Part 4

"You did what?" Vashj gasped.

Kael’thas kept walking, making the naga slither faster to keep up with him. "None of your spells, or mine, or my priestesses’, were helping. The Master was dying anyway. If the Warden hastened the process, so be it. But if she managed to save him…" He shrugged, the elaborate decorations on the shoulders of his robe glinting in the torchlight. "What else would you have had me do?"

Vashj had no better suggestion, but hissed irritably. Kael knew she felt slighted at having been left out of the decision, but if Illidan died the ensuing power struggle would be far worse. He didn’t relish the thought of facing his ally and one-time rescuer as an rival, but neither would he allow his people to play second-fiddle to the naga.

To soften the effect of having gone over her head, Kael had posted one guard from each of their forces at Illidan’s door. The elven spellbreaker and naga myrmidon saluted with their weapons as their leaders approached.

"Not a sound from either of them for many hours, Your Highness," the elf said.

"And the door has sstayed sssealed," the naga added.

There was no point in speculating. Kael’thas motioned for the guards to open the door, and they removed the heavy bar blocking the way. He diplomatically allowed Vashj to enter first but strained to see around the writhing tentacles of her "hair" to catch a glimpse of Illidan.

"I don’t believe it," the sea witch said, stopping in her tracks.

Kael stepped around her to get a better look. There lay the master and his unlikely savior, fast asleep. Illidan’s breathing was steady and easy, almost a snore. His complexion had returned to a healthy shade of purple, and the only marks on his chest were the usual swirling tattoos. There was no sign of the terrible injury that just the day before had seemed inevitably fatal.

Kael could not suppress a smirk of triumph. His gamble had paid off.

In its own way even more amazing than Illidan’s miraculous improvement was the fact that Maiev was sleeping just as peacefully with her chin on his shoulder, clinging to his arm like a child with a toy.

The blood elf stepped nearer and said in a loud voice, "Good morning!"

Maiev promptly bolted awake and scrambled to distance herself from Illidan. In the process she slid onto the floor in an awkward way that could almost have been mistaken for intentional by a generous observer. "Prince Kael! Lady Vashj!" she sputtered. "Hello!" Cheeks flushing the color of wine, she stood up quickly and attempted to smooth out her wrinkled clothes.

Kael fought to keep his smug grin from devolving into laughter. "Warden Shadowsong." He nodded in greeting.

Illidan stirred, groaning softly as he put a hand to his forehead. "What…"

"Master," Kael said, bowing along with Vashj. "I can’t tell you how glad we are to see you hale once more."

Illidan grimaced as he attempted to sit up, finding his body reluctant to move. He stretched stiffly, briefly spreading his wings. "Kael. Vashj." He turned to look across the bed at the other person in the room. "Warden? I thought you were a hallucination."

"You wish." She crossed her arms on her chest and glowered at him.

"How did you manage to do thisss?" Vashj asked, peering suspiciously at her.

Maiev looked away, watching the morning sunlight fall onto the stone mosaic floor. "Apparently Elune has not given up on me…or him."

Illidan stood at last, pausing to make sure his legs would hold him. He looked tired and worn—but alive.

"What are your orders, Master?" Kael asked.

"Orders…" he said distantly. "Yes, I suppose life goes on, doesn’t it? How many survived to return here to Outland?"

"Three ssscore naga returned," Vashj reported.

"And perhaps sixty Blood Elves," Kael said.

"Not many…even when added to the forces we left here to defend our interests." Illidan have a weary sigh. "Not enough to stop Kil’Jaeden."

Kael’s heart jumped into his throat. In his concern over whether or not his leader would survive, he had nearly forgotten the larger consequences of their failure at Northrend.

"Strengthen our defenses as best you can. We’ll stave off his…displeasure…as long as possible. If Kil’Jaeden expects me to surrender without a fight he’s mistaken." There was a defiant veneer to Illidan’s words, but Kael knew that he had found himself narrowly escaping death by Arthas’ blade only to face likely obliteration by the head of the Burning Legion.

"And what about her?" Vashj asked, narrowing her eyes at Maiev.

Illidan turned to look at her, an ironic smirk making his intent clear even before he spoke. "I think a taste of your own medicine is in order, Warden."

"You…you…" Maiev sputtered, trembling with helpless fury. "I saved your life, you worthless bastard!"

"An appreciated gesture, I assure you, but hardly adequate compensation for all you’ve put me through over the last ten thousand years." He gestured to the guards at the door, who eagerly approached Maiev with weapons drawn.

"You filthy Betrayer!" she screamed, unsuccessfully trying to reach him with clawing hands as the guards shackled her ankles and then tied her arms behind her. "How dare you? You vile, hateful, disgusting, ungrateful—"

Kael cast a silencing spell with a casual flick of his hand. Maiev’s face contorted with rage but she was unable to make even the tiniest squeak of protest. "Get her out of here before that wears off," he instructed.

Maiev glared at Illidan with a look of hurt and hatred as the two guards dragged her away.

"Turnabout is fair play, my little Warden," Illidan called after her. "Now…Vashj, see to the defenses. Kael, bring me Akama. I have a job for him."


Part 5  -->