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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.