For those of you who remember 2 years ago, I was working on a story called Window to Reality. I went back recently and found it, then decided to finish it. So, here it is, for anyone who is interested. Please forgive any literary license that I used due to not remembering exactly how Azeroth was 2 years ago (before BC). Also, I wrote this out quickly, and haven't thoroughly edited it, so there may be typos. Anyway, I hope you like it!
Previously on Window to Reality...
And now... to conclude...
Chapter 15: Facing the Elements
"What is it?" Tori asked breathlessly as I felt the strange pulling of my corpse. Or rather, the undead priest who, for the second time, had pulled me from death. Either our friend was really good with an orb of deception or the king had broken more than a couple of programs to get us this unlikely ally.
"It’s... a recipe. For a potion." Vrand replied as I sat down to eat and drink.
There was a moment of silence, then Brecki said, "But none of us are alchemists."
As if he could hear us, our undead friend had taken out the recipe and was studying it intently. With a flash, the scroll suddenly disappeared from his hands.
I laughed, "Apparently, we have the right connections."
"This is too weird." Vrand agreed.
* * *
"Speaking of connections," Tori mused later as we headed to Ratchet – one of the few places where we could meet up comfortably without excluding our unusual hordie companion. "Do we have any idea what part a potion is going to play in all this?"
"None," I shook my head. "And I haven’t figured out how to ask Nakutk what kind of mats we need to get for him. This language barrier is the pits."
"Maybe pictures will help." There was Brecki, being logical again. She pulled out a piece of parchment and placed it in the center of the table for us all to see. On the parchment, she drew 5 large circles. Inside one, she drew a flame, and then a scroll. After muttering about a lack of artistry skills, she made no attempt to draw a saddle and just drew a blacksmith’s hammer inside the scroll. In the next circle, she drew the symbol of a wave and then a narrow neck flask. The third circle received the symbol of a cloud and the fourth of a mountain. The fifth got a question mark.
"Air," I mused, thinking allowed. "The Hinterlands, maybe?"
No one else had any better suggestions, so Tori set off to explore the Hinterlands with Nakutk by her side – the only two among us who wouldn’t be one-shotted by the trolls who lived there. "Better them than me," I told Vrand later. "I’ve had enough of griffons to last me a lifetime. Those things are scary!"
Meanwhile, the rest of us split up to scour the many mountainous regions of Azeroth for the Earth Aspect.
And the sun set... on the fourth day.
"This is hopeless!" Vrand exclaimed the next afternoon with an unusual amount of impatience. We had met up in the garden district of Stormwind for a nice lunch whiel we regrouped and replanned. "We’ve checked every mountaintop and every mine. Every gnoll camp and Yeti cave. We’d need a shovel and enough time to dig up all of Azeroth in order to find this earth element!"
"Aspect," Tori corrected in a distracted tone. "Earth Aspect." I could tell that she was frustrated with her failures in the Hinterlands as well. As for Nakutk, he had logged off a day ago and we could only hope that he would return soon. His presence had become expected and even welcome.
"How do we know what it is?" Vrand retorted, and I could tell that our youngest member was near tears. "We’re completely in the dark here!"
This is where I would have stepped in to play mother hen, but Becki stopped me. "Vrand... you’re right." Something in her tone had us turning to stare at her as she leapt to her feet. "Let’s go!"
Grudgingly, we followed and after a few more harrowing griffon rides made our way from the lush green valley of Loch Modan into the bright red earth of the Badlands.
"Well... this is earth alright," Vrand mused, looking around. "Nothing but a vast barren landscape. Where do we start?"
"You said it yourself," Brecki replied with a smile. "We start with the elements – the elementals."
When the natural red earth of the Badlands turned brilliant with the light of the golden sunset that evening, we settled down to watch the view with a sense of satisfaction. We were dry, dirty, covered in dust, exhausted, and held what could only be the Aspect of Earth – a tailoring recipe for ‘Mageweave Saddle Bags’.
Chapter 16: Friends in High Places
It was Sunday morning and we were cutting it close. We had 2 days left to find 2 more ‘Aspects’ and the mats required to make them. No pressure.
"I’ve got most of the mageweave I need," Tori told us at breakfast at the Pig and Whistle Tavern. "And we got plenty of elemental earth off of the elementals."
"I’m going to need elemental fire," Brecki added, "Any suggestions where to find it?"
Therein lied our biggest hurdle – three of us were still too low to survive a moment in most of the areas.
"I’ll head to Searing Gorge and farm it for you," Tori offered as she headed out. "I can take care of the mats while you guys look for the last two Aspects."
Easier said than done. We had no idea where to find the Aspect of Air, and we didn’t even know WHAT the fifth Aspect was. We fell into a foreboding silence until our thoughts were interrupted by the last thing we could have expected. On her way through Ironforge on griffon-back, Tori caught a break.
"Hey! Guys! Nakutk’s back!" Came her voice over our headsets.
"It’s all over the Local Defense Channel. He’s trying to get into Ironforge!"
There was a silence and then I leapt up. "What are we waiting for? Let’s go!"
I didn’t even argue about getting on a griffon this time, and I only looked down at the massive red dragons once. When we landed, I hit the ground running, Whisper right at my heels and Vrand passing me in a flurry of yellow and black fur. When we got to the Ironforge gates, however, it was too late. A handful of dwarves and a night elf were dancing on the skeleton of what could only be our abused undead priest.
We were silent for a moment, then Brecki said, "I’ll wait here unless he comes back. You two head to the graveyard."
"Do horde and alliance use the same graveyard?" Vrand mused allowed, to which I replied, "We’re about to find out."
It turns out, they do. At least in Dun Morogh. We found Nakutk at the graveyard outside of Karanos, still flagged and surrounded by a dark aura of death. Yeah, I know. An undead with an aura of death. Ironic, huh?
When Nakutk saw us, he became very excited and, oblivious of his still weak state, he began quickly motioning for Vrand and I to follow him. At first, when Nakutk headed back in the direction of Ironforge, I tried to impress upon him the stupidity of returning to the great iron gates, but he shrugged me off and kept moving. He moved past the narrow pass up the mountain and instead took another road that I had never noticed. In fact, it wasn’t even really a road, but a barely recognizable patch of climbable ground up the mountain just east of Ironforge. I say climbable, but it was hard work, and my legs were jelly by the time we stopped to rest on a mountain peak.
And then I completely forgot about my weakness.
It was amazing. Stunning. Like standing on top of Mount St. Helens in high winter. The air was thin enough to keep you mildly lightheaded and the view... Oh. Em. Gee. To our left we could see the towers of Ironforge as if they had been carved out of the mountain itself. Straight ahead, the mountain dropped off abruptly into the Menethil Harbor, so far below us that clouds hid part of the city from view. And to our right...
"No, way..." I laughed. "Look! Vrand!" A small trail led from our peak down a slight slope to a wide, worn road just a hundred yards away. Along one side of the dirt road were several parked airplanes and a handful of gnomes scurried amongst them, tinkering with their masterpieces. On the other side of the road, two large griffons sat in their nests, heads tucked under their wing as they slept, and a single gruff dwarf watched over them.
"Way, cool!" Vrand exclaimed and I nodded.
We had found the Ironforge Airport.
Chapter 17: The Aspect of Spirit
Vrand and I made our way down the path to the outdoor airport while Nakutk stayed behind – no doubt hesitant about facing death again at the hands of the gruff dwarves and knee-biting gnomes that worked the runway. As we approached, all eyes turned towards us with looks varying from curiosity to suspicion to impatience. Two night elf women walking up a snowy mountain, alone. Yeah, I can see how that would be odd.
Yet, apparently the curiosity did not extend to socializing. Every person we walked up to – dwarf or gnome – turned away without saying a word and went back to their work. Getting the cold shoulder from fellow alliance members sent a shiver up my spine.
"Do you think they spotted Nakutk?" Vrand murmured, frowning.
I shook my head. "I don’t know." As we came to one end of the runway, we stopped to listen. We could hear the soft but distinct whistle of wind as he blew through the mountain passes. The sound was familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. It was like seeing a puzzle and knowing there was a piece missing, but not knowing if you were looking at the puzzle or the missing piece. It just didn’t fit.
"Hey – Whisper! Where are you going?" Vrand’s words interrupted my troubled thoughts and I turned. My cat had turned away was calmly padding down the opposite side of the runway. After exchanging puzzled glances, Vrand and I followed hurriedly after her. When we caught up, we found Whisper nose-to-nose with a large black nightsaber. The two sniffed each other, then Whisper began to purr and rub up against the other feline. I couldn’t help the blush that hit my cheeks. Great. My cat had found a boyfriend.
"Well, hello there." The voice caught me by surprise, causing me to look up. I hadn’t noticed the female dwarf that was standing next to the large black cat. I immediately recognized a fellow hunter and I smiled. "Um... hi."
"You’re cat looks like she could use some training," the dwarf commented.
Behind me, Vrand stiffened. "What’s that supposed to mean? She’s a great cat!"
But I giggled, "No, Vrand, she means pet training. It comes with being a hunter." I looked back to the dwarf. "What can you teach us?"
* * *
"Aspect of the Spirit?" Vrand asked later, frowning, as she and Nakutk and I began our trip back down the mountain. "Is that like your Aspect of the Cheetah or something?"
"No..." I shook my head. The mysterious pet ability had come with no explanation, though it had cost me a pretty penny to learn. "I think it must be our 5th Aspect."
"Water, Fire, Earth and Spirit..." Vrand beamed. "One more to go!"
Chapter 18: Pixel Dreams
Have you ever wondered whether video game characters dream? Well, let me tell you: they do. That night, I had my first subconscious trip through Azeroth.
It wasn’t much of a trip, really. In my dream, I was bound and blindfolded in a small hut. I could tell it was a hut from the muffled sounds that filtered in from outside and the stifling heat that reflected a lack of air movement. Despite the stuffiness of my confines, I could hear a distant wind blowing far off, sounding musical whistles, like a breeze through fluted windchimes on a back porch. Only bigger. Much. Bigger.
No sooner had I begun to take the sounds in than a pair of ice cold hands reached for my blindfold and pulled it away... and the dream faded away.
* * *
"The Thousand Needles!" I exclaimed, jerking to wakefulness. "That’s where the Air Aspect is!"
Brecki and Nakutk were already awake and preparing breakfast at a small fire. Both of them stopped and stared, blinking, at me. Nakutk couldn’t understand me, of course, but Brecki’s brows furrowed. "How do you know?"
"Trust me," I insisted and started reaching for some parchment and ink. We’d all taken the time earlier to stock up on the items from an engineering vendor a couple days earlier. Beckoning Nakutk over, I began to diagram, what we needed from him, while Brecki woke up the other girls.
"That leaves us with 1 day to get this last recipe – assuming that’s what it is – and the mats we need to make it," Tori said later, after Nakutk had left for the other continent. "Brecki and I finished the saddle and saddle bags and I managed to ask Nakutk about the potions. I think he said he was almost done with them."
"Fortunately, there are no mats needed for my Aspect of Spirit," I commented. "It’s just a pet ability." As we spoke, I was digging out food for my kitties. It’s a good thing Whisper seemed to had forgotten about her nightsaber friend. I certainly didn’t need a whole new litter of cats to take care of.
Nakutk was able to find the Aspect of Air fairly quickly and we spent the rest of the day farming the mats for the recipe – which turned out to be the reins of a great white griffon.
Yeah, you heard me right. A griffon. It almost made me want to STAY in Azeroth, just to avoid having to get on that thing. I guess, as the Aspect of Air, it made sense. Sort of. But I didn’t have to like it.
"That leaves one question," Brecki said at one point, "What do we do with all this stuff now that we have it?"
"Turn in the quest, I guess," Vrand said with a shrug.
I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and smiled. "And go home."
Chapter 19: The Epic Escort
Did we think that when we turned in the quest, the King of Stormwind would just open up a doorway and we’d get to walk back into our lives?
It sure would have been nice. But anyone who has played in the world of Azeroth for very long knows that an epic gathering quest will invariably lead to... another epic quest. And this one was no different.
The sun was a long way from rising at 3 AM on Tuesday morning when we stepped off the boat onto Theramore harbor, equipped with new flasks of invisibility, our reins, saddle and saddle bags, and 5 elixirs of travel that Nakutk had given us before he had logged out the night before.
Apparently, we needn’t have worried about the invisibility elixirs. At the precise moment that we set foot on the docks, the world suddenly went quiet. When I turned to glance at the two Therarmore guards who had been gossiping at one end of the pier, I noticed that they were gone. As were all the other guards... and the merchants, the quest givers and even the griffon trainer who usually stood by the fountain in the center of town. They were all... gone. The silence that descended upon us was absolute. Even the critters that usually scurried around the stone buildings were absent.
If anyone’s ever wondered what happens when Azeroth gets closed for Tuesday maintenance, I can now tell you. And it’s SPOOKY. Like the one time I landed in the middle of Darnasus and found the entire city empty of anything because I had been lagging so badly that my computer couldn’t load the rest of the city. Only this... this didn’t go away with time. This is what Azeroth looked like, sounded like, felt like, when you stripped away everything that gave it life.
Except us, that is.
We said very little on our way to the naga island, and what little we said was in whispers. It was like walking through a tomb, and none of us felt able to break the heavy silence that weighed in on us. When we did reach the island, we found it empty of nagas as well. And just as I began to wonder if our ‘quest giver’ would be as non-existent as the rest of the world, we were met at the cave by Kent Broadwen.
The King of Stormwind looked different. He still looked disheveled and unkempt, but he no longer wore the prestigious dark pants and tunic with the long silver embroidered cloak of a high end diplomat. Instead, he wore jeans and a T-shirt. At least, that’s what I think he was wearing, as I’d never seen such clothes represented in this particular world.
The programmer-turned-mob looked relieved to see us. "Do you have them?"
"Right here," Brecki showed him the items, and gave him one of the potions. "What now?"
"Now we have to get to the portal," Kent replied, offhandedly.
"Portal?" I asked, and felt my heart sink. I was seeing a nightmare and it was spelled E.S.C.O.R.T.
"Yes. It’s an ancient portal that was closed a long time ago. We’ll use it to get home."
"Where... is this portal?" Vrand asked, warily.
When Kent answered, there was a stunned silence.
Chapter 20: Homeward Bound
I don’t know if this was the longest escort quest ever created in the world of Azeroth, but it had to be close. Our destination was on the other continent, in an area none of us had ever seen before. Even Tori had avoided it in favor of more pleasant hunting grounds in her early fifties. It was the home of the historical Dark Portal – The Blasted Lands.
That said, this escort was probably the easiest as well as the longest. Because once again, we were traveling during Tuesday Maintenance. THERE WERE NO MOBS. The biggest danger we faced during our trip was that one of us would step on a branch and it would snap in the deep silence, giving us all heart attacks. We barely avoided that a couple times – the heart attack, that is.
We were also faced with a time constraint, something that Kent reminded us repeatedly. Not that his nagging made us move any faster. Without griffon riders to expedite our trip, we had to be creative. Instead of taking the boat from Theramore to Menethil, we hiked down to Ratchet and took the boat to booty bay, then worked our way up through Stranglethorn Vale to Darkshire. The spookiest part was definitely moving through the empty ghost towns. Talk about weird. Needless to say, we didn’t dally. Soon, we had reached Darkshire and were working our way through the Swamp of Sorrows towards the Blasted Lands.
When we reached the Blasted Lands, we were stunned to find the one thing none of us expected.
Vultures and boars and scorpions skittered across the dirt under the still-dark sky. The humanoids were gone, and the mine just behind the alliance keep was empty, but Kent wouldn’t let us dally long enough to check out the keep itself. Skirting the nasty looking beasts, we followed his lead down the road to the southeastern area of the region, where the various beasts turned into various demons.
"This doesn’t look good..." I shuddered. Those demons were big. And nasty. And scary. Did I mention scary?
"I think... we better use our invisibility elixirs now," Vrand suggested, and we all agreed. It still took some timing and patience – which we learned Kent had very little of – but somehow we made it past the barrier of demons without being detected, and we moved over a ledge into a humungous crater. Thankfully, the crater was empty of demons.
And far below us, in the very center of the crater, was a tall stone gateway. It was built of marble and stood almost 2 stories high. On either side it was held up by matching statues that stood over the arch itself. Three marble platforms sat atop each other, forming a set of steep stairs leading up to the gateway. To me, it exactly resembled what you would imagine a magical gateway or portal looking like, with one major detail – it didn’t go anywhere. Through empty space in the portal, I could clearly see the far side of the crater.
I had barely taken an instant to observe the sight before us before Kent was hurrying down the slope towards the gateway. Holding my breath, I hurried after him and the others. Once we reached the gateway, Kent began hurriedly giving directions to Vrand, Tori and Brecki. When Vrand summoned the griffon, I took an involuntary step back. That thing was HUGE! Would it even fit through the portal? I could only hope so. Then, as they began fitting the saddle and saddle bags on the great beast, a sound caused me to turn away, and a sight met me that filled me with an unexplainable terror.
"Uh, g-guys?" I stammered. "We have company." In the sky that was just beginning to lighten towards sunrise, a massive reptilian beast was making its way towards us, it’s huge black wings beating the air so hard that we could hear the ‘thwump...thwump...thwump...’ easily in the world-wide silence. It was a dragon. The BIGGEST black dragon I had ever seen.
Behind me, Kent paled. "It... it can’t be! That’s impossible!"
"Hurry!" Brecki urged us all, a quiver to her voice. But I shook my head, even as the others bent back to their tasks. There wasn’t enough time. The dragon was approaching too fast.
Chapter 21: The Sacrifice of Spirit
As I stared in horror, I suddenly squinted, frowning. "Wait... there’s something else there." The others weren’t listening to me, which is probably just as well. Using my talents as a skilled hunter I narrowed my eyes and tried desperate to focus on the spot just between us and the dragon.
My first thought was that it was one of the headless horsemen. The rider was wreathed in a translucent purple light and riding a skeletal horse, and racing towards us as fast as the hooves could pound into the ground. "Oh, my gosh, it’s Nakutk!"
Sure enough, the undead shadow priest was mounted on an epic skeletal horse, racing ahead of us in a desperate attempt to reach us before the great black dragon that was swooping down through the air.
Vrand looked up, her jaw dropping. "That’s impossible. Azeroth is closed for maintenance... isn’t it?" But none of us had an answer.
When reached the ledge of the crater, Nakutk’s mount leapt over it and landed several hundred yards ahead of us before dismissing his mount with a flicker and turning away from us to face down the dragon, who had swooped down behind him and stopped to hover about 10 feet above the ground. He tried casting a spell – I could see his hands moving – and then the dragon laughed at him, "Pitiful fool!" She mocked, and the ground shook heavily as she landed with a thud. "Get out of my way before I make you regret you were ever born!"
So, there I was, facing a massive black dragon and my last possible chance to ever return home, and there was only one thought in my mind at that moment: Bitch.
Apparently in agreement with her master, Whisper let out a loud hiss and shoot off, sprinting past Nakutk and leaping up at the dragon left calf.
What can we say? Whisper hates that woman as much as I do. Because yes, if you don’t know that Lady Prestor is also the great dragon Onyxia, you REALLY need to play Alliance more.
On the heel of my disgust came the feeling of desperation. We were out of time. Swinging my bow off my shoulder, I shot off an arrow meant to disorient the great dragon, even as Nakutk attempted another spell. And somehow, it worked. Well, it disoriented her at least. For a few seconds.
"It’s not working!" Tori horrified cry had me turning around to where they stood before the portal. "Why won’t it open? We got all the pieces!"
I hesitated. Vrand, Tori, Brecki and Kent stood before the gate, but it remained as dead as ever. There was no path open. That’s when the lightbulb went off in my head. We were still missing something. "Whisper!" I hollered across the crater. "Get back here! Get to the portal!" The cat gave me a sour look and very nearly ignored my order, but when I hollered her name again, she broke off of the dragon and shot back to the portal where the others were gathered. As I watched her run, time seemed to slow down. Yeah, I know it’s clichéd, but it’s true. My eyes widened as she raced by me, then gasped allowed as she raced up the steps and leapt through the empty space between the portal’s vertical pillars. A flash of light burst where she entered and my cat disappeared, laving a shimmering blue doorway in her place.
"Go! Go! Go!" Kent yelled out, but his words were drowned out by a masculine cry from behind me. I turned just in time to see Onyxia, breaking from her daze, reach out and grasp Nakutk in her mouth and throw him high, sending him soaring over the ledge behind her to land with a sickening crunch that I could hear even from where I was.
And then she turned to look at me.
I guess the good thing about facing a creature who can kill you with a glance is that death comes immediately. There’s no pain, no shock. Only death. My body went flying, but I was dead before I even left her mouth, so I never noticed.
I did hear, in my headset, Brecki screaming my name. And as my ghost watched Onyxia head past me towards the portal, I had just enough time to scream, "Get out of here!" back to my guildies before the entire world seemed to fizzle and, as crazy as it sounds, short out.
Character 22: Epilogue
"That will be 90 gold, please!" A cheerful voice perked up. I sighed. Why is it that the most memorial moments in a character’s life are accompanied by an extreme lightening of the coin purse? Grumbling silently, I handed over the required fee and the nightelf female handed me a set of shiny new reins. Reins that were attached, at the other end, to an extremely large spotted white cat, complete with a sturdy leather saddle. I looked at the spotted frostsaber whose shoulders reached well above my waist. Then I looked down at the Whisper and the tiny white kitten who was weaving between my legs.
I sighed again. "Just what I need. Another cat to feed."