Xavius. How well Malfurion still recalled the queen's malicious confidante. It had been Lord Xavius who had fueled the spellwork by Azshara's Highborne sorcerers that had opened the path for the Burning Legion. Rather than be repelled by what he discovered, Xavius had ever been there to assist his insidious queen as she welcomed the demons through.
Twice, Malfurion had thought him no more. That first time had been during a desperate struggle atop the very tower where the portal for the demons had been opened. Malfurion, his druidic powers strong, had raised a storm that had first set Xavius aflame by lightning, then melted him by rain, and finally unleashed a roar of thunder that had literally shattered the villain. Malfurion could still recall Xavius's contorted face—especially the sinister, magically crafted eyes of black with the streak of ruby running across each. The archdruid especially remembered the counselor's last, nerve-wracking shriek.
And then, Xavius had ceased to exist.
But he and the defenders had all underestimated the power of the evil titan Sargeras. After snaring what little remained of Xavius's disembodied spirit and torturing it long for the counselor's failures, Sargeras had remolded it into something more terrible. Xavius had been reborn as a satyr—the first of the goatlike monsters now so long the enemies of the night elves—and his malevolence had only grown with his new, hideous aspect.
Malfurion had nearly lost Tyrande to Xavius and his fellow corrupted Highborne. In the end, unable to risk Xavius escaping death again, Malfurion had called upon Azeroth's power to transform the satyr. Despite Xavius's struggling, the young druid had turned his foe into a harmless tree.
Or so he had believed for the past ten millennia. The evil had been festering upon Azeroth all that time and Malfurion had never known.
All this Malfurion reflected upon with anger at himself as, once more in cat form, the branch clamped in his teeth, he rushed back to Darnassus. He blamed himself for what was happening now, yet he also pondered how Xavius had survived so long to become the Nightmare Lord.
But that thought was shoved aside as he entered the capital and transformed. Darnassus was in ruins and much of that was due to the collapse of other limbs from the vast tree. Victims of the Nightmare's servants also lay everywhere. The Sisters of Elune and the Sentinels were seeking to help those they could.
He spotted Shandris Feathermoon giving commands to both groups. The general looked weary, but in her element. Unfortunately, she did not realize the danger still surrounding their people.
"Shandris!" At his voice, she whirled.
"Malfurion." the general said, saluting him respectfully and looking much relieved. "Praise be that you're all right." She noticed the unsettling branch that he now hefted in both hands and her brow furrowed. "By the Mother Moon! What foulness has afflicted that?"
"This is the taint that spread through Teldrassil," the archdruid hurriedly answered. "But we must not concern ourselves with that at the moment! Darnassus must be cleared! The World Tree has suffered greatly; the ruined trees you see around you are only a fraction! For everyone's safety, they must leave!"
As if to emphasize this, another thundering crack echoed through Darnassus. The city shook. Teldrassil would stand, but the same could not necessarily be said for the capital.
"I'll see that it's done!" Shandris promised.
"I will see to the druids," Malfurion told her as they separated. "We may be able to do something to stave it off.but I cannot promise it."
An agonized cry erupted from elsewhere, a voice full of loss. It did not come from any of the victims to which Malfurion looked, but rather from an unexpected direction.
He turned toward the enclave to find the other druids already streaming from there. Broll had the lead, with Hamuul close behind.
The source of the never-ending cry was Fandral. Eyes unseeing, the archdruid shouted his son's name over and over. He pleaded for Valstann to come back to him.
Two other druids guided him by hand as he stumbled along, calling to his son. Behind them, other druids guarded a small band .those who had chosen Fandral's madness over all else. It was already obvious to Malfurion what would have to be done with them. The Moonglade had places that could hold the sick or corrupted of mind. For those who had followed Fandral, there was hope that they could be redeemed.
But as he studied Valstann's father, Malfurion wondered if Fandral would ever be cured. Between the Nightmare and his personal loss, the mad archdruid looked as if he had lost himself forever.
Malfurion met with Broll, giving him the same warning that he had Shandris. Broll nodded his understanding, but his eyes kept shifting to the macabre branch. Malfurion finally informed him of what he had divined.
"Xavius..." Broll did not know the name, but had felt the immense anger and dread in his shan'do's voice when Malfurion had spoken it.
"The druids must help the people leave, then be prepared to hear from me. It will not be very long, so they must hurry!"
"What do you hope to do?"
Malfurion seized a smaller branch thrusting out near the top. He snapped it off. The same thick, foul liquid slowly dripped from it.
"What I must. What we must."
That said, Malfurion quickly called for a torch. Secreting the smaller branch upon his person, the archdruid set the larger branch afire. In just the blink of an eye, it burnt to ash, which he let the wind carry away.
"Be ready," he asked Broll.
But Malfurion had already transformed and taken to the sky.
Tyrande knew who spoke even though she had been unconscious during their previous encounter. She knew because Malfurion had later told her the terrifying facts...and what he had done to her captor.
"You cannot be." she protested.
The shadow of the giant, skeletal tree twisted around the trio. The high priestess felt her chest tighten, although when she brought her hand to it, there was nothing to pull away. Tyrande noted that Lucan and Thura acted the same.
I can and always will be...Tyrande Whisperwind...I am the Nightmare and the Nightmare is me...we are etemal...and soon Azeroth will be but a part of us...
"Never!" She prayed to Elune and the Mother Moon's light filled her. Tyrande immediately focused that light upon the shadow.
In the light, the tree all but faded. Tyrande felt the pressure on her chest ease.
Then the shadow darkened again, growing more distinct than before. The high priestess could not breathe. She struggled to remain on her feet. The others also suffered.
The light faded, leaving only the foul dark green illumination of the Nightmare...and the shadow of the tree that was the night elf Xavius.
I am beyond your petty deity now...the Mistress of Dreams is mine...as is her sister the Life-Binder...behold them both and tremble at your lost hopes...
The mists parted.and behind the shadow stood revealed the mistress of the Emerald Dream. She was snared tight in tendrils of shadow that also appeared to originate from their captor. Ysera's head was pointed skyward as if she looked for something, but her eyes were shut. Her wings and limbs were stretched apart in what was surely an agonizing manner.
An emerald aura emanated from Ysera, but barely inches from her, it altered into the foul, decaying green of the Nightmare. It was all too clear that the Aspect's power was being twisted to Xavius's desires.
And behind her, folded almost in two, hovered Alexstrasza. Her eyes stared unseeing and her jaw was slack. She looked withered, more dead than alive. Her vibrant red coloring had faded and she barely looked to be breathing.
The mists enshrouded the two huge dragons again. Tyrande was crushed by the sight. She remembered that Alexstrasza had been in some terrible danger when last they had seen her, but she had believed that somehow the Aspect would evade capture.
There was the flapping of wings. A massive green form materialized from the mist. At first Tyrande thought that Eranikus had flown to their rescue, but then the dragon that alighted between the Nightmare Lord and the trio revealed himself a dreadful creature whose very expression was enough to reveal the depths of his corruption.
Lethon bowed his head to the tree. "I have come as you summoned..."
Prepare them.it will come soon...and with its coming...the
Nightmare's hold will be complete...
The green dragon grinned evilly at the three. "Come, my little pets...Emeriss is waiting for us..."
They were swept up in the dragon's magic.
Malfurion rose up into the sky, which was now as mist-enshrouded around the island as everywhere else. The Nightmare Lord no longer had reason to keep Darnassus ignorant of the extent of their danger now that Fandral was lost.
The archdruid banked. Teldrassil spread below him. He could not see its entire grand canopy, but he saw the central part, which was his focus.
By this time, the other druids needed to be ready. They had to be ready.
Hamuul...Broll...Though he named the two, Malfurion then touched each and every one of the druids on or around the World Tree. They quickly responded.
We are going to heal Teldrassil, he informed them.
Many were stunned, especially after Fandral's betrayal, but because it was Malfurion, they did not hesitate to follow his instructions.
Malfurion dove, then alighted on what he knew was the center point of the canopy. There, he transformed. The air was chill here, for he was even above the forests that grew at the top. Still, he was unconcerned, his plan all that mattered at the moment.
Stretching forth his hands as if to encompass the vast crown, the archdruid strengthened his bond with the others.
Let us guide that which is the life of Azeroth into eradicating the taint...
In his mind, he could see the other druids imitating his actions. Malfurion reached out now to Teldrassil. The World Tree was full of corruption, but it was not beyond saving. He sought out the core of its remaining health, a place buried not in its towering trunk, but far down in its roots.
Malfurion encouraged those roots to grow, to dig deeper. They sank far below, reaching the most primeval parts of Azeroth.and the most pure.
Feed and heal... he told the World Tree. Feed and heal...
The reaction was sluggish, as he expected. Malfurion continued to urge. Sick so long, Teldrassil needed to be prodded.
At last, he felt Teldrassil begin to stir. With the druids aiding it, the World Tree began to feed as it needed. Azeroth gave forth that sustenance, as it did in one form or another to all life upon it. Teldrassil grew stronger.
The effort was taxing on the druids, though. Malfurion sweated despite the cold air and he knew his followers were likewise suffering. Yet, no one gave hint of quitting, which filled him with pride for each of them.
What would have taken many years—what even they had believed was beyond the original World Tree, Nordrassil—now took place all over Teldrassil. It suddenly came in a wonderful rush of life.
From the crown came a cacophony of ear-splitting cracks. Malfurion feared at first that the druids' efforts had been too much for the stressed tree after all and that all the ruined branches were about to go tumbling. But no branches fell. In fact, those within sight, even the most damaged, began to heal. Breaks sealed seamlessly. What Malfurion had heard was the branches moving back into place.
And wherever the branches healed, new growth instantly followed. Buds sprouted everywhere, then, without hesitation, blossomed into beautiful draping leaves.
The healing was not merely on the surface, however. The archdruid felt a surge of energy throughout Teldrassil that originated from the roots and rose all the way to the top and into every branch. The World Tree in turn fed the many smaller trees and other plants growing atop it___until all were healed.
It all seemed finished, but the druids did not lessen their efforts, for Malfurion had not given them the word. Though he and the rest were already well exhausted, Malfurion searched the World Tree with his heightened senses.
He came across no lingering sign of the taint. With relief, he gave the other druids permission to end their spellwork.
Malfurion broke the link after telling the others to take a moment's respite. Despite what else was happening, the druids would be of no use if they did not recoup. Even he dared take a deep, cold breath of air before transforming to storm crow form and once more taking flight.
The swift and wonderful success of their task also gave him new strength. The archdruid rose high in order to better view what he could of the renewed canopy for a moment.then hesitated as a great reptilian shape emerged from the thickening mist. For a moment, he thought that perhaps Ysera had escaped and had come to him.
Yet though it was a dragon of immense proportions, he immediately registered that it was not green.. .but crimson.
"Archdruid!" the leviathan, a female, roared. "I know you despite that form! You are Malfurion Stormrage!" The dragon cocked her head. "I had thought you lost!"
The archdruid dropped down to the World Tree's crown, alighting. Shifting back to night elf, Malfurion called, "Alexstrasza!
Great Life-Binder! Sister of Ysera! Do you bring news of Ysera's escape?"
Her arresting visage twisted into one of sadness. "No, mortal, I do not! That she struggles even captive is all I have to keep heart! I come because I sensed some great flourishing of life in a time of peril! It was such that I could not help but come and see.and it seems that you are the source of it!" Alexstrasza peered at Teldrassil. "And what a feat, Malfurion Stormrage!"
"Teldrassil had to be healed, Life-Binder! Even though it was raised up against our wishes, it now stands as one of Azeroth's strongest remaining forces! "
"So it does.so it does." the Aspect's expression was guarded. There were clearly many thoughts racing through her head. Finally, "Even though this was fashioned without the blessings of any Aspect, it was still a beautiful and proud sight, I will admit—"
At that moment, the archdruid suddenly felt light-headed. It was all he could do to keep from falling off.
The great dragon peered close at the tiny figure. "Malfurion Stormrage, while you have been seeking to help everyone else, have you taken no respite?"
"There—there is not time enough—"
The red dragon briefly looked from him to the canopy, and then back again. After a moment, she stated, "There must be time for this."
Alexstrasza reached out and took up the archdruid in one palm. She then rose higher and higher, so high that the entire crown was at last visible. Malfurion, still clutching the small branch, shook his head in disbelief at seeing such a height. He could not have flown so high himself.
"I have come to a decision," the Aspect declared in a booming voice. "Though I and the others did not bless this tree at the beginning, a blessing is needed now!"
She spread her wings wide and a glorious, warm glow radiated from her. The Life-Binder smiled down upon Teldrassil as she would have any of her children.
"Let this blessing touch Teldrassil and all upon it!" the red dragon commanded. "And let it create for us a new hope and a new beginning, also! "
The golden-red glow spread from Alexstrasza to the crown. With astounding speed, it continued down toward the trunk and then below beyond Malfurion's view.
And with that.it was done. Teldrassil was not only healed.it was now blessed, if only by the Life-Binder. Still, that single blessing meant very much.
Alexstrasza circled high above the World Tree. The transformation was complete. The glorious glow muted, but did not vanish from Teldrassil.
"It is done." she declared, "and not a moment too soon!"
"Why? What is happening now?"
"You have not felt it? The Nightmare is sealing all paths into it! Now that it can reach out into Azeroth, it is preventing any from physically reaching it! You as a druid should be able to sense it! The portals are being shut one after another!"
"The portals—" Malfurion shut his eyes for a moment and sensed that it was true. That brought something else to mind. "What of the green dragons? Would not Ysera's dragonflight stop this from happening?"
"They still fight in the Nightmare, but their chances are waning, as are those of the few left fighting with them! They have no time or numbers to deal with this."
The night elf gaped. "Darnassus!"
The Aspect eyed him. "Darnassus?"
"The portal there! It was open when I left! It may—"
Without another word, the Life-Binder veered toward the capital. Her speed was such that in moments the city came into sight. Alexstrasza tilted to her left, then headed toward what was left of the Temple Gardens.
She landed, then released the archdruid. Quickly looking around, Malfurion discovered Broll, Hamuul, and some of the other druids rushing toward him. In addition to them, a handful of Sentinels, including Shandris, also remained. Stunned stares took in the sight of the dragon.
"Shan'do!" Broll called as he ran. "Teldrassil is—is whole!"
"Would that the same could be said for Darnassus," Shandris muttered as she joined those gathering around Malfurion. "Or the rest of Azeroth."
The archdruid waved off further comment. "The portal? Is everyone through? Is it still function—"
As he spoke, Malfurion once again felt light-headed. The rush of adrenaline was fading. Broll and Hamuul had to grab hold of him.
But as Malfurion fought to recover, he suddenly felt a comforting presence nearby, one that he had never known before. It had a similarity to something that the archdruid had thought lost forever .and that was what allowed him to identify it.
Teldrassil was reaching out to him. As it had been healed, so did it offer healing to Malfurion. Gone was not only the taint, but also Fandral's touch. The World Tree was nearly as it would have been had it been Malfurion who had guided its creation.
"You know, then?" He heard Shandris growl. "It sealed just as the tree healed! We thought it at first something you'd done, but—"
"The Nightmare is sealing off all physical routes to the Dream," the red dragon informed them. "So, it is too late here, as well."
Malfurion said nothing as his head cleared somewhat. In touching him, Teldrassil had also revealed to the archdruid something of great interest.
Malfurion straightened. "The enclave.we must go there."
Without waiting, the Aspect seized up not only him, but, as they stood with him, Broll and Hamuul, too. It was a simple thing for her to carry them the short distance to the enclave and then land again.
Fandral's sanctum lay in ruins, the vines that had guarded his abode dead. There had been nothing to salvage in them; they had been the result of the mad archdruid's work combined with the evil of the Nightmare.
"Is this where Fandral has always made his home?"
"Nay," replied Broll. "He originally chose the top chamber in the largest tree. That tree there." The other night elf pointed to an area not far away to the right. "But a short time back, he suddenly had this created."
Malfurion nodded. "That verifies what I thought. I need but a moment." He handed the small branch to Broll. "Watch this for me, but be wary of it."
"I understand, Shan'do," Broll murmured.
Malfurion stood with arms raised in the middle of the enclave. Time was of the essence, and he prayed that what he attempted would not take long. He also prayed that he was not wrong in his assumption.
Though he stood, the night elf set himself into the beginnings of a meditative trance. Long experience enabled him to swiftly reach the state he desired, a place between the physical and dream worlds. It risked leaving him vulnerable to the Nightmare and Xavius, but it also opened him up to what Teldrassil offered.
He reached out with his mind and soul to the World Tree.and the tree welcomed him. Feeling its gentle touch both thrilled and saddened the archdruid. He prayed for Teldrassil's recovery, for all of Azeroth's recovery, should the world survive this assault.
The night elf opened up his defenses to the tree. If there still remained any hidden hint of Xavius's evil, Malfurion also opened himself up to his foe.
But all he felt was Teldrassil's wondrous warmth. All the suffering, all the lack of food and rest, began to diminish. Malfurion smiled.
A primitive part of Malfurion wanted to escape into Teldrassil, become part of it and abandon his mortal existence. That was always a risk for druids, becoming so caught up in the glory of the natural world that their own existence paled.
But then the face that always pulled Malfurion's heart and soul even more than this desire brought him back to harsh reality.
"Tyrande." he whispered to himself.
Teldrassil seemed to echo his sentiment, for its leaves shook even though there was no wind and Malfurion swore that the sound they made was akin to the high priestess's name.
Malfurion did not know how he could succeed in saving Tyrande. He could only fathom one possible course.
The Life-Binder was the only one remaining with him, Malfurion never daring to ask an Aspect to leave. Yet, Alexstrasza remained patiently silent, apparently deciding that the night elf was the one whose actions meant most at the moment.
He crouched, setting one hand on the ground before the sanctum. As he did, Malfurion spoke with Teldrassil, asking it to help him reveal the truth.
The power flowed from both the archdruid and the tree. The damaged structure trembled. The once-deadly vines became ash and the artifices set in place by Fandral fell away. The sanctum reshaped, becoming something familiar yet astounding.
"Impossible!" Broll muttered.
Rising, Malfurion stepped toward his discovery. He had sensed its presence. He had known it would be here, despite the fact that it should not.
Fandral had in secret created his own portal to the Emerald Dream.
It was simple, its round form shaped by winding branches and stonework. Powerful spells had masked it from the others.
"It is still open." Alexstrasza said.
Malfurion nodded, then reached out with his thoughts to the other druids. My friends...come to the enclave...
The other druids came but moments later. All gaped at what Fandral had wrought, but Malfurion could not give them time to digest its presence.
"It is all up to us," Malfurion said to the others. "We must make the final stand against the Nightmare. This is what our calling has prepared us for. A taint seeks Azeroth; as those who tend the forests, plains, and other lands that are its gardens, encourage the bounty of life that is its fruit.we must end this infestation."
The gathered druids went down on one knee before him and even when he gestured that they should rise, they remained in the respectful position.
"What would you have of us?" Broll, who seemed to be speaker for the rest, solemnly inquired.
"What I should not ask. I need you—and, yes, all those we can still summon to come together be they druids or not—to march upon the Nightmare itself through this, possibly the last portal on Azeroth."
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