Netherbane: Metamorphosis Prologue
Ashenvale Forest, Kalimdor, Azeroth
A few months prior to the Burning Legion’s Crusade against Illidan’s Outland.
The demon roared, and the trees around it began to wither. Enraged that its smaller opponent had the gall to still be alive this far into the battle, the creature swung its large sword at the elf with intent to cut him in half.
I will die today, Tharion Greyseer thought as a frown crept across his face. It was not something he thought very often, but he rarely liked it when he did.
As the heavy blade arced towards him, time slowed for the demon hunter. He could see the sword incoming, and he could feel it in the air around him, too. The massive slab of ornate metal cut an invisible wake through the forest. He knew he had less than a heartbeat to react, but his battle focus had increased his perception of time, allowing him to see the flow of events at a more granular level. It was a side effect of his overall heightened senses: he perceived the world with extreme clarity, even with his current exhaustion.
Tharion was a kaldorei, which was just an ancient name for what the Common tongue called a night elf. As a race, the nocturnal humanoids were almost always tall, with skin color that ranged from the dusky violet of a rich twilight to the icy pale of frost. Their ears were long and swept-back from their sculpted, beautiful faces, and most night elves had an athletic build that conveyed a ruggedness born from their life in the wild.
The Greyseer’s features did not stray too far from that of his people. He, too, was tall. His skin was as pale as moonlight, and his long hair was as white as fresh snow. He held it pulled back from his face, which no longer held the youthfulness it had a few thousand years ago. No, Tharion Greyseer, like the rest of his people, was aging. He could feel his weariness deeper now, crawling through his bones and joints like a rot that was eating away at his insides.
Or maybe that was the demon soul that lurked just behind his own. He could never quite tell anymore.
All around him, the thick tree trunks splintered into a thousand shards as they were cleaved by the enormous oncoming sword, sending fragments of wood and bark careening into the air in tiny pirouettes. The gigantic weapon, known as Sunbreaker, shredded every scrap of foliage in its path.
Sunbreaker’s blade was long and wide, but its tip did not taper to a sword point. Instead, the greatsword ended in a disk of metal even wider than the blade’s body. This disk of demon-forged steel was etched with concentric runes that encircled the symbol of a sun in eclipse. Down the rest of the sword’s body were more engraved runes, each pulsing with their own violet glow. The weapon was an immense thing at nearly twice Tharion’s height in length, and it blazed with a dark energy that ignited the airborne debris through which it flew.
The demon wielding Sunbreaker was larger still, a towering beast covered in reddish skin and bony protrusions. He burned with a bright fel aura visible only to those who had sacrificed their natural sight for a demon hunter’s spectral one. He was known commonly as a doom lord—as if such beings of nightmare could truly be considered common. He was a huge winged creature with long, forward-thrusting horns and massive hooves.
He called himself Sraath. A powerful demon lord of the cosmic army known as the Burning Legion, Sraath towered over Tharion Greyseer many times over. A wicked smile was spreading his grotesque face as his sword approached the apex of its swing.
Tharion wore little in the way of armor. His pale body was covered in nothing more than a long kilt reinforced with demonhide scales and leather. His ruined eyes, wrapped with a tattered brown blindfold, could see the magical energies that swirled around the oncoming blade, but there was little he could do to withstand its impact. Seeing the cause of your death with precise clarity often did nothing to ease the fear of dying.
Despite lacking natural vision, Tharion could see the auras of power that permeated the world around him. He, and other demon hunters like him, had ritually developed a spectral sight that, with time, grew more potent than traditional vision. This was most often a blessing for those who hunted beings of darkness and shadow, but, in this case, it felt like more of a curse.
Tharion raised Felborne, his own two-handed demon-forged weapon, to block the attack. He knew the much smaller sword would not be enough to stop Sunbreaker, but instinct was difficult to override in the heat of combat. Felborne was also a greatsword, but it was nowhere near the proportions of Sraath’s primary instrument of destruction. The black weapon pulsed with a silent soul-consuming fury as it felt the larger sword approach at incredible speed. The sentient anger of Felborne’s bound demon soul would not be enough to withstand Sunbreaker’s impact, and it knew this.
This will kill us both, the blade's spirit sent through the mental link it had with the demon hunter. This forest will be our grave, you fool! Run!
Tharion ignored the frantic warnings from the demon’s mental panic, steeling himself for the collision that was a mere instant away. He knew he should evade the blow, for the impact would likely split him in half, but there was no time. While he could see the destruction around him unfold in exquisitely fine ticks of the clock, he was still bound by the the physical limitations of his exhausted body. So, Tharion stood his ground and braced himself.
A surge of power and panicked frustration lanced through Tharion’s mind from his sword, urging him to flee—the demon soul’s last attempt to preserve itself.
It did no good. Tharion did not move.
Sunbreaker hit with the force of a meteor impact, and the forest around the two combatants flattened outward as demonic energies exploded from the collision. Tharion was thrown to the side, his body spinning like the splinters of bark in the air around him. His rag doll form folded around the trunk of a tree and his breath exited his lungs in an instant. He hit the ground unceremoniously.
Dazed, Tharion realized that Felborne was still in his grasp, and it was intact! The pulsing from the weapon was weaker now, however, and the mental voice was silent. Tharion stumbled to his feet on unsteady legs and immediately sought the dense fel aura that was the doom lord. He hurt, but he was, surprisingly, not dead. Thank Elune for his increased resilience.
Sraath, too, appeared to be dazed, having toppled backwards into a cluster of trees. They appeared to have snapped under the demon’s weight, but they had cushioned his fall. The demon lord appeared far less discomforted than the hunter.
Tharion’s abdomen and ribs ached, and he was certain he had broken a few of them. The fel energies flowing through him would, given time, knit together many of his injuries, but the adrenaline of the fight risked making his body unaware of its damage until it was too late. If he took more injuries than his demonically charged healing could repair, he would die like any other. He had to end this soon.
A deep, bellowing roar echoed from beyond a hill to the west where one of Tharion’s students, Fethas Ravenmoon, was engaged against a powerful demon known as a pit lord. Their two attacks had been coordinated together. Fethas had suspected that Sraath was empowering the pit lord, Daeloth, and was somehow gifting the other demon with enhanced strength. Disrupting the master’s power would likely weaken the minion, which would make him far easier to defeat.
The plan had required Tharion to distract Sraath and disrupt the flow of power to the other demon. He had no idea how Fethas’s fight was going, but he knew that his attempt at disruption was failing. Daeloth was likely still at full power, and Fethas’s life was at risk.
“That weapon of yours is impressive, Greyseer,” rumbled the doom lord with a twisted frown upon his face. “There are few artifacts in the cosmos powerful enough to withstand a blow from Sunbreaker.”
His voice was like thunder. Broken tree trunks cracked and shattered further under the weight of the large demon as he stood, and Tharion noticed with surprise that the creature’s gargantuan sword was now broken. The blade was a quarter of its original length shorter, ending now in jagged shards that bled uncontrolled light and dark into the air. Of the steel-wrought eclipse symbol at its tip, there was no sign. Sraath did not appear to be pleased.
“I remember Zevash as he was before you bound him,” the demon lord growled. “He was a strong ally to us, then. Unfortunate to see how far he has fallen. He is little more now than an obedient dog tethered to a weakling master.”
The weapon in Tharion's hands began to pulse more strongly at the use of its true name, exuding something Tharion had not felt from it in years: disobedience. There was another faint sensation, too, like a mental tugging, that pulled the demon hunter's weapon towards the massive doom lord. It both hungered for battle and craved freedom.
Tharion realized that he would have to be careful. The blade was bound to him, soul to soul, and what happened to one was likely to happen to the other. Zevash’s powerful demon soul had been bound into the weapon, ritually chained to the Greyseer’s and wielded against its former brethren. The demon’s still-lucid spirit provided Tharion with the secrets to a demon’s power and how best to kill it, and, in return, the demon was allowed to continue its existence while feeding upon the souls of Tharion’s prey. Zevash no longer had much choice in the matter.
If its demon soul were to break free, however, Tharion was uncertain what would happen. The demonic binding was at the core of every demon hunter’s power, and he had no desire to discover what losing it meant.
“He is under my control,” Tharion growled at Sraath, half to antagonize his enemy and half to reassure himself. He hefted his own blade once more, bringing it up to the ready. He lowered his stance to both strengthen his footing and allow his long kilt to mask the position of his feet. In more controlled duels, the concealment prevented an opponent from anticipating the next strike. However, against a demon lord such as Sraath, it often did not matter. For Tharion, it was merely instinct.
Sraath bared his teeth in a wicked grin and burst into motion far more swiftly than a creature of his size should be allowed. The demon brought up Sunbreaker's remains for another swing.
Tharion reacted, pushing himself towards the doom lord and sliding between his knees along the blasted grass. He swung Felborne as he passed beneath the beast and sliced through Sraath's ankle, cutting apart the flesh and cartilage of the joint just above the demon's hoof. Sraath cried out and stumbled, letting go of his large sword. The momentum of the heavy blade, still massive despite being ruined, had pulled him off balance. The demon’s huge form came crashing to the ground as Tharion leapt away, and Sunbreaker spun across the clearing and disappeared into the trees.
* * *
Fethas rolled out of the way as Daeloth’s immense poleaxe slammed into the forest floor where she had been standing. Clods of dirt exploded from the impact, showering her and the demon with the soil of Ashenvale forest. She was used to dirt; her druidic upbringing had made her accustomed to a life surrounded by the grit and grime of a living forest. It had not accustomed her to fighting demons, however. Tharion Greyseer had done that.
The night elf demon hunter sprang to her feet and immediately began to run towards the looming pit lord. The creature was a huge thing with four pillar-like legs that supported a muscular, reptilian body wrapped in green and black scales. Wings, far too small to allow flight, were folded against the demon’s back. A mane of blazing green felfire flowed from the tip of its porcine head down its scaled spine to its heavy tail. Two arms thicker than the surrounding trees gripped the heavy, long-hafted axe that it wielded. With ease, it lifted the weapon out of the rent in the ground created by its impact.
Daeloth, known as the Silencer, had earned his name because of the aura of stillness that enshrouded the violent creature. It was a strange contradiction for a beast so readily able to bellow its rage to be engulfed by a cloud of utter soundlessness. Some legends claimed that the fuel for Daeloth’s limitless anger came from the very motion of the cosmos, and the sheer depths of his brutality drained all cosmic energy from around his corporeal form, leaving only silence. Those legends say that some worlds had ceased to spin entirely when faced with the demon’s unstoppable onslaught. They claimed that the best way to accept your inevitable death when facing the pit lord was to be still, be silent, and be at peace with yourself. Thus, you were not feeding your own demise.
Fethas was not at peace with herself, nor had she any desire to accept her death, so she kept moving. She slid beneath a horizontal slash that felled three trees to her left as if they were wheat beneath a farmer’s scythe. The wet grass in this part of the forest made the maneuver easy, but it also made rolling to her feet a little more difficult. It took her a second to catch her balance.
Daeloth pressed the advantage, backhanding the demon hunter with the force of falling boulder. The demon’s massive hand was almost as large as the young night elf, and it sent her flying through the forest and into a tightly grown cluster of trees. She cursed as her body tore through the branches before impacting the ground and rolling a few meters.
“Such a small, pitiful little creature you are,” the pit lord boomed. His voice was deep, like the shifting of the earth during a violent quake. “You are not even the strongest of the ones that I hunt. What do you even have that could challenge me?”
Fethas, brushing off the leaves and other plant debris gathered from her fall, stood. She quickly surveyed her surroundings before nodding to herself. As she turned to face the demon from between two trunks, she released a hooked blade hanging from her belt. A wrapped length of cord connected the hilt of the weapon to a loop on her waist. She smiled and uncoiled the thin waxed rope, but she did not respond to the demon’s taunt. Fethas was never one for banter.
The smile was enough. The pit lord bellowed its challenge and charged at her through the trees, flattening the ancient woods in his path. The sound of the demon’s guttural howl and the cracking of hundreds of thick trunks made a cacophony that sounded like the end of the world.
Fethas stood her ground. The deafening ruckus faded to silence as the demon’s sprint brought it closer, but the shaking of the earth could still be felt through beneath her feet. Daeloth’s soundlessness was unnerving. She had understood blindness once, during the earliest of her training under Tharion Greyseer, before she had developed her spectral sight. To be in sudden perpetual darkness and pain had frightened her then. To be in sudden perpetual silence frightened her now.
Daeloth lifted his axe, cleaving the upper layers from the forest canopy above him. His muscular arms tensed, and he began to bring the weapon downward. As the forest around them was torn apart without a sound, Fethas moved.
She flung her hooked blade upwards, to a tree on her left. The sharpened steel buried itself into a thick trunk, and the demon hunter pushed herself away while pulling on the attached cord. She yanked herself out of the path of Daeloth’s descending weapon, watching it collide with the spot where she had just stood. Then Fethas was swinging through the air, guiding herself upwards by pulling on the rope. She landed on a branch next to her blade, then tugged it free. In an instant, she flung it again, this time at the demon’s exposed back.
The weapon buried itself in the soft flesh behind where the arm met the torso, but Daeloth made no sign of noticing. Fethas pushed herself off the branch and used the cord to guide her way towards the pit lord again. Using her free hand while sailing through the air, she drew another sword from the sheath upon her back. As Fethas landed upon the demon, she shouted a word of power.
A hundred tiny stones sprang to life around the pit lord, each buried beneath the underbrush at the demon’s feet. The stones, which she had placed earlier, began illuminating the forest with an ethereal glow. Upon each stone was carved a rune, and the sequence of runes described a specific intent: a ritual binding. The huntress smiled as she whispered the next words—the ones that would activate the magic she had also prepared beforehand.
Tharion had instructed her on the proper incantation to ignite the binding flame that would forever fuse her soul and this demon into one. Normally, he would have guided her through the ritual binding himself, just as he had guided her through the ritual that had removed her eyes. Unfortunately, the coordinated attack on Sraath necessitated otherwise.
This was to be her test. This was to be her triumph. She just needed to make sure to sever the beast’s soul from its body, and the runic circle would do the rest. There was a point of power just below the rear of the creature’s head, and destroying it would be the catalyst that would trigger the activation stones. It was well-protected beneath the thick armored hide of the pit lord’s back, so Fethas knew she had to focus her strength into this one, single blow.
“All you ever do is charge at your prey, demon,” Fethas seethed. “Did you not think we could use that to our advantage? Or are you too foolish to understand your own predictability?”
With both hands, Fethas Ravenmoon brought her untethered sword down upon the neck of the beast, right at the base of its skull. The next words of of the ritual sequence were forming on her lips as she felt the sword make contact.
The weapon did not penetrate. Instead, it collided with one of Daeloth’s thick scales and snapped with the sharp crack of brittle metal. The bulk of the blade spiraled away into the dark forest around her.
Then the pit lord began to laugh.
* * *
Taldarion Duskmantle’s shoulder smashed into the face of the satyr in front of him, the teeth and bones of the night elf-turned-demon crumbling under the force of the impact. It went down with no further resistance, but its brethren rushed in to fill the hole made in their lines by their companion’s fall.
The blue-haired, muscular night elf demon hunter roared in a cold fury, turning his ruined eye sockets upon the mockeries of his people that stood before him. These satyrs had once been kaldorei, but they had given in to the twisted corruption of demonic powers and embraced the nature-twisting methods of their darker kin. They had been transformed into grotesque mirrors of the night elven people, with bodies covered in coarse fur, hands that ended in taloned claws, and bestial legs that stood upon rough hooves. Horns sprouted form bony foreheads and grasped for the sky like the twisted branches of a corrupted tree.
This tribe had been Sraath’s work. He had sent them against the Netherbane—against Tharion Greyseer’s camp of demon hunters—to divide and disrupt. Taldarion knew that Tharion was, at this very moment, engaged in battle with that very demon lord. It was that battle Taldarion was trying to reach, for he knew that the Tharion did not expect to come back alive. He also knew that Fethas Ravenmoon was also battling for her life against Sraath’s second in command, Daeloth. The two attacks had foolishly been executed in parallel, with both hunters going after their prey alone.
The thought of Daeloth made Taldarion’s blood boil, and he charged into the pack of satyrs with rage on his face and murder in his heart. The pit lord had unexpectedly ambushed Taldarion months ago at Tharion’s Site of Lessons. The young demon hunter had arrived there alone, and had not expected the creature’s presence. He remembered experiencing Daeloth’s silencing aura for the first time. Back then, it had sent a chill down his spine. Now, it just angered him further.
A satyr swiped at Taldarion’s face, but the demon hunter caught the arm before it could make contact. He yanked back on the limb, and the demon stumbled towards him with the force of the pull. Taldarion then planted his foot on the demon’s chest and kicked. With the sickening sound of tearing flesh and popping bone, the satyr’s arm ripped free. Taldarion looked at the severed limb in his hand for a split second before swinging it at another oncoming demon.
More memories flooded into Taldarion’s mind as he fought. He remembered the battle with Daeloth, and he remembered the pit lord pinning his near-corpse to the back wall of one of the ruined buildings as a warning to the others. His arms and legs had been splayed out and nailed into the stone like a rodent being dissected. Not only was it nearly fatal, but it was humiliating, too. Occasionally, he still felt the pain in his palms and in his feet from those wounds.
This is the shape of our mercy, had been the message scrawled into Taldarion’s bloody flesh at the time. It was a warning that Sraath and his minions would not be so merciful with their next victim.
Only the fragmented nature of Taldarion’s demonic binding had saved him once he had been found by the others. Instead of being ritually bound to one demon, Taldarion had merged his soul with several at once, leading to an unstable and incomplete fusion. The imperfect binding caused the demonic essences to burn out and be consumed over time, but it also allowed him to quickly rebind demon souls when his body needed to regenerate. The healing process, however, had still taken months. Only now did he feel himself ready to fight again.
His gruesome club slapped wetly against the face of an advancing satyr, knocking it back. The flesh and bone of the severed arm felt rather ineffective against beings whose bodies were identical in density and strength, and it was just making more of a mess. Taldarion tossed the limb away in disappointment.
“Lord Daeloth taught you a lesson once, demonling,” snarled one of the larger creatures in the pack ahead of him. “Will we have to teach it to you again?”
Taldarion laughed out loud in response. “I survived the pit lord’s attentions. What makes you think I have anything to fear from the likes of you?”
The satyr roared in laughter and charged at the young demon hunter, drawing one of two wicked sickles from a harness on its back. Taldarion dodged the beast’s swing by leaping to the left, but he quickly discovered why the creature had only drawn one of its weapons: the demon snapped its open palm forward, its clawed fingers tightening into a grasping gesture. A strangling energy shot out from the satyr’s extended hand, enveloping Taldarion’s neck and lifting him into the air. He pried at his own throat, trying to pull away whatever was suddenly constricting his windpipe, but there was nothing physically there for him to grasp. There was only the ethereal energy of the satyr’s dark spell.
“Lord Daeloth was being merciful, you idiot,” said the satyr sorcerer with seething contempt. “Do you truly believe that any of you have the power to survive an enraged pit lord? What fools you mortals be!”
The energies around Taldarion’s neck tightened as the satyr taunted him, and he felt his mind go foggy due to the lack of air. His lungs burned and he began to kick his legs in a growing panic.
“You barely have the power to defeat us, demonling,” the satyr sneered as it inched toward the demon hunter. It was close enough now to wrap its bony fingers around Taldarion’s neck, and it did so with a grin on its withered lips. “Your fragmented binding cannot even grant you enough power to defeat me!”
The satyr’s hand was strangely warm. The energies of its spell radiated a heat that, under different circumstances, could have been considered comforting. The thought was unnerving to Taldarion, however, because there were no circumstances his mind could conjure that would find a satyr’s grasp comforting.
Taldarion’s mind latched on to the demon’s words as the world began to spin around him. Fragmented binding. It was a part of himself that he always considered a flaw—a part that was broken. No single binding could provide him the same level of strength as it did others. Because of this, he thought of himself as weaker. Inferior. He had been forced to bind multiple demons, gaining only a sliver of the power each one offered, just to become as strong as even the most undeveloped of the the Greyseer’s students. Maybe, however, just maybe one of those slivers could work for him in a different way.
Taldarion let go of his conscious struggle and delved inward. A part of him felt his body grow limp as he ceased his fight against the invisble strangulation, but that part of him ignored it. He had to focus inward now. As he opened himself, his mind was assaulted by a multitude of voices: the echoes of the demons within his soul. His inner projection was suddenly surrounded by cages, some desolate and empty, and others crammed with souls from the depths of the Twisting Nether. Futher down he went, passing creatures that harbored a hatred for their captor, and others who were little more than fragments of memory still lingering within him.
Further down again, amid the wailing cages of demonic spirits, he found what he needed. Taldarion’s awareness snapped back to the world around him, and he turned his eyeless gaze down upon the fel sorcerer holding him aloft by the throat.
“You forget…what it is…we do,” he croaked at the creature. His throat burned and his lungs ached due to the lack of air.
The demon grinned and tilted his head. “And what is that?”
“We use…the power of demons…against you,” Taldarion gasped as his palm shot out to grasp the satyr’s face.
One of the essences inside him, the one he had found and released, came to the surface without hesitation. A creature with little in the way of a fully conscious mind, the demonic spirit bounded to the forefront of Taldarion’s soul in a fervent hunger. It had been within him for countless months without feeding. Felhounds were little more than the Burning Legion’s guardian dogs, but they had one very important trait: they fed upon the magical power of their victims.
This one was starved.
The satyr sorcerer screamed in fear and surprise as his magic suddenly began to drain into his would-be victim, feeding the essence of the creature within. The satyr’s concentration on his spell broke, and Taldarion felt his feet touch the ground again. With renewed strength, he grasped the satyr’s head with both hands and twisted. The creature’s neck snapped and its body crumpled.
The felfire burned brightly in Taldarion’s eye sockets as the last of the sorcerer’s lingering magic was sucked into his palm. He grinned at the demons around him.
“Which one of you is next?” He grinned as the question left his still aching throat.
* * *
Sraath attempted to rise, but he was unable to stand on the bloodied ruin of his ankle and collapsed again.
“You will not kill me so easily, Greyseer,” his voice, which rumbled like roiling earth, was strained.
“I do not intend to kill you,” Tharion said, stalking his way towards the front of the massive creature. “You have already returned from death once, and there is no guarantee that you would stay dead, were I to kill you again.”
Sraath kicked out with his good leg, attempting to smash Tharion against a tree, but the demon hunter rolled away as the demon’s hoof collided with the trunk behind him. With swiftness, Tharion swung Felborne into the demon’s other ankle. Sraath screamed again as the tree toppled backwards into the forest.
“You seek to bind me, then? You do not have the power to contain my soul!” Sraath roared through clenched fangs. Mockery, amusement, and a strain were heavy in his voice.
“No,” Tharion said, standing once more, “I intend to see you consumed. You see, Felborne hungers for demon souls. He needs them to sustain his very existence. It is how we keep Zevash’s essence intact: a side effect of Eraelan's spell work on this blade. You remember Eraelan, yes? Your former student? My former mentor?”
“I have not forgotten Eraelan’s betrayal. His time will come soon enough, Greyseer!” Sraath snarled as his body rolled forward and he rose to his bloody knees. His immense wings stretched wide, pushing back the limp remnants of the broken trees that still held up some of the forest canopy. Fragments of branches rained down upon the forest floor around them.
Understanding what Sraath intended, Tharion leaped upon Sraath’s hunched form and bounded up to his back. With precise swings of weapon, Tharion severed Sraath’s wings. The doom lord roared in pain again as glowing green fel blood spurted from the ruined pinions. The broken wings then crumpled, dangling by mere shreds of wing flesh.
Tharion spun Felborne around and slammed the thick blade into the base of Sraath's neck, wedging it between the bones of his spine. The demon roared a sound like the end of the world, and Felborne began to glow an intense violet color as the energies of the Twisting Nether began to weave around the weapon.
Tharion’s hands clamped around the handle. Releasing Felborne now, in the middle of a feeding, could result in an uncontrolled cascade that would risk the release of Zevash's soul.
“No!” Sraath boomed. “I will not be defeated like this! You will not contain me!”
Felborne shuddered as the demon lord's essence began to flow into it, the intensity of the glowing light blinding even to a demon hunter's spectral vision. Sraath clenched his fists, gouging the soil with his huge claws. He was panting in frantic pain and horror.
Tharion could only concentrate on Felborne, for the energies whipping around him quickly became a maelstrom of scorching flame and freezing ice. They were still getting more violent, but the peak of the power transfer should be near. Soon, Sraath’s essence would be consumed.
He was uncertain if he would be able to control Zevash after such an influx of raw power. The demon essence had been subdued for many years, and their two souls had fallen into a mutually beneficial arrangement. Now, however, Felborne would have significantly more power, and the scales would likely be tilted in his favor.
The chaotic storm of energies continued to grow in intensity, and Tharion realized that, beneath the churning ebb and flow of demonic power and rage, something felt wrong. The demon soul in the blade had started to fight against him, overwhelming Tharion’s sense of control.
Our pact is done! The thought buzzed through Tharion’s link with the weapon like a jolt of electricity. I will be free once again!
Sraath's body lurched. Tharion’s feet slipped. He gripped his weapon tighter to steady himself, but soon realized that his footing was unstable because the demon’s size was growing. The creature’s back muscles were now half again as large as they had been, and Tharion had to continue shifting himselt to remain upright. Felborne still pierced the base of Sraath’s neck, but the growing wound was starting to swallow the blade, making Tharion’s grip tenuous.
“You cannot contain me!” Sraath bellowed as a surge of visible demonic energy rushed into him from the west. The flow fed the demon lord’s increasing size. “I will not be defeated like this!”
Sraath then rose, and Tharion noticed that his ruined hooves had regenerated. His wings, too, were reconstructing themselves. The torn skin and muscles around his severed bones were reconnecting, and in moments, the demon was whole again. Tharion cursed to himself as Sraath stretched his renewed wings and blotted out the night sky.
The demon lord laughed.
* * *
Daeloth’s laugh caught in his throat and turned into a strangled gurgle. He cried out half-formed words in demonic as his body shuddered and withered.
“No!” the demon screamed as he clawed at the huntress clinging to his back. He shouted into the forest night at his unseen master. “You promised to let me keep this power!”
Demonic energy seeped out of the creature’s body, eyes, and mouth before being blown towards the east like haze on the wind. The felflame mane that had been scorching Fethas’s skin dwindled. The intense emerald glow of the chaotic energies within the pit lord’s body faded. Daeloth’s thick scales softened.
“What…have you…done?” the pit lord gasped to his master as his body withered further.
Fethas regained her perch on the flailing demon. She yanked the hooked blade from its flesh, sending a small shower of glowing fel blood to the ground as she did so. She then plunged the weapon into the base of the demon’s neck where her last blade had snapped. This one penetrated, wedging itself into the pit lord’s spine.
Uncoiling the rest of the rope at her waist, Fethas flung the loop around the pit lord’s head, encircling its neck. She began to pull tight with both of her hands, strangling the demon as her foot pushed her blade deeper.
“You asked what I had that could challenge you,” Fethas grunted as she pulled on the cord with all her might. After a few long heartbeats, the flames faded from the pit lord’s body. “I have patience.”
She then spoke the final word of power.
* * *
Tharion’s grip on his demon blade tightened as he focused his concentration on not falling off. Sraath’s recovery had been a distinct possibility, but the magnitude of his regeneration was a surprise. Even Felborne’s demon soul pulsed a sense of sudden uncertainty.
“I will be your end!” Sraath screamed into the night as he stood fully upright, his reformed wings stretched wide. With a strength previously unseen, the demon lord launched himself into the air.
Unwilling to let go, Tharion gripped Felborne's hilt with both hands. The sword’s intense pulsing increased as the demon took flight, sending a sense of panic into the demon hunter’s mind. Branches ripped at his skin and leaves slapped his limbs as the demon lord crashed through the upper canopy of Ashenvale forest with Tharion upon his back. One of the branches caught the demon hunter’s blindfold and ripped it from his face, letting Tharion’s ruined sockets gaze upon the moonlight from above. The night sky was clear, and Elune shone down upon the normally tranquil woodland. The bright violet glow from Felborne cast an ominous light across the trees below them as Sraath rose higher, burning like an out-of-place moon.
Felborne shuddered, the flow of energy reaching some unknown limit. Cracks spider-webbed down the blade almost instantly, and the hilt snapped off within seconds. Tharion found himself falling from the demon lord's back.
As he plummeted to the ground below, Tharion’s eyeless gaze turned upwards. He saw Sraath's form, twisted and bloated from the vortex of fel energies ravaging his body, explode in an eruption of felfire. Burning green and purple debris streaked across the sky and rained onto the Ashenvale Forest below.
He kept falling.
* * *
The explosion lit the night sky as if it were the sun. A shockwave of demonic energy, filled with debris and demon matter, rained down upon the forest.
Taldarion cursed as the shock made him stumble. What was that? Was he too late? Was the Greyseer somewhere nearby? Certainly, he would not have been up there.
The demon hunter turned his gaze upwards as the flare from the explosion subsided. There, among the falling debris, was something else. Something larger than the small pieces of demon lord that filled the sky.
Something larger and clad in red…
Taldarion Duskmantle cursed for the countless time that day, and then he broke into a sprint.
* * *
There was a fleeting moment of pure, peaceful silence, where Tharion could feel Elune’s gentle moonlight embrace him as he fell.
I will die today, he thought again, but for the last time.
Pain ignited across the demon hunter’s body as he crashed back through the dense canopy of trees, the thick foliage scouring his exposed skin and covering him in bloody scrapes. A few larger branches slowed his fall, but they snapped bones as he bounced from one to another on the way down. The descent felt like it lasted forever, accompanied by the sensation of an angry mob beating him with uncontrolled rage. Tharion’s spectral vision faded further with each blow until darkness took him.
He never remembered hitting the ground.