Langara

The Letter

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"Light-touched fool!" Langara Bloodwither grumbled to herself, stomping up the stairs to her quarters in the the Grey Tower.

Moments earlier, she'd been stomping the snow from her boots, looking forward to being somewhere other than ankle deep in Scourge effluence. It had been days of tracking down and killing every Darkfallen she could find in Borean Tundra. That usually meant cutting down walls of abominations in her way, and her armor was bearing the disgusting marks of those efforts.

Upon walking into the tower, a scrap of abused stationery caught her eye. It was precariously perched on some stonework, and she could see dried blood smeared across its text. She plucked it up, hand freshly pulled from her gauntlet. It was crumpled in places, and splatters of ink had been misplaced as the writer attempted to make his mark.

Her expression fell as she read the text. Any onlooker could have actually accused her of being moved by its contents. Fortunately there was no one else in the common room, so that particular slip of compassion would go unseen. That compassion quickly turned to heartbreak, and finally a certain determined gleam appeared in her icy, glowing eyes.

Despite the poor condition of the letter, Langara took her time to fold it neatly away before openly expressing her frustration with Lethien Lina'Dae and his Light-loving tendencies.

Not that anyone was listening.

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Far away in the frozen, barren Northren reaches of Dragonblight, a lone figure loped at an uneven though harrowing pace through the deep snowdrifts, charging hard against the faceless foe of the harsh elements surrounding him.

Lethien's lungs burned as he ran, his crimson eyes flashing wildly in the half disclosing twilight that bound off of the perfectly pale snowdrifts just as it shone from above. His hood and mask were heavy with the frozen moisture of his breath, and his heavy clothing were damp with the deadly moisture that his body turned the snow closest to him into. He had never been in the wilds of Northrend before he happened upon his friends in Dalaran and they invited him into the Gray Tower. Yet, after three days of scarce sleep and long unbroken treks into the viciously frozen farscape before him one thing above all others hung over his tired form with a merciless weight; he was not prepared to weather the harrowing cold that surrounded him as far as the eye could see, and now it was too late to turn back.

Lethien lost track of when he had stopped thinking about what he was looking for in this desolate place. He needed to get away from Duroxas, away from Langara and Erohol, away from the pleasant faces and smiles of the Wayfayer's Rest Inn and away from everyone he didn't know for good measure, and that chiefly was what he was doing. It was a despairing thought to be goaded with the notion that there was none that he could go to for help, but he refused to accept it. Now as he drew ragged breath after ragged breath, heading nowhere but straight away from where he knew those he cared for most were, the young elf simply ran because it was the only thing he could do to bring the change to his situation that was needed. The only thing he had left to trust was his willpower, and the only way he knew his mind was his own was to test it - as he did - defying the pain and the cold that threatened to pull him to the ground with invisible icy knives. Yet, beginning his third day exposed and alone in the wilds of Northrend, he was in bad shape and he knew it.

The frosty glaes that whipped across the perfectly white snowdrifts burned his young, fair skin and split his lips, just as the heavy clothes he wore afforded him precious little actual protection against the deathly cold that robbed him of his strength in the dim hours before dawn. In the cold twilight Lethien shambled on, heaving in painfully cold breaths, unable to recall if it was sunrise or sunset. Each step shot an icy pain through his feet and up his legs, and felt as if he was pulling a mountain behind him as his body moved slower and slower.

The young elf growled hoarsely in effort, a chance at mustering the last of his determination, but he quickly found that he could give no more as his last stepps were dangerously uneven before his ankles wouldn't support him anymore, and he tumbled into the cold pillow of a perfectly smooth snowscape in a blinding whirl.

Immediately the young elf planted his hands beneath him but beneath him his legs did not shake or tremble, they simply did not move. The abyssal cold of the snow seared his soaked gloves, his arms slack and frozen, sluggish, though still serving him as he cried out with a surge of panic, fumbling forward as he forced himself to try and stand once more, but he couldn't...he simply couldn't. Hoarsely again the young elf called into the winds of the North, hot tears burning as they flooded his eyes and traced down his face while he supported himself with his arms as best he could.

Wordlessly he sobbed through weak sounds that were lost in the pealing frosty gales of Dragonblight, and in the relative dark his arms and back eventually gave in to the cold as well. Lethien curled up as best he could where he fell, though as he struggled to breathe while the slow creep of the cold paralyzed him, he could do no more.

~///~

As the sun climbed higher into the skies of Dragonblight and painted the pristine blanket of fresh frost with its pale golden lustre, there was one less elf to witness the dawning of the day.

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She'd taken to sitting in her windowsill at night, one foot pressed against the frame, one on the floor for balance. Watching the crystalline trees waver in the distance reassured her. Going "home" to the tower was something of a relief.

Langara hated the occasional foggy nights. She leaned her head back against the window's frame. Running wasn't the answer, Lethien. We could have helped.

"Try not to die."

Earlier that evening, before the hours when Langara would take her leave from the noise of the living, she'd been drinking in the Wayfarer's Rest. Duroxas ambled in shortly after and took the seat next to hers at the bar. She greeted him with a half nod and then made a point of studying the debris in the bottom of her glass. Not that there was any.

It was better than trying to look him in the eye, anyway.

He still didn't really understand why his presence made her uncomfortable, that much she knew. It was written all over his face. Trying to explain the issue to him was... problematic. She'd started once, it didn't go well. Oh look, I think I see a bubble... no that's just a flaw in the glass... still not looking at you, Duro...

"Evening, Langa."

She winced reflexively at the voice. Langara could count the number of people she tolerated on her fingers, the number she liked having around... was smaller. He hadn't actually done anything wrong, per se. In fact, he didn't even know what it was he didn't do to her. The whole thing barely made sense, and she was the one unliving it.

She sighed, and decided she couldn't afford to loose an ally—a friend. She'd have to make an effort to just let it go.

He tried again, "Have you seen Lethien lately?"

A topic worth discussing! "No, but I found a letter from him in the common room. It isn't addressed to anyone in particular."

"Can I see it?"

Langara handed him the letter, and ordered another drink of bourbon.

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In the witching hour before daybreak - the bleak daybreak it would be in the frozen and cursed climb of Icecrown - a tall, stately elf strode with a smooth gait out of the towering doors of the Shadow Vault and into the swirling frosty gales that bellowed thorugh the maintain pass nearby. On the icy wind a powdery frost flew, a fell mixture of cutting cold that could strip the skin from a man while at the same time clotting his blood. Thorugh the harsh winds a dark though familiar figure emerged before the elf, his fine black and violet robes and cloak billowing madly as a dim smile touched his features. His frost blue gaze glowed with a cool calm amidst the flurries and gusts as he moved forward, the mammoth form before him coming into full view.

The great curves of bony spines and the sapphire gaze of his pet were the most immediately prominent features to note, though the powerfully muscled form and the wickedly serrated jaws of the beast were hardly secondary. As a natural predator everything about the sapphire creature was peerless - strength, stamina, speed, and ferocity - except for it's brain which was rather small and unfortunately for them both a rather obvious single point of failure for the massive reptile. Garr'omph was a blue proto drake, and despite the fact that proto drakes were woefully unenlightened and prone to mischevous destruction, Garr'omph had proven to be a faithful friend to the elf through much bloodshead in Icecrown, and both stood to enjoy the same for a long time yet to come.

As the elf approached he could see the creature's 'precious' cargo, as Garr'omph was want to comb the snows for freshly dead and frozen creatures - be they men or animals - whereupon the blue proto drake would return to the Shadow Vault where his master would patiently undress the dead men and let the large creature eat its fill. It was a ritual that saved them both time as the elf did not have to find food for the beast, and because he was saved time there, Garr'omph had more time to enjoy his food and did so with an almost intelligent casual relish. It was not always this way, but after the proto drake had eaten his first man without the hindrance of armor or weapons it immediately recognized the service the elf could provide for it, and became far more agreeable as a companion very nearly overnight. For the elf this was nothing overly new, as he gave his worg the same consideration.

Wordlessly, the elf paced toward the huge sapphire beast as if it were harmless, the great blue brute swiveling its head to watch the richly dressed elf as he knelt, looking at the small assortment of dead men at the foot of its savage talons. There were several, many of them wearing the tabard of the Argent Crusade this time around. With an easy nod the elf gazed on, sounding out the half dozen fellows before he would begin to undress them. He was an old elf - an impossible feature to divine beneath his flawless alabaster skin and long, shining pale hair. If anything the elf looked vibrantly alive but for the eerie blue glow to his eyes, but everyone knew what that meant nowadays - which partially accounted for why he stayed with his brothers in arms in the Shadow Vault. At least if he was to die there, he would have his boots on.

With a last approving nod the elf stood, pulling the royal garments he wore up his fair though powerfully muscled arms because he was ready to begin - he didn't see any faces he knew. With a careful hand the elf steadied the void-borne weapon at his side, a dim though potent violet maisma sheathing the partially substantial blade of the greatsword. He drew a much more utilitarian knife and pulled the first corpse from the pile, a young Thalassian, whose vibrant red hair and boyish features were at once striking. It was an odd reminder that was nonetheless present - the razor thin whisper between death and life - at times the two were eerily close as he saw them now in the young feyborn warrior.

The elf took a second look at the colors the young warrior wore - a curious derivitive of the Argent Crusade's standard, though nonetheless related he saw. A small pause crossed the elf's pacid, flawless features before he grabbed the lapel of the young warrior's tunic and turned it inside-out, not entirely surprised, though intrigued, at finding the proud emblazon of a Blood Knight inside his tabard in bold crimson embroidery. An odd expression animated the elf's fine features as his glowing sapphire gaze fell upon the fair elf youth's blank countinance. 'You are barely a man...and your sword... the elf's luminous gaze strayed to the proudly crafted pommel - the embalzon of the Horde crafted out of fine steel glinting over his shoulder, 'is still in its scabbard.' For a small moment the old elf straightened, the blade of his knife hovering over the young warrior's neck as he thought. A boy the likes of the one he looked at would be very valuable to a mercenary corps because he was trained as a Blood Knight but was not indentured into service under Silvermoon's flag. The only reason this could be was if the cadre that would have taken him after his knighting bought his service from the king, or in this case the intermediary reigning over Silvermoon, for a respectable sum of money. 'Such a promising future, but you are wasted and gone now,' the olf elf thought as he passed his hand over the young warrior's curiously orange eyes to close them.

In that moment the finely robed elf froze like so much ice where he knelt, his gloved hand still resting over the face of the young Thalassian as his glowing blue gaze speared thorugh elven warrior with an intensity that rivaled the galeing icy winds whipping his fine robes and long, ivory hair. The kneeling elf moved his hand away from the young warrior with a suddenly slow disbelief, his finely gloved fingers stroking together with the same exxagerated care as his gaze lay fixed on the prone elf. He felt the smallest twitch when he touched the young elf's face, the barest whisper of a living response teasing his senses as no other thing could. A moment of still passed before he touched the young Thallassian's features once more, noting a like response with a chillingly genuine smile. "This one is mine, Garr'omph," the elf intoned in a dark, robust voice before moving to the next body with his knife held at the ready, "I care not for the others."

The proto drake simply nodded, watching intently for the first body to be disrobed.

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With a flurry of snow a black dragon perched itself atop the tallest of the peaks in the Dragonblight, high above the bleak snow covered plains that so many of its kind called their graves. It lowered itself slightly, and its master slid off the side onto stone, leaving the drake to settle idly into the snow. The beast was in all aspects completely mindless, the raging soul drained out and replaced by the warlock's influence. Nothing more then a servant and means of transportation now.

Duroxas took a seat upon an exposed bit of stone and gazed out upon the frozen expanse. Each day after reading the Letter langara had on her person, he had ventured into the Dragonblight to search for a trace of the young sin'dorei's fate, but each time he emerged unsuccessful. Nothing was to be found, no footprints, clothing, remains, it was as if his target had never even laid eyes on the wastes of Northrend. His eyes closed for a moment as he recalled the conversation back in silvermoon that enlightened him to his young friend's foolish plight.

~~~~~

"Well, what do you think?" The death knight had asked after he head read the letter thoroughly.

"You said it wasn't adressed to anyone in partcular?" he responded, and when she nodded he sighed. "Well from what I see, I think it was meant for you to find..."

He pointed out a few lines to Langara, a couple of the more emotional sentences.

"He also was talking to someone who witnessed the...incident with Erohol. Only you and I saw that as far as I can remember, and he surely isn't talking to me here. I think he really cared for you Langara"

~~~~~~

The warlock sighed deeply, his warm breath billowing out into the icy air before being caught in the winds that were picking up speed. A blizzard was likely again that evening, more snow to cover the hopes of finding a clue or a trail pertaining to Lethien's whereabouts. A new emotion was welling up now as he realised the sheer hopelessness of the situation, one that he'd tried his best to suppress as he worked for the gain of knowledge. Guilt. It was his fault the poor young knight had happened into the situation he was in, there was really nothing he could blame it on, not even that less savory half of himself. That essence, the simple curiosity of how it could be applied...

"another life...ruined and wasted." He spat, despising his own nature.

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Some things refuse to be dismissed. Especially nagging thoughts that other people wedge into an unsuspecting mind.

Langara casually swung her soulblade through yet another ghoul. She was distracted, and the task at hand didn't require her full attention anyway. A rotting arm flew up past her face, and she scowled, evidently lost in thought.

That letter did use some very emotio—he wasn't in his right mind when he wrote that. It doesn't mean anything.

A long disused organ splattered under her boot. She twisted her heel to grind it into the frozen ground. Her foot started to slip against the gravel and she took a wobbly moment to get a better stance.

Lethien's just curious about me, that's all, he couldn't possibly entertain such a ridicul—hey there, you tall drink of ichor. Let's dance.

Langara grinned at the Darkfallen swordsman in the distance, who seemed to be minding his own horrifying business. Or just pacing in circles. Didn't much matter now, since he was about to die, again. She launched herself forward, dodging around the shambling ghouls in her way.

The ensuing clash of swords and eerie scourged snarling ended abruptly. Long hair prevented the Darkfallen's head from rolling very far down the temple stairs, so Langara punted it to help it along.

"Next time put up a fight. See you next week."

She smirked, waved at the corpse and looked around for a sign of her intended target. Or she did, until that nagging thought crept up again, like a geist picking at her brain.

He did say something about lov—no, it's absurd. Couldn't possibly. If he did, that would be... oh Fel.

She let out an exasperated sigh, Duroxas had a way of leaving things on her mind that just wouldn't.let.go. He should have been a diplomat, he'd always get his way.

Find your way back, Lethien. Even if that's what you were thinking. Try to be safe. Death doesn't look good on anyone.

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Azure glowing eyes rested on an ink-well for a few moments before returning to an elegant though clean and simple piece of stationary as the writer put the pen to the pale surface and continued writing. Aged though ageless, the elf holding an old quill wrote in a beautiful and flowing script that effortlessly swept across the page.

'Miss Langara Bloodwither,' it began, the graceful script a bold and unique interpretation of traditional Thallassian calligraphy. 'I desire to meet with you concerming a matter whose urgency is related closely with the present. Your prompt reply would be greatly appreciated, as would your candidness about this same occasion. At your earliest convenience leave word with the criers in Archerus regarding whether or not you accept my invitation, from whence we may meet and depart to a more private location to dicuss the matter I intend to bring before you.

-A'

Deftly the old elf straightened and set the quill back in the inkwell with a subtle air of finality. His glowing sapphire gaze swept to the young elf across the heavy stone chamber, his placid, fair features cast with a distant, emotionless pall. The boy's chains were holding well, as was the steel muzzle that was typically reserved for the particularly violent ghouls that were nearly his size. These errant thoughts ended abruptly as he smoothly rolled the fine scrollworked stationary into a tight, near perfect cylander and tied a fine piece of shadowsilk around it. The wax-cup was already warmed, and in a fluid motion the old elf poured a wax seal over the shadowsilk, exhaled in a chill breath over the crimson wax, and pressed one of the beautiful rings he wore bearing the heavy, unmistakable embalzon of the Ebon Blade into the cooling wax to complete the creation. Again the elf stood, his rich violet and black robes shifting in the silence as his cobalt blue luminous eyes met the face of the young Thalassian in his chamber through the stained steel muzzle.

An unliving attendant came to the tall, old, pale elf and with a simple command "Silvermoon," he turned over the letter to the low creature and off it went, wheezing and tittering.

With a renewed interest the aged Thallassian paced smoothly over to the firey-haired youth bound and fettered in his chamber, the older elf's features impassive; he still remembered the sting of the claws the boy posessed, and the abomnible fangs and tongue the young elf came by warranted their own consideration in the old elf's mind.

A part of the traitorous former Sin'Dorei loathed what he saw, perplexed by the abomnible mutations of the pure Thallassian form and their source. Not Scourge nor demon corrupted so thoroughly and so seamlessly, and nothing the old elf had ever witnessed could account for the perverse malfection that the young boy was obviously suffering from. Part of him wanted to meet this Langara Bloodwither and dispense with the pleasantries altogether - he would find who did this, and find those that knew of the same. He would find what was done, and how, and finally, he would correct the departure from reason that lead to the young warrior's state in a suitable and permanant fashion that afforded the smallest probability of recurrance. But again, that was what his unguilded impulses were telling him to do.

The other part of him was simply morbidly curious of the young Thallassian and the company he kept. The old elf had heard many a curious thing in the fevered dreams that the young warrior had each night, and at present the only thing more interesting than divining the witchery that tormented the young elf now was divining whether or not he was one of those miserable High Elves with a delusional sense of allegiance and purpose. Of course he would deny it, and of course he would beg that a death knight give a word on his behalf. The Alliance befriended death knights as well the old elf knew, and with any good fortune the aged, pale elf would uncover a young spy and the troupe that sponsored him that poorly presumed to survail Northrend. As of yet the slender, elder elf with glowing blue eyes was undecided as to if he would let the boy go or take his life should he be a spy, or more simply find and kill the entire troup that this first name lead him to, should he be a High Elven sycophantic wretch.

Time would tell.

With a silent tip of his head the old elf knelt finally, his pale glowing blue eyes capturing the young elf before him as he lay on the meager provisions he was given - an old wool blanket and an armfull of torn linen. His long, flowing pale hair brushed the dark flagstones in a whisper, and the void-borne greatsword at his side balanced with a precarious smoothness above the gentle bloom of his violet and black robes on the floor. For a long moment the old elf studied the Thalassian youth with an icy calm before he reached out to him and gently shook him awake.

With a horrified start Lethien opened his bold red eyes and found the face of the old elf above him. With a sudden shout he recoiled, throwing off the older elf's grasp and backing away, heavy black chains scraping along the flagstones as he strained against the fetters he wore. Terror marked his overtures, even as he threatened to wilt where he was on part of being so hungry.

For a moment the old elf tipped his head marginally in an unspoken assessment, his pale features animating into a dim smile over a quiet moment before he spoke. "I see that you are recovering well enough," he intoned in a hollow baritone murmur, his frosty gaze tenting Lethien's deep garnet eyes. "Though unfortunately for you we cannot have you too well cared for." Though the old elf spoke plainly he couldn't miss the confusion in the young Thallassian's eyes as the youth still trembled, straining to look around him thorugh the narrow visor on the steel muzzle he wore. "Do you not remember me?" The dark walls of the place he saw were disorienting, as well as the old elf's shadowy voice.

Here the youth paused, attempting to speak though he only howled in surprise and pain when he did, the simple but effective mechanism inside the muzzle forcing a barbed bar against his gums.

"Rest assured you earned your trappings," the old elf went on with a fiant smile, noting a small trickle of blood slithering slowly down the steel mouthpiece the youth wore, strained sounds of pain and panic dotting the quiet chamber air. "But for your benefit young boy, you and I should speak." Leaning forward the aged, pale elf pried back the spring-loaded arms on the crude contraption, latching them into place against a quietly creaking compress that was just waiting to snap free once more.

"...-rem...I remember..!"

"Good," the old elf intoned smoothly with a nod, still kneeling above the Thallassian youth. "Then you know that I am called Aaulos, and that you tried to kill me."

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Even for an elf, he looked pale. The letter carrier's hand shook as he gave Langara the rolled correspondence. At first, she'd glared at him, then she realized he wasn't actually afraid of her. After all, she only gave the appearance of a horribly sickly Thallassian, save for the eyes. Deathly ill, perhaps, but she was for the better part, intact. A point she would emphasize if given the horribly irritating question of How are you?

"Uh-a-a g-gh-something delivered this to the post office for you." The last words echoed from down the hall of the Wayfarer's Rest as the messenger ran out.

She looked at the empty doorway and raised an eyebrow before turning her attention to the letter. "Ebon Blade?" She muttered, studying the seal.

The wax broke with a small snap. Fine calligraphy and delicate stationery? Whoever the sender was, working with the Ebon Blade hadn't tempered his sense of filigree and delicacy. Not in the slightest. They weren't exactly known for a love of the finer things in life. Or unlife, as the case was for most of their number.

The writer wanted her to send word through Acherus, and quickly. Awful lot of words to write if you're in a hurry. She mused with a smirk.

Still the letter was odd. What business would the Ebon Blade have with her? As far as they were concerned, she was self-assigned to the Pale Heart as an offshoot of the Argent Crusade. And the Ebon Blade was, despite tensions, aligned with the Argent Crusade. It was a marriage of convenience at the best of times, but for Langara it was an entirely different arrangement.

After a brief stop in Crystalsong to get her armor, Langara opened a Death Gate and went through to see the criers of Acherus.

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Deftly Aaulos paced the dim halls of the flying citadel of Archerus, his fine black and violet robes gliding with an airy ease over the dark, heavy flagstones that sprawled seamlessly over the floors. His gently glowing sapphire gaze was not unlike the others around him in appearance, though in the same way his demeanor bore a subtle difference than some, even most, that paced the halls of the formerly untouchable Scourge stronghold; he didn't die and join Arthas's forces by proxy - he saught out the fallen king willingly.

With a gentle bob the void-borne greatsword at his side floated, sweeping side to side above the flagstones with the smooth gait of its weilder. Aaulos made his way around the slowly turning outer ring of Archerus' proper, remembering the slurping voice of the unliving attendant that had saught him out shortly after he arrived. "B-B-Bloodwither issth hhhere...for -you- War-masssther!" The old elf smirked faintly, looking down to the ring he wore in a moment of reflection. Warmaster - the gibberling ghoul must have recognized the symbol - he had earned that title while he served Arthas.

As the old elf passed the archway to the Blood School's dais he tipped his head slightly and paused, gently peeling back the fine satin and silk mantle hood he wore. His platinum white fine hair was long and straight, matching the flawless ivory of his skin in color and care. He was eternally young and looked the better part of it, though his centuries of life came through his seeming with a gilded ease, especially in his placid azure gaze which presently settled upon a female figure - slender despite the obvious curves of fine armor beneath her cloak. A faint smile touched his graceful features as he stepped off once more, remembering the description that the young Thallassian gave as well as the abbreviated (though slurred) and brackish words that the ghoul hailed him with when he first arrived. He was sure that this was the one he was looking for.

As Aaulos neared the still figure he slowed, his smooth stepps easing until he stopped altogether, a patient ease marking his overtures. "Good evening," he intoned in a shadowy, hollow voice - a thing unique to the Death Knight circumstance. "Bloodwither, I presume?"

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The sky was always red outside Acherus. Crimson rain fell past the Necropolis' balcony where Langara stood. She routinely paused there to look down over what was once Havenshire and New Avalon.

Langara made her presence and intentions known to one of the ghouls shambling through the arrival platform.

After that, she strode down the circular hall toward Lord Thorval's alcove. He would no doubt inform her of his ever-growing disappointment in her lack of enthusiasm for training. Still, she couldn't set foot in the Ebon Hold and fail to make an appearance at the Blood School's dais.

Standing in the back seemed to be the best bet to avoid getting dressed down. Langara watched the initiates as they listened to Thorval's opening lecture. Sunken cheeks, pallid skin, each of their number had risen at the hand of some necromancer and looked the worse for it. The thought crossed her mind, while this class was risen, not every death knight had actually died.

Alive... I wonder—

"Good evening. Bloodwither, I presume?"

Langara's gaze snapped to the well-groomed elf, and she stepped back from the sanguine-clad gathering.

The letter fit the man perfectly. He fairly oozed Thalassian nobility. Very few would have the gall to come to Acherus clad in elegant robes, so either he held a remarkable station or was a spectacular fool. Based on his bearing, she assumed the former and quickly dismissed the latter.

"That's correct. But, you have me at disadvantage, who would you be?"

Two things struck her apart from his highly unusual garb. The first being that he seemed more than a little familiar but she couldn't place it. The second being something more subtle, a certain vitality...

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The same instant that Langara turned to face him, Aaulos met her cool azure gaze with his own and couldn't help but be stirred with the tendrils of a deeply buried familiarity, his fair featires remaining cool as his eyes narrowed in assessment through the growing silence before the most natural though faint smile washed across his fine features. "Though dark, this day must be touched," he intoned for the benefit of them both as he extended a pale hand for her to take, a gentle enjoyment surfacing through his demeanor. "Formerly...Warmaster Aaulos. Your skill with persuaders was a by-word among the Regimental Commanders under Lord Keleseth, myself included. As you may remember, I called upon your skilled hands more than once."

For a long quiet moment Aaulos watched the slender death knight before him, his pristine countinance cast with a quiet though wonderful satisfaction that held a subtle overtone of bittersweet pride, yet also moved with the undercurrents of a sobering distance. It was awkward speaking about the past that he shared with Arthas, or any death knight truly, perhaps made more awkward by the fact that it was a very intimate relationship they all posessed. That it was intensely faux pas to broach in other company did not help, nor did the fact that without the maddening whipsers of the Lich King turning their heads anymore, they all knew that their debt to Azeroth was a deep, dark one that would never go away. They were the select, elite shock troops that all the bastions of the Scourge roared for, their commanders, their generals. It would be a long time indeed before Azeroth forgot the name of Arthas, the Lich King.

In the same paradoxical equation, however, it could not simply be ignored either.

"Now I am simply Aaulos," the old elf intoned with the same - albeit shallowing - smile, his icy blue eyes curiously comfortable in the gaze of the death knight before him. Another moment of silence stretched between them as a nearly tangible admiration flickered in the fair elf's eyes, short and passing, though nonetheless there. Was it crass to exault the elven woman before him for her insidious and humbling talent in working with pain as thuogh it were the artist's paints, or the sculpter's clay? Aaulos could identify the wraithsome feelings of exhileration teasing his mind and body as his battallions shattered the Alliance's resistance because they were unprepared and tactically blind, time and again. Given the odd valuable capture Aaulos could remember the riviting details of looking in on one such session. He saw the fine artistry of a dark heart at work as Langara peeled sanity and confession away from a young human captain bloody ribbon by bloody ribbon, making the wretch curse the Light with positively rancid hate and profanity before she let him expire.

Yet, it was not the act that the old elf admired so much as it was the black passion with which she worked. He knew then that there were few that put so much of themselves into their effort, and as he gazed upon the same woman now the old elf could not help but wonder at 'who' she was in the persent moment, or perhaps how much of what he knew still constituted 'who' she was. He had come upon a catharsis of his own after leaving the Scourge with an iron finality and no doubt Langara had as well. Decorum would not allow for his musings to come to light in the present so they remained silent save for the brief moment that hung between them in his azure eyes, now past with a stoic though smooth blink.

"I am intrigued as to how we have crossed paths once again," he began anew in his usual shadowy hollow tone, though his fine pale features lacked the near rapture he had silently expressed, being both placid and cool while he wore his undisclosing though serene faint smile in a sharp shift of focus. "And I would greatly enjoy hearing you explain what you know of this," he continued, reaching with an unhurried ease into his robes only to pull out a somewhat dingy and poor looking cloth that took shape as he slowly unfolded it. The faded black thing was a cloth hood and mask, though it bore an obvious dark stain at the front that would have been covering the wearer's mouth. Aaulos's sapphire gaze never left Langara's features as he presented the thing to her, staring nearly through her as he gauged her reaction with a fine measure without trying to hide it.

"As you can imagine," he intoned smoothly, "my curiousities run deep."

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Langara peered warily at the extended hand Aaulos offered her. She never liked that custom, and had come to avoid it when dealing with the living. Still, this situation was different and Langara relented. Her freshly un-gauntleted hand shook his quickly and hastily returned to the armored glove.

"Formerly... Warmaster Aaulos. Your skill with persuaders was a by-word among the Regimental Commanders under Lord Keleseth, myself included. As you may remember, I called upon your skilled hands more than once."

I should have known that's where I met him. Now the clothing makes sense. She made a point of not remembering the work she did for him. Not remembering the life extinguishing from so many pained eyes. Then she didn't think about the way Keleseth bragged about her like some sort of well trained pet. No, she didn't think of any of that. It was not my will. My hands but not my will, no matter what you think.

That expression of his betrayed little, but Langara thought she detected... was it pride? Admiration? Either way, he wanted her here for a reason, and having his favor would probably be useful. Might as well keep things that way. She'd save her sharp tongue for another time.

"Now I am simply Aaulos,"

"Somehow I'll bet there's nothing simple about you, Aaulos." She offered a smirk, as close as he could get to a smile without looking utterly false.

"I am intrigued as to how we have crossed paths once again. And I would greatly enjoy hearing you explain what you know of this."

A dozen scenarios had run through her mind upon receiving the correspondence in Silvermoon. None of them, not one, had remotely involved Lethien. Called back to Acherus, asked to use her particular skills again, harangued for apparent uselessness of late, any number of things. But... Lethien. His hood, he must have put it back on before he ran.

"As you can imagine," he intoned smoothly, "my curiousities run deep."

Where is he and what have you done with him? I know how you keep men, and if you've got only a trophy to show me... No, wait to see what he wants. Aaulos may not even have Lethien at all.

"I can tell you that this belongs to a man—a friend of mine, who has gone missing. Where did you find it? Have you seen him?"

She touched the hood gingerly, taking in that fevered, sparkling sensation that only loose blood brought forth. Even long dried, the potential was still there. Less potent, but still there. Langara made every effort to keep her stoic mask intact. He had more than just curiosity invested here, that much was clear.

This was Lethien's blood. It wasn't just some resource, it mattered.

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In a long moment of stillness and silence between them, the older fair elf simply gazed into Langara's eyes unflinching, the persistant faint smile he wore at first fading over the seconds. His thoughts moved much like he did - unhurried though purposeful and harrowingly precise behind the look he wore, though these remained ever shrouded by his deceptively neutral cast. At length he blinked, once, and with a deliberate smoothness that suggested a cumination of his silent deliberation.

"As it so happens," he bagan with a cool ease to his words though his gaze never left Langara, "I am less interested in what you can tell me, and more interested in what you will tell me." With a motion as graceful as a midsummer's breeze he gestured before them, the faint smile he entertained before slipping across his fine features though it remained subtly vacant from his sapphire gaze. "Walk with me."

Thorugh his first few stepps Aaulos spared an arm to settle around Langara's shoulders, though this was only to 'coax' her in the direction he was walking. Like everything the old elf put into practice the overture was precisely measured and gentle, though the gesture held an icy weight from it's careful origins to it's end seconds later that needed no words to emphasize the finality and gravity of Aaulos's will. The old fair elf clasped his hands behind him in a stately fashion, pacing smoothly and silently.

"A friend of yours," he began, his hollow, dark voice remaining cool and collected as his glowing blue gaze wandered to the high sloping and arching stonework of Archerus' proper. "I have indeed seen him. In fact I could say with certainty where the young boy is at this very moment," the tall, fair elf stopped, turning toward Langara as his icy gaze took on an intensity that was not present in his aspect before, even though his regal bearing remained steady with a frosty temperance. "But this is not what is important, is it?"

"Miss Bloodwither," he began before she could answer his question in a smooth though darkening voice, "do not presume to deceive me by convenient omission." Aaulos's sapphire gaze narrowed with a razor's edge, the old elf having very little patience for ruses, much less poor ones. "Consider this meeting a courtesy and henceforth treat it as such. I aim only to help the poor boy, whom I might add is a refreshingly contrite picture of Silvermoon ideology. He pleaded for me to beseech you to speak on his behalf, and with the wits I command I am satisfied that he is not a sychophantic High Elf interloper with an ulterior agenda to execute in Northrend to the chagrin of the Ebon Blade. Pardoning that," Aaulos straightened as he took a breath, smoothly glancing left and right before his piercing azure gaze found Langara before him once more, "You have one more chance to tell me what happened before I consider using more intrusive methods of divination." There was a very believable weight behind the fair elf's words, and if this was missed the frostfire in his gaze would suffice.

He was sure they both knew what he meant.

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A brazen move. Langara would have been more than willing to break Aaulos' arm if he had been just about anyone else. There were a few people who could actually lay an innocent hand on her without consequences. All of them were her superiors. That was mostly because exacting merciless bodily harm on a superior officer was against established protocol. Generally, anyway.

He played his hand so quickly. Awfully invested in the matter, isn't he? I might as well level with him. He's earned that after all.

"Well, as you have been so generous to show me such courtesy,"

She offered him a thin smile and a nod, "I will of course share information with you freely. For old times' sake."

Langara advanced a few steps ahead to pause in a nearby alcove, "Lethien... he is young isn't he? He sought me out after I gained notoriety in Silvermoon as a mortician with an unusual skill-set. This is something I haven't made well known in Acherus and I would appreciate it if you kept that knowledge to yourself." That detail revealed, she stepped out of the alcove and continued their stroll.

"He has a rare condition of the blood, has since birth, and thought I could help. It's a matter of some consequence in his life. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one he consulted. An apothecary visiting Silvermoon also heard of his plight and decided to offer aid of his own. His solution involved some sort of concoction that included a distilled raptor essence or was it dragonkin... regardless... that is not what is important here, is it?"

She sighed, shaking her head, "As I said, he's very young and impetuous. He drank the entire potion in one go, rather than even asking about the risks. They proved to be a much greater problem for him than the condition itself. He fairly lost his mind, I'm surprised he even managed to remember me as an ally. Though I'd call into question anything else he told you."

Langara winced for effect, "After that, I attempted to sequester him in the Pale Heart's tower in Northrend. He must have slipped out while I was attending to my duties."

She summoned the softest, most pleading smile she could manage. The effort required was remarkable, but she was well motivated to maintain the expression. "I'd greatly appreciate if I could visit him and see how that damn potion's effect has advanced. The whole thing is such a horrible embarrassment for all parties involved."

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Aaulos gazed at Langara for a long moment after she gave her summary of events, his gentle blue reserved eyes ever concealing, seldom disclosing the thoughts he entertained in still silence. His expression was a neutral creation - the old, fair elf's eternally young and fair features painted with the beginnings of the dim smile he mustered often, though little more. The deep gaze he awarded Langara was a test of her mettle as well as a fourm in which he thought - both unsettlingly honest as well as challenging as he considered her words in fine detail immediately as she spoke them. He did not offer an apology for this nor a reason to excuse it, he simply, silently, dared and did call into question the accuracy of the slender death knights account. In the lengthening silence it was plain that not only her words were on trial, but her credability as a whole. 'For old times' sake,' she had said. Curious. They were all traitors once before...some more than others.

At length Aaulos let the dim smile widen a fractional measure, giving a light nod as well before he motioned for them to keep walking, leading back around Archerus' proper and to the balcony where the winged beasts could land.

"Yes, indeed embarrassing and unfortunate, both," the old elf intoned, his shadowy, hollow voice easing a measure as his manners became more conversational and less interrogative. "Most principally I was concerned with his allegiance as you see, I found his Sin'Dorei rhetoric a little too rehearsed. Now that you mention The Pale Heart his solicitude makes more sense to me - the Ebon Blade respect some of your number, though before I could not place this correlation because I am unfamiliar with your colors." Aaulos gave a slight nod, his dim smile still dim, though less fractional and more whole than not. "I consider myself learned. In the future it would be wise of you and yours to send word ahead of your scouts to the Office of the Emmisary so there are no mistakes made on either account. Certain circles of thought are growing increasingly paranoid of spies and their ilk, as we all know an assault from the sealed citadel of Icecrown is long overdue."

With an unhurried ease the, old, graceful elf took a finely sewn pair of gloves from his hip that complimented his richly sewn robes, taking care as he pulled them on and gave a small flourish with his fingers to test his dexterity. "Yet, there are better times and places to discuss official matters," Aaulos intoned with a dismissive breath, glancing over to Langara for a moment before he gestured to the approaching balcony. "Formally we are finished, and there is no doubt that Lethien would brighten at the sight of you. Come, take my proto-drake and we will head to the Shadow Vault straight away. Once he gets above the clouds he moves as swift as an arrow, and as true."

In an odd way the old, graceful death knight brightened when he spoke of his proto-drake, his aspect taking on a delicate though genuine pride in the beast that durned his dim smile into a soft one - the barest of changes - though nonetheless noticible.

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"In the future, I would prefer it if none of our number were wandering the wastes of Northrend due to madness and shame." That is what she didn't say. Instead, she listened and followed closely.

Langara found herself initially quite pleased that he would deign to take her to Lethien. Until her mind continued working on the thought just a bit more. He would brighten at the sight of me? That's not discharging him. That's not good at all. And I'm going to be flying straight into it. Whatever it is.

It occurred to her that she couldn't actually be certain what he was going to do once they reached Icecrown. The only way to discover that, would be to climb on the proto-drake and see. Either way, she could find out exactly how he was keeping Lethien. And then she could make it better.

Based on her memories of the prisoners she'd been sent during their bound days, Langara didn't have high hopes for his accommodations.

"Let's go, then. What exactly are your plans for Lethien, anyway? I haven't heard you say..."

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Aaulos paced across the dark, heavy cobblestone under the red sky now, his fine silk and satin robes swimming gracefully through the air around and behind him as he looked over one of his pauldrons at Langara for a brief moment. "I have no plans for the boy, though that you would suggest I do raises questions in my mind about your motivations. As I recall, I have not attempted to beguile you in any way thus far, though I cannot say that you have returned me the same courtesy." Though the tall, fair elf's gait was smooth and unhurried, his words underscored his impressions of a thinly veiled tolerance that had been stretched and would not stretch much farther. "Either you are trying to take the boy back in something more than a hurry or you want him dead in or about the same fashion. Either of which do not matter to me in a professional sense, though you would do well in the future to speak more freely with those that you intend to receive help from. You may find that you obtain what you ask for from time to time."

The great blue proto-drake straightened at the sight of its master, sky blue scars slashing and curving around it's savage maw where it had - gleefully no doubt - bitten men in half and dealt with the armor and weapons as an afterthought. The large reptile stood oddly hunched, and as Aaulos approached it wordlessly curled lower to the ground and leaned away from him, offering the old, fair elf the easiest route to the large saddle that was strapped to its belly and perched on its massive, muscled, scaly back. In a rather direct way Aaulos went, stepping on the creature without a hesitation in his steps to walk up the creature's swelling and falling ribs and situate himself on the saddle with little trouble, looking back at Langara.

Though not a long moment, the old fair elf let another of his heavy gazes fall into the female blood elf's eyes, lacking any contempt, though simply gauging her with little concern given to whether or not it was received well. In the silence he measured her in his mind, though broke the still moment as he extended his finely gloved hand to her, waiting to lift her into the saddle.

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"You'll have to forgive my hesitance in dealing with you, I rarely get such a summons. And as for being evasive, it's in my nature. Information was something of a commodity for me, after all."

Langara eyed the proto-drake and then its rider before accepting Aaulos' outstretched hand. He doesn't seem too pleased with my responses. Then I guess things are working out just fine. So far.

"And as for being more direct, then I think you should consider your own approach. If you have no plans for Lethien, why didn't you simply summon me directly to the Shadow Vault and turn him over to my custody and be done with the matter?"

She couldn't help but relax a bit when the drake took flight toward Northrend. Regardless of what came next, Langara expected Aaulos to keep his word and take her to Lethien.

Once they had gotten some distance from Acherus, Langara considered explaining her sense of urgency in getting Lethien back. Then she decided she was only willing to tell him what he already knew.

I don't trust you, Aaulos.

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They were in the air hurtling forward with immensely powerful flapps of the proto-drake's somewhat stubby wings having just left the balcony of Acherus. Above them, the deep red overcast cloud cover loomed nearer and nearer with each powerful lunge Garr'omph made until at last they broke through the dim ceiling of the Eastern Plaguelands to a remarkably clear and serene sun-bathed sky - the air cool and crisp. Here the sapphire proto-drake came to a gradual smooth in its overtures - tucking it's legs just so as it's thick blue wings caught the fresh, chill air around them and bore them up effortlessly.

Here Aaulos relaxed a measure more, his features reflecting the familiar rapture of being aloft with Garr'omph as they both soared like a javelin high overhead. The old elf exxagerated little when he had spoken of the blue beast's fleetness in the air despite it's rather heavy appearance. The wind hissed past them quietly as they rode on, growing louder with the occasional few powerful lunges that Garr'omph gave with his wings.

"Acherus was the easiest place to meet and the most timely, as well as the most benign for you," he said quietly after a long pause from Langara's last statement, not quite looking over his shoulder so she could hear him. "Your confessed hesitance would likely have disagreed with meeting an enigma in such an isolated place as The Shadow Vault. I believed it would, having guessed at your disposition conservatively, hence my summons to a more familiar and public place."

Beneath them the blue proto-drake's powerful muscles flexed and glided through another powerful flap, and another, sending the cold, fresh wind past them in similarly surging hisses. Over these few moments Aaulos fell silent as he gazed at the horizon before them and the high, dark clouds they were heading towards. The deep blue-gray billowing fronts that prepetually hung over Icecrown looked like a citadel themselves, tall and imposing and promising an icy embrace.

Looking at the slowly nearing darkness Aaulos let a calming breath leave him - his mind taken with the thought that he only had so much time to speak to the female death knight in true confidence. Next, the old, fair elf wondered at what he would say, given this. Over a long moment of cool, rushing wind streaming past his flawless features, Aaulos's decision was made as he glanced back at Langara as she sat behind him. 'Likely, she has told me everything she intends to. I'll not waste this time talking aobut nothing through innuendo and implication...'

Though there was a question in his mind that was difficult to put into words and more difficult to ask without being woefully tactless and offensive. Yet in the same way they both were Death Knights, they both furthered the dark will of the Lich King fiercer and meaner than any other fighting force in Arthas' vast undying legions, and they both left his service for their own reasons. With a stoic calm the old, fair elf thought back to his last impressions of Langara in a time that seemed as if it were only a week past. Who was she now?

"Of all of us that are left I am pleased to see that you made the right decision," Aaulos intoned in his shadowy, hollow way - his inferrance unmistakably referring to Langara joining the Horde and turning her back on Arthas. "Not everyone did," he went on, staring into the distant darkness ahead as the wind tossed his long, straight hair. "There were those that I could have guessed would have made a similar decision before they were given the chance, but there were also those that I was surprised to see leave the Lich King in that way despite the precedence he set." For a moment Aaulos paused, refraining from looking back at Langara so as not to make her feel any more obligated than she wanted to be. "If I may, how would you characterize your own thoughts pertaining to your decision to leave the Scourge when and how you did?"

In silence Aaulos listened, his finely gloved hands holding the reins he guided Garr'omph to fly by with an airy deftness.

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Why does everyone ask so many questions? Ironically, that is, itself, a question. Still, after being an interrogator for the better part of her remembered existence, Langara didn't enjoy being questioned.

That particular question, about her leaving the Scourge, was not only irritating but baffling. She was aware that there were those who were unbound but stayed, but they were little more than a footnote. A potential possibility that hadn't ever actually been encountered.

"My will became my own and I left. Arthas didn't care if we persisted at Light's Hope or were dismembered and I didn't care to stick around. What else is there to say on the matter?" Langara was not looking for a response to that question.

Another thought occurred to her, "You asked me that as if there were some sort of crisis of conscience in leaving." She narrowed her eyes, "Did you actually have to consider whether or not to leave?"

She scowled and batted some of Aaulos' long hair away as it flitted across her face. "Can you do something about your mane, by the way? Maybe you're not accustomed to passengers but it's windy... and your hair is hitting me in the face."

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"My apologies," the old elf intoned smoothly as he let the reins fall from his nimble hands and easily manuvered his long, silvery-white hair into a utilitarian braid before he tucked it's bulk beneath his cloak. As he did so the aged, fair elf pondered Langara's words, a faint smirk touching his features over a few moments as he pieced together his thoughts patiently.

"I would think that you would find more reason to be joyful about your emancipation, but yes, it was certainly a 'crisis of conscious' as you put it, just as it was for me to take the Lich King as my liege." For a moment the old elf let his words hang in the air, feeling the emotions in Lnagara's voice as much as he was hearing them. A dim smile touched his fair features that he kept hidden from his passenger as much as he could, though he wouldn't be surprised if in some way she could tell that in a subtle way he enjoyed her volatility. "You must have been with the main assault by the way you speak of the encounter, but I was supporting the Western terrain along with a certain Warmaster Relius. Your un-inhibited assault was bought with heavy losses of both Relius and my brigades as we fought uphill against fortified archer towers and siege weaponry - there might have been only a handful of paladin outcasts that you were interested in but they had acquired an impressive mercenary corps that would have easily wiped out a single pronged thrust from the high cover they held in the mountains around Light's Hope. The only thing that saved Relius and I from certain destruction is that Lord Fordring was convinced that Arthas would put everything he had into the fight at Light's Hope. When Orbaz Bloodbane, Koltira Deathweaver and Thassarian were leading you in the initial charge on Light's Hope you had more than fifty ballistae trained on you and a dozen times as many arrows."

In his shadowy voice Aaulos related the whole ordeal with a detached matter-of-factness that was chillingly emotionless despite the fact that, perhaps for them both, the most fantastic, incredible memories came back to life in a shadow of recollection. "The terrain was almost impossible to surmount to gain a flanking advantage on the mercenary corps, but we knew that our speed was what was needed above all else. In the fighting that ensued I had impressions that I may not have lived to see the battles' end - Relius and I knew we were chosen because we were some of Arthas' most junior Warmasters and if anything were expected to fail and pay for Arthas' victory with our lives; I might have accepted that providing that Arthas won, but the critical moments that the mercenaries had to spend training their siege weapons away from Arthas and toward our advancing forces was the sliver that cut their heel. Relius and I met at the top of the mountain with half of a brigade between us both when we had started with eight, just in time to see the Lord Fordring bring Arthas to his knees."

With a quiet breath Aaulos paused, his cool blue gaze fixed toward the menacing billowing black clouds that hung prepetually over Icecrown, a dim smile touching his features as he went on. "We watched Arthas abandon us and at nearly the same moment one of our scouts cried out, pointing North at a troupe of mounted eagles just coming into view over the farthest mountain pass we could see. I suppose there was an eerie silence as the eighty or so soldiers left between us looked to Relius and I for guidance that needed to be quick in coming. As we watched the paladins cut down the mindless undead and Highlord Mograine surrender himself and all of the death knights in his command there was a potent silent tension between everyone, and for all we knew the brigades supporting the Eastern pass had suffered similarly to we. Before anything could happen I addressed them all and said, 'Gentlemen, you have fought hard, and well. I came here to win a battle, and I have. You are dismissed.' As I turned to leave Reluis nearly came out of his skin, shrieking that I was a traitor and a fierce melee ensued between us. It was over when I took his head from his shoulders and those that might have supported him suddenly disappeared in lieu of his absence. While there was no considerable time spent thinking on the subject, it was a heavy consideration to weigh nonetheless for the responsibility of tactical command of the fighting force I had. Everything I was to them as a leader was tested when I told them to stand down, and if I did not earn their respect or their fear before the fact they would have betrayed me to my death, and I knew it." With a nod Aaulos paused and let another breath go, glancing back at Langara for a moment that was longer than not before he faced forward once again.

"Morally, though, it was a straightforward decision. Relius and I gave Arthas every ounce of our ability as battlefield commanders, which should have been every reason to win the day at Light's Hope and he was made into a fool because he would not listen to his advisors, Heigan and Kel'Thuzad most notably. He was incensed, almost mad for the chance to slay Lord Fordring. Many of the officers saw his instability but few recognized it as a weakness. At one time I was under the misconception that Arthas was privy to a wisdom that no one else was - a reason to wipe the world clean and begin anew and at one time that notion was bearable, even dimly optimistic to me. When I watched him leave us I saw through it all, though, and realized that his bitterness and rage came from an all too human spite for a life he regretted, and mayhaps was even ashamed of."

As Aaulos fell silent he let his words summarize themselves amidst the whipping wind and rolling muscles of the proto-drake, the old, fair death knight impassively looking at and yet through the dark clouds as he remembered the towering bastions of Icecrown. Still he meditated on what Langara had said, curious of her in some ways more and in some ways less as a new creature yet with hints of familiarity intermixed. After a long moment he looked back at her, his sapphire gently glowing gaze searching for hers as he still wore the half concealing, half disclosing dreary smile that always seemed to comfortably settle on his fair, flawless features. "In the best of ways, I would have you know that I never thought of you as a mindless thrall. You were always so spirited in an inspiring way." Before she could respond over a short pause, Aaulos added, "In the same breath, there is a great deal that I could tell you about you if you were so inclined to know."

Smoothly Aaulos cast his eyes to the looming blackness before them both, feeling the air cool and dampen as he felt them cross from over-land travel to travel over water. The way he spoke suggested that he was familiar with the notion of certain former servants of Arthas having little substantial reccolection of their service to the dark tyrant, but there was a certain droll tone that teased his words hinting that he would enjoy relating Langara's story.

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