William King: Illidan

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William King Illidan
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    Illidan
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    Английский
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Illidan

William King

For my son Dan, who accompanied me there and back again

Prelude

Six Years Before the Fall

The ancient darkness surrounding him did not stop him from seeing any more than his lack of eyes did. He had been a sorcerer once, a very great one. His spectral sight revealed every inch of his cell with far more clarity than eyes of flesh ever could.

He could navigate this prison even without it. He knew every flagstone on the floor, every enchantment that bound him. He knew them by sight, by touch. He knew the way his footsteps would echo with every one of the nine steps it took him to pace across the chamber. He felt the flows of magic all around. Spell after spell, enchantment after enchantment, their soul-crushing power intended to do only one thing: make sure he stayed buried here, unremembered, unforgiven.

The ones who incarcerated him intended this place to be his tomb. They had forgotten about him over the long millennia. They should have killed him. It would have been kinder. Instead they let him live, pretending it was mercy. It let those who had bound him—such as his brother, Malfurion Stormrage, and Tyrande Whisperwind, the woman he loved—feel better about themselves.

Long centuries had dragged by when he never heard the voice of another living thing. Only his jailors, the Watchers, spoke to him occasionally, and he had learned to hate them. Most of all he had come to abhor their leader, Warden Maiev Shadowsong. She visited him more than any other, still afraid he would escape despite all the precautions his captors had taken. Once, she had wanted him dead. Now it was her task in life to ensure he stayed imprisoned, when everyone else had forgotten him.

What was that? A faint tremor in the ring of binding spells?

Impossible. There was no escape from this place. Not even death. Spells healed any harm he might inflict on himself. Magic kept him alive without need for water or food. Those bonds had been woven by masters, drawn so tight, intertwined so deeply, that they could be undone only by those who had buried him alive. And they would never do that. They were too afraid to let him go free. Justifiably so.

He had brooded for centuries on what he would do to those who had incarcerated him. Time was the only thing he had. The span of his imprisonment dwarfed all the years he had been free. If he had not been who he was, he would have gone mad.

Perhaps he had. How many thousands of years had it been since he was imprisoned? He had lost track. That was the worst of it. Millennia spent in darkness, trapped in this cage, unable to take more than nine steps in any direction. He who had once hunted demons across the trackless wildernesses of Azeroth had been confined in a place he would not have left an animal.

They had sentenced him to this when all he had done was try to overcome their common foe. He had infiltrated the Burning Legion, his people’s—no, his world’s—sworn enemy. He had tried to undo the harm the demonic invaders had wreaked.

Had he been rewarded for it? No! He had been buried alive. His people had assumed him to be a traitor, a betrayer. They had hailed him as a hero once, but no one did that now. If he was remembered at all, his name would be a curse.

Was that the sound of weapons clashing? He pushed the thought aside. Refused to let hope well up within his breast. There was no one out there who wanted him free. His family and his friends had turned against him when he had tried to re-create the Well of Eternity, the night elves’ ancient fount of magic, on Mount Hyjal. The only ones who might want him to escape were demons. His jailors would kill him rather than let that happen. And as long as the wards remained in place, there was nothing he could do to stop them.

But there it was again. Another tremor in the flows of magic around him. The weaves of power that had bound him all this time were weakening. He raised his hands in front of his face, flexed his fingers, reached out to draw upon the magic. For the first time in millennia, something responded, a trickle so weak that he thought he might be imagining it. He called on his twin blades, the Warglaives of Azzinoth. They had been displayed triumphantly on weapon racks outside his cell, taunting him, but now the ancient soulbindings linking them to him caused the potent weapons to materialize in his hands. Power flowed through them, illumining the runes on their blades.

His heart beat faster. His mouth felt dry. There was a chance of freedom after all. He clutched the warglaives tight. In the past, they had killed demons. Now they would kill elves. The thought did not disturb him as once it would have. He would even take pleasure in it.

Again his magical shackles flickered. The sounds of combat came closer. Some of the bindings had failed. Perhaps they were desecrated by spilled blood or ruined by the spells he sensed being unleashed in the battle. Energy poured into him as his bonds frayed. His heart pounded. His flesh tingled. He felt as if he might exhale fire. After such long abstinence, the flow of power was almost overwhelming.

He sensed a presence outside the doorway of his cell. He prepared himself to attack. A voice spoke, and it was the last one he had expected to hear.

“Illidan, is that you?” Tyrande Whisperwind asked.

All his dreams of vengeance, all his plans for retribution, faded away, as if the long years of his imprisonment had never happened. He was astonished by the feeling; he had thought himself hardened against anything and anyone—especially her.

His speech was rusty after decades of disuse. “Tyrande…it is you! After all these ages spent in darkness, your voice is like the pure light of the moon upon my mind.”

He cursed himself for his weakness. These were not the words he had imagined saying in his dreams of freedom and escape. Yet they rose unbidden to his lips, hope welling in his chest. Perhaps she had seen the error of what she had done. Perhaps she had come to free him, to forgive him.

“The Legion has returned, Illidan. Your people have need of you once more.”

His fists clenched around his weapons. “My people need me? My people left me to rot!” His throat constricted with rage, choking off more words. The demons had returned, as he had always known they would, and his people wanted his aid. Molten anger blazed through him, creating a great void in its wake, and more power flowed in to fill the emptiness.

No doubt about it—the spells binding him were weakened. By her actions, by the loosening of her will, Tyrande had helped undo them.

He concentrated all his fury and all his pent-up frustration into one mighty spell of unraveling. For a moment the weakened chains of magic held, but only for a moment. Rivers of power eroded the barriers around him. Slowly at first, but ever faster, the imprisoning spells crumbled. He smashed through the bars of his cell, tearing apart the stone.

Tyrande stood there, beautiful as ever, staring at Illidan. The years had not changed her. She was still tall, with pale-violet skin and blue hair, graceful as a temple dancer and lovely as a moonrise over Nordrassil. She reeked of blood and unleashed magic. She must have seen his rage, for she turned away, unable to meet his gaze. That hurt more than anything, to see her cringe after all the long years since last they had met.

“Because I once cared for you, Tyrande, I will hunt down the demons and topple the Legion.” He bared his teeth in a snarl. “But I will never owe our people anything!”

She met his gaze this time. Emotions flickered over her face. Hope. Fear. Was that pity or regret? He was not sure and he despised himself for placing so much value on what she thought. What she felt meant nothing to him! Nothing!

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