Look, I really want to see the nerubians, mantid, and qiraji team up again. And that’s really where this came from.
To himself, Arix’anub silently repeated the final warning of his mentor: You must not fail. You must not fail. In you resides our last hope of freedom.
As the great spiderlord emerged from his burrow into the great crystal-lit cavern, he took in the sight before him and suppressed a shiver. Silithid drones swarmed so thickly in three great pits that the piles of them looked like singular, pulsating masses. Such behavior was not unfamiliar to him given spiderling young, but these drones were the size of boulders.
The swarms were so thick that Arix’anub couldn’t tell what the drones were at work on. He imagined, however, given the nature of the summons, that this was something that would be revealed to him. Indeed, his mentor has sensed that such a revelation was the reason that someone from the tattered remnants of Azjol-Nerub was summoned in the first place.
At the center of the cavern, an obelisk of elementium hovered over the ground, with great black chains trailing off of it to moor at different points on the walls of the cavern. It was not unlike a spider’s web, only made of something far colder, far crueler, and far more permanent; a fitting place for the servants of the Old Gods to congregate.
A flight of swarmguards approached, the buzz of their gossamer wings sounding alien to Arix’anub. The scholars of his people had spoken often of ancient times, during the height of the Black Empire, when there was no distinction between qiraji, or nerubian, or mantid. They were as one race, enthralled to the Old Gods and their faceless enforcers, but nonetheless kindred.
Arix’anub could find nothing of his kindred in the veiled faces of the swarmguards as they chittered at him to follow. He accepted the escort begrudgingly but wordlessly. It would not serve to be a rude guest, even to such as these.
Beneath the hum of the great floating obelisk awaited those whom the spiderlord has been summoned to meet. To one side, a mantid war master stood, twin blades of hardened amber strapped to the back of his thorax, two massive upper arms resting atop the lower pincer arms, which were blackened by something Arix’anub couldn’t identify without closer inspection. The war master’s triangular head dipped in mild respect as his compound eyes took in the spiderlord, and Arix’anub bowed his own horn in response.
At the center of everything, before the obelisk, a great qiraji prophet stood, suspended on eight great hairy legs banded in gold and silver, silk robes flowing like new, yellow eyes in a shadowy band on the upper half of his head. Those eyes settled on Arix’anub as he approached, and the great sleeves of the robe rose to join together before the towering thorax while revealing nothing of their contents.
“So Ixit is a coward, then,” intoned the prophet.
Arix’anub measured his outrage carefully, though he did not completely conceal it. “The Seer is no coward. Our kingdom needs his guidance if we are to rebuild our strength. I am Prince Arix’anub, and the Seer has empowered me to speak for Azjol-Nerub in this congress.”
“‘Congress,'” chuckled the prophet bitterly. “How droll. Our masters do not believe in congress, spider-prince. Our masters direct, and we obey. Such is the way of the aqir.”
“Such was the way,” Arix’anub replied, his wings fluttering in irritation.
“With respect, Prophet Skall’iz,” came the mantid’s higher-pitched chitter, “let us not bicker. Prince Arix’anub represents his people, just as I represent the Klaxxi and the nascent Empress. He is not wrong; we are a congress of equals, even if we wait upon the will of the Ancient Ones.”
“A will that will never come,” said Arix’anub. “Yogg-Saron’s influence is a fading memory. C’Thun is a lifeless husk. The final breaths of Y’shaarj have been scattered to nothingness by the usurpers’ children. Only N’Zoth remains, and all of N’Zoth’s gambles with the children and the Earthwarder’s brood have come to nothing.”
“Heresy,” Skall’iz breathed wispily. Arix’anub didn’t know if it was shock or amusement on the qiraji prophet’s inscrutable face, but he refused to back down.
“The usurpers defeated the Ancient Ones, and imprisoned them. In Nerub, my ancestors recognized this was an opportunity for freedom. A chance to make our own destiny rather than being fodder for the chaos of their unknowable will. Ever since have my people fought for that freedom, against the trolls, against the Scourge, and against the Faceless.”
“A drone lacks purpose without the command of his empress,” said the war master, his tone even, “and are we scions of the Aqir not merely drones before the Old Ones?”
“We are not drones,” said Arix’anub, “because we possess our individual will. Is it not the way of the mantid that the strongest drones of the swarm return from battle while the weak are culled by their enemies? Is that strength born merely from brawn, or is it a matter of will as well?”
“Is this why Ixit send you, spider-prince?” said Skall’iz, chortling as he cut off the mantid’s response. “To argue heretic philosophy with us instead of offering servitude to our masters?”
“Ixit sent me to speak for Nerub, prophet, and so I speak. I answered the summons to hear and see and know what takes place here.”
“If you stop speaking, then you will hear, see, and know all that you wish.”
Arix’anub bit back a retort, but bowed his horn to the prophet in submission.
“The ‘games’ of N’zoth, as you call them, are not yet done, spider-prince. The Emerald Dream succumbs to the master’s control as we speak. The children are distracted with the Legion’s latest advance. And most importantly, we have finally uncovered the key that we need to truly turn the tide of this war in our favor.” The prophet paused dramatically, his sleeves parting in a grand gesture. “Xal’atath.”
Arix’anub did not contain his laughter, listening to it echo weirdly off the distant walls of the cavern around them. “You called this meeting over that accursed trinket? The very least of the tools of the Ancient Ones? Even as a servant of chaos, to think that there is any power in that castoff fragment is a delusion!”
“You see, Xan’tik?” said Skall’iz said to the war master, irritation filtered behind a cloying air of superiority: “For all their vaunted reputation as scholars and historians, even the Nerubians are ignorant to the truth.”
Arix’anub looked to the war master for confirmation. “What is this truth, then? Xal’atath is a toy, nothing more. Something to dupe the children into believing they had uncovered power when it was intended only to make them destroy themselves.”
“The whispers of the Heart of Y’shaarj confirmed this truth when the Klaxxi doubted it, as you do,” said the war master softly. “The Black Blade was never so simple an object as you describe, prince.”
The prophet chortled, but said nothing.
Moments later, after Xan’tik the Igniter had laid bare the truth of Xal’atath, Arix’anub’s hulking body sagged under the weight of it.
“Do you see now, spider-prince?” Skall’iz opened his sleeves again, and in response the drones in the three great pits below halted their work, withdrawing to reveal what they labored upon. Nestled in each pit was a hulking mass of flesh, shot through in places with glimmering black elementium. The shape of the three beings was immediately evident to Arix’anub: all where c’thraxxi, the great Faceless generals who had been the terrifying taskmasters set upon the aqir of old by the Ancient Ones. The Nerubians believed they had accounted for all of the c’thraxxi, and Ixit had personally rejoiced upon hearing of the deaths of Vezax, Erudax, and Zon’ozz, each in their turn.
And yet in these pits, Arix’anub saw three more of the creatures of nightmare, empowered with the primal elementium, and awaiting only one critical ingredient before they would live again to menace all of Azeroth.
An ingredient that would be provided by the Black Blade, should Skall’iz ever get hold of it.
Master, Arix’anub thought, I have failed, and we are all truly doomed. There can be no freedom, even in death, from the will of the Ancient Ones.