May 7, 2012 - Surprise
The child cowered away from him every day.
Few knew why the plate-clad man walked the same route every day, but even so he was twice-born, and therefore automatically half the man that the living of Stormwind assumed he was. This one was stranger than all the others, in that it walked the same route every day, one way, and did not return until the next. The large circular patrol faded from the memories of most, as few ventured half as far as the man with the cold aura, and none followed.
The child followed at first. Homeless, hungry, orphaned, it followed the man at first until the creaking of the head caused her to cower away, then scamper into an alleyway, or even once dive into the Canals to avoid his wrath that she knew, knew was hiding behind those dead eyes. She told her friends of this, other street urchins and orphans who ranged from the Cathedral Square to grub a copper from the canals, or see if there were kind passers-by that would grace them with a biscuit, or a coin, or even a rack of foam swords if it was their special week in particular. On select days they would get sugar cookies from the cook near the Stockades, and sit and tell stories. Hers was of the Twice-Born Man, and his dark armor and wicked intents. He was a warlock ("No, I've seen the ones they call warlocks at the Slaughtered Lamb! None of -them- wear plate armor!"). He did riturals ("No, there haven't been any kids missing!"). He was evil ("Nuh-uh, prove it! Where does he go?").
Every day that passed, the Twice-Born Man followed the same path, and every day the child moved a little farther, to see where he went, before her courage failed and she fled. The other urchins laughed, and teased her. She didn't have the heart to see if her stories were real!
That night, she declared that she was going to follow him all the way, and if she disappeared, then they would know her stories were true!
She took special care the next day to follow the Twice-Born Man on his path. Her heart raced faster as she passed her alleyways, the canals, the safe places where she knew he would not follow if he desired to give chase. She saw him enter a dark alleyway in the restaurant district, and stopped at the edge.
The waif stared into the darkness, mustering up the courage to follow. With a gulp of air, she dove in after him - and ran smack dab into his plated legs not six steps inside.
Fear froze her in place. She could see the glow in his eyes as he bent down to stare at her tattered clothes, her thin figure, and her messy hair. She could hear the click of metal against metal as his fingers moved, drawing something from a satchel as he reached for her. Her scream was a muted squeak as the object came into focus, and dumbounded pause replaced terror as she looked at the cupcake in her hand.
"Are you...surprised?" asked the Twice-Born Man, while he picked up the waif and set her on her feet. She nodded, and bit into the cupcake - a squirrel of a girl, nibbling on confections.
"So am I," he said. "I am continually surprised at the courage you young ones show. Would you like to see what I do every day, why I take this path?"
She nodded again. The man straightened and opened a door in the alleyway, releasing a rush of aromas - Breads, pies, cakes, and many other meals.
"Come inside and see," he said, stepping aside and pulling off his plated gloves. "I am certain you will have a wonderful story to tell your friends this evening."
She went inside, and he followed, closing the kitchen entry to the Canal Street Bakery.
Second Chances, or, 'I write about dead guys a lot.'
Once upon a time, there were two men who died and became geists.
Their names did not mean much in life, and in death they became eternally lost. As conventions go, they were eventually given new names after their tenure in the Lich King's service came to an end. One was named Renfield, and the other was named Lackey.
To continue the story about Renfield and Lackey, an aside must be made, and that aside is about the Bizarre. The Bizarre is a living, breathing entity (for generous uses of those terms) within the bowels of Acherus where the members and minions of the Ebon Blade come to the closest to being truly human that they can manage: They gather, trade, perhaps even eat something, and they tell stories. Ghouls, Geists, Abominations (whom are always referred to as 'they', 'we', or 'them', as they're a self-contained community) all trade what they may have found during their time of service to Highlord Mograine, the Ashen Verdict, or those elite reprobates known better as Death Knights who were ordered to serve the Blade by serving their King, Warchief, or whatever being they took a knee before in life.
It was at the Bizarre that a question was posed: What, if anything, would you go back to change? Would you flee south, out of Lordaeron? Shoot Arthas with an arrow? Join the Silver Hand?
Renfield and Lackey scoffed at this question.
"That is easy!" said Renfield. "Simplicity itself!" cried Lackey.
"We have already done it!" they chorused.
In a bustling metropolis of the dead, it's difficult to find silence. This is because the universe is powered by irony, and little is more ironic than a community of beings that should be as quiet as the tomb showing more life than the Exodar during Noblegarden.
And yet, for the briefest of moments, the Bizarre was absolutely silent.
"Rggrgrawwglglrgh!" cried a Ghoul (which, as it happened, was Ghoul for "Please explain, sirs, as few have ever experienced this kind of wonder before.")
"We were given the option to return by one of the Infinite Dragonflight!" Renfield noted. "To change one event in our lives!" added Lackey.
"We had to take it up on its offer!" they cried in unison.
"Rgl?" ("And I believe any of us would, sirs, but please tell us - what did you do?")
"We lived in the town of Andorhal!" Renfield exclaimed. "We were assistants to the mayor of the town!" added Lackey.
"The Infinite Dragons took us to the evening before the city fell!" Renfield continued. "Yes, to the time when we could effect the most change in our lives!" Lackey added.
"And there we were, in our beloved city, alive again to change one moment!" they exclaimed in unison.
The hush came over the Bizarre again. Corpses of all shapes and sizes pressed in on the two Geists to hear what happened next. The unofficial spokesbody, the Ghoul queried, "ARglgr?" ("What a dream, to live again, to breathe the sweet air and feel the cool upon your skin! To walk in the moonlight and ne'er feel the pang of hunger for flesh, to merely be and not exist. Aie! I wax poetic during your tale, pray continue!")
"We moved with purpose!" Renfield cried. "Our goal was clear!" Lackey agreed.
"We went to the Inn, and we had the roast beef dinner!"
The nature of the silence changed. It went from a polite, rapt, engaged silence to one chilled with the hint of malice. It was the type of silence one found when sipping a fine Gilnean Red and finding a rather cheeky Forsaken had left a...cheek in your glass.
"It was the best, tenderest roast beef we had ever eaten," Renfield temporized. For once, Lackey was silent in polite remembrance of his last meal.
"What do I want that for? It's worthless!"
The Draenei man looked over the bauble he'd offered, turning his head to regard the creature that had queried his purchase. Instincts born of ten thousand years of practice took over, and the smooth smile that reached the very tips of his ears was on his face. Fellow exiles knew Baikonur to have a smile that could disarm a Windroc of its talons, or a Gronn of its desire to kill and eat...well, everybody.
It was the smile of a trader, and a trader's bread and butter is made of worthless items.
"This?" Baikonur asked, presenting the bauble as if it were a prized treasure - which, indeed, now it was. "This is a priceless treasure, not to be confused with worthless trash! It has survived the Legion's scourging of no less than three worlds!"
The creature stopped in its tracks. Baikonur knew what it was, now, it had been some time since he had seen Arrakoa willing to speak with him, but now that this Darkmoon Faire has begun on the island, he had seen so many old faces that were familiar, yet were not at the same time. And here, in his hand, he had a priceless treasure.
"Here in my hand," stated Baikonur, "Is history, my friend! The historical jewel of a peaceful race that sadly did not survive the Legion's wrath! It was pressed into my palm by the Grand Seer Reepicheep, who foresaw the falling of his people. He begged me, sir, begged me to find a like mind to covet and care for this stone so that the memory of his people would live on everlasting!"
"A historical jewel," the Arrakoa muttered. It did not seem convinced.
"A historical jewel," Baikonur repeated. "The last vestiges of life of a long-dead people. Bird people."
That brought the Arrakoa up short. "How much?" it asked.
Coin changed hands, and the Arrakoa was the proud owner of the Reepicheep's jewel - that an enterprising Dwarf had given him after he had finished with some cut glass pieces for the Faire.
Baikonur waved and went on his way. "I'm getting rusty," he said to himself, "But there's always someone to put value on something."
"It is done, my lord."
'Lord'. That's a new one. How many years have I been avoiding the trappings of nobility?
The Death Knight stood wearily on the dais where but minutes before, Lady Sylvanas had fallen to a Draenei's spine - still wriggling, mind you - with the brain-stem wrapped in leather.
"The most useful the Sergeant has ever been," he mused as two Geists hauled off the body. He kicked the bow aside, noting to himself to turn it to dust in front of the collected Hunters of the Horde later. He would have to make his presence known, and more than a few would find that incredibly funny.
"What will you have us do, Lord?"
The Val'kyr that hovered to the Death Knight's left was the model of subservience. It had been nearly fourteen years since their positions were reversed - first came freedom, then came vengeance, then irony rolls on in to bring the trifecta. He was King of the Undercity.
"Recall the Royal Apothecary Society. I want any and all plague strains held for testing and then stored for a rainy day. The Wrathgate was bad, Gilneas made it worse. I won't throw away a weapon, but I want both the Alliance and the Horde to be quite certain the only thing walking around down here after another siege will be ghosts.
"After that is complete," he continued, "Send two Death Knights as emissaries to the Horde and Alliance. Have them know that the Undercity is now independent and we will suffer no sieges upon these walls. Have the two reiterate the plague stocks as a note of deterrence."
"It will be done, Lord."
The Val'kyr flew off to begin the onerous process of herding zombified cats - that is, the apothecaries. She passed by a hooded Forsaken that came forward to salute Eredis as he stood on the dais.
"Everything is transitioning according to plan! Hee!" she said.
"Captain," Eredis said, "Good, good. You saw the Val'kyr just leave - assemble the Dark Rangers. Request the Val'kyr to assemble in the rear courtyard and read them this." He handed over a rotted parchment that had a curious seal - one of a skull and crossed runeblades, though the skull wore a baker's hat.
"What's this?" the Captain asked.
"A royal declaration to decimate the Val'kyr. I want them to be absolutely certain they exist at my sufferance, and my sufferance alone. Ten percent reductions in their numbers should get the idea across."
"Hee! This'll be great!" the Captain exclaimed - and with a puff of smoke, she sped along the shadows to do his bidding.
"RENFIELD! LACKEY!" the Death Knight bellowed. Two Geists ambled in, faces rubbing across the floor in their zest to appear humble.
He extended two more parchment rolls, one to each. "One goes to Highlord Fordring, the other to Highlord Mograine. You are to present them both, personally, and await a response from each. I will have them know that the Undercity desires peaceful coexistance with the components of the Ashen Verdict. Her borders will encompass all they do now, and we cede the territory in the Plaguelands to each to do as they will. Now go."
"Yes, Master!" Renfield cried. "We will do as you ask!" yelled Lackey.
"...And that's what I would do if I were King of the Undercity," Eredis said as he reeled in another fish. He and a Draenei both sat on a quiet dock, fishing the day away.
"So you would create-" the Draenei started.
"Yes, an undead haven," finished Eredis. "Think of it like Shattrath, only a minimum of Light and a place where the undead can get back to what they were doing before we all died."
"Interestink," mused the Draenei.
"I thought so," replied Eredis as he cast his line back into the water. "What would you do?"
New Hearthglen was burning.
Few Crusaders ran to and fro with buckets, desperation fueling their efforts to dampen fire that seemed to burn even the white stones that they had used to build their city. A splash of water here and there did nothing to quench the conflagration that had gripped what was viewed as their great, shining hope for a future free of the Scourge.
Abbendis was dead. She did not survive to see Arthas destroyed, and it seemed that the Crusade would not live long past the moment that the traitorous Alliance called 'Kingsfall.' The Admiral had gone missing as well; there were rumors among the survivors that he had appeared at Onslaught Harbor, then vanished again while the legions of the dead, led by the Knights of the Ebon Blade, tore their naval base apart soul by soul. Now they had come for New Hearthglen, and to crush what little remained of the Scarlet Onslaught.
James, the wall guard, had never felt like he should be called an 'Onslaughteer.' 'Crusader' had a much better sound. It was nobler, so noble that the Argent Crusade had stolen it. And now, Crusaders were en vogue, and he was standing guard on a wall waiting for the end of the world, dark figures visible around small cookfires in the distance.
He explained this in great detail to the scarlet-robed figure that had joined him on the wall that evening. The robes were so voluminous that he couldn't tell if the figure was male or female, but it was slight, and wore the most supple leather gloves he ever did see. It wasn't until the figure interrupted his tirade with a soft query that he realized that it was a she.
"What is 'Life', to you, James?" she asked.
"Well isn't that a little philisophical?" he retorted. It didn't stop him into launching into a detailed response of what he considered life to be, including doing one's duty, doing what they enjoyed, taking pride in their crafts, being with their loved on-
"Being with your loved ones is to be alive?" she asked.
"Well, I think so," he responded.
"Strange," the figure in scarlet robes started, "As I had a loved one. I suppose I still do, and I loved him even if he did not know it. If he did know it, he did not show it overtly. And yet, love can turn to hate. I could hate him for what happened, and did. Hated him for what he became, and what I became. Is that living, James?"
"You should hate the Scourge, miss," he replied.
"I do," she said. "And I hate him, for he is out there." She pointed with a gloved hand into the evening, towards the shadowy figures and the cookfires. "And yet, I still love him, for he found the strength to let me go instead of chaining me to servitude. Is that not love, James?"
"I-what?" James asked. "You mean you- he's- A Death Knight?"
"Yes," the figure replied. "It would have saddened me once, but I still feel love, and hatred. And now here we are, on opposite sides of the wall."
"He-Who are you, anyway?" James asked. His spear dipped.
"I was called Nancy, once," came the soft reply. "And I am again. If one feels love and hatred, are they still alive?"
"Well..." James started. "Yes. Yes, I can feel both, and I'm alive."
There was a moment of silence from the figure, then the barest of whispers in James' ear.
"Were, James. It's better this way."
The smell of decay was nearly overpowering. Formaldehyde, rot, mold, and-dark bread?
The sentry slumped to the ground as the figure removed the dagger pressed into his kidneys. The Forsaken looked across the gulf and the darkness, seeing the dark figure in plate raise his hand.
"I am dead, and I am alive," whispered Nancy as she raised her hand in return. "And I hate you for dying, and I love you for freeing me."
She had disappeared from the wall before the smoke bomb had touched the battlement, but few noticed over the screams of mounts and men as the angry dead flew in on wings of bone.
"That will come to two silvers, four copper."
Stormwind was busier on sunny days, especially in the restaurant district. Anyone and everyone needed to eat, and for those who didn't cook, a fowl pie or a sausage-inna-bun was an acceptable pick-me-up - even better if one could sit outside on the canal's edge and enjoy the day with their favorite company. Still others had to get their supplies to cook their own meals for the day, and the dickering on prices could get a little...heated.
So it was between a man robed in scarlet and black, and a tired baker who looked as if he should have been felling trees in the Grizzly Hills with but one punch. The baker held a box with what looked to be a dozen sweet rolls. The man in scarlet and black had a knife, and a book. He was very agitated.
"Do you know who I am?" the man in scarlet and black thundered. "I wield the very forces of darkness! I consort with demons! I could swallow your soul!"
The baker responded with a tired sigh. "And you're going to prove it," he responded, "Aren't you?
"Look," the baker said, leaning in a bit further, "I've seen your type. You're a silver for a baker's dozen in these parts. You're wasting your time and mine, your energy and mine, and I have much more to waste of both than you do. So I will give these to you for two silvers, so that I may go back to helping others enjoy their day, and you may gorge on sweet rolls in the alleyway behind the Slaughtered Lamb."
"Wh-Why you-" the man in scarlet and black sputtered. "I will have your soul for this!"
"I guarantee," replied the baker, "That you won't want it."
Alas, the man in scarlet and black would have none of it. He was already chanting in a guttural, broken tongue that caused passers-by to stop and look at him. A trio of patrolmen stopped well out of accosting range, and, once they saw whom was in accosting range, began to whisper amongst themselves. As if bidden by an unconscious directive, a circle of people formed around the two at a respectful distance. The baker's tray of fowl pies cooling on the sill vanished.
With a slash of his dagger, the man in scarlet and black had opened his palm and flicked the blood welling upon it onto the cobblestones, where it was eaten b a growing circle of sickly green magic. It continued to grow until a portal was big enough for a demon to step through - a large, bright red Doomguard who blinked in the gentle yellow sunlight, then roared its defiance to the baker that stood before him.
Or, it did. There was a flash of sunlight against metal, and a cleaver found its way into the maw of the beast. The roar was cut off with a choked sound, and it fell to the ground with a crash. Almost instantly, it began to dissolve.
The baker waved over the trio of patrolmen, two of whom were handing off small pouches of coin to the third, whom led the trio with a satisfied grin.
"There's always someone more dangerous, lad," said the baker as he stepped forward. His fist lashed out, and clocked the budding warlock right on the temple.
The man in scarlet and black dropped like a sack of potatoes. The baker knelt to withdraw two silvers and four coppers from the warlock's belt pouch, and left the box next to the unconscious man.
"Good afternoon, Baker!" called the lead patrolman. "Another one today? How many is that this week?"
"Six," said the baker as he retrieved his cleaver, which was now alone on blank ground. "Something about the sweet rolls. You three should take them as thanks for a job well done."
No further bidding was needed, and the young man in scarlet and black was trussed up and taken away on charges of disturbing the peace.
Colonel Orill made a mark on a chalkboard next to the door of his establishment, and went back inside to pull another tray of fowl pies from the oven.
"So what I figure is, we stay here in the back and make nice, wait for the two lovebirds to get hitched, and then we step forward and unveil Professor Macgillycuddy's Prestigious Photo Pops!"
"That's a stupid name."
"Might be, but it's a plan destined for greatness."
"It cannot fail, Rabbit. They'll see they can pose up, all pretty, an' we get paid an' bring the pops back in six to eight weeks!"
"You expect those two lovebirds to shell out their hard-earned golds for pops they'll never see?"
"Well, when you put it that way, Rabbit, no I do not."
"That's what I-"
"I expect them to shell out their parents' hard-earned golds, Rabbit."
"An' why is that, Badge?"
"Because they're gettin' married, Rabbit. Everyone expects the blushin' bride an' nervous groom to be irresponsible in this day and age."
(This is a conversation between my Worgen prot warrior, Boyd Macnormelton, and his cheeky rogue partner-in-crime, Ilva Swift. They're the 'Team Rocket' of Azeroth, I swear.)
Electrons in Flight
There was something about the Farseer that the Exarch just couldn't shake.
At first, it was duty. He was asked by a very nice man to ensure that the Farseer, whom was well-known for her preference to avoid everyone and anything that may have looked like civilization, was well fed. Ortuuze may have been out of shape, but his sense of duty was still strong - and besides, he had been told that the Farseer cooked an excellent Mudfish.
When he saw the Farseer - lithe, but fierce, powerful in every way, yet serene when the herbs flew into the fire and the mists obscured her sight for everything but the Seeing - he knew she was beautiful in this, and he resolved to be as charming as he could.
This, it turned out, was to be sub-optimal. His first attempt at courting - the request for a kiss in exchange for a delivery of food - ended in the Exarch quite literally falling off a mountain when her electric temper manifested in the form of an arc from her fingertips to his very shiny - and conductive - plate armor.
It was then that he knew there was a spark there, and he would endeavor to pursue it.
Over the months, it was clear that this attraction was good for his body and soul. He had let himself go, Ortuuze had, by garrisoning Shattrath. Lean muscle had turned to flab, but this Farseer's preference for remote places had leaned him once more into an Exarch worthy of the name. He was fed in his favorite dish, the Mudfish, and she sampled from the finest confections that Stormwind had to offer. Her outright hatred of him cooled to antagonism, then dislike, then...something else.
"Why do you continue to come to these places?" she asked, one day, after he had barreled through a thick underbrush in Un'Goro crater, then scaled a cliffside to find her.
"It is simple, Farseer," he replied. "The Naaru have a plan for everything, and they have told me that nothing in this life is worth having unless one works very hard for it.
"And for you, I work hardest of all."
The Frozen Throne.
The sound of ice crunching underneath plated boots was lost in the freezing wind - not something that Eredis precisely noticed, as his own armor was covered in frost, and, well, he was dead. Temperature doesn't matter as much when one is dead.
There was little, if anything, that was left in the Citadel. Cleanup operations had gone according to plan and with minimal losses. After Tirion's victory at the summit - of which Eredis had not been a part, having been on SKYCAP at the time - the Scourge were easy pickings. He made more from the reselling of the treasures and scrolls his mercenary squad had brought back than he spent hiring them in the first place. And then, one day, everyone agreed to get the hell out of Icecrown and stay out. Only the Ebon Blade would redirect their Knights to stay behind to man the ramparts against the reduced Scourge who wandered the wastes, or stood by in icy stasis, waiting for...something.
The reason was something that every Knight instinctively knew: The Scourge were never a passive force unless directed. So they watched the passes, bottled the Glacier in, and waited. Tirion knew why. Mograine knew why. And now a beleagured Colonel of one of the few remaining Ebon Blade units left to ensure the world remembered they existed knew why.
There must always be a Lich King, and a Lich King there was. Eredis could see him ensconced in the Throne, his eyes burning with the same unholy light that powered those of the Ebon Blade. Burned beyond recognition and covered in ice, but Eredis had an idea or two of whom was entombed, and so the Death Knight could do the only thing that came naturally.
As the snow whirled around the Frozen Throne, Eredis bowed his head before Bolvar Fordragon, Jailor of the Damned, and knelt in silence.
Long moments passed. They stretched into seconds, then to minutes, then to hours. Powder began to well up against Eredis as he knelt, standing a vigil of the evening in honor of a man that had sacrificed much for the world he had lived in, and continued to sacrifice in order to maintain that world's zest for life - by holding in check the force that could, and would, destroy it.
It would not be until the sun rose again over the jagged peaks of the Glacier that Eredis would rise from where he knelt, breaking himself out of the ice and snow to stand before the Frozen Throne once again.
Eredis turned and left without a word. There was nothing in the Citadel for him, and upon the discover he had made - well, he had completed the task that had brought him to the Throne itself.