My discoveries in Northshire Valley have brought forth a startling revelation and a solemn purpose in me. This Defias Brotherhood is indeed a dire threat to Stormwind and its people; a coiled viper, poised to strike. Its ranks permeate the downtrodden populace, corrupting the minds of the people like a venom, promising perverse "justice" for those displaced by the wars.
My investigation into the Brotherhood has led me from Goldshire to the region of Westfall. A long-standing community of tradesmen and farmers, the citizens of these plains had always been a sturdy and resolute lot. The largest still-active settlement, Sentinel Hill, stood as a beacon of resilience in a land constantly besieged by gnolls, bandits, murlocs, and nature itself.
During the journey to Westfall, I had taken time to reflect on my role as a Paladin, and while combat was natural to our Order, I came to respect the acts of defiance and defense over the crusades of righteous retribution. I resolved to be a stalwart defender, standing to protect my allies and distract the mightiest of foes, so that my companions might have opportunities to strike, or escape unharmed should the fight turn dire. Such acts of self-sacrifice are the pinnacle of what it means to bear the title Paladin.
Outfitting myself with a sword and shield from the local smith, I met with Gryan Stoutmantle, a warrior of some renown and loyalist to the crown. I assisted him and his fellows with tasks around the region: slaying gnolls and murlocs, securing provisions, even bloodying a few bandits to help thin their ever-growing numbers. It was during this task, that I made my first real discovery.
Tracking a Defias messenger on the pathways across the plains, I ran across a missive that shined a revealing light on the Defias base of operations: Moonbrook. A deserted shell of a town near the base of the southern mountain ranges, it was now being used to house personnel and supplies for the Brotherhood. The disheveled and run-down buildings and forgotten structures now housed thugs and transients, leering eyes and suspicious glares. As I searched the hamlet, the most damning evidence was uncovered.
Far beneath the houses and mountains lied the dark and twisted tunnels of an abandoned mine. The deep and cavernous corridors stretched into an underground lake that fed into the Great Sea. It was this discovery that revealed the dark truth of the Defias Brotherhood's schemes.
I entered the mines with a small retinue of volunteers and like-minded heroes, each established in their own right, that had gathered at Gryan's request. A Gnomish mage, a Dwarven rogue, and a Night Elf priest greeted me at the entrance to the largest building; the place we had come to find out held the entrance to the sinister caverns. We had been informed of a fifth adventurer, a dark-haired female human--the only description we were given--who we were to rendezvous with at the designated meeting point on the outskirts of the Defias operations in the mine.
As we neared the designated point, we heard the sounds of a battle echoing through the jagged stone walls. Charging in prepared for combat, we beheld a surprising reveal. A demonic Voidwalker was locked in combat with a small squad of Defias brigands, and a hellish rain of fire and brimstone cascaded down upon them from the ceiling, seemingly summoned from the burning hells themselves. I quickly realized to my chagrin, that the source of the demonic magic was indeed our contact.
The thieves had fallen before we could even enter the fray, and the voidwalker turned to us, bracing like a beast about to pounce. Strycnosa, as she announced herself to our party, was a warlock. I gritted my teeth and suppressed my prejudices out of necessity for the task at hand, and approached. She told is, in great detail, of our mission, the forces we could expect, and her plan of attack. Her cunning and tactical capability were both impressive and alarming. I silently prayed that this ally would never become an adversary, as despite her clear martial prowess, her command over the blackest of arts rivaled my own synergy with the Holy Light.
Our infiltration was successful with little complication. We engaged a few patrols here and there, until we came to a large, circular room flanked by a giant steel door. The door was not unguarded, and a large, imposing ogre stood watch over the chamber. We had yet to be noticed, as I hefted my sword and shield, and glanced to our healer with a nod. When the gesture was returned, I charged. I locked in close combat with the brute, and kept his attention fixed on myself as my companions released a torrent of magic and blades until the ruffian fell.
The Night Elf tended to the wounds we sustained in combat by invoking her patron, a Night Elf deity named Elune. I reflected for a moment on the parallels between the loving embrace of her Elune, and my own devotion and relationship with the Holy Light. We then quickly moved on.
The tunnels wound and twisted, until we found ourselves in a large chamber filled with trunks of unprocessed lumber. The sounds of buzz saws and axes echoed through the air, drowning out the sound of our approach. We were soon discovered by the room's inhabitants, however, and a horde of goblins descended upon us. We engaged the rabble, quickly felling the creatures, but our victory was short-lived.
A Shredder, a horrible amalgamation of goblin iron, spinning saws, oil and steam, charged from the rear of the chamber. I parried a large saw with my shield, and drove my sword into the joint of one of the contraption's legs. As the hulking figure stumbled forward, the mage willed fire into the saw's tips, melting the jagged edges and rendering the weapon useless. The rogue appeared from nowhere, shoving his daggers into the back of the pilot, causing the entire device to collapse into a heap without direction. We caught our breath, and pushed forward.
Through the next door, we found a large room with a winding ramp downward, the path circling a giant smelting pot hanging from the ceiling. Goblins lined the path, falling to our blows as we charged down below. At the base, the largest, cruelest goblin I'd ever seen sneered at us with yellowed teeth; some from years of neglect, some from caps of crudely molded gold. This was clearly the leader of the smelting operations. We engaged in a short battle with the smithy, until he too fell before us. Following through on our momentum, we again moved on.
The next chamber led us to a huge metal door, which seemed impassable. That is, until the warlock had an inspired idea. Re-purposing a large, conveniently placed cannon, we packed the powder and loaded a ball, aiming the weapon at the door. An ear-shattering boom resonated through the tunnels as the iron and wood of the door splintered and fell. While it had allowed us passage, it had alerted the rest of the Brotherhood to our activities. But even the shock of the blast was nothing compared to what we witnessed next.
A humongous, fully-loaded juggernaut ship sat anchored in the lake beneath the mines. Packed to the brim with pirates and cannons, we then truly understood the grave threat the Defias posed. They sought to sail the Great Sea to the shores of Stormwind, and lay siege to the city. This could not be allowed. We steeled ourselves and charged.
Pirate after pirate fell, our fury propelled by patriotism, valor and righteousness, until a lumbering figure charged down the boarding ramp from the great ship. A humongous, black-maned Tauren raised a great axe, and swung at the priest. I quickly intercepted the blow with my sword, allowing the startled Night Elf to clamber to safety. Bashing the brute with my shield, I followed through with a swift kick to his abdomen. Knocked back, the Tauren snorted and dropped the axe. He roared, and stomped the ground. A shockwave emitted from his hoof, and dazed my companions and I momentarily; long enough for the beast to claim a large maul-like hammer from a chest of supplies nearby.
Clearing my head, I engaged once again. The mage and rogue had been occupied by two Defias thieves that had attempted to flank us, and the healer was fixated on keeping us mended and alive. I went blow for blow with the Tauren, but he was vastly stronger than I, and I wearied quickly. In my fatigue, I was dealt a blow to the legs with the shaft of the hammer, and fell to my knees. Dazed, I struggled to raise my shield, but it was batted aside. The Tauren grinned madly and raised his maul to deliver the deathblow, and then something that chills me to this day occurred.
The Tauren's face went from triumph to horror, as his fur began to singe, and his skin began to blister. He roared in both agony and fury as the boils blistered and popped, and his great frame fell backward. The look of fury and terror was frozen on his face as he slammed into the ground, the very life drained from his eyes. Strycnosa stood behind him, grinning, fidgeting with some small, violet, crystalline shard. I resolved to be grateful for the moment, and inquire later, as I rose back to my feet and caught my second wind.
We climbed the decks of the ship, still felling pirate after pirate, even dispatching a formidable goblin that claimed to be the captain of the vessel that attempted to rally the survivors against us. We were resolute, however, and made our way to the bridge.
And there it was that we came face to face with the man behind the entire plot. The Defias kingpin: Edwin VanCleef.
Our research had told us that VanCleef was a popular leader of a guild of stonemasons, that had been cheated out of fair recompense for their work to restore Stormwind after the initial Orcish invasion. Neither side was blameless. The masons had demanded a king's ransom for their services, but the corrupt nobles gave them barely pennies. Displaced and betrayed, VanCleef established the Brotherhood to exact a brutal revenge on the city, even the innocent citizens were to blame in his crusade for vengeance.
VanCleef was also well-trained and experienced in the arts of subterfuge and assassination, as his life prior to becoming a mason was that of an elite agent of SI:7, Stormwind's intelligence-gathering and clandestine operations organization. I braced myself for a tough fight, and VanCleef heartily delivered.
His blades were like the northern wind, swift and biting, never relenting. My focus was on defense more than anything, and though he was outnumbered five to one, he managed to evade and parry most of our blows. Even the magic slung by the mage and the warlock seemed to roll off of his frame, as if the shadows themselves were defending him. The fight raged on for what seemed an eternity, its longevity exacting a clear toll on the reserves of our group; even the healer appeared taxed.
Finally, be it luck or skill, the rogue delivered a blow to VanCleef's flank, and the kingpin grunted in pain, hesitating mid-strike. It was all the opening I needed. I brought my sword into VanCleef's side, blade biting into flesh, and shoved my shield into his breastbone. The wind knocked out of him, and his side bleeding, he staggered back. Bolts of arcane energy hit him like a barrage as he stumbled, and his skin began to crack and blister; a result of more demonic curses, no doubt. The rogue flung a fan of knives that dug deep into his flesh as he continued to careen towards the ships rail.
I charged once more, the Light itself fueling my fury, as I swung my blade clean, separating shoulder from neck. VanCleef's head dropped to the deck, and with a swift kick, I sent his headless corpse over the rail into the water below. We froze for a moment, still locked in combat stances, breathing heavily, as we took in the magnitude of our accomplishment.
Edwin VanCleef was dead. The Defias Brotherhood had been routed. Stormwind was safe.
At least, I thought, for a time.