By Death Be Purged The Unnamed Sequel (( Part One Posted ))
- - by Kormok
The Escape of Malek'jinEdit
Drip. Drip. Drip.
In the impenetrable darkness of the cold, dank cell, he sat silently on his haunches. Were the blackness pierced by illumination even the tiniest bit, one would see his bright green, bristly hair standing straight out from its roots. Long tusks, yellowed with age, sprouted from the corners of his mouth, and a scruffy beard had begun to sprout around them, tracing an itchy path across his chin and neck.
Malek'jin continued to remain still and silent, listening to the sounds of the dungeons. There was far more to hear than just the dripping of the water, or the occasional stomping of a guard near his door. He had been listening to the other sounds, the voices of the spirits, which were alive and well even in a place like this. They could not hear him, of course, unless they somehow saw him as anything other than a curiosity, so he spent most of his time in complete silence.
The troll was filthy. They let him out only rarely, never removing his chains or giving him the decency of more than just a loincloth, but the Darkspear did not mind. There was little more to his existence than the intermittent periods where he was allowed to eat cold bread and hard cheese, being shunned even by the other prisoners. Despite all of this, Malek'jin never lost his knowing smirk, the expression on his face that told everyone around him that all was right with his world.
Heavy booted feet approached from outside the cell door, and there was the jingle of metal. Wiggling his long, pointed ears, Malek'jin kept his eyes closed against the inevitable brightness that would soon invade. The door was pushed open slowly, and a lambent orange glow intruded on the troll's midnight universe. Slowly peeling back his eyelids, a mild stabbing pain affected his two black orbs, and he blinked in the light of the lantern.
"On your feet, troll," came a voice from someone who was not used to being ignored.
Slowly, the old Darkspear rose to his feet, joints groaning and popping in protest. Dirty and aching, he shuffled towards the door as his eyes acclimated themselves to the relative brightness, focusing in on the features of the humans standing in front of him. They were all armored to a greater or lesser degree, and two of the three had heavy cudgels in hand. The third was portly and wheezing as he stood there, thinning greasy hair atop a warty head.
"Time for breakfast, creature," the man said with unmasked disdain. "Bring him to the cook line, and make sure the others get their food before he does."
Breakfast was a sorry affair, consisting of a dry hunk of brown bread and a clay cup of water. The troll was kept chained as he ate, the ends held by two brawny oafs that watched every slow, ponderous move he made. Malek'jin ignored the stares and insults of the other prisoners as he sat in the corner of the room, paying close attention to every crumb that escaped his consumption.
Malek'jin was returned to his cell some time after, shoved rather rudely inside as the door was slammed behind him, the noise amplified in the tiny confines of his small world. The troll had not broken his smile the entire time, and comfortably resumed his place leaning against the cool stone wall, crouching down and listening to the sounds beyond sound once more.
He was disturbed by the awareness of his door being opened once more, and he instinctively shielded his eyes with one of his slender chained arms. A broad yet squat shape, silhouetted against the lantern light outside, stood imposingly in the doorway. In one hand was a guard's cudgel, and in the other was a ring of keys.
"Be dis anudda round at da post?" the troll asked skeptically, the bruises from his last unprovoked beating still sore on his chest and shoulders.
The dwarf grasped the end of the chains and fumbled for the lock, jamming one of the keys inside and twisting hastily. Malek'jin's eyes finally adjusted to the light again, and he saw a long, braided orange beard attached to the figure's face.
"Come on," Smitty said. "We're gettin' you out of here."
Selonius Frees AdamirandaEdit
"Look at the animal! You sure got her riled up!" one of the men taunted, rattling the bars of the cage with a branch.
The night elf threw herself against the bars once more, doing nothing except to injure her shoulder further and draw raucous laughter from the assembled troops. They had caged her, humiliated her, and stripped her of all but the barest clothing. Many of the filthy humans gawked at her features; the long slender legs, the tight muscular abdomen, and her tangled platinum hair. Twigs and leaves clung to her indigo skin in the morning dew, and she shivered from both chill and anger.
"Release me!" she screamed, her voice echoing a primal rage.
Her voice brought a sarcastic stream of comments from the humans. "So the animal speaks!" their leader shouted, jabbing the stick through the bars to prod the elf in the belly. "Say some more for us, pretty lady."
"This treachery will not go unpunished! How dare you imprison me for protecting this grove!" Her face was a mask of fury, silver eyes shining brightly as her emotions raged. "How dare you treat me like this!"
The man gestured back towards the dozen or so animal carcasses that were hung from the branch of an oak not a dozen yards from where they stood. Foxes, deer, and bears were slain and being bled onto the forest floor. "Are you kidding? These furs will fetch everyone here quite a price. They're just creatures, much like yourself."
A low growl came from her throat, a sound belonging to nothing that should stand on two legs. The night elf bared her teeth, which began to elongate and sharpen as they watched, and her skin became a coat of fine dark fur. Before their eyes, she transformed from lithe and beautiful night elf to savage panther, a shock of platinum fur on her head and neck. The beast clawed and snarled at them, lashing her tail back and forth angrily as she paced in the confines of her prison.
Hooting and whistling, the taunting grew to new heights as the soldiers gathered around the cage and shook it back and forth. The panther's fur stood straight on end as she hissed and roared, swiping at any hands that got too close. Her elongated ears flattened as she heard the whisk of leather and steel, and the men began to use their swords to prod at her. Cuts and scratches soon covered her body, and she huddled in the center of the cage miserably.
"Come on," the leader said, backing away. "Let's get these beasts cleaned and skinned so we can head back to the camp." He turned to face the carcasses with a satisfied, egotistical grin on his face, and was caught completely unawares by a blast of light that sent him to the dirt. The men whirled with their swords still drawn, surprise turning to anger as they caught sight of a lone figure.
"I expected better of Alliance soldiers," he said, glowering out from beneath thick brown eyebrows. The man was girded in steel plate armor, simple in its design but undeniably sturdy. A simple gray cloak was fastened around his neck, and he balanced a heavy wood and iron mallet in his gauntleted hands. "The rest of you can lay down your swords now or face my hammer."
"What's this?" another one of the soldiers sneered. "Who the hell are you?"
"I am he who comes wherever justice calls."
There was an outburst of laughter among the soldiers, who advanced on the armored warrior in their path. The battle was short, and ten Alliance troops lay unconscious or otherwise incapacitated on the grass but a few moments later. Striding over to the cage, the human lifted his hammer once again and brought it down heavily onto the lock, snapping the door open. He dropped the head of the mallet to the moist earth and leaned on the shaft, bowing his head to the panther inside.
"You are free now, lady elf. I am Selonius Elecrion, fifth son of oof!"
Selonius found himself on his back, a three hundred pound cat perched on his chest and snarling in his face. Massive fangs were bared just inches from the paladin's nose, and he kept his arms out in as non-threatening of a manner as possible. "Alright," he said with no small degree of resignation. "I understand your hostility."
Slowly her weight eased off of him, but not from moving. The panther shrank visibly, fur retracting into her smooth skin and claws shifting back into slender hands. Her platinum hair dangled down past his face as she stared at him with a predatory gaze, yet he did not remove his eyes from hers. "You humans are all the same, hiding beneath your veneer of righteousness. This is how you treat the Kaldorei after we saved your world at such cost to ourselves?"
"If you feel it necessary to extinguish my life in vengeance for your imprisonment, then I humbly offer it to you," Selonius said with utmost conviction, closing his eyes and laying his head back on the cool grass.
She raised her hand and started to call upon the change again, but stared down at his peaceful face and faltered. He was handsome, for a human, and kept a beard streaked with silver trimmed neatly to his face. Laugh lines could be seen around his eyes, though it appeared he had not laughed in some time. His hair was worn long in the style of old knights, graying around the temples and lending him a very distinguished look. The human smelled of leather and steel, unlike the vile stink of sweat coming from the others that had caged her.
Slowly, she calmed her emotions and shoved herself off of his prone body, coming to her feet and shivering in the cold morning of Elwynn Forest. The paladin rose from the grass and removed his wool cloak, putting it around her athletically muscled shoulders. As he did so, he called upon a measure of inner strength, and the small wounds on her body sealed themselves shut. He noted with some mild embarassment that she was a good four inches taller than he was, and the hem of the cloak barely came past her knees. She was statuesque, and he found himself staring at her mane of luxurious, luminous hair.
"Forgive the meager shield against the chill I have given you," Selonius apologized, averting his eyes from her mostly naked form. A sudden thought darkened his features, and he scowled down at the unconscious bodies of the soldiers. "They didn't... ravish you, did they?"
"What would you care?" she snapped.
He turned back to her and stared hard enough into her eyes to make her flinch a bit. "There are some crimes worthy of far worse punishments than they will be given."
The Kaldorei stared at him for a long time before responding. "No," she said quietly. "They did not."
Seeming to be relieved of a great burden, the paladin smiled ever so slightly and bent to gather up his hammer from the earth. Hefting its weight over his shoulder, he lifted his face to the rising sun and allowed its light to warm him. "I will retrieve the captain from the town and ensure these men are properly punished for their injustice. For what it is worth, you have my sincerest apologies for their behavior."
He looked back over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow. "Forgive me, I do not understand your people's tongue."
"My name is Adamiranda," she repeated.
Selonius and Adamiranda Arrive in Stormwind CityEdit
It was past noon when the area was finally cleared of the mess from the early morning incident. The soliders had been chained and led off towards the small settlement not far from where Selonius and Adamiranda stood in the warming daylight.
He had retrieved for her some more suitable clothes, but as he suspected, they did not fit her quite right. Baggy wool pants were belted around her slender waist, and the tunic he had found for her was a bit too big across the shoulders. The only thing that seemed to fit her correctly were the boots, soft leather laced up along the outside of the leg.
"May as well keep the cloak," Selonius said, his back turned to her as he looked out across the hillside, the tall grasses and golden-leafed branches swaying in the gentle autumn breeze.
Adamiranda fidgeted in the uncomfortable clothing, shrugging slightly to shift the wool cloak from irritating the skin of her neck. She gritted her teeth as she glared at the paladin's back, a mixture of resentment, anger, and gratitude turning her thoughts in a swirling maelstrom. Adamiranda had never trusted humans, not since Hyjal, and this one caused her great confusion.
Feeling the eyes boring into his back, Selonius came about and returned the night elf's gaze, though with a far more gentle undertone. "If there is nothing further you require of me, I will be returning to Stormwind. It isn't more than an hour's walk from here, if you wished to come with me."
"There is nothing there that I need," she growled.
Selonius bowed his head slightly, smiling. "Then perhaps you will come with me, for the company?"
Adamiranda narrowed her eyes. "If you think I am going to give you something for breaking me out of that cage, you had best reconsider." She clenched her fists and bristled.
The paladin's smile fell and he shook his head sadly. "I am sorry that your exposure to my people has been so treacherous that you see hidden motives in my request. I ask nothing except someone to walk with, and if you fear me requesting your body in exchange for your freedom, you need not worry. I am chaste." He turned away from her once more and shifted the weight of his mallet slightly as it hung from a simple harness on his back.
She was silent for what seemed like an eternity before replying with a quiet, "Very well."
Selonius nodded slowly, then started off along the path. Adamiranda trotted up beside him, putting a firm distance between herself and the human, and matched his pace easily. They walked together through the midday forest in silence, the sounds of the wind and the warmth of the sun calming the night elf's taut nerves. Adamiranda would occasionally glance over to the paladin, his face a mask of peace as he walked.
"Why do you not have a horse to carry you about?" she found herself asking.
"Horse? I do not need a horse to carry me from place to place. My feet do just fine."
The druid raised a thin, long eyebrow. "Not something I expected to hear from a human."
Selonius shrugged. "I do not concern myself with things of luxury. My life is simple, as it should be. Too many drown themselves in the trappings of wealth and arrogance, with their gleaming armor, gem-encrusted swords, and sacks of gold. A paladin should live in service to others, not to himself."
Still skeptical, she probed further. "Why are none of your brethren of like mind?"
"I cannot say for certain, lady elf. The old ways are just that; old. Many do not feel they have any practicality anymore." Selonius shrugged, and his face seemed overcome with sadness for a moment before he regained his composure. "Such is the way time marches."
Adamiranda rolled her eyes. "You wouldn't know anything about time."
He finally glanced to her. "I don't suppose so, not in your eyes. But as you are well aware, we humans see things far differently."
"I need no reminder of that."
Thinking better of carrying the conversation further, Selonius attempted to steer it in a different direction. "So what brings you to Elwynn?"
She wrenched her eyes from his face and stared out onto the trail ahead. "The land is still healing all over the world, not just in Kalimdor. Even your wilderness needs tending, and I am one of many sent to see it done."
Selonius nodded in approval. "You are a champion of a noble cause."
Adamiranda bit back a retort. The human walking beside her had shown her nothing but patience and kindness so far, and she began to feel a little guilty for speaking to him so harshly. She sighed, a sound like a whispering breeze. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome, lady elf."
They walked on in silence, eventually emerging onto the main road. Selonius smiled broadly and gestured to his left, Adamiranda following the movement to behold a great wall of shining stone, and an archway beneath which milled numerous people of all races and walks of life. Royal azure pennants rippled in the winds, embroidered with the golden seal of the Alliance.
"Stormwind City," the paladin announced.
The Attempted Escape of Malek'jin and SmittyEdit
"Get your foot out of my face!"
Malek'jin dangled uneasily from the top rung of the greasy iron ladder, covered with the filth of the sewer through which they had crept. The sounds of any pursuit had yet to make themselves present, so the two continued their escape with only a mild sense of urgency.
"Sorry, mon." The troll gripped the ladder tightly with his grubby blue toes. Smitty grunted and clambered his way up the last few rungs, muttering about things built to human size.
"Push the grate up, go on," the dwarf urged, his shoulders sore under the strain of climbing and the weight of his gear. Malek'jin responded by pushing the iron bars up as gently as he could, peeking his head out into the empty street. He nimbly scampered into the cobblestone alleyway and helped Smitty up through the hole before gently placing the grate back over the sewer entrance.
"Now what joo tinkin'? We stroll outta da front gate?" Smitty grumbled and unshouldered his heavy pack, stuffing his hands inside and rifling around until he withdrew a folded bundle of cloth. He tossed it at Malek'jin, who unfurled it to reveal the bundle as a simple wool robe. "Joo kiddin' me."
"It's only fifty yards to the canal, then we swim out." The dwarf tightened the straps on his pack before heaving it up and onto his back once more. "Besides, you could use a bath."
Malek'jin frowned and pulled the robe over his head, cloaking himself as best he could. It was a short walk down the empty road to the edge of the canal, the water flowing steadily out of the city. Smitty took a final, cursory glance around before grabbing the troll's arm and pushing him into the canal. Malek'jin was submerged with a gurgle, paddling up to the surface and scowling at Smitty, who clambered down the slippery rock face and lowered himself into the water.
"Now go, I can't stay afloat forever with all this stuff," the dwarf said, feeling the contents of his pack quickly become soaked and heavy. Staying close to the canal wall, the two escapees let the current carry them away from the heart of the city.
They made it only halfway to the outflow grate before the alarm was raised.
Selonius and Adamiranda see Malek'jin and Smitty EscapeEdit
Adamiranda nodded, still uncomfortable with the increasing number of stares she received as the two of them walked down the main street of Stormwind's trade district. The air was alive with the calls of the town crier, the mumuring of the crowds, and the scent of fresh-baked bread wafting through the streets and mingling with the aroma of smoked pork drifting out of the kitchens of one of the inns.
"I've heard rumors of the night elves' new home," Selonius continued, scratching his cheek. "I have been told it is a magnificient place."
She shrugged, her slender shoulders rising and falling with no small degree of uncertainty. "I suppose." Sensing yet another potentially difficult conversation, Selonius fell silent, returning his eyes to the road ahead of them.
"So you will return to the wilderness then? Continue your work?"
Adamiranda nodded slowly, avoiding the roaming eyes of the citizens by fixing her attention on Selonius. "There is still much to be done here, and I am not prepared to return home just yet." The night elf stretched out her arms a bit, as though the weight of her responsibility had just become more noticable. "Do your people always stare this much?"
Selonius looked apologetic, his face flushed. "I'm afraid not many night elves come out this way. Most people aren't even sure you exist, despite the stories brought back from the war."
The druid arched one of her long eyebrows at him, lambent silver orbs peering at him as though searching for something. "Did you battle with the human forces on Kalimdor?"
"Nay," he said. "I was here, on the front against the Scourge in the north." Selonius's voice seemed to waver a bit at the unbidden arising of dark memories, and he shook his head to clear them. There seemed to be some sort of gaggle in the street ahead, and he focused his vision on the throng. "I wonder what the problem is there?"
"Judging by the shouting, I would think it is a fight. Do you humans do anything other than war?" Adamiranda asked sourly. Selonius sighed, striding forward towards the circle of men and women and pushing his way through as best he could. The night elf crossed her arms and watched, disdain cascading over her features.
Within the circle was a cadre of guards ringing two figures, one of which was clearly dwarven. His orange beard, despite its elaborate braid, hung loose and soaking from his chin. Much of the rest of him appeared to be drenched as well, and he stood with his calloused fists raised as the guards circled him. The second figure was significantly taller, yet hunched, its features cloaked in a saturated robe except for two long tusks emerging from beneath the hood. Throughout the crowd was whispered the word, "Troll!", as the guards circled the two with their swords drawn, the edges gleaming in the afternoon sunlight.
"What is going on here?" Selonius inquired, stepping into the circle calmly, his hands anywhere but the grip of his hammer.
One of the guards raised a palm to him, never taking his eyes from the troll. "Stay back, citizen!" he ordered.
The dwarf fixed his fierce eyes on Selonius. "Don't worry, lad, this is just a small dispute over the location of my friend here. I'll deal with you too if you like."
"Don't joo be pissin' off anudda, mon!" the troll hissed.
The paladin raised an eyebrow, still carrying himself in a leisurely stance. "I'm sure we can come to a reasonable agreement here, master dwarf."
"Sorry, lad. Too late for reason now." Faster than Selonius expected, the dwarf charged one of the guards with his head low, impacting the breastplate and hurling the man back a good few feet into the crowd. There was screaming from the citizenry as the troll grasped the front of the robe and tore it from his body, coming up to his full height and growling menacingly. Even the guards backed up instinctively, giving the creature enough time to spin and follow the dwarf into the streets.
"Don't let them get away!" one of the still-conscious guards commanded, and Selonius unslung his hammer from its harness on his back. He emerged from the scattering multitude and saw the two escapees tearing into an alley, then turned to look for Adamiranda. Concern washed over him when he saw she was nowhere to be found, but he steeled himself and set off in pursuit of the two apparent criminals.
The Scourge WarriorEdit
A chill wind blew across the field, the baskets of once-succulent gr-apes tipped over and their contents turned into blackened and dead husks of fruit. From the home came the clatter of the shutters blowing free in the gust, slamming against the wood and stone of the small farmhouse. The only other movement was the rustle of the dying leaves, their edges turning brown and brittle in the presence of the unmoving figure standing amidst the creeping death.
Iron armor girded the still shape, the wind lifting a tattered gray cloak into the air and seeming to gnash and tear at the remaining battered threads. The mail beneath the armor was split and loose, revealing nothing beneath it but the cold, bleached bones of the suit's former owner. Slowly, the figure raised its helmeted countenance to the darkening sky, empty sockets peering up into the purplish clouds with no appreciation for their beauty. The eyes saw only death.
The undead warrior turned, the creaking of its fleshless limbs amplified in the confines of its armor, the tip of the rusting sword with the shining crystal pommel it carried dragging in the earth. Its head lolled as it peered into the dark entranceway of the farmhouse, where new noises began to filter through the breeze. It was a gnawing sound, like the jaws of a hound chewing upon the remnants of its master's meal. The warrior clenched its gauntleted hand and banged its breastplate with the fist, and in answer several creatures emerged from the home. Their skin was leathery and gray, parted in places to reveal withered organs and protruding bones. Faces twisted and warped by undeath gave rapt attention to their armored leader, massive maws of pointed teeth still glistening and red from their feast. They stood on two legs, but hardly upright, dangling unnaturally long arms stained crimson from the claws to the elbows.
The man and his wife knew nothing, and were fodder for the ghouls. The boy, however, knew much of what the warrior wished to know. He pleaded with them and told them what they wanted to hear, but for his attempt to save his life the boy received only the fangs and claws of the undead, a delectable main course for their gruesome banquet. In its dim intelligence, the warrior relished the lad's screams as he was eaten alive.
Shambling away from the farm, the pack of undead headed for their next destination. The nigh-mindless ghouls followed the warrior instinctively, more of them emerging from the thickets surrounding the farm and falling in line behind it, a morbid entourage of Scourge monstrosities. As it walked, the armored figure fell within its own thoughts, however base and vague they were, heedless of the grass and flowers and brush as it wilted and drooped by its passing.
You know what you must do, came the whisper in its frail mind.
Not comprehending, it simply hissed in acknowledgment and pressed onward through the approaching night. Not far now, it knew. It brought its sword up to its face, staring at the tarnished engravings on the hilt with little recognition of the weapon's significance other than as an instrument of death. In the meager light that remaining of the retreating day, the crystal pommel gleamed once again.
Do not fail me.
Malek'jin and the Smitty on the RunEdit
"Shh! Joo not a quiet mon, is ya?"
Smitty grumbled and clattered his way out of the outflow grate. They were both filthy and tired, but at least the sound of the guards was fading away into the streets. The current of the water nearly knocked the dwarf from his feet, but he managed to wade to the shore and pull himself onto the muddy ground. "My beard is ruined," he said despondently as the cold water and sticky wet earth dripped from the orange braid.
"Joo grow anudda one," Malek'jin assured. "Now dat we be outside, what be da plan?"
The dwarf grumbled and pulled himself to his feet, wiping his hands on his leggings. "I stopped by the hill on the way here, left a bundle of supplies and food. From there, it's all up the the winds of fate, eh?"
The troll scratched his cheek around his brittle yellow tusk and sniffed. "Tank joo, mon."
"Eh," was all Smitty said, tipping to one side to allow his backpack to drain out somewhat. "Just don't be makin' a habit of gettin' caught."
As the two escapees slogged their way through the shadow of the city wall, a third figure emerged from the outflow grate and crept along behind them, its dark-furred body blending perfectly with the darkness cast by the stone bulwark. Long ears lay flat along its head as the feline creature slinked in silent pursuit.
It was a short run from the edge of the city wall to the treeline, and the two reached it safely and without further notice from the guards patrolling the walk. Smitty leaned up against one of the ancient oaks and sighed, a sound filled with both fatigue and relief. "Give me a moment," he asked, wringing his hands as they shook from the chill of the water that soaked him still.
Malek'jin nodded and crouched down, sniffing the air with his long pointed nose. "Is good to be free, mon. Good indeed, ya?"
The dwarf turned away. "I couldn't just leave you in there. You did..." he trailed off, clearing his throat to reaffirm his gruff demeanor. "You did much for my lad and lass. I owed it to you." Smitty crossed his brawny arms, large muscles bulging with the effort. "Besides, it was one last way to stick it to the ones that couldn't see the truth."
Shrugging and assuming his usual grin, Malek'jin chortled. "Dat be da way of tings. I be tinkin' da same ting happen to joo if joo caught by da Horde. 'Cept dey prolly not leavin' joo alive." The troll scratched his head vigorously, drops of grimy water spraying about. "No biggie. Dey gives me da food and da quiet, and I listened to da spirits. Dey gots much ta say, da ghosts of joor city."
"Da spirits, mon. Dey talk about old tings, secrets and stuff. Da hoomans be more tricksy wit demselves den wit us."
Smitty grumbled. "I never claimed to know a great deal about them. Elias and Fiona were some of the only ones I ever came to fully understand."
"And even den, joo had da doubts, ya?" Malek'jin observed with a raised eyebrow.
"I beg your pardon?" Smitty replied with an air of tension.
The troll raised his hands in mock-defense, shaking his head. "Joo neva be tinkin' dey could still be jammin' togetha after what happen. I see dis. Dey feelins be stronga den death."
"I see that now," he admitted, pushing himself off of the tree and starting through the woods again. Malek'jin hopped to his feet nimbly and strode up alongside the dwarf, and the two walked deeper into the forest towards their destination. "Still," he continued, scratching his dirty beard, "I knew them for years. War does horrible things to people, as you should know." He didn't notice Malek'jin's frown and pained look as he focused his vision ahead. "Never again, troll. Never again will I take part in it."
Malek'jin was silent for a moment as he wrestled down his thoughts. "Joo can't be stoppin' da will of da spirits, mon."
Behind them, hidden in the approaching darkness of night, the snooping feline doubled back and crawled off towards the city.
Selonius and Admiranda Team Up In Pursuirt of Malek'jinEdit
Selonius shivered suddenly, a chill washing over his body as he trudged out of the alleyways and back into the streets of Stormwind. Disheartened and out of breath from his fruitless chase, the paladin emerged onto the same stretch of road where his exhausting run had began. The crowd had since dissipated, but the steel-clad city guard were still combing the streets for any sign of the escaped dwarf and troll. He scanned the cobbled walk for sign of Adamiranda, who he had so callously abandoned in his flight. There was no one where she had been standing, and he sighed heavily.
The sky darkened as the bright autumn sun began to retreat towards its nightly slumber, and Selonius used what time remained of the daylight to ask the guards for any information regarding both the escapees and the elf woman. There seemed no evidence of either, and the paladin sullenly returned to the main gate of the city, cursing himself for his inability to find both the fleeing duo and Adamiranda.
His armor creaked as he leaned against the base of one of the monolithic marble statues along the great stone bridge, the sound of the wind in the trees and the occasional voice carried on the air as his only companions. The sweet scent of pine drifted through the Valley of Heroes, bringing only small comfort to the man as he wrestled with his dual failure.
"Selonius," came a terse voice behind him, and he whirled about to see Adamiranda stepping out of the shadow of the statue. As she moved it appeared as though she were rising from the ground, her posture straightening with each step.
"Lady elf, forgive me," he said, each syllable carrying a deeply apologetic tone. The paladin lowered his head and bowed slightly, his gray-streaked hair covering his face. "It was wrong of me to leave you alone in a strange city, and there is no excuse for--"
"Now is not the time, nor does it matter," she cut him off. "Your prey escapes to the south. If you wish to catch them, you must hurry."
Selonius raised his eyes to meet hers. "Truly? They are beyond the city wall already?"
Adamiranda nodded once, quickly. "I admit I am not very familiar with your area, but is there not a road that way? On the other side of the woods, up into the hills?"
"There is. I am deeply indebted to you, lady Adamiranda." The paladin bowed once more, mail and plate making his movement sound like the arranging of metal dishware. "I must set off at once to find them before anyone else is harmed." He pursed his lips for a moment as she regarded him with a mixture of curiosity and misunderstanding. "I regret leaving you once more, but they must be found and the truth must be discovered."
She shook her head and rolled her eyes. "You humans are all alike, rushing off into things."
"I cannot afford not to, I'm afraid."
"You won't find where they are going. They move swift and silent, and by the time you approach they will hear you in all that armor." At his defeated sigh, she frowned. "I am willing to help you find them."
"You are?" he asked incredulously. "Why?"
She turned from him and faced the road and the red and golden-leafed trees beyond, their branches swaying in the breeze. A delicate hand came to her temple and brushed back her streaming platinum mane from her face. "I still owe you for breaking me from the cage," she whispered almost inaudibly.
Selonius couldn't help but smile. "You owe me nothing, but I am in a poor position to decline your aid. Your assistance is most welcome, lady Adamiranda."
She grunted and took a step forward. "And stop calling me that. My name is just Adamiranda." Before he could respond, she crouched and shifted forms, her body turning from statuesque night elf to lean panther. The paladin watched in silent awe as she turned her feline head to face him, blinked her large silver eyes, and moved off towards the city's entrance. Selonius scratched his chin and followed.
The voice was tiny and meek, but shattered the silence of the cellar as surely as a hammer on glass. She winced as she realized how loud she had been, fear bursting anew in her chest and weighing her stomach down with its heavy presence. Something with tiny, long legs crawled onto her bare foot, but she dared not let out another noise. There was still movement above her, still noise revealing the presence of the monsters that had forced their way into the house and began tearing everything apart.
Then there were the screams, the blood-curdling shrieks of the mortified citizens as they were torn apart. Her mother ushered her into the cellar, closing the heavy wooden trapdoor and shuttering the girl in the dark confines beneath the house. The barrier was not enough to stop cries of terror from reaching her ears. Nothing compared to the fear she experienced at that moment.
It would seem that monsters were real indeed, and they were more terrifying than any imagined bogeyman lurking beneath the bed or in the shadows of the cellar.
Clarissa sat alone in the cavernous expanse of the ziggurat, the damp black stone reflecting the green and purple flames burning in the iron censers, fire that provided no comforting heat. The strange lights danced across the sloped ceilings and floor, moist and glistening from condensation. Sitting on her knees on the smooth obsidian throne, Clarissa kept her eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to the chill of the stone. Her skin was cold and pale, wispy blonde hair hanging limp and dirty from her head. She was dressed in a simple white cotton shift that came down past her knobby knees, and her feet were bare and filthy.
They had found her and dragged her screaming out of the cellar and into the streets of Lordaeron. Their claws tore at her hair and skin, and they left her in the road bleeding and terrified. There was nowhere to run as the walking dead, some fleshless and some not, ringed her entirely. While more of the monsters continued their rampage throughout the city, these few did not tear her to shreds, but seemed to be waiting.
The ring parted, undead scampering to the sides, and a nightmare incarnate floated towards her.
She opened her eyes, the pupils dilated and blue irises gleaming. Only to the most highly trained could one tell the difference between a frightened little girl and the undead horror that she had become. Clarissa folded her hands in her lap, stroking the hair of a bedraggled little rag doll that lay there as if it were a baby. No breath escaped her body, for she did not need to breathe. Her eyes were bright not with life, but with cold, malevolent intelligence.
It burned terribly, and she couldn't scream any more. The towering, hovering skeleton clad in rippling, extravagant robes held one claw over her chained body and another towards the burning sky. All around her were the chanting voices of adults, some of which she knew. Mister Miller, heavyset and beetle-browed, was among them, his face painted with swirling symbols and round body covered in a poorly-fitting black robe. Alan Cartwright, the handsome boy from three streets over, was no longer the lad she had a crush on, but a horrible youth whose eyes were glinting from joy at her misery.
Why were they hurting her?
Clarissa grasped the doll firmly and slid off of the throne, her bare feet touching the chill stone ground lightly. Something to her left moved, almost imperceptibly, and a chilling whisper seemed to echo on the edge of her consciousnes. She held up a tiny, thin hand and shook her head, proceeding towards the far end of the chamber where the massive doors stood vigil over the interior of the ziggurat. Their smooth black surfaces were glossy and cold, and while they were inescapably heavy, Clarissa pushed them open with ease. Beyond the threshold was a scene of sorrow and death, the decayed remnants of the fields and farmhouses that once made the countryside display a rustic beauty.
No longer would the fields grow grain, or the homes ring with the laughter of children and families. They were as dead as Clarissa.
She worked furiously, tiny hands moving the heavy needle and wire expertly through the dead flesh of the mass before her. It was a rough addition, but would prove to be a worthy modification to the rotting abomination that lay upon the slab in the Slaughterhouse. Clarissa waved her porcelain-skinned hand over its dead eyes, and the hulking corpse twitched as the necromantic energies in its body were rekindled. It rose from the stone and opened its gap-toothed maw, a hoarse scream resounding through the halls.
It would not be long before her minion returned. There were always new toys to make, new experiments to test, and this one would be the greatest of them all.
Malek'jin and Smitty Meet the ScourgeEdit
"Someting not right here, mon." Malek'jin adjusted his swaying gait slightly, almost imperceptibly, and his footsteps on the leaves and loam fell silent. Smitty worked furiously at untangling a muddy knot in his beard, grumbling and cursing in Dwarvish.
"You're bloody right there isn't. I'll never get my beard to braid right ever again!" he declared indignantly.
"Not dat!" the troll hissed. "Up da road." Malek'jin extended a long, knobby finger to indicate the dusty path not far ahead of them, beyond the treeline. The sky had darkened and the air had grown chill in the last mile, and while not unnatural in the Elwynn autumn, carried with it an ominous shroud that descended over the normally cheerful Malek'jin and chilled his soul. "Dis be bad juju."
Smitty noted the troll's apprehension and raised a bushy orange eyebrow. "Who would be out here? No one has reason to go to the hill." He grumbled and pushed past Malek'jin, rustling the shrubs and branches as he trundled towards the path. The dwarf emerged from the forest and shook his head to clear the leaves that had stuck to him, glowering up the trail towards the peak of the hill. The slant of the landscape prevented him from seeing the top, so he stomped up the slope while muttering to himself.
The hill was just as he left it when he dropped off their supplies, but for the figures standing before a shaded patch of earth. A drooping willow tree extended its lethargic branches over the forest road that wound its way over the top of the hill, and the far-off walls of Stormwind City gleamed in the sunset. Brightly colored flowers had been planted at the base of the willow, around the stone marker that served as memoriam to his departed friends, and they had grown merrily in the shade of the tree up until now.
Petal and stem had been mercilessly crushed under the heavy boots of the largest of the creatures standing in front of the marker. Ringed by a pack of savage, slavering monsters, it knelt to brush aside the ravaged vegetation and read the inscription on the simple stone plaque.
Here Lies Love Eternal
Elias and Fiona Lynne Arandia
What Peace Evaded Them In Life
Now Is Their Companion Forever
If it had flesh upon its bony face to grin, it would be beaming. Smitty paled and dropped his jaw in horror as the armored skeletal warrior brought its sword from beneath the tatters of its cloak, the rays of the setting sun reflecting off of a shining crystal in the pommel of the weapon. It raised the weapon high, pointed downward towards the stone, and leered horribly.
"What in the hell do you think you're doin'?" Smitty roared, grasping the handle of the cudgel stuck in his belt and bringing it to bear. "Scourge monsters!"
The pack of ghouls, roused from the rapture of their leader's ceremony, hissed and shrieked in hatred as they loped across the dusty road towards the dwarf. Their claws groped at the empty air as they came on, and the dwarf dropped into a defensive crouch with both hands on the smooth wood grip of the club. He growled in anger as they reached him, lashing out with his weapon and cracking the jaw of the first ghoul to leap at him, flailing wildly with the cudgel to keep the others at bay. Blood burned with adrenaline's fire as he worked himself into a rage, smashing limbs and skulls with thundering strokes of the simple wooden brand.
"Malek'jin!" he bellowed. "The supplies, behind the tree!"
From his position at the treeline, the troll heard the shout and broke from his hiding place, sprinting across the hill with a speed that belied his age. Those ghouls that could not penetrate Smitty's whirlwind of destruction broke off to intercept Malek'jin, who grinned as he charged straight for them. The first swipe of claws touched only the wind as its swift prey sprang to the side, skidded under the legs of a second, and came up with a fistful of dirt into the face of the third. Having eluded his attackers, Malek'jin reached the tree and quickly found the two backpacks hidden beneath the roots of the willow. His grin widened as he grasped a pair of items tied to the straps of one of the packs.
The troll twirled the daggers in his wrinkled hands, and peered around the tree to where the ghouls were gathering for a second rush. He also saw the skeleton as it raised its weapon once more to plunge into the ground, and his grin fell from his aged face. The sword came down and shattered the stone, burying itself in the earth beneath it.
A shriek of victory emerged from the skeleton's lipless mouth as the crystal began to pulse with scintillating lights. It turned its attention on the troll and started forward, unfurling its fists to reveal long talons growing from the tips of its bony fingers.
Malek'jin sighed and spun the blades over the backs of his hands as his attackers moved towards him. "No one listen to dis troll, no siree. Bad juju."
Selonius shivered again, a chill that was drawn not from the autumn cold, but something dark and sinister. He brushed a strand of his hair away from his eyes and peered off into the trees with no small amount of apprehension. Not far ahead of him, the feline Adamiranda noticed his lack of movement and turned her attention from the trail, fixing her silver eyes on the paladin.
"Something isn't right," he answered to the unspoken question. "There is evil nearby, and it freezes my soul."
The panther nodded, the fading daylight rippling on the platinum shock of fur on her head and neck. She crouched low and slinked onward and ahead of the paladin, the occasional sweep of her long tail the only movement he could discern in the shadows. Selonius allowed her to creep a short distance ahead so that he would not give away her position if they were discovered, and followed along as quietly as he could.
After a while he smiled gently, noting the direction in which they traveled. "The Grave of the Lovers," he whispered to himself. "What could they possibly want there?"
Adamiranda's path cut through the foliage and approached the road. From between the leaves and branches, the dusty path was tinged red from dusk, the sun sinking beneath the western horizon with all the sluggishness of a bear in winter. All seemed tranquil until the breeze carried with it the sounds of struggle, followed by the unearthly shrieks of some malevolent creature.
Shrieking in hatred of all things living, the undead warrior slashed viciously at the air while Malek'jin deftly avoided its swings. The ghouls were upon him then, and the troll lashed out with his keen blades to mutilate the face of the first to reach him. Howling in pain, it dropped to the ground with its hands clutching its head in order to keep the foul ichors inside and skin attached.
Across the path, Smitty roared in fury and smashed the skull of one of his attackers into a pulpy mess. The cudgel whooshed as it soared into the collarbone of another, cracking it in half and sending the ghoul to the dirt. Each swing of the undead was mercilessly countered by the enraged dwarf, and despite being covered in a number of small wounds, he fought with reckless abandon.
The dwarf gritted his teeth as he realized there were far too many for him to defeat. He could not fight at this intensity for much longer, and the ghouls kept coming. Doubt began to flood into his mind, but he pushed it back with the bulwark of his anger and swung one final time. Frail bone and black blood sprayed into the air, another ghoul's skull crushed by the mighty dwarf, but the strike left him terribly vulnerable. Agony seared through his body as filthy talons raked his back, shredding leather and the skin it protected. He grunted and shifted his weight to attack again, but was thwarted as one of the undead leapt onto his back and bore him to the ground.
Malek'jin fared little better as his foes backed him up against the bark of the willow, his strength fading as the undead relentlessly slashed and grasped at the troll. The skeletal warrior lunged again, slicing into Malek'jin's arm with its vicious talons. He yelped and lashed out at his attacker with one of his knives, but it deflected harmlessly off of its rusted, ancient armor.
"Dis not da way I tinkin' I go," he whispered to himself as the warrior braced itself for another savage attack. Behind it, the ghouls whooped and cajoled Malek'jin with their gnashing teeth and mad hooting.
"By the Light!" came a voice, rising above the clamor of battle.
He stood at the treeline, mallet in hand, his eyes hardened into a glare of righteous fury at the sight of the corrupt undead monsters. Brown hair streaked with gray framed a face that had seen too much war and death, but also contained a resolve that gave the ghouls pause. They rose off of the staggered dwarf and backed away from the menacing aura that seemed to cloak the human.
The undead warrior turned its head slightly, and Malek'jin used the opportunity to roll to the side and away from the tree. He hobbled into the road and was stopped by the sight of the human standing before the cowed ghouls, then noticed Smitty bloodied and stumbling to his feet between them.
"You dare to desecrate these lands, so far from where your foul legions scar the world still?" the human demanded. His voice was powerful indeed; it was not a question, it simply demanded an answer. "The righteous power of justice will rain upon you, and bring you to judgment!" With that, he raised the hammer aloft, and his body glowed.
It started as small wisps of luminous smoke from between the battered plates of his armor, rising off of him as mist rises from the trees in the autumn morning. Moments later it enveloped him completely, wreathing the human in a sheen of light that made him both resplendent and terrifying all at once.
"For justice!" he cried, and closed the gap between him and the undead in the blink of an eye. The ghouls scattered before the holy might of the paladin, his mallet resounding with thunder as each strike landed. Those unlucky enough to be injured were consumed as golden flame seared their bodies and extinguished their corrupt unlife.
Rage boiled inside the armored skeleton, and it lurched towards where its sword was plunged into the earth. The crystal shone white, but it was eclipsed as the warrior's gloved fist closed over the hilt and plucked it from the ground. It brought the weapon to bear and shrieked for the remaining ghouls to attack.
An animal roar pierced the din of battle, followed by a black and silver streak that propelled itself through the air and pounced onto one of the ghouls as it charged the paladin. Claws shredded viciously at its prey, the panther rising from the torn carcass and snarling as it sprang to the offensive again.
Malek'jin was at Smitty's side in a second, helping the dwarf to his feet. His face and back were badly wounded, and his tunic was soaked with blood. The troll hobbled with him away from the battle as the thunder of the paladin's hammer and the roar of the panther threatened to deafen them. "Who dese peeps?" Malek'jin asked.
"Not... sure," Smitty uttered in a strangled voice, the pain crippling him.
The paladin's hammer shined with renewed energy as he faced off against the skeletal knight at last. The tendrils of light seemed to reach out towards it, as though to envelop them both in its luminous embrace. Between the paladin and the cat, the ghouls had been destroyed, and all that remained was this monstrosity.
"Not time," it uttered, and raised its sword. The panther crouched and the fur on her back rose as the air began to crackle and grow icy. Screaming in undying hatred, the warrior brought the sword down upon the earth, and the two of them were thrown backwards by a thundering wave of force that blasted outward from the weapon's impact. It turned from its stunned enemies and shrieked into the wind, a cry that was echoed by another terrible noise. The earth split before it, and from the fissure climbed the fleshless remains of a knightly steed. Tack and harness were rotted and in ill-repair, but they held firm as the warrior climbed into the saddle and grasped the reins tightly with one fist, holding the sword high with the other.
"Triumph!" it declared as it rode off into twilight, its prize clutched in a bony cage of fingers and mail.
Malek'jin and Smitty Meet Selonius and AdmirandaEdit
Pain wracked Smitty's crumpled body as the claw wounds began to fester rapidly. The skin around the injury had quickly turned pale green and weeped ichor. Malek'jin murmured a prayer to the spirits, attempting to keep the dwarf conscious. He blinked as the paladin approached, standing above them with a gentle look upon his face. The light had faded from him, and he appeared far more mundane now in his battered armor.
"Be at peace, master dwarf, and be healed of your wounds," he intoned, lifting his hand to position it over Smitty's form. A soft glow surrounded the bloody marks on the dwarf's body, and they quickly sealed. Any sign of infection was washed away, and the pain subsided as though it had never been.
Malek'jin's eyes widened, and he crabbed away from the human nervously. "Dat some mighty voodoo joo got dere, mon." He huddled into a ball as he caught sight of the panther, padding behind the human and gazing at him evenly with large silver eyes. "Trolls no taste good, ya?" His look of fear turned to one of amusement when the panther rose to her hind legs as she shifted into the form of a slender night elf.
"I would rather eat carrion than sink my fangs into a troll," she growled.
The human knelt and offered his hand to the dwarf, leaning on his hammer with the other. Smitty stared at it for a long while before grasping it and letting the paladin pull him to his feet. "I'm in your debt, lad," he declared.
"There is no debt, master dwarf," the human replied. "I am Selonius Elecrion, and this is Lady Adamir--"
"Just Adamiranda," she hissed.
"Adamiranda," the paladin corrected, bowing his head slightly in apology. "I would ask, master dwarf, why you and this troll were fleeing from the city watch." Selonius drew himself up straight and grew stern as he inquired, his voice bearing an edge behind the courtesy.
Smitty grunted and balled up his fist. "You're not takin' us back, boy. I'm not leavin' my friend in your tender care," he said, practically spitting the last words.
"If you have assisted in the escape of a criminal and Horde spy, then I may have no choice," Selonius replied sadly.
"I ain't bein' no spy, mon," Malek'jin piped in, shaking his head vigorously so that the loose skin of his neck wobbled.
"Elune adorae," came the harsh whisper from behind the paladin, and he turned slightly to see what had garnered Adamiranda's attention. When he gazed upon the earth on the hill where they stood, his lined face became even more grave. The ground had been blackened and cracked, as if it had been burned and salted so as to never support life again. The bark of the old willow had faded and sagged, the somber drooping of its boughs now a limp and lifeless mockery of the life the tree had once held. Most disturbing of all was the green seepage that now filled the fissure from where the skeletal steed had erupted, the roiling vapors rising from the subtance seeming to scald the very air it touched.
The druidess dropped to her knees and clenched her fists in anger. "The land," she whispered softly, "has been poisoned with the taint of the undead."
Selonius turned from the two escapees and came to her side, but she waved him away in exasperation. Slowly she stretched out her hand and lowered it to the ground, hesitating before the withered blades of grass and ashen soil. The night elf closed her eyes and touched the ground, her fingers sinking into the dirt. Immediately she doubled over in agony, crying out in pain as she convulsed violently.
"Adamiranda!" the paladin cried, grasping her by the shoulders and pulling her up and away from the tainted earth. She collapsed against him and shook as though chilled, tears streaming from her shining eyes and a look of horror on her face. "I've got you, Selonius whispered repeatedly, supporting her weight in lieu of legs that would not.
Smitty stumbled past and into view of the hilltop, muttering his own curse. The dwarf trudged up to the shattered stone marker and growled in muted fury, his fists tight enough for the veins on his burly arms to bulge under the hairy skin. I need to find a shovel.
What joo be talkin about? Malekjin asked, now standing but a few feet from the dwarf amidst the quickly decomposing remains of the ghouls.
I aint leavin them buried in this tainted ground. Im not leavin them here to stew in corrupted soil. The dwarf shook with rage as he spoke, his voice quavering from the wrath simmering inside of him.
Selonius furrowed his brow as he looked between the two, dwarf and troll, and came to a sudden realization. You were the companions of the Lovers, werent you? he asked, Adamiranda still shaking in his arms.
Wha? came the bewildered response from Malekjin.
Everyone in Stormwind has heard the tale, he explained with a slight smile. The story of the love that withstood death itself.
You dont know the half of it, lad, Smitty sighed.
Slowly the night elf came to her senses. I felt... it pulled the very life from the land, she breathed, shoving herself from the paladins embrace and glaring at him accusingly. This beloved forest is now corrupt and tainted. Adamiranda turned her silvery gaze to the dwarf, tilting her head slightly. To remove them from the earth now would do nothing. The Scourge have pulled their souls from their resting place.
Bad juju, Malekjin grunted, making an elaborate warding gesture with his three-fingered hand. Like da demon-stones of da warlocks, ya.
Selonius raised an eyebrow as he heard the trolls words. Demon-stones?
Didja see da rock in da blade, mon? Dat bad news, be stealin souls from da livin. The troll rocked back and forth, swaying in the twilight breeze and turning his long blue ear to the wind as though listening to something distant.
The paladin frowned deeply, looking to the road. Smoking hoofprints were the sign of passage left by the skeletal warrior, the ground appearing scorched wherever the steeds dead appendages touched the earth. He glanced back at the seething dwarf, the bewildered troll, and the shaken druidess, then gave a firm nod.
Im going after it.
Clarissa and the Obsidian PurgerEdit
The charnel house was dark and utterly silent but for the skitter of insects upon the soot and ash covering the stone floor. Vermin fled for what small lives they had as the huge, heavy stone door was pushed open, the ghostly pale child stepping into the blackness without any hesitation, clutching a tattered rag doll in her left hand. The charnel fires had long since burned their last, the large room seeming to suck any warmth and life from the air as might a hungry beast ravenously drink the marrow from a splintered bone. Clarissa did not flinch as the fleeing beetles and centipedes crawled around, over, and away from her tiny pale feet. She strode into the center of the room and faced the darkest corner, a chilling serenity on her porcelain face.
"Mharet'enkhan," she summoned.
The entirety of the shadowy corner began to shift and undulate in the dim light streaming through the doorway. A low drone sounded in the charnel house, the hum of a thousand beetles amplified many times, and the shape moved into full view. Clarissa was but a mere fifth of its towering height, and it easily stretched the length of two horses. Massive heavy plates of gleaming black chitin vibrated against one another as the creature turned its bulk to face the diminutive child that called upon it. Two large topaz eyes flared to life on the front half of its body, followed by several other smaller pinpoints of light surrounding them. Huge scythe-like arms unfurled from its side and sliced at the air, swipes that would have killed a griffon in one blow.
Clarissa smiled coldly and reached out a slim arm towards the monster, the skin so white it was almost translucent. The creature addressed as Mharet'enkhan inched forward on four serrated legs, each as thick around as a horse's body, and craned its head towards the girl's outstretched hand. She touched its slick carapace lightly, almost fondly, then let the arm fall back to her side.
"It is time, Mharet'enkhan," she continued. "Will you now come with me and complete the Master's will?"
The topaz eyes burned brightly with unlife, and it bowed its great head. *The will of the Frozen Throne be done, Mistress.* When it spoke, the stone seemed to rumble from its pitch, and the words were accompanied by what sounded like the grinding of massive bricks.
Clarissa beckoned and turned toward the wide doorway, stepping back onto the dead grass as the huge creature compacted its shelled body to squeeze through the opening. They gazed out upon the rotting husk of the countryside, the once verdant hills now gray and lifeless. The sun shone green through the haze of corruption and plague wafting through the clouds, and the fields below were filled with the meandering zombies that were all that was left of the people of the land. Foul, infectious mushrooms the size of oak trees gathered in clumps, a grim parody of a peaceful glade. The stench of death was heavy and pervasive, and a soul-crushing despair was omnipresent.
The undead girl and the monster reveled in the tragic horror.
*Your servant goes to claim the essence,* the monstrosity rumbled.
"Yes," she replied, stroking the rag doll's stringy yarn hair. "He moves swiftly to accomplish the task I set him upon, my dear Lord of the Crypts."
The massive scarab-beast emitted another droning noise, the thick plates on its abdomen buzzing as it surveyed the landscape. *The Lich King has given you a great deal of attention on this matter, Mistress. My servants are prepared to aid you in any way you require.*
"Good, Mharet'enkhan. Come with me."
Together, the pair walked away from the charnel house and into the hazy fields. Once, some years ago, the farms would be alive with the squeals of livestock and the shouts of the workers, but now the only noises were the shuffling feet and tortured moans of the walking dead. The damned staggered about the withered stalks of wheat and scorched patches of earth, dutifully carrying out a macabre reenactment of their once-daily chores. The air was thick with the stench of rotting flesh and corrupt earth, an acrid odor that stung the eyes and burned the nostrils.
Beyond the fields, Clarissa and her monstrous companion walked into the shadow of a towering domed building, its smooth dark walls gleaming menacingly. Many portions of the structure appeared to be reinforced with heavy steel plates, bolted into the walls by some creature of incalculable strength. Titanic metal smokestacks sprouted from the rear of the grounds, thick black smoke pouring from their mouths as they retched poison into the sky. From within the open entranceway shined an unholy green light, bathing them in its glow. The earth showed signs that a multitude had traversed this path, and the area was littered with freshly cleaned bones and tattered shreds of clothing.
*Many died here. The echoes of their dying screams ring in the aura of this place.*
Clarissa nodded. "While you slumbered, the loyal servants of the Cult helped me construct the Accursed Furnace you see before you now." She gestured to the terrifying monolith that cast its shadow across the corpse of the land, a faint breeze blowing the hem of her cotton shift about her skinny pale legs. "And within, is what will bring the Scourge back to dominance."
*Show me your marvel, cold one.*
They walked under the open archway and into the cavernous inner chamber, and even the mighty crypt lord faltered in his clattering steps upon beholding the subject of Clarissa's pride. In the center of the hall sat a gargantuan construct of obsidian, chiseled into the fearsome likeness of a man-like beast. Its head was a cross between a hound and a crocolisk, with a fanged maw twisted into a rictus grin. Four herculean arms were crossed over its chest, and its lower body was like that of a predatory cat. It carried a look of patient waiting, as though it was not so much newly carved as it was resting. The construct was far more massive than any siege engine known to the realms of man, dwarf, elf, or orc.
"Behold, Mharet'enkhan," the girl proclaimed, thrusting her frail arm towards the stone horror. "As the obsidian destroyers had been used in the first doom of the living, the Obsidian Purger will lay cities to waste and leave nothing but destruction in its wake." Clarissa threw back her head and laughed, a sound with no child-like innocence, but only a malevolence against life unrivaled by even the creature beside her.
*By the Frozen Throne...* Mharet'enkhan swore.
The Companions of the LoversEdit
The rain was unforgiving. A storm had rushed in from the west, bringing with it the roar of thunder and the heavy drops of rain that wore down on their strength. Selonius pushed on, his determination and his self-appointed duty driving him forward. Behind him, three others trudged through the wet road, the dwarf and troll standing a distance back while the paladin led the way with Adamiranda close at his side. Her panther guise looked as miserable as it could be with its fur drenched by the rain, and immediately Selonius felt a pang of guilt.
"You didn't have to come with me," he said, his voice carrying only a few yards in the rain.
The feline glowered at him with shining silver eyes, then rose and transformed into Adamiranda's night elf shape, and they continued to walk down the road following the sooty hoofprints in the mud. She was dirty and soaked, her face a mask of anger. "As far as I'm concerned, you are the one following me. This thing... what it did to the land is unforgivable. Whatever it took from the earth, I will take it back and return it to its rightful place." She jerked her chin over her shoulder towards the two followers. "You should be asking them why they came along. I don't understand why they're following us."
It seemed that Smitty and Malek'jin were embroiled in their own hushed conversation and did not see her gesticulation, but Selonius frowned all the same. "They are the companions of the Lovers. You have not heard the story?"
"Should I have?" she snapped.
The paladin's patience, ever-enduring, withstood her verbal lash. "Five years ago, across the sea in your lands, a man and a woman fell in love as they battled the Scourge and their demon masters. They married on the battlefields and fought side-by-side through countless conflicts." Selonius brushed a few clinging strands of his hair away from his face as he walked. "The woman died upon the slopes of Mount Hyjal, and rose again as one of the free-willed undead, fighting alongside the Horde in the north. There they met once again, and their love had endured the test of death itself."
Adamiranda's face wrinkled in a grimace. "A living human and an undead monster?"
"There are some good things, my lady, that cannot be broken even by the most horrible depredations of evil. Undeath's touch had not been kind, but together they evaded both Horde and Alliance that wished to see them destroyed. They eventually met their end together on the hill where we fought the Scourge. Young lovers would go to the willow tree and place flowers on the marker for fortune in their own romantic pursuits." He paused, glancing back over his shoulder. "It is said the dead Lovers' companions were a fiery-haired dwarf soldier and a troll vagabond. I don't think this is coincidence, and they have good reason to be following us."
"Repulsive," she spat. "There is no love in the hearts of the creatures that poison our lands with their taint."
"There was once someone of my broken order who would have agreed with you."
She smirked. "Glad to see some of you humans have some sen--"
"His name was Prince Arthas Menethil," he cut her off.
The night elf snarled and dropped back into her panther form, moving a good twenty yards ahead of Selonius and staring down the road with her eyes aflame in anger. He let forth a sad sigh, and pushed on through the rain. Behind him, Smitty and Malekjin carried on their own whispered conversation.
"Dis be bad juju, makin no mistake," the troll warned, his two large toes squelching in the mud with each step. "But da shiny-mon has da good spirits about him, ya."
Smitty grunted and ran his fingers through his beard, attempting to straighten out the mess that it had become in the last hours. "I dunno, but he's headin the same way we are for now. I ain't lettin' that thing get far."
"We be needin da quick steps, mon. Dere be no catchin dis da way we be now."
The dwarf nodded. "I know. Eastvale is a few days travel from here, we should be able to get somethin'." He shifted the weight of the supplies on his back, a move answered by the clanking of pots and the squeal of wet leather. The rain was merciless, though everything inside should be safe. His axe, on the other hand, taken from the rest of what had been stashed near the Grave, would need a dedicated cleaning tonight.
Smitty sighed heavily. It seemed to him that his friends could never find peace, not even in death. What use the Scourge had in them frightened the dwarf, more than he cared to show. Deep inside he wished that this had been some sort of dream, that he would awaken in his hammock back in Booty Bay and drink himself into a stupor once more.
The cold stinging rain and the feeling of his boots sucking through the mud was a cruel reminder of the way things had become. Smitty bit back tears and a muttered swear, lowering his head and pressing on through the storm.