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The tall, forbidding palace perched atop the very edge of the mountainous cliff, overlooking so precariously the vast, black body of water below that it appeared almost ready to plummet into the latter's dark depths. When first the vast, walled edifice had been constructed, using magic that melded both stone and forest into a single, cohesive form, it had been a wonder to touch the heart of any who saw it. Its towers were trees strengthened by rock, with jutting spires and high, open windows. The walls were volcanic stone raised up, then bound tightly by draping vines and giant roots. The main palace at the center had originally been created by the mystical binding of more than a hundred giant, ancient trees. Bent in together, they had formed the skeleton of the rounded center, over which the stone and vines had been set.
A wonder to touch the hearts of all when first it had been built, now it touched the fears of some. An unsettling aura enshrouded it, one heightened this stormy night. The few who peered at the ancient edifice now quickly averted their gaze.
Those who looked instead to the waters below it found no peace, either. The ebony lake was now in violent, unnatural turmoil. Churning waves as high as the palace rose and fell in the distance, crashing with a roar. Lightning played over its vast body, lightning gold, crimson, or the green of decay. Thunder rumbled like a thousand dragons and those who lived around its shores huddled close, uncertain as to what sort of storm might be unleashed.
On the walls surrounding the palace, ominous guards in forest-green armor and wielding lances and swords glared warily about. They watched not only beyond the walls for foolish trespassers, but on occasion surreptitiously glanced within...particularly at the main tower, where they sensed unpredictable energies at play.
And in that high tower, in a stone chamber sealed from the sight of those outside, tall, narrow figures in iridescent robes of turquoise, embroidered with stylized, silver images of nature, bent over a six-sided pattern written into the floor. At the center of the pattern, symbols in a language archaic even to the wielders flared with lives of their own.
Glittering, silver eyes with no pupils stared out from under the hoods as the night elves muttered the spell. Their dark, violet skin grew covered in sweat as the magic within the pattern amplified. All but one looked weary, ready to succumb to exhaustion. That one, overseeing the casting, watched the process not with silver orbs like the rest, but rather false black ones with streaks of ruby running horizontal along the centers. But despite the false eyes, he noted every detail, every inflection by the others. His long, narrow face, narrow even for an elf, wore an expression of hunger and anticipation as he silently drove them on.
One other watched all of this, drinking in every word and gesture. Seated on a luxurious chair of ivory and leather, her rich, silver hair framing her perfect features and the silken gown as golden as her eyes doing the same for her exquisite form, she was every inch the vision of a queen. She leaned back against the chair, sipping wine from a golden goblet. Her jeweled bracelets tinkled as her hand moved and the ruby in the tiara she wore glistened in the light of the sorcerous energies the others had summoned.
Now and then her gaze shifted ever so slightly to study the dark-eyed figure, her full lips pursing in something approaching suspicion. Yet, when once he suddenly glanced her way, as if sensing her observation, all suspicion vanished, replaced by a languid smile.
The chanting continued.
The black lake churned madly.
There had been a war and it had ended.
So, Krasus knew, history would eventually record what had happened. Almost lost in that recording would be the countless personal lives destroyed, the lands ravaged, and the near-destruction of the entire mortal world.
Even the memories of dragons are fleeting under such circumstances, the pale, gray-robed figure conceded to himself. He understood that very well, for although to most eyes he resembled a lanky, almost elven figure with hawklike features, silvering hair, and three long scars traveling down his right cheek, he was much more than that. To most, he was known as a wizard, but to a select few he was called Korialstrasz a name only a dragon would wear.
Krasus had been born a dragon, a majestic red one, the youngest of the great Alexstrasza's consorts. She, the Aspect of Life, was his dearest companion...yet once again he dragged himself away from her to study the plights and futures of the short-lived races.
In the hidden, rock-hewn abode he had chosen for his new sanctum, Krasus looked over the world of Azeroth. The gleaming emerald crystal enabled him to see whatever land, whatever individual, he desired.
And everywhere that the dragon mage looked, he saw devastation.
It seemed as if it had only been a few years ago when the grotesque, green-skinned behemoths called orcs, who had invaded the world from beyond, were defeated. With their remaining numbers kept in encampments, Krasus had believed the world ready for peace. Yet, that peace had been short-lived. The Alliance the human-led coalition that had been the forefront of the resistance had immediately begun to crumble, its members vying for power over one another. Part of that had been the fault of dragons or the one dragon, Deathwing but much had simply been the greed and desire of humans, dwarves, and elves.
Yet, even that would have passed with little concern if not for the coming of the Burning Legion.
Today, Krasus surveyed distant Kalimdor, located on the far side of the sea. Even now, areas of it resembled a land after a terrible volcanic eruption. No life, no semblance of civilization, remained in those areas. It had not been any natural force, however, that had rent the land so. The Burning Legion had left nothing in its wake but death.
The fiery demons had come from a place beyond reality. Magic was what they sought, magic they devoured. Attacking in conjunction with their monstrous pawns, the Undead Scourge, they had thought to lay waste to the world. Yet, they had not counted on the most unlikely alliance of all...
The orcs, once also their puppets, had turned on them. They had joined the humans, elves, dwarves, and dragons to decimate the demonic warriors and ghoulish beasts and push the remnants back into the hellish beyond. Thousands had perished, but the alternative...
The dragon mage snorted. In truth, there had been no alternative.
Krasus waved long, tapering fingers over the orb, summoning a vision of the orcs. The view blurred momentarily, then revealed a mountainous, rocky area further inland. A harsh land, but one still full of life and capable of supporting the new colonists.
Already, several stone structures had risen in the main settlement, where the Warchief and one of the heroes of the war, Thrall, ruled. The high, rounded edifice that served as his quarters was crude by the standards of any other race, but orcs had a propensity toward basics. Extravagance to an orc was having a permanent place to live at all. They had been nomads or prisoners for so long that the concept of "home" had been all but lost.
Several of the massive, greenish figures tilled a field. Watching the tusked, brutish-looking workers, Krasus marveled at the concept of orc farmers. Thrall, however, was a highly unusual orc and he had readily grasped the ideas that would return stability to his people.
Stability was something the entire world needed badly. With another wave of his hand, the dragon mage dismissed Kalimdor, summoning now a much closer location the once proud capital of his favored Dalaran. Ruled by the wizards of the Kirin Tor, the prime wielders of magic, it had been at the forefront of the Alliance's battle against the Burning Legion in Lordaeron and one of the first and most prized targets of the demons in turn.
Dalaran lay half in ruins. The once-proud spires had been all but shattered. The great libraries burned. Countless generations of knowledge had been lost...and with them countless lives. Even the council had suffered badly. Several of those Krasus had counted as friends or at least respected colleagues had been slain. The leadership was in disarray and he knew that he would have to step in to lend a hand. Dalaran needed to speak with one voice, if only to keep what remained of the splintered Alliance intact.
Yet, despite the turmoil and tribulations still ahead, the dragon did have hope. The problems of the world were surmountable ones. No more fear of orcs, no more fear of demons. Azeroth would struggle, but in the end, Krasus not only thought it would survive, he fully believed it would thrive.
He dismissed the emerald crystal and rose. The Dragon Queen, his beloved Alexstrasza, would be awaiting him. She suspected his desire to return to help the mortal world and, of all dragons, she most understood. He would transform to his true self, bid her farewell for a time and depart before regrets held him back.
His sanctum he had chosen not only for its seclusion, but also for its massiveness. Stepping from the smaller chamber, Krasus entered a toothy cavern whose heights readily matched the now lost towers of Dalaran. An army could have bivouacked in the cavern and not filled it.
Just the right size for a dragon.
Krasus stretched his arms...and as he did, his tapering fingers lengthened further, becoming taloned. His back arched and from near the shoulders erupted twin growths that quickly transformed into fledgling wings. His long features stretched, turning reptilian.
Throughout all these lesser changes, Krasus's form expanded. He became four, five, even ten times the size of a man and continued to grow. Any semblance to a human or elf quickly faded.
From wizard, Krasus became Korialstrasz, dragon.
But in the very midst of the transformation a desperate voice suddenly filled his head.
He faltered, all but reverting to his wizardly form. Krasus blinked, then stared around the huge chamber as if seeking the source of the cry there.
Nothing. The dragon mage waited and waited, but the call did not repeat.
Shrugging it off to his own uncertainties, he commenced again with the transformation
And again, the desperate voice cried Korialstra...
rThis time...he recognized it. Immediately, he responded in kind. I hear you! What is it you need of me?
There was no response, but Krasus sensed the desperation remaining. Focusing, he tried to reach out, establish a link with the one who so badly needed his aid the one who should have needed no aid from any creature.
I am here! the dragon mage demanded. Sense me! Give me some indication of what is wrong!
He felt the barest touch in return, a faint hinting of some distress. Krasus concentrated every iota of his thoughts into the meager link, hoping...hoping...
The overpowering presence of a dragon whose magic dwarfed his own a thousandfold sent Krasus staggering. A sensation of centuries, of great age, engulfed him. Krasus felt as if Time itself now surrounded him in all its terrible majesty.
Not Time...not quite...but he who was the Aspect of Time.
The Dragon of the Ages...Nozdormu.
There were only four great dragons, four Great Aspects, of which his beloved Alexstrasza was Life. Mad Malygos was Magic and ethereal Ysera influenced Dreams. They, along with brooding Nozdormu, represented creation itself.
Krasus grimaced. In truth, there had been five Aspects. The fifth had once been called Neltharion...the Earth Warder. But long ago, in a time even Krasus could not recall clearly, Neltharion had betrayed his fellows. The Earth Warder had turned on them and in the process had garnered a new, more appropriate title.
Deathwing. The Destroyer.
The very thought of Deathwing stirred Krasus from his astonishment. He absently touched the three scars on his cheek. Had Deathwing returned to plague the world again? Was that why the great Nozdormu would show such distress?
I hear you! Krasus mentally called back, now more than ever fearful of the reason for the call. I hear you! Is it is it the Destroyer?
But in response, he was once again buffeted by an overwhelming series of astonishing images. The images burnt themselves into his head, making it impossible for Krasus to ever forget any.
In either form, Krasus, however adaptable and capable, was no match for the unbridled power of an Aspect. The force of the other dragon's mental might flung him back against the nearest wall, where the mage collapsed.
It took several minutes for Krasus to push himself up from the floor and even then his head spun. Fragmented thoughts not his own assailed his senses. It was all he could do for a time just to remain conscious.
Slowly, though, things stabilized enough for him to realize the scope of all that had just happened. Nozdormu, Lord of Time, had been desperately crying out for aid...his aid. He had turned specifically to the lesser dragon, not one of his compatriots.
But anything that would so distress an Aspect could only be a monumental threat to the rest of Azeroth. Why then choose a lone red dragon and not Alexstrasza or Ysera?
He tried once more to reach the great dragon, but his efforts only made his head swim again. Steadying himself, Krasus tried to decide what to do instead. One image in particular constantly demanded his attention, the image of a snow-swept mountain area in Kalimdor. Whatever Nozdormu had sought to explain to him had to do with that desolate region.
Krasus would have to investigate it, but he would need capable assistance, someone who could adapt readily. While Krasus prided himself on his own ability to adapt well, his species was, for the most part, obstinate and set in its ways. He needed someone who would listen, but who could also react instantly as unfolding events required. No, for such unpredictable effort, only one creature would serve. A human.
In particular, a human named Rhonin.
And in Kalimdor, on the steppes of the wild country, a grizzled, aged orc leaned close over a smoky fire. Mumbling words whose origins lay on another, long-lost world, the moss-green figure tossed some leaves upon the fire, increasing the already thick smoke. Fumes filled his humble wood and earth hut.
The bald, elderly orc leaned over and inhaled. His weary brown eyes were veined and his skin hung in sacks. His teeth were yellow, chipped, and one of his tusks had been broken off years before. He could scarcely rise without aid and when he walked, he did so stooped and slow.
Yet, even the hardiest warrior paid him fealty as shaman.
A bit of bone dust, a touch of tannar berries...all part of a tried and true tradition resurrected among the orcs. Kalthar's father had taught him all even during the dark years of the Horde, just as Kalthar's grandsire had taught his father before that.
And now, for the first time, the withered shaman found himself hoping he had been taught well.
Voices murmured in his head, the spirits of the world that the orcs now called home. Normally, they whispered little things, life things, but now they murmured anxiously, warning...warning...
But of what? He had to know more.
Kalthar reached into a pouch at his waist, removing three dried, black leaves. They were almost all of what remained from a single plant brought with him from the orcs' ancient world. Kalthar had been warned not to use them unless he deemed it truly necessary. His father had never used them, nor his grandfather.
The shaman tossed them into the flames.
Instantly the smoke turned a thick, swirling blue. Not black, but blue. The orc's brow furrowed at this change of color, then he leaned forward again and inhaled as much as possible.
The world transformed, and with it the orc. He had become a bird, a huge avian soaring over the landscape. He flew over mountains without a care. With his eyes he saw the tiniest animals, the most distant rivers. A sense of exhilaration not felt since his youth almost overwhelmed Kalthar, but he fought it. To give in would risk him losing his sense of self. He might fly forever as a bird, never knowing what he had once been.
Even as he thought that, Kalthar suddenly noted a wrongness in the nature of the world, possibly the reason for the voices' concern. Something was that should not be. He veered in the direction that felt correct, growing more anxious as he drew nearer.
And just within the deepest part of the mountain range, the shaman discovered the source of his anxiety.
His learned mind knew that he envisioned a concept, not the actual thing. To Kalthar, it appeared as a water funnel yet one that swallowed and disgorged simultaneously. But what emerged or sank into its depths were days and nights, months and years. The funnel seemed to be eating and emitting time itself.
The notion so staggered the shaman that he did not notice until almost too late that the funnel now sought to draw him in as well.
Immediately, Kalthar strained to free himself. He flapped his wings, pushed with his muscles. His mind reached out to his physical form, tugging hard at the gossamer link tying body to soul and trying to break the trance.
Still the funnel drew him forward.
In desperation, Kalthar called upon the spirit guides, prayed to them to strengthen him. They came as he knew they would, but at first they seemed to act too slow. The funnel filled his view, seemed ready to engulf him
The world abruptly twisted around the shaman. The funnel, the mountains...everything turned about and about.
With a gasp, Kalthar awoke.
Exhausted beyond his years, he barely kept himself from falling face first into the fire. The voices that constantly murmured had faded away. The orc sat on the floor of his hut, trying to reassure himself that, yes, he now existed whole in the mortal world. The spirit guides had saved him, albeit barely in time.
But with that happy reassurance came the reminder of what he had witnessed in his vision...and what it meant.
"I must tell Thrall..." he muttered, forcing weary, aged legs up. "I must tell him quick...else we lose our home...our world...again..."
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