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Catalinetta

Silent are the Dead

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Clank. Clank. Clank.

Catalinetta walked through Undercity, the metal of her boots clanking against the stone floors of ancient Lordaeron. They felt almost unusually loud there, underground, where the Forsaken spoke in scratchy hushed tones and moved in slow, hunched over shambles. She didn't suppose that she was in a hurry, not at first anyhow. The death knight had gone to Undercity with a specific purpose; to find a ring. There were plenty to be had down there, crafted by some of the Forsaken's most talented jewelers, and she knew exactly where to go for what she wanted. Unfortunately, as she reached the edge of the Magic Quarter, certain to find the same bright-eyed Forsaken woman who used to craft her jewelry as a newly risen death knight, Catalinetta saw that she was no longer there.

The death knight paused mid-stride, staring ahead at the now empty spot. Tilting her head to one side, she considered briefly that maybe her friend was simply taking a break. Or away, visiting friends in Brill. Without hesitating, she approached another nearby Forsaken who manned a stall selling inscriptions.

"Excuse me, sir," she said in her high pitched, if not hollow voice. Cat's eyes glowed with the same eerie blue of her fellow death knights. It was not the dim yellow of the Forsaken, but they often found a kinship in their undeath.

Today, however, that did not come as easily. "Death to the living," he said in greeting, his voice hoarse and gravelly. He seemed to have died in mid-life, just old enough to have sprouted a few gray hairs at his temples that hung in thick clumps about his gray face. A lack of flesh in his cheeks that exposed both jawbones gave him a permanently stern expression. "What do you want?"

A corner of Cat's mouth twitched. "..yeah, uh... I was wondering if you'd seen Abby?" She asked, her dark gray ears perking a little. Though she was undead, the Sin'dorei's ears still worked as they did in life, reacting to her emotions with little twitches as much her eyebrows. "She was supposed to be here today, I thought. I wanted to buy some jewelry from her."

The other vendor's face made no changes. Perhaps if he had been alive she might have seen some sort of change, something in his face to indicate his thoughts on the matter. As it was, he seemed far too corpse-like to emote as she did. "Gone. She won't be coming back."

Cat's eyebrows rose, scrunching her forehead in concern. "Where did she go? Is she okay?? Did something happen to her?"

Now the vendor's face changed, a slow and creeping grin that gradually pulled at the sagging flesh in his face enough to make his eyes squint like half-moons. "I do not know where she went, death knight," he answered, then frowned again as his face relaxed. Smiling, Cat imagined, must have taken quite a bit of effort on his part. "But I know that she will not be coming back."

For a moment, she just stared at him. Admittedly, it had been a while since she'd returned to this place, where the Forsaken once welcomed the death knights to their new status as living dead. Certainly they were different, and there were plenty of Forsaken who were distrustful of Arthas' newer creations. However as time passed, most of the Forsaken grew to learn about the curse of the death knights, their eternal bond to the Lich King, and their inherent need to cause pain. The Forsaken were free, after all. The death knights, in spite of their great strength, would never truly be independent of their creator. Things were even, in a way. So why now did this Forsaken treat her like this, she wondered? Could he tell that there was something amiss? Could he somehow detect the Mogu blood magic that coursed through her black veins, creating the illusion of life even as it reanimated her? Was it a lack of decay?

It didn't matter. He was being difficult, and that much was unnecessary. "Look, I don't know what your problem is," she started, pointing a gauntlet-covered finger at the bony creature. "But Abby is my friend. So if you know something, just tell me so I can go find her. Alright?"

Again, the Forsaken smiled. It appeared to take less effort this time. "I can not tell you her fate, but your search ends here. Abigaille Lefaye is gone. You might as well leave this city too, death knight. You will not find what you are looking for, here."

"But--"

"Catalinetta?"

Another voice from behind. It was scratchy, hollow and undoubtedly Forsaken, but it was also kind and familiar. She turned to see a man, hunched over but still taller than her. His short black hair, unlike most Forsaken, was usually well kept. Today however, it was matted and disheveled. His typically well cared for robes were frayed and dull, and the once jovial look on his gently rotted face had been replaced with one of terrible remorse. "..mister Steinberg?"

Indeed he was. The former accountant of Sanctuary, stolen away by the Bloodstones to Silvermoon when their guild hall was burned to the ground by Garrosh Hellscream. Though he witnessed the death of so many other guild members, one of them his own adopted son, Steinberg carried on. He helped Ninorra raise Damian in her absence. He healed his broken heart by teaching the Sin'dorei boy to read and write, and one again was given another chance at life. In a way. 

"Yes miss D'Aragon," he said in a slightly pained voice, as if trying to keep the sorrow from slipping. Swallowing something down, his expression turned slightly harsh. "I heard you asking about Miss Lefaye. I'm afraid she's no longer with us. If you'll come with me, I'll show you where you can buy whatever it is you need."

Cat's heart sunk at the change in voice. Steinburg had always been kind to her, to everyone. What happened to change him so drastically? Tearing herself away from the other vendor, she walked to her old friend and twisted her hands together. "Sorry if I caused trouble, I just wanted to know if she was okay. Is.. did something happen?"

Steinburg lowered a pair of cold yellow eyes to his old friend, the once familiar smile completely gone. "Yes. Now come with me."

Following him as the Forsaken shambled away, Cat's eyes were lowered to the moldy stone floor. She held in angry tears, tears she knew would invite too many questions, and vowed to let them out later for her friend. Steinburg led her from the Magic Quarter and walked her, quicker than she would have thought him capable of, toward the elevator. "Where are we going?"

"Out," he said quickly, not bothering to look back. 

To any of the other Forsaken, they looked like a very angry man leading a very confused elf. Both dead, both unhappy, both completely ordinary in a place where nobody should ever be happy. His steps were so quick that Cat almost found herself tripping after him, but by the time they reached the ruins of Lordaeron and rushed past the throne room of its former king, she understood where he was leading her. "Steinburg wait," she said quickly, grabbing his shoulder.

The Forsaken didn't slow. "Just keep walking," he said between clenched teeth, frayed robes fluttering around his bare skeletal feet. They clacked about almost as much as her boots, which worried her. Where had his shoes gone?

"Steinburg, I--"

The orb stood in front of them, a bright ball of red that would take them to Silvermoon. Steinburg grabbed Catalinetta's hand and moved it to the orb, but she wrenched it away.

"Wait a second!" she shouted, wrenching her arm back. "What the hell is wrong with you?? I haven't seen you in months and suddenly you're here, and you look terrible, and everything is all weird and sad! What happened to you??"

The yellow glow flickered in Steinbeug's eyes. For a moment, a hint of his old self came forward and he nearly smiled at the outburst. She had always been outspoken, even in death, and it had once made him smile. But it was only for a moment. "I am Forsaken," he said simply, the frown returning as he grabbed Catalinetta's arm and pulled her to him, whispering near her long ear. "Now go home. Where you belong."

Still not understanding, Cat shook her head. She wanted to argue, to yell at him and get Steinburg to snap out of whatever spell he was under, but then she stopped. His face shifted, so close to hers. It wasn't angry. It was sad. He was trying to tell her something. Go home? She thought. But he doesn't know where I live, now..

She glanced at the orb. Silvermoon. It wasn't her home, per say. Not ever. But it was the home of the Sin'dorei, and she was starting to realize that's what he wanted for her. To go there. But why?

"Fine," she grunted irritably. "I'll go back to Silvermoon. Maybe I'll find what I need there."

"I'm sure you will," Steinburg muttered bitterly, watching as she grabbed the orb, her form fading from sight before his eyes.

A few feet behind him, another hollow voice rung out. "Who was that?" Asked an almost silvery elven voice, though it retained the same echo as his own. 

Steinburg turned to regard one of the dark rangers, a beautiful elven woman who, even in death, moved soundlessly. "An old acquaintance," he muttered distastefully. "She has no place here."

The dark ranger nodded, and glanced back toward the entrance to Undercity. "Good. You might want to get back to work, now. There is much to be done and not as many hands to do it."

Steinburg nodded and turned back, resisting the urge to glance behind him at the orb. What point would there be in leaving? The Warchief's eyes were everywhere, and the long ears of the dark rangers heard everything. He would need to think fast. Thankfully, an accountant knew how to calculate all of his options quickly. He had a plan before he reached the bottom of the elevator.

Edited by Catalinetta
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Steinburg had been in Undercity for a few months, now.

First he came to visit some old friends. It surprised him to discover that the librarians who once helped him find books on Lordaeron’s history were, along with the books, no longer there. When he asked about their whereabouts, he received roundabout answers. They were “no longer necessary”. Whether this was an answer about the books or his friends, he did not press further. During his search however, he discovered that the Undercity was undergoing a slight transformation. In the absence of the Dark Lady, a council of Undercity’s most active volunteers had been created. Steinburg did not know them personally, but he admired their willingness to pick up what Sylvanas had left behind, and to do so with seemingly no personal gain.

Damian being old enough to attend school in Dalaran made his decision clear, and as a proud Forsaken, he volunteered to help. A good bookkeeper, he was immediately tasked with keeping track of the city’s funds. It was a thankless job, and he was not well known, but that didn’t bother him. Day and night he tirelessly worked to ensure that the Desolate Council was successful.

Until one day, most of them were gone.

Now things were different. He wasn’t so much a volunteer as a prisoner, and he understood the meaning of the word “dissent”. All around Undercity, Sylvanas had eyes and ears. Long ones, specifically. The ears of her dark rangers were everywhere, waiting to hear the rumors and report them. He was an accountant, he could calculate the numbers and the odds of his own survival in such a situation. If he had a big mouth, those odds weren’t good. Quiet as he was, however, he could live.

That was how he managed to get back to the small apartment he’d been renting in the Undercity, though “rent” was mostly paid by him working for free. The single bedroom, tucked inside of a corridor of the Magic Quarter, was furnished only with a few clothes. Unsurprisingly there was no bed. The Forsaken embraced their wakefulness, their lack of restrictions that the living depended on. A bed would have been suspicious. He might have been accused of wanting to be alive, of trying to relive memories of the past.

Once, those things were not quite so looked down upon. Strange, maybe. Now they were looked at with suspicion. The dead had no reason to want anything to do with their former lives, and to go by your “dead name” was to invite too many questions. Luckily for Steinburg, nobody seemed to care that he went by his surname. Though maybe, had he requested that they call him “Andy”, things might have been different.

His apartment, sparse as it was, served only the purpose of granting him a place to read in silence. He was expected to work most of the time, but was granted a few hours of “rest” by his supervisor. During these hours, he would go to his apartment and sit down in his single chair. He might read a book or write a letter to the Bloodstones. Today, he opened his closet, and very quietly, cast a spell.

A portal.

It would not last long, and he was in a hurry. Stepping through the portal, Steinburg understood that he was probably not going to be able to return to the Undercity. They would say he deserted them, abandoned his duties, and be labeled a traitor. All well and good, he supposed. For a second chance at life, he could hardly call existing there under the eye of the dark rangers any sort of living.

All was bright as he stepped through, suddenly bathed in sunlight and warm colors. Silvermoon welcomed him as it always did, though he was still suspicious of Sylvanas’ former home. Would she have spies there, too? Or was Lor’themar unwilling to allow such a thing? His yellow eyes glanced about for someone, and with a great sigh of relief he saw her.

“Catalinetta,” he said to the death knight, who had apparently waited for him near the portal from Undercity.

Shambling over to her, he embraced Cat with a tight hug. It was not a happy one, but the desperate sad sort of hug she could feel in her own bones. “Steinburg, what the hell happened?” She asked, pulling away reluctantly.

“Not here,” he answered, looking around. “We need to get to Bloodstone Manor.”

Cat shook her head, still confused. “Bloodstone Manor? Why?”

Trudging out into the street, Steinburg reached for his hood and threw it over his head. Now she could see how ashamed he was of his appearance, and the old Steinburg had finally returned. “Because there are ears everywhere, and most are as long as yours.”

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Quel’thalas

It was so close to the Undercity. Sometimes that closeness struck Steinburg as he walked through the lush Eversong woods, crimson leaves on white barked trees casting a warm glow on the forest floor. It was all so beautiful, and once, so too was Lordaeron. His thoughts were with the dark kingdom, buried beneath the bones of its people as he and Catalinetta rode on the back of her death charger.

He held on to the elf, her body so much stronger than is in undeath, and was grateful that she never flinched. They were both undead, but there was an obvious difference between death knights and the Forsaken. Catalinetta in particular seemed well preserved to the point where she gave off no rotting smell, and the blood magic fueling her strength allowed an unnatural life-like pulse to flow through her veins.

They didn’t speak as they rode, but he encouraged her to move fast. As they left the city, Cat noticed that Steinburg was unusually watchful, as if worried that even here he might be stopped by someone. Who would stop him in Quel’thalas, she wondered? Who would stop him anywhere?

Eventually they reached Bloodstone Manor, following Steinburg’s directions to find an unmarked path through Eversong Woods. The Bloodstones enjoyed their privacy, and the way didn’t seem overly used. It wound through trees and overgrowth, eventually giving way to a gold gate flanked by a tall wall that surrounded a large plot of land. Past the gate, Cat could see the manor standing tall beside a pond and a stable. It was an old building, and if uncared for it might have seemed menacing. There was a warmth to it however, in the red and gold paint and white bricks. A few waterfowl played in the small pond nearby.

“Allow me,” Steinburg said as he slid from behind Cat and on to the ground, grabbing what looked like a ring from his pocket to place within a keyhole on the gate. A tiny click sounded, and the gates opened.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been here before,” Cat said in awe of the place, still unaccustomed to the way Silvermoon aristocracy lived. She dismissed her mount with a wave of one plate covered hand and followed Steinburg inside, allowing the gate to close behind them.

“The Bloodstones will not mind your company, if that worries you,” the Forsaken said reassuringly, appearing at last to be comfortable speaking again. He walked her toward the house, their path lined with thick flagstones the color of pink coral. “I lived here for quite some time after our guild hall in Orgrimmar was destroyed. Ninorra brought me here, herself. She wasn’t concerned with the Warchief’s finding us, which was when I realized that this was a safe place. Vicailde has placed all sorts of his inventions around the home, to block it from prying eyes and ears.”

“But I don’t understand, who’d be following you?” Cat asked, her own long ears twitching for the sound of any spies.

Steinburg reached the door and again pressed his ring to the keyhole. Another click, and he opened the door with a push of his hand. Still unable to say what he wanted outside, he nodded toward the foyer. Cat entered a room decorated with long crimson curtains and the portraits of old powerful high elves, their disapproving eyes staring down at both death knight and Forsaken. Closing the door behind them, Steinburg let out a breathless sigh. “Dark rangers,” he answered. “Sent by the dark lady.”

“The Warchief?” Cat whispered, unable to hide the horror in her voice. For all the rumors surrounding Sylvanas, Cat had a difficult time imagining why she would want to trail an accountant. “But why??”

Steinburg seemed to relax in the manor, undoing the hooded cloak from his neck to hang it near a series of beautifully lined and embroidered cloaks and jackets. Cat supposed that the more flowy ones belonged to the lady of the house, though nobody else seemed to be around at the moment.

“Because she’s keeping an eye on us,” he answered, finally taking the time to brush his hair with long bony fingers. “Come sit with me, it’s been a while since I’ve been somewhere comfortable,” he said in his usual tone. Steinburg might have been Forsaken, but he was not against creature comforts.

Leading Cat into a sitting room, she was at once awed by the garish colors inside. Bright crimson and gold plush furniture covered in throw pillows embroidered with animal print greeted them. “Woah,” she said quietly, looking around curiously. “This place is awesome.”

Steinburg chuckled and sat down in one of the sofas, sighing as the soft down cushion cradled his bones again. “Ninorra takes pride in her decorating,” he said with the hint of a smile before continuing his story. “Cat, it’s been a while since you’ve been to Undercity, hasn’t it?”

Sitting down opposite of him, the death knight nodded. “Ever since I… well,” she stopped herself. “..I guess ever since I got engaged. The last time I was there, a friend stitched up my death wound.”

Steinburg nodded. “Well. For the best, really. As I recall, your lover is living? There aren’t many who would take to that as good news. Some, sure, but… giving people the kind of hope that their undeath might be looked past… sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Congratulations on your engagement, Cat. You deserve to be happy, truly.”

A pang of guilt hit the death knight’s stomach as the truth bit into her like an angry chipmunk. Of course, being accepted by the living was difficult, and she had gone to great lengths to make Kreyen more comfortable with what she was. It was hard on him at first, she knew that. How much harder it would have been on a Forsaken, whose bones and flesh were exposed and rotting, that much she couldn’t imagine. “…thank you, Steinburg. I’m sorry, I know it’s not the same for your people.”

“No it isn’t,” he concurred. “And to tell you why, you must understand. I’m not bitter toward you, Cat. You and your fellow death knights are privileged in that you have the ability to connect with people in a way we cannot. Loved ones, for example. You may be undead, but you can still see your fellow Sin’dorei. The same goes for the orcish death knights, the tauren and so forth. Now, I know that can’t be easy,” he said quickly. “I know that many of the living are not accepting of your kind, but… at least you have the chance to try.”

Cat turned her head to one side, trying to understand. “Well, I guess we do. I know I did. I reconnected with my brother and my aunt, but… I guess… that’s not the same as the Forsaken. I guess you all don’t really have much of a chance to talk to other humans, do you?”

Steinburg smiled sadly. “Well. We did. For a brief moment, we did. Tell me, what did you hear about the Desolate council, Cat?”

A change in subject. She shrugged and shook her head. “I heard they were governing Undercity while Sylvanas was gone.”

“Yes, that’s right. That’s what I heard too, when I arrived,” he explained, leaning back in his seat. “I wanted to help. Damian is old enough to be in school, I had little to do here, so I went to help my fellow Forsaken. I’m a good bookkeeper, you know. The council needed a hand. They were kind, they only wanted to make things easy for their people. They were compassionate. They, like many other Forsaken, weren’t bitter about their situation. They wanted to make the best of things. Some of them even still had living relatives that they wanted to see, someday. Of course, that much is impossible. We assumed all humans saw us as monsters, and what relative would want to see their dead family?”

Cat felt her stomach lurch. Her own brother seemed less disgusted than distraught when he saw her, but what would he have done if she was missing an entire jaw like some Forsaken she knew? “Yeah, I… I can see why that’d be hard.”

“Hard, but not impossible,” he continued. “Can you believe that King Wrynn actually wanted to help? Apparently his own servant was married to a member of the council. Something in him thought that maybe, if he could reunite some families… I don’t know. But Archbishop Faol helped him, and somehow they managed to make some sort of… I guess a deal? She allowed the council to meet with their families. Those who had family, anyway… those who had family willing to meet them.”

Cat’s eyes were as wide as saucers. The Warchief, allowing a reunion? That was a surprise. It never would have occurred to her that Sylvanas would actually allow something so reasonable or peaceful to happen. “That’s… that’s great! Wow, what a nice thing to do! King Wrynn must have been up against a lot to even suggest that,” she said with awe, picturing the human king in his white armor flanked by advisors telling him not to do the right thing. “The Light must’v really blessed him with bravery!”

“…yes, well,” Steinburg muttered. “It was brave. Foolish maybe, but brave certainly. Anyhow, during the reunion, apparently some of the Forsaken attempted to defect.”

“What!?”

Steinburg held up a hand. “It wasn’t all of them. It was some. Sylvanas sounded the horn, and the rest ran back to their side. To the queen.”

“What happened to the defectors??” Cat asked in a loud and almost screechy voice.

“Killed by dark rangers,” Steinburg answered, then paused before continuing. “…along with the rest.”

The death knight blinked in confusion. “What do you mean? The humans?”

“No, the humans were completely unharmed. The Alliance humans, anyhow,” he added bitterly. “The dark rangers killed every one of the Desolate Council who met with family. Even the ones who returned. She killed them all, Catalinetta.”

Her face went through a range of emotions. Shock, confusion, and finally anger. “I don’t… I don’t understand. Why would she do that?”

“Because that’s how she keeps her power, Cat,” the Forsaken muttered. “Not like the human king. Not like Thrall. Sylvanas doesn’t command an army by playing the savior, or the saint. Sylvanas keeps her grip on her people by reminding us that life is hopeless, that nobody wants us, and that if the humans had their say we would all be dead. Those members of the council whose family members couldn’t bear to see them? Those, she allowed to live. Those who live in sorrow, who are truly ‘desolate’. Those are her Forsaken, and there is no room there for dissent or argument. There is no room for people like me.”

For a while, Cat was quiet. The Forsaken were a people she felt she could relate to, once. Dead, forgotten, but for the most part, accepting of their situation. Now she realized there was so much she didn’t understand, so much she took for granted. The way people accepted her, the love of her family, and the freedom to express those things. The Forsaken didn’t have any of it, and it seemed Sylvannas’ goal was to keep it that way.

“Steinburg,” she murmured, eyes lowered to the coffee table littered with romance novels. “I… I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”

The Forsaken cracked another smile, flakes of peeling flesh falling from his lips. “It’s not your fault, Cat. You died like the rest of us, but you were lucky with your circumstances. The Forsaken are indeed forsaken, and that’s how the Warchief wants it. I can’t personally say that I’d be content to live that way. At least here, there’s a little happiness. I might not ever see my relatives, or have my own children, but I’ve been given the gift of a second life in which I can at least help raise them. I can live in my own way. I know there are plenty of Forsaken who don’t want that, but for those who do I only wish I could help them, or that the dark lady would give us the freedom she keeps saying we have.”

Cat’s ears had drooped low in her sadness. Not just for the Forsaken killed by their own leader, but for the Warchief she knew that she couldn’t trust. Having joined the Horde and died with Thrall as their Warchief, she once knew that their leader was someone she could trust to hold their best interest at heart. Since waking from the dead, however, it was like a never ending series of terrible leaders. She had already cast aside her loyalty to the Lich King, to Bolvar. Now she wondered if she’d have to do the same to the dark lady.

“Be careful with this information, Cat,” Steinburg said, serious again. “Words travel, and the dark rangers can hide in places you’d never think to look. I don’t know what Sylvanas plans on doing, but she’s got Undercity under her thumb. Books about old Lordaeron are banned. Anyone saying anything kind about the living are looked at with suspicion. I don’t know what it’s like outside of Undercity, but I don’t know if anyone outside of the Forsaken will even care about—“

“Of course we’ll care!” Cat said quickly, loudly, and maybe too fast. “We care. I care. I’ll tell the Warboss, okay? I’ll be careful. I’ll be very careful, Steinburg. I have to be, I’m supposed to get married, we’re supposed to be… things are supposed to be normal.”

Steinburg laughed, genuinely laughed, and shook his head. “Oh Cat. I never get tired of your optimism.”

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