He nodded slowly, grip tightening around the orange staff. Yes. He would do as told. As he must do, as he was destined to do. Before him was a grand expanse of lava, an entire ocean of fire that emitted the heat of a thousand suns. Behind him were the corpses of countless Dark Iron dwarves. The defenders of Blackrock Mountain, who had put up a pitiful fight.
Burn it all.
A sigh escaped him as he approached the edge. Without even considering the motion he was nodding, agreeing to every word as it resounded from the back of his brain. Parting his hands, staff still clinched in his right hand, he called to the depths of the lava, and then commanded the call to travel even further. Until his very will pierced through the flame and called to a being from beyond this realm. Demanded the presence of a creature from one of the elemental planes.
Drawing his hands skyward, a manic smile took control of his lips. The lava headed his every whim, rising as though pulled by unseen strings. At first it was a small stream, which soon became pillars of fire that reached to the ceiling. Eventually they converged, and intersected. One pillar began to act as an arm, defying gravity as it suspended itself in the air. That first pillar connected to a second, a torso. Soon enough the others would follow suit, and a grand fire elemental would stand before him, waiting for its first target to put to the torch.
Yet just as quickly as the lava rose, it descended. What once held a solid form soon became chaos again as fell back into the pool from which it had come from. His hands dropped, as did his jaw. His thoughts searched for the voice, for anything, but found nothing. Peering down at the staff, he found that it had left his hand and was busy clattering against the ground.
There was a pain in his lower back. Something had pierced his flesh, and likely any number of his organs, and had left. Leaving a gaping hole for his blood to rush out through in the process. His thoughts raced as he struggled to turn, stumbling backwards at the sudden appearance of another face. A masked face, with beady yellow ears peering from its darkness. This creature of undeath had crept up behind him and stabbed him, with the weapon still in her left hand, dripping with his blood.
With what force he could muster, he pushed himself towards the thing. If he could just get on the other side of it, perhaps he could push it into the fire, and continue the ritual. Force the elemental to cauterize his wound. To cleanse him in fire. But it wasn't meant to be. It brought its foot up, and pushed him.
Little more than a short stumble preceded his descent. He watched in horror as the ceiling of the cavern grew in distance. Searing pain overtook his entire back as he met the fire below. Above him he could see the creature bend over the edge, to examine its work. Then it plucked up his staff, for which so many had died for, and departed.
It was with a relieved smile that the mage accepted the staff. He allowed the item to turn over in his hand, slowly, examining it for any damage. When he was satisfied, he looked up at his contractor and nodded approvingly.
"You have no idea how grateful we are for your work today," he said, offering the undead woman a smile, "Something truly terrible was prevented, and for that, you have our thanks."
She stared at him, small yellow eyes peering deep within his. Her head bobbed up and down somewhat, before her gaze drifted to the item in question. He held it up, to emphasize its importance of it to her, a smile still radiating from his lips.
"Okay," she said, looking back up at him, tone bland.
For a moment his smile faltered. Surely she understood the weight of the entire matter. The potential fury of the fire that could have been unleashed with the staff. The number of individuals who had died in the process of its acquisitions, or the story drenched with blood that was attached to the staff itself. Yet there was nothing in those eyes that told him that she cared.
"Yes, well," he said, doing his best not to stutter the words, and to hold true to his congratulatory tone, "If there is anything we can do to repay you, name it."
"Uh," she said, eyes flicking any which way for a moment. He nodded slowly, waiting. The valiant hero, considering the possibilities that such a promise could lead to. Eventually she refocused on him, and he could tell. She would decline, just as those truly worth would. "I'd uh. I'd like. Like my payment."
To say his entire demeanor dropped was an understatement. His smile fell into a resigned frown. Both of his shoulders slouched forward, and a sigh escaped him. "Of course," he muttered, producing a sack of coins from his belt, which she promptly took.
Without another look, she turned, and began making her way for the door. Clenching his fists around the staff, he steadied himself. Stood taller. He stepped forward, and called out to her. She paused, twisting her body to peer back at him.
"Surely there is something else we can do for you, beyond just payment, my lady," he said, almost pleading. Surely this story, the one he would go and tell his instructor, would not end as nothing more than a paltry exchange of coin.
She stared at him for a moment, and he felt a fear grip him. One that whispered in his ear that she was going to continue with her departure. But instead she turned slowly to stare at him, unblinking. Taking in a long breath, she released it in an even longer sigh, "Know uh. Do you. Do you know any. Uh. Really good necromancers."
His jaw went lax at the question. At first he debated answering it. To so much as direct someone to a practitioner of such dark arts could be considered a crime. But he ignored his first instinct, to deny any knowledge.
"Yes," he said slowly, "There are words of someone deep in the forests of Val'sharah. An individual who has used the threat of the Nightmare as cover to conduct horrible experiments and rituals. A person to be approached with extreme caution. Does that help?"
Her head bobbed up and down, "Yep. Thanks. Helps a lot."
With a small raise of her hand, she turned, and left him there. Sighing, he turned, debating how he was going to properly explain and document this entire encounter. Whether to tell the truth as it happened, or add some sort of dramatic flair. A matter to be decided later, he decided. For now the staff needed returned to its proper places in the vaults of the Kirin Tor. After that, and of course a fine meal, he could truly consider the repercussions of his actions. And even that could perhaps wait until tomorrow.
Or maybe the day after.