Nazjatar was meant to be a prison.
It was also wet, cold, full of dangerous creatures, and most importantly, it was constantly at risk of being completely wiped out by a massive wall of water. There was no reason that any person in their right mind would ever want to be stuck in this place, much less willingly travel here. It would be, at best, a suicide mission.
Yet, when Jaina Proudmoore managed to force open a portal to Stormwind, there were no shortage of soldiers that volunteered to join the fight in this watery land. I was not surprised to see Iliera march through with the very first wave of reinforcements. She stood tall, but I could see that her armor fit uncomfortably, and she was clearly still wrapped with bandages on her arms and legs.
I didn’t push or argue with her, as I knew it would be a waste of time.
Twice now, Evanor had endangered those of us who had worked and lived with her.
There was no avoiding it now. We had bad blood.
So, instead of fighting Iliera’s choice, I thanked her for coming.
She wasn’t alone, either. Syanna, the void elf mage, the warlock Ailynmarie, as well as a handful of others from our old Academy, all arrived to help with fresh supplies, warm greetings, and a drive to see the ill deeds of Lady Evanor and her Queen put to an end.
“So,” Iliera asked, hoisting her weapon and looking around. “Which way is she?”
I smiled, then pointed to the southern edge of the area. “She’s in the Eternal Palace.”
“When do we march?”
“Hold your horses,” I said. “Right now we’ve been trying to maintain a presence in the area without provoking the Queen. We know she’s got a plan, and we want to know what it is beore we just charge in there.”
“I see,” Iliera grumbled.
“Syanna,” I called. “Did you do what I asked?”
“Sure did,” Syanna replied, pulling a carefully wrapped item from a leather bag and bringing it over. “One overly powerful wand, as requested. The Kirin Tor weren’t too happy to see it go, but they decided not to stop me.”
“What is this?” Iliera asked, looking shocked. “Is that the wand?”
I nodded, unwrapping it and holding it gently. The Kirin Tor had warned that it might still be anchored to the past. Iliera was ordered not to touch it at any cost, or the wand might activate again. I wasn’t sure why I wanted to have it, but something about facing Evanor again made me feel like it would be good to have… even if it was just to break it over her head.
“Alright,” I said, quickly returning the wand to its bag and then pointing toward the Alliance outpost where most of the forces were gathering. “The officer is presenting soon on our next military options. We’ll want to hear it.”
The main Alliance camp was positioned within an old Kaldorei town. The town had been mostly destroyed sometime during a global catastrophe that had wiped out their entire ancient empire. The town had sat at the bottom of the ocean for eons, and now the remains were filled with Alliance soldiers, some of them night elf descendants of those that had lived within these ancient ruins in ages past.
We gathered in one of the large stone archways, likely the main opening of a building long lost to decay. The Alliance officer was already reading his reports by the time we got settled in, and he had just reached the part that was most important to them.
“In regards to the human traitor named Evanor Stots,” he said aloud. “We know the suspect made it to Azshara’s palace. She was escorted there by a naga sorceress named Pashmar. That naga is a real fanatic, and she works closely with Azshara. Whatever Evanor got herself wrapped up in, it goes all the way to the top of the chain. As some of you know, this news means what we all feared. Evanor is out of our reach until we assault the Eternal Palace.”
“I don’t understand,” Iliera spoke up. “Evanor is not being pursued?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “Iliera…”
“What say you Officer?” Iliera said, her voice louder.
The officer, to his credit, looked sympathetic as he turned to Iliera. “Her position with the palace is unknown, and we are confident that nothing less than a full-scale assault will allow us to breach the inner-sanctum. Once inside, with so many forces together and so little time, we must prioritize Queen Azshara as our chief target.”
Iliera seemed to realize that she had forced this exchange in front of dozens of soldiers, and many of them had little interest in Evanor’s whereabouts. She composed herself, thanked the officer, and then retreated behind the archway. Our group followed her and the officer, likely thankful to see us go, continued his presentation.
“This is foolhardy,” Iliera said when I was close enough to hear her aggravated whispers.
“This is how it goes,” I answered. “We fortify, we consolidate, then we attack.”
“Will you see it through?” she pressed. “In the midst of the attack, when the Alliance lays waste to the palace, as you and I know we will, will you be willing to stab at Evanor’s heart without having the time to question her?”
“I didn’t think so,” Iliera grumbled. “Sionis. If we wait to find her, it will be too late to have a chat about the situation. The path Evanor chose led her to this place. Whatever the reasons, whatever the justification… she’s here now. She stands with our enemy, and we must see justice done.”
“When the time comes, she will,” I said, feeling my face flush. “I understand your anger, Iliera, and I promise you, when the chips are down, Evanor will meet with justice, but I can’t pretend that I won’t be confused about this… that I won’t have questions about it.”
“What too, will you do when the Queen realizes she has lost this war and uses her magic to bring the walls of water down on us? Will you search the drowned palace for Evanor, or will you escape with us?”
“Azshara brought us here for a reason, that much is obvious,” I countered. “She knows we will assault the palace, and despite our forces growing stronger, she has made no move to stop us. There is more at play here, I admit that.”
“Then let us force her hand,” Iliera said firmly. “We assault the palace and trigger whatever trap she has in waiting for us.”
“I can’t do that, and neither can you. Lady Proudmoore and King Greymane are in charge of the military operations here. They want scouts, not soldiers. So, are you up for that task, or should we find a place to sit and rest until the full assault is ready to begin?”
Iliera weighed her options, looking at me, clearly deciding if I would break.
“Fine,” she said at last. “I will scout with you.”
A short time later, the party was on their way.
Fynn remained at the outpost. His time here had been spent healing wounds and providing protective magical spells that could keep others alive out on the battlefield. The paladin seemed weary of his task sometimes, but with Iliera and the others arriving, his resolve had been strengthened. Iliera was pleased to see him as well, that much was clear, and Sionis appreciated the bond that the two now shared, as teacher and student. In many ways, Fynn had become Iliera’s apprentice, and despite the human having been a paladin all his life, it was clear that his skill with the Light had increased exponentially under her tutelage.
When we had parted, Fynn gifted Iliera with one last blessing, and it had put a bounce in her step, as she had more power that helped deafen the pain of her physical energies while she traveled in these lands.
The mission we had been assigned was simple enough. We were to scout the palace entryways and figure out the best approach for the Alliance forces once the full assault began. It was Lady Proudmoore’s opinion that the Queen would intentionally leave them an opening, some way to entice them to attack.
It was clear that Queen Azshara was playing with us, but it was less obvious what she wanted us to do now that we were here. An attack on the palace would be deadly, and with the Horde forces gathering elsewhere in Nazjatar, it was likely that the naga forces would be overwhelmed sooner than later.
So what was the goal?
Did Azshara want us to defeat her?
I had been contemplating this for our entire trek to the southern edge of the area. When we reached the last rocky cropping before the pathway led to the Eternal Palace, we took up some elevated positions to get a better look. We were still a good ways away, but thankfully a gnomish engineer had supplied us with a pair of glasses that could zoom in on far targets, like a scope on one of those dwarf firearms.
Iliera was the first to use them, and after messing around for a good ten minutes, she finally seemed to get it figured out, and soon enough she was scouring the palace for any signs that might improve our odds of success.”
“The security looks light,” she announced from her perch.
“Of course it does,” Syanna grumbled from the back. “It’s clear Azshara wants us to attack. Why else are any of us here?!”
“The real question is why?” I asked aloud, finally letting my internal thoughts be free. “We know she’s up to something, but what does she gain from us charging in there and attacking her forces? There has to be a key element here that we’re missing.”
“What did Evanor study in the Kirin Tor?”
“Titan architecture,” I replied.
“Do you think that might be why she was brought here?”
“I doubt Evanor’s knowledge of titan energy is impressive compared to the ancient queen of the Highborne elves,” Ailynmarie suggested.
“Okay, so why is she in there?” Syanna asked. “What good is she doing?”
“She found a use for Ashvane,” Iliera reminded Syanna, still peering through the special glasses. “Evanor is no different. The Queen must have a use for her, even if we don’t see it.”
“It’s us,” I said, the realization settling in the pit of my stomach. “Lady Evanor was being used to draw us in. Iliera, look how many of us showed up here. All champions of Azeroth, heroes of our capitals… saviors of dying worlds… all here right now because we’re chasing Lady Evanor. The Queen is using her to get to us.”
“So she’s bait,” Syanna said. “Okay. So, what happens once we get in the palace?”
I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. The naga had kept the eternal palace locked down since our arrival here. No one had gotten in or out, and it seemed unlikely that any one person would ever be able to manage it. The Alliance officer was right. Only a full assault would work against the Queen’s forces, but something terrible would be waiting for them inside, he was certain.
“Regardless,” Iliera interrupted his thoughts. “The western gate is almost completely defenseless, as well as the eastern gate. Honestly, only the northern entrance, the main entrance, seems heavily guarded. She’s definitely inviting us in.”
“Well, let’s keep an eye out overnight. We can report back tomorrow and see if others corroborate. If she really is inviting us… I assume we’ll have to accept the invitation.”
The night’s survey brought the same results.
The palace guards rotated regularly, and they seemed dedicated to their posts, but the eastern and western gates had only four guards, while the northern gate had over two dozen in various positions. The discrepancy was absurd, and it was clear to any and all observers that this was an open invitation to the interior of the palace.
As we rode back to the outpost, I couldn’t help but wonder, again, what the Queen possibly had to gain from all of this. It seemed so strange to want to lure powerful enemies within your hallowed halls.
With Queen Azshara, nothing made sense at first glance.
I knew there was something more, but I was missing it.
When we reached the Alliance outpost, I was starving. I wandered over to the nearby food merchants with a wild craving for shrimp. I hadn’t eaten a shrimp in ages, and something about those little animals, all cooked and covered in butter… I had to have it.
The merchant threw some on a small stone plate and handed it to me without so much as a greeting. I tossed a few coins their way and started to take my first bite when I heard the familiar voice of Fynn.
I turned to see the paladin charging at me. He looked out of breath, and he was carrying what had to be one of the largest tomes I had ever seen. I barely offered the young man a greeting when the book was suddenly shoved in my face, causing me to drop my precious shrimp on the ground.
“This is it,” Fynn was saying, still gulping down air as he spoke. I called in some favors with old friends, historical people, about the fall of Dalaran. There were a few survivors that escaped Dalaran in the early morning hours, before the city fell, and some of them gave accounts of what they saw unfolding. That’s where I found it.”
“Found what?” I asked, still searching for one of the shrimp.
“One of the Loremasters recalled a woman matching Evanor’s description. She had barricaded herself on a balcony. The Loremaster noted she had a wand and appeared to be frantically weaving a spell. He assumed, at the time, it was some kind of defensive spell to help protect the city.”
“I’ve heard this before,” I said, giving up my search. “Most Kirin Tor assume that it was Lady Sonea. That’s the official account of how she died. She defended the city to the bitter end from her balcony high in the tower.”
“Except we know the truth,” Fynn said. “She was weaving the anchor spell for the magical portal that would get her to our time.”
“Fynn, I’m not following. I know all of this.”
“Did you know that the Loremaster later said he saw a white lightning bolt strike the balcony where the woman had been standing?”
“Yes, it was assumed to be a Legion attack. Likely, we know now that it was the portal connecting with the future.”
“Right. The energy dissipated, the Loremaster ran, all is well, right?”
“Well, in a followup interview with another Loremaster, the same individual noted that they saw a second white lightning flash, and they realized it had happened in the same place as the first one. He had never seen, or after that in his life saw, an attack from the Legion that resembled that flash of lightning.”
I hadn’t heard about this second interview, nor would it have mattered… until now.
“A second flash?” I asked, just to verify.
“That’s right,” Fynn said. “You see what I’m seeing, right?”
My mind wandered to the possibility, to the warning the Kirin Tor had issued, and my eyes moved to my pack, where my wand was still safely wrapped away.
“We can just send her back,” Fynn said. “Better yet… we already know we do send her back. That’s why the Loremaster saw two flashes of light. The anchor is still there, in the past, waiting for us to open our end.”
“The energy required to do that nearly killed Iliera,” I said.
“I’m not arguing with facts,” Fynn said. “We use the wand on her. I know it.”
“I can’t ask Iliera to touch the wand again,” I said.
“You might not have to,” Ailynmarie said, stepping out from behind Fynn as she spoke. I was surprised to see her, and wondered how long she’d been there. As if hearing my thoughts, she smiled at me. “Long enough.”
“The wand is tied to Iliera,” I explained. “It won’t anchor to anyone else.”
“It’s not that smart,” Ailynmarie countered. “It needs Iliera’s life force to establish a connection to her powerful energy, but nothing more. Think of it like a magical missive. It may be enchanted to only open with your presence, but once it’s opened, anyone can read it.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“I’m just pointing out that a skilled warlock could easily create a small crystal shard brimming with Iliera’s life energy, or at least enough of it to trick the wand’s enchantment. Once it starts, whoever holds the wand goes through the same painful process that Iliera experienced.”
“Would Iliera even offer up her life energy like that?” I asked.
“Already did,” the warlock responded, holding up a glowing pink crystal shard.
“So, the crystal in one hand, the wand in the other… portal opens up?”
“That person becomes the anchor. If they have enough power, like Iliera did, the portal will open. If they don’t… they’ll likely be ripped to shreds on a microscopic level… total destruction.”
It was at that moment I made my decision.
“Okay,” I said. “This is a good plan. We should do it. We find Evanor, we open the portal, and we send her back to Dalaran. She can face the destiny she tried to escape, and we can get on with stopping Queen Azshara.”
Fynn and Ailynmarie seemed happy enough.
Of course, that wasn’t the real plan. I couldn’t risk anyone else trying to stop Evanor. She was my problem. She was my friend… my lost ally. I was the one that would have to put her down. The others would be safe. They would fight on against the Queen.
My story would end with Evanor.
I gripped the shard of life energy that Ailyn had given me and promised Iliera that much.
It would be over soon.