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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Eternal

The goblin looked up at the oozing burlap sack with the same casual look he would have given a sack of potatoes. Granted, behind that look was the abject horror at the sheer amount of coin he was going to have to count and document for himself, as well as how much of his vacation fund it was going to fill, the likes of which a simple sack of potatoes would have never succeeded in fulfilling. Pulling the thing off the counter, he held it open to peer inside, nodding slowly with approval. One severed head, human, male, long blonde hair, scraggly beard, and facial features to match. Just as the request had ordered.

Tossing it behind him he looked up at the true terror that filled the room. The decayed corpse, whose beady little yellow eyes had never ceased staring at him. Nor did they seem to blink. Instead they bored right into him. The creature they were attached too was easily his most undesired part of any particular contract. Not because her very body was as rich in decay as he was about to be in coin, but for the simple fact that her mouth still functioned.

Exceedingly well.

"So. Uh."

She peered down at him, expectantly. The rest of her face, eyes aside, was hidden by a hood and mask combo, both black, which went with the rest of her dirty leather armor. With a short nod of approval, he bent over, reaching under the counter to produce a large sack of coins, from which he began counting. Each click on the counter rang out with a beautiful sound, of weighted metal falling upon weighted metal.

The fact that her gaze never lingered from him was a source of unending disturbance. How anything in the world, be it man or murloc, could look upon such a sum and not care to check it was beyond him. Halfway through the count he had to pause and look up at her, letting out a long sigh, "Is there something else you were needing?"

Her bony shoulders lifted in a shrug, beady eyes shooting elsewhere for a moment, as though she had been found out in some ruse. Eventually she looked to him again, just as he had started clicking through the coins again, meticulously counting every single one of them, "What. Uh. What do you do with. With all of this stuff."

He blinked, peering up at her. For a moment he considered the question. What it pertained to. Was it the head? No, of course not. She knew exactly what became of the head. It was turned in to whomever had set up the contract, and he was paid in kind. Perhaps she meant the knick-knacks that lined the shelves of his shop, each of them covered in layers of dust. But that she knew the answer to as well. They were there in case tourists came in. To distract anyone who might not know that the place's main business was in matters of death. Which meant she had to be speaking of the coin itself.

Exchanging his focus from her to the coins and back again, he frowned, "Whaddya mean what do I do with it? I shove it in a vault and save it. Or I spend it. The stuff I get from this job is gonna be goin' ta my vacation fund, for instance. Got a pal who says he can get me tickets to Gallywix's palace on the cheap."

Nodding her head slowly, she shrugged again, "Oh. Yeah. I guess. Guess that makes sense." Each of the various fragments of her sentences came with its own sort of stilted delivery. Not an each of her speaking was consistent. At points she repeated herself, at others the sentence just seemed to pause. Sometimes a new idea would begin entirely.

"Well what the hell do you do with it then?" he said, suddenly crossing his arms, feigning offense. Not so low was he as to allow himself to potentially be insulted by a walking corpse. Granted, he had been insulted by worse than a walking corpse, but at the very least that individual he could and had divorced.

Once again her shoulders creaked up into a shrug, "I don't know. Stuff. Repairs. Travel. Stuff like that." A single finger came up to awkwardly dig into the counter, "Not. Not much else to. To really spend it on."

His arms were flung up into the air at the sound of that. Never in his life had he heard such nonsense, and in that moment he believed he would never hear anything sillier. Tapping the coins on the counter, he shook his head, "This stuff is for everything. Literally everything on this freakin' planet. And a couple of other planets. Or completely different realms of existence. And you're gonna tell me that you can't find anything to spend it on. If that's the case, what the hell am I even givin' it to you if it's just sittin' somewhere and gatherin' dust?"

He neglected to let loose the fact that he himself was sitting on a fair sum. Granted, it was stored away as a just in case. And as a means to brag to his relatives, as well as an opportunity to laugh in their faces when they requested money from him, but that was beside the point.

"I. I use it," she said, voice croaking the entire time. "Just. Don't have. A lot to. You. You know. Use it on."

Bringing his face into his palms, he turned around, and hopped down from his pile of stools. Wandering into the back room, he retrieved yet another one and added it to the pile. Once he was certain that the now towering structure was enough to hold him, he clambered up it, and tossed himself onto the counter itself. Staring the rotting woman right in the eye, he put his hands on his hips, "The hell's wrong."

Her eyes shot around for a moment, trying to focus on anything in the shop. She wouldn't find anything to focus on. He knew that, because she never did. And loathe as he was to have to have some sort of heartfelt conversation, it was best to get this out now. There was no way he could sell her services in good conscious knowing that something might be bothering her on the job. In bad conscious, certainly, but to sell something in bad conscious meant running the high risk that the entire deal would fall through in the chance she screwed something up because of it. Which would have meant a nasty relocation and change of identity, a process he wasn't going to go through yet again.

"It's. It's nothing Buzz. Just. Just asking is all. Nothing's wrong."

The goblin brought a hand to his face, pulling his eyelids down for a moment out of frustration. Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself, "Except there obviously is, 'cause you're giving me a funnier look than normal, so if you don't mind, let's just get it out now and be done with it."

When she shrugged again, he swore that the next time he did it he was going to slap her upside the head. Not that he would. But he certainly would fantasize about doing so. "I just. Uh. I've been thinking about stuff. Some stuff. And I don't. I guess. Don't really know why to keep doing. This."

His stomach churned at those words. The matter was worse than he thought. Not only was she having some strange thoughts in regards to money, she was thinking things that put his entire business in jeopardy. A vision of the long and arduous interview process that would be required to fill her position passed through his mind, and he shuddered.

Steadying himself, he sighed, "Ya do the work, ya get paid. I don't see where the confusion is here Saney. It's simple stuff. The hell's the problem with it now."

She turned her back to him, and inched away from him along the counter. For a minute he thought she was trying to simply scoot away from the conversation, but instead she just invited herself up onto the counter. With a little push she scooted herself into a sitting position on the counter and stared out the shop's front window.

"I just. Don't. Don't see why. I guess. Not. Not much reason to. It's," she paused again, twisting herself to look at where he tossed the burlap sack. "Doesn't mean much."

Buzz's eyebrows knitted together, "What, 'cause of him? It means something to the buyer. Means we get paid. And gettin' paid's gotta feel nice, right?"

"Sometimes. I guess." Her feet began to idly swing. "But. There'll. There'll be other buyers. And there'll be other guys. So. So I guess who cares."

"Is that what this is about?" he said through gritted teeth, trying not to raise his voice so much that it would wake his neighbors, "You're gettin' bored?" She shrugged again and he imagined plunging one of her daggers right between her eyes. Letting out yet another sigh, he allowed himself to resort to one of the worst alternatives he could think of. "Well okay, maybe you need a break or something. Take a vacation for a little while. Have some fun. Be just fine after I'm sure." A chill ran down his spine at just the offer of allowing vacation time, but now was not a time to make even the smallest error.

She shook her head, looking down at him, "And. And do. What am I supposed to do." His mouth dropped open at the question. Were someone to walk into the shop at that moment he was certain they could have heard his brain sizzling with how hard it was working to come up with a solution. "I just don't," she croaked, giving him more time to think, "Don't get what I'm supposed to do with. With a lot of this. Time."

His fingers curled as he imagined wrapping them around her throat. Though, now that he thought about it that would have achieved absolutely nothing. "Go to the beach," he hissed, "Book a nice night at an inn. Whatever."

"Can't. Can't really. Go to a beach," she said, letting out a short cough, "People. People don't like. Corpses. And water. Don't." She paused for a moment, staring at her feet, "Don't want to go to one that's. Just me. Either. Or an inn. Boring. Nothing. Nothing for me to. To do."

Hopping off the counter, he removed the top stool in his stack. Climbing back up he returned to counting coins. Anything to calm himself. This was a job for a therapist, not a broker. Trying to get back into his count, he only idly glanced up at her, "Ask some friends to go with you or something." Her silence at that forced him to stop once more and look at her, "You do have friends right?"

She stared down at him, "Do. Uh. I mean. You. I guess. If you count."

"Wow."

It was insensitive, and immediately he wished he hadn't said it. But it was too late to undo, and now the word hung in the air. So long did it hang there that he wondered if the conversation had ended full stop, but eventually she piped up again.

"I just. All the forsaken I run into are all. Too. Too into the. All the forsaken stuff. Tried hanging. Just. Just being around Silvermoon and. It's full of elves and they don't really. Really like corpses that much. So."

Quickly finishing his counting, before he could be distracted again, he inched the coins into a brown pouch, and offered it to her. She hopped off of the counter and stared at it, not reaching to take it from him.

"Let me just give you some advice," he said, holding the pouch out again, "Just take this, and find somethin' you wanna buy. Hell. Buy ya some friends. Or find somethin' you wanna save for, and save for it. Just use your imagination. If you want it, you can probably buy it. Focus on stuff like that, and honestly you don't have any time to think about all of this stuff."

Her head tilted at that, "You. You mean. I can. Can think of a lot of stuff I would want that. That I probably can't. Can't buy."

"Find the right person and set the right price, and I'd beg to differ," he said blandly, once again shoving the thing in her direction.

She rubbed the back of her neck, "I don't. I mean. Yeah. Okay."

Taking the pouch, she let it sit in her hands. He stared at her expectantly, waiting for her to leave. Eventually she began inching her way to the door, just as he hoped she would. The entire process was arduously long, for some reason. At points she stopped completely to stare back at him, before looking down at the sack of coins. Even after she had made it out the door and was standing in the street she paused, staring up at the shop's sign as though she might be lost. Just when he thought she might stand there forever, she tucked the pouch of gold away, and wandered off down the road.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hunger

"Do you hear it, mistress?"

Of course she heard it. The only individuals who would have have heard it were the deaf. Few would have been able to identify the sound itself, but almost any would have been able to distinguish it above the rabble of the woods. Her head cocked to the side to listen for anything that followed. The sound of more intruders come to slay her. But nothing came.

With a long sigh, she turned, feeling a sense of disgust building inside of her. There were two possibilities. The first of which was that some poor fool had just ignored any and all of her warnings posted against the trees, and entered into her domain. Were this the case, the individual in question was now almost certainly dead. She would of course have to string pieces of him up along the trees to make further demonstration of why the area was cordoned so, as to ward off anyone else with similar ideas.

The second possibility was far worse. It also proved to be the truth. A rodent had ran through the ward. While it easily should have detected such a small creature, whatever purpose the ward had served was now moot, as its magic was spent. Sighing, she snatched the still smoldering corpse of the animal, carrying it with her as turned to return to her hovel. Dinner for the evening, at the least, had presented itself with ease. The ward was going to need replaced, but that was a task for the next day. She was forced to hope that no one would notice the lack of defense on that one side of her shack, and do anything stupid.

Not that she wouldn't have noticed if anyone got any bright ideas. The shack itself was warded, all two rooms of it. The walls forming its outside were warded, the door was warded, and each room and window inside was warded. An ordeal that she still believed was bound to bear fruit at some point. Disregarding the fact that the moment one of the wards was set off, the entire place was bound to burn to the Goddess-forsaken ground.

She tossed the rodent, fair sized as it was onto her crude counter, and allowed herself to find a seat. Dinner preparations could be undertaken in a short while. Now was a time for rest, weary as she was. Even if she had done little that day. Her spindly fingers crept through each other as she considered that. Tired, always tired. Fighting off a craving made her worn and weary, and for three days now she had fought off this craving. And for those same three days her minion's compatriots had yet to return with that which would sate her.

"They're late, again." The words themselves were plain, presented without malice. Simple statement of fact, that the black-blue malformed cloud of pure void was bound to understand.

It's booming voice, echoing from wherever in the Void it was being summoned from, responded in kind, "And they will return."

"Yet if they return too late, demon, our deal is meaningless."

The voidwalker never seemed to have to pause for its thoughts. She wondered if they too were simply summoned from the Void, or whether the creature was allowed to think and feel as its own being. She would never ask, and it would never tell.

"Our deal shall be secured, as it always has been."

Her eyes narrowed at the thing, though there was no doubt in her gaze. The demon wanted to uphold its end of the bargain just as much as she did. They needed each other, for now. She didn't really want to consider what was bound to happen when that need shifted one way or the other.

Little time was gifted to her to dwell on the matter though. A small imp was busy making its way through the window, which was bound to catch her attention sooner or later. Her fingers idly scratched her cheek as she stared down at it, waiting. This wasn't one of the things she had sent out for mana. No, this was her little pair of eyes from Suramar.

"Are they well?"

The thing snickered and laughed as it bounced back and forth on the floor, having dropped from the window. Its head bounced up and down, its voice in usual giddy mood, "Oh yes. Having a grand old time. Heads in the sand until the insurrection blows over."

"Still looking good as ever, I'd hope," she said, a layer of ice forming over her words.

"Oh yes, handsome as ever, mistress," the imp chuckled, "As nice as you described if not better."

She took in a breath, nodding slowly, "Excellent. And her?"

"Ravishing, my lady," the imp snickered, waiting for some sort of response.

Her eyes closed as she pictured the pair, fingers leaving her cheek to slowly dig into her leg. Nodding, she waved her hand, "Back with you. Return in a week's time with any updates." Complying immediately, the imp skittered out the door, and had disappeared across the yard in an instant.

The voidwalker turned its 'head' towards her, "Were you hoping for more."

"No," she said blandly, "I was not. These things take time."

------

"They always take time," he said. His arm was wrapped around the other woman's shoulder.

She could only stare up at him, watch him with tired eyes. At some point, days ago, she had hated him. Before that, she had feared him, and before that, she had loved him. Now, all she could feel was apathy. Everything else was replaced by want. A want for mana, for arcwine, for anything that would sate her.

Both of them were looking down at her. Watching her twitch, and squirm, waiting. Just as they always did. In a few minutes they would leave to be away from her, but for now, they were reveling in her misery as they always did. Eventually she would be allowed to leave. Whenever it became proper to kill her, or release her in the sewers to let the guards kill, or to wander the wilds until her mind ate itself completely.

She hated the other woman. Without even knowing her name. She was her replacement. His key to security in the city. All she had been able to gather about the other woman was that she was connected to their new allies, those among the Burning Legion. That was discernible by the green tinge to her eyes. Beyond that, she knew that the woman was cruel, by the smirk on her lips.

When they departed she allowed her eyes to close. The room was made dark, and she would be left alone until they returned, or sent someone to feed her. Food. Not mana. Never mana. Until then, there was little else to do, but consider her cravings, her wants. That was all that time had become. Craving, watching, and waiting.

Her fingers clawed at the chair she was tied into to no avail. And long ago she had given up on them ever being steady enough to untie the rope that bound her. Here and there she swayed side to side to some unseen tune, only to realize that she was humming it. Sighing, she allowed the hum to continue, and rocked more and more.

She felt herself moving faster, and faster. More violently, as a surge of rage filled her body. Pressing itself into a fit of anger, thrashing left and right. She was screaming, cursing, both no one and everyone. It lasted until she had forced the chair itself onto its side, and smashed it into pieces.

Beyond the door she heard movement. Beyond her, she felt her arms pushing her up. Watched as her fingers tried to call magic, a cry for help that went unanswered. Spectated as she fled, pushing past the pair as they opened the door.

It was from this perspective that she watched herself skittered here and there through Suramar, never ceasing. They were on her heels. Or rather, the guards they had sent to fetch her. Keeping on her even once she had fled past the city's walls. Only when she had stumbled into a creek did she feel herself crashing back down.
-----

Surrounded by guards, and covered in mud. The demon had called, and they had struck a bargain. Fire had returned to her fingertips, now tainted with Fel, and her pursuers had fallen. Everything had fallen into place from there. The shack was a convenient discovery. A comfortable place to live out of, while she waited. For however long it took for her to recover. To find her footing again, and for an advantage to present itself.

"What do you intend to do, when your matter is attended to."

She blinked, looking at the voidwalker, "I don't know."

"I do."

She stared at the thing for a moment, lips curling into a smile. The voidwalker did not smile back, but she could only imagine that it was amused by her reaction. However many people it had dealt with in the past, she didn't know. Perhaps it was aware that these matters were always so fickle.

"When they're dead," she said, hands becoming still for a moment, "I don't care. But until then, you're mine."

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Vessels

               There was a certain amount of dexterity that played into his being able to write. Of all the skills he had ever forced himself to relearn or master over his life, and unlife, this was the feat he was the most proud of. Just holding the quill in his hand in a comfortable manner had been a challenge, let alone actually getting the forsaken too to write in a recognizable and readable manner. But with enough effort, here he was. The writing was legible, even if the words themselves were kept short and simple.
               Someone had told him once that his could have been made far easier just by eliminating the claws altogether. Which was certainly something he was capable of, though he had never stopped to ponder if there were cursed individuals who could not. There was more than a bit of stubbornness in the choice. A refusal to allow himself to leave the shape of the thing he now considered himself to be.
               He was a worgen, and a dead one at that. To revert, even for the sake of a simple task such as writing, was a dismissal of that. A way to make that state of being only a temporary punishment. It helped that in his human shape, his face was a green piece of rotting flesh, a state preferably avoided. One of the perks of being covered in blue-black fur was that all of it was hidden.
               Letting his quill come to a stop, he lifted it, quickly scrawled his name at the bottom of the page, and pushed it off to a box of other finished works. Only half the time did he consider his signature worth being made presentable. The other times were when he was signing official orders, requisitions, or responding to whatever nonsense he received from Central. In the case of the latter, he couldn’t give less of a damn whether or not his scrawl of “Redamous” was overly legible. All that mattered was that the request was made, or the babble responded to, and for there to be one less thing to sort through.
               His goal for the past months had been to make sure that there was less things to sort through. A morbid routine had formed in the process of achieving such a goal, where for hours he would wallow away restlessly sorting through it all, before stepping out to kill a demon or two on the beach. At some points it had felt that he had been surviving off of his more suffering more than the demons, but luckily it had proved effective. Where his office had once consisted of little more than a desk, chair, and wall-to-wall paperwork, it was now mostly a desk and chair. The piles had been reduced greatly, and were now down to a lone tower of paper.
               Much of the paperwork he hadn’t even bothered with. What it had pertained to was no longer relevant, or not worth a response. Remnant works from Pandaria, numerous piles dealing with Draenor. All of which was promptly burned, or allowed to be shipped off to be chewed on by ghouls in a morbid method of recycling. What remained was all to deal with the Legion. Clearances for beach patrols. Recovery of artifacts. Dealing with demonic prisoners. Most of which he signed off on, passing the buck back to Central.
               Sliding his pile of finished work off into a box, he allowed his snout to drop onto the desk. “I’d say that’s enough work for one day,” a voice to his left cooed. He dragged his face from his desk, giving the nearby apparition a dull nod. Far was he from being in a mood to disagree.
               He kept his eye on her as she paced about his desk, idly eyeing the box full of papers. A familiar set of geists would come along to collect them eventually. From there he was forced to hope that they would deliver them to the right places. The orders and requisitions to the proper offices, the usual curses and complaint to some undead farm.
               The specter of a woman “sat” herself at the edge of his desk, drawing his thoughts away from the high probability of one of the creatures screwing up. “Not a bad day’s work,” she mused, making note of how little was left, “Should be free to go in a day or two.”
               He could only nod, and observe her. Even in death, he couldn’t help but constantly consider her. His personal haunter, for a number of years now, and it was still odd to him. She was still as beautiful as she was in life, brown hair framing her face as it fell to her brown dress. A dark thought crossed his mind as he considered whether it was what she had died in, or been buried in.
               In more recent months, she had acted in a more friendly than usual manner. She was his spectral secretary, keeping him in line. They had been on agreeable terms for years now, after setting whatever had come between them aside. Namely the fact that he had killed her. At times she still dropped into old habits, spitting venomous words at him, but he could only assume that was just a reversion to her new nature. Her purpose was to haunt him, just as his was to cause suffering. Eventually they could no longer ignore those facts, and had to resort to whatever it was that would satisfy their various itches.
               Pushing himself up from his desk, he nodded in agreement to her. “Assumin’ they don’t pile any more on, yeah. Day or two.”
               They stood in silence for a moment, before she motioned to the door, “Now get out there and go play for a bit.”
               He let out a snort, “I’d prefer if you didn’t refer to me murdin’ things as me bein’ ‘playful’.”
               “They’re just demons. I don’t anyone would mind finding joy in it.”
               For a moment he considered a smart remark. Until he realized that to do so would mean at least somewhat defending the rights of demons. Letting out a grunt, he made his way to the door, grabbing his hat before disappearing through it.
               Hours passed before he returned, still scraping fel-infused blood from his gloves. Much to his surprise, he found himself alone in his office. Even if she tended to wander the necropolis in his absence, she always was there to greet him upon his return. Putting it off as a small deviation from schedule, he returned to his work. Once he had cleaned enough of it, he returned to the Broken Shore. Upon his return, she was still absent. Another cycle of the routine did nothing to change that. By the third day, all of his remaining paper work was gone.
               And so was she.
-----
               Getting the gnome’s attention had been difficult. Sat at his desk, half a dozen scrolls in front of him, it was obvious that his mind was elsewhere. Off in another place, slowly strategizing about how to properly strike at the demons next. Or to face some other foe, or solve some other issue. Technically more important matters, not that the worgen particularly cared.
               “If you need to learn about binding a spirit,” the gnome muttered dismissively, not even looking up from his scroll, “Go ask one of the instructors, or a necromancer. Join a class of fresh acolytes. I don’t really care.”
               The worgen sighed at having to repeat himself, “It was already bound, sort of. Now it’s gone.”
               “Was it attached with a spell?” the gnome asked idly, scribbling away. Redamous glanced at the scrolls, not able to understand half of what was on them.
               “No, it weren’t.”
               “So you were being haunted,” the gnome mused, sounding almost curious. Almost. “And now you’re not. How terrible.”
               “Exactly,” Red crawled, doing his best to ignore any sarcasm. “Was haunted, now she’s gone. It’s gone.” He silently cursed himself at the slip, “And I want to know why.”
               The gnome finally looked up at him, smirking. He set his chin in his palm, eyeing the worgen in a mocking manner, “She huh? Missing your lady spirit? The hell were you doing with it any Re-…”
               Red grunted, reaching across the desk to pluck the gnome up by his collar. Part of him took great joy in watching the little man’s eyes go wide. “Tell me what I want to know,” he said in a low growl, keeping hold despite the gnome’s squirming, “’Fore I regret making sure you weren’t going to be stationed in Draenor forever. And to make sure I don’t get you put down back in the forge.”
               The gnome blinked, putting his hands up defensively, “Alright alright. If you were being haunted, and the thing up and disappeared, then maybe it just moved on.” Redamous frowned, prompting for elaboration. “She finished her business, or was freed from her bindings.”
               He considered that, before shaking his head, “I don’t think that’s it.”
               The gnome could only awkwardly shrug, “Okay then, it could have been bound elsewhere. Resurrection, brought back by a rogue necromancer or maybe someone else. Could have been bound by someone looking for back-up.”
               “Who the hell’d be doing that?”
               “Us,” the gnome said, his tone a flat deadpan. “We’ve had half a dozen ops going through graveyards for recruits. Not to mention how many corpses have conveniently been disappearing from battles on the beach, or on the Isles. On the upside, plenty of ghouls and geists to go around.”
               A chill crept across the worgen, who dropped the gnome onto the desk, “So it’s possible that they got…”
               “Reanimated, likely,” the gnome mused, picking up where the worgen trailed off. “Would potentially drag a spirit back to their shell in the process of reanimating the corpse. Else it’s a bit mindless.”
               Red’s arms crossed, “Okay, so I’d just need to check where we’re pullin’ in troops from. If that matches up, I’ll know.”
               A bout of laughter overtook the gnome, “You think we’d keep that on the books?”
               The answer to that particular questions was obvious. Of course they would. It was the type of thing Central would track to a tee. Except they would keep all of that informatoins o far beyond him as to make it an impossibility to know. So close to the chest that they could burn it and disavow all knowledge in a matter of minutes. He could bug the watcher, but even that was a long shot.
               “Best advice I could give you,” the gnome continued, “Check the burial site, or wherever the corpse as. Either they’re there, or they’re not.”
               Redamous nodded, repeating that to himself. Trying to convince himself that such a pilgrimage home was a worthwhile task. Not once had he bothered inspecting her grave. Not even to mourn. To do so he felt was almost an act of defilement. He sighed, correcting himself. It was only a defilement if the place hadn’t been defiled already. Giving the gnome a grunt, and a short wave, he turned to depart, making sure to ignore the rude gesture made at his back.
-----
               It was raining in Gilneas, as it always seemed to be. Whether it be a sprinkle or a torrgent, he struggled to rember a day without even a little rain. There had been times when he wondered how everything managed to survive, never seeing the sun, always with a bad day away from a flood.
               Leaving the paved roads had always brought with it sloshing ground and muddy boots. Which made trekking across it all the worse now, thanks to the fact that he no longer had boots to get muddy. The thought of having to get the dirt off his feet was enough to make him wish he had landed closer. But he had been fool enough to decide that if there were in fact people using this graveyard, or any other, that he didn’t want to give them any warning. Else they could just pack up and leave before he could even reach them.
               Not that it looked as though that was going to be an issue. At least not yet. The first graveyard he had opted to check appeared to be empty. He sighed as he crossed the threshold into it. His work wasn’t finished until he was sure whether or not who he sought even rested there.
               What seemed like a lifetime ago they had put her father to rest here. By all indicators, it had been a sad day. A family had lost a member, a woman had lost her husband, and his wife had lost her father. Yet he could still remember a horrible feeling of contentment with the proceedings. Regardless of how much he had been loathed to admit it, Red knew the man hated him. There was little he could do to prove to himself that there had ever been another emotion between him and his father-in-law, except a grudging tolerance.
               Even now Red still felt relieved seeing the headstone, all by its lonesome. There was a sense of shame that followed soon after. He gave the headstone a long look, trying to think of something to say. A means to amends, something to settle any guilt.
               Under his breath, with no witnesses, the worgen muttered, “Guess you were right.”
-----
               The next graveyard was a long walk up the road, with a short detour through the city. The latter of which never ceased to bother him. To have passed through it during its prime of its life, or at the very least when it was lively, and now to see it empty was always disconcerting.
               His next stop was not one where he expected to find anything. There was no indication she would have been buried here, so the entire point of his checking was simply to be thorough. For once in his life, he managed to be correct. No matter how many times he paced up and down the rows, he never came across a name that related to who he sought. A few managed to give him a sense that he had known them, but beyond that, he couldn’t recall.
               There was one particular issue that did bother him. Parts of the ground looked to be fresher than others. Sections that could have been recently moved, though it was difficult to tell, what with the fact that the rain caused it all to set faster. Many of the graveyards that followed proved to be more conclusive. Whether a necromancer of a rampant grave robber, something had passed through and raised the dirt, probably taking whatever had been below it with them. Recently, given how fresh a number of the new mounds still looked. He considered digging one up himself, just to confirm his suspicions, but thought better of it.
               It wasn’t until he was closest to to “home” that his search finally bore fruit. At first he didn’t even notice the hunched figures skulking about. By the time he had passed through the graveyard gates, most of them had slunk into the shadows, peering at him from out of his line of sight. He was vaguely aware of their presences. It was hard to hide the smell of wet, rotting flesh. A few minutes passed s he considered how to proceed. Just as he was about to call for them to come out of hiding, one poked its head up from the hole it was filling with dirt.
               Apparently it had yet to get the memo that now was the time to hide. It wasn’t until now that its decaying brain managed to work out that now was not the time to dig. Redamous stared at the thing as it slowly shambled its way out of its pit, old shovel still in hand. A saner person would have just stayed in the hole, hid themselves there. But he knew too well that ghouls were far from sane. Or smart. Really the only certainty he had with ghouls was that, for the most part, the things were truly subservient. Until they went mad or died, at least.
               He could feel a number of other eyes focused on the spectacle. Suddenly the ghoul’s pilgrimage towards a shady tree had become an event. A show to see how the worgen would even react. He wasn’t even given a proper chance to do anything. Before he could even utter a word, the ghoul’s foot slammed into a rock, and sent the thing stumbling right to the ground.
               “Idiot!”
               Red blinked at the sudden croaking shriek. Turning towards the sound, he saw a geist emerge from behind a tree, the rope around her neck swinging. Crawling across the road, the geist snatched the ghoul by its foot, and dragged it back behind the tree. The entire way the ghoul’s face dragged against the ground, and its shovel thudded against rocks, still clutched tightly. As it neared the tree, the geist pointed at the worgen, “And you’re not supposed to be here!”
               He couldn’t help but toss his arms to his sides, “Then where the hell am I supposed to be?”
               Prepared as he was to drag the geist from behind the tree, and threaten it until he got an answer, no action was actually required. Without leaning out from its hiding space, the geist shrieked once more, “New recruits are to report to the camp near the wall!” The conversation could have ceased there, but the worgen simply couldn’t help himself.
“Well I ain’t no new recruit.”
“Then just leave! You never saw this!”
Consideration started on yet another response. But he caught himself and forced himself to leave. Grumbling to himself, he wormed his way through the graveyard, until he was free of it and its hosted party of idiots. Better that than spending the next hour arguing with geist and its posse of ghouls.
When those that remained were certain that he was gone, they emerged. They hobbled toward the center of a clearing for a moment, dully looking at each other, before the geist shouted for them to return to work. Placing herself back in her previous lookout position, the geist watched the worgen head north toward the wall, until he was out of sight. Once he was truly gone, the geist returned to her previous surveying of the area, for any other would-be intruders.
-----
               Every inch of the encampment bothered him. The dark tents, the higher-up undead ordering robed “acolytes” about. The smell of a forge, one that had a smoky tinge to it, but also a a distinct unholy scent as well. Piles of bones, where failed constructs and amalgamations were constantly being reused, until a working servant was summoned. At which point it was swiftly slaughtered for the next acolyte to practice with.
               At one end people were crossing blades, at the other pairs were taking turns freezing each other to the ground, and breaking free. Anywhere he looked, the grass and ground tiself looked wilted and dead, from all the unholy arts being practiced. No one even seemed to notice him, standing there watching, dumbfounded.
               It was five minutes before anyone bothered to approach him, a tired looking blood elf. His gray hair was cut unevenly, as though by a sword in a short amount of time, and his armor was well worn. Motioning for Redamous to follow, he walked away from the camp, before stopping, looking further down the highlands with a dull expression. They stood in silence for a long moment, before the elf spoke, in surprisingly clear common.
               “The first time is always a bit rough.”
               Red canted his brow, “Ain’t the first time. That’s the problem.”
               The elf managed a chuckle, hollow voice reverbing further down the hill, “I hadn’t thought of it like that. But I suppose you’re right. All the same, no one ever gets sent out here with enough proper warning. That’s all I meant.” He allowed that time to sink in, “Are you here to replace or retrieve?”
               A lack of response from the worgen brought the elf’s thin brows together. His lips pursed as he readjusted his pauldrons, letting out a large sigh. When he spoke again, it was with a tone carrying a higher sense of respect, “Inspection then. You will forgive my lack of tact, sir.”
               “Ain’t here to inspect nothin’.”
               In an instant the elf deflated, his proud stance slouching. The look on his face became one of annoyance, as he looked between the worgen and his insignia. Apparently having a number of questions on whether or not the worgen carried the rank at all. And if so, just what exactly it was he was out here for if not one of the tasks already listed.
               “Then what are you possibly doing here?” the elf hissed, doing his best to retain his composure. Red gave the elf five minutes at best before all of that fizzled and failed, and he exploded.
               Considering his words, Red turned his attention back towards the camp, “Need to look through your troops. I’m lookin’ for someone.”
               “Looking for someone,” the elf repeated, mostly to himself. “How could you possibly,” he began again, before stopping. Eventually he nodded, motioning back to the hill, “Do as you will. Just don’t interrupt the exercises where unnecessary. We have deadlines to meet.”
               Nodding, Red turned to begin walking back up. As he went, he could easily feel the elf’s eyes boring into the back of his head. He did miss the elf bring a hand to his face, bending it back to look skyward, as well as the mutter of anger about stupid superiors.
-----
               Pacing back through the camp had slowly transformed into something of a morbid game. One where his only goal was to identify any face he could. The challenge emerged from the fact that almost everyone, acolytes especially, had their faces submerged in the darkness of a hood or helmet. Some candidates were easily eliminated, namely anyone who was distinctly a man. Others were struck from his mental list the moment he heard them speak.
               But a number of them were completely unidentifiable. The thought of having everyone lined up so he could inspect them crossed his mind on more than one occasion. Except, he thought, for the fact that that would turn this into even more of a show, and even more of an embarrassment. Which was exactly what it had swiftly become anyway.
               At first it had just been the blood elf spectating. With a firm look of disinterest that was meant to hide his amusement at the scene. Not long after the performance had started, the blood elf had been joined by another elf, this one of the “night” variety. A lean woman, whose green-black hair never stopped reminding Red of dead flowers. As Red had learned, she was the one in charge of managing resurrections. When someone was dredged up from the grave, the lady elf welcomed them, as a friendly if foreign face. She also happened to be tasked with removing any recruits who weren’t up to task. Of the two assignments, Red presumed she probably preferred the latter, based on the grin she got from describing it, and the entertained look she had had since she began spectating.
               Having made his fifth or sixth lap around the camp, he passed in front of the pair. Already he had asked if she knew them by name, to which she had blandly replied in the negative. Yet after he had given up on that train of thought, he had started to wonder what else they might have to give. The look of amusement on the night elf’s face dropped as a single word escaped from her visitor’s mouth.
               “Roster.”
               Both of the elves look suddenly annoyed, something he took no small amount of pleasure in. Of course they were going to have a roster. Regardless of how little of a paper trail was meant to be left, they would still want something resembling organization. A structure, a routine. Against their wants, they produced such a list, complete with training assignments, just as he expected. The writing was sloppy, likely scribbled by one of their servants, but was still readable. Half of the names listed were barely names. They were amalgamations of words, pseudonyms. Replacements by people who couldn’t, or didn’t care to, remember their previous name. Or those who just didn’t want to use it. Redamous paused, doing his best not to judge too harshly.
               It wasn’t until the second to last page that he found her name. Nicole. One word, no surname. The possibility that this wasn’t even the same person crossed his mind. So did the idea that it didn’t matter if it was. Perhaps he was better off letting the matter die. Leaving it be. But he knew himself better than that. There wasn’t even a point to debating whether or not he was going to follow through with this. The last few years of his life, the last entire stage of it, couldn’t let him walk away. Even still, he had to force himself back through the camp, feet dragging the entire way.
               At the moment, the individual he was looking for was doing as assigned, sparring with another acolyte. A blade in each pale hand, she was proceeding to wail on her partner, a larger man wielding a greatsword. He bounced each blow off, not having to concern himself with any other action. Red stood back, watching them for a time. With each small flurry he hoped that the woman would turn to look at him. So that he could confirm that it wasn’t who he sought. To end this entire ordeal. But she only paid her opponent any mind.
               Instead it was her opponent who noticed him first. When he finally caught on that they were being observed, his gaze slowly turned to watch the onlooker. Eventually she realized that she no longer had his full attention, and paused, turning her hunched shoulders to stare at him. Red couldn’t make out her face. But he could see her eyes. Narrow blue lines, glaring at him for interrupting. The longer she stared, the worse her anger seemed to get, her fingers tightening their grips on her blades. The three of them stood there in silence, each one waiting for the others to speak. Red thought she would first. That she would demand to know what he was looking at, or for him to cease interrupting. But she didn’t say a word.
               Eventually her stance became more lax, and her glare turned into a look of inquiry. Like she was trying to place him, to remember something. He could tell the exact moment she came to a realization. When she recalled whatever it was she wanted to recall. Her weapons dropped to the ground, her fingers loosening as though they had gone numb, and her eyes went wide.
               And then she ran.
-----
               There was dirt everywhere. It was below her, forming the ground she was laying on. She could feel it caking her hands, grinding away as her fingers rubbed together. What was left of her flesh was coated in it, and felt like it had seeped in where pieces were missing. How she knew pieces were missing was beyond her. A disgusting piece of knowledge from a sense she never wanted to feel again. Forcing herself into a sitting position, she could feel the chunks of Azeroth that had stored themselves away inside her begin to fall and break, joining back with the ground below her.
               Her first instinct was to look at her hands, even if she knew exactly what she would find. Damp, rotted flesh, clinging vainly to dirty bones. A representation of her entire self. She had seen this countless times, the disgusting abominations of flesh and bone and sinew that managed to vaguely pass for people. She was a corpse, and a disturbing one at that. A dead thing, risen as a defiance of the Light and life itself.
               Except all of that was wrong. She had seen her hands for countless years now. They were pale, shades of what they had been when she had truly been alive. But then they had been full of flesh. Complete, insofar as something incorporeal could be complete. Yet now, as she touched her fingertips together, she could feel. Feel the bone scraping bone, or feel it as she pried dirt away.
               Any attempt to settle these differences in belief resulted in more conflict. At some points, she considered herself a spirit. Someone who had been residing between life and death for years now, bound by some unseen hand or force. This thought was quickly corrected by the fact that any state of her being alive had ended years ago. Now was her first moments truly in the world again. Both parts of her argued for what seemed like days, even if it had been mere minutes. Her spirit trying to come to terms with her body. Neither being able to agree with where her memories should begin or where they should end. The only thing they could come to any sort of agreement with was that this was not in fact her normal state, nor did it match her previous state. Whether or not her state prior had been similarly abnormal.
               It was a large span of time before she looked up from her hands. At which point she noticed the elf looking down on her. Or at least, she thought it was an elf. Whether or not it was an elf was a matter she was fast debating. Regardless, even if she hadn’t seen an elf in all her life, this certainly was how one was meant to look. Pale skin, pointed ears. The glowing blue eyes were out of place, but for the most part, the sickly creature before her looked to be an elf. Either the first she had seen in all of her life, or just one of many she had encountered during her spiritual travels.
               “Can you stand?”
               A simple enough question, but one she wasn’t certain the answer to. Looking down at her legs, or where they would be under the dress she had been buried in, she genuinely had no idea the boney sticks would even support her any longer. Nor did she know what would happen if they couldn’t.
               Much to her surprise, and perhaps luck, she could in fact stand. With a fair amount of creaking and scraping, she forced herself to her feet, with even more dirt falling away in the process. Despite the roughness of the entire ordeal, the elf nodded in approval.
               “Good. Report to the quartermaster across the yard for armor fitting.”
               With that, the elf turned to march on, presumably to perform her welcome wagon act for the next individual. Or to issue more commands. The command she had been on the receiving end of still hung in the air. Off in the distance she could see a string of people forming a queue in front of some sort of ghastly creature.
               Of all the things she had questioned up to this point, this was the ‘choice’ that gave her the most pause. On the one hand, she could do with a better outfit than burial rags. And the throbbing in the back of her brain was giving the impression that perhaps she should follow the fold for the sake of seeking a solution. To resolving whatever conflict was forming inside of her. To sate the tickling feeling of want that was circling the edge of her mind. Besides, based on her assumptions thus far, if she didn’t, she was probably looking at a swift trip back to the land beyond the grave.
               Which might not have been a terrible thing. It certainly fit with the natural order of things better. Yet she couldn’t pass up such an opportunity. Somewhere in her was a desire not to return to her prior state. That was better than being forever incorporeal, or nothing more than a corpse.
               It was that idea that managed to win out. Neither party could argue with the idea, and urged her on. Compelled her, and pressed her into the line.
-----
               Robes had never been her style. Much as many liked to jokingly compare them to dresses, she had always considered them the attire of a church. The simple adornments of a holy man or woman. Maybe even the outfit for those who aspired to practice magic, including the darker arts. So in that manner, she considered the fact that her attire fell into such a category to odd. Even if the robes felt fairly well armored, or protected.
               Though put in context, she considered, it was easily the least odd occurrence in her existence at the moment. No, that particular award’s recipient was still being debated. Contenders included such creatures as the abomination patrolling the area, the skeleton barking orders at her. Or the numerous members of the undead around her who, much like her, seemed content to just go along with all of the madness.
               They had been told that the world was at stake. That demons were threatening it, and that now they had the opportunity to help defend the world, no matter the cost. Few if anyone among them had probably even seen a demon, let alone were capable of fighting one, yet only a few turned down the offer. Those that did were sent back to the grave, willingly or not. Such displays were always quick, and to the point.
               She certainly hadn’t declined. A selfish part of her was reveling in the ability to touch again, while the other praised the decision to reclaim all of the time that had been stolen from her. Both agreed to overlook her rotting state, resolving that it was likely something to be fixed later. Such an issue was easy to dismiss, given all she had gained in return. Her skill with the blades she had been given was very much a work in progress, but she couldn’t help but savor the ease and speed with which she could swing and slice with the weapons. The same could be said of the fact that with a wave of her hands, she could summon a winter’s storm, which she was constantly doing to her sparring partner.
               Every instance she did so brought a sense of satisfaction. That same sense buried itself in the back of her brain. Threatened to swallow her whole if she ever refused to feed it. A threat she knew was far from hollow. She could feel how it, how she, hungered. All the horrible cravings and demands that it housed.
               But for now, it had plenty, and in turn, she felt like she too had plenty. And she must have given plenty as well. Even if she couldn’t see their faces, she could see it in their glowing eyes. That hunger was being sated in the others as well, and that they too were likely satisfied.
               For now.
-----
               However many days had passed, she couldn’t say. Not once did she tire or need to rest. Never before had she considered just how much that sort of schedule played into the passage of time. Now all she had was the sun, and her various distractions had kept her mind elsewhere for long enough that it became the moon. At points she lost track of whether it was day or night, with the overcast weather.
               Whatever time had spent had been invested into training. If she wasn’t sparring, she was being taught, or instructed. If neither of those, then she practiced. By now she had learned enough to give her flailing a bit of purpose, to the point where if tossed to the front lines, she would at least go out fighting. Perhaps even taking a demon or two with her. They had few remaining days, or so they were told, before such a time would come. When they would be shipped off, outfitted, and sent to a war for a second death. This time, perhaps, it would be more permanent, or meaningful, she mused.
               Even now they were preparing. Taking turns with their sparring partners. First one would take the offensive, while the other would hunker down and defend. After a time, they would trade positions. Her opponent, she found, had a much easier time than she did. His bulky frame and large weapon allowed him to simply soak her blows. At most he needed to adjust if she tried to strike from another angle. Having a pair of smaller blades, she was forced to stay on her toes, only being able to parry a few of his lesser attacks.
               Behind them she could hear someone pacing about, one of the overseers or their pets almost certainly. Going about their rounds, surveying their batch of soldiers. She paid them no mind at all and kept on swinging. Within minutes they had returned, and stole her partner’s attention in the process. When it became obvious that they weren’t going anywhere, she stopped her current assault, dramatically tossing her shoulders to glare at the spectator.
               At first she was caught off guard by the fact that it wasn’t either of the elves. Nor was it one of their pets, or even another acolyte come to send a message. Instead it was some hulking wolf thing, though he was undead all the same.
               It was a moment before she realized that she knew what the thing was. A worgen, a beast that once had been a human. She recalled now observing such a creature for years, though she couldn’t decide if that was truth or just the imagination of an idle spirit. Were it the former, she considered, this well could have been the same beast from those ‘memories’.
               Her look of anger turned into a more blank expression as she pondered that possibility. He certainly fit the bill, from his floppy hat to the tabard he wore. If any worgen in the world were to be the one she recalled, she saw no reason for it to not be this one. The thought crossed her mind to embrace him. For as far as she could recall, she loved him. Much as her very being had seemed to be so focused on making him miserable. She was certain that that feeling had never wavered. Even in spite of what he had done to her.
               As soon as that idea was summoned, she found it impossible to dispel. What he had done to her. Much as she tried, that final memory forced its way into her mind. The person, the part of her that had ceased to be at that moment, couldn’t help but override any number of other moments of reconciliation or coming to terms. Part of her became the whole fragment, even as the rest was screaming about everything that had followed. A familiar, horrible feeling took her, embracing her like she was an old friend. It banished every other sense of her being, besides the sense of fear she had died with. The force of the emotion as it washed over her was almost painful, unnatural even in its presence.
               She barely felt it as her hands opened, scarcely heard her blades hit the ground. All she knew now was the forest as she bolted through it. Anything to get away from everything.
-----
               He could track her. Be it through smell, or with her tracks, or whatever other trail she had left in her wake, he could find her. The question was whether or not he would bother following her. Of course she knew him, knew the answer.
               Of course he would.
               It shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. She had spoken with him at length countless times, but all that had done was make her forget. Now she remembered. Recalled the fear and all that it meant to her. Trying to push past the fear, she found other feelings, emotions she had tried to set aside and forget. The ones that had just been sitting there waiting to be found. She found her hate, of the man she had been chained to, who had ruined her entire world. For a moment she was half tempted to turn around and carve the man’s eyes out for all she had been forced to endure or to witness.
               Before she could do so, she felt a rock give way, sending her tumbling down the hill. Ground and sky twirled around her as she rolled, though whatever impact the fall was having felt miniscule. At some points she saw where she had been standing, and in the next, the river she was heading towards. By the time she had ceased moving, it was little more than a popping as a few disjointed bones broke from their rightful places.
               At the bottom of the hill she rediscovered her pity. Of the creature, the man, who was so far out of his element. The retired military man pulled back into service against his will, the farmer who had been forced to lead, the father who had taken his family from himself without any choice, or the monster who despised his new nature. Once again she wanted to return to him, but the moment soon passed when moving proved to be an issue.
               Just the act of trying to walk was difficult. Within a few steps she fell to her knees, wet dirt from the riverbank coating her attire. Crawling a few meters more and she hit the river itself. Letting out a sigh, she pulled her robe up a ways, examining her feet. Far as she could determine, without pulling her boots off, neither foot was broken. Nor were her legs. It wasn’t until she reached her hip that she found the issue.
               One of her legs had managed to force its way from the socket of her hip. A phantom sense of her stomach lurching filled her as she felt the round bone. Barely covered by skin, attached by the few remaining stomach and ligament that she still had. Pulling the rest of her robes away, she forced herself to assess the damage. It was fixable, or at least she assumed it to be. All it needed was a good, likely painful, push. What wasn’t fixable, she assumed, was the rest of her.
               The fact that it had managed to escape her she attributed to the fog of new life. Only something like that could have kept her from fully realizing the extent to which she had so totally fallen apart. Entire chunks of her legs were missing, leaving muscle and bone showing. At certain sections she could have poked her finger in one side of her leg and watched it depart the other side. A morbid sense of curiosity compelled her to peel the rest of her armor away, revealing even worse damage. Among the usual rot of a near decade of decay, she could still make out slashes across her arms and chest. Pieces where claws had sank into her flesh and torn through whatever was in their way. Her fists clenched at the thought, anger taking the helm for a moment, before curiosity claimed control once more.
               Replacing her armor, she forced herself to crawl towards the river itself. A dull sense of what would have been pain filled her leg. The entire concept of injury seemed meaningless now, to the point where even her body didn’t seem to care. It was an inconvenience, one that happened to be slowing her sense of discovery. When she was so full of holes, what was a single piece being out of place?
               She allowed herself a moment of collection, of pause. Enough time to calm herself, but not long enough to convince herself of any other method of proceeding. With no small amount of difficulty, she rolled onto her knees, forcing her head out over the water.
               The only thing that looked back at her were two glowing dots. Blue orbs, staring at her from the void that was her hood. It struck her how easily her reflection could have been mistaken for another. She could have traded places with an acolyte, and no one would have been the wiser.
               There was a list with her name on it, the name she had given them. It could have been fabricated, it could have been stolen. She could not have remembered it at all. Whatever it had been, it would have been equally as meaningless. It was a name for a corpse, things that should have ceased to be upon death. Her’s was a name stolen from a memory, attached to an imitation of the person who had held it before.
               Everything about her fit that. Her voice was a hollow imitation, a hoarse scratching that reverbed in an unnatural manner. Her body held a decayed shape, one that was hunched and wrong. Pulling her hood back, she found a face to match such a figure. A patchwork quilt of rot and decay, slices that were missing next to pieces that were seemingly fresh. All of it had a resemblance to what she remembered, but none of it was exactly correct. As though someone who had seen her once, someone who hated her, had made a cruel facsimile of her, and forced her to reside inside it.
               Perhaps it was fixable, she considered. There were memories of individuals like this being repaired that were bouncing around in her head. But even replacing or repairing everything wouldn’t make her right. She couldn’t think of a way to return color to her pale and sickly flesh, or to make her hair anything but its new unnatural shade. Even if that was repaired, she would still be undead, with that feeling of an eternal itch at the edge of her mind.
               Other things were lingering nearby as well, in a much more physical sense. Off in the forest something skittered off. Under the hatter, which was slowly freezing in her presence, fish went about their business. Behind her, someone was waiting. Whether she had heard him approach or not, she didn’t care. He was there, and she hated it.
               He was waiting. Waiting for her to turn and acknowledge him. To accept his presence, at which point he could properly approach her. She waited, staring at the frozen water, hoping he would depart. But again, she knew better. If needed, he would wait there forever, declining to interfere until he felt it proper.
               Light forbid he just start this entire sequence. So that they could be done with it. But no. He lacked the drive anymore. Forced himself into the supporting role. Instead of taking the reins and trying to assert his presence, to be a calming presence or a helpful presence, he was a passive one. He lurked. Letting out a sigh, she twisted herself around to stare at him.
               “Let’s get this over with,” she rasped silently, to no one but herself.
               A sigh escaped him, as well as a mutter. Prepping himself for the task ahead. Making ready for any potential blow, mentally or physically. She could sympathize, and did the same. With his approach, she began the arduous process of relocating her joint. The pain was pointless, an uncomfortable looking gesture that made him squirm more than it did her. Standing, she barely came to his shoulder, and stood even lower than that when she had settled into her full hunch. Of all the things about her, that would be fixed first. She could be tall, imposing even, compared to other humans, but that was hardly so when she was barely kept together.
               For the longest time they stood there in silence. He was examining her, trying to piece everything together. To collect his thoughts and make sense of what he was looking at. Come to terms with it all. She knew the feeling, the motions of it, having had to do much the same at some point. It hadn’t been easy then, and she couldn’t imagine that it was easy now.
               So long did that silence last that she wondered if the man were even capable of speech anymore. It seemed to take great effort for him to press out even the start of a word, none of which apparently were the words that he wanted. Whatever his sentence was meant to be, he began it countless times. Not long after he started, he gave up trying, and resorted to a more obvious action.
               He embraced her.
               To suddenly be so close to the worgen nearly sent her into another frenzy. Not just out of fear, but because of every other feeling that invaded her mind again. She wanted to feel, but part of her wished to fight, and slay the creature who had taken so much from her. The rest was simply amazed by the fact that they could touch at all. Eventually he released her, after a moment that seemed to last forever. Once again he resumed staring at her. That awed part of her was allowed a moment of control, as the physical part of her being became so obvious to her.
               Her hand rose practically of its own volition, and pressed itself against his neck. Then his cheek. His hand came up and covered her’s. She could feel her legs quiver, numbing at the fact that such a gesture was possible without having to exert some supernatural force. Stumbling backwards, she forced her hand out from under his. Her attention was stolen by her hands, which touched each other. Fingertip to fingertip, palm to palm. Both were horribly, relentlessly real. Without falter they were real, and so was she. It was like returning to life a second time, whatever fog in her brain lifting.
               He was still staring at her, likely wondering if she had just gone mad. She couldn’t blame him, as she wasn’t certain that she could rule out madness. At least not until she had come to terms with everything, made the two competing stories mesh. Which they slowly were. Her death and her state of undeath, converging to the current point.
               “It,” he finally said, the sudden sound surprising her, “Gets easier.”
               She stared at him for a moment, mouth slightly agape. Of course. This was how he wished to proceed. As the voice of comfort, of reason. He wanted to help, she knew as much. Whether he wanted to help her or settle himself, she didn’t know. Regardless of any state, she could never tell that about him. The entire process was torture to him. That much she could tell. The way he squirmed, the way he was avoiding looking at her. All of it familiar. No procedure to go on but instinct.
               “I’m fine,” she finally said, hoarse reverb obviously bothering him. So much so that he didn’t seem to stop to considered whether the statement was true or not.
               “You’re okay?” the worked asked, seemingly both to her and himself. Her eyes narrowed, and she thought for a moment that the man would consider his words now, but he surprised her, continuing, “What about this is okay? Or fine even?”
               She felt her fists clinch of their own volition, but managed to hold them off from delivering a blow. There was something in his voice, some sense of horror that stuck to her. “Aside from the obvious, yes. I feel fine.” Truthfully, she didn’t know if it was a lie. Over the past few days she hadn’t particularly been forced to consider her own state of being. Now that she had the time, it seemed to be some mixture of miracle and horror. In so many ways she did feel fine. When she wasn’t arguing with herself, the entire fact of her existence felt amazing. Yet that was ignoring her rotting appearance, and whatever rotting may have been going on further in her mind or soul.
               “An the obvious here is,” he cut himself off, but she knew exactly what he was going to say. She could feel it in her bones. Disgusting. Wrong. Any other synonym for the aberration that they both were. She didn’t disagree with him, but the unspoken word still cut. He managed to steady himself, holding his hands up to ask her to pause, “I just mean that it ain’t an easy thing. It’s hard to come to terms with.”
               There was no denying that, on account of her agreeing with him. Not that it helped her, or comforted her, or anything useful. Instead all it did was drag this out. He couldn’t help her, nor was she sure that he wanted to.
               “I understand that,” she muttered, “I get it.” There was an edge to her voice now, a dying patience.
               “I just,” the worgen said, considering his next words, “I just need you to understand all it comes with. All the catches.”
               “And I do,” she muttered again, starting to move past him. This was going to go nowhere, and she knew it. They could talk in circles for hours, or days, and it would be as effective.
               The worgen frowned, grabbing her arm, to stop her. She yanked it away, putting distance between herself and the creature. His hands came up again, and he began to apologize, but she beat him to the words.
               “Stop.”
               A layer of ice seemed to cover the word, an inflection she didn’t know if she intended or not. He was going to try to speak more, but she wasn’t going to allow it. “You’re going to try to convince me how wrong and awful this all is. How much of a torment it is. As though I wouldn’t know.” Every one of her words had barbs, each one pricking him. She could feel it, fed on it. Each one was an icicle ready to impale.
               “Like I haven’t spent years of my life watching you, forced to just stare at you. As though that’s a worse suffering.” She watched him deflate like a poor balloon, “Yet you’d prefer if I give whatever this may be. And to what, to watch you exist? No.” She felt herself inching closer to him, “No, I don’t think so.”
               The way his ears drooped, the way his head sank, all of it broke her heart. Yet every word tasted so sweet. It was sickening, and she wanted more. She approached him and he recoiled. Enough of a gesture for her to stop, to try to come to her senses.
               “I don’t know how I feel about this. I don’t know how I feel about you. I don’t know if I love you, if I hate you, or if I just pity you. Perhaps I am confused, or unwell. But right now, I want to figure that out. On my own. Alone.”

               His mouth drooped open, but he wasn’t going to speak. Instead they stood in silence once more. Until she turned. Part of her wanted to force him to be the one to leave first. To have the pleasure of watching him sulk off, broken. But the rest couldn’t bear to see it. So she left. Left him there, without looking back.