By the time Llorrin got back to his cabin Fairmount and Jeredan were already at work. Elena had written several pages, but was looking weary. Jeredan on the other hand seemed more enthusiastic about retelling their journey than Llorrin had expected.
“… and then I took off two naga’s heads with one swing,” Jeredan said as Llorrin was closing the door behind him.
“Very poetic,” Fairmount said as she struggled to keep up with Jeredan’s pace.
Llorrin quietly walked over to the desk, picking up some of the pages Elena had written. Her handwriting was pretty much flawless, far better than his own, but Llorrin wasn’t sure if the text really covered all the facts. It’d been a while, but Llorrin wasn’t sure he remembered Jeredan playing such a big role as the report was claiming. He quickly skimmed through some of the other pages. He immediately noticed how much he saw Jeredan’s name. Jeredan did this, Jeredan did that. Jeredan had a say in all the major decisions… Without Jeredan the mission certainly would’ve failed. If it weren’t for Jeredan…
“Elena,” Llorrin said, interrupting Jeredan mid-sentence as he was describing how he’d killed two mur’gul raiders by smashing their heads together. “On this page alone I’ve counted the name ‘Jeredan’ at least twenty times. Are you trying to make it look to Adane like I fell in love with him?”
Fairmount sighed irritably. “No, but it’s hard to filter the facts when you’re trying to work as fast as I am. What you’re seeing is pretty much what he told me, word for word,” she said, pointing her quill at Jeredan’s face accusingly.
“Are you doubting my words? You weren’t even there!” Jeredan protested.
“Well, you’ll save time by not describing every little thing Jeredan did… or didn’t do… in detail,” Llorrin said. “Jeredan, you looking to be promoted? Being a captain isn’t all it’s cranked up to be, you know.”
“I don’t need a higher rank to run this ship,” Jeredan shrugged. “I’m just being my true honest self here.” He looked back at Elena, who was raising an eyebrow like she couldn’t believe Jeredan was being serious. “Should I get Carekon to do this instead? I guarantee you’d fall asleep,” Jeredan warned Fairmount.
“Oh no, your company is so much more preferable,” Fairmount said with a thin smile, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Jeredan looked up at Llorrin. “Do you see what I’m having to endure here? Some harmless self-promotion is the least I deserve in return.”
Llorrin was beginning to wonder how he’d even managed to get this far with his dysfunctional crew.
“You know what, Jeredan? You keep the report as close to the truth as possible, and I’ll tell Adane what a great help you’ve been myself,” he told Jeredan.
“A nice compromise, I’d take it if I were you,” Fairmount said with fake kindness. “The sooner we finish this, the sooner you no longer have to suffer my company.”
When Jeredan didn’t protest, Fairmount smiled and put the quill back against the parchment.
“That’s settled then. Less about you, more about the important things, please,” she said. “Oh and just so you know, we’re working through the night.”
“What? I didn’t spend the whole day sleeping, lady!” Jeredan protested.
“Then perhaps you should’ve, dear. Come on, this report won’t write itself,” Fairmount said.
Llorrin smirked. For once it hadn’t taken blood, sweat and tears to resolve a situation. It’d only been a minor issue, but he took his victories where he could. Llorrin thought it’d be best to catch a few hours of sleep before dusk. He occassionally woke up to the sound of Fairmount and Jeredan’s squabbling, but didn’t suffer any nightmares. True to her word, Fairmount was still at work even when the night had fallen.
Their work was the perfect excuse for Llorrin to sneak out at night, as they paid him no heed when he left the cabin. Since the ‘murderer’ had been caught, security measures had also been decreased around the ship. The door to the upper deck was still guarded, but the guard posted there seemed barely awake.
“Watch out you don’t tumble off the side of the ship, sir. There’s a thick mist about. Appeared outta nowhere,” the guard told Llorrin as he opened the door for him, trying to hide the fact he’d been dozing off.
“Don’t worry about it,” Llorrin said as he went outside. There was indeed a very thick mist drifting about. He could barely see the far end of the deck, and he imagined the other crewmen would barely be able to see anything at all if they went outside. All the better. No one had to see him talk to Ishrien or, what would seem to them like an empty space. Llorrin just hoped Ishrien was out tonight. Considering her devotion to Elduin, he didn’t really doubt he’d find her.
Llorrin found Ishrien right where she’d been the first time. She didn’t react to his presence, though he was sure she had heard him approach. Llorrin reached out to touch her shoulder.
“Ishrien?” he asked.
When she turned her head he made a startled jump. Her eyes were glowing like on the night she’d fought off the pirates, but her mouth was smiling.
“Ishrien, why are you-”
“He’s here,” Ishrien interrupted him.
“Who is?” Llorrin asked, backing away from her slightly.
“I am,” a voice said from behind Llorrin. He bumped into something massive and quickly spun around, his jaw slacking when he saw what it was. The creature stood one head taller than him, was humanoid in shape and had large wings. Its eyes burned green, just like Ishrien’s. Had the demon inside of him finally broken free? Terror gripped Llorrin and he immediately reached for his cutlass with his left hand and aimed his right up at the creature, shooting raw energy at it at point blank range.
The demon caught the blast on its hand though, and seemed to absorb it into its palm. Llorrin was about to draw forth his cutlass and swipe at the demon’s midsection when both of his arms were suddenly restrained. Ishrien! he thought. What reason did she have for betraying him like this? She held his wrist in one hand and had her own arm wrapped about his body so tightly that it immobilized his right arm as well. Her other hand quickly covered his mouth before he could call for help.
“Calm down, Llorrin,” Ishrien said close to his ear. “Take a closer look.”
Llorrin looked at the demon, who had surprisingly enough made no moves to disembowel him. His skin was stretched tightly over his muscular body and had the light purple colour that was so common with night elves. His fingers and toes were unnaturaly long and had long claws on them, however, and black markings crisscrossed all over the purple skin like veins. The demon wore nothing but black trousers and a metal belt that had a large pearl placed in the middle of the buckle. Llorrin’s eyes strayed up towards the face. The demon had horns which protruded from the side of his head and then went diagonally up, but despite all of these changes the scarred visage was unmistakable. Llorrin’s eyes grew wide when he recognized him. Ishrien slowly slid her hand down from his mouth.
Llorrin opened his mouth to speak, but feared the words would remain stuck in his throat. “El... duin?” he said, his voice barely audible.
“Yes…” the demon said. “This is what I’ve become.”
“How… Why…?” Llorrin stammered. His nerves seemed to be on fire. Was he here for revenge?
“The naga needed a leader,” Elduin breathed. “Some of them had slithered aboard your ship multiple times and confronted me in my cell, to try and convince me to help them... Naturally, I refused.”
“But why you? It doesn’t make any sense!” Llorrin said, struggling to keep his voice down.
“These naga… they used to follow Illidan, the Betrayer, who consumed the Skull of Gul’dan and underwent a… similar transformation to the one that’s happened to me. Naga crave magic more than anything, and he had promised it to them. When Illidan was killed, they were bereft of the magical energies he had promised them. They grew desperate without it. My harnessing of demonic energies attracted them like moths to a flame. In me, they saw someone who could replace Illidan.”
Llorrin cringed. Becoming a demon, or at least something akin to it, had not been Elduin’s choice. That was partially a relief, but at the same time it made him feel terrible for what had happened to his friend.
“That is why you fled,” Llorrin realized. “One of the naga told me they had come for you, and that we should give you up, but I could hardly believe it, let alone share it with the crew…” Llorrin’s eyes widened when he realized he, or at least his men, had played a part in Elduin’s predicament. “I tried to stop them from shooting at you, Elduin, you have to believe me!”
Elduin crossed his arms. “It’s ironic that your men nearly killed me when I was trying to save them from the naga, but it doesn’t matter now. What’s happened has happened. The naga captured me, and healed me.”
“But how did they turn you into… this? Don’t tell me it simply happened of its own accord,” Llorrin said, feeling sick to his stomach. If that were true, then perhaps the same could happen to him.
“It did not,” Elduin said, staring into the mist. “The process was slow, and painful. These naga came back from Outland, and they brought something with them…”
“A demon,” Ishrien said, because it was clear Elduin had difficulty recounting what was no doubt a terrible experience.
“Once I’d regained my strength, they brought me to a dark cave and put me up against the demon. It was the most terrible battle of my life, and I have lived for a very long time and been in many battles. Even after I’d finished tearing apart its body, the demon’s spirit persisted, and my fight against it continued. Close to death and abandoned as I was at the end of that struggle, consuming the demon’s energies was the only way for me to survive. That’s when the demon’s essence started transforming me. It was too much, too much at once. I passed out and awoke… like this,” Elduin said, raising his claws in front of him and staring at them. “I didn’t think the naga had expected me to survive, or that they were going to let me live considering how I’d changed. I was wrong. The sirens healed me once again and then offered me the services of their entire shoal if I led them towards more demonic energies. That was when I realized they had been Illidan’s naga.”
“Elduin, I’m so sorry…” Llorrin started, but Elduin cut him off.
“Don’t be! Nothing has changed! Our fight goes on! I needed an army… and now I have one,” he said.
“But the naga created you to serve them!” Llorrin protested.
“Hah! One of the things the naga didn’t foresee was how powerful consuming the demon would make me… the power it would give me over them,” Elduin grinned, clenching his fist. It glowed with power. “They were expecting me to lead them to sources of power, to drain energies and feed them to them… but since I am part demon now I can serve as a source of energy for them myself… and, I only grant it to them if they obey my commands. The naga are puppets, Llorrin, and I hold the strings that bind them.”
“Manipulating creatures, even the naga, referring to living beings as puppets… This doesn’t sound like the Elduin I remember,” Llorrin sighed, unable to look at him.
Elduin grabbed him by the face, forcing him to look at him.
“Don’t be a hypocrite! Have you not embraced demonic energies yourself?!” he snapped.
“It wasn’t my choice! The demon came to me!” Llorrin said, trying hard not to shout, but even so he felt it wouldn’t be long before they attracted some unwanted attention.
Elduin’s eyes narrowed. “And why did the demon pick you of all people, you think? Because of your influential position? Because of coincidence? No. All that sadness, fear, despair and hatred you keep inside of you… it would’ve made you irresistible to any demon you encountered.”
“It wasn’t my choice to feel any of those things either!” Llorrin protested, gritting his teeth. “Are you holding me responsible for the death of my parents?! If I’d expected anyone to understand, it would have been you, Elduin, but it seems I was wrong!”
“But I do understand!” Elduin said, letting go of Llorrin’s face. “You need to see that we are the same. We both know that the ends justify the means. Let us join forces, and together we will crush the Horde.”
“This is just the same thing that happened to Prince Kael’thas,” Llorrin realized, his eyes widening as he realized the implications of the choice before him.
“Elduin, the Alliance will never accept the naga, let alone demons. If they find out what’s inside of me, I’m done. I‘m not sure what it is you’re asking of me, and I don’t think you know either. I don’t even have the authority to give you just one ship.”
“Forget the Alliance!” Elduin bristled. “We don’t need to work together… not openly at least. I’m already helping your Captain Adane without him realizing it… You are very close to reaching the rest of your fleet, very close indeed... My naga and I have made sure no one discovered your friends by accident. My naga and I can continue to support you from the shadows. Your people will keep pushing for war. No matter how little influence you think you have, I know you are going to play a big role in this, but you are going to need help. Here is my plan: you will serve as my eyes and ears within this fleet to tell me all of Captain Adane’s plans, but you never need to see me. Ishrien can pass messages along in between us without drawing notice. No one will ever suspect you, and the naga will go where you say they should go.”
Though the idea of having an army of naga under his command was tempting, Llorrin still didn’t like it.
“Elduin, have you thought about the implications of bringing voracious naga so close to our fleet?!” he said.
“They are loyal, Llorrin… more loyal than your men, I expect,” Elduin said cunningly.
Llorrin scowled. He hadn’t expected Elduin to hit him where it hurt the most.
“Fine,” he finally said, though he had no idea what purpose he could possibly find for the naga. “But promise me that you can control this curse that has befallen you… as well as the naga.”
Elduin stared at him for a couple of moments with a look Llorrin couldn’t read. “I-” he started.
“Step away from the captain, fiend!” a voice suddenly interrupted him. It was Fairmount, and she had Jeredan with her. Llorrin’s heart skipped a beat. How much of the conversation had they heard? Jeredan was brandishing his two-hander and Fairmount’s knuckles were white as her fist clenched her axe. Ishrien immediately moved past Llorrin and pretended she was ready to defend Llorrin from Elduin. Llorrin didn’t know what to say. With one last look on him Elduin spread his wings and let them carry him into the air, quickly flying out of reach of his would-be assailants. Jeredan still took a swing at him, but his sword cut only air.
Llorrin held back a sigh of relief as Elduin started to disappear, when suddenly a screech tore through the air. Out of the mist came Kurdran and his griphon. The mighty beast smashed into the demon’s side and clawed at him. Kurdran threw his storm hammer at Elduin at point blank range. Electricity crackled in between them as Elduin deflected the hammer with his arm. It reappeared in Kurdran’s hands moments after, ready for another throw. Elduin’s wings carried him backwards and then he quickly turned and climbed to a higher altitude. Kurdran wasted no time to give chase.
“Kurdran, wait!” Llorrin shouted. He couldn’t openly show concern for a demon. “He’s too powerful, get back here! That’s an order!”
Kurdran disappeared into the mist and Llorrin was afraid he hadn’t heard him, but he quickly returned. The griphon landed on the deck, bleeding from his side.
“What the hell was that?!” Jeredan shouted, peering into the mist. Llorrin felt a surge of relief. Apparently he hadn’t recognized Elduin.
“A demon,” Ishrien said plainly.
“We thought you were staying away a bit too long. We heard you talking, though we couldn’t make out any words. What did that blasted thing want?” Fairmount asked, raising an eyebrow inquisitively. She seemed more than a little perturbed at the appearance of the demon.
“It wanted us to give it access to the mana stone in the vault, but we refused,” Ishrien said before Llorrin could respond. “We tried to avoid a fight because he feared it would endanger the crew.”
She’s clearly a better liar than I am, I’ll have to remember that, Llorrin said.
“It’s hard to reason with a demon though, I’m glad you arrived when you did,” Llorrin told Jeredan and Fairmount. Kurdran was meanwhile inspecting his griphon’s injuries and barely seemed to be able to hear him.
“What were you doing out here anyway?” Fairmount, who clearly had more doubts about the story than Jeredan, asked Ishrien.
“What do you think? I’m a night elf. I like night, and the touch of the moonlight,” Ishrien said, smiling as she looked up at the moon.
“More like the touch of the mist,” Fairmount said. “What is up with this darned mist? It’s highly peculiar.”
Llorrin suddenly remembered something Elduin had told him.
“This mist… I’ve seen something like it before,” he mused. He peered over the side railing and looked at the water below. Though he was barely able to see it, his affinity with magic helped him to figure out something was wrong. The sea was pushing back against the ship, holding it in place. No matter how much they were straining the engines, the ship was unable to move, like it had been caught in ice. Clearly magic was at work here. Now who could have done something like that? Elduin had told them they were very close to Adane’s fleet…
“Irewyth!” Llorrin called, looking up. “You can stop playing games! It’s me, I’m back!” He looked over his shoulder at Jeredan. “Go tell Borax to stop the engines.”
Jeredan nodded and headed back into the forecastle. Llorrin shouted for Irewyth again. At first no answer came, but after a couple of minutes the mist suddenly blew away like smoke, and the silhouette of a frigate moved up on the side of the dreadnought, slowly coming to a halt. Llorrin would have recognized the ship anywhere: it was the Lady Irewyth, and on board the deck stood its namesake, looking right at him.
Irewyth perked an eyebrow. “Well, it took you long enough,” she said.