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Catalinetta

Superfluous Butchery

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They made a peculiar duo, Cat and Aetheril. Though both were death knights, and shared a biological father, that is where the similarities ended. Aetheril, tall and thin, draped in the shadow magic that disguised his form, glided gracefully beside Cat. She, short and awkward in black plate, trudged like a kodo.

 

The original plan was to head to Northrend, in search of their fellow rogue death knights. With them as allies, they could protect themselves more efficiently against the paladins who sought their execution. It seemed simple enough until they arrived in Silvermoon, and while asking about a portal to Northrend, caught wind of a far closer destination.

 

“Northrend? What would anyone want to go there for?” Asked the mage who’s portal could send them to the icy battleground. He didn’t give them a chance to answer. “Looking for other death knights?”

 

Cat’s face gave away their carefully crafted plot, even if she stayed quiet. Aetheril was just about to work on clouding the mage’s memories of them when he continued to speak.

 

“Look, I don’t want any trouble, but there are plenty of them in Windrunner Village. So I hear,” he said carelessly. “Got to the point where they got sick of everyone gawking at them in town, so they decided to take it over for themselves. A whole town of undead,” he added with a shudder, then quickly waved his hands. “N-not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

 

Aetheril smiled at the nosy elf, his blue eyes flashing once.

 

The mage blinked. “..sorry, was I saying something?”
 

“No,” Aetheril said kindly, taking Cat by the arm and gently leading her to the city’s southern exit. “We were just leaving.”

 

That was how they wound up walking the road through Quel’thalas, en route to Windrunner Village, staying as inconspicuous as Aetheril’s power would allow.

 

“A whole town of death knights,” Cat said wistfully. The idea was somewhat comforting. “They definitely aren’t Ebon Blade if they’re just trying to live there, out of conflict. The Ebon Blade would have sent them all to the shore by now.”

 

"Not as uncommon as you might think," replied Aetheril, distantly, half his attention focused on mental deflection, a mantra running through his skull. "Knightly orders fragment, whether by doctrinal squabbles or vast distance. I belonged to a similar enclave. They're still out there, I hope."

 

"I hope they're safe.." Cat murmured quietly as they approached the village.

 

A few faded memories of her time as a Blood Knight initiate came to her, as the view of the small settlement came into focus. It was a lot nicer than she remembered; repaired roofs, a few new fences, corpses no longer littering the ground. She remembered going there to exterminate the lingering Scourge, but there was no sign of them now.

 

"I suppose we should thank them for keeping the village in order," Aetheril murmured, mouth tilting into a wry grin. "Famous name, Windrunner. But it'll be years before Silvermoon can get to reclaiming the place." He took a long draw at the air, clammy with ground mist. His psychic shields remained clamped in position, prying eyes likely to slide right past them. "Do you think they'll be friendly?"

 

"I hope so. We're coming with good intentions," Cat thought out loud, looking around for some sort of movement.

 

As they entered the village’s main thoroughfare, the telltale sound of carpentry could be heard. Someone was sawing wood, someone else hammering nails. The sound stopped sharply as Cat stepped on a twig and snapped it sharply underfoot.

 

“Can I help you?” Came a voice from behind the two death knights, a deep masculine voice that seemed somehow familiar.

 

Cat turned around quickly to regard him, and found an older Sin’dorei wearing the clothes of a peasant. Were it not for the blue glow of his eyes, she might have assumed he was a simple farmer. At his hip, however, the Sin’dorei carried a sword. It glowed brightly with the same color of his eyes.

 

“Oh! Uh… sorry to intrude,” Cat said apologetically, bowing her head respectfully. “My name is Cat D’Aragon. This is Aetheril. We’re Death Knights,” she explained haphazardly.

 

“Yes, I gathered,” the other knight chuckled. “I take it you heard about our little town in Silvermoon. Word travels fast. Well good,” he added with a friendly smile. “We were hoping that any other knights in search of a home might come to us. My name is Rhyden. Welcome to Windrunner Village.”

 

Aetheril relaxed his wards just a little, but his curious eyes remained fixed on their visitor, and his mind on the locale. "Warmer welcome than I expected," he observed, haltingly, as he pushed back the brim of his tall hat. As a matter-of-course, his other hand hung close to the unmarked side-sword at his hip, but he made no move for it.

 

"Do you keep no watch?" he asked, his brows furrowing. One ear twitched.

 

"Not in some time," Rhyden admitted. "This is not a military base. This is a village. The death knights who live here are attempting to eke out some normalcy. Rarely do we get visitors, but.. on the chance that we encounter someone.. 'unfriendly', they are met swiftly. You will find that we all are quite protective of our little home."

 

Rhyden led both death knights toward an area of the village that seemed a little more active. Though the majority of those they saw were Sin’dorei, there were a few other races sprinkled throughout; a tauren female, an orcish male, two goblin females. They, along with about half a dozen Sin’dorei seemed to be working together on building a new animal pen. A few yards away, some skinny goats bleated at one another behind a makeshift fence.

 

“As you can see, we try to help each other here,” Rhyden explained, waving a hand. “After we rebuilt and refurbished the homes we needed, we started working on rebuilding the livestock once kept here. The milk and cheese we make here will be used for trade. Eventually, we will have enough income to create more jobs, but for now we all agreed that this would be the simplest way to start.”

 

Cat cracked a smile at the harmony in which the death knights worked. She was so used to seeing death knights in armor that it was fairly bizarre sight to see them in peasant clothes, sawing wood and building. For a moment, she considered what it might be like to live there, among her own kind, away from the living and the fear of their rejection. But Kreyen was among the living, and with him all of her hopes and dreams for the future. There was no home without him.

 

"I'm always kinda floundering for a place I feel like I belong. Nothing has really felt like 'home', yet," she remembered telling him a short while ago.

 

His response then had lifted her spirits.

 

"Home is where you are."

 

“If you two intend on staying, we will need to find a home for you,” Rhyden said as he led both Cat and Aetheril to another end of the village. “There are still a few unclaimed homes that--”

 

“Oh, oh no!” Cat said quickly, waving her hands. “We’re not here to stay. Sorry, I should have made that clear.. No, we’re here to warn you, sir. There are some paladins from the Silver Hand looking to exterminate rogue death knights. As in, knights that aren’t affiliated with the Ebon Blade,” she explained. “Has.. the Ebon Blade given you any trouble? When I left, they weren’t exactly thrilled.”

“Luckily we were able to leave as a group,” Rhyden explained. “There were enough of us that we could defend one another. Though we have had visitors in the past, representatives from the Blade attempting to bring us back. It hasn’t worked, so far.”

 

Cat bit her lip as she listened. “..do you still hear him?”

“The Lich King?” Rhyden’s face darkened a bit. “...yes. I fear we always will. It is something we will have to ‘live’ with, but, we are in control of our actions. Just because we hear him doesn’t mean we need to listen.”

 

Cat passed at glance at Aetheril before continuing. She seemed a little unsure about Rhyden’s answer, but didn’t argue. “Well.. we were going to go to Northrend and see if there were any other rogue Death Knights there, but, then we heard about your village. We wanted to make sure you knew about these Silver Hand guys, so you could protect yourself.”

 

Rhyden’s expression changed from cordial to concerned. He looked around for a moment, taking stock of his would-be villagers, and led both Cat and Aetheril to another building that was reminiscent of the same inn that once watered Cat’s own hometown. Inside, it seemed as if someone had taken the time to tidy up. No one was drinking yet, but a kind looking orcess stood behind the bar, cleaning mugs with a rag. She nodded to Rhyden as he entered with his guests.

 

“Tell me what you know,” he said to Cat and Aetheril, his expression suddenly grave. “We left the Ebon Blade to escape conflict, not get dragged back into it. I understand that there is a war on, but--”

 

“We’re not here to make you go to war,” Cat sid quickly, waving both hands. “Just to warn you. From what I’ve heard, it seems like the Silver Hand has a few paladins who want to take out people like us. I tried laying low for a while, but, that didn’t work. Someone found me. I figured it would be better to find others like us, and let you know what I know.”

 

Rhyden’s brow furrowed, long eyebrows knit in the middle as he considered the possibilities. Beside Cat, Aetheril’s attention was focused on the villagers outside. He seemed to be taking mental notes, as if in preparation.

 

“They want us gone...” Rhyden muttered. “Why?”

 

“They think we’re more likely to go rabid outside of the Ebon Blade,” Cat explained with a shrug. “And they have an agreement with the Ebon Blade. The rest of us--”

 

“I think, unfortunately, that is the end of our conversation,” Aetheril said to his sister. A slender hand was placed on her shoulder, calm and gentle. “We should be going.”

 

Cat frowned at the sudden shift. “Wait, what? Why? Aetheril, what’s going--”

 

“Paladins!!” Came the shout from outside, the hollow voice of a death knight warning all those who might hear it. “Dozens of them, Rhyden!”

 

The town’s makeshift leader cast Cat and Aetheril an incredulous look as he led them outside. “Where you followed??”

 

“No!” Cat said quickly, nodding to Aetheril. “He made sure of it!”

 

Aetheril shook his head and took in a deep calming breath. “It seems our chatty friend in Silvermoon found someone else to talk to.”

 

In the main square, the death knights abandoned their carpentry. Most retreated to their homes to gather weapons, just in case. It seemed they were more prepared for such a confrontation than Cat imagined. Soon, the paladins they were warned of flooded into the square atop shimmering white horses, their leader a massive bull riding a monstrous animal with hooves wider than dinner plates.

 

“Death knights,” the Sunwalker said with authority, his voice even and without emotion. “I am Commander Karhyo of the Silver Hand.”

 

“Commander Karhyo,” Rhyden said with a polite bow of his head. “Welcome to Windrunner Village. I am Rhyden.”

 

“Who is in charge here, Rhyden?” The Sunwalker asked, passing a glance over Cat and Aetheril.

 

Rhyden did not blink. “I am. What can I do for you?”

 

“I have come to compel you to rejoin the Ebon Blade,” Karhyo answered, not moving from his place atop the gargantuan white horse. “Join the fight against the Legion, and be under the Horde’s protection once again.”

 

The death knight tried to smile. “While we appreciate the offer, we must decline. We came to Windrunner Village to start a new life away from conflict. As you can see, we mean no harm to anyone. The people of this village have no intention of returning to the employ of the same creature that killed us. I am sure you can appreciate that.”

 

“That I can,” the Sunwalker said, then added gravely. “However. We have an arrangement with the Ebon Blade. They are responsible for their men not succumbing to their feral state. I can not say as much for you, or your people. So I will ask again. Rejoin the Ebon Blade. If you do not, I can not  guarantee your safety.”

 

Rhyden’s eyebrow twitched. “Are you threatening me, Commander?”

 

Karhyo did not budge. “Yes.”

 

Cat took a step forward, ignoring Aetheril’s hand on her shoulder. “You can’t do that! They’re not hurting anyone, and you have no right to come here and tell them what they have to do!”

 

There was a pause as the Sunwalker appraised Cat, still in her full armor, yet wearing pigtails. “On the contrary. It is in fact my duty to tell them what they should do, in the effort to avoid violence. I don’t think anyone here wants that.”

 

“Then I would suggest you leave,” Rhyden said with a strained smile. “You and your men. You are making my villagers very uncomfortable, sir. I would appreciate it if--”

 

“Do you refuse?” Karhyo asked, interrupting the death knight. “Do all of you refuse?”

 

There was a murmuring in the village as each of Rhyden’s fellow knights spoke among themselves. In the time since the paladins had arrived, they each managed to gather their runeblades and stood in peasant clothes with glowing weapons in hand. It didn’t take long for them to reach a consensus.

 

“We’re not going back,” said the orcess from the bar, brandishing a broadsword in one hand. “And you will not force us.”

 

Karhyo huffed once from his large nostrils. That he anticipated this turn of events was clear, given the two dozen paladins behind him. He didn’t seem inclined to speak on the matter further. “Very well.”

 

The Sunwalker’s hand rose into the air, and a moment later a dozen paladins kicked their horses into action.

 

Cat stumbled backwards, grabbing Aetheril to help pull him from the path of an oncoming charger, but he didn’t need her assistance. The slender weaver of shadows glided effortlessly to one side and immediately began defending them both, tendrils of shadow extending from his body to wrap around the paladin who nearly trampled him.

 

There was no time to be impressed by his power, so Cat moved on the defensive. Mounted, the paladins had an advantage and easily used their horses to crush death knights underfoot before casting bolts of pure Light toward their prone bodies. The smell of burnt undead flesh and the sound of their screams began to fill Cat’s ears. The death knights were not prepared for battle with fully armored paladins, and they were woefully outnumbered. Only Cat wore armor, but the rest defended them as best they could.

 

Thankfully, Windrunner Village was surrounded by death. Those who could summon the bodies of the fallen did so without remorse, sending a small shambling army of corpses toward the paladins to pull them from their horses and onto the ground. It was chaos, but with the help from the dead, the death knights at least had a ghost of a chance in defending their home.

 

With Aetheril busy commanding his tendrils of shadow, Cat looked for ways to assist him. Stomping her foot into the ground, she created a rune that surrounded them both. Biting into the unarmored part of her own hand, Cat cut a wound just big enough to allow her to bleed. Then, extending her hand to one of the human paladins, she released a tendril of blood that wrapped around his neck and dragged him into the rune. Almost immediately, his flesh began to turn colors as necrosis set in. As the pain and panic began to set in, the paladin screamed, slashing at Cat with his Light blessed weapon. Using her axe to deflect him, she kept her hold on his neck with the blood and made him stay within the confines of the rune. Wearing him down slowly was the goal, and after a few loud hits of steel against steel, the paladin fell to the ground in exhaustion and let the rot take him.

 

“An’she guide your blades!!” Karhyo shouted as he fought Rhyden on the ground, their swords hitting to create a shower of sparks. The massive bull towered over Rhyden, but the death knight would not relent. As their blades met once again, Karhyo’s sword pressed down on Rhyden’s to push the death knight to his knees. “I ask you again, death knight, to submit or we will burn this village to the ground!”

 

Rhyden spat at the bull, all of his strength focused on keeping the Holy sword at bay. “We will not submit to you, or the Lich King. Never again.”

 

“Very well,” Karhyo grunted, a white light erupting from his sword.

 

The entire village could hear Rhyden’s voice, a high pitched wail of pain and despair. The Light cut through his body like fire through paper, burning his gray flesh until a charred corpse was all that remained.

 

“An’she take you,” the bull said quietly, crushing Rhyden’s black skull with his hoof.

 

Cat’s memories of Light’s Hope were at the forefront of her mind, then; the feel of her flesh as it was incinerated, the screams, the pleas for help. She remembered calling on Kreyen, speaking to him as if he were right beside her as she attempted to do whatever it took to stay on her feet. But Kreyen couldn’t hear her now, and Aetheril was fighting his own battle. Seeing Commander Karhyo execute Rhyden created a pain in her chest that felt like a combination of grief and remorse. He died for his people, defending their freedom. He died a hero.

 

“You killed him,” she said in a hoarse voice, approaching Karhyo. Blood dripped from her hand. “You killed him, and he didn’t do anything wrong. How could you? Paladins are supposed to do what’s right. There’s nothing right about this!”

 

Karhyo turned to Cat and again looked her over. He seemed exhausted, and perhaps sad. “You must have died very young..” he said quietly, raising his blade to meet her. “..if you think that right and wrong still has bearing on this world. I am sorry, but there is no future for your kind.”

 

Cat’s lips pursed. This rage was new for the death knight, this seething anger that begged to be released. Here was a Sunwalker, who was supposed to represent everything that she believed in. Once, the Light blessed her. Would it never do so again?

 

“The Light does not forget its champions,” she said under her breath, stomping the ground with her boot to create a rune that spread throughout the ground.

 

Karhyo felt the immediate pain, the necrosis that spread beneath his fur, threatening to rot him from the inside. The bull needed only a few steps to close the gap between himself and Cat, a few thudding steps that would allow his sword to come down on her small frame with all the power of a Sunwalker. It crashed down hard against Cat’s runeblade axe, nearly shoving her to the ground. But as the blood poured from her hand, it snaked up her weapon and against Karhyo’s until it wrapped around his arm, infecting him with blood rot.

 

The bull reeled as his flesh was compromised, infection discoloring his eyes and nostrils, blood slowly seeping from every orifice. Still, he attacked Cat, crashing his sword against her axe as if he were chopping wood, slamming harder and harder as the rot entered his brain and ate at the parts that granted him motor skills. Karhyo’s attacks, hard and heavy at first, grew weaker and weaker. His lumbering body became a shuffling mass of rotting meat, held together by cracking bones until finally, Cat swung her axe into his torso and crushed his heart beneath his ribs.

 

“Cat, look out!”

 

Aetheril’s voice rang out beyond the sounds of battle. She turned just in time for a younger bull to rush her, his axe aimed for her neck. Aetheril’s warning was all she needed to duck the attack and punch the ground, creating another flesh rotting rune that surrounded them both. The young bull stumbled as he felt the disease gnaw at him from the inside, confused and caught off guard.

 

Turning to face him, Cat hesitated only when she saw that the rest of the village was actually holding their own against the invasion. The ghouls summoned from the earth admirably distracted their foes, allowing the knights time to execute those who attempted to destroy their way of life. The paladins still standing had been pushed into defending themselves and were slowly being backed out of the village.

 

But there was no time to take stock of the survivors. The young bull came at Cat with his axe again, slower and less precise. She managed to dodge him with her own axe, sending his weapon spinning away and into the ground.

 

The bull blinked at his empty hands. All he had left was the Light. “An’she--”

 

Cat’s blood tendril wrapped around his throat, effectively silencing his prayer. Certainly he could still call upon the light, but he seemed to distracted by being choked and rotting to remember that. Pulling his body toward her, Cat was ready to decapitate him when she noticed that the other paladins were gone, along with the sounds of battle. The young bull struggled in her grasp, writhing on his knees as bits of flesh flaked away from his face and fell to the ground. Fully armored, though much younger than the other paladins, he looked almost pathetic in her hands. If he died there, he would have been another hero for the Light cut down before he reached his real potential.

 

Just like her.

 

The tendril unwrapped from around his throat.

 

“Hey,” she said to the bull, grabbing his jaw with one hand and forcing him to look at her. “You have someone waiting for you, right?”

 

The bull’s mouth opened to answer, but it was too painful. If she didn’t stop soon, the rot would take him. He nodded instead.

 

Cat kicked him in the chest, pushing him out of the rune.

 

“So do I. We’re not different, okay? We just want to be left alone. Got it?”

Again the bull nodded, though he avoided her gaze.

 

“We’re not monsters,” she continued, yanking the bull to his feet. “I want you to go back to Light’s Hope, and tell them what happened here. Tell them you and the others tried to kill a bunch of death knights just trying to live in peace. Tell them they defended their home. Tell them we let you go, because we don’t need to keep killing each other. Got it??”

 

He nodded slowly, breathing in heavy pants as his body slowly recovered from the rune. Shame was clear on his face, still cracked and bloody. As Cat released him from her grip, he stumbled toward one of the chargers left behind. About a dozen or so horses still stood around, riderless, as the paladins who came to execute Windrunner Village lay dead in the ground beside many of the villagers themselves.

 

Only a handful remained, including Cat and Aetheril. They watched as the young bull struggled to mount his horse, and eventually turned in retreat.

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Surveying the carnage, Aetheril strode on through the aftermath. He kept sharp watch on the dead and the dying as he moved - knights of either stripe reduced to so much bloody wreckage. There was a space in the battle-priest's eyes, a distant remembrance of similar sights, back when he still called himself an Ebon Blade. His padded half-plate rattled only slightly as he walked. 

After a time, he came to a stop at the foot of one sorry case – a Silver Hand, some young adept whose career was cut painfully short. He was laid open at the belly, the entire scene a ghastly tableau. There were pieces, some already breaking down from the telltale corruption of unholy runes. 

He covered his eyes with one iron-shod hand, forcibly stilling his own breathing. Aetheril murmered something indistinct as his head was bowed. It could have been a prayer or a curse, for the scene warranted both. After a few quiet minutes, clinically examining the scene with the air of an investigator, he seemed to come to some sort of decision.

The priest turned on a heel, and came striding back towards the tavern, purposely. He gave Cat a harrowed look as he passed, his gaunt face turned even more ashen than normal. Whatever terrible notion drove Aetheril, he seemed to have eliminated his options. 

He came back out bearing his pack, which he'd dropped at the first outbreak of violence. He didn't look at Cat on his way out, but spoke to her all the same.

"The Shriven will need to know. My splinter chapter. The Brotherhood," he said, voice clipped. "Come with me. Or not. But I may have a use for you. Just know that this won't be the honorable option, but its the only one I have right now." 

He was blunt, and terse, and seemed to be speaking out of a distracted state.

"..what do you mean?" Cat asked with a somewhat blank face, still shaken from the fight. The last living paladin was long gone, but she still felt their presence there, watching. "They're all dead. The fight is over.." she blinked a few times and turned to watch him.  "You're my brother. What's not honorable about going with you?"

"I mean -- what I'm about to do," he said, quietly. He'd come to a stop, and looked back at her over his shoulder. "We can't very well make contact with them directly, and risk exposure. The Brotherhood is very strict in times of crisis. I have the means to reach them even here. A ritual," he went on, his breathing slowed and his eyes looking a bit sunken.

Cat checked their surroundings again. The remaining death knights, though few, tended to themselves. There were a handful of wounded knights, and they helped one another before eventually collecting the bodies of their fallen brothers and sisters. Only when she was sure there was no more danger did Cat approach Aetheril and stand beside him. "Unless you're planning on hurting anyone, do what you have to do," she said with a shrug. "There's not much that'll shock me, at this point.."

He gave her a long, searching look. Finally, he met her shrug with one of his own, and sighed.

"Let's get this over with, then." 

They both approached the dead adept, his armor -- well-appointed, perhaps newly-issued – lay rent asunder at the gut, its gleaming mirror-shine marred by the evidence of wrenching violence. Something had happened here, and wounds were seldom so hungrily gouged. There was a distinctive animal brutality that only a rune blade had the will and the malice to inflict.

Muttering something indistinct, he removed his tall, wide-brimmed hat, and laid it over his heart. He then offered a momentary silence as the weight of the scene settled on them both. A ground-mist had begun to gather.

Then, the silence ended abruptly. Without further ado, Aetheril dropped his pack, and began to rummage through it. As he did, Cat might've picked up the strains of another rasped incantation on his breath, perhaps a ward against evil or restless spirits. In a place as eerie as the Ghostlands, such things were a common traveller's refrain, but the priest uttered them with such haste and urgency. 

Finally: "I'm not very good at this," he admitted, pausing in his search. "But I must put my meager skills to the test. We're running low-to-zero contact, for your safety...and mine, come to think of it. And the Shriven Brotherhood wouldn't have it any other way."
Looking paler and sunken for just an instant, he withdrew a spherical object from his backpack, wrapped in thick canvas. He undid the ties, whispered another ward, and uncovered the thing.

The object was a strange silver mechanism, inlaid throughout with a shining, cyan-tinged metal. That sickly inlay – as if metal could be unwholesome! - was sinister, uniformly unsettling, and Aetheril's eyes and lips quivered with unwilling, mild fascination. And yet, his hands never touched the gleaming device directly – it was encased in a membrane of sorts, a sphere of polished dark glass or crystal. Smoky currents seemed to shift freely, obscuring and revealing the inner workings.

Shaking himself awake from an unaccustomed chill, Aetheril spoke to Cat again.

"This should not affect us, or so the Ebon Blade has said time-and-again. But treat it carefully. The mechanism is of saronite inlay, and a devious thing."

He stood and gave it to her, hesitantly, gingerly. "Hold this for now. I will need it soon."

"Uh.. o-okay.." Cat said with as much bravado as she could muster, taking thing in her hands. Despite wearing gauntlets, she seemed less than willing to let the weird thing touch here skin and held it away from herself. She did not, however, question Aetheril.

Aetheril reached into his pack again, withdrawing a capped, opaque-painted vial. Delicately, he unscrewed the cap from its threads, and teased out the contents into his palm, carefully. Packed in cotton wadding, it was a wickedly sharp needle that shone with a telltale light.

"The two resonate. But first must attune to the medium."

He held the delicate, evil-looking thing between two fingers. Aloft, it looked to be crystalline, as if it were a pointed shard from a larger mass. And, with that green glow, undoubtedly fel in origin.

"Forgive me," he sighed. Aetheril kneeled again, before the corpse. He made some esoteric gesture in the air, handling the tiny thing like a conductor's baton, carving out an unseen pattern. Then, he anointed the needle with the still-cooling blood of the corpse, going directly to the source, the terrible wound. There was no immediate reaction, but after a moment, the blood quietly bubbled and hissed on the point of the implement.

"The sphere!" he demanded, quietly but urgently. He held out his free hand.

"Uh... here!" Cat babbled, handing over the strange device. It was true that she wasn't shocked by his actions, but she wasn't quite sure what was happening either. Careful not to get too close, she watched as the blood bubbled, smelling the changes as they were made before her eyes.

The moment the sphere touched his hand, he jerked upright where he sat, as though an electric shock had passed from one hand to the other. Aetheril grit his teeth, grimacing, before finding the will to move. Beneath the smoky glass membrane, the saronite mechanism had sprung to sluggish life, layers within layers turning and arranging in jerks and starts.

"The fel, and that which issues from beyond, the blood of the Void, have a certain antipathy," he intoned, breathing deliberately, as small beads of sweat sprung up on his forehead. Aetheril spoke to keep himself distracted from the discomfort. "Where they meet, there are ripples. The mechanism issues a dissonant note, a shriek that carries through the Saronite lode...all the way to Northrend. For the blood of Yogg'Saron is one blood, one life."

He then whispered another prayer, another ward, and laid the mechanism down in the open belly of the corpse, a grotesque cradle. The tremor in his hands stilled.

"If one of the Brothers is on the other end," he explained, breathing his relief. "They will hear. It is a direct line through the black blood, untraceable by any ordinary magic. The reception is...difficult, however."

He held the needle aloft once more. More whispers, and then his hand came down deliberately, fiercly, before reaching a jerking halt. The bloody point hung above the surface of the sphere, shaking slightly in his hand.
The priest uttered a single word of power, and a film of shadow magic sheathed the needle. He releaseed his hold on it, and watched as it slowly descended of its own accord, penetrating the glass membrane without a sign of a crack or displacement. It was as though the outer layer were viscous, and the  point was sinking into a layer of molasses.

He snatched his hands back, like he'd touched a hot stove. Then clapping them together, he nodded once, fiercely. The mechanism within the sphere began to turn with greater speed, layers locking into place. A channel was forming, the fel needle allowed passage deeper into the heart of the device. It's sheath of conjured voidstuff remained unbroken.

Cat watched the whole scene with widening eyes. This sort of magic was never her specialty, but if Aetheril was being careful, that meant something. 

"The Brothers," she repeated quietly. "Where were they, last? I mean, where did you see them?"
"Not long after the war in Northrend," he began to answer, as his eyes remained locked on the needle's delving point. Aetheril spoke with a flat tone, entranced. Most of his attention was fixated on the device, sitting on his haunches in front of  the body.

"--the Brotherhood -- my order, the Shriven -- they took part in the first, doomed assault on the Broken Shore. I believe some have gone back there since. But their home, where I hope to make contact..."

His eyes shuddered in their orbits, as his mind began to interface with something other. To the priest, the psychic ether grew deathly still. Even so, an unskilled onlooker might note an inexplicable sense of tension, of mounting dread, a deep-rooted aversion that might compel them to quickly leave. Aetheril was carving through the local thoughtscape with a surgeon's finesse, but to an uncertain end. Sensation in the immediate area took on a sort of waxiness, as though details were unfocused,  and sight and sound slipped out-of-joint. The sound of his voice was muffled, bubbling up through the haze.

"The Shadow Vault." 

The words were an invocation. His eyes stilled, and their pupils dialated fully.  Aetheril's hands rose painfully-slow and deliberate, the air like molasses in that small clearing around the paladin's corpse. It may have been a trick of the senses, an attenuation of percieved time. Whatever the case, after a very long transition, they at last hung in space in front of him at about chest level, a blank-eyed conductor ready to lead an orchestra.

"..the Shadow Vault..." Cat repeated under her breath, careful not to distract Aetheril from his task. She remembered this place well. Located in northern Icecrown, so close to the Frozen Throne that one might spit and have it land at the feet of the Lich King. The Ebon Blade took that place as a base during the campaign in Northrend, and to Cat's knowledge, still held it.

Why then would the Shriven Brotherhood be there? If they disassociated themselves with the Blade? She thought back to her time there, fighting for the Horde, bits and pieces of her earliest days as a Death Knight creeping back to the front of her mind. A presence was there, too cloaked in shadow for her to remember entirely, but never gone from her past; Soleren. She briefly remembered a glimpse of his face and immediately recoiled from those thoughts. What few memories she had of him were pure dread. 

But then, there was no way he would be anywhere near the Shadow Vault. Was there?

When Aetheril's scrying finally led him to create what looked like an illusion before him, the smaller death knight had to fight her instinct to leap back in surprise. She watched the ritual like a student, but felt that this particular sort of magic was far beyond what she was capable of. Clasping a hand over her mouth, Cat waited for Aetheril to speak with his brethren.

At once, the needle found the core of the sphere, the final saronite gate aligned and locked into place. The last seal was broken. The lingering tension relieved, all at once, and a gentle, inward rush of air disturbed dead leaves. The clearing breathed with an unseen presence.

Then, the scene took on a new and frightening light as Aetheril's hands began to move, swiftly and mechanically. His face glistened with cold sweat as his fingers were puppetted by some alien impulse. Droplets of blood spattered his tunic and gambeson, as the priest worked. 

The paladin's own steaming innards were the so-called "medium" of this method of scrying. Somewhere in the preparation, Aetheril had silently produced a fine-edged knife, and was deliberately excising and sorting the contents of the corpse's belly. Not once did his tool nick or disturb the dark sphere where it lay in the center of the mess. He didn't dare.
He worked at his grisly task for several minutes, pausing at irregular intervals. At times, the light of recognition crept into his eyes, momentarily breaking the seer's-trance into which he'd fallen. Aetheril seemed more puzzled than anything else, but each time shook his head to clear it, and resumed with renewed deliberation. 

When he finally released a long-held breath, and wiped the knife clean, he sat surrounded by cooling remnants, an esoteric array laid in blood and offal. He struggled to his feet, turning about, surveying the results as he would any runic configuration – this one, however, was not any recognizeable language or sigil. Aetheril vacillated between confusion and peturbation, before grasping something resembling recognition.(edited)
"The Vault," he explained, at last returning to life, or whatever ashen mockery passed for it. "Is not wholly under the Blade's control. Their garrison is a token one, and has been since Acherus moved. The Brotherhood has always operated within the larger hierarchy, meeting in secret in the foundations of the place, to practice their subtle arts. To the Ebon Blade, they were just another sub-Chapter, a force left to protect their holdings."

Aetheril screwed up his face, trying to make sense of the confusing sensations he'd recieved during the trance. He wiped his forehead, carelessly smearing blood as he fought off confusion, and pain.

"I sensed...danger. A need to flee. The Lich King's outstretched hand -- doom stalks the halls. He will know that the Shriven Brothers are faithless, that they deny him and refuse their swords.  His terrible eyes pierce the veil, where the Ebon Blade was unawares. A doctrinal dispute will turn to a question of treachery."

In the ruined belly of the corpse, the mechanism began to silently click, as the needle was slowly extruded from the dense and murky  interior. Atheril's attention was arrested for just a moment. He shuddered.

"I recieve these...feelings. Through the black blood. At the Vault, another sphere is tied directly to this one...a sort of...magical entanglement," he muttered, waving his hand absently in an attempt to simplify the picture. "What effects one will effect the other, and a psychic medium must use unorthodox means to interpret it."

Aetheril rubbed his temples, and took on that same pained expression again. He seemed drained by his efforts.

"I'm a poor haruspex, I'm afraid. But I reached one of the Brothers. Or a Sister? Either way, I know that they will move, soon, some directed to aid us in our time of need. The others scattered and gone to ground. I've tried to relay as much detail as I could, but it's jumbled, confused....but at least others cannot sense this. Only those who hold the spheres."

"The important thing is that they're doing what they can to be safe," Cat said with a quick nod. "That's all that matters. Though I wish.." her voice faded a little as she looked around the village. The handful of surviving death knights had almost all gone, left their home abandoned, perhaps in search of a new one. Or at least in search of safety. "..I wish we could have done more, here."

The mortality of their situation felt heavy. Cat was so used to death by now that entrails and blood hardly impacted her, but seeing the remains of her fellow death knights was a reminder; she was not immortal, and if this could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

"...I need to find Kreyen," she said suddenly, blue eyes focused on her brother with a painful confidence. "If he finds out what happened here, he's going to worry himself into an aneurysm. I've got to get to him before that happens."

Aetheril's mouth tightened, pressed into a thin line. His features were sunken and cold, his energy spent. One eye twitched, just slightly, an absent spasm.  He didn't speak for a few moments, and took the time to carefully retrieve and stow the sphere and it's fel needle. He handled these effects with utmost delicacy.

"I'm not going to tell you this was a mistake," he said at last, quietly. "I think we did some good, and we need whatever allies we can get in this time. Interference. Something to throw the opposition into disarray. And I wouldn't have dared use the sphere inside the bounds of the manor."

Aetheril was wringing his hands as he surveyed the carnage. The mechanism was now out of sight, cradled in its sack, and hopefully out of mind. Its lingering influence soured his stomach. The priest took a moment to swallow his rising gorge, idly surveying the carnage.

"All that said...we move from goal to goal quickly and hastily. It is perhaps time that we waited, went back to ground ourselves. Hit and fade. We shouldn't assume that we are ever alone, or that we move unseen. Nor Kreyen."

He breathed in through his nose, sharply. Cold eyes met hers just once, and then scanned the area.

Cat pursed her lips as Aetheril spoke, his general good sense setting her course. Whatever she imagined Kreyen must have been thinking when he left didn't feel entirely right, anymore. The real world danger that awaited her, and every other death knight, wasn't a situation she knew he would want her exposed to. Frustrations about feeling trapped aside, she lowered her eyes to the ground and made a difficult decision. 

"..yeah. Okay. I guess.. we should probably go back, then," she muttered, touching her axe reflexively. It was satiated, for now.

"We'll find him," he said, nodding sharply, a little of the tension going out of his face and voice. Aetheril cast his eyes around, but it seemed he looked for something that wasn't there.

Then, speaking deliberately: "The Brotherhood will help us. This is a crisis for them, too." 

He wiped some of the blood from his hands as he thought this aloud, to nobody in particular. A moment later, he turned back to Cat, and carried on as normal.

"We just need to regroup. I promise...if Fael hasn't already located him, we'll put our heads together and figure this out. I promised Amalyn we'd return together, and safely, after contacting our allies."

Aetheril sighed, gently, sensing her reticence, her wrestling with the decision. But, at least, she'd taken his advice. No overextension. A sigh quickly turned into distracted urgency, however, and his nose wrinkled.

"Help me burn the body. I can't leave him like this."

Cat nodded quickly and lowered herself beside the corpse. Aetheril was usually easy to read, but his shifts in mood had her a little concerned. Was it the scrying? The way in which he tore through a corpse to get what he needed? She felt a little ashamed for not being as disgusted by the act. Having grown accustomed to not only using blood runes but eating her victims to regain strength, Cat and long since passed the point of disgust. Sliding both arms underneath the paladin, she lifted him easily into the air, limbs limply hanging down along with his entrails, and carried him toward the  town's small dilapidated chapel. 

The graveyard was small, and may have gone forgotten for some time. However, for the death knights residing there, forgetting the dead was not an option. The few surviving death knights already had a pile of bodies going, but only for the paladins. Their own dead, they would bury. Cat lay the corpse among his brethren and took a step back, looking at the pile of bodies with a newfound sense of awe.

"Thank you for helping us," said the death knight orcess from the tavern. Her voice was low and strained, as if she were having a difficult time speaking. Leftover burns on her arms faded slowly, leaving behind gray scars.

Cat smiled awkwardly. "I'm sorry we couldn't get here sooner. I'm hoping nobody else tries something like this again, but.. I can't be sure. What will you do now?"
The orcess shook her head slowly. "There are few of us left. We had hoped that this could be a new beginning for us, but.. now, I do not think we can stay. Not after this. No, we will go to Northrend. Regroup. After that, I do not know. What will you do, elf? You look like a fighter. Will you return to the front?"

It was a difficult question to answer. The Legion was attacking, and death knights provided a necessary service to the Horde. Even if her kind were being hunted, could she ignore her duty? Cat flashed a glance at Aetheril before answering. "..eventually. For now, we regroup. Please, be careful out there," she pleaded. "I know this was a setback, but.. it was a nice place. I hope you can find another home, someday."

There was a long pause in conversation as the orcess reached for a book of matches in her pocket, struck them, and dropped the little fire on to their pile of bodies. As the paladins went up in flame, she smiled sadly and nodded. Had she been alive, the orcess might have wept. "Yes. I hope so, too."

Aetheril listened to the conversation, silently. He watched as the bodies burned and crackled.

"I'd ask for your help," he murmered, without tearing his eyes away. "But you hardly wanted any of this."

The priest swallowed a lump forming in his throat, and hesitated, as though he couldn't find the words. Finally, he shook his head and settled on an indistinct curse. The piled dead were consumed in the heat.

"Such a waste."

The orcess looked carefully at the priest as he stared at the rising flames. He seemed less than happy with the situation, so she reached into her pocket and pulled out a stone. It wasn't particularly interesting looking, just a plain smooth polished stone, gray in color. "Here," she said to Cat gently, handing her the rock. "Take this. We made a few for everyone who lived here. We must regroup, but in the future, if you or your friend need help, do not hesitate to call on us."

A few yards away, the remaining death knights had begun shoveling. There were plenty of bodies to bury. Cat nodded and pocketed the stone. "Sure. But before that, let me help you dig," she said with another glance at Aetheril. "And then we'll go?"

Aetheril furrowed his brow, looking at the stone in Cat's hand. After a moment, he nodded. He turned to the orcess one last time, before they joined the work.

"If, in your travels, you come accross the sigil of the scabbard and the empty hand...know the bearer for a friend."

He gave a cryptic smile, then went to find a shovel.

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