Authors: Richard A. Knaak
“Every one. Without fail.”
“I fear, then, that this is an omen. I sensed in you from our first encounter the makings of the gift of prescience—one of the reasons I chose to make myself known to you—but it is stronger than even I ever expected.”
“But what does it mean?” the young night elf pleaded. “If you say this is an omen, I’ve got to know what it portends.”
“And we shall try to discover that. I said, after all, that you are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
Cenarius folded his arms. His tone grew more grave.
“Ready to walk the
Nothing in the demigod’s teachings so far had referred to this Emerald Dream, but the manner in which Cenarius spoke of it made Malfurion realize the importance of this next step. “What is it?”
“What is it not? The Emerald Dream is the world beyond the waking world. It is the world of the spirit, the world of the sleepers. It is the world as it might have been, if we sentient creatures had not come about to ruin it. In the Emerald Dream, it is possible, with practice, to see anything, go anywhere. Your body will enter a trance and your dream form will fly from it to wherever you need to go.”
“Dangerous? It is, young Malfurion. Even the well-trained, the experienced, can lose themselves in the Emerald Dream. You note I call it the
Dream. That is the color of its mistress, Ysera, the Great Aspect. It is the realm of her and her dragon flight. She guards it well and allows only a few to enter it. My own dryads and keepers make use of the Emerald Dream in their duties, but sparingly.”
“I’ve never heard of it,” Malfurion admitted with a shake of his head.
“Likely because no night elf save those in my service has ever walked it…and they only when they were no longer of your race. You would be the first of your kind to truly take the path…if you so desire.”
The idea both unnerved and excited Malfurion. It would be the next step in his studies and a way, perhaps, to make sense of his constant nightmare. Yet…Cenarius had made it clear that the Emerald Dream could also be deadly.
“What—what might happen? What might go wrong?”
“Even the experienced can lose their way back if they become distracted,” the demigod replied. “Even I. You must remain focused at all times, know your goal. Otherwise…otherwise your body might sleep forever.”
There was more, the night elf suspected, but Cenarius for some reason wanted him to learn on his own—if Malfurion chose to walk the Emerald Dream.
He decided he had no other recourse. “How do I start?”
Cenarius fondly touched the top of his student’s head. “You are certain?”
“Then simply sit as you have for your other lessons.” When the slighter figure had obeyed, Cenarius lowered his own four-legged form to the earth. “I will guide you in this first time, then it is up to you. Lock your gaze in mine, night elf.”
The demigod’s golden orbs snared Malfurion’s eyes. Even had he wanted to, it would have taken mammoth effort for him to pull his own gaze away. He felt himself drawn into Cenarius’s mind, drawn into a world where all was possible.
A sense of lightness touched Malfurion.
Do you feel the songs of the stones, the dance of the wind, the laughter of the rushing water?
At first, Malfurion felt no such thing, but then he heard the slow, steady grinding, the shifting of earth. Belatedly, he realized that this was how the stones and rock spoke as, over the eons, they made their way from one point in the world to another.
After that, the others became more evident. Every part of nature had its own unique voice. The wind spun around in merry steps when pleased, or in violent bursts when the mood grew darker. The trees shook their crowns and the raging water of a nearby river chuckled as the fish within it darted up to spawn.
But in the background…Malfurion thought he sensed distant discord. He tried to focus on it, but failed.
You are not yet in the Emerald Dream. First, you must remove your earthly shell…
the voice in his head instructed.
As you reach the state of sleep, you will slip your body off as you would a coat. Start from your heart and mind, for they are the links that most bind you to the mortal plane. See? This is how it is done…
Malfurion touched at his heart with his thoughts, opening it like a door and willing his spirit free. He did the same with his mind, although the earthly, practical side of any living creature protested at this action.
Give way to your subconscious. Let it guide you. It knows of the realm of dreaming and is always happy to return there.
As Malfurion obeyed, the last barriers slipped away. He felt as if he had sloughed off his skin the way a snake might. A sense of exhilaration filled him and he almost forgot for what purpose he was doing this.
But Cenarius had warned him to remain focused and so the night elf fought the euphoria down.
Malfurion pushed himself up…but his body, legs still folded, remained where it was. His dream form floated a few feet off the ground, free of all restraints. Had he so desired, Malfurion knew that he could have flown to the stars themselves.
But the Emerald Dream lay in a different direction.
Turn again to your subconscious,
the demigod instructed.
It will show you the path, for that lies within, not without.
And as he followed Cenarius’s instructions, the night elf saw the world change further around him. A hazy quality enveloped everything. Images, endless images, overlapped one another, but with concentration Malfurion discovered that he could see each separately. He heard whispers and realized that they were the inner voices of dreamers throughout the world.
From here, you must take the path by yourself.
He felt his link to Cenarius all but fade. For the sake of Malfurion’s concentration, the demigod had been forced to pull back. However, Cenarius remained a presence, ready to aid his student if the need arose.
As Malfurion moved forward, his world turned a brilliant, gemlike green. The haze increased and the whispers became more audible. A landscape vaguely seen beckoned to him.
He had become part of the Emerald Dream.
Following his instincts, Malfurion floated toward the shifting dreamscape. As Cenarius said, it looked as the world would have looked had night elves and other creatures not come into being. There was a tranquillity to the Emerald Dream that made it tempting just to stay forever, but Malfurion refused to give in to that temptation. He had to know the truth about his dreams.
He had no idea at first where his subconscious was taking him, but somehow suspected it would lead him to the answers he desired. Malfurion flew over the empty paradise, marveling at all he saw.
But then, in the midst of his miraculous journey, he felt something amiss again. The faint discord he had sensed earlier increased. Malfurion tried to ignore it, but it gnawed at him like a starving rat. He finally veered his spirit form toward it.
Suddenly, ahead of him lay a huge, black lake. Malfurion frowned, certain that he recognized the foreboding body of water. Dark waves lapped its shores and an aura of power radiated from its center.
The Well of Eternity.
But if this was the Well, where was the city? Malfurion eyed the dreamscape where he knew the capital should have been, trying to summon an image of it. He had come here for a reason and now he believed that it had to do with the city. By itself, the Well of Eternity was an astonishing thing, but it was the source of power only. The discord the night elf felt originated from somewhere else.
He stared at the empty world, demanding to see the reality.
And without warning, Malfurion’s dream self materialized over Zin-Azshari, the capital of the night elves. In the old tongue, Zin-Azshari translated into “The Glory of Azshara.” So beloved had the queen been when she had made her ascension to the throne that the people had insisted on renaming the capital in her honor.
Thinking of his queen, Malfurion suddenly beheld the palace itself, a magnificent structure surrounded by a huge, well-guarded wall. He frowned, knowing it well. This was, of course, the grand abode of his queen. Even though he had at times made mention of what he believed to be her faults, Malfurion actually admired her more than most thought. Overall, she had done much good for her people, but on occasion he believed Azshara simply lost her focus. As with many other night elves, he suspected any problem there had to do in part with the Highborne, who administered the realm in her name.
The wrongness grew worse the nearer he floated down toward the palace. Malfurion’s eyes widened as he saw the reason. With the summoning of the vision of Zin-Azshari, he had also summoned a more immediate image of the Well. The black lake now swirled madly and what appeared to be monstrous strands of multicolored energy shot up from its depths. Powerful magic was being drawn from the Well into the highest tower, its only possible purpose the casting of a spell of impossible proportions.
The dark waters beyond the palace moved with such violence that to Malfurion they seemed to be boiling. The more those within the tower summoned the might of the Well, the more terrible the fury of the elements. Above, the storm-wracked heavens screamed and flashed. Some of the buildings near the edge of the Well threatened to be washed away.
What are they doing?
Malfurion wondered, his own quest forgotten.
Why do they continue even during weakness of day?
But “day” was only a term, now. Gone was the sun that dampened the night elves’ abilities. Even though evening had not yet come, it was as black as night above Zin-Azshari…no, even blacker. This was not natural and certainly not safe. What could those within be toying with?
He drifted over the walls, past stone-faced guards ignorant of his presence. Malfurion floated to the palace itself, but when he sought to enter, certain that his dream form would pass through something so simple as stone, the night elf discovered an impenetrable barrier.
Someone had encased the palace in protective spells so intricate, so powerful, that he could not pierce them. This only made Malfurion more curious, more determined. He swooped around the structure, rising again toward the tower in question. There had to be a way in. He had to see what madness was going on inside.
With one hand, he reached out to the array of protective spells, seeking the point that bound them all together, the point by which they could also be unbound—
And suddenly pain unimaginable wracked Malfurion. He screamed silently, no sound able to voice his agony. The image of the palace, of Zin-Azshari, vanished. He found himself in an emerald void, caught within a storm of pure magic. The elemental powers threatened to rip his dream form into a thousand pieces and scatter them in every direction.
But in the midst of the monstrous chaos, he suddenly heard the faint calling of a familiar voice.
Malfurion…my child…come back to me…Malfurion…you must return…
Vaguely the night elf recognized Cenarius’s desperate summons. He clung to it as a drowning person in the middle of the sea might cling to a tiny piece of driftwood. Malfurion felt the woodland deity’s mind reach out to him, guide him in the proper direction.
The pain began to lessen, but Malfurion was exhausted beyond measure. A part of him simply wanted to drift among the dreamers, his soul never returning to his flesh. Yet, he realized that to do so would mean his end and so he fought against the deadly desire.
And as the pain dwindled away, as Cenarius’s touch grew stronger, Malfurion sensed his own link to his mortal form. Eagerly he followed it, moving faster and faster through the Emerald Dream…
With a gasp…the young night elf awoke.
Unable to stop himself, Malfurion tumbled into the grass. Mighty yet still gentle hands picked him back up to a sitting position. Water dribbled into his mouth.
He opened his eyes and beheld Cenarius’s concerned visage. His mentor held Malfurion’s own water sack.
“You have done what few others could do,” the stag god murmured. “And in doing so, you almost lost yourself forever. What happened to you, Malfurion? You went even beyond my sight…”
“I…I sensed…something terrible…”
“The cause of your nightmares?”
The night elf shook his head. “No…I don’t know…I…I found myself drawn to Zin-Azshari…” He tried to explain what he had witnessed, but the words seem so insufficient.
Cenarius looked even more disturbed than he, which worried Malfurion. “This does not bode well…no. You are certain it was the palace? It had to be Azshara and her Highborne?”
“I don’t know if one or both…but I can’t help feeling that the queen must be a part of it. Azshara is too strong-willed. Even Xavius can’t control her…I think.” The queen’s counselor was an enigmatic figure, as distrusted as Azshara was loved.
“You must think about what you say, young Malfurion. You are suggesting that the ruler of the night elves, she whose name is heard in song each day, is involved in some spellwork that could be a threat not only to your kind, but the rest of the world. Do you understand what that means?”
The image of Zin-Azshari intermingled with the scene of devastation…and Malfurion found both compatible with each other. They might not be directly linked, but they shared something in common. What that was, though, he did not know yet.
“I understand one thing,” he muttered, recalling the perfect, beautiful face of his queen and the cheers that accompanied even her briefest appearances. “I understand that I must find out the truth wherever that truth leads…even if in the end it costs me my very life…”
The shadowed form touched with his talon the small, golden sphere in his other scaled palm, bringing it to life. Within it, there materialized another, almost identical shadow. The light from the sphere did nothing to push back the darkness surrounding the figure, just as on the other end the sphere used by the second form also failed. The magic cast to preserve each one’s identity was old and very strong.