Thursday, March 29, 2018

An Occurrence at Fallow Bridge

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

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

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

But there wasn't.

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

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

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

But there weren't.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they wouldn't.

Monday, March 12, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

A very whiny option.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Dealing with Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded, "It does."

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

He nodded again, "I have."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Call to Arms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded, "It is."

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

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

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