Zaelus snuck into his study in a manner befitting a mischievous child who’d been out past their curfew. He had been out past curfew, as it was. He’d been spectating one of Lord Bladerunner’s training exercises, fondly observing his friend’s troops, meeting new people. Today’s new faces had been not only the seemingly unbested Captain Screamshot of the Sunrunners, but also, much to Zaelus’ delight, the renowned Lady Eventide and her talented apprentice, Miss Sun’rael. An interesting gathering. One worth a scolding from Lynne, he thought with inward humor. He carefully lifted the latch, pressed the door open, slipped inside, replaced the door carefully in its frame. He smiled thinly at the success of his infiltration. Who’d have guessed he’d make it all the way from the front of the estate to his study nearer the back wall without being spotted? “Rather late night, hasn’t it been?” Zaelus sighed, hearing the words he’d been expecting. Then, he tensed, as he came to realize those words hadn’t been spoken by whom he’d been expecting. He turned, still pressed against the study’s door, to see Vironas Dawncrest. He quickly straightened and bowed in salute. “My Lord Dawncrest, I apologize. I was not aware you were planning to visit,” he rattled off quickly, entirely caught off guard by the man’s appearance. “I had not planned to, until only hours ago. I should apologize for my intrusion.” “Not at all, my Lord. What brings you by with such urgency?” Zaelus looked quizzical. His old master was far from predictable but he also valued protocol. It must be an important occasion to warrant such a breach.
"Today a missive arrived from Boralus, addressed from the Circle of the Silver Sigil, penned by Lord Wallcroft by the look of it. They have repealed their offer of quarter given on our surrender. The Eidolon are now kill on sight targets for the Sigil," the older man said, his chin raised passed the point of looking at Zaelus. From where Zaelus judged, it looked like the other was staring at his forehead. He didn’t react poorly to the news, it’s not as though Zaelus had intended to surrender before. Hearing now that it wasn’t an option was a non-issue in his mind. "And what does this mean for those who were never at risk of surrendering?" Zaelus asked, smooth with sarcasm, but still duly reverent of his superior. "The meaning behind this decision ought to be clear to anyone. If they have advanced themselves to a point where they can no longer afford quarter, it is because they are advancing themselves in other facets of their plans too. The Sigil will commence cooperative operations with the Alliance forces in full in the coming days. Master Krizic has confirmed as much."
"With the Alliance forces? You mean they’re commandeering the units they’ve been attached with?" Zaelus inquired lowly. He was more bothered by the news now. The Alliance was problematic already, but if the Sigil was now swinging around Alliance troops as a weapon, all of a sudden he wasn’t so untouchable. None of them would be. "Yes, though I very much doubt they’d be so presumptuous as to announce that to the Alliance commanders. They’ve probably begun to spin narratives about the importance of campaigns which will, coincidentally, lead them to our doorsteps.”
It was good that he was hearing this as quickly as had been possible, he thought. There was some slight relief in the idea that he would have time to prepare, to combat this. “How do you believe we should proceed, my Lord? We do not wield the armies of the Horde as readily as our enemies can wield the armies of the Alliance,” Zaelus inquired, with some protest, as if announcing that he thought the game was unfair. “I have decided that Tagrim and Krizic will report to Orgrimmar and focus on the Western Front there with my own retinue. Tagrim has his clansmen and Krizic has his mercenaries. Together we ought to have enough troops to at least defend ourselves, if not rout a couple of our enemies.” “Do you think we ought to send Ashleigh or Lynnesra to support you?” Zaelus challenged, unsure of the sound of their force strength. “No. My early observations suggest Gregory Alberdain will be the principle commander of the Sigilbearers on Kalimdor. Ashleigh was his apprentice, the opportunity for her to slip back would be too great,” came the Lord’s stoic reply. “Lynnesra then?” There was a pause. “Aerin is known to serve under Alberdain…” Less stoic this time. Aerin Dawncrest, son of Vironas Dawncrest, hadn’t been spirited away from Boralus when the Sigil decided they would war against the races of the Horde. His father had been, by Wallcroft, under the guise that it was for his own safety. Indeed, Masters Ju’bai and Totemhoof were imprisoned and executed with not so much as a word of warning. Aerin had been kept. Now he was an enemy, apparently one thoroughly indoctrinated against the Eidolon and his father, Zaelus knew as much. And even though Lynne wasn’t a legitimate member of their House, she was still his sister. Vironas was right, neither should participate in the Western Front.
"I am sorry to hear that you must face your son in this conflict," Zaelus said apologetically, courteous, with no overt emotional charge. "It is what it is. He would have defected by now if such was his intent, and I would be a terrible hypocrite if I would not be willing to deal in the death of family after I commanded you to do such." That was what Zaelus had been thinking the whole while, but hadn’t dared to say himself. He lowered his head to hide a satisfied smirk, making it seem he merely bowed out of chastened acquiescence to his mentor. "No, Lynnesra and Ashleigh will assist you, here. Your retinue will deal with the Eastern Front. Alphonse will remain attached to your retinue in order to assist."
"My retinue consists only of a guard of forty. That includes Lynnesra. How will we combat armies led by Sigilbearers?" "Cleverly," came the too-curt reply. "Winning at a disadvantage is the function of a good Strategist. Prove yourself, or you’re not worthy to survive this shadowy game." Zaelus lowered his head further at that. It was true enough, but needlessly harsh, wasn’t it? "By your word, my Lord… You seem to have some knowledge of the positioning of our enemy; knowing you I’d guess you’ve already made the sand table for this fight. Whom shall I face in this grand chess match?”
"Leopold Barrian, and Lord Wallcroft,"
Zaelus was lucky his skin was already as fair as could be, because the fact that he’d just ‘gone pale’ would have been visible to his mentor otherwise. “Ember and Silver, hm?” Zaelus managed, his throat suddenly dry. His hands, neatly clasped behind him, could be felt trembling. Leopold Barrian, the Death Knight, had only ever been bested once as a tactician, and was known to be unnecessarily brutal with his enemies. He was notorious for the employ of total war, and a fondness not only for extraneous bloodshed but also for torture. Davrin Wallcroft was the one who’d bested Barrian the one time. The Silver Strategist, his moniker implicit of his leadership of the Sigil, came across as a graying old human in the twilight years of his life;however, his tally of won battles, diplomatic or military, grew exponentially with his age. Davrin Wallcroft, who was the Academus of the Silver Sigil. Davrin Wallcroft, who had been the Master of Vironas Dawncrest. He would be Zaelus’ enemy.
As he worried, Zaelus realized how ridiculous it was that so many families and friendships had been so easily torn by these two factions. Was nothing more sacred than war? Were ideologies really stronger than familial ties or the relationships between master and apprentice? It struck him that they must be, since he’d killed family over less. But then, there hadn’t been as much love there. He felt lucky that he’d wound up on the same side of this invisible divide as Vironas and Lynnesra; breathed a sigh of relief at it. It made him feel just a little bit better.
"Those make for some long odds," came Zaelus’ reply after his long break for thought. "You are the light in the darkness," came a deadpan, yet highly sarcastic reply. Vironas had been quoting the words of Zaelus’ house at him, and it was clear he said them with some spite, for one reason or another. Vironas had never liked the Umbralflares, only ever Zaelus himself. "So I am," Zaelus replied. "Can I expect any reinforcements?" "Not until our work in the West is done."
With Lord Dawncrest departed, Zaelus laid back in his chaise and stared into the fire of his study. The odds of surviving this match were minute if the enemy did indeed come straight to Visendris Isle. The most support Zaelus could hope for would be unintentional help from Quel’Thalas’ military, who would most likely strike at any Alliance forces who probed too deep into their territories. That likely wouldn’t be enough, not against Barrian and Wallcroft. He rubbed his temples, a headache coming on at his frustrations.
Was this the sort of thing he could approach Aeviry about? Probably not, the Sunrunners seemed to have enough worries of their own. Still, he wouldn’t mind the idea of them and their allies aiding him in thinning out the pack of Alliance forces which might soon start North. He thought that still, knowing full well there would be no such direct assault. He couldn’t help his fears. The reality of things, he knew, was that this would be a protracted fight carried out in contested, central territories. Once he’d calmed himself enough to focus on that, his worries were replaced with hatreds. Any who threaten the prosperity of my House and its people will be dealt with appropriately he thought with venomous intensity. Even if I have to die making sure of it.