The missive was blunt enough:
Call to arms. Champions needed in defense of The Undercity. Convene in Orgrimmar.
Ranger-Captain Toriah Sunstorm tucked the slip of paper back into her belt before the warm Durotar winds could snatch it away. The dexterity in her fingers weren’t quite at a hundred percent, but at least her limp was completely eliminated. Whatever pain was leftover, she could bear it. There was simply no more time to be on the sidelines. The Alliance were marching on Sylvanas and The Undercity; her skills would be needed. Not for any loyalty she felt toward the former ranger-general, of course. This assault was all her own doing. No, as usual, Toriah marched to battle because she knew there were civilians to save and friends to help.
She slipped off the half-helm from her dark hair as she entered the shadowy confines of Grommash Hold. Fragments of memory surfaced, unbidden and unwanted. Garrosh Hellscream’s guttural voice whispered in her ears— of threats, of treason, of tyranny. A tiny, sardonic smile quirked at the corners of her mouth. The irony wasn’t lost on her. The Light-damned orc probably would have loved the current state of affairs.
High Overlord Varok Saurfang stood in the middle of the main chamber amongst a crowd of soldiers, adventurers, and mercenaries. To the side, a Forsaken woman in dark, tattered robes looked out of place. Nervous. Catching sight of the elf, the old orc beckoned Toriah over. She tapped her fist, headpiece still in hand, against her chest in the traditional orcish salute; then she bent her head as a sign of respect. The high overlord’s careworn face was heavy with deep, craggy lines, though he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. His haunted eyes held sorrow and guilt. The last time she saw him this distraught was when he carried his son’s body from Icecrown Citadel.
“Well met, high overlord,” Toriah said tentatively.
“It’s good to see you, Sunstorm,” Saurfang rumbled, ignoring the hesitation in her voice. “Glad you could make it, though I wish I could say it was for something worthwhile. Something honorable.”
“There are people who need our help.” The words came out much sharper than she’d originally intended, though she was past the point of caring. She set her jaw, her face hardening into a expression of optimistic determination. “Civilians, non-combatants, friends. There is no greater honor than to help them in their time of need.”
A rueful smirk tugged at the orc’s scarred features. “Well spoken, girl. Then let us hasten to their aid!” He raised a thick, armored hand. All around them, a fierce rallying cry went up from those gathered in Grommash Hold. The Forsaken woman’s bony hands began weaving an intricate pattern in the air, opening a portal to The Undercity. “FORWARD!” Saurfang bellowed. “FOR THE HORDE!”
Toriah slapped the helm back onto her head and readied her bow. She inhaled deeply, letting it out in a slow, measured breath as she stepped through the portal. The thick, dank smell of The Undercity slapped her in the face, as it usually did. But there were other scents intermingled with the usual odor of decay and rot: blood, intruders, danger. Nocking an arrow to the bowstring, she loosed the deadly missile before she finished materializing into the Forsaken stronghold. It flew past Saurfang, startling the orc, and buried itself in the throat of a gnomish spy who was skulking in the shadows.
“Spies.” The high overlord glanced about. “Rid their presence from the city!”
Sighting another target— a masked human who was harassing a terrified Forsaken cloth merchant— Toriah slowly marched forward, staying just a few paces behind Saurfang. While the other soldiers gleefully cut down any Alliance spy they found, the elf focused on making sure every non-combatant they found made it safely out of the fray. Mentally, she shook her head is dismay. How had they come to this?
She didn’t even flinch when they were ambushed by druids; her skills and attention were needed elsewhere. Before long, the party of reinforcements had cleared out most of The Undercity of friend and foe alike. Saurfang wasted no time with rest. He signaled once again to the Forsaken mage to open another portal. This time, they would be heading straight for the frontlines. Toriah took a moment to check her quiver and supplies, then braced herself for whatever she and the others might find on the other side of the portal.
They found chaos. The Alliance lines were moving forward, gaining ground every moment. A group of defenders off to her left became overwhelmed by the sheer number of enemy forces. One of the Horde soldiers, a troll shaman with Darkspear markings and charms dangling from his armor, collapsed to his knees and fell behind in the retreat. The human and dwarven assailants closed the distance quickly, sensing an easy kill…
Then stopped dead in their tracks.
The ground beneath them had turned into a pool of sticky, viscous tar. They looked up and found Toriah grinning at them from a distance. She didn’t give them time to recover their wits. Putting a hand to her mouth, she let out a piercing whistle that seemed to silence the battlefield for a handful of heartbeats. A blur of orange-gold fur bounded out of the smoke and dust, placing itself between the Alliance soldiers and the injured troll. She rushed into the gap, throwing the troll’s arm around her shoulders to carry him to safety. Behind her, Orion let out a final growl of warning before running after his mistress.
A much louder growl and roar of machinery suddenly cut through the battle noise. Handing the shaman into a medic’s care, Toriah turned around to see a large siege vehicle had crashed onto the field. Though powered by the mysterious new substance azerite, the machine was no match for the Alliance forces. King Anduin Wrynn himself landed the final blow, his golden hair flying behind him.
Amidst the group of Horde fighters who had rallied at the front gates, a goblin and Forsaken pair were walking about, almost leisurely. “Gas masks!” they bellowed, as if they were mere merchants trying to hawk their wares at a marketplace. “Get yer gas masks here!”
Gas masks? Toriah felt the heavy object slap into her hands as she tried to figure out why they needed gas masks. Surely the Alliance hadn’t developed some sort of chemical agent to—
The world seemed to tilt around her as she finally figured out what was happening. She hurriedly bent to the ground, looking her feline companion straight in the eyes. “Go back into the city!” she snapped. “Find Chieftain Bloodhoof and do not leave his side. I’ll come find you. Hurry!”
Orion yowled in protest but took off nonetheless. Toriah scrambled to get the cumbersome mask over her head, and just in time. The catapults sounded muffled inside the confines of the protective headgear. In no time at all, a swath of deadly green blight spread before the walls of Lordaeron— a cloud that consumed Horde and Alliance alike.
Saurfang clapped Toriah on the shoulder. Through the mask, she could see his tired eyes filled with horror. “Our soldiers are dying out there!” he yelled.
Without thinking, the elf grabbed the bag of spare masks from the goblin, who yelped in outrage. As she dashed out of the city gates, she snatched up a satchel of healing potions from the medic station. Dimly, she heard Saurfang yelling after her. She came upon the first fighter wandering around in the green mist, hacking and coughing, in seconds.
“Bottom’s up!” she said, tipping the vial’s contents into the warrior’s mouth. When the last of it was gone, she slipped a mask over his head and pointed him toward the open gates where Saurfang and the others were holding the line. And so she went from soldier to soldier until she ran out of masks and potions. A couple of them were actually members of the Alliance, but she was too focused to care about that technicality. Those, they scrambled away once they realized who she was, back toward their king, without another word.
By the time Toriah made it back through the gates, most of the Horde soldiers had made it to the central courtyard. Her mask was snatched off in an instant and she found herself face to face with a rather irate High Overlord Saurfang. “That was a foolish thing you did out there, elf!” he barked. Then, his features softened. “Thanks to you, many of our wounded made it alive. Good work.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, breathless.
He was about to say something to the remaining troops when a chill wind blew through the courtyard. They noticed the clouds of blight had disappeared. A thick layer of frost covered everything. Looking up, they saw an ethereal ghost of a ship appear in the sky. Standing at the bow was Lady Jaina Proudmoore.
Toriah suppressed a groan of dismay. Could this get any worse? A blast rocked the city to its very foundations, sending debris flying into the air. She glanced about and realized Proudmoore’s arcane-fueled ship had arcane-fueled cannons as well. Guess that answers that. She helped the medics bring the wounded deeper into the city ruins as the walls fell behind them. Ahead, Nathanos Blightcaller stood tall and confident as he directed forces to their stations. Chieftain Baine Bloodhoof of the tauren seemed ill at ease, his ears twitching this way and that. And at his side was Orion, looking just as nervous.
The lynx ran to rejoin the hunter, causing Baine to notice Toriah’s approach. His huge hand clasped her forearm in a warm embrace, nodding silently. She hadn’t forgotten his words. They kept the exchange brief, almost overly formal; though it still didn’t go unnoticed. A slender figure stepped up in their periphery and cleared his throat drily.
“I’m a little hurt you didn’t entrust Orion to my care.”
It was meant as a joke of sorts. Baine’s ears flattened ever so slightly at the tone. Toriah narrowed her gold-white eyes as she turned to face the Regent Lord of Quel’thalas and leader of her people. Her mouth compressed into a bitter, thin line. “These days, I’d entrust little to you,” she said. “My lord.” She sketched out a lazy half-bow to him and began to walk away.
Lor’themar Theron chased her down all the same, apparently not done with his subject. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He put on a burst of speed and cut off Toriah’s stride. “Tori, wait. I… You have no idea how glad I am to see you on your feet again.”
“Oh, I’m sure.”
“If you have some quarrel with me, have out with it.”
“Did you know?” The light in her eyes flared, threatening to burn into the former Farstrider. “Did you know what Sylvanas had planned? What she did?”
“You mean the burning of the World Tree.” To Toriah’s relief, there was a flicker of guilt and remorse in Lor’themar’s expression. “I knew she was going to attack the kaldorei, but you must believe me that I had no idea she would burn Teldrassil. I don’t think any of us did.”
Toriah didn’t back down. “Thousands of innocents are dead. A friend of mine is dead, Lor’themar. I buried her on the hills of the Quel’danas. That guilt— nay, that blood— is on us all!”
“And do you think the kaldorei shed any tears when Arthas carved his way into Quel’thalas, killed our king, poisoned the Sunwell, and doomed many of us to death?”
“Is that supposed to make it better?” She stared hard at her friend, incredulous. “What happened to you, Lor’themar? We are better than this! Our world is dying and all you can do is nurse ancient grudges! You still had some sense, some honor, to realize Garrosh was insane in his thirst for blood. Why can’t you see it now?”
A shout broke them out of their argument. The Alliance were approaching and they far outnumbered the Horde’s ranks. Toriah glanced back at her regent lord, sadness pooling deep in her chest. He only shook his head. “Be wary of how you speak, captain,” he said. “We’ll finish this later.”
She wasn’t sure if it was a trick of the light and gloom, but she thought she saw him incline his head to her.
Gripping her bow anew, she ran forward with Orion loping along at her side. By the time she reached Baine’s position on the battlefield, both factions were embroiled in combat. She was very careful and methodical, taking aim at the gnomish inventions that broke Horde lines but refused to shoot anyone of flesh and bone. Then, a slender arrow shot past, narrowly missing her and the tauren chieftain.
The archer looked exactly the same as she did when Toriah last saw her, though it felt like lifetimes ago. It was Alleria Windrunner, and she had a whole host of void elves with her to reinforce the Alliance ranks. Oh no.
“Void elves!” Lor’themar shouted, nearly spitting the name out with distaste. “Take down those traitors!”
Despite the battle raging on around her, Toriah rolled her eyes. “For the love of the Sunwell: GIVE IT A REST.”
The sharp blast from a warhorn ripped through the air. RETREAT! came Sylvanas’s cry. This time, Toriah didn’t ignore the order. She had little desire to remain on the battlefield. Whistling to Orion, she chased after the remnants of the Horde forces. Behind them, the ruins filled with nauseous green mist. To her disgust, she heard the hollow rattling of bones rising from their rest to fight once again.
She’s turning the fallen into her minions.
Saurfang stood waiting for them in the main courtyard. His once proud shoulders were now stooped with sorrow. He regarded the Banshee Queen with anger as she approached. Toriah stood off to the side, listening to the exchange with a hopeless expression— which turned into white-hot anger when Sylvanas dared to invoke his son’s name. A hand gripped her shoulder in warning. It was Lor’themar. He shook his head and motioned for her to move along.
As they passed, Toriah stopped briefly by Saurfang’s side. “The real Horde will never forget, high overlord,” she murmured. “We will never stop fighting.”
The old orc bent his head at her words; then he renewed his battle stance, looking straight ahead.
What remained of the Horde contingent was ushered through the old throne room. Toriah thought she could still see blood stains where it was said Arthas struck down his father, Terenas Menethil. A stray memory of meeting the old king’s spectre during her battle against the Lich King sent chills through her veins. Getting pulled into the grey realm of neither living nor dying by Frostmourne had not been pleasant. The moment passed, though her hands still felt cold.
She jogged along the passages of The Undercity, dodging the occasional body of a slain Alliance spy. When they came out of the tunnel and boarded the airship, Toriah thought quite confidently that it was all over. Sylvanas was nowhere in sight but nearly everyone else was accounted for. Blightcaller was the last to board, carrying his lady’s bow in his hands. Toriah raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
Below them, the ruins of Lordaeron looked like a craftsman’s model. Suddenly, the entire city erupted in noxious blight. The green clouds engulfed everything. She gasped in disbelief. The Sylvanas materialized on the ship’s deck in a swirl of dark smoke. Taking her bow from Blightcaller, she looked across the way to the floating ghost ship Lady Proudmoore had arrived on. She smirked.
Toriah couldn’t tear her eyes away from the ghastly scene receding into the distance. Next to her, a Forsaken mage wept quietly; the grief was raw in his decayed veins. The Undercity had been the only home he’d known for years after being raised from the grave. After losing so much in his previous life, only to lose this as well…
The wind whipped around them as the airship picked up speed, turning about to head for Orgrimmar. As she made her way to the stairwell leading belowdecks, Lor’themar Theron caught her eye. She met his gaze boldly, steadily; her expression grim.
“Because of what she has started, what makes you think they won’t turn their attention north and come for Quel’thalas next?” she asked quietly.
Toriah Sunstorm, Ranger-Captain of the Farstriders and Quel’thalas, walked away without waiting for an answer.