Aunne chafed at the summons, when it came – it could not have been more inconvenient, more unwelcome; her search, crisscrossing over the broken hills of Stormheim, was paramount, and this… this was an irritation, a reminder of the wider war that she had no interest in until Etsiyona was found. However, when the Highlord called, it could not be ignored or dismissed.
And so, grumbling and stomping and not at all happy, she opened her Gate back to Acherus, and stepped through.
Nine were chosen, from the assembled knights, in addition to the Horsemen. Nine knights, clad in saronite warplate, nine of the eldest and most reliable, who were no strangers to necessity or atrocity. The gnome, the tauren, and Aunne were chosen without much reflection – the tactician, the dreamer, and the brute? Of course. The rest were a mixture of skills and races, but all shared one thing in common – they’d all been at Light’s Hope before. They had been there to see the first attack and its failure, and had felt the power of the ground under the Chapel.
Their mission was a simple one – to distract the defenders, to engage the paladins and the little enclaive of vendors and merchants outside of the unremarkable building, ensuring that the Horsemen and the Highlord could go deeper, into the hidden catacombs beneath the little chapel and retrieve Tirion Fordring.
For Aunne, the plan was audacity incarnate, and nothing in her liked it. She balked, and raised her voice with the others that protested, but the argument was sound, if bothersome. THe threat of the Legion was real, and if the Ebon Blade, already stealing the bodies of the fallen heroes of other attacking organizations to replenish its own numbers, was to present a true threat, the Horsemen must have a leader. Who better than Fordring? The stronger the paladin, the stronger the Knight became. It was truly axiomatic – and none had been stronger in faith than the Lord of the Silver Hand, the bearer of Ashbringer, and the destruction of the Lich King.
That didn’t mean she had to like it.
And so, she found herself on her deathcharger, entering the gates under the banner of a somewhat-trusted ally to the Silver Hand. She made small talk with the young paladin on guard duty near the blacksmith’s tent. They spoke of horses and dreams, and his hopes for full induction in the order, and his young wife, and she wondered if he would hate her later, and thought he was suprisingly kind.
She was bringing him soup when the attack came.
Ghouls poured out of the Hand’s cemetary, rampaging down into the tents and outbuildings that made up the ‘town’ around Light’s Hope, within the walls themselves. Bells began to ring, signifying the attack; paladins, the small group of defenders left behind while the rest fought in the Isles on some mission, took up hammer and shield and lept to defend their holdings and friends from the sudden attack of the Scourge.
Aunne, with some regret, reached out to take control of the nearest ghouls, directing them farther into the town, keeping them away from the shopkeepers. She tossed the bowl she carried away, and readied the staff she’d brought with her, a sturdy walking-stick as tall as her horns, leaving her blades in their sheathes – and the young paladin stared at her, horrorstruck.
“You are our /allies/. How could you?”
“… without monsters, there can be no heroes, yes? Please. I do not wish this. It will to be done soon, and we will be gone, and there will be an ending.”
“No! Not while I live!” And his hammer came in a wide arc – too wide for narrow quarters. She deflected it, flinching away a bit from the corona of Light that burst into existence around the hammer’s head. Around her, she could hear the others fighting – the ghouls with their yowling and hunger and claws, the Nine with more precise attacks, forming a perimeter around the chapel’s doors. Below, she could -feel- the earth itself pushing back, as the Horsemen and the Highlord descended. She fought defensively, not trying to cause harm, but still, her staff landed heavily more than once, and the paladin with the wife and his dreams eventually stumbled away, clutching at a broken arm.
Two more took his place; the ghouls were falling, as they all knew mere ghouls must – and the pressure against the nine mounted.
From below, the ground rumbled.
From below, the Light came. It blasted up and out of the chapel, knocking members of the Blade from their feet (or, in her and the Tauren’s case, hooves) even staggering the paladins for a brief moment. Three of the Nine were ended as the light pounded at them, destroying their defenses, burning the ghouls away in a flash of vengeance Aunne knew that all of them deserved.
She did not bother trying to stand. She closed her eyes, waiting, as she felt the Gate open below (and another pair open nearby).
“We are lost!”
“Get them, before the paladins regroup! Hurry!”
And she felt herself lifted, thrown ..
… and then there was Acherus. She could feel the whispers in its stone, the comforting darkness replacing the searing intensity of the Light.
Six of nine returned. She wondered if the Templars would forgive her.
That night, she cajoled a friendly mage in Dalaran to send her to Stormwind, where she spent a day with Ygraine. It was.. overdue, and, if she were to be wholly honest, she was afraid of being alone again, and she needed that moment as a reminder that, perhaps, she was not completely lost.
But the Isles would not wait, and she could not stay.
She heard them on the stone, but said nothing; Stormheim was vast, and there was still more ground to cover. Etsiyona had to be found, before Arialynn and the paladins were told what had happened. Acele had to be rescued. The Unbroken still needed her. There was much to do before the Paladins came.