Something had awakened King Varian Wrynn from a deep sleep. As he stood motionless in the gloom, the faint patter of a distant dripping sound echoed off the walls of Stormwind Keep. A feeling of dread washed over him, for it was a sound he’d heard before.
Varian moved cautiously to the door and pressed his ear against the burnished oak. Nothing. No movement. No footfalls. Then, as if from far away, the dull and muffled hum of a crowd cheering from somewhere outside the castle. Did I oversleep today’s ceremonies?
Again the strange dripping sound came, this time echoing off the icy floor, distinct and wet. Varian slowly opened the door and peered out into the hall. The corridor beyond was dark and quiet. Even the torches seemed to flicker with a cold light that died as quickly as it was born. For a man who allowed himself few emotions, Varian felt something stir inside himself now—something old, or young, or perhaps long forgotten. It was almost like a feeling of childlike… fear?
He shook off the notion immediately. He was Lo’Gosh, the Ghost Wolf. The gladiator warrior who struck fear in the hearts of his enemies and friends alike. Still, he could not shake the primal feeling of unease and danger that now pervaded his body. Stepping out into the hall, Varian noticed his guards were not at their usual stations. Is everyone preoccupied with Remembrance Day? Or is this something more sinister?
He crept carefully down the dim hall, entering the large and familiar throne room of Stormwind Keep, but now its towering walls seemed different—larger, more shadowed, and empty. From the distant stone ceiling, tarps hung like garish cobwebs, emblazoned with the golden face of a lion—the emblem denoting the pride and strength of the great nation of Stormwind.
In the gloom, Varian heard a muffled cry and then a sudden scuffle. His eyes darted to the floor, where a trail of blood clearly led to the center of the room. There in the murk, he could barely make out a frantic struggle between two figures. As his eyes adjusted, he could see one man on his knees, bloody and wounded, and standing over him was a harsh female shape looming in the blackness.
Varian knew that shape by heart, its distorted silhouette giving away the twisted nature of her body and soul. She was Garona Halforcen, part draenei, part orc—the assassin bred by the twisted mind of Gul’dan.
As Varian stood in stunned disbelief, fresh blood oozed along the edge of the half-orc’s blade, reaching the razor-sharp point, then dripping… falling… until it erupted in a rose petal of crimson on the marble floor. Memory rushed over Varian in a flood of recognition. The armor. The regal clothing. The man on the floor was his father, King Llane!
Garona looked at Varian with a hideous, tear-streaked smirk, then swiftly stabbed downward with her blade, the flash of steel cutting through the dark and burying itself deep into the kneeling king’s chest.
“No!” Varian screamed, lurching forward, clawing across the blood-soaked floor to reach his father. He grabbed the king’s wilted body and held it close as the half-orc’s face slowly faded into the dark.
“Father,” Varian pleaded, rocking him in his arms.
Llane’s mouth twitched up at him in pain, then parted with a stream of fresh blood. With a putrid hiss of air, the old king managed to form a few brittle words. “This is how it always ends… with Wrynn kings.”
With that, Llane’s eyes rolled back and his jaws gaped open into a hideous expression. From deep within his throat, a chitinous vibration arose. Varian wanted to tear his eyes away, but found he could not. In the shadow of his father’s yawning mouth, something moved, shimmering and wiggling up into the fading twilight.
Suddenly, maggots erupted from the dead king’s maw—thousands upon thousands of writhing worms obliterated Llane’s ashen face. Varian tried to pull away, but the maggots washed over him as well, chittering and consuming his body as he let out one final scream of agony.
Varian bolted upright in his chair, a terrible scream still fading in his ears. He found himself sitting at his map table in the private upper chambers of Stormwind Keep. Warm sunlight streamed into the room along with the roar of a cheering crowd from high windows. The Remembrance Day celebrations are under way.
In his hands, he held a tarnished silver locket, its keyed hinge securely fastened. Varian instinctively tried to open the trinket, as he had a thousand times before, but found it locked as always.
The door burst open, and the high commander of Stormwind Defense rushed in. General Marcus Jonathan’s face was a mask of alarm. “Is something wrong, Your Highness? We heard a scream.”
Varian quickly put the locket away and stood up. “Everything is fine, Marcus.” The king tried to straighten his armor and brush a clump of dark hair away from weary eyes. His fingers felt the deep lines of worry and lack of sleep over the last few months—a blur of weeks spent responding to the many emergencies in the aftermath of the dragon Deathwing’s sudden attack on the city and the world.
Both he and the general were in full dress splendor for the holiday, and General Jonathan, with his tall frame and sharp features, looked the part better than most.
“The Honor Ceremony will be in three hours, Your Highness,” Jonathan offered. “Is your speech ready?”
Varian looked to the blank parchment on the map table. “I am still working on it, Jonathan.” And I can’t seem to find the right words.
The high commander studied him, and Varian sought to quickly change the subject. “Has my son arrived yet?”
General Jonathan shook his head. “No one has seen Prince Anduin, Your Highness.”
Varian tried to hide his disappointment by looking out the keep’s windows to the courtyard below. It was a sea of people, with flags and streamers waving in the air, children dressed as their favorite heroes of old, and food and mead flowing with laughter. Remembrance Day was part memorial, part celebration, yet Varian himself could never find mirth in this event.
As he watched, the throng slowly moved toward the Valley of Heroes, heading for the statues of the great champions of humanity that lined the entrance to Stormwind City. The stage for the Honor Ceremony had been set up in the shadow of these impressive leaders, and today they would be acknowledged with respect and thanks for their great deeds.
Jonathan continued. “When you are ready, sire, the archbishop is waiting outside to brief you on the city’s repairs and our care for the wounded.”
“Yes. Yes, in a moment.” Varian waved him off. Jonathan bowed his head and quietly backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Varian shook the cobwebs from his mind and pulled out the delicate locket again, staring at the rumpled reflection of himself on its mirrored surface. The world has changed, but I must hold steady.
Varian glanced up at the portrait of King Llane over the fireplace. Today of all days, the leader of humanity, the king of Stormwind, the rock of the Alliance, must be at his very best. His father would expect nothing less.
Archbishop Benedictus stood adorned in his finest robes and trinkets, representing the pride of Stormwind’s culture for the great day at hand. Next to him stood a small and grimy man carrying a large bundle of wrinkled scrolls.
Benedictus looked up eagerly as Varian emerged from his private quarters. “Light bless you, King Varian.” He smiled as Varian descended the stairs.
“And you, Father,” Varian said. “You look dressed to meet your maker.”
Benedictus waved his staff in a well-rehearsed and solemn gesture. “In such times as these, we must all stand ready to join the Light at any moment.”