Desperate times

Desperate times

Beli is furious

Beli Flinthammer didn’t have a plan.

She had spent weeks trying to come up with one, ever since she and her son had identified the demon hidden with the other dwarf and gnome refugees who had fled Stormwind in attempt to keep their families safe from further Burning Legion attacks.

But although she knew the demon was hiding in the shape of a gnome and calling itself Tuldire Longread, that didn’t tell her what kind of demon she was dealing with.

The wyrmtongue seemed to favor the same places that dwarves and gnomes did, but they weren’t known for cunning or deception.

Tuldire could secretly be a sayaad, a doomguard, a satyr or even — shudder — an aranasi.

But until she knew what they were facing, confronting Tuldire head on could be suicide. He could be a practically helpless imp or an annihilan, capable of leveling cities all on his own.

The danger and uncertainty had led her to order her son to stay close to the black lion, Lucky, that her husband had brought back from the Barrens many years ago. Bael had also taken to carrying his sledgehammer with him everywhere, even sleeping with it at night.

“Stay close to me, Bael.”

Her son nodded, and rested one hand on Lucky’s broad back.

Plan or no plan, they were now out of time.

“Look at Argus!” Tuldire said, pointing with his spyglass at the planet looming over them in the sky. “Those flashes of light are the Army of the Light attacking Antorus, the Burning Throne.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” Therum Deepforge asked, studiously avoiding looking at the bound and gagged prisoners nearby.

Tuldire shot him a look.

“They are going to lose.”

“Bael, stay with me. Bael?” Beli whipped her head around. “Where did you go?”

“Every member of the Burning Legion that’s ‘killed’ is called back to the Throne and reforms there, meaning an endless supply of troops within the fortress. The Army of the Light has no idea of Sargeras’ power, or what …”

“And you do?” Benik Boltshear snapped. It seemed like Tuldire and Beli had underestimated the refugees; they wouldn’t be going along with Tuldire’s insane plan so easily.

“The Army of the Light is going to lose,” Tuldire repeated, “and there will be no safe place left on Azeroth. The Burning Legion will sweep across this world and everyone on it will either join them or die.

“Or,” he said, pointing to the rows of prisoners, “we can be gone before they arrive.”

The portal had taken shape quickly. Beli suspected that’s why Tuldire had blended in with dwarves and gnomes — if you wanted to build something well, and quickly, there was no one better on Azeroth. Beli had been disappointed to see how easily everyone had gone along with building what clearly was an echo of the Dark Portal, but scared people could rationalize a lot.

But this final step seemed to have caused many of them, at long last, to object.

“We’re not going to sacrificed these pirates,” Benik said. “They are defenseless prisoners.”

“They will die either way,” Tuldire snapped. “Better that their deaths mean something and let us escape somewhere, far beyond the reach of the Legion.”

“But –”

“No, you simpering fools!” Tuldire roared. “We are running out of time. We must power up the portal now.”

“Ye mean kill these helpless pirates.”

“Yes, I do. It’s us or them, for –”

“Bael!” Beli couldn’t help herself — her son had crept behind Tuldire with his hammer, ready to do … something.

Bael attacks

“The Flinthammer brat!” Tuldire snarled, whirling toward the boy. Shadows suddenly swirled in around the gnome and he began to grow, wings sprouting.

“For Azeroth!” Bael roared, slamming his hammer into the demon’s head.

The dreadlord hoisted Bael above his head, almost completely enveloping the dwarf boy in one massive hand.

“I had hoped to do this the easy way, in case I needed more souls to create a second portal, but –”

There was a snarl and a blur of black fur as Lucky leapt onto the demon’s neck, biting and tearing. The dreadlord flailed with his free hand, grabbing at Lucky, and hurling him across the field. The lion landed heavily against the cliffside and didn’t get back up.

“Let go of my son, you son of a bitch!” Beli said, pointing with her staff.

“Lt. Commander Flinthammer finally shows her true colors,” the dreadlord grinned, squeezing Bael tighter in one massive fist. “Very well, Zenedar will be happy to have your souls as the first to power his –”

“FOR AZEROTH!” A bolt of light flashed from her staff, knocking the dreadlord back a pace.

“FOR AZEROTH!” The cry was echoed by dozens of voices. Grabbing farm tools, stools, walking sticks and anything else at hand, the locksmith, the bartender, the bookbinder and more all leapt at Zenedar, frantically beating and slashing at him.

“Eonar, Khaz’goroth, and all of the holy Pantheon,” Beli’s prayer was clumsy and uncertain. She hadn’t prayed for months, ever since being told of their demise by the naaru X’era. “If you can hear me, wherever you are, help me save my son!”

The dreadlord vanished into a second blast of holy light, dropping Bael to the ground as he vanished.

Zenedar is ambushed in Antorus

“Heads up!” Belsun Grimaxe called, pointing to the platform inside one wing of Antorus and ducking back down behind the makeshift shelter. “We’ve got another one materializing!”

The Unseen Path archers and riflemen stood as one, taking aim at the winged figure forming, a dark silhouette against the green glow.

“No,” Zenedar cried, his eyes going wide as he saw where he was. “I was so close!”

“Open fire!” Belsun roared, and the dreadlord disappeared beneath a hail of bullets, arrows and crossbow bolts.

“FLINTHAAAAAAAAAAAAAM –!” Zenedar’s scream cut off suddenly.

“Ah reckon Ah must be famous,” Ringo Flinthammer said, lowering his Boarshot Cannon.

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