This weeks Wrathgate Wednesday showcase the initial attack at Wrathgate. This is the moment where we think “wow, this might actually work.”
We begin this phase, like all the previous phases, with an italics post. Threnn and Linedan round out the italics post with first hand accounts of those first moments.
The horns sundered the morning again, echoing off the teeth of Angrathar and reverberating into brassy confusion. Hooves churned the hard-packed snow, feet marched in unison. The golden arcs of protective wards and uncanny crackle of prepared magical assaults shimmered here and there in the ranks. Under the Lion of Stormwind, crying out for Lordaeron and Menethil and all that had been lost, the golden soldiers of the Alliance charged.
And their foe was waiting, sown before the Wrath Gate like a crop out of nightmare, a writhing conglomeration of mangled, malformed corpses and their frost-hearted commanders. Fordragon’s soldiers plunged into them, the precise formations degenerating to chaos within seconds, and all becoming rank butchery. But the banners of Stormwind, interspersed here and there with the White Horse of Lordaeron or the Grey Bull of Stromgarde, stood high in the press. All knew that this was but the fodder of the Adversary, but deal with it they must, and they went to it with a will.
On a nameless hill half a mile west of the gate, the call went out. Black dots appeared in the winding corridor of the pass, scurrying through the snow or clawing up out of the tortured earth. Soon, their shrieks and gibbering laughter echoed off the icy terrain, preceding them to the hill – one of half a hundred of the Lich King’s probing fingers, looking for a weakness in the allied lines that would provide Him the opportunity He sought. As the undead approached, their features became clearer – swinging apeish arms, distended faces, protruding spurs of bone as sharp as blades. Those in the profession of Scourge-hunting called them ghouls. The Lich King called them His children. The people on the hill called them the beginning of a good day’s work.
“We’ve cot company!” called the elf burrowed in snow on top of the hill, and, “I don’t know, a fucking lot!” in answer to the ensuing question. Bows and rifles were readied. Swords scraped from scabbards. Fire writ the air, words in a forgotten language gone as quickly as they appeared. The commands came down from the red-haired northman at the crest – to stand ready, waste neither ammunition nor enchantment, and let the monsters come.
And they did, howling in glee, howling in agony, howling until the rot in their throats flecked the snow and the Dragonblight had become a vale of screams. Closer and closer, a scurrying insect with a hundred mouths, endless hunger animating every uncanny movement of their frames. Here and there were visible a different species of horror, loping along with eerie silence, their faces concealed behind crude leather masks, their hands pummeling the earth like gnomish mechanisms. In the rear could be glimpsed the maggot-pale bulk of constructed abominations. Closer, until the lead ghouls glimpsed the ragged line of mercenaries, with their motley armor and wide mortal eyes. They shrieked in ecstacy, with the rapture of carnage to come.
On top of the hill, the scarecrow in dark leathers lit a cigarette with shaking hands and turned to his red-haired, stone-faced companion. “Cheers,” he murmured quietly. “Let’s do it.” The sergeant roared the call to fire, and fire was what they gave them – fire and steel besides, boiling the air and churning the snow, and tearing the front of the pack to sopping rags. Behind the plume of smoke, the infantry waited, weapons at hand, while the first dozen or so of the undead vanished under the rain of projectiles.
In the sudden silence in the wake of the explosions, the Riders heard Bittertongue’s voice. “Fuckin’ aright, now do it again!”
“Wait.” Anna placed a hand on Fin’s shoulder and eyed the woman in the snow. “The hell are you doing here?”
“Protectin’ Davien. You can’t make me go.” The witch glared up at her, scowling her fiercest scowl, until she saw Fingold in the background. The hat came off in a mad wave. “Hey! Didja get your socks?”
Fin grimaced. “Anna, we ought to get into position.”
“I’m coming.” She turned back to the mage. “You want to help her, come with us. No one gets through the line. Nothing climbs this hill that’s his.”
Corspilla twisted to glare at the tent flaps, muttering.
“Oi. You can sit here and fret, or you can come be useful.”
The dead woman considered a moment, then took the hand that was offered to her and lurched to her feet. “I’m comin! Ain’t stupid, just dead. Now, stuff can get lit on fire and Davien can’t get mad at me!” She paused, sniffing the air. “You been rollin’ in dreamfoil or somethin’?”
The priestess didn’t answer. “Let’s go.”
It was a good spot to mount a defense. Of course it was — the veterans among them had scouted it out beforehand and laid out the battleplans. Anna pulled the shadows closer, waiting for the dead things to come in range. They felt different here, on the edge of battle. Eager. She wondered how much of it was her own nerves, how much was the strange pull that she always felt in Icecrown, and how much was due to whatever was going on in the tent at the top of the hill.
It didn’t matter. The Scourge were coming, and the shadows would do her bidding.
At her side, the dead girl cackled and adjusted her hat.
In her mind, Threnn ticked off the list of supplies back in the healing tent: bandages, pallets, blankets, herbs and salves. Water, whiskey, clean steel and braziers, should anyone suffer wounds grievous enough to need cauterization. Light send no one will. Light send I won’t need to use so much as a bandage. Light send we won’t even have to carry one person into that tent when this is over.
Light send I won’t have to pull the blankets up to cover the faces of my family.
They were futile prayers, truly, but praying kept her from pacing. The last thing they’d need was for her to go into labor while there was a battle going on. She counted heads, too, noting as many positions as she could.
The horns sounded again, and the nightmare-things came into sight. Naiara kicked hard enough to elicit a gasp. “I know, baby girl,” she whispered, placing a steel-gauntleted palm on her plate-covered belly. “I know.”
Then Ulthanon was shouting, and Bricu’s voice cut into the wind — not her husband’s voice, but her sergeant’s. The ache in her back that was near-constant these days faded as she pulled herself to attention and called the Light into her hands.
Her daughter shifted inside her once more, then subsided.
Magic filled the air. With every breath, she pulled it into her lungs, felt it suffuse through her body until it sang in her very bones. She felt as though she should be shaking with it, but her hands were steady as she drew another rune in silver ink.
So much power here, so tempting to let it just flow over her, to wade into the lines and let it carry her away on its currents. She was brimming with it, the words coming to her lips faster and faster as the runes began to glow.
When I was a girl, we danced around the poles at Midsummer until we were too dizzy t’stand. I feel like I’m in mid-whirl, now, an’ any minute I’ll go spinnin’ off, the world tiltin’ up t’catch me, the sky wheelin’ above.
No. Control it. Take it.
Magic required a will of iron. Weak-minded mages never made it very far — the lucky ones were weeded out by their teachers before they could do lasting harm. The unlucky ones were sometimes found dead, sometimes found drooling.
Davien Stonemantle had never been weak. She pulled in another breath, set down another rune.
The dead, and half-dead, and not-quite-dead, and thrice-dead. Ghouls and geists to the front, skeletons of various races mixed in, the grub-white of abominations lumbering at the rear. Not exactly an army’s worth, but at least a few for each of the Riders and friends arrayed across the pass. Enough for a probe, when you were the Lich King and had a near-infinite supply of fodder.
Beltar watched, seemingly unconcerned, from behind his rock, and waited. To all outward appearances, he was no different than at any other time. Hair windblown and skin windburnt, face craggy as the mountains that surrounded them, eyes a bit squinted, armor a tad dissheveled and not quite polished. Just a dwarf past his prime, playing at being a hero, somehow managing to make his fine collection of dragonhide and saronite mail look less than it really was.
Appearances were deceiving. Beltar Forgebreaker, unimpressive-looking as he was, was a Light-damned professional, and he wasn’t shy about telling anyone who’d listen, whether they believed him or not. Today, he’d prove it.
He brought the Nesingwary 4000 up smoothly and gently balanced it on a bit of rock, sighting in on the approaching mass. They were picking up speed now, rolling downhill like a boulderslide, on a course that would crash them right into the Riders’ line across the pass, and give him and Ulthanon beautiful firing lanes into their flanks. The bolt went forward and back for the first time, loading a Mammoth Cutter into the chamber.
He waited. And waited. Then Bricu’s voice roared from behind the line, and the pass erupted.
His first shot picked off a geist in mid-gallop, flinging it backward into the snow and allowing its fellow undead to finish the job Beltar started, by trampling it to death.
Whistle. Target. Trigger. Bolt. Trigger. Bolt.
Longpaw erupted from beside him in a cloud of snow, took two graceful bounds, and leapt, a silver-spotted blur, to land fifteen yards downhill on the back of a ghoul and bear it to the ground. It stood back up, shrugging the cat off, in time for two nearly-simultaneous shots to explode its head and send it right back down.
Target. Sight. Fan the trigger. Bolt. Trigger. Bolt. New target.
The cat began to tear at a geist as Beltar focused in again and kept up a steady drumbeat of fire, reports booming off the rock walls. Calloused, knobby hands moved like the finest gnomish clockwork, from trigger to bolt to trigger again, fast and smooth. There was no thought, just reflex honed by a lifetime of practice. Nothing else mattered, nothing else existed. He and the rifle were one. He didn’t wield the weapon, he was the weapon. He may as well have been just pointing his own hand as the undead fell shredded under a withering hail of fire from front and flank. There was no rage, no anger, no screaming; there was, indeed, no noise from Beltar at all except for the sounds of his rifle, the snick-clunk of the bolt and the deafening bang of the firing.
For however long he could keep it up, Beltar Forgebreaker was, once again, the cold, emotionless killer he’d always claimed to be.
It was glorious.