Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Occurrence at Fallow Bridge

Someone had died on Fallow Bridge. Of that much he could be certain. It was not just the stories of the place that he had heard during the long nights of his childhood. Nor the fact that the people of Theramore avoided the bridge like the plague. No, it was because he had seen the bones below the bridge, still occasionally being spat up by the swamp. Could tell that the darker spots at certain points on the bridge itself weren't any of the muck from the mire, but rather the spots where blood had been shed.

It was one of the first things he had ever done upon coming back home. With an education under his belt, one that taught him the ways to delve into a place's past, he had ventured out into the bog, determined to come home with the truth. After hearing so many stories, after watching people avoid the place like the plague, he simply had to know for sure. Whether or not this, like so many other tragic stories that propagated their way through small communities, was some built up work of fiction, or something far worse.

For hours he had scanned the place, dirtying his clothes in the process of stomping through the mud. And even once he had come to a conclusion, he forced himself to go over it again. And again, and again, and again. Each time he told himself that he must have looked at something wrong. That he must have overlooked some key piece of evidence that would explain away his horrible thoughts.

But there wasn't.

No, someone had died on that bridge. It wouldn't surprise him to learn that multiple people had died there, or been disposed of there. Lost forever to the ooze below, that would hold onto their bones until something tried to come claim them. As much as he wanted it to be a tall tale, as much as he hoped that things would be better, he was forced to accept that such was simply not the way of things. And for that reason he hated it. On days where his imagination allowed it, he liked to believe that his innocence was sitting down there, held hostage by the swamp. That perhaps he could drag it out and reclaim it.

But it wasn't. And he couldn't.

The years that followed had only served to worsen his mood. Every place he traveled for his work proved to be the same. Horror stories that communities passed around. Tales of terror that he held out hope for would be untrue. All he ever wanted was one tragedy to not have a basis in reality. Perhaps the disappearing couple would have actually ran off to pursue their love in a place that would accept them more. Maybe the local 'haunted house' wasn't the site of a number of gruesome murders. And any other number of potential happy endings.

But there weren't.

Instead everything always seemed to be just as horrible, if not worse, than it appeared to be. No, the couple did not wander off to fall in love. The woman killed her would-be lover on the way out of town and stashed his corpse so that she could repeat the process in the next town over. The haunted house was indeed haunted, its ghosts were just as miserable as he was, and the crimes that had been committed there were awful enough that he refused to ever speak a word on them again.

His colleagues liked to tell him that it was pure luck of the draw. That they had dredged up plenty of happy pieces of history. Nice little towns, and their nice little families. Every time he told them that they were full of it, or refused to see the bigger picture. In return they told him to stop drinking, and go see his family more. Neither of which he did. Instead he continued going on his little expeditions, because that was what paid the bills.

Because people loved tragedy. Or at least his benefactors did. Tragedy always seemed to have powerful things attached to it. Trinkets or tools, weapons, pieces of armor. Cursed, imbued with dark energies, it didn't matter. They were powerful items that could be used to his benefactor's benefit. What exactly they did with him was of no concern to him. He found them, passed them off, and never heard about them again, just as he wanted. When he bothered to try to guess what had become of them, he could only come up with two options. At best, they would be tucked away, perhaps displayed. Left to gather dust in a collection. At worst, they would be used for similar purposes that they had already fulfilled. Someone like him might find them years later, with a very familiar story attached. Different people, different places, same tragedy.

The majority of his clients preferred to meet in a city. In the shadier sections of a city, of course, where such business almost always seemed to occur. A back alley, a sketchy bar. Places where he always made sure to keep a close watch on coins. But still in the city. Places that were short trips from home, and decidedly not in the middle of a swamp. As this client always requested. On this particular bridge.

Pulling his cigarette from his lips, he gave a short puff of smoke, glancing around. It was still simply him on the bridge, even though the meeting time had been arranged for an hour prior. In most cases he would have started making the long trek back to Stormwind far sooner. But few clients paid so handsomely as this one did. So he allowed it to torment him. Dealt with whatever nightmares he was bound to have dealing with the creature.

A cold breeze blew over the bridge, and a shudder ran down him. Letting out a sigh, he took another toke from the cigarette before tossing it onto the wooden structure, stomping it out with the toe of his boot. As the temperature continued to drop he allowed his hands to rest in his pockets, and began the slow walk to the middle of the bridge. Though he had been alone, standing at one end of the bridge for hours up to this point, now a singular figure stood at its center, watching him approach.

The creature, and he refused to call it anything else, took the shape of a humanoid being. In much the same way that ethereals took on a shape with bandages or wrappings, the thing at the center of the bridge formed itself out of ice. A being of ice, two arms, two legs, and a single head, all buried under a set of ornate robes. Beyond the glassy looking head were four blue spheres, which he could only ever presume were meant to be eyes. All four of them were focused on him now.

With each step the temperature seemed to drop, until the warm spring evening turned into a winter's night pulled straight from Icecrown. He stopped only a few feet from the creature, hands still firmly in his pockets, lest one of his fingers freeze and fall off. Such had never happened before, but he refused to take the risk of extreme amounts of exposure. The freezing winds that the thing had brought with it continued to blow, though they had lessened somewhat, so that he could hear it speak.

"We presume that you have brought the materials that we have requested?"

Each word came not from the creature itself, for the creature had no mouth. Instead it was as though the wind carried each word, each and every frosty word. They blew into his mind, and cut into his skin, the same way sleet would. Long enough they were enough to make him shiver, but anymore he had grown far too accustomed to them.

Readying himself, he pulled his hand out of his pockets, clutching tightly to a small roll of parchment. Just as he expected, the bundle was picked up by the wind, chilling his fingers in the process. Grasping his hand and trying to warm it once more, he watched the bundle be carried, and eventually dropped into the things hand. With a grumble, he shoved his hands back into his pockets, and started his part of the conversation, "Whatever it is you're looking for's in Northrend, which I'm sure you'll love. You're kind of weather. Supposedly got pulled out of one of those Titan chambers, but the expedition that was hauling it got lost, along with the goods."

Its head bobbed slowly up and down, a motion that was far too smooth for his liking. With all of the ice he always felt that the thing's movement should be horribly rigid, but it never was. All too human, for a thing that was nothing of the sort. But regardless of his feelings, it seemed to approve of his work.

"This pleases us. You shall have your payment delivered soon, with an additional fee once we have found the item."

Every sentence forced him to shudder, and retreat further into his coat. All he could do was shiver, and allow his teeth to chatter. When he managed to regain some of his composure he forced himself to ask the most obvious question, the one that would have kept him up at night if he didn't, "What the hell do you plan to do with it?"

There was a long moment of silence as the thing's eyes bored into him. Eventually, its shoulders lifted in a small shrug, "We will destroy it, so that it may be of use to no one."

He blinked a few times, eyes narrowing at the thing's intentions. In all his years on Azeroth he had never personally dealt with Titan artifacts. It was one thing to deal with horrible things that mortals had made, but to go near the works of actual gods was something that should be left to only the faintest of heart. To think of destroying one seemed like madness. Dangerous, horrible madness. Though if anything in the world were to be so detached from everything as to consider doing so, this thing would be near the top of the list. And there was nothing he could do to stop it.

All he could do was force himself to nod. Prying any further, he decided, would be far too negative for his health. He could just picture himself now, awake long through the night wondering when he would hear the consequences of the thing's actions. Or more realistically, drinking until he had forgotten that this deal had ever occurred.

Apparently the thing had decided that it had wasted far too much time with the conversation. The wind picked up again, so much so that he was forced to hunch over to try to steady himself against it, his sight filling with the frozen boards of the bridge. When he looked up again, the thing had departed, leaving him alone, literally quaking in his boots. He slowly stomped off the bridge, making his way back towards the main road, doing his best to not consider whatever had just happened. Trying to warm his hands back up, and to get the thoughts that had started floating around his head to leave.

But they wouldn't.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Plague

"An' finish it up with a fireball to the face for uh. Eight damage."

"Ain't eight, it's seven. You only got the one one card with spell damage."

"Well. Don't really matter if it's seven'r eight, yer dead either way."

Slamming his cards down on the board, Dale Brachen waved a hand at his opponent's side, "And folks tell me I'm crazy when I tell 'em that mage's're overpowered."

Horace Varner held his tongue on that particular matter for a moment. He had heard this particular complaint before. Not that it mattered if it was mages or rogues or warriors. His opponent was a sore loser, and there really wasn't anything that the humble man from Lakeshire could really do about it. Especially if he wanted to keep playing. It hadn't taken long for Dale to drive off every other Hearthstone player in their little camp out in the Swamp of Sorrows, so if he wanted to keep at it, he only really had one option.

A very whiny option.

"Jus' need to put some more thought into yer deck's all. Yeh've seen mine a buncha times, just need some, ah. Preventory measures is all," he said, calmly picking up his cards from the board.

Dale just huffed, throwing his hands up, "Well forgive me if I don't spend my entire wage on this stuff Horace. These are what I got, so this is what I'm gonna play with. It'll work next time. Openin' hand was awful."

"Right," Horace said silently, glancing around for a new subject, only to find their small encampment empty, "Everybody else already run off to bed? Seems a bit early."

"I dunno, most of 'em probably just took an early night," Dale said, quickly switching topics, prepping himself for what he wanted to complain about now, "Deaders should be out on patrol so you won't see none a them."

"You know they don't like it when you call 'em that," Horace muttered, mostly to himself, shuffling through his cards, "An' it ain't worth causin' no trouble with 'em."

The other man waved a hand dismissively at the idea. "They ain't around here," he said, first in a whisper, but then louder, once he confirmed for himself that the death knights that had been assigned to their patrol were far out of sight. "'Sides," he said, now with a more cocky attitude, "I'll call 'em what I want. Like they're gonna do nothin' about it. Ain't like you can hurt their feelings. They ain't got none."

"They don't like it when you say that, neither," Horace said, even quieter this time, knowing that whatever he said was little more than a subject for Dale to speak the opposite of, "You wanna play again?"

"Nope," Dale said casually, propping his feet up on the table. Horace sighed, inching the board away from him so that it could be put away.

"Well alright then," Horace said, scooping the board up under his arms and standing from their makeshift table, which was little more than a barrel with a flat piece of wood slapped on top of it, "Think I'm going to get some early shut eye too then. Might be that the Captain's gonna surprise us with early mornin' drills or something."

Dale just nodded, keeping his feet propped up as he watched Horace make his way to the overly large tent that served as the camp's barracks. Not long after, his eyelids started to grow heavy, though he couldn't be bothered to drag himself all the way to his bunk. The chair, he proposed to himself, was about as comfortable as his bunk anyway. He didn't open them again until the sun had risen again.

Or at the very least, it certainly seemed that the sun had risen high in the sky. Except he knew, blinking his eyes trying to drag himself up from the depths of sleep, that there was no way in hell that the Captain would have ever allowed him to sleep for so long. Especially sitting so blatantly in the middle of camp. A few more blinks revealed to him that it was not in fact the sun that he was seeing, but a torch, being held a few inches from his face. He also noticed a few moments after this discovery that Horace's face was a mere few inches away from him, which proved to be startling enough for him to fall backwards, his chair slamming back against the ground.

It was stars that he saw now. Stars mixed in with Horace's concerned face. Within another few moments, he saw Horace offer him a hand, which he took. He was promptly hauled up, slowly tuning into Horace's constant panicked whispers. Little of what the man was saying was actually understandable. Just that Dale needed to follow him, because he wasn't going to believe what he saw, or something along those line. Why he hadn't gone and informed the Captain if it was so important was beyond him.

He was practically dragged to the front of the encampment, and pointed towards a moderately sized black lump in the middle of the road. Squinting at the thing he realized that it wasn't just some pile of dark rocks or an oversized bear, but one of the death knights assigned to the camp. Nor, as he previously believed about the potential bear, was he dead once more. Dale could still see the light blue flicker of his eyes, casting a pale glow on the road. His breathing picked up at that, and he looked back at Horace for an answer.

Horace just shook his head, and stammered, "He just. He just wandered back outta the woods. Talkin' mad an' lookin' like he. Like he had jus' turned into one of them lepers or somethin'. Then he threw chunks all over the ground an' keeled over."

Leaning down, he could see what looked to be the pox that had over the man's face. Inching back towards camp, Dale pointed at the death knight in disbelief, "He was throwin' up? They ain't supposed to do that. Hell they're supposed to make people do that." When Horace nodded grimly, he motioned him back into the camp, "Well don't touch 'im. Tell the Captain what happened, an' walk up the others. Jus'. Jus' don't do nothin' with 'im else."

Behind him he heard Horace skitter off, but he didn't pay him any mind. Instead Dale marched to both sides of the gate, pushing each door of it closed. Far was he from an expert on disease. But any sort of barrier and whatever had befallen the deader was a start in his book.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dealing with Death

He could only presume that the elf had chosen this particular location for the entire purpose of insulting him. Nestled just a stone's throw away from Lakeshire, the small abode was just close enough to be easily visible by its human denizens. Inhabitants who had just happened to have dealt with a massive invasion of orcs a number of years prior. And who would likely celebrate the chance to take the fight to another orc, even if they were alone. Especially an undead orc. That was like hitting two Horde-shaped birds with one stone. Which disregarded the fact that he was neither aligned with the Horde, or the undead. Not that the humans cared.

Nor, far as he could tell, did the humans seem to mind the small abode. Likely because they did not know its owner. Made even more likely by just how bland the entire design of the place was. A basic human hovel, with a white fence surrounding it, and a small garden to be worked off to its eastern side. One or two windows, both dark enough to not allow anyone to actually peer inside, gave the appearance of normality. Suggested that whoever resided there could be bothered to peek outside and consider the world around them.

Breaching the threshold of the fence, he turned his attention to the garden, where someone was tending to the flowers. They were wearing a white floral dress, pieces of which had accumulated dirt. Their bonnet was tied tight to their head, concealing their face from him. Upon hearing his footsteps, they ceased their tasks, sitting up straighter, trawl still in hand.

A short grunt escaped him, as he considered playing along with the entire idea. The elf would have loved that. His pretending, playing the role. Pretending to be the curious traveler to allow her little puppets to recite their practiced lines. He would do nothing of the sort.

"I have come to speak to your mistress," he said gruffly, walking closer to the gardener, "Lead me to her at once."

The figure slowly rose from the ground, turning to face him. He let out a short snort when he glimpsed at the girl's face. At some point he was certain that she had been considered beautiful. The talk of whatever meaningless village she may have been originated from. A prize to be sought by whatever man felt so compelled as to attempt to win her. Now, beyond the shadow of her bonnet, he could see that she was far less.

Her hair was a sickly green, with every strand of it sticking to her flesh. Her mottled and melted flesh created any number of grisly cavities that allowed a fine view to the insides of her skull. The only thing that could keep him from focusing on all of that was the blue glare of her eyes covering her flesh in their unnatural light. Her lips twisted into an increasingly amused smirk, pulling back to reveal what few teeth she had left, and a dark chuckle escaped her in a method that was far beyond the natural means of speaking.

"The mistress always said that you would be nothing but a barrel of laughs."

He frowned at the comment, not only at the meaning behind it, but the disturbing gurgle that the voice that delivered it spoke with. Narrowing his eyes, he repeated himself, "I have come to speak to your mistress. Lead me to her at once."

Another gurgling noise escaped her. Laughter, in its most twisted form. Were he not able to see the smile on her face, he would almost have assumed she was choking, or drowning. Carelessly dropping the trowel, she nodded, motioning for him to follow, "Of course, of course. Do come inside."

Sighing, he followed her into the faux-home, its short wooden steps crunching under the orc's weight. The place's interior was just as bland as he expected. Enough so that someone could be guided in and almost believe that someone actually lived there. Almost. There were a few chairs. A bookcase, with a few tomes gathering dust. Cabinets, and a counter, both with food fresh enough to still be considered edible. A small cot shoved into one corner. Yet all he could consider in the entirety of the small space was which one of the many items was hiding her.

Be it glamour or contraption, he knew her ways. And the little acolyte proved that that knowledge was still just as accurate now as it had been years ago. She pulled a rug out from the center of the room, lifting the trap door that it hid. A classic, a stereotype even, he mused. But effective, all the same. Waving him down, he began his slow descent of the stairs below the door, glancing over his shoulder to make sure that she was going to follow. Which she did, but not before pulling the door shut, and tugging on a string to pull the rug back over it.

She shuffled past him, motioning for him to follow deeper. When the tunnel finally widened out to a series of rooms, the elf's touch was even more obvious. They wandered past rows upon rows of tables, each one filled to the brim with vials and beakers and any number of other pieces of lab equipment he didn't even know the name of. A few select spaces were left to store the elf's 'patients'. The remainder of the space was filled with perhaps a baker's dozen other individuals, each one looking just as degraded as the one who was guiding him. Further in the space for experiment turned into space for storage. Boxes and shelves filled to the brim with any number of materials. Herbs, more vials of various liquids, corpse pieces. Anything that might be needed, crammed into the tightest spaces imaginable.

The elf was at the furthest end of the room, sitting behind a desk, casually observing his approach. Just as he expected. He presumed that if he bothered to check, every other eye in the room would have been on him as well. Her hands were laid flat against the desk, covering up what looked to be a journal. Behind her, the white figure of some lesser val'kyr. The elf looked over her shoulder for a moment, before turning back to him with some amusement.

When he and his guide were in front of the desk, the latter gave the elf a short bow. Appeased, the elf gave her a short shooing gesture, and the girl turned on her heel and left. She took a longer moment to be amused with his sudden appearance, before her face grew more serious. Another flick of her fingers, this time in reference to the val'kyr, prompted the ghostly figure to leave as well. Another passing glance was given to the creature as it passed by him. But it wasn't long before he was looking back at the elf. He took another step closer, leaving only a few inches between himself and the desk.

"Should I presume that this," she said, pausing to consider her words, "Appearance. Means what I think it means?"

He nodded, "It does."

Her fingers drummed against the desk as she nodded, "And here I thought that nothing would push you over the edge." A horrible smile was creeping onto her face, slowly but surely, "Have you already spoken to Vic?"

He nodded again, "I have."

With that, she sprung up from her chair, making her way around the table to address him more directly, "Then we had best get our little preparations underway, then. So many things to do, so many things to organize." His grim expression was enough to cause her smile to widen, showing teeth that this point, "And here I was hoping you would have dropped this grim little facade by now."

"You'll forgive me if I find the matter serious," he said blandly, "For this was a day I hoped would never come."

She chuckled at that, shaking her head, "I see that one of us had far less faith in the living than others."

"It's more than the living that we need to worry about."

Her face stiffened at that, and she leaned somewhat to the side to glance beyond him, voice growing hushed, "I'm aware, and it has been planned for. We'll begin field research in the interim. When shall we all meet?"

"A week from now, as to have had a fair amount of time to prepare. We start larger scale planning then."

The smile returned at that, and she nodded in agreement, "It'll be just like old times."

The orc stared at the elf for a long moment, before turning to walk away. His fist clinched at the thought, but no other phrase seemed appropriate. Yes, the elf was right. It was just like old times. And would likely be just as awful.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Call to Arms

For some reason or another, he had expected it to be difficult to find them. As if they were going to be deep in hiding. Only traceable through whispers and rumors, and a long trail of pieced together clues. But that had never been the case, and he almost felt a semblance of comfort in knowing that some things about the world had refused to change.

All it had taken to find them was to begin delving into any cave in Icecrown that looked as though it housed something that they would have deemed 'interesting'. Be that signs of civilization that had been swallowed up by the ice, or the promise of powerful runes that had been hidden away. The larger giveaway was all of the dead vrykul nearby.

As he wandered further into the cave, the light from his torch illuminating the various corpses that had been strewn about, he mused on their methodology. Above all they had always seemed to treasure their privacy, but it constantly amazed him how brutish their methods seemed at first. Of course, by the time they were prepared to leave the cave, with whatever it was they had come to retrieve, every single one of these corpses would be covered under a layer of ice.

By the time he reached the deepest point of the cave, he was convinced he was in the right place. The corpses were one thing. A good first impression, but not one that cast away all doubt. Icecrown, and likely many places throughout Northrend, had its share of brutal individuals who cared not for the vrykul. Or anyone else for that matter. But now, with the blue fire in the sconces on the wall, anything that might have held a valuable pried open. Everything covered with a thin film of frost. A layer that only grew thicker as he went further into the chamber, until it reached the figure at the end of it.

There it met the 'feet' of a figure, seemingly a being of ice, pilfering its way through a broken open stone chest. Odd as they were, there was a gracefulness to the creature's motions. He had always held a deep respect for the sheer amount of willpower it must have taken. Any given motion required the ice to be melted and reshaped any number of times. And with the creature being something of a golem of ice, it was impressive how delicate each movement was.

When he first entered, its attention was on whatever trinket it had in its hand. Turning it over to examine each and every side of it. By the time he was halfway across, its attention had redirected itself on the newcomer. He paused at the chamber's center, allowing the thing to come to him. It thundered its way across the room, absorbing the trinket into its icy armor, before settling in front of him.

Within moments it had diminished in size, a quartet of glowing blue orbs staring out at him from inside the ice. All four of them sized him up for a moment, before staring at his face. When it spoke, it was just as he remembered. There were no words spoken from the being itself. Instead it was as though a cutting wind did the talking. Each word carried through on a cool breeze, cutting their way into his head.

"We are surprised to see you, Commander," it said, a distant tone to the words, "To what do we owe the occasion?"

The orc sighed, removing his helmet, and allowed it to rest under his arm. "I feel that it is time," he said calmly, "I presume you've heard it?"

There was a derisive noise upon the wind, and the eyes narrowed on him. A short distorted chuckle soon followed, as it allowed itself to grow closer, "We see that you still somehow fair worse than we do in terms of...Formalities. No hellos, no fine greetings. Not that you ever cared for them." The orc didn't allow himself to respond to that, so the thing did it for him. "But yes. We have heard. Even if we do not hear the words, we can feel the buzz." It turned somewhat, scanning the rest of the chamber, "The King speaks, and they heed his words."

"Then you know why I'm here," he said flatly, following the thing as it began stepping around the room.

It turned once more to look at him, "We understand. That does not make us pleased. But we always knew it was an inevitability. This does not convince us, Rutgarth. So we are forced to presume that it is more than this that has brought you to us."

The orc sighed, shaking his head and speaking bluntly, "The Legion returned and the world has gone to hell. The lengths that were taken to banish them again. The destruction it has caused." His grip tightened on the helmet, "They swing around weapons wielded by demons or gods as though they are toys. And soon they will march off to war again."

Another noise filtered in on the wind, this time a sigh, "We see." It stopped, turning to face him, "We presume this is the official call?"

He nodded, "It is."

The thing extended its icy hand out, allowing its rigid head to nod ever so slightly, which the orc took. "Then we shall begin making preparations. Have you contacted her yet?"

The orc let out a long sigh, dropping his official facade for a moment, "No, I have not. I wasn't sure where to find her. I was hoping that you knew."

The quartet of eyes narrowed again, this time seeming more amused, "Ah yes. She and her...'Symptoms' have a tendency of remaining out sight. We are aware of the places she has happened as of late. We are also absolutely certain that this is the entire reason you came to us first." A grunt from the orc prompted the thing to laugh, "Allow us to catch you up to speed on such matters. And allow you to avoid speaking to her for longer still."

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Congregation

If someone had told her that the very Light itself flowed through the cathedral, not a single doubt would have escaped her. Everywhere she looked seem to positively radiate the holy source, from the priests and paladins who wielded it, to the sun as it glared through the various windows that dotted the enormous hall. Each window lovingly carved to depict a verse from a holy text, or at least so she had been told. Far as she could determine, they mostly appeared to be people performing miracles, or fighting off the forces of evil.

The latter of which, happened to include the Scourge. Which, unfortunately, she happened to bear a striking resemblance to. Namely because, far as any of the holy individuals gathered, she was little better than them, if she was any better at all. She carried the same taint, was cursed by the same plague, and smelled of the same rot as any of the Scourge soldiers they had valiantly slain in the name of the Light. Her bones may be better cared for, and better covered by what skin she had left, but she could feel any number of them forcing away the idea of simply smiting her where she sat.

An ironic twist of fate, she believed, considering that they had taken up residence in a cathedral that had once housed the Scarlet Crusade. None of them would want to admit it, but at least some likely agreed with the Crusade's lust for the eradication of the undead. To rid the world of the abominations of nature, as they considered them to be, via the method of holy fire. But, to keep themselves from that image, they were forced to act pleasant, and keep their distances.

In return, she had kept her distance, back against a wall, seated lazily on a bench. When one of them stared at her in disgust, she stared blankly back. Once they realized that she had no need to blink, they would relent and return to whatever they had happened to be doing. At some point, she told herself, she was going to determine just who exactly it was she wanted to speak to. That moment had yet to come.

On the recommendation of a necromancer, she was seeking out a wielder of the Light. Someone who could perhaps help her with her terminal problem of being undead. In a way that didn't end with her being dead once more, that is. Except knowing absolutely no one made it impossible to decide on who was worth bothering with any details. Any number of races were prowling about, ranging from humans and elves to Draenei and Tauren, and each and every one of them seemed like poor ideas to approach.

The longer she sat idly by, the more she considered the fact that the entire suggestion had likely been meant as a joke at her expense. Something to send her off on a journey that was going to end with her being a smoldering pile of ash being danced upon by a number of individuals dressed in matching golden armor. On the one hand, she considered that immensely cruel, and was silently wishing she had maybe put at least a couple of holes into the necromancer. In this situation though, now that she thought about it, there was no other hand. At first she wanted to believe she could respect the macabre nature of the joke, but by this point was more frustrated than anything.

Each minute that passed seem to find her slouching more and more. To the point where her shoulders appeared to be folding straight into her knees. An uncomfortable sight to behold, she presumed, and a pose that would have caused her back problems if her spine wasn't hunched and deformed as it was. Forcing herself to sit up, she could feel individual parts of it pop and crack and they settled back into place, and took the moment to appreciate the fact that the entire process was painless. The same could be said for her the rest of her, her bones scraping and grinding against each other in a symphony of horrible noises as she returned to a standing position, making for the cathedral's grand exit.

So distant were her thoughts that she barely noticed as a priest growing gradually closer to her. It wasn't until they collided that her attention returned to the area around her. In an instant she had skittered back against one of the hall's many pillars, crouching low, hands hovering over her daggers. Her beady eyes bored into the priestess she had rammed into, who herself had already retreated a good distance away, her pale hands coming up to cover her mouth.

When it became apparent that there was no need for her blades, Lenora straightened herself, hands dropping lazily to her sides. Eyes darting away from the priestess in an awkward fit of embarrassment, she let out a hoarse mutter.

"Sorry."

The priestess blinked at the noise, taking a moment to be sure that it had actually come from the undead woman. Or perhaps she was more surprised by the fact that she could still manage to speak Common. Regardless of the reason for her surprise, the priestess managed to overcome it, returning herself to something resembling composure. Brushing off what dust had gathered on her robe, she shook her head dismissively, "Don't worry about it. I am at least partially to blame."

Lenora allowed her head to bob up and down at the prospect of sharing the blame. Anything to keep from having to be too apologetic, and to end this quicker. She wanted to leave, and this had only extended the entire ordeal of her departure.

"If you don't mind me asking," the priestess said, taking a step closer, "I am curious about what it is you're doing here."

She blinked once, then twice, turning her attention from the exit to the priestess. Another set of blinking didn't exactly do anything to help her confusion, but she proceeded to do it anyway. There wasn't so much surprise in the question, she assumed most everyone else had been wondering why an undead had crawled into their halls and sat herself down there without saying a word, but rather the suddenness of it. There was supposed to be conversation leading up to such a brazen question. Something about manners, and dancing around an issue before it could be fully address. And here it was being simply ignored.

Inching ever so slightly closer, her eyes narrowed, darting left and right to confirm that there wasn't some paladin waiting in the wings to burn her in holy flame. Deciding the coast was clear, she allowed her shoulders to roll, "Uh. Just. Just looking for some help."

It wasn't the response the priestess was expecting, made clear by the way her eyebrows knitted together, and how long it took her to process. Her hands rose and dropped as though she were about to start making a point, but said points appeared to die before they could ever leave her mouth. Taking yet another step closer, she eyed the undead woman over once more. Had Lenora been standing straight up, they likely would have been similar in height. But hunched over as she was, that involved the priestess literally looking down on her.

"It sounds. Sounds really. Uh," Lenora said, looking away again, "Sounds really stupid. I. I know."

A short chuckle escaped from the priestess, "I am inclined to agree." Once more Lenora turned, eyes narrowing at the bluntness of the response, but she didn't say anything more. Slightly taken aback, the priestess brought her hands up defensively, offering a soft smile, "I can't imagine what sort of help you imagined you could get, especially from anyone here."

Lenora's shoulders shifted up in a shrug once more, "I. I don't know. Just. Maybe. If anyone. Seeing if anyone could. Fix. This." She made a weak gesture to herself.

A more serious expression took over the priestess's face, "There's nothing here to fix that, save having one of the senior members give you a merciful death."

"I. I figured. I figured that out," she muttered, rubbing the back of her neck, "Still. Still thought I. I thought I should. Find out." The priestess gave her a questioning look, to which the undead huffed, "Just. Just think about. Think about what you'd. You'd do."

It surprised Lenora to find that the woman's already pale face could go a few shades lighter. All it took to reach such a point was for the woman to imagine the curse of undeath. If anything, Lenora wondered if she wasn't going to throw up from the thought, with the way she started swaying, but she steadied herself, shaking off whatever had just possessed her.

"Yes, well," she said, idly bringing her hands together, "I suppose that makes sense. But you'll find no solutions here. The Light has the power to return the dead to life, but only in the state that they left it. Or so I have been taught." Lenora's eyes narrowed as she considered that. "So were you resurrected, you would only be returned as you are now. Or worse, given how the Light might sear you."

Her eyes once more scanned the room, considering that. And again, all she could bring herself to do was shrug. Even if she hadn't know it for certain, she had know that hoping for some sort of miracle cure was insane. Not that she had stopped hoping.

"Guess. Guess I'll just. Start. Looking somewhere else."

The priestess blinked, head tilting at the prospect, "There isn't a cure for undeath. Nothing about you can be fixed. Your body is." She paused, biting her lip for once to prevent herself from making such a clear statement, "Obviously not well. And I doubt that your spirit has done any better for being tied to such a thing." As Lenora opened her mouth to make some final statement, she continued, "But there if there was someone who could help in matters of the soul, there might be individuals trained for the task. My instructor once told me of her sister, beyond the Dark Portal, who had trained to be a 'Soulpriest'. Though last I heard, they weren't welcome to outsiders."

Letting her eyes drop to the floor, Lenora stared at the white tile. Without another word, she turned to begin shuffling towards the door. Behind her she could hear the priestess scuffling along after her. Still saying things that she couldn't be bothered to listen to. She pushed herself past the heavy doors the moment she reached them, giving no regard for the cold beyond. Nor the snow, with her bony feet pressing on without missing a beat.

At some point her little sabbatical was going to have to end. She knew was much, tried to convince herself as much. In fact, if she were wise, it would have ended before now. Before going to the ends and edges of the known world, and now beyond, for the sake of a solution that didn't exist. The answer to her question was well known, and she simply refused to heed it. Everyone else seemed to have gotten with the program, and settled into the fact that this was their normal, or at least had convinced themselves to play the part. Once more her eyes narrowed, and her fists clenched.

An eternity awaited her. Either one of darkness when she had her final death, or an uncountable number of lifetimes spent falling to pieces and struggling to keep herself together. And since that was the case, who was to say she was wrong in spending all of it searching for the ever illusive third option.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Into the Woods

The forest of Val'sharah crawled. In its southern portions, forest life skittered to and fro, acting out their proper place in the food chains as intended. Tree branches swayed in the wind, their leaves fluttering to the ground. To the north, the very ground itself pulsed red with corruption. Even with druids seeking to cleanse it from the face of Azeroth, with its source dead, the task appeared to be ages from completion.

She stared down at it from the top of a hill. Peering through twisted branches and decaying foliage. Somewhere in the dead section of the words, according to a mage in Dalaran, lay a necromancer. A powerful, dangerous necromancer. One who had taken advantage of all of the chaos of the emergence of the Emerald Nightmare, and hidden themselves away from the busy druids of the forest. All in the pursuit of conducting experiments in his chosen school of magic, away from prying eyes.

Except a pair of prying eyes had arrived, searching specifically for him. A task that was going to take some time, she realized, upon taking in just how large the actual area of corruption was. Some of it could be ruled out. The rough and ramshackle huts were no place for a proper necromancer, she assumed. People like that wanted their own space, confined, and well protected from the outside. Which narrowed suitable locations to caves and proper housing. The latter of which she restricted to the elven structures that still had their roofs and walls.

Her days and nights were spent creeping through every inch of land she could cover. Avoiding druids and the beasts that followed them in the process proved easy enough, especially given that their focus was elsewhere. The corrupted creatures that skulked about the woods were her true foe. One she did her best to avoid contact with, lest she give away her presence to anyone who came across the corpse.

Nearly a week had passed before her search bore fruit. Upon approaching one elven hut, she found herself unable to take a single step closer to the building. Looking to her feet, she found a skeletal hand extending from the ground, grasping at both of her ankles.

"Huh," she muttered, to no one in particular, bending over to pry one of the hands bony fingers away from her similarly bony ankle. A single step forward only prompted a new hand to emerge and take hold.

Looking back up at the house itself, she noted a light flickering from window to window. A curtain being pulled back here and there as the person inside peered outside to examine their intruder. She stood there, arms blandly at her side, mid-stride, and waited. It was another minute before someone emerged from the structure.

His black hair was slicked back against his head, both with what looked to be some sort of gel, and with sweat. The tip of his beard almost reached his stomach, the rest of it a mangled mess of hair that looked as though it had never been maintained. Dark lines created the outline for his eyes, which were narrowed firmly in her direction. A tattered robe, which was covered in muck, completed his look.

Her right hand lingered close to her dagger, ready to pull it free should he attempt to get close. The other drifted behind her cloak, preparing to pull from the belt of blades that wrapped around her back. Neither proved to be necessary, as the man kept his distance, grimy fingers slowly stroking his beard.

"A member of the Scourge," he murmured, to no one but himself, "No, wait. A member of the Forsaken. Wandering in my neck of the woods." He slowly approached her, but never within arms reach, eyes scanning her down to the most minute detail. "I have always appreciated the Scourge's work with your people. A bit sloppy in terms of construction, perhaps, but the sheer ability for mass production is incredible. Incredibly difficult to recreate as an individual. Not quite as strong as the death knight, but not as difficult to create, either."

She glanced around, as though to some set of unseen onlookers, before looking back to him, "Uh. Thanks. I think."

A small grin was visible behind the beard, "Yes, you're welcome. Short lived as the praise may be. You've daggers at your side, and a will of your own. And an assassin on my doorstep means so many things. All inevitable." He took in a sigh, looking back towards his current place of residence, "I shall have to take to packing after I've taken care of you. What an ordeal that will be."

"Not," she said, drawing his attention again, "Not. I'm not here. To kill you. Or anything. Unless you. You try to kill me."

He blinked, turning back to her, "Not here to kill me." His hand came up to stroke his beard, "Then what could you possibly seek with someone like me."

Sharp fingers rose to rub the back of her neck, "I. Uh. Want." She paused, staring at her surroundings for a moment, "Want. You to make. Uh. I guess. Just. Make. Bring me back to life."

His hand dropped as he drew closer once more, "Ah. So you wish me to raise you from the dead. Again."

She shook her head, "No. I want. Want you to. To make me alive."

Once more he took to stroking his beard, trying to grasp onto her meaning. Eventually he shook his head, chuckling, "You wish me to return you to...To a state of actual life. Not undeath, but life." She slowly nodded her head, and in turn he shook his, "Oh my dear corpse, all my magicks can do is reproduce your current state. Perhaps improve it, but in the end, you are a corpse. Your vessel is a rotted thing, and your soul corrupted by the magic that ties the two together. Practitioners of the type of magic that could bring the dead back to life are those who work with the Light."

Behind her mask, her lips sank into a frown. Her shoulders slouched more than usual, "Okay. Thanks. I guess. Need to find a. Priest or something."

A dark laugh escaped him as he nodded, turning to approach his hovel, "Oh yes. You do that. Do tell me how that goes for you, working with that priest."

Soon enough he had departed, and with him, the skeletal hands that had held her in place. Staring down at the ground, she frowned again when she noticed that they hadn't drawn back into the ground, but rather hand simply slumped against the dirt. Bringing her hands up, she compared her sharpened fingertips to the pair settled into the dirt. Sickly green flesh still stuck to sections of her fingers, one of the few differences she could identify. Clinching her fists, she dropped her arms to her sides, and turned to depart the area. A dark thought lingering over her the entire way back towards civilization.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Reward

Burn it.

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.