He stood on the periphery of a bleak beach, somewhere north from the Scarlet Monastery, looking down upon what could only be described as a mass grave of both man and ship. He was exhausted, for even though his entire unit of some thirty-odd trackers and soldiers were handsomely equipped with horses, one for every man even; they’d been pushing through the entire night and were all dreadfully drained. This was their final round of scouting before they were bound for the western encampment, and they’d agreed pressing on to reach the encampment quickly was a wise decision. There was usually nothing going on in these parts, nothing to report, and yet, here before them was the most spine-chilling sighting he ever lived to see. Squinting, for the mist was thick and the rain vigorously obscured the rest, he saw no movements, no signs of life, save for a lone raven circling the entourage of bodies. Pile upon pile, scattered throughout the beach, between wrecked ships and dunes of sand, wet sticky sand, lay the bodies of skeletons and rotting corpses, obscenity beyond comprehension.
“How is this possible, captain…?” Came a shrivelled whisper from behind, carried over his shoulder in white frosty smoke, declaring the chill that was but too present in the air. How indeed, thought the captain. For only days hence, when they’d passed this point on their way to the eastern outskirts, this beach had been a barren, dead seafront along the northern shoreline of Tiristfal Glades. As he shifted in the sand his adorned plate-mail chirred and served now only to weigh him down as he made to move forward. On most other occasions he loved his heirloom armour, passed through the respectful family line of the Drokos of Hearthglen. Until now when it served only to burden the final pride of the family: Zaragov Droko, captain of the Scarlet Crusade. Carefully he unsheathed his mallet and brought forth his grand shield as he signalled his men, instructing those who hadn’t already to dismount, and warily they moved onward in a Snapjaw Formation. One among few he had devised himself and executed rather successfully during the retaking of the Plaguewoods, south of Stratholme. While ultimately a defeat to the Crusade, Zaragov had saved several civilians and soldiers alike by taking what few he had of shield-men and rangers to form a perfect, rather mobile, circular unit. Drawing the attention of the Scourge onslaught they’d fought with a shield-line enclosing nearly double the number of bowmen: Bowmen whom, when at a loss of range to lose arrows, used their swords to stab through the circular shield-wall.
And so, with a small force like this, that consisted mostly of trackers and rangers, and when unaware of any potential dangers, the Snapjaw Formation was the perfect way to go, as they moved forward to inspect this obscene phenomenon.
The captain’s breath whitened before his eyes and tensely he squinted through the rain, he could see fear written all across the faces of his soldiers, as pale as the breath before them. Slowly they waded their way through wet sand toward the central pile of bodies, accompanied by a howling wind. Something just wasn’t right, this simply couldn’t be, the captain thought, as he noticed his strained posture and overly alert presence. He saw a figure sitting at the foot of the pile; a ragged skeleton adorned in burnt leather, hooded and head bowed, an unlucky commander of a damned sea voyage.
A shadow rushed by over-head, the wheezing flutter of wings spooked them all and in dreaded union their gaze followed the sound. It was the raven from before, only it was a raven no more: As it settled on the shoulder of the dead commander a horrid chill ran through the captain’s spine. Turning its gaze toward the captain, its hollow eyes dug deep into the very core of his soul, this was no living creature.
It spread its skeletal wings and shrieked in such horror as no living man could ever imagine. Paralyzed, the foul noise reverberating in his mind, the captain was powerless to know that arrows were littering the skies, white arrows of human bones…
It just so happens that arrows is the Snapjaw formation’s worst enemy, while being well protected on the outer rims the central party, which makes the bulk of the formation, is completely exposed to volleys. Usually this isn’t a problem with the Scourge, as they don’t primarily focus their strength on ranged combat, but here was a hail unlike anything he’d ever encountered before. Drawn out of his temporary trance by the screaming of dying soldiers all about him he raises his shield to protect himself and those around him from the oncoming onslaught. Bewilderedly noting that all around them the dead is rising from their presumed stillness, he quickly orders his shield-wall to implode in order to protect what little remain of his central unit. But there is just too many arrows, too many casualties, this is no battle; it’s a scene of butchery.
As the final wails of dying men about him fall victim to the enclosing circle of undead, an arrow pierces his chest, surgically slitting between the weaker parts of his armour. Falling to his knees he can see the dead commander raise, dead no more.
“Ahhh… Damn. Did you know that I’ve been lying here for days waiting?” the commander creaked, his voice dark and twisted to the bone. “Apparently, a perfect ambush requires some self-sacrifice, not that I’m complaining, really…” He continued, stretching his limbs as if he’d have any use for it. He was being mocked, to die on a beach, to waste away in the rolling tides of the sea, with only the haughty voice of a skeleton haunting his slow ascent, what a shame, what utter, absolute, undeserved shame… Slowly he started fading away…
But he was brutally brought back as the raven landed on his shoulder, digging its razor sharp talons deep into his flesh. A terrible pain surged through his body, driven by madness he mustered all that was left of his strength to strike the accursed beast. Though as he raised his hand he tasted the terrible torment of another arrow and screamed out in pain. “Let’s not have any of that.” The commander mocked, put down his bow and slowly strolled toward him. “That’s Beak, by the way, my feathered wife.” He continued, as if the abominable bird was some sort of old friend to be introduced.
The captain’s head rolled backward as he again bordered on unconsciousness, though before his eyes could peacefully shut he saw the horrible silhouette of a beak approaching his left eye. In a fountain of blood the bird dug out his eye and squeezed it before swallowing it whole, in all his life he’d never heard a more terrible sound.
The Captain fell forward, the bird took flight, and the commander caught him just before he hit the ground. “Really now, don’t die on me like this. I’m going to need a guide around here, and… I’m going to want my arrow back.” He said and with a forceful thud and to an orchestra of splintering ribs the Commander wrenched out the arrow from his chest, of which was decorated with the Captain’s heart. The Commander stood up, looked at the heart, to the Captain and then back to the heart. “Heh, what a heartily homecoming” he chuckled. “The name’s Deathry, Deathry Deadeye, and you’re going to be our best man, as we wed this world to the service of the Lich King.” He continued, as the captain was finally given leave to faint away…
Light rain tapped softly at the stained windows of the Lord Paladins room of command. Dawn was breaking and a soft breeze fluttered through an open window at the rear of the hall, playing wispily with rose petals in the crimson light from a circular ceiling window. And just as the Lord Paladin was about to seal his letter to the Scarlet Commander, the self-righteous so-called commander of the Monastery he thought, a man rushed through the entrance doors. “Milord Truesight! There are riders from the banks, they bring ill news Milord and they beg audience with you this very moment.” The clerk pronounced. Surprised as he’d been the Lord Paladin knocked over an ink bottle, veins of black spreading all over his letter. “Well, thank you very fucking much, scum of my boot! Get the hell out of here and tell them I’m busy doing shit you can’t ever understand!” He meant to say, and then thought better of it and changed his posture so rapidly that the stupid clerk didn’t notice, one among many talents that had brought him to his current position.
“I see, my boy. Send them in if they so desperately beg for my audience and call my Stuart.”
The Lord Paladin rather replied, in a calm pretentiously loving voice, fast at salvaging what little he could of the damaged letter.
Some moments later a pair of Centurions, the pride of the Crusade, saw the riders through the doors and took post at either side of the entrance. The Centurions was the only real warriors of the Crusade, per Truesight’s humble opinion, they were properly trained masters at arms and these days mostly served the newly anointed “Champion” Herod. Who admittedly was an apt killing machine unlike most of the leaders of the Crusade, who’d mostly weaselled their way to the top through corruption and back-stabbing. And while Truesight indeed appreciated war-hardened veterans above green-legged pups with fancy names and titles, he couldn’t help detesting the idea of someone as dim as Herod being a commander. With all that in mind, he was rather pleased with himself, knowing he’d managed to snitch fifty, or so, Centurions from Herod to join his little forward establishment to threaten the Forsaken.
As he rose from his desk to greet the riders, he noted how uncommonly raggedy clothed these riders were. They wore dark robes over ring-mail and hoods shaded their faces, warily he watched, with one hand on his sword hilt, as one of the riders stepped forward and removed his hood. His face was scarred, torn to shreds, and his left eye was covered by a length of blood-stained cloth. And yet, for all his wretchedness, the Lord Paladin recognized his favourite Captain immediately.
“Harthal, my commander, you have no idea how pleasing it is to be in your presence!” The un-hooded Captain Droko greeted, his voice straining as if every word brought him pain.
“Zaragov, what in the name of the holy light have wrought you like this?” He asked, striding forward to further inspect his obviously damaged captain.
“We were ambushed, My Lord, the undead Scourge has landed on the northern shores, all the way from Northrend.” Zaragov replied, attempting a smile.
“Why that is disturbing news, regardless, I’m just happy to see you’re alive!” Harthal exclaimed and embraced his damaged friend. Though as he did so, he noticed the twisted, pale faces of Zaragov’s companions, and in a rush the blood drained from his face. Moreover, blood started draining from his belly, too, as Zaragov rammed a dagger into it.
“Alive is stretching it a bit far, Lord Paladin.” The captain whispered, emphasising every word. Confused and infuriated Harthal reached for his belt-buckled sword, cutting only air as he was shoved backwards before he managed to draw blade.
Finding his footing, the Lord Paladin charged in before Zaragov could arm himself and ran his silvery sword through his heart. As the captain fell to his knees, Harthal observed that one Centurion was already dead and the other was being overpowered by two undead warriors, hardly human riders at all. “What is the meaning of this, captain? How could you betray me like this?!” he frothed, bracing himself for the battle to come, hell-bent on purging this apparent curse of death currently taking residence in his chambers.
Light rain tapped softly at his temple, dawn was breaking and a mild breeze softly ruffled across his face. The sound of a flutter, and then commenced a mind-numbing thumping to his forehead. His eyes shot open and before him, like a dreaded reminder of what could only have been a nightmare, was the twisted raven from before, perching on his head, apparently wanting more.
“Don’t worry, you’re still alive. Or, well, technically you’re dead, but— Living, err… Undead? That’s the word!” Came a voice from somewhere else as he frantically waved the raven away, willing his fists to crush the little demons head.
The raven retreated and Zaragov sat up, feeling as shitty as the shittiest hangover he’d ever felt, it almost felt like coming back from the dead. He looked about to find the source of the voice and was dreadfully reminded of last night’s battle: All around him lay the stippled corpses of his former scouting force, and yet, he felt no remorse. Actually, come to think of it, he felt nothing at all; not the wind on his face, not the rain from the skies, not even pain from any of his mortal wounds. Who had spoken to him?
He turned around in the general direction of where he thought he’d heard the voice, and he was horrified by what he saw, that is, if he could’ve felt horror. Before him was the most awkward skeletal contraption he’d ever seen: A twisted shape of human bones with spikes and claws everywhere. And although the creature looked like impossibility, it twitched its head from side to side, making rasping tones that somehow seemed like a desperate attempt at communication. Awestruck by this freak of nature and trapped in its hollow eyes, Zaragov didn’t notice at first that the voice he’d formerly heard was speaking again.
“…pretty much the only living thing around here, name’s Felcon, Doctor Felcon, as the troop likes calling me.” With this the voice broke the trance and Zargo bewilderedly looked for its source, he was sure he’d turned the right way but still he saw no origin for it that could be natural. Surely, it couldn’t be the strange skeleton.
“Down here, dead-meat!” The voice called, and at that Zaragov looked down, only to notice the smallest person he’d ever seen. Before him sat a gnome, dressed in dark robes, with sunken eyes and grey/black spiky hair. He wore a single monocle-esque goggle over his right eye and was otherwise covered in scars, actually his left eye seemed completely dysfunctional, and it was blooded and had a great scar running through it. But there was no mistaking that he was a living creature, the scars were framed in red and his skin tone was that of a ripe peach, hardly touched by deaths pale shades.
“There we go! So, as I said, name’s Felcon, do you have one of those? A name, like mine?” he both smiled and enquired simultaneously, eyeing him enthusiastically with his good eye.
“Yes… Zaragov, Zaragov Droko… Captain Zaragov Droko.” He replied, not knowing what else to say, he probably should’ve been more careful, but the circumstances were overwhelmingly confusing.
“Bravo Felcon! I’m delightedly dumbstruck by how you managed it, but fuck me, this Paladin is as alive as we undead can ever be!” called another voice, and as Zaragov moved his head in its direction, he saw the Commander walking their way. Deathry Deadeye… His killer.
“So, Zaragov was it? How are you feeling? Any sudden urges to molest me in all possible ways, or are we good?” Deathry sat down beside them, patting Felcon on the shoulder and raising his non-existent brows to Zaragov in a faked manner of anticipation.
“I feel… Nothing. And as thus I am confused. I should be zealously crazed beyond reason and filled with vengeance. Yet, I am serene, I care not for vengeance, I care not for the tenets of the Holy Light or the order of the Scarlet Crusade… I feel hollow…” He replied. Deathry smiled, a strange thing to see a skeleton do. Actually, upon reflection, Zaragov had noted this earlier too, when Deathry killed him, this skeleton peculiarly had a facial arsenal quite unlike any skeleton he’d ever seen and quite on par with any human covered in flesh and muscles.
“That actually sounds a lot like something I’ve heard before.” Felcon commented, smiling knowingly and turning his attention to the skeletal contraption.
“Yeah, well.” Deathry solemnly answered in response to Zargaov’s statement, completely ignoring Felcon. “See, undeath is a peculiar thing, and when you’re new to it, it’s really, really strange. Considering you’re no longer alive, per say, your internal organs, nerves and such things aren’t functioning, so in theory you don’t have feelings. In theory you’re not capable of feeling fear, rage, love, happiness… All of those things— But! Your mind, and don’t confuse this with your brain, is still functioning, considering you’re living. That means that given some time to adapt you can invent “artificial” feelings that’ll turn out to feel just as real as real feelings.” Deathry drew breath and exhaled heavily, it seemed to Zaragov like he’d had this speech before, and then he paused to look away with only the tiniest hint of longing to his eyes.
“Now, what that all really means, is that I can kill you and you can still be my friend, which is important, because you’re going to serve me from now on. Remember that little pun about you being my best man and all that? I meant it.” He continued, still not looking at Zaragov, as if he was desperately searching for something on the horizon. For the shortest of moments Zaragov registered that Deathry was talking about more, or rather, reminding himself of something sad that he hadn’t intended to be reminded of.
He then observed Deathry, he’d understood every word and it all made perfect sense to him, and although he wanted to feel disgraced by what he’d heard he’d still not “learned” to invent these “artificial” feelings. He pretended mulling it all over while mentally devising a way of escaping, should the need arise.
“Say then, what if I refuse to serve?” Zaragov replied after some time of silence. Deathry made a show of first being mortally wounded and then smiled.
“Although it stings my non-existent heart that you would say such a thing, I can say that we made some… Precautions” He beckoned Felcon and continued “See, on the subject of hearts. Remember what I did to yours? Well, my good friend Felcon here kind of took care of it, healed it and trapped most of your remaining life-force inside it.” He continued, gesturing for Felcon to find something. While Zaragov’s hand involuntarily dropped his hand to his chest, feeling the spiky— bony surface, and a hole where his heart was supposed to be. “He did that, and then made a lovely little “prison” for it, a very peculiar prison.” And when he’d finished the statement, Felcon returned with a small, round, metallic prison-like ball, where a heart, presumably his, lay inside.
“It’s really not like we want to use it, but if you force us we’ll… Have to.” Felcon began, introducing the small cage. “See, the “prison” is designed in such a way that if I put my hand on the top, like this, and the other one underneath, like this, press them together, well… These blades on the sides will slowly enclose the heart and eventually start cutting into it.” Felcon stated, very formally like and with a sadness to his tone as if he felt uncomfortable about what he was saying.
“And considering you’re undead, you won’t die— Well, not quickly anyhow, hence you’ll experience intolerable pain until we let go— Or accidentally crush it completely, savvy?” Deathry finished, with a satisfactory smile across his bony face.
“I see.” Zargo answered, after some time having thought of how it could be avoided, eventually concluding it’d be too risky doing anything revulsive… Presently.
“Right, good, now, there’s this little thing I want you to take care of, in this little Scarlet encampment to the west…” Deathry started explaining.
Zaragov smiled, and slowly rose back to his feet. And as the Lord Paladin watched, transfixed, he gently stepped backwards, the rending sound of the blade sliding on bone demurely singing a melody of icy loathing.
“If only I had a heart for you to stab, Lord Paladin.” He mocked and drew blade, a sickle-like sword, just in time to parry Harthal’s next blow; he pulled sideways in a downward arc, twitching the weapon as he did so he nearly disarmed his opponent.
Harthal staggered and then retreated backwards, which was just enough time for Zaragov to pull out his war-hammer, and with it he made to strike Harthal’s head. The Lord Paladin managed to partially parry the blow, but the hammer was too heavy and with Zaragov’s full force behind the blow, it forced the blade backward into Harthal’s face, leaving a nasty scar. Zaragov pulled back his hammer and kicked the Lord Paladin in the groin, sending him crashing into a wooden pillar. It splintered as the Lord Paladin rammed into it and Harthal let out a cry of pain as he raised his hand and sent a bolt of holy energy flying toward the fallen Captain.
Zaragov raised his hammer to deflect the bolt, but magic cannot be stopped by physical objects, so the bolt sent him, in turn, flying backwards.
“Tell me, Captain, how do you enjoy being so weak?” Harthal started, slowly striding toward Zaragov while casually lowering his left hand to heal the wound from the dagger. “To have degraded to become such a filthy beast as you’ve so zealously fought your entire life to purge?” he continued, watching with delight as the fallen captain withered on the floor.
He stopped, noting that both Centurions were dead and the undead warriors silently strode toward him from behind Zaragov. “Would you have your pet companions fight your battles for you, captain?” he mocked, bracing himself for another fight.
Zaragov sat up, signalling his men to stay back, and with murder in his eyes he calls forth an unholy aura about him, like a barrier, and slowly he rises again.
“Weak, you say.” He whispers as shadows start whirling about him “I’ve degraded to become stronger than you can ever be, Lord Paladin.” He continues as Harthal attempts throwing another couple bolts at him, of which simply disintegrates against his aura. And in an overwhelming combination of gestures he gathers the shadows and sends them forward like a shockwave of death, sending the Lord Paladin soaring through the air, for finally to settle on the steps behind the Lord Paladin’s desk, before a large cross. While the Lord Paladin struggles to draw breath, crippled he lie helpless on the steps leading to the cross, Zaragov sheathes his weapons and his companions draws up behind him as he slowly strolls toward his former commander. “Why… Zaragov? If there’s anything left of you in there… Just… Tell me… Why..?” The Lord Paladin begs, gulping blood and writhing in pain.
“The truth?” Zaragov begins as he circulates the Lord Paladin’s desk to come before him. “I really don’t have much of a choice; one could say my heart’s desire is forced in the matter.” He continues, in an icy cold and calm manner. Now as he stands before the Lord Paladin he raises his hand and with it the Lord Paladin rises from the steps to hover before the fallen captain. Shades of gray slowly creep across the Lord Paladin’s face, steadily seeping what little remains of Harthal’s life force from him in a ghostly mist. As he gathers the stray life in the palm of his hand Zaragov closes his eyes and inhales in complete delight.
“However, forced or no, my heart is willing. For I never appreciated your command, Lord Paladin, your arrogance, your faked kindness and your corrupt influence. A corruption that’s deeply rooted in the entire Crusade.” He whispers, sparing the dying Paladin a hazy gaze.He picks up the dying rose from a vase on the Lord Paladin’s desk, and sniffing at it he cited: “Roses have thorns, violets are cruel. Death is silent, and so are you.” With these final words he strikes the dagger from before through the Lord Paladins chest, in such force that it runs through him and into the wooden cross behind him. And so Zaragov slowly turns, letting the rose fall from his hands, leaving behind him the remains of what can no longer be recognized as Lord Paladin Harthal Truesight.
A shadow leaves the room and light once again shine through the window of the ceiling; merrily bathing the abominable corpse in morning glory as it dangles, crucified, on the cross. As if desperately seeking redemption from insurmountable sins of yore, to the distant sound of flapping wings, and a croaking whisper “Nevermore.”
Birds were tweeting and soft warm rays of light caressed his eyelids as he emerged from the barracks, drowsy and sober he stretched his arms and was caught in a moment of temporary serenity. And upon opening his eyes—
“What the hell?!” Cried Bill as he saw a giant crystalline ball of ice crash into and crushing his Knight Lieutenant. Cracking, the crystal spread a carpet of icy fog all across the courtyard, and the stout men of the Scarlet Crusade quickly found themselves surrounded by a breath of death. The alarm was sounded and more crystals were crashing down, crushing towers and buildings, killing men and spreading a chill that could be felt all the way to the bone. “Sergeant Barell!” Cried a private from across the grounds, he was running toward him. “Orders sir?” he continued, looking bewilderedly to Bill for guidance. Fuck, that’s right. If the Knight Lieutenant is dead, then I’m in command. Well, I and Ferando! Where the fuck is Ferando?
“Uh, look to our defences and find the Lord Paladin! I think we’re under attack!” Bill dismissively replied, waving him off to go looking for Ferando; he’d got to be somewhere close…
“Cephulum Vigilium… Or more commonly named “The Black Rose,” did you know that these beauties only grow on soil defiled by death?” Deathry made a show of sniffing the rose he’d recently plucked off the grave of some nobody. They were at the outskirts of Harthal Truesight’s military encampment, basking in the shadows of some large willow trees of a dreary graveyard. And Beak had arrived only a moment ago from his window job, observing Zargo, to signal Harthal’s death. They were now peppering the camp with Frostwyrm eggs, he’d once reflected on the ethical perspective of using unborn dragons as projectiles. Somehow though, he didn’t quite feel sad about it.
“Yes, I did, actually. And I thought you that.” Felcon replied, somewhat irritably, he was hard at work screwing or unscrewing something on his skeletal contraption: Seesaw. Exactly why they’d come to name the freakish creature “Seesaw” was beyond Deathry’s ability to understand and saying it had a “shape” was crediting it a bit too much. The devilish creature, which Deathry had never liked, was a set of bones that could be arranged and rearranged in any order. To twitch into narrow gaps or summon an entire arsenal of weapons, usually claws and spikes. It was a silent and very useful assassin, efficient too, but Deathry simply couldn’t bring himself to liking something that couldn’t talk, not to mention the general sadness the creature emitted. Hell, I’d be sad too if I couldn’t talk… Actually, I’d go mad.
“Ahhh… Yes.” Deathry looked away and let the rose drop to the ground, surprisingly feeling a tad awkward.
“Anyway, are you actually going to go through with your little plan?” Felcon threw away the tool he’d been wielding and humorously regarded Deathry, which was currently relaxing on top of one of the catapults, disgracefully impersonating his version someone sunbathing, considering he didn’t know the first thing about sunbathing.
“Yeah, well— the others are getting ready as we speak. Don’t say you think it’s too crazy?” Deathry answered with a pretentious hurt to his voice, and then looked over his shoulder to assure himself that his archers were all getting prepared for his plan.
“Crazy? By your standards? Hardly, utterly stupid and magnificently reckless, maybe, but I really just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t cower out of it, I know you don’t like heights.” Felcon smiled, shook his head and returned to whatever he was doing to Seesaw.
“Summoning is complete!” Called a cracking shout from the other side of the catapult.
“Well then, let’s fly!” Deathry cried to his men as he ran over to the catapult cup, took good hold of the ropes around the Frostwyrm egg and pulled the leaver. Disappearing toward the encampment in a heartbeat; shortly followed by a small regiment of his best archers.
Chilled, exhausted and completely bewildered Bill was desperately making his way toward the sleeping quarters as another crystal crashed into the second story of the building he was currently bypassing. Splinters and chips of stone rained down upon him, he raised his shield to deflect the damage and he was lucky he did so. For only a moment later something very heavy hit his shield and knocked him to the ground. In his final moments of waking he saw that it had been the skeleton of a dragon, a dragon…?
He had no idea how long he’d been gone, but it couldn’t have been for long. As he woke he found that he was being half-carried by the same private he’d been instructing earlier.
“We couldn’t reach the Lord Paladin, sir. A tower crashed down in our path and blocked the way, and as we were about to circle around we saw you lying on the ground.” He informed him as Bill attempted loosening himself from the soldiers grip, half-successfully. His shield-arm was probably broken, bruised or both, but his sword-arm was functional and he had no time to spare. Looking about he saw that with them was a small regiment of some five or eight other men, keeping a lookout.
“Right, well, take some of your men and go the way you intended, leave the rest with me. We’ll rally whoever we can from the sleeping quarters and then meet up with you and the Lord Paladin outside the chapel; from there I reckon Truesight will know what to do.” He commanded, nothing he truly liked doing. He’d be but too happy to have Harthal back at the command. Now as the soldiers bound for the chapel disappeared in the mist, the cold shrivelled mist, Bills mind was bound for one thing and one thing only: Ferando Campelli.
Swirling about him was the song of piercing arrows, whizzing Frostwyrm eggs and awkward war-cries from his skeletal minions riding the aforementioned. Deathry marvelled at the joy of riding a live catapult ball through the air and savoured the moment for… Only a moment.
He then lowered his body close to the egg and at the opportune moment kicked out and let go. Flying through the air toward what would’ve been certain death to anyone living. He unsheathed his bow and burst out in hysterical laughter as his arrows flew home in the heads and chests of unfortunate living shits spread all across the battlefield like ants. They were all ants, tiny and alive, losers all of them. Losers— Oh fuck. He suddenly thought, there’s the groun—
Ferando quietly retreated from the main halls of the sleeping quarters to have some quiet by himself. He’d been abruptly awakened by a gigantic crystal boulder crashing through the ceiling, and the rest of his day thus far had been all about giving orders. First he woke everyone who hadn’t been crushed or woken by themselves, which was astonishing in and of itself. Then he ordered a search party to assess the situation outdoors, upon their return and by their report that everything was blowing to pieces, he’d decided their best force of action was to bar the doors and keep a low profile till the rain of boulders stopped.
Everyone was tense and weary, but certain calm had gradually gathered in the room, so he figured nobody would miss him for a moment.
Everything had happened so quickly, he’d had no time to think about anything else than the safety of his men. But now, as things had somewhat settled, it dawned on him that he’d been completely neglecting the safety of others… Of Billard, Billard Barell…
“Sergeant Campelli! There are men outside, in the mists. They’re fighting their way toward us. What are we to do?” A soldier came crashing and panting into the room Ferando’d occupied. Could it be? No it certainly couldn’t… But what if…?
“What do you mean “what are we to do?” Why get the fuck out there and help them, of course!” Ferando boomed, rushing past the man and running toward the doors.
He silently hovered past the ravaged corpses of the centurions, having eyes only for the corpse at the base of the cross. Had it been by facial recognition, then he could’ve never identified him, but his armour, his garments and his seal… There was no mistaking that here lay Lord Paladin Harthal Truesight, unforgivably ravaged beyond recognition. His skin like dried leaf-thin leather wrapped about his bones, his eyes sunken in the darkest pits as if the void itself had taken residence in his gaze and his limbs all bending wickedly in all the wrong directions… It was obscene, and too much for the simple-minded private to comprehend, together with his men he fled the scene.
When they arrived outside the Lord Paladins barracks, they were greeted by a great half-circle of skeletal archers, backed and commanded by none other than Captain Zargo Drokov himself. Zargo… Thought the private, he’d seen him being rushed through the encampment in urgent haste to see the Lord Paladin when he’d been out taking a piss.
“This is your doing, Captain! Lest I’m the son of the late King Menethil himself!” Cried the private, filled with hatred and uncaring for the unmistakably outnumbering of himself and his men. Zargo simply gazed at the private, cold, dark eyes of contempt giving way for no emotions. He caught himself marvelling at the thought that only days earlier, he would himself have stood there screaming like a crazed lunatic. Funny thought…
“I am not afraid of you or your skeletons, and neither are my men! We stand as an example to what you can never be; pure of soul and blessed in eternal glory of the Holy Light!” he continued, throwing his weapons down and spreading his arms, daring Zargo to attack him.
“Your fear won’t be necessary.”
Zargo replied, turning around and signalling his archers to let fly. Leaving a dead gathering of deluded misfortunate kooks in his wake, like porcupines they lay on the ground withering in pain, pure of soul and blessed in eternal glory my ass…
Zargo spitefully thought.
He’d had no time to un-strap his shield, so he might as well make good use of it. While one blow aimed at his head was parried he spun on the spot to hit another skeleton full-force with his shield arm, limp as it was it still made a hard impact. He then crouched down to avoid another blow by his former opponent and cutting in an upward arch, his sword landed deep into the “throat” of the skeleton he’d been harassed by twice. Dizzied by his ballerina action and pained by the shield blow, he decided to retreat behind his soldiers to grasp a moment of breath.
“Sergeant Barell! There’s too many of them, we’re surrounded.” A soldier cried through the song of battlement and death cries that so ominously enfolded them. Bill spat, he knew they were surrounded, he knew there were too many skeletons, and the fucking soldier knew that he knew it. And just as he opened his mouth to produce the lengthiest gathering of atrocity he could’ve ever procured, he saw a group of soldiers charging towards them from across the battlement. And what was more, they were led by Ferando! Crying out in joy he joined battle once more and together the two regiments of soldiers made quick work of the remaining foes.
As the final drops of blood and sweat fell to the ground in the setting dust of deathly battle, Ferando and Billard rushed towards and embraced each other in a gay moment of complete joy. Their blood sprung lips met and they became one in a painful moment of serenity, Ferando’s hand slowly traced along Billards side toward his breeches in sensual perfection. Then he was forcefully shoved backward as Billard was caught in sudden realization of their surroundings. “By the Holy Light!” he exclaimed as Ferando gave him a look of complete bewilderment, and then he also understood the true extent of their mistake.
“The Shadow of Death seems to have corrupted our judgement, brothers! We must abandon this forsaken battlefield and save our souls.” He proclaimed, mustering a charade of resentment of his own. Horror struck and outraged as they were, their men swallowed the show of imperfect acting in lieu of better things to do. They had fooled nobody, but all was but too aware of the danger everyone was currently in, so the men kept silent and followed their sergeants quietly as they made for the chapel.
Zargo raised an eyebrow as he witnessed a scene of abnormality beyond his current understanding. Before him the carpet of frozen mist was spiralling and revolving around a particular spot on the ground, bones of various kinds swirling in the tiny maelstrom to gather at its centre. As he watched, the bones aligned themselves in a twisted fashion to form the shape of his commander, Deathry.
“Graceful, my lord, did you actually arrive by crushing yourself on purpose?” he commented, a tiny hint of a smile on his face. Deathry groaned, stumbled back and forth before finally finding his footing and fixing his eyes on Zargo.
“Err… Seemed like a good idea back in the camp… Where are we?” Deathry replied, dazedly looking about. He had to admit, for all the hate Zargo felt for this skeletal abomination and his ilk, Deathry did have a certain humorous character about him. Even though his service still hadn’t stretched for a very long time and considering he was working against his own will, Zargo also had to admit the most distant feeling that his emotions were gradually drifting away. His hate was no longer intense like the fresh embers of a bonfire and his resentment for undeath no longer filled him like a mug on the verge of spilling. Instead he was feeling slight, if only very slight, joy while being in the presence of his commander and it was no secret that he took deep pleasure in getting the chance to vindicate justice upon the corrupted leaders of the Crusade. Maybe there was something true in the things Deathry had said about artificial emotions, a chill ran down his spine by simply thinking about it.
“In the courtyard, my lord, but I’m sure that’s not what you meant. The base is all but in ruins; your forces are currently tending to the final remnants of scattered soldiers. And the only force of noteworthy opposition has barred themselves inside the chapel.”
“Have they now? Good. Very good! Gather wood and timbers and fetch me a torch, I’ve always wanted to burn a church…” Deathry smiled.
He sighed. He’d been walking up and down this corridor so many times that he nearly felt at home trudging through this infernal gateway now. On both sides he was surrounded by Death Guards silently watching as he went, never trusting and ever suspicious and rightfully so, rightfully indeed. The heavy throne-room doors creaked open and he was announced by a deathly pale Stuart as he gracelessly made his entrée.
“My lady, your scouts have reported strange happenings to the north. A band of undead have besieged and destroyed the Lord Paladin Harthal Truesights military encampment. And what’s more, they were flying the cursed banners of the Scourge.” He clearly reported.
“So, Kel’Thuzad finally makes his appearance, after two years of silence. Why now?” She shrugged, gave him a penetrating gaze and then looked away, dreamily, as if a long awaited craving had been presented to her. The question hung in the air like a deadly predator, silently inviting anyone reckless enough to answer it. He regarded his queen, his warden and burden, resentment burning bright in his fiery heart, one day he might break free from this public imprisonment, humiliation… But that day was not today.
“What makes you so certain it’s his doing, my lady? Surely, it could be a renegade force, acting on its own accord.” He replied, bowing his head only slightly.
“Can’t be, Harthal Truesight is a hardened war veteran, it’d take a tactical mind and an elite force to bring forth his demise. Prepare the forces, Varimathras, we leave as soon as possible. I will personally take part in this investigation.” She declared, turning on the spot and proceeding to her private chambers to prepare for the march.
“As you command Lady Sylvanas” Varimathras replied, bowing a final time before leaving the royal chambers to prepare the bitch’s forces of the new-founded Undercity for war.
At the Root
There had been nothing for it; trapped in the chapel the fires had enveloped them like a prison of flaring death. One of the beams had fallen down and crushed two of their men, and while attempting to help them, Ferando had sustained a dreadful burn on the side of his face. They had nearly given up hope until their private suddenly discovered a secret passage behind the altar, a path to freedom. After having escaped for a full day and night Ferando and Billard promoted the private to corporal and instructed him to lead the others to the Monastery, while they stayed behind to deal with any potential followers. Obviously, and they knew their men were aware of it, that wasn’t what they did. They made their own escape, due east, with no particular goal in mind, only to not get hanged, or worse, at the Monastery.
“I suggest we make for the Plaguelands, I’ve heard there are strange things happening at Light’s Hope Chapel. Apparently some sort of opposition in the making, if we’re clever about it we might join them.” Ferando suggested as they wearily made their way through the forest. Neither of them was any good at tracking, but they knew there were dangerous things in these forests, things left well enough alone, and altogether avoided.
“You suggest we forsake the way of the Holy Light and throw ourselves in with traitors and blasphemers, that it?” Billard mused; his mind had grown dark and dreary upon reflecting on their situation. “This is our punishment, then. Condemned to walk aimlessly, eternally, in these forsaken woods or consort with traitors. For our sins and blasphemous acts, it seems redemption is out of our reach.” He continued, aggravatingly breaking off a dying branch close at hand and kicking at a rock. Ferando sighed, Billard’s uncertainty and vanity was no strangers to him, but he was steadily growing weary and tired of it.
“I beg to differ, love. For our recklessness, we have been punished, by your arm and my face the Light has shown us the cost of carelessness. But we are still living, still free and still moving. We have been given a new chance, a chance to start fresh.” Pleased by his words of what could only be truth Ferando made a pause to give Billard the chance to comprehend the true extent of his argument. “Besides, from what I’ve heard, this new movement haven’t abandoned the Holy Light. They are as much servants of faith as the Crusade; they simply disagree about certain— Extremities of our order.” He continued, upon noticing that Billard didn’t seem fit to respond.
Later they made camp, Billard cursed his way through setting up a fire and together they roasted a couple rats and some hares they’d managed to capture, not being talented hunters they’d been very happy with their catch. And while softly leaning on the hard surface of a tree, seated in a niche between two roots, Billard spoke softly.
“So, you are absolutely convinced that we are not cursed, that we have been punished and that we are now given a new chance. You also say that there is a different order that also follow the ways of the Holy Light which might be more accepting of our… Situation than the Crusade?” Billard mused, Ferando understood from his tone that all Billard just said was pretty much rhetorical, but he decided to provide a complementary, and encouraging, nod.
“Well. It makes sense. And even if it isn’t true, it’s still our best hope, no use fearing things we can’t be certain of.” Billard concluded, seemingly confident in his current state of mind.
“That’s probably the first notion of sense I’ve heard you utter since we first escaped the chapel!” Ferando mockingly implied, merrily so however, for he was very happy that Billard arrived at this conclusion by himself. While not exactly stupid, Ferando did find him rather slow-minded from time to time, which in a weird way made Ferando like him even more.
“Well, thanks, I guess. But we better be more careful about our… Intimacy in the future, one dysfunctional arm really is enough.” Billard chuckled, giving in to Ferandos merriness.“Well, in all earnest, as long as your mouth isn’t dysfunctional…” he mockingly insinuated “However, one half face-burn is also, if not preferable, quite enough.” He continued.“I completely agree to that!” Billard boomed.
“Oh, and on the note of carefulness and intimacy… I’m relatively certain we’re completely alone out here, you know, if we feel like not being so awfully careful…” Ferando dreamily whispered, playfully curling a lock of his hair around one of his fingers. All the while being observed by dark eyes somewhere out in the forest.
“That there… That’s entrails” Felcon observed in a perfect concoction of disgust and fascination. They’d been trudging through the forests of northern Tirisfal for roughly half a day now. And the phenomenon that now so un-dividedly caught their attention was a scene of cannibalism: Four, or so, pups of some kind of mutated hound were gorging away at their mother’s guts.
“Yes, they’re Dreadhound pups, it’s of their natural way that when the pups grow old enough they kill their mother and eat her. I used to hate these adorable little devils.” Zargo amusedly answered, picking up a sneering whelp by its neck-skin and smiling as it tried biting his fingers. “I think I’ll keep this one.” He continued, passing the litter to one of his men.
Upon the aftermath of the battle, Zargo had instructed Felcon’s necromancers to raise some specific members of Harthal’s army as minions. Some good warriors, some good labourers and, as Zargo had noticed the relative lack of it during his days before the battle, some great trackers, these trackers were now scouring the woods before them and some were hanging back to report if anyone would show up at the battlefield.
“Adopting pups now, Zargo?” Deathry commented as they resumed their march, falling into line with the newly appointed second-in-command of his little regiment.
“Dreadhounds are efficient killers; if I train it proper it could become a valuable ally.” Zargo replied in his usual matter-of-factly non-committal way. “Where exactly are we headed, anyway, commander?” He further questioned, suddenly a little surprised by only now actually being concerned about such things.
“Oh, I’ve heard about this little cosy farmland to the east, Agamand Mills. Supposed to be a nice little undead defying family running the place, figured we’d give em a visit.” Deathry smiled.
He waited till they were sleeping and their fire was out before he slowly made his way into their camp. He’d been amused by their twisted little situation, how intriguing it was that in the eyes of humans love between males was considered such a sin, such a normal thing… As he slowly crept close to the ugly one with the burn-mark he nearly felt sorry for them both, if only he could feel anything at all. Unsheathing his awkwardly bent dagger he moved quickly, it had to be quiet as not to wake the other human.
Ferando’s eyes shot open as he heard the snapping of a twig, and before him was an abomination. Tusks like a boar, skin pale as death and hair braided in enormous dreads, but what mostly caught his attention were the eyes, dead and dark, staring like the eyes of a shark. He moved his hand and only merely saved his life as the dagger cut into his wrist, blood spattering in the face of his killer. Blinded by the blood his assailer backed away only enough for Ferando to propel himself upwards. Knocking him over he drew blade and held it to the creature’s throat while using the rest of his body to pin it down.
“Sloppy work there, troll” Ferando whispered, he’d never seen a troll before and although this creature looked infinitely more demonic than any description he’d heard, he was somehow certain of what he’d encountered. A quick glance and he affirmed himself that Billard was warily watching from his drowsy position just where he’d left him some hours ago, happily not dead.
“Ja know, mon” The troll whispered, in a surprisingly calm tone. “I didn’t break dat twig…” he continued, smiling. Before Ferando managed to work out his meaning he heard some shuffling in the bushes ahead. And just as dread ran a chilling run down his spine a giant spider charged out of the darkness, ramming into Billards shield. Having heard the ruffling a split-second before Ferando, and understanding it’s meaning, Bill had charged forth and desperately threw his shield over Ferando to protect him. In the commotion the troll ran his dagger into Ferando’s side and used his momentum to roll over to the left. Ferando screamed, but Billard was too occupied with the spider to help, so the troll got to his feet and made to run.
“I’ll leave ja with de spider, mates. But ja haven’t seen da last of Jehn’Zir” The troll whispered, before he disappeared into the darkness.
“Devlin! What are you doing here?” she whispered, trembling, drawing the cover closer around herself to avoid the chill from her open window. It was the middle of the night and she’d just gone to bed, and now, in her doorway stood the son of her employer, Devlin Agamand.
“If father knew I was here, he’d kill us both, Jeyn.” He answered, slowly walking into the room. “But if anyone’s worth dying for, it’s you Jeyn!” he continued, throwing himself into her tearful embrace and quickly getting to work on her night clothes, stripping her with the passion like that of a wild tiger.
“Wait” she panted “if anyone hears us, we’re dead.” She continued getting out of bed to close the window. She swiftly flew across the room, the chilled evening air raising the hairs on her naked body, and then she froze. Her closet creaked open and as she turned to see why the hairs on her body became stiff, and as did she. “Th— There’s skeletons in the— In the closet!” she trembled, and then she felt the touch of cold steel through her spine and belly, hot blood streaming down along her body.
“I know, Jeyn, as I said: If anyone’s worth dying for, it’s you, and I’m already dead.” Came the whisper of Devlin over her shoulder as she slowly started drifting into blackness…
“Brilliantly done Devlin, I’d cry if I could. Now, let’s get to work on how to murder your entire family, shan’t we?” Deathry smiled, crawling out of the closet and opening the door to signal his men to come forth, to the little farmhouse on the outskirts of Agamand Mills.