Choice Made

They were on Azeroth again, though no part that Lucan recognized. The only thing familiar about it was that which all the world now seemed to have in common...the cloying mist of the Nightmare.

A powerful hand gripped his collar. Thura leaned close, the angry orc's breath hot and odorous. "The ax! What did you do with the ax?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!"

Thura showed him her other hand, now formed in a threatening fist. "The ax of Broxigar! It didn't come with us! It was in my hand —and then it wasn't!"

"Are you certain you didn't let go?" The expression with which the orc replied quickly made him retract the question. "Then it should've remained with you! It did before!"

Releasing him, the female warrior furiously gazed around. "Then where is it, human?"

Lucan no more knew that than where they stood. The hilly landscape was full of treacherous ravines and equally desolate terrain. There were some shrubs and, on one hill, a huge, ugly tree

The cartographer swallowed. The tree was not in keeping with the lack of life around it. Indeed, of all the vegetation around, it was the only one that seemed to be thriving. Even then, it bore hardly any leaves.

But that was not what so disturbed Lucan about the tree. It was the outline it cast even in the haze.

Like a giant skeletal hand.

Now he felt he understood how and why the ax had been left behind. Something else had wanted it to stay, something with the power to do so.

"We've got to leave!" he blurted.

"I will have the ax back!" Thura insisted, unaware of what Lucan had discovered.

A crackling sound all around them made both pause.

The ground beneath their feet began to move as if something huge was burrowing its way up. As that happened, shadows that seemed half night elf, half goat formed in the mists.

A root shot out of one of the cracks, seeking Lucan's ankle. However, Thura seized it first, cracking off a large part of the pointed tip. What looked like congealed blood dripped from both broken ends.

The root pulled back, but others darted up. The orc brandished the root at the oncoming shadow satyrs.

One lunged. Thura thrust the point into the murky form.

The shadow hissed, then melted.

But there were more and more coming. Thura looked to Lucan. "There're too many! If I had the ax—"

She stopped as she saw the human's expression. Lucan was staring into one of the fissures created by the roots. His face was, if possible, more pale than ever.

The orc grabbed his arm, which seemed to break whatever fascination he had with the fissure. Lucan seized her in turn.

"I can't promise where we'll end up in the Nightmare!"

Thura stabbed another shadow, watching with no satisfaction as it faded. "Just take us!"

They vanished...and reappeared in all-too-familiar emeraldtinted surroundings.

But they were not alone.

"Again?" Eranikus roared. His fury caused their surroundings, a cave, to quiver. The green dragon unfurled his wings, shattering several stalactites. "I want no part of this insanity! I warned you about that!"

"I couldn't help it!" Lucan responded. "We had to escape them —and I wanted to go somewhere safe! I didn't know it would bring me back to you again and again!"

"Around me, you are hardly safe, little bite!" Eranikus's head dropped down near the pair. "And neither are you, orc, even with that magical weapon."

"I no longer have the ax," Thura growled, thrusting her open hands toward the huge head. "It seems it was somehow lost when the high priestess bravely sacrificed herself to enable us to escape from the corrupted ones!"

" 'Corrupted ones'? You speak of Lethon and Emeriss? The night elf left herself with that odious pair.and the ax also is theirs?

"It couldn't be helped—" Lucan began, but Ysera's consort was no longer listening to him.

"It will not end...until...but I can't." The green leviathan hissed as he muttered to himself. "I cannot sleep.I cannot forget.she was lost."

A wailing roar escaped the distraught dragon. Thura and Lucan sought cover as Eranikus's frustration with himself erupted fully.

As the last echoes of his cry finished reverberating, the dragon returned his attention to the tiny pair. His expression was unreadable.

"It seems there is only one way to be permanently rid of your intrusions."

Eranikus reached for them.

"Your arm." Malfurion quietly answered. "What happened to your arm?"

Remulos glanced at it. His eyes grew troubled. "The least of injuries, you may believe me."

"He appeared out of nowhere just before you awoke," Broll explained. "We almost lost our concentration, so surprised were we."

"And it is a credit to your teaching that neither did." The son of Cenarius pointed his spear at Malfurion. "But we've no time to discuss that further, my father's favored thero'shan—his prized student! There is one chance to help turn matters around, but we need to depart at once!"

Malfurion eyed the others. "I cannot leave now—"

Archdruid, you know that the Nightmare has your Tyrande.

"And you know the true name of the Nightmare Lord." Remulos spoke the title with all the dread that Malfurion kept hidden deep in his soul. "A diabolical creature once named Xavius! The same Xavius—as you related to me later—who served your Queen Azshara in aiding the Burning Legion to come to Azeroth, and thus having a part in causing my own blood much grief."

Even after millennia, Malfurion recalled all too well Cenarius's near death in battle and how it had also cost the life of Malorne —the White Stag—at the hands of the demon Archimonde. Malorne had been the sire of Cenarius and, thus, the grandsire of Remulos.

"Xavius has Tyrande." Remulos continued. ".and he also has the ax fashioned by my father for the brave orc Broxigar."

The news struck Malfurion harder than even Broll or Hamuul likely realized. He knew what he had to do, though it threatened everything.

Turning to Broll, the archdruid ordered, "Broll, I must ask you to help guide the druids and the others while I am gone. Hamuul, I have given you much to do, but you must also help him, if you can. Can I rely on both of you?" When both had bowed their heads in acceptance, Malfurion said to Remulos, "Tyrande and the ax are in the same place? You are certain?"

"I am. Deep in the Nightmare."

"Then we need to enter through Fandral's portal."

The forest guardian shook his great antlered head. "No, I have another method."

Malfurion's brow arched. "You do?"

"The manner by which I came here." Remulos drew a huge circle with the spear tip. As he completed it, the circle flared into being, the edge a searing dark green.

The hooved forest lord muttered something that Malfurion could not make out. The circle swelled, expanding enough for both of them to enter it side by side.

"Come!" Remulos insisted.

A concerned Broll reached toward Malfurion. "Shan'do—"

"All will be well." The archdruid pointed toward Fandral's portal. "Do what must be done."

With that said, he joined Remulos in stepping through the forest lord's circle.

A chill swept over him as they entered the Nightmare. Malfurion sensed that they were very near where the sinister shadow had kept his dreamform imprisoned and reshaped. The thought of what Xavius might do to Tyrande stirred a struggle within the night elf that he kept secret from his companion.

"Beware." Remulos whispered. "One of the dragons is near.I think it Emeriss..."

Malfurion felt something nearby and trusted that Cenarius's son had rightly identified the threat. But then the night elf sensed something more. In addition to the dragon, there was someone else nearby. His heart pounded as he realized just whose presence he felt.

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