmar did not recognize. He thanked the guard and made his way towards them, noting that they seemed very out of place. Their armor looked quite worn and discolored: tinted brown by the dusts of the land, and each held faded seals of the Alliance… the old Alliance, between the human nations, dwarves, and high elves in the Second War. As he approached, he also noticed the expressions that the men wore. They talked amongst themselves and seemed extremely happy. Too happy, to be on this hellish otherworld.
A dwarf emerged from the group and walked boldly up to Sigmar. He had a grey beard that reached to his belt, and his hair was much disheveled. When the two met, he looked over Sigmar cautiously, as if he was unsure about the paladin. Then, he spit on the ground, stuck out a hand, and spoke. “Bragg Morziv, lieutenant,” he introduced himself with a heavy Dwarfish accent.
Sigmar accepted the hand, puzzled, as he was sure he knew every Alliance member that had passed through the Portal. “Sir Sigmar Vaughan, captain, retired.” They broke the handshake. “Was there a reason you needed to speak with me, Lieutenant?”
Bragg looked puzzled, “Yer kiddin’, aren’t yeh?”
Sigmar shook his head, “I’m afraid not. I’d like to know what you need, though.”
Bragg’s lined face hardened as their eyes locked. He studied Sigmar again for several more seconds. “Yeh were sent for us. To bring us home. Can’t yeh see the men are ecstatic?” The dwarf motioned to his soldiers.
“Bring you home? Lieutenant, what’s this all about? We only just arrived.”
“Aye, but we did nae. We’re the Expedition.”
At that moment, it seemed as if every function of Sigmar’s being froze. “Who... what?” was all he could manage.
“Th’ Expedition. Yeh know, after we beat the greenskins? Second War? Are yeh daft, or do yeh nae know yer history?”
Sigmar forgot entirely that the dwarf was there. With wide eyes, he walked slowly to the top of the platform’s stairs. Bragg and the soldiers looked at him oddly. Gazing in the distance, Sigmar saw what looked like the ruins of an Alliance camp, and it all came full circle.
Alive. Not dead. They’re alive. Alive. All this time, I thought them gone forever…
He stood there, staring into nothingness. After a while, he sagged to his knees and managed to choke out one word, “Alive…”
Then, for the first time in years, Sigmar wept, and with the tears out flowed all of the grief and anguish and guilt that had built up for two decades. A massive weight lifted from his whole body, and when he looked up again, everything seemed brighter, more optimistic. It was suddenly a new dawn, one that would bear the fruits of the future.
* * * * *
Honor Hold wasn’t much to look at. In many ways, it reminded Sigmar of Netherguard Keep, with its worn gray walls and crumbling ramparts. Despite its poor upkeep, however, it was still a formidable stronghold, guarded over by vigilant soldiers and magical arrays.
Danath Trollbane knelt in prayer when the Alliance forces arrived, but it took some explaining as to why the Horde was there as well. Sigmar watched from the doorway of Danath’s command room as the Stormwind ambassador brought word from Highlord Bolvar Fordragon, and then proceeded to recount Azeroth’s history for the past twenty-odd years. Danath sat in silence until the end, whereupon he informed the ambassador of his willingness to cease any hostilities with the Horde.
The commander of the Sons of Lothar then began to recount the Expedition’s history, the arrival of the naaru, and the recent activity concerning Illidan and his lieutenants. Though his story was much shorter than the ambassador’s, by the end, the collective mood in the room had noticeably declined. It was now clear that the conflict with the Burning Legion was far from over, and that Illidan was now another primary and deadly foe.
There was some good news. Kurdran Wildhammer was apparently to the far south at a forward outpost, while Khadgar was in a naaru city called Shattrath, collaborating with its inhabitants. As for Turalyon and Alleria, little was known, but it was presumed that both were alive.
At the mention of Khadgar, however, Sigmar’s joy in finding his comrades alive faded. He knew he would have to make a journey to speak with the archmage and ask him the meaning of his words. So far, the paladin did not see any reason for why Khadgar had him stay behind on Azeroth in the first place.
After finding old friends again and celebrating their reunion, Sigmar informed them of his intent on traveling to Shattrath. He took very little and set out across the blasted fields of Hellfire Peninsula.
The journey took the better part of a day… or, what Sigmar perceived to be a day. Draenor mimicked the Blasted Lands in that one could never truly tell what time it was. Sigmar thanked the Light that he managed to avoid confrontations with the natives, who were probably not all that friendly.
The forests of Terokkar and architecture of Shattrath were welcome changes from the rest of Draenor’s shattered existence. Shattrath itself was highly organic, completely green, and very peaceful. From the moment Sigmar entered the city, he could feel the presence of the Light and knew this to be a possible stronghold against the Burning Legion. Sigmar walked through the Terrace of Light, marveling at the designs of the naaru and gaining growing respect for these beings which he had never seen.
But there was still one thing to be done.
He found Khadgar in a small structure in the east of the city, sitting at a desk and reading a tome. The walls were lined with bookshelves, all full of scrolls and tomes. The man looked old, very old, from his long, white beard. A stereotypical wizardry setting. As Sigmar swept aside the door covering and approached slowly, Khadgar spoke without turning.
“Greetings to you, Sigmar Vaughan.”
Sigmar stopped, more surprised that the mage remembered his name than the fact that he knew he was there.
“You know me.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Oh yes, I know you. I have not forgotten our conversation. Not a single word of it.” This time, the old man stood and turned, chin high, looking down at the paladin. Khadgar took a few slow steps in his direction. He smiled. “I believe I said to you, ‘I know not why, but the winds of magic decree that you will not go to Draenor, and that you will not join this expedition. The world holds another purpose for you, Sigmar Vaughan. Your destiny is not here.’”
Slightly bewildered, Sigmar could only stare. After a few moments, though, he broke from his wonder. He is a wizard, after all. Why am I so surprised?
“Because you do not place yourself at the top of any list to be remembered. That is why.”
“Telepathic as well. I should have expected so of such a powerful individual.” Sigmar set his war hammer against the wall and bowed deeply. “An honor to speak with you once again, Archmage Khadgar.”
Khadgar bowed back. “It is who should be honored, Sir Vaughan. You’ve seen more of war than I ever will.” He moved around Sigmar and walked briskly towards the door, summoning his staff with a mere gesture. “Come. We have things to discuss.”
The pair made their way back to the Terrace of Light and mingled with its inhabitants. Apparently, Khadgar’s presence was rather normal by now, as none seemed to notice his presence. They walked.
“’I know not why…’ That is what I said, hrm. That is what I said.” Khadgar shook his head and smiled again. “I didn’t know why, Sir Vaughan, not then. Even back then, if I could not discern the meaning behind a person’s destiny, then something was amiss, or something was large on the horizon. In your case, paladin, it is the latter. And those words that I spoke are the reason for your being here.”
Sigmar nodded. “Aye, they are. I do not wish to demean your… ability to predict events, but I have yet to discover why I remained behind.”
“Well, can you tell me why you are here?”
“Here. On Draenor. On this dead world.”
“I am here because Azeroth is threatened once again. The Burning Legion invaded my… our… world through the Dark Portal. The Alliance decided that it would be best if we took the fight to them.”
“Hrm, that is one reason. But that is their reason, your leaders’ reason. Why are you here?” He flicked his staff a mere centimeter towards Sigmar; the movement left a trail of magical essence floating in the air.
Sigmar thought for a few moments. He knew the answer. “Revenge.”
“A man. Ackland. Josef Ackland.”
“For what reason?”
“He killed my brother, Alaric.”
Khadgar nodded slowly. “I see.” He closed his eyes, despite the fact that they were still walking. He avoided the crowd but still seemed to be deep in concentration. It was a few minutes before he opened them again, but this time, he shook his head.
“I still cannot fully perceive what lies ahead for you, but I can give you a path. A guideline, if you will.” Khadgar stopped, and Sigmar with him. “Travel north. You will know when you have arrived.”
The paladin furrowed his brow, “And?”
“And… that is all I can tell you. I apologize, but your future is very clouded, Vaughan. Even I, a wizard of some power, do not know why, but it is important. You must go.”
“Will I find Ackland?”
“I do not know.”
He sighed and looked away. His journey would continue, it seemed. When he looked back, Khadgar was gone. In his place was a small moth, fluttering in midair.
A voice spoke in his head, We will not meet again, at least not under these circumstances. Perhaps when your issue has been resolved, Sir Sigmar Vaughan, we shall.
Sigmar understood that, somehow, Khadgar had become the moth. Where are you going? It seemed like a childish question.
Up. It’s one of the few places where I can find some peace to think. And with that, the moth fluttered skywards and out of sight.
And so Sigmar went north.
* * * * *
In the back of his mind, Sigmar wished he had Caelius with him, but he did not want to risk his warsteed to the hazardous environment of Outland. The beast had served him too well to die in this forsaken place, and so he left him at Honor Hold.
The peaks of the Blade’s Edge Mountains towered in the sky with no clouds to mask their true height. The effect caused disorientation whenever Sigmar looked up. However, the sight of the heavens was magnificent: with no proper atmosphere, thousands of stars of all colors shone brightly down upon Draenor. The brief moments of vertigo were worth the view.
The paladin lifted his right shoulder to realign his backpack, filled with survival goods and several weeks’ worth of rations. His travels from Shattrath had taken nearly thirteen days so far, and Sigmar had no idea if he was any closer to his objective. His only guides were his intuition and an occasion urge to travel this way or that way.
He thought of what he left behind. It wasn’t much. The Circle of the Bloodraven, the Church of the Light, and the Alliance military. In all likelihood, Niain was cursing Sigmar for leaving without informing anyone. The armed forces couldn’t really do much on his return, as he was officially a retired veteran of the Lordaeron army. The Church may have a few things to say, though, perhaps in the form of a loss of title. No matter. What lay ahead was more important than any position he held.
It was not just about killing Ackland anymore. It was about discovering this ‘fate’ that Khadgar had told Sigmar of. If it was that important, then Sigmar would go to any length to fulfill it.
His musings almost caused him to trip over a pile of dirt. After staggering for a few feet, the paladin turned to see that what he had stumbled upon was not a pile of dirt at all, but a pile of clothing.
He made his way back to the pile and knelt, sifting through it. It was red, scarlet red, and consisted of a Scarlet Crusade tabard, cowl, and pouch.
Gingerly, Sigmar removed the pouch from underneath the rest of the garments and opened it. Within, there were only a few papers of minute importance and several blasphemous tomes. Nothing interesting... except for that trinket at the bottom.
Sigmar pulled out the trinket and examined it. It was small, two inches by one inch, and made of wood. On one side, there were four square indentations, and on the other, four square pegs that seemed as if they could fit into the indentations. It took Sigmar only a few moments to recognize it.
He owned an identical one, stashed with his few personal belongings in the Stormwind Cathedral. His brother had one when he was alive, too.
Ackland had looted Alaric’s body.
The idea infuriated him, and he snatched up the pouch, flinging it into a nearby ravine with a roar.
Then, after a few seconds of venting, he felt oddly at peace. Perhaps it was because he now had a token with which to remember Alaric. More likely, though, it was probably because this was what Khadgar had meant when he said, “travel north”.
Or was it? Should he continue forward? Logic dictated yes, but his inner feelings said no. He no longer had any sort of drive to move onwards. He only came to a decision after several minutes of thinking.
And so, Sigmar turned and trudged slowly southwards.