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.

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