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  1. Earlier
  2. Murue

    A Reunion

    It had been almost a week since Myria had replied to the invitation. The time since seemed to both slow to a crawl and then also suddenly be on her before she could fully grasp what was happening. The young warlock sat in the Legerdemain Lounge’s most pushed back table she could seat herself at. The wall may as well have been to her back, yet her safety wasn’t what was driving her nerves. There was a clock. A loud, obnoxious thing. Or had it actually been that she was just focusing too much on every little thing? The clinking of glass as what she assumed was a new server clumsily almost dropped her tray. The obnoxious goblin making some joke in a language she didn’t know. A barker yelling out the day’s news from over the din of the city around them. Hoofbeats. Myria raised her head from the book she wasn’t actually reading. Her eyes turned to the door, waiting to see who was coming in next. The wolf’s instinct made her tense but the draenic couple walking in seemed to permit her the relaxing exhale that she needed. It wasn’t the corpse. The thought occurred to her that's how she had been referring to him more and more recently. She didn’t even get a good look at him aside from the glance of him in his armor. She did however know, he was dead. Undead. It didn’t sit right with her, but at the same time she recognized it made sense. Why wouldn’t he be undead? The moment he arrived was of course the moment she had lost focus. By the time she had regained her attention, he had spotted her. The death knight looked across the room at her and smiled. His face was ripped almost from ear to ear, held together only by disgusting dark twine. Myria flinched and in turn so did he. The dead man shrugged, as if to say ‘I get it’. He then walked over to her table and stood at the opposite seat. His hand, normal seeming save for the pale cold dead color of the flesh, rested on the back of the chair. “May I sit?” Myria was looking at him. Her face unreadable as the mix of thoughts and emotions made it difficult to express. The corpse’s disgusting, abominable smile shifted but remained a sickening sight. The warlock realized she was staring and nodded. “Y-Yes, please. Sit. Make yourself comfy…” The corpse paused then nodded, almost cheerfully, as he pulled the seat back and plopped down into its cushion. The death knight’s hands laced their fingers together and then there was silence. The awkward silence had garnered some onlookers but lost them almost as quickly. “So,” began Myria. “You’re my dad? Mum didn’t exactly paint you as the knightly sort.” James raised an eyebrow. His smirk straining the twine. “No. No I was not. As far from knightly as I could get without being an utter bas-err, well without being a monster. I take it you don’t remember me much then?” Myria shook her head. “Just what mum told me and I think a few dreams I had as a child but not really, no. I was what, three when you disappeared?” This cut the death knight a little, though that hadn’t been Myria’s intention. He nodded, his body relaxing in a dismal fashion. As if he were slumping into the uncomfortable truths that were liable to be brought up. “That’s about right. You weren’t very big at all. Kept disappearing into boxes and barrels every time we packed up the wagon.” The young warlock seemed confused by this. “Wagon?” “Yeah,” James responded, nodding as if to confirm it further. “We didn’t exactly live in one spot. We had a big wagon. Maybe you’d call it a carriage but we lived in it. It was like a moving house pulled by two rather stubborn nags.” “I don’t remember.” “I’m not really surprised. I don’t remember being that young either. Given what was happening at the, nevermind. You had your own issues I can guess…” His smile never stopped seeming sinister. The jagged and unhealing wounds beneath the stitching seemed to ensure it would always have a malicious tinge to it. It made it hard for Myria to read him. “Yeah, you could say that. I know you guys thought Gilneas would be safe and it was for a few years but you know how that went. It got worse when mum left me with auntie Breigha. Poor old lady disappeared one night just a few months in too. Though I expect the poor old maid got mugged or bit or something one night.” This twisted smile seemed to look sort of like a W for a second. Was the dead man frowning? James sat back in his chair, thinking something. “So who took you in then? I know it’s not easy for a child to get by on their own. Especially in a town like Gilneas proper.” “I got picked up by a pissy warlock named Scriehemn. He’d been picking off urchins and orphans and homeless folk to offer up to the Legion. He was after mum’s books. Got me along with them.” “And you learned how to summon Ahn’Kheralhath.” This made Myria pause. “How do you know her full name?” “We’ve crossed paths. More than once. Never pleasantly. I think it’s best that the fewer details shared on that the better. I will tell you I know that’s only a third of her name and that unless she’s had a massive change of personality in recent times, she is a massive bitch.” Myria just blinked. Her clear attempts to suppress whatever thoughts she may have had about the demon and the dead man claiming to be her father were painfully inadequate. Perhaps the disgust was a sign maybe it was all true. After this regretful moment she looked back up at him. “Can I ask where you were? I mean, after you got free I mean.” James’ frown became more mournful. The twisted ruin of his face allowed at least that it seemed. “I spent a number of years...unwell. Nearly a decade.” The warlock’s eyebrow raised. “You’re undead. I didn’t think you could get sick.” The death knight tapped the side of his head where the brain should be. After a moment, Myria mouthed ‘Oh.” and the two sat quietly. A server finally came by to break up the silence. “Can I get you two anything? We’ve a number of a fair selection of ales and wines and our kitchen can make just about anything.” “Just water for me, oh and I’ll be paying for the whole lot when we’re done.” Myria glared at the death knight. He gave her a smile but then gestured for her to order. Then a devilish thought came to her. “Two stouts, a roast chicken, a large slice of ham, steak, the soup you had advertised, a salad, a slice of the apple pie and some bread if you don’t mind to start.” “Coming up dearie.” James waited for the waitress to leave before smirking. “I see we’ve spent time with the dwarves. Not bad company usually.” “Not going to break the bank is it ‘dear old dad’?” “Not really no. I wrote some books I hope you never read.” The calm way he seemed be unphased by either her order or her attempt to catch him off-guard irritated Myria slightly but she was more amused by the notion of the books. “Why?” “Well, one of which recounts the night your mother and I-” “NOPE! NOPE NOPE NOPE! I REGRET EVERYTHING!”
  3. The butler, at first, tried to ignore Pelande as she struck the metal bars and called out. But she was insistent. A maid was eyeing her too, nervous. The situation in the city had everyone on edge. The butler called her over and she shuffled over inquisitively. “Inform our security,” he demanded in a hiss. The maid nodded fearfully and headed inside with haste. Thanks to the circumstances in Suramar they didn’t have the usual contingent of guards keeping watch over their gates. The manor only had its private unit, enough to keep watch over the masters of the place. As he got closer, he realized he recognized this woman. That laborer, again? Even in times like these she somehow found a way to make a nuisance of herself. He’d had to turn her away countless times in the past. She was holding up a piece of parchment, the bill, against the metal bars to show it to him as she usually did. “Call your Master,” Pelande was saying, “or I’ll increase the interest rate again.” “Begone with you. They have more important matters at hand.” She let out a mock-sigh as he dared to come closer, “Come now. Are you telling me the owners of such a lavish place can’t afford to at least make a minimum payment against their bills?” The butler snarled out, “Begone!” Pelande shook her head. “It’d be a shame to have to report this place for being in debt--the guards have been taking a lot of liberty with that lately, I hear, snatching up entire arcwine stores…” He had a bit of coin on him for paying couriers and for deliveries, and thus he begrudgingly dragged it out, heading over to the fence… Only to be completely run through. Pelande let the bill flutter to the ground, and pulled her spear out of the butler and back through the bars of the gate. She then stepped back, swung, and struck twice at precise points at each gate-hinge, just out of the way as it fell to the stones on the ground. It certainly did help, knowing all the little weak points of a building. Security was already rushing out to meet her as she stepped over the body, and she prepared herself for combat. Unfortunately for them, they were not even as experienced as the average city guard, and before long, one, two, and then three had fallen to her spear… but soon it became apparent that what they lacked in experience they had in number. Pelande found herself surrounded by at least a dozen, and thus, let out the agreed-upon signal--a whistle. There came a deafening sound as a ring of explosions went off around the walled courtyard. She’d made sure they were placed right against the main supports so as each went off, the walls crumbled like a sandcastle against the tides. The security forces were thrown into chaos and Pelande herself had to shield her eyes against the ensuing dust cloud. But out of it rushed her salvation. And as much work as she’d put into building those walls, it kind of felt good to watch them come down. That's what you get for not paying your debts! She wasted no time, only quickly confirming the presence of her allies before heading into the manor building itself. Two maids were trying to barricade the door but were no match for her as she kicked it down, and they fled. There was no sense in killing them as the important thing now was to keep moving and head toward the apex of the building as she’d been instructed. Hopefully, the Commander’s plan would work.
  4. The drink burned on the way down, but Cobra would be damned if he let it come back up. He gulped and displayed his tongue for the crowd to see. “There’s a good lad!” Tails cried, slapping his back encouragingly. “The boy can hold his liquor!” The other thieves gathered clapped and cheered. “I could drink as much as you, old man,” Cobra replied. The crowd hushed in awe of his challenge, but Cobra was too flush with pride to shrink away from their attention tonight. Tails stroked his messy beard, a devilish grin on his face. “You challenging me, boy? That’s a mistake, but you’re free to make it if you wish.” “Sounds like you’re trying to make me give up because you’re afraid I’ll embarrass you in front of everyone,” Cobra declared cockily. The crowd watched, awestruck. Tails slapped his hand against the bar stand. “Gretta!” he grunted. The glamourous “Grabbyhands” bar matron blinked at Tails’ sudden address. “Yeah?” “Two Westfall Moonshines. And keep my tab open. We might be at this for a while.” --- Cobra violently heaved the contents of his stomach into the toilet. Tails patted his back – not unkindly – and said, “First time’s always like this for kids like us. You enjoy yourself, lad?” The young thief gasped for breath, choked by the sickening scent of his leavings. “Y-yeah. Of course.” Tails bust out a laugh. “Of course you did! I’m sure the alcohol didn’t burn your taste buds until they didn’t work anymore. But trust me, kid, we don’t drink for the flavor or because it makes us feel good.” He waved his hand out at the festive gathering by the bar stand. Socks tried to out-chug Ogre and nearly choked. Blue was watching everyone closely and taking notes. Sting started climbing up a wall beside her before sliding back down, leaving several long gashes in the metal paneling. The mechgineer laughed and patted the metal bug affectionately. “We drink to make the others feel good,” Tails explained. “That way, we’re all responsible for making each other happy. It’s how family works, kid.” Cobra could only gape at him. Family? he thought as Tails stood up and stretched. Family never did anything for me. Why should I stick my neck out for them? He couldn’t help but think about the secrets he’d been selling. He still hadn’t seen the face of the man who came to buy his notes every other week, but he’d had plenty of time to imagine one. He saw a mean, mangled man with powerful hands. Often in his dreams he’d see those hands choke the life out of Blue or beat the brains out of Socks; sometimes even Ogre fell victim to those hands. The worst dreams claimed Tails as their victim. Cobra looked up at the old man now and felt a tremendous, absurd guilt. “T-Tails, I—” The old man patted the young thief’s messy brown hair. “Don’t worry, kid. You might not get it now, but you will. One day. For now, we’re celebrating. Take the time you need.” He walked back to the bar. The others cheered his return and with a start, Cobra realized some were asking Tails if Cobra himself was doing alright. When did this happen? he thought bitterly, When did I get caught in this trap? --- Hours later, Cobra stumbled to the hideout’s front door, his headache pounding behind his eyes. He nearly walked face-first into Tops, who paced in the longue while reading a book. “Oh, s-sorry boss,” Cobra stammered. Tops looked down on him over his spectacles. “Cobra,” he said, testing the name as one might a fine wine, “You did well in the Depths. And on your first dive, as well. Some might call that luck.” Cobra felt his pride bristle. Who do you think you are, fancy man? Tails said my find was the biggest any diver’s had in half a decade! Yet his caution won out and he simply said, “What—what do you think, boss?” “I don’t believe in luck.” He closed his book on a finger, marking his place. “I spent my entire life clawing and clambering to make it where I am now, runt. After everything I’ve had to do, I can’t believe luck was what did it for me. Talent maketh the thief, Cobra. And I believe we’ve found yours.” “S-so I’ll be on dives more often?” “Try exclusively. Unless it turns out this find was, in fact, a fluke. Tails is our best diver, so he can’t babysit you all the time. Once he says you’re ready, you’ll be assigned a partner. Keep up the good work and I’ll consider promoting you, runt.” With that, he continued reading and pacing. Cobra rubbed his aching head. A partner? I don’t want anyone other than Tails! What if they turn out to be someone like Socks? Or worse, they could be clueless, like Blue…oh, dammit! I’ve lost beggar duty! How am I supposed to deliver the notes now? As he stepped out into the back-alleys, the loud clang of the vault door closing behind him, Cobra fought through his headache, trying to think of a way to adjust his plans. He followed the winding passageways towards one of his nearby hiding holes. The quick route took him through town, but he needed to sleep off his hangover sooner rather than later. The bustle of the city street took him off-guard. The dim night lights were on, yet the people milled by at an almost frantic pace. Cobra stuck to the edges of the crowd and listened to passersby talk as they rushed by. “…news just got in. It’s Stormwind.” “They got so far…?” “…thought they were bandits…” “…city’s been sacked…” “How far north…?” “If they can take a whole kingdom…” Cobra’s heart beat faster. What kind of news was this? It seemed the whole platform was out to hear the news. He followed the crowd until they reached the market ring. Everyone was pushing to find a spot where they could see it clearly – a platform was lowering from the Manifold, high above. Cobra looked around at the uniform tenement buildings nearby and spotted a route onto the rooves. He clambered on barrels, window frames, and eventually into the lip of a flat rooftop. There were already other street urchins perched on top, but they ignored each other. Everyone had eyes on the descending platform. A booming voice cut through the din of the crowd: “CITIZENS OF GNOMEREGAN, THIS IS AN EMERGENCY ANNOUNCEMENT! THE KINGDOM OF STORMWIND HAS FALLEN TO A HORDE OF UNKNOWN BEINGS! STORMWIND CITY HAS BEEN SACKED AND IT IS UNCLEAR JUST HOW FAR THIS NEW THREAT MAY REACH! THE SPEED AT WHICH THE HORDE HAS SPREAD IS UNPRECENDETED, BUT THE GNOMEREGAN ARMY IS TAKING STEPS TO ENSURE OUR SAFETY IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES! IF YOU WANT TO HELP SAFEGUARD YOUR CITY, GO TO YOUR LOCAL RECRUITER AND SIGN UP TODAY!” The announcer continued giving details, but Cobra had heard all he needed to. Stormwind was a strong city, as far as surface cities go, he recalled from his books, If it could fall so suddenly, could we be next? Regardless of the answer, he knew one thing for sure: the city was about to get a lot busier. And a distracted populace was easily taken advantage of. “Hey you kids! Get down from there!” A man in a mechgineer officer’s uniform commanded from below. Cobra grimaced. He’d been careless and let himself be seen. Now it was time to disappear. “Hey! I said down!” the officer called after the urchins as they scattered for nearby rooftops to run across. Cobra found himself alone with a young girl who kept pace with him along the rooftop pathways. She’s pretty good, he thought. I bet Tails would try to recruit her… “Cut them off! Get up there!” Cobra gasped as the officer’s voice followed them from below. He was mounted on a mechanostrider and easily keeping pace as the throng of people split to give him room. A second officer sprang onto the rooftops up ahead, his strider’s spring coils giving him the lift he needed. “Not one more step, you kids!” The officer commanded. Cobra glanced at his escape route: an old tenement with a basement tunnel. Unfortunately, the guard was standing on its roof. The girl next to Cobra was hyperventilating. Not knowing exactly why, he grabbed the girl by the arm and led her back the way they’d came. “Keep moving your feet!” he yelled at her, “You wanna get busted?” She didn’t answer, but she did manage to keep up still. The first officer sprang onto the roof to try and cut them off, but Cobra had expected that. He opened a hatch in his roof and sent the girl down the ladder first. “Kid! Stop!” the first officer called after him. “I need to talk to you!” I’m sure you do, Officer Friendly… He slid into the hatch and pulled it shut behind him, then fixed the padlock shut. Normally it was courtesy in the Rats to leave secret routes open for quick and quiet travel, but emergencies dispelled the need for politeness. He slid down the ladder as the officers struggled against the lock above him. The girl was already gone when he reached the bottom. So much for recuing the damsel. Well, she would have slowed me down, anyway. He moved through the tenement quickly and quietly. There was another path to the back-alley entrance, but he had to get to the basement without being caught. He rushed down the stairwell, sliding along handrails and passed baffled tenants until he reached the basement door. He tried it, but it was locked. So much for courtesy, he thought bitterly. He whirled and made his way back to the ground floor, fast. He would have to risk making a break for it in the open. The second officer was waiting for him at the front door. “I’ve got him!” the officer shouted. No you don’t! Cobra spun and went back up the stairs. The officer’s boots thundered behind him, but the man was slowed down by all the gear he carried. And the young thief was accustomed to running from the law. He put some distance between himself and Officer Dipshit before exiting the stairwell and taking some corners. Then he found a familiar janitor’s closet and hid inside. He listened at the door, cupping a hand over his mouth to muffle his heavy breathing. A door closed. Footsteps, but not the officer’s boots. Silence. Lost him, he thought, But they’re still in the building. Why the hell do they want me so badly? No one usually cares about some street kids on a rooftop enough to make a chase out of it. As the adrenaline faded, Cobra’s headache returned with a vengeance. I need to get back to my hole and sleep this off. I’ll wind up crashing if I take too long… First he looked around the closet for some supplies. He took a bottle of cleaning solution with a spray nozzle along with a broom handle he broke off to make a jagged wooden point. The handle was long enough to fend off an adult’s reach. He slipped the bottle into a deep pocket inside his outer breeches and strapped the stick to his belt, then decided he was as ready as he could be. He exited the closet quietly and crept for the stairs. He reached the ground floor without difficulty, but as expected, an officer was at the front door. Cobra made his way, unseen, to a window facing the tenement he needed. The window was bolted shut, but he pried the bolt open with the jagged end of his broom handle, then slid the window open and climbed out to the tight alleyway between the two buildings. Garbage was piled just outside and crunched loudly when he stumbled onto it. He gritted his teeth, ready to bolt if someone came to investigate. He breathed a sigh of relief when after a moment, no one came. Cobra sneaked around to the back of the building he needed and tried the door. Locked. I really need to get Tails to teach me lockpicking, he reminded himself. Before he could find another entrance, a clang startled him into whirling around, his broken stick in hand. The first officer had jumped down from the roof above. Idiot! Always check the rooftops before breaking from cover! “Kid, lower the weapon,” the officer said, surprisingly gently. He looked familiar with his slicked eggplant-colored hair. Then it came back to him. “You—you’re the guy…the one whose bag I took. I—is that what this is about?” He backed up slowly, still pointing his stick at the officer warningly. It wouldn’t do anything against a mechanostrider, but he would be damned if he followed the orders of a city guard. “Sorta, yeah,” Slick said, looking a bit embarrassed. “Look, it’s personal. The bag you took, it belonged to my dad. I know you thieves learn not to feel empathy at a young age and all, but I was really hoping I could at least get the bag back.” Cobra gaped at him. Is this a joke? A trick, maybe? I should be running right now… Instead he licked his dry lips and said, “I don’t have your stupid bag, so just leave me alone! I didn’t do anything wrong!” “Well, you did steal sensitive blueprints from an officer of the mechgineer corps…” “You can’t prove that!” Slick scoffed. “Right. Well, Seeing as I have a few buddies who won’t let me forget that I let it happen, I’d say I’ve got enough witnesses to put you in a juvenile detention facility until you’re old enough to shave, kid. So why don’t you just do me a favor and find that bag for me? I could make your life a whole lot worse if you don’t.” Cobra blinked at a shadow moving behind the mechanostrider, then regained his composure. So, it’s going to be like that? Alright, I can play along. “You want your bag…it’ll cost you!” The officer chuckled. “You’re not exactly in a bargaining position, kid. Besides, I don’t really want to do business with a thief. Nothing personal, but I’ve got my dad’s reputation to consider.” “You like your dad a whole lot, but are you willing to prove it? If you want the bag, give me a gun!” It was a stupid, uneven trade, but Cobra didn’t expect any trade to work out, anyway. The shadowy figure was under the strider now. It had a screwdriver in its hand. “A gun? Wow. That’s a hard ‘no,’ kid. Just bring the bag to headquarters up on platform four tomorrow. I promise I’ll give you lunch if you don’t make me wait.” He tapped his strider controls impatiently. “I could steal your lunch without you even noticing. But you’ve got guns and I don’t. And I’ve got your bag. Seems fair to me.” It really didn’t. Bafflingly the officer almost seemed convinced by his argument. “Still, a gun could get traced back to me. I’m not risking my career, even over sentimentality. Sorry pal, but you’ll have to stick to slingshots like the other kids your age.” “And you’ll have to stick with walking,” Cobra said, smirking. The officer blinked, then cried out as his mechanostrider fell over. One of its legs had been detached, leaving it a useless pile of scrap. Cobra gave the shadowy figure a thumbs-up and dashed for the front of the building. The other officer, still on foot, was waiting to cut him off. “You’re not getting away this t—OWWW!” Cobra sprayed the man in the eyes with his cleaning solution and kept running. He ducked between tenants returning to their apartments and made for the stairs. He sprinted to the basement door and crossed his fingers that this time the door would be unlocked. He screeched to a halt when he found the urchin girl at the door already, fiddling with the lock. It clicked and she pushed it open. She blew a bit of strawlike hair out of her face and looked at him, her expression blank. “Uh, thanks,” he said, scratching the back of his head. “I wouldn’t have gotten away without your help back there. You’re good with that screwdriver.” She looked down at the tool in her hand and shrugged, pocketing it. Then she walked into the basement. Cobra followed along, shutting the door behind him. “Do you have a name?” he called after the girl. He almost lost track of her in the maze of pipes leading to the back-alley but caught up to her before too long. She glanced at him over her shoulder before sprinting away. Cursing, he ran after her. She was like a spirit of wind, racing through corridors and around corners, always just in sight as she rounded a turn. He kept pace with her for a while, calling out “Wait!” and “I’m not gonna hurt you!” until finally his headache grew too painful for him to focus on keeping up. He lost track of her. Her echoing footsteps slowly retreated until he was alone with the pipes and the rats. Well, I suppose it’s only fair. She helped me. I may as well leave her be. Slowly, agonizingly, he made his way back to his nearest hiding place. He crawled into the tiny space and curled up with a blanket and a small bite of old bread. He took up some paper and his stolen pen and tried to put words to everything that had happened today. The Rumblers would be eager to know about the banter the other thieves had traded back at the Sink. But between his headache and his guilty thoughts, he couldn’t bring himself to write any of it. Almost unconsciously he started drawing. It was a waste of paper, he told himself, but kept going until his piece was complete. It was a crude attempt at art, but it reminded him of his muse well enough. The girl’s face, her filthy straw-colored hair, and those blank eyes stared back at him. He wondered who she was. Where she’d come from. Who had raised her, if anyone. How long she’d been on the streets. If she was anything like him. Mute, he thought as his eyelids fell heavily, I’ll call her Mute.
  5. When the wailing came, Gor'mul awoke from a dead-like sleep with a sharp jolt of pain in his side. One of his cellmates had jabbed the orc awake, then shook him as the drowsiness threatened to take him back under. He had been dreaming of a hunt, somewhere long ago on Draenor, where he and Matuya spent days in search of clefthoof. She was an incredible huntress, swift with the bow and somehow able to hide herself within shadows too small for Gor'mul. His hulking mass was enough to frighten the beasts they searched for, but it was Matuya who brought them down. Her earthy brown skin took on a gold-like shine in the moonlight, and he wished beyond reason that they could stay in the wilderness forever. Waking from that dream to hear her calling for him, the orc shook his head and stood. It was snowing. Frost had gathered at the roots of what little hair Gor'mul had left, which he scratched at with one hand. Turning toward her voice, the orc waved frantically at one of the human guards. They usually slept at this time, but Matuya's cries had woken them too. Perhaps in an effort to stop her from waking the entire camp, the humans scurried around her enclosure with the few items they could offer a birthing woman in her time of need. He saw steam rising from a bucket of hot water, a few clean looking rags. Her wails sounded tortuous, not the steady birthing calls of the females he was used to hearing when he was young and helped his grandmother. The old Blackrock had been a midwife, and prided herself in teaching her children and grandchildren how to welcome new life into the world. But this was wrong. Matuya's voice was strained, not steady. She was screaming, not breathing into the rhythm of her contractions. Waving to get the human guards' attention, Gor'mul shouted in his own language. "Please! That's my mate! Please, let me see her!" One of the guards stepped away from the others and approached Gor'mul's cage. Over the past few months, they had gotten to know one another in basic ways. This particular guard he recognized by the gold hair on his face and brown eyes. He hadn't been particularly kind, but there was no malice in his eyes either. "Mate?" He asked in orcish, pointing toward Matuya. "Dabu!" Gor'mul yelled, his bloodshot eyes wide with panic. The guard turned toward his awake companions and gave them a look. It was difficult to determine what the look meant, but eventually they seemed to come to the same conclusion and opened Gor'mul's cage. With swords pointed toward the emaciated orc, they led him to Matuya's cage. Standing on thin legs, the Frostwolf was held in a crouched position with a female on either side, allowing her to rest her weight on their shoulders. He hadn't seen her in several days, but Gor'mul was visibly shocked by how thin his mate appeared. The once proud huntress' long black hair had fallen out in thick chunks over the past few months, resulting in a visible scalp. Her face was gaunt, forcing her already strong cheekbones to appear sharp and jagged. With her mouth open he noticed that she was missing teeth, making her tusks appear even larger than they already were. With her eyes squeezed shut, she didn't notice him approach, but the guards allowed him to reach into the cage and take one of her hands. "I'm here!" He said hoarsely, squeezing her frail fingers. "Matuya, I'm here!" The Frostwolf opened her exhausted eyes and turned her gaze on Gor'mul. He saw months worth of suffering in the faded hazel color, but his only instinct was to hold her hand as another contraction wracked her body and made her bony knees shake. Thankfully, the two females helping still had the strength to keep her upright, and one on the ground knelt in front of her, blood falling into her hands as she waited for the baby to make its entrance. Too much blood, Gor'mul thought to himself. He had witnessed births before, and while blood was always present it was never so much as this. Already weak with hunger, he knew that much blood meant that Matuya's chances at survival were slim. "Ha'rega," he said with forced calm, looking into her strained eyes. "You must breathe, and push into each breath. The child has to come quickly, now." The female on the ground nodded in agreement, reaching between Matuya's legs. "I can feel the head but it is not moving," she said gravely. "If she does not have the strength to push it might suffocate like this." "Matuya, look at me," Gor'mul said with another squeeze of his hand. "I can't lose you. Please, breathe, and push when you exhale. Like this.." He took in a deep breath. Wordlessly, she followed his example. Matuya breathed in, then out, and with her breath came a low wail. "Yes, it's moving!" The orcess below her shouted encouragingly. "Like that, Matuya!" Again Gor'mul breathed, guiding his mate to do the same. She followed his example, taking in a deep breath, and then pushing as she exhaled. Slowly, and with no shortage of groaning, a small green infant slipped into the world and into the orcess' waiting hands. A cascade of blood followed, eliciting a pained cry from Gor'mul. Blood born. Children born of such a huge amount of blood usually did not have surviving mothers. They were cursed to live motherless, cursed from their first breath. Shortly after a thick mass of afterbirth fell to the floor of the cage. A tiny cry came from the new life, but Gor'mul's eyes were focused on Matuya. "She must rest," he directed, and pointed toward the afterbirth. "She has to--" "It's not clean," the orcess holding his child said firmly, using her own clothes to clean the wailing infant. "Ayla, Grisla, let her down. She needs to rest. Gor'mul, take the child so we can clean her up." Gor'mul reluctantly released Matuya's hand and, almost robotically, reached for the wailing infant. The weight of it drew a pained moan in his own voice. The infant was so small, it fit through the bars of Matuya's cage without trouble. Though they lacked the girth they once had, Gor'mul's hands were just large enough to hold his child, crying and squirming in the cold. It was female, he realized, and in spite of its size she was perfectly formed. Pressing her against his chest, he held his progeny with the growing concern that his mate might not survive. Matuya lay on the floor of her cage, attended to by her cellmates and cleaned as much as they could manage. Reaching one hand through the bars, she turned her gaze toward the still-screaming infant. "Give her to me," she said weakly. Gor'mul's first instinct was to obey her, but fear gnawed at his stomach. This child, tiny as it was, might survive. It would need sustenance, and Matuya was already fading. A terrible choice stood before him, as he considered the repercussions of allowing Matuya to care for their daughter. Protectively, he held the infant closer, letting her stay warm against his skin. "I can't," he grunted, turning his eyes away from her. "It is.. weak. Malformed. It will not survive. We have to.." "Give her to me," Matuya repeated, her hazel eyes steely as they stared at her mate. It was not a request. "I will not," he said through his teeth, even as his daughter reached for the hairs on his chest. "She is weak, and--" "Give. Her. To. Me," the Frostwolf commanded, her tusks protruding from her mouth like a hungry animal. "Now." Gor'mul felt what was left of his heart break for her, the female he loved more than his own life. "If I drown her now, you might live through this," he argued, pleading with her. "You can have more children, Tuya. You are strong, you can survive. This child is.. she is cursed, and she will curse you too. I am sorry, ha'rega. I can not allow you to die for one weak--" "Give her to me now!!" Matuya's shout was like a wolf's snarl, and somehow, impossibly, the infant stopped screaming. Instead, she turned her small head, already downy with soft purple hair, and opened her eyes. They were the same color as Matuya's, a soft hazel, like the trees and the woods she and Gor'mul once hunted in. The Blackrock whimpered like a child himself, knowing that this baby, however impossibly small, would kill his mate. This blood cursed creature would take the one thing in the world that he had left to love. Pulling it away from the warmth of his chest, he pushed her through the bars. Gor'mul watched with resentment as the baby latched on to Matuya's breast, hungry for life. He watched his mate sigh with relief, closing her eyes in serene calm, as if oblivious to the snow falling around them and the approaching chill. Here, in this moment, in spite of her pain and hopelessness, Matuya felt at peace. The sharp point of a sword at his back reminded Gor'mul that it was a peace he would not be able to share with her. Without saying goodbye, he was led back to his cage.
  6. Water gushed from a pipe somewhere under the foamy water, but it was too dark to see how far under it was. Cobra regarded the water cautiously. He’d never seen this much water in one place before. “They say there’s no bottom,” Tails said as he pulled a luminous green stick from his pack. The light shone on a nearby pipe marked ‘Platform 1.’ Tails continued, “They say you can swim down and down and down for days and never find the end. I’ve dived hundreds of times, and I’ve never seen it. Think you’ll be the one to find it, boy?” Cobra shrugged. “I just want to get my pay. I’m not risking my life to find some stupid floor.” He peered down into the water now that the light shined on it and flinched when a shadow floated down below. Tails guffawed. “Not to worry, lad! It’s just a school of fish. They’ll get out of our way. I know this section better than most. I wouldn’t have picked it if there were dangerous critters down there.” “D-dangerous critters?” Cobra said. He accepted a pair of goggles and a rebreather – both freshly repaired courtesy of Blue and paid for with Tails’ personal points. Cobra didn’t like the idea of taking something that might indebt him further to Tails, but the old man had never once asked for repayment after all his lessons and little gifts. “Flesh eaters, gelatinous bioslime, haywire mechs, and deep-sea murlocs. Worse than any of them are the other divers. If they get ahold of you, they’ll slit your throat to steal your score. There’s no law enforcement below the platforms. A regular free-for-all.” He offered Cobra one of his glowsticks. Cobra accepted it and tied it securely to his belt with a knot Tails had taught him for this occasion. “But if there’s a lawless place right underneath the Centrifuge, wouldn’t everyone come down here to commit crimes, like dumping bodies and evidence?” Tails affixed his goggles and replied, “They would, and they do. But only through the back-alleys like the passage we used to get here. All official entrances to the Deeps have been sealed off for years. Only a few are openable in case the mechgineers decide to send an official dive or security team, and each one has a security system installed to chase off or disintegrate the curious. But they can’t secure all our avenues. The city is just too complex for that.” The old man slipped into the water, exhaling in satisfaction. Cobra approached the water and dipped a toe. It was cold, but that wasn’t the part that worried him. “Tails, I don’t know how to swim,” he admitted. Tails laughed. “Well, I’d be surprised if you did! Most gnomes your age have never left Gnomeregan, and there’s few enough reasons to go swimming in the city. But not to worry, lad; this is just a test run.” The young thief took a deep breath and slipped tenderly into the water. Once it reached his pelvis he tensed and lost his footing, falling in flatly. The cold blasted through his body. Panic set in quickly and he flailed about, desperate to run to safety and unable to even move. He couldn’t tell which way was up for all the foam and shadows and unfamiliar landscape. Then a strong hand took hold of his shirt and he felt himself pulled above the water. He sputtered for air and grabbed at his rescuer relentlessly. “Hey, now! I’m not the shore, boy! You’ll drag us both down like that!” He shoved Cobra to the edge of the water. The boy scrambled out and clung to the metal flooring with a desperate grip. Tails followed him out. “You’ve gotta get over this fear o’ yours, boy. Fear’s just another prison.” Cobra trembled as water dripped off his body. “I can’t…I’m not in control down there. There’s no way out…” Tails sat cross-legged beside Cobra and scratched his snowy beard. “You’ll feel out of control at the start. You gotta learn to swim before you can sneak. No babe learns to dash through cover before learning to take their first steps.” “But—” Tails lightly slapped the boy’s shoulder. “Nope! That’s all the pep talking I’ve got for you, lad. You either try again, or you won’t get put on diving duty, ever.” The old man stood, stretched, put his rebreather in his mouth, and leapt back into the water. He did not resurface. Cobra took a deep breath and stood. He took up his own rebreather and examined it. He saw the slightly pulsing ice-blue stone within; the core of the rebreather was an elemental conversion stone that took in water and pushed out air, making it a perfect tool for long dives. It was also expensive – probably the most expensive thing Cobra had ever held. And that crazy old man just gave it to me! He looked back at the unstill water and sighed. I can’t let that go to waste. Damn you, old timer! He bit down on the rebreather and tied the strap around his head. Then he ran and jumped into the water, extending his feet so he would hopefully know which way was down this time… Being able to breathe helped, certainly, but mostly Cobra kept his panic down through sheer stubbornness. The old man had done this without problem, so he had to do it, too. He found it rather difficult to sink at first and realized that if he kept air in his lungs, he floated much as a balloon in the air. He breathed out and tested sinking down to where the pipes bent into a tunnel: effectively the bottom of the pool. He pushed himself down feet-first, and eventually he reached the bottom. Tails waited for him around the bend, giving Cobra a shock, but he kept his fear in check. He tried to walk to the old man but found his movements both sluggish and abnormal. He quickly lost his footing and began flipping upside-down, which made his panic start to rise. Tails took hold of him and righted him again, shaking his head. The old man demonstrated how to move; he kept his body parallel to the floor and both kicked and pulled the water with his hands. His movements were rather agile despite the water’s resistance. Cobra mimicked his movements but didn’t make much progress. Tails repeated the process a few times until the boy figured out how to move his limbs to propel him in the direction he wanted. Once he seemed satisfied, Tails showed him how to rise and sink in much the same fashion. Then, he led the way beyond their small pool into the corridors beyond. The pair swam past a broken pipe. Cobra shivered at the tickle of the water spewing out and shied away from it. Tails led the pair through a series of twists and turns until they came to the exit of the underwater back-alleys. Cobra stifled a gasp lest he lose his rebreather. Out in front of him was a vast, empty space of pure water. Beyond was darkness, and anything could have lurked just out of view. Cobra froze in place. He felt the weight of that empty space crushing down on him. Desperately, he turned back around to retreat into the corridor. I can’t do this! It’s too much! There’s nowhere to hide out there! He tried to recall all the turns they’d made to get here, but quickly found himself turned around in unfamiliar alleys. That was when he realized Tails was no longer in view. Panic gripped him wholly then. He flailed, forgetting his lessons at once. His bandages fingers clawed at the walls. He pulled himself along, searching for…something. Air, maybe. Or just a place to hide. Eventually, he found the former. He burst out of the water and clambered into a platform. He spat out his rebreather and gasped for air as his nose slowly expelled the water clogging it. He pulled the rebreather straps off his head and tossed it aside, not eager at all to use it again. As he caught his breath, he examined his surroundings. His breath completely stopped for a moment. Above his head, a mass of dull green slime shifted and dribbled onto the floor below. The light from his glowstick seemed to fill it, making it glow brighter and act more animated. Suddenly, the whole of it massed together and fell to the floor below. Cobra yelped and scrambled away from the creature. He considered the water but decided against it in favor of finding a back-alley first. The giant slime slowly slithered its way toward him, scooping up random debris as it did. Cobra noticed that its insides were rife with enough spare parts to build something big. He also noticed he’d left his rebreather on the floor, where it was swallowed up by the slime. Heart pounding, the young thief rushed to search the walls. He found a corridor and took it, but it dead-ended at a huge, thick door. The edges had been sealed shut with a blowtorch. Cobra rushed back to the slime’s chamber and just narrowly avoided being trapped in the dead-end corridor. He continued scanning the wall as his light grew dimmer. He considered throwing it away, but without it he would be blind and vulnerable, a thought which filled him with even more dread. His heart skipped a beat when his foot stuck in something squishy. He breathed relief when he realized it wasn’t the slime. But he screamed when he saw what it was. The skeleton’s internal organs were still intact, though its skin and muscle tissue had all been dissolved. A coating of slime covered what remained, except where his foot had smashed through the intestines. In a panic, he backed up until his head clanked against a low pipe. He fell to the ground, dizzy and in pain. The slime’s sickening sliding sound grew nearer. Cobra almost hit his head again as he rushed to his feet. Which brought him face-to-face with a warning label on the pipe he’d struck. A snowflake – he’d seen the designs of such in his books. Which means…! Cobra felt along the pipe as his light was nearly exhausted. He found the valve just as the slime tickled the edge of his foot. Cobra leapt onto the pipe, barely maintaining his balance as he unscrewed the valve. A jet of frigid air spewed from the pressure release faucet, straight at the slime. Cobra held on for dear life as the huge amorphous creature slowly grew still and stiff. He closed the valve, huffing and puffing from the effort. His weary limbs held out no longer; he slipped from the pipe and grunted as he hit solid ice. His light was gone, but he could see enough to know the entire slime was frozen solid. Using the butt his knife, Cobra hammered at a portion of the slime until he got a chunk loose. The interior was frozen through as well. With that in mind, he dug into the creature in the area where he thought his rebreather had disappeared. He found it, cold to the touch but no worse for wear. He hoped. He hung it around his neck for now as he dug out a few bits of scrap from the slime’s corpse. A light grew behind him, inviting the panic back into Cobra’s heart. More looters? Or is it Tails? Not wanting to take the risk, he slid behind the slime’s body and waited until the light emerged from the pool on the other end of the chamber. “Lad! Hey, Cobra!” Tail’s hushed voice echoed through the room. “Are you in here? Gears and oil, I hope not. We’ve had this place marked as a slime pit for years…” Cobra climbed up to the top of the slime and called out, “Hey Tails! I found something pretty useful!” The old man gasped at his voice but laughed soon after. “You crazy kid, I thought you’d gotten yourself drowned!” He sloshed out of the pool and approached Cobra. “Now what is this you found? We really shouldn’t hang around a slime pit for too—” His light shone on the slime’s frozen body. “—long.” “So Tails,” Cobra said cockily, “How many points do you think this is worth?”
  7. ((The Cast So Far...)) The Wretch / Cobra Mother Tails Slick Ogre Socks Gretta Grabbyhands Tops Blue Mute
  8. The tightness increased around his neck and chest. He tried to wriggle free, but the restraints only seemed to tighten, digging bloody ruts below his armpits and jawline. She stood over him, weeping. Her tears fell from her cheeks onto his forehead. “Why do you make me do this to you?” she asked, as though beseeching a merciless god. “I only want what’s best for you!” “Mommy…please…” He croaked, unable to get enough air. His eyes felt likely to pop out of his head. “You can’t go outside! I’ve told you again and again! Out there, there’s nothing but people who will rob you, cheat you, and hurt you! They take you for everything and leave you bleeding and broken and alone! Why would you ever want to leave? Why? Why!!” “No! NO!! STOOOOOP!” He flailed awake and pulled his knife. His hand went to his throat, but there was no strap there, nor around his chest. He sniffled, but the tears wouldn’t come. She can’t hurt me. I’m free. Thinking the words didn’t make them true, though. --- He knocked at the hideout door, but for once there was no answer. He frowned and tried the knock again. I’m sure I did it right… The door creaked open suddenly, making Cobra jump. He jumped back again when he saw what had unlocked the door: a mecha scorpid with pair of rat heads dangling from its tail. “PASSWORD,” the scorpid’s grainy speakers demanded. “Uuuhh,” Cobra said, staring with his mouth agape. His hand was on the folding knife in his pocket, but his instincts were conflicted over whether to run or not. “PASSWORD NOT ACCEPTED. HAVE A GOOD DAY, MADAM.” The scorpid’s tail reached to pull the vault door closed. “No, no, no! Not like that, Sting!” The scorpid paused as a blue-haired gnome in a badly burned lab coat stomped up in oversized black lab boots and waved downward at it. Cracked safety goggles rested on top of her head and her belt displayed a vast array of engineering equipment. “Sorry, young man. Sting is a rescue. I’m still working on recalibrating his processor.” “Um, who are you?” Cobra asked. The woman patted Sting, who backed up slowly from the door. Cobra hesitantly followed inside when the woman gestured for him to come. “Do shut the door, boy. I prefer not to speak of myself where unknown agents may be listening in.” Cobra wasn’t eager to turn away from the mecha scorpid, but he did as he was told. Struggling with the weight, he swung the door slowly shut and spun the lock until it clicked. How does Ogre do that all day, every day? he wondered. The blue-haired woman reclined on a couch and gestured for Cobra to do the same. He was about to, but the scorpid beat him to it. It snuggled up on a couch, the razor blades attached to its legs tearing into the cushions. The woman sighed. “Guess I’ll have to pay for that. Sorry, but Sting’s command recognition is in what we mechgineers call a ‘transitionary period.’ He’s supposed to respond only to my voice, but he seems to be stuck on hand gestures instead.” “Ah,” Cobra grunted, as if that explained everything. “You’re…a mechgineer?” She smiled, a brilliant expression that set his stomach to rumbling irritably. “Yep! My name’s Be—oh. Code names. I’m Blue! You know, because of the—” “Blue hair, yeah,” Cobra finished for her. Not particularly clever, he noted. “Are you a friend of Tops’?” Sometimes the boss brought clients or business partners into the hideout, but they never spoke to the lesser thieves like him. Blue brushed some goo off a sleeve, which took part of the sleeve with it. “Yeah, we go way back! About two weeks, anyway. His guys rescued me from a lab explosion. Which I definitely did not cause.” She stared at him with her intense orange eyes as if to say, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’ “Two weeks…that’s not long after Tops told us not to target engineers. That must have been a cover while he was planning a big job.” He looked at Blue, searching for confirmation of his guess. Blue shrugged. “I don’t know about all that, but I’ve trading info to your boss anonymously for a while now. The heat on me was getting a little too heat-some, so I faked me own death a little. Maybe caused a few not so fake deaths along the way. You know, allegedly.” She’s telling me way more than I should know, Cobra thought. Good. The Rumblers are gonna have to pay me extra for this. I wonder if I can press for more. He asked, “Mechgineers are real rich, though, right? Why’d you make friends with a gang?” “Rich? Pff, I wish. Only the chief thinkers and royal tinkers are rich. They hog all the money while we do all the work, like some overeducated grease monkeys.” Blue crossed her arms and huffed. “Your boss, Tops, he offered me a chance to take my work to the next level. Next month, we’re gonna start by—” “Five minutes, Blue! I left to take a five-minute bathroom break, and what the hell do I find when I come back?” Socks had already entered the room and was staring at the pair of gnomes in the lounge from the doorway to the bathroom. “What did you tell this snot-nose?” The mechgineer stammered, “O-oh! You know, Socks, just the basics like my name and wh-whatnot. Definitely not anything important like, say—” “She only told me she’s in it for the money,” Cobra interrupted, hoping that was all Socks had heard. Damn his soft little footsteps! “I couldn’t get her to tell me anything else.” He glanced at Blue, who smiled appreciatively. He felt an uncomfortable heat in his gut. Socks rolled his eyes. “No more talking to the runts, ‘grease monkey.’ Especially not this one. He’s got some screws loose.” Blue sighed and stood up. When she stretched her arms above her head, Sting jumped straight up and slammed into the metal panel ceiling with a clanging thud. “OW,” it said. “Well, it was nice meeting and not talking about anything important with you, uh—” “Cobra,” he answered. He blinked at her when she walked over. He cringed when she took his hand and shook it. “Oh. Uh, gah.” Blue giggled. “You’re a funny boy. See ya around, Cobra!” She walked down the corridor to the workshop, where the craftier thieves put together equipment with their (mostly stolen) stash of materials. Sock’s voice called from the reception desk, “Are you gonna stand there all day, or do you want your assignment, brat?” Cobra flinched, realizing he’d been staring after Blue. He tripped on his way to the desk, where he stood at attention. Socks flipped through some papers behind the desk’s privacy panel. “You’re on platform thirty-two for street sweeping. The quota is ten silver minimum. No first pickings permitted.” He shoved the papers aside and took a long drink from a bottle of beer. “That’s all, runt. Get the fuck going.” “Where’s Ogre?” Cobra asked, against his better judgment. Socks made an exasperated noise. “None of your fuckin’ business. All you need to know is I’m on door duty, so don’t expect Blue’s pretty face to greet you when you get back tonight. Oh, and you bring your get to me. Don’t bother Tops today unless you wanna get your ass thrown in a trash compacter.” Cobra frowned but departed without further inquiry. If Ogre is out and Tops isn’t to be disturbed…maybe they’re all working a big score. Does it have to do with Blue and her lab? He considered following her back to the workshop and grilling for more information, but with Socks on guard duty, that would be too suspicious. I’ll wait for now, but if I can talk to her in private again somehow, maybe I can find the answer and a solution to my other problem at the same time. Before departing the hideout, he looked back at Tops’ office door, as solid as ever. If anyone could figure a way past a door like that, it was a mechgineer.
  9. Cobra sat on a barrel, wearing a blindfold over his eyes, and called out to strangers passing by, “A bit for a blind beggar? Just a bit, that’s all I’m asking.” Not being able to see the mass of people helped calm his anxious heart somewhat, but he still rankled under Tops’ restriction against pickpocketing engineers. The crowds surged by, off to their boring lives of servitude to the institution. Cobra had learned about how society functioned in part from the books he read in secret as a youth and more recently from Tails and the other thieves. People slept, they woke, they ate and washed themselves. They went to their jobs and worked until the lights dimmed and then returned home, tired but a little wealthier. They ate and washed and went to sleep and the next day the cycle began anew. It wasn’t dissimilar to how his mother had enforced his own life, and due to that, Cobra cringed away from the idea of a “normal life.” A coin clattered on his barrel-seat. “Thank you kindly, sir or madam,” he squeaked. “You’re the one, right? The Snake?” the voice was unfamiliar, but what he asked was what Cobra had been waiting for. He wouldn’t have put himself on beggar duty for anything less than this. The blindfold had been part of the arrangement. No faces, no names. A blind meeting. He nodded, taking the coin and chewing at it. “I left the notes,” he confirmed. “And that was only a little bit of what I know.” “You’ll get us more, then. We Rumblers are tired of Rats stealing our prizes.” An Earth Rumbler, Cobra thought. They were one of the many gangs that ran their operations behind a business front in the middle districts. Lately, they’d been toeing into Rat Runner territory down below, but then, the Rats had been moving further up the platforms the last few years, to hear Tails tell of it. “I have a price,” Cobra reminded the Rumbler. “Half a gold hammering for each delivery.” The Rumbler made a crude noise. “That price for this garbage? You’re out of your gourd, kid.” “You wouldn’t be here if you thought it was garbage,” Cobra retorted, his irritation replacing nervousness. “You haven’t been able to get an informant inside the Rats, but you have tried. Every one of them was too stupid to cover their tracks, and they couldn’t read Tops’ code. I can.” The Rumbler hesitated for a moment, then replied, “Even if you can read it, that four-eyed freak keeps his office locked up tighter than a dwarf priestess’ cunt. You won’t get in.” Cobra bristled and sat up straighter. Massaging his bloody bandaged knuckles, he said, “I will. But until I do, you will pay my price or lose this opportunity.” He waited. The Rumbler made no sound, so he could hear only the clanking of passersby across the metal platform. The pause went on so long that his proud confidence wavered. Nervousness seeped back in. He leaned forward, listening, then reached to remove his blindfold. The sudden clank on his barrel made him jump backwards reflexively. He landed headfirst on the metal floor. He removed the blindfold, but if the Rumbler was in the crowd, Cobra couldn’t recognize him. He stood up and rubbed his sore head. The pain seemed trivial when he saw the pouch on the barrel. His smile grew wider as he counted out the coins within. Forty-eight, forty-nine…fifty silver rams! I could live for a month off all this! And all it had costed was a measly scrap of paper and some ink. And a rebellion. Here in the Centrifuge, it pays to rebel. Mother knew that. That’s why she hurt me. Why she whipped me and kept me locked up. She was afraid of what I could become. And she was right to be afraid. He tied the purse to his belt and hid it within his breeches. Hastily, he returned to the back-alleys and to one of his hideouts. He sifted through the pipes and retrieved one of his emergency coin purses. He deposited most of the silver into the pouch, leaving an unsuspicious amount for himself. Beggar duty was an official responsibility for a Rat Runner; he would be expected to return his day’s earnings to the hideout. The last thing he needed was to be suspected of cheating the boss. The hideout door opened after Cobra’s knock; Ogre’s expressionless face greeted him as ever. “Welcome back, Cobra!” he said cheerily. “Good haul today?” Cobra smiled warmly. “Quite good, Og,” he said, skipping into the lounge, “Quite good, indeed.”
  10. The target was clearly from out-of-town, just as Cobra liked them. The gnome had hair the color of an eggplant, styled with a slick flair that indicated a long time spent self-grooming. His shoes were clean despite the grimy floors of platform twenty-two, and his tailored suit reeked of money. But it was his coin purse Cobra fixated on, and the sack of rolled-up papers on his shoulder. Like most smart rich folk, he travelled with an entourage of followers – mostly engineers – that walked together in a tight group. They had walked a nearly full circuit of the platform while Cobra tailed them. At various points they’d stopped to mark spots in need of repair or improvement, though Cobra couldn’t tell which was which. Another point of knowledge he’d added to his list in the last few months. The group approached the elevators leading off the platform, just as Tails had told him they would. The engineering corps did these routine maintenance checks every fortnight to ensure the lower levels were operating at least at minimal capacity. The Centrifuge, as Cobra had learned, did not divide its energy reserves evenly. The top ten floors all contained vital systems such as the expansion’s life-support and atmospheric controls. Beneath them were the middle platforms, which contained vast residential and mercantile districts that supported the entire expansion. The bottom thirty floors, however, were outdated and, according to Tops, close to being voted as abandoned in status by the Gnomeregan council. It was down here that most of the repair work had to be done, and where the pickpockets thrived most. It took an ambitious thief to target a repair corps, but Cobra’s confidence had grown as his successes piled one after another. As it turned out, Tails had been right about his temperament. He saw threats in every shadow, in every face. Few could sneak up on him, and he’d learned where to sleep in the back-alleys to avoid being disturbed. He could find food in the form of rats and fungi, both of which thrived in the humid lower levels. Many of the Rat Runner thieves stuck to the middle platforms where there were more targets, but Cobra and the other bold pickpockets saw the opportunity in the dingy low town. The corps split up to take different elevators. It was simply a necessity. This part of the expansion hadn’t received upgraded lifts along with the middle and upper sections when the expansion had been built. Once, this area had been a mine dug by old dwarven prospectors, but the ore had long since been drowned. Now, there was little reason to come down here save to keep the geothermal harvesters operational. Cobra slipped into an elevator with one of the small groups. He fit in fine, and he engineers simply cleared their throats and avoided eye contact. Some wrinkled their noses as if to say, You don’t belong here. Even your smell is wrong. Cobra sniffled as if something was troubling him. Before long, he was balling his eyes out, fresh tears leaving clean streaks down his dirty cheeks. The engineers shifted uncomfortably, but the wealthy-looking man with the slick hair smiled at him sadly. “Lost your folks, Sunny?” he asked in a friendly tone. The same tone he’d used for the little girl with the doll back on platform twenty-two. Cobra had noted that and developed his plan around it. He nodded at the man, still sniffling. “Can’t find them,” he whined. The slick man ruffled Cobra’s strawlike brown hair with a gloved hand. “Where did you see them last?” he asked. “P-platform…um…thirty—forty—six?” he stammered. He mumbled a few more numbers in the mid-range to add further confusion. “Well, we’ll just have to check a few levels until we find them, then!” An engineer looked at the slick man dubiously. “Boss, is that really necessary? Doesn’t the Centrifuge have…people for that sort of thing?” The slick man turned to the engineer and said, “Not enough, sadly. Poverty is rampant in this expansion, especially below level fifty.” While he looked away, Cobra flicked the hidden razor in his sleeve, which fell into his grasp unnoticeably. He eyed the strap on the man’s satchel and the string on his coin purse. Not enough time for both, he knew. The engineer scratched his scalp anxiously. “Still, we’re supposed to report back to Central…we could get in trouble for making a detour.” Cobra eyed the floor indicator on the elevator wall. Five more levels… The boss clapped the engineer on the shoulder. “We’ll tell them we got delayed fixing a leak. It’s a common enough problem, but not major enough to turn heads. Just look at the kid, Filbin! He needs our help!” Now. Cobra swiped, ripping through the satchel strap with ease. He scooped up the bag and climbed out the elevator window. Before the engineers could reach for him, he flipped over the side and landed on a flat steel landing for the service stairwell. Without hesitation, he began his rapid descent. He took a turn off the stairwell at platform twenty-eight and ran along support beams for a while, then climbed along a support beam to the wall of the expansion. A gap in the pipes led to a back-alley marked with graffiti in the shape of a rat running on its hind legs. He stopped to catch his breath and listened for the sound of pursuit. All he heard was the whirring of machinery behind the expansion wall. He grinned to himself and rifled through the satchel. The Runners would require the lion’s share of his get, but first pickings was a right granted to the thief. He could take whatever singular item he desired most, unless it was specifically requested by dispatch. The satchel contained blueprints, as he’d expected. It also had the slick man’s spare parts for repairs, a cheat-sheet for parts’ order numbers, a small set of vital repair tools, and a set of notebooks and fountain pens. Cobra’s smile deepened as he took one of the pens. With his loot in hand, Cobra followed the twisting, confusing tunnels back to the Rat’s Nest. The graffiti signs were few and far between, but he knew the way well enough by now. Mostly, the signs warned rival gangs to stay out of the tunnels or risk incurring the wrath of the Rats. Cobra had yet to come across any rival thieves, but he worried that was because they were better at hiding than he was. One final turn led him to a large, sealed vault door marked with cheese-shaped graffiti. He knocked twice, three times, once, then four times. The door groaned, clicked, and swung open with a menacing metallic moan. Ogre towered over him, his face stuck in a permanent scowl. “Hey, Cobra!” he greeted cheerfully. “You got something! Nice work!” The big gnome’s face barely moved as he spoke, giving no outward indication of his joy. Cobra nodded and patted the satchel proudly. “Third time this week. A gullible repairman in some fancy clothes.” “What’d you take for first pickings?” Cobra showed him the pen, his smile wide and beaming. Ogre clapped his meaty hands, his mouth twisting in the vague direction of a smile. “To match that ream of parchment from yesterday! Have you decided what to write yet?” “No. I’m saving it until I come up with something. Is Tails in?” Ogre stepped aside and waved Cobra in. “He’s in the Sink. Don’t forget to give that to the boss, though!” He indicated the satchel and Cobra waved him off dismissively. “I want to show Tails first. Tops doesn’t need to know.” He gave Ogre an innocent look. The big man shrugged. “None of my business. Just don’t do anything to hurt the Rats, and you’re fine with me.” Cobra gave him a passing smile and jaunted in to the Nest. The reception area had a longue set around an old scrap metal coffee table. A few thieves were sharing a drink there while discussing some odd news of raids down south around Stormwind City. Bandits of some sort, Cobra guessed. Nothing to be concerned with. A few hallways extended from the longue, each with its own vault door capable of sealing off the sections of the hideout. Cobra headed down the one marked with graffiti of a sink. At the end of the hallway he emerged in a cozily-lit pub full of thieves being as raucous as underworlders could be. It was quieter than most of the commercial platforms in the expansion, but spending any length of time in the Sink still made Cobra uncomfortable after all this time. Tails sat at a table attended to by a pair of serving girls in skimpy dresses. Tails had one on his lap and was tickling her with his snowy beard. His younger, (though balding and old enough to be Cobra’s grandfather), protégée sat beside him, reclining casually as the other serving girl stuffed her hand down the front of his breeches. Socks regarded Cobra smugly as the young thief approached. “Brought back some bits of paper for the Rats to chew on?” Socks asked, smirking. “Blueprints,” Cobra corrected, “Useful paper. Tops says we need more info on equipment to make big jobs go smoother.” The balding gnome snorted. “If you brought back more coin and less of this ‘useful paper,’ we could buy all the mechs we wanted, runt. Oi, Gretta Grabbyhands, not so tight!” The serving girl shrugged her freckled shoulders. “Sorry, Sockers. I thought I was loosing your interest for a second there. You were goin’ all soft on me.” She winked at Cobra, who grimaced and took a step away. Tails chuckled, still dandling the other girl on his lap. “Little Socks always did have a problem with focus! So, boy, you came by to show me your get, eh?” Cobra nodded. “The job worked out just like you said it would. That tip about the stairwell was really helpful.” Socks snorted and made a kissing face at Cobra. Tails didn’t seem to notice. He replied, “That’s good, boy. But y’know, you gotta make plans for yourself. Whenever you come to me for a job, you already got the ideas in your head, but you make it seem like I’m doing all the thinking. Are you afraid to do the jobs on your own?” Cobra fidgeted with his bandaged knuckles. They’d long since healed, but he kept the bloody bandages on as a warning to others. He wasn’t afraid, not of anything. Healthfully cautious, but not afraid. “I just…wanted you to know I was doing well,” he mumbled. Socks snickered. “Little baby, looking for his daddy’s approval. You never told me you had kids, Tails!” Tails cackled as the woman on his lap left lipstick marks on his face. “Well, hell, I might! ‘Sides, all the Rats look at me like their grandpappy. I been here longer’n everyone else, ‘s only natural the kiddies want to make me proud!” Cobra rubbed his arm, embarrassed. He took a few retreating steps before Tops’ voice halted him. “Cobra. My office. Now.” The bifocaled gnome regarded him with his beady eyes before walking back down the entry hall. “Better skedaddle, boy,” Tails said. “Thanks for stopping by!” Socks groaned as the woman’s hand in his breeches sped its rhythmic motion. “Yeah, yeah, now beat it kid. You’re in the splash zone!” Cobra raced after Tops. He caught up to the boss at the security door to his office. The door was shut, as it always was when no one was moving in or out. Tops was called many things – and always behind his back – paranoid being a common one. The door clicked and slid open. Tops returned his card key to his coat pocket and went inside. His office was cramped, though spacious compared with the thieves’ living quarters. Cobra never slept in the hideout, not after the debacle on his first night with the Rats. One thief’s snore had been enough to start a panic attack, and none of the crew members were pleased about losing sleep over a ten-year-old’s “bad dream.” Cobra left the hideout and found a cozy corner of the back-alleys every night. He had a few regular spots where he stored his personal loot, but he never slept in the same place twice in a row. Tops plopped into his old rotating chair and flicked his gravity spheres, which clack-clack-clacked back and forth like a silvery, segmented seesaw. “Sit down, runt,” Tops said flatly. He poured himself a small portion of amber liquid from a large glass flask marked with measuring lines for alchemical use. He returned the flask to its set, most of which bubbled and sizzled over burners, filling the room with an odd amalgamation of aromas. Cobra did as he was bid, taking a seat in one of the little Tinker’s School chairs. He set his looted satchel on the boss’s desk. “Taken off an engineer corps boss,” the young thief said proudly. Tops regarded the satchel with a sleepy look. He adjusted his bifocals and pulled it closer. After laying the contents out on his desk in a methodical pattern, he nodded once. “Good. This earns you ten.” Cobra felt the blood rush to his ears. A measly ten points? That wasn’t enough to buy a week’s worth of rations! “Oh,” he said, failing to hide the disappointment, “I—I’ll bring more tomorrow!” “You won’t,” Tops replied. His tone wasn’t harsh or loud, but it cut deep regardless. “The engineers will be on alert for our thieves now. Your get will be a setback for the rest of the Runners, runt.” Cobra fidgeted. “I—I wasn’t seen…” “Don’t lie to me. You aren’t good enough at it yet.” He held the cut shoulder strap for Cobra to see. “People tend to notice when their bags are stolen off their bodies.” “But—but you could use the plans and tools. You said you needed them…to keep up with the engineers’ upgrades.” “One satchel of repair blueprints won’t help anything if we can’t get our hands on more.” Tops slid a piece of parchment out of a drawer and wrote on it in precise script. “You will hang this memorandum in the reception area.” He passed the paper to Cobra and began sorting the loot off his desk and onto several piles of similar supplies. Cobra’s heart sank as he read the memo. No more jobs against the engineers! It’s taken me so long to pull a job on one, and all my effort is going to go to waste? “Is there a problem, runt?” Tops asked, not sparing Cobra a look. “N-no, boss.” “Then get out. And don’t forget to hang the memo.” He drew out a logbook from another drawer. A glimpse at one of the pages caught Cobra’s attention. Code. I can read that code! He stored that information away for later use as he withdrew from the office. The metal door slammed behind him, making him skip a step. Cobra’s head fell as he hung the memo in the reception area. The two thieves that had been merrily sharing a drink cursed him bitterly. He understood. The engineers were a ripe target for the Rat Runners. Losing them meant a loss of points for everyone. This loss hurt most because it set back the reputation he’d been building. Gang thieves respected ambition when it helped the whole gang. But when it hurt everyone else, an ambitious thief was nothing but a liability. Cobra forced himself not to run as he made for the exit door. Ogre waved at him as he headed out into the back-alleys. The big man must have read the disappointment on his face, since he said, “Better luck next time, Cobra.” The young thief hunched, wishing he could disappear like a wizard from one of his story books. Word of his failure would spread like a grease fire. He knew by what Tails had taught him that the only cure for a damaged reputation was to lie low and do your fair share. He didn’t relax until he made it back to one of his hideouts. He dug his ream of parchment free of some pipes and examined his looted fountain pen by the dull red alley light. The blank page was more intimidating than he expected. It had taken him a lot of work to get these items; he wanted them to be worth the effort. Unlike my work for the engineers’ bag, he thought bitterly. Stupid rules! Stupid Tops! Stupid ten points! I earned more than that! He gripped the pen so tight his bandaged knuckles went numb. Why should I care what a bunch of Rats think about me? No one owns me! He knew what to write now. It took him some time to remember one of his mother’s encryptions, which took one whole side of a piece of parchment. But after that, it was easy going. This, he thought triumphantly, a smile playing on his lips, is my new rebellion.
  11. Whap, whap. He trembled under the whipping belt. He covered his stinging face with his hands and felt blood gush from a dozen wounds. “—a miserable little shit stain! I should have fucking swallowed you instead of letting you be born!” Whap, whap, whap. “What did I do?” he wailed. “What did I do? What did I do?” “Shut up! Shut up, you waste of fucking space!” Her hand fell again and again. The belt ripped through the thin fabric of his tunic – the last piece of clothing that still fit. Whap, whap, whap, whap. “I’m sorry, mommy, I’m sorry! Don’t hit me again, please! Please!” “Shut up!” Whap. “Shut up!” Whap. “You’re lucky to be alive! You’re lucky to be in here, where it’s safe!” Whap. “You’d be dead without me! You’d be nothing!” Whap, whap, whap. “Thank me, you little shit! Fucking thank me!” “Th-thank you. Thank you, m-mommy.” Whap! Whap! Whap! The wretch woke screaming, his hands reaching for the knife he’d tucked in his pocket before lying down to sleep. He whirled to his feet, narrowly avoiding a low pipe running along the ceiling of the back-alley. A grizzled old gnome wheeling a cart ignored him as he walked on by. The wretch watched him closely, then lowered his knife when he could no longer hear the squeaking cart wheels. That was when he noticed his bag was missing. He didn’t bother searching for it. Whoever had taken it would be long gone by now. He wandered out of the alley, flinching at the sudden rush of a mechnostrider and the throng of people moving down the walkway. He ducked and wove his way to the edge of the platform and leaned over the railing to look down. The Centrifuge glowed with life; the expansion to Gnomeregan had been built deep into the earth and was one of its most populated sectors. Each level held hundreds of residents, dozens of businesses, and miles of pipes running energy to power it all. Not to mention a million places to hide. It had been three days since he’d gotten free. The wretch had been so overwhelmed by the liveliness of the platform outside the apartment complex that he’d nearly gone comatose with panic the first night. He’d found a back alley to hide in and eventually passed out from sheer exhaustion. The following day, he’d treated his wounded knuckles and wrapped them in gauze before exploring the endless alleyways. Towards nighttime, when the lights of the platform were dimmed to simulate the setting sun, he’d slipped out of his hiding place to determine where exactly his home was. A book he’d once read had contained a detailed map of Gnomeregan. From memory and based off a sector map he found at a public directory screen, he discerned he was on the Centrifuge’s forty-fifth platform, nearly halfway from the bottom to the top. He recalled the book saying that the bottom ten levels had been sealed off due to flooding, and that every year engineers discovered the water level to be high than the last. The third day was just beginning, and now that he had the courage enough to walk among the people, he had far less money with which to buy food or clean water. His stomach rumbled angrily at the thought. He followed his nose to a stand at which a mustachioed man was selling hot kabobs. The wretch had never seen anything like it, though he identified it from a description in a cookbook he’d once read. He took a silver coin from his pocket and stepped nervously into the queue. When someone queued up behind him, he trembled until the coin fell from his hand and rolled off the edge of the platform. He ran, ignoring the strange looks from the people around him. Back in the alleys, the wretch followed the pipes until he found a sizable niche to stuff himself into. The space was tight and warm: comforting. His heart rate slowed. But his stomach still rumbled. It wasn’t long before a rat scurried past him. His mouth wetted at the thought of simmering meat. He lunged after the critter, but he was too slow to catch it. The rat escaped into a gap in the pipes too narrow for him to follow through. He curled in a ball on the filthy ground, shielding his eyes from the bright red light illuminating the passageway. “You gotta be smarter than that, boy,” a voice called from above. The wretch yelped and crawled away. He fumbled for his knife. The stranger chuckled, coughing as he did. He shook a hand with stubs for fingers and shook his head. A grimy snow-white beard jiggled on his chin. “No need for violence, boy. Not against me anyway. Rat meat is much tastier.” The wretch kept his hand in his pocket. The handle of the knife in his hand was comforting. He thought briefly of the ruins of his mother’s face. “I—I don’t have any money!” he lied splutteringly. It felt strange to speak after being speechless for nearly three days. The old man flicked his patchwork hat and grinned. “Never said anything about money, boy. You want to catch rats, right? You gotta be quick and clever. It ain’t enough just to chase them when they’re out in the open. You gotta know when and where they’ll be before they get there.” The wretch glanced at the rat’s hiding place. “How…how can you tell?” The old man sauntered up to the wretch. He flinched and shied away, pulling his knife free of his pocket. The man simply chuckled and tapped a pipe with his knuckle. “These pipes are warm for a reason, boy. They carry energy. Life. The rats can feel it, just like we can. They use them to hide, and to keep warm. But they gotta leave the pipes for food. Find the food, and you’ll find the rats.” “But…where…?” The old man gestured back towards the alley exit. “Where there’s people, there’s food. But the rats know better not to risk the people. They lurk in the places where people have been, but don’t like to stick around. You know what I’m talking about, now?” “The…garbage?” He slapped the boy on the shoulder and hooted, causing the wretch to scream and retreat, slashing wildly. The old man dodged out of the way of the knife nimbly. “Atta boy! You’re smart and you’ve got good survival instincts! Take a lesson from the rats, though, don’t go poking in the business of the Mech-Makers. They won’t hesitate to squash our kind.” The wretch took a moment to gather his wits and slow his breathing. Eventually, he said, “Our…kind?” “Yeah, we Rats. The ones who lurk in the places no one else want to be.” “Who says I’m l-lurking?” The old man laughed raucously. “No one! It’s plain on your face! I know a Rat when I see one, boy. By the by, the name’s Tails. What’s yours?” The wretch paused. My name? Not the one she gave me. That’s not me. I can be whoever I want now. “I’m…Cobra.” The old man snorted. “A snake, eh? Well, you were trying to eat the rat, so it makes enough sense. Well, Cobra, I have a group of friends who could use someone of your temperament, if you’re keen on earning some bread n’ salt. Whaddya say?” The wretch – Cobra, now – considered running then and there. But his grumbling stomach stopped him. He couldn’t face the throng of people just yet, but maybe with the Rats he could find a better way to earn his food. He nodded and followed where Tails led. Never once did he take his hand off the handle of his knife.
  12. The wretch’s ragged breaths came like waves pounding a rocky shore. He held the blade between his hands tremulously, still pointing at the motionless corpse on the ground before him. Blood dribbled down his knuckles where he’d beaten them against her face. The steady trickle intermixed with the pool at his feet. The corpse scarcely had a face left to speak of; really, it was only red flesh gashed open half a hundred times leaking grey matter on the carpet he’d cleaned just this morning. It was peculiar; he felt as though his hands should hurt, but it was his heart that hurt more than anything. The way it pounded inside his chest, he was certain it would burst and add to the bloody mess on the floor. I’ll have to clean that up, too, he thought out of habit. But he wouldn’t have to, would he? His mother, that sadistic whore, was dead at his feet. He had done it. He had killed her. He had freed himself, at long last. He made himself look at the corpse again. Her hand was still clutched tightly around his bare, hairy ankle. He flinched out of her grip and dropped the knife. The clatter could have awoken a sleeping god. The wretch couldn’t hold back the tension in his chest any longer. He screamed. His throat was still dry and ragged from the shouting before, but he couldn’t stop himself. It was as if his soul had burst loose. His bloody, cracked fingernails dug into his scalp and ripped out hair by the fistful. He felt warm tears stream down his filthy cheeks and wondered if he had been stricken with grief or joy. Air left his lungs in a storm and returned in minor puffs. Naturally, he fell to the ground, vision fuzzy and senses abandoning him. When he came to, he was on the floor beside her. Her face was inches from his own. It reminded him of a topographical map of the Searing Gorge from one of her books. A bit of brains slithered loose from what might have once been an eye socket. The wretch shivered and pulled himself to his feet. He went into the kitchen and opened a cabinet door. He stood staring at the endless rows of jars and tin cans, his foot tapping restlessly. He closed the door, walked a circuit around the kitchen. “I can eat whatever I want,” he growled. “I can eat whenever I want. You can’t stop me. You can’t stop me!” He stopped at the border to the living room where she had died. Her corpse said nothing, so he returned to the cabinet and got himself a jar of pickles. They tasted like vinegar and salt. The crunched like the sand he’d never seen under the shoes he’d never owned. Like the sound a lock makes when it clicks open, revealing…somewhere else. Anywhere else. He ate until the pickles ran out, then drank the juice, then vomited it all on the floor. He wiped his chin and laughed historically. “I ain’t cleaning that up! You can’t make me!” He tried the beer next. She’d always told him he wasn’t allowed any, but he snuck them whenever she was out on a job anyway. This one tasted like his first all over again: a small rebellion. He managed to keep it down. His heart rate was slow enough by this point that he could see and hear and feel clearly. The pain in his fists crept up his arms like creepers consuming a tree. He cracked open a second beer bottle as he walked into his mother’s room. Another rebellion. He kicked porno magazines aside on his way to her desk. The drawers were locked, and he didn’t know how to pick locks. I never learned. I only know what she wants me to know. He decided to start a list of things he wanted to learn, starting with picking locks. For now, a hammer sufficed to see the drawers open. The first had fat black vibrators and nude sketches of the men she’s slept with. Some of them looked familiar. The wretch wondered if one of them was his father. He closed that drawer. The second held notes, all encrypted. He recognized her handwriting intermixed with other familiar sets. He’d worked on her cyphers since he was old enough to speak, so reading these was literal child’s play. They contained detailed accounts of contacts, jobs, assets, and locations for dead drops. The wretch found his mother’s bug-out bag under her heavily stained bed and added the notes to the survival equipment within. The third drawer was full of coins. They were of various shapes, materials, and mints. He did a quick calculation and totaled over two hundred gold. He split the coinage in two and stored half in his bag and the other in a pouch he tied on the inside of his breeches. He returned to the living room as he finished the second beer and stared at the front door on the other side of his mother’s corpse. Just a few steps away. It might as well have been on the other side of the Great Sea. He’d never left. Not for one minute of his ten-year-old life. This cramped, filthy apartment had been his entire world for every conscious moment of those ten years. His only escapes had been his tiny rebellions against his whore mother’s rules. And the books. She’d taught him to read so he could be useful, but he’d learned quickly that he had more freedom in that knowledge than he could possibly have imagined. Her various boyfriends brought him books when he’d asked them in secret. He’d learned of the outside world and become enamored with the idea of seeing it. His mother had found out long ago, and the boyfriends stopped talking to him. His freedom had gone faster than it had arrived. But freedom was no longer in her power to deny. She was a bloody mess on the floor. Yet his bare feet remained glued to the algae-colored, crimson-spotted carpet. The wretch glanced down the hallway he hadn’t dared go down. His room was back there. In truth, it was a cupboard, but he’d made it his personal space for his childhood imprisonment. No, he thought as sweat trailed down his forehead. I can’t go back there. I won’t do it! Never again! He leapt over her body, half expecting her to grab him and drag him down to some deep pit of hell. He ran face-first into the front door and fell hard on his rear end. He felt something squish underneath him and swore his heart stopped. He screamed again and charged the door. He fumbled with the lock and nearly ripped the door off its hinges – or so it seemed to him – and sprinted out into the world. He looked back as he thundered down the long hallway of the apartment complex’s negative seventh floor. He was leaving a trail of blood droplets behind him, he saw. The wretch snickered and coughed and cried all at once. I’m not cleaning any of your messes ever again.
  13. Life is easier when I run cold. Everything is simpler, smoother. Decisions make sense. Everything seems obvious. Cruelty comes easy to the cold. Hatred that runs hot has no time for cruelty. It seeks death, obliteration, ashes. Fire cannot be bothered with drawing out pain, with monitoring the suffering of its victims. The cold can use fire to play its games, but fire itself does not toy. Fire does what it does, or it dies. I am not often cold, no matter how often I try, no matter how easy and simple it makes every choice and action. I could be. I could choose cruelty over destruction. When I am caged to be useful, when I am used like a lantern with its glass walls and quiet fuel, I fall to cold cruelty for a lack of capacity to be true to my nature. Perhaps it would be in my best interests to simply light the way for ruin rather than indulge in it myself. Because there is another side to running hot. And it is distracting. And I find it very difficult to reconcile with what I would like to see accomplished. And yet. It feels as though it is only in my nature to do as I am doing, to be who I am, though it accomplishes nothing beyond extreme satisfaction. When I am cold, life is simple. When I am cold, the Grim is pure logic. When I am cold, decisions are made before they are needed. It's impossible for me to be cold anymore.
  14. Wind was loud in the Arathi Highlands. Without many trees to dampen the breeze, the sound of wind gusting on more extreme days could often be deafening. It was the only thing that could compete with the whistle in Gor'mul's ears, still ringing months after the Siege of Blackrock Spire. He and the dozens of other males who were transported with him sat listlessly in large cages, built specifically for the once enormous orcish captives. As the wind blew, rattling loose chains nearby, he remembered the way they were brought to this green and rainy place. Dragged by their chains from wagons, they were led toward a primitive base manned with a few dozen human soldiers. Without armor or weapons, the orcs were half naked and starved from the journey. It would be something to get used to, along with the breeze of their new "home". Placed in cages with little to no privacy, the orcs were given buckets to defecate in and yet more buckets of water for drinking. If they were the same buckets, no one questioned it. They were provided with threadbare clothing and blankets, as if their size somehow made the chill of Arathi less powerful. Food was limited to bread and grains, sometimes beans and vegetables. There was a noticeable lack of meat, but the longer they remained in captivity, the less anyone complained. A strange lethargy had overcome the orcs, who took to their cages like wounded pets. Gor'mul shared his cage with several other males, all Blackrock orcs, and for the most part he sat in a corner and listened for something to drown out the whistle in his ears. Rarely, however, he had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of his mate. Miraculously, Matuya had been sent to the same camp as Gor'mul. It gave him something to search for on clear days, when the guards would allow one or two of the females to walk for short laps around the camp. He would search for her eyes, waving frantically to get her attention, but as the weeks and months dragged on, the less she would turn to face him. Her face grew gaunt even as her belly swelled, though it was noticeably not as large as most orcish pregnancies typically were. Both hope and despair weighed heavy in his chest when he saw her, his beautiful wolf, turned thin and fading with each day. "They're not feeding them enough," he said to one of his cellmates as the females were walked past their cage. Gor'mul's own face had begun to sag, skin hanging limply to bone. "My mate is going to give birth, soon. She needs to eat." "No whelp is going to survive this," one of his cellmates spat, coughing violently afterwards. The orcs passed around a perpetual chill that kept the camps loud with coughs and sneezes. Wiping spittle from his mouth, the older orc grunted before wheezing. "You had better collect water to drown it before it can latch on or that Frostwolf will never let it go." Yes, of course. There was no way the child Matuya carried would be healthy. Not in her circumstances, and even if it was, it wouldn't stay that way. The humans wouldn't allow them to breed in there. His child would be a half starved mongrel, weak and inferior. Thoughts of his father and Juggulator came to mind. If his child couldn't wield the axe, how could it bring honor to his family? Drowning it was the only option, but he knew Matuya would fight him. No Frostwolf would willingly kill her own child. "She would never allow it," he agreed, shaking his head. "Matuya is not like us." "Well then she will die," the old Blackrock sighed. "A mother can't provide for both herself and a child on the scraps they give us. I know Frostwolves. They'll defend their pups to the death. You had better hope it's a male so it gets thrown in here with us once she starves." The thought of the humans throwing a baby into a cage felt ridiculous. Laughable even, but perhaps not impossible. He remembered the slaughter at Blackrock Mountain. If they remembered too, perhaps they were capable of anything. Losing Matuya, however, was not an option. "She will not die," Gor'mul grunted, standing. He still had half a piece of bread from his meal earlier, stale and crumbling in his hand. Waving toward one of the guards, he stuck his hand with the bread through to bars and pointed at Matuya as she walked away from him. "Give it to her!" He shouted, waving the piece of food like a madman. "Give it to my mate!" The human guards stopped their walk and turned toward the orc making a fuss. Matuya looked at Gor'mul, and for a moment he could see the hope still burning in her hazel eyes. Walking her toward the cage, the guards pointed at each orc. "Mate?" One of them said in orcish, pointing at her stomach. Matuya nodded, then pointed to Gor'mul. "Mate," she repeated. Gor'mul felt his chest lighten. The guard took his bread and offered it to Matuya who reached for it gratefully. Then it fell to the ground. The guard crushed it under his boot and shoved Matuya forward, away from Gor'mul. Rage still built in the Blackrock's stomach, but it was weak and thin. He could only watch as Matuya was led away, prodded in the back by the butt of a rifle, her parting glance sad and apologetic. "Stay strong," Gor'mul said reflexively, but how anyone could do that now was beyond his understanding.
  15. Gor'mul stared at the chains over his wrists, cold metal stinging his wounds. The humans had no manacles big enough for his orcish frame, or anyone else's. Instead they wrapped thick steel chains around wrists and ankles, binding the few remaining orcs who survived the Siege of Blackrock Spire. A thin tinny sound whistled in Gor'mul's ears, likely caused by the noise of the battle. He couldn't hear the whistle as screams and metal against bone rang out around him, or as he himself roared loud enough to damage his throat until he tasted blood on his tongue. The cacophony of death shielded him from whatever that high pitched whine was, and he found himself longing for it. There was an itch in his palms where his axe should be, but that axe was long gone, buried in some human's body. He ached for the crunch of bone, again. His mouth throbbed from the clench of his jaw. On both sides, a human held a pike blade close enough to threaten his life if he so much as spoke a word. The whistle annoyed him, but not as much as the babble of humans around him. "March them down," one of the humans shouted, but Gor'mul didn't understand their garbled language. The pull of his chains by another orc in front of him signaled that he should walk, so he walked. Obedient. The very idea made the rage build up in his belly again, and it would be easy to simply use those chains and strangle a few humans before ultimately being put to death. That would be an honorable way to die. Instead, he walked with his fellow prisoners down toward a gathering of yet more orcs, herded like beasts. Somewhere over the human speech and rattle of chains, he could still hear the mad screaming of the Burning Blade. He witnessed them unleashed, cast into the battlefield like wild animals who cut down all in their path. Though trained in the arts of war, he had never seen so much blood in his entire life. Limbs strewn across the battlefield continued to bleed over still-twitching corpses, arrows and swords buried in their cooling flesh. He wondered idly how many of those arrows were Matuya's? How many humans did she kill? Was she even still alive? "Get them in the wagon!" One of the humans shouted, but Gor'mul could only hear grunting. Far away he could see a group of orcs, females mostly, being loaded into a wooden transport led by horses. The females had been stripped of their armor and Gor'mul could see from his vantage point that some were being prodded and checked for any hidden weapons. One of them, a noticeably brown female, was being shoved into the back of the transport. "Matuya," Gor'mul grunted, his eyes widening at the sight of her. Without her armor, her Frostwolf tattoos and brown skin gave her away immediately. "Matuya!" The butt of a rifle took the wind from Gor'mul's lungs. A human barked something at him, likely an order for his silence, but he continued to cough and cover the whistle in his ears by calling for his mate. "Tuya," he wheezed, forcing himself to stand upright and shout toward the females. A few turned toward the commotion, but their human guards continued to herd them into the wagon. "Tuya! Tuya, be strong!!" Another rifle butt to his stomach sent Gor'mul to the ground. He didn't fight the jab, chained as he was, but coughed leaned over and coughed until he could breathe normally again. Humans continued barking their orders, but all he could hear was that high pitched squeal. Grinding his teeth, the Blackrock shook his head, as if perhaps that might dislodge the sound. Another jab of a rifle butt to his back reminded him to stand and walk, and the noise went with him. It went with him toward the gathering of orc prisoners, and it followed him on the wagon set aside for the males. It didn't let up even when he was pushed against two dozen bodies, their injuries and sweat creating a stench that could be detected miles away. The noise was like a friend, a gift of the battlefield, and like the horrors of that day it would stay with him until he died.
  16. Matuya wrapped her hands, again, beside constantly refilled bucket of water next to her anvil. Blood seeped through the thin bandages, the same thin skin torn through as she endlessly hammered weapons. The orcess' soft hands were unaccustomed to the forge, but she agreed to do her part long ago. Sweat rolled down her arms, stinging the wounds as she wound the bandages until the blood was hidden again. Eventually she would wrap them again, but she could ignore the pain for a while longer. Lordaeron was coming, and the Blackrock Clan would not allow the Horde to fall short of weapons. A Frostwolf herself, she was a small representation for her clan in this place, and she would make them proud. Pressing her lips together tightly, Matuya closed her eyes and stood stone still as a wave of nausea passed over her. She hadn't eaten in several hours, but as the humans approached and allies remained missing, their food was being rationed. The nausea, however, had been with her for the past several weeks. She knew what this meant, and cursed the timing. Before she could return to her place, a thick callused hand landed on her shoulder and startled Matuya from her thoughts. "Oh! Gor'mul," she said, shaking her head. "I was just taking a moment to wrap my hands." "Are you alright?" He asked quietly, leaning in so that no one else could hear them over the clanging of hammers and metal. "You look pale." "I'm fine," she answered, smiling beneath the black soot that caked most of their faces. "Just a little sick today. That's supposed to be a good sign." "You should eat something," the Blackrock muttered, glancing behind himself. "There's no point in such heavy rationing if the humans are sending all of their forces here." Pausing to look around them, at all of the weapons being prepared and the excitement of a looming battle, he took in a heavy breath of smoky air and muttered confidently. "We're going to decimate them." "I've heard that they outnumber us," Matuya argued gently. "Without our allies, we may not be able to defend the mountain. The human king leads them himself." "They don't have what we have," Gor'mul said firmly, whispering toward her again. "The Burning Blade are with us. The humans will see their madness and know a death like no other, I promise you that. What I'm worried about is you, and our child." Matuya's smile faltered, as if skeptical of her mate's claim. She shook her head at the mention of their eventual progeny and tried again to smile. "I'm fine," she reassured the Blackrock, tilting her head up to kiss him. The salt from Gor'mul's green skin made her salivate. "It's early days yet." Gor'mul gazed at his mate, sadness coloring his red eyes. Matuya was one of the few remaining in Blackrock Mountain who retained her brown skin, and the color brought back memories of their time hunting clefthooves together in the wild. He had never seen anyone wield a bow the way she could, though she eventually gave it up to accompany him to the forges of Blackrock Mountain. The Frostwolf made a place for herself, her small dexterous hands skilled at hammering the details in smaller weapons, but there was always a softness in her hazel eyes that even the war couldn't harden. When she told him that she carried his child, Gor'mul's chest swelled with pride, and his family celebrated the continuation of their line. There were a few happy days before the rationing, and his mother's untimely death. Now he saw her color fading, and the fear of losing her to the approaching battle drew a tremble in each hand. Squeezing her shoulder, he steadied himself and kissed Matuya's forehead. "I will find you something. Wait here, and--" "To arms! Lordaeron approaches!!" Gor'mul's jaw dropped. Now? So soon? He looked around for his father, but the old orc was gone. "You! Frostwolf!" The voice forced both Gor'mul and Matuya to turn in its direction to find a tall broad-chested Blackrock commander waving the smaller orc toward him. "With me and the archers!" Knowing their time together was short, Matuya kissed Gor'mul one last time. Her lips were cold, he thought vaguely. "Fight well, ha'rega," she said quickly, and then she was gone. Standing alone as chaos erupted around him, Gor'mul considered what he must do. Armor, weapons, and then battle. Perhaps death. Somewhere, his mate would be fighting from a safe distance and this was good. If he fell on this day, she would tell their child about him and his family, and that would have to do. Better for him to die than his mate, the mother of his child. "Victory or death," he said to himself, and prepared for the battle ahead.
  17. The heat of the forge still warmed Throggok's skin as he retreated from its warmth, a bundle cradled in one arm. The orc, clad in the thin protective leather of a smith, disappeared easily through the other members of the Blackrock Clan as they worked endlessly to repair and forge weapons. Day and night the forges bellowed smoke as swords, axes, pikes and hammers were crafted by their skillful hands. Black calluses, numbed by years of such work, were a point of pride and Throggok could feel his tightening around the precious treasure he held close to his chest. Retreating from the crowded anvils, he made his way through the dark halls of Blackrock Spire. The further he moved away from the beating hammers of his brothers and sisters, the quieter the spire became. Here was where they slept, when allowed, and there would be no sleep for the Blackrock Clan until the humans marching toward them were dead. "So too will we sleep," he muttered under his breath, a prayer to the ancestors for a good death on the battlefield. He was old now, and dragged a lame foot once crushed by the weight of an anvil. He could still swing a hammer with the strength of three humans, but he was too slow for the battle that would soon arrive. Throggok found the small cubicle that he once shared with his mate Ashra, now dead from exhaustion. Only days ago, the orcess had fallen into the forge as she worked to reassemble a broken axe. The weapon had taken a beating in its last battle, wielded by their son Gor'mul. He had survived to tell the tale, but their priceless family heirloom was damaged nearly beyond repair. They might have forgotten it, given the battle to come. With the forces of Lordaeron marching toward Blackrock Mountain, what was one weapon? But the axe, Juggulator, was had been passed down from Throggok's father. It earned him the name Spinecleaver, and both he and Ashra agreed that their son should wield it when the final battle came. What they failed to understand, however, was that Doomhammer would push them to their limits in the final days before the siege. No sleep, little food remaining, and their allies missing forced the Blackrock Clan to work harder than they ever worked in their lives. The old fell while on their feet, and this included Ashra. With Juggulator still in pieces, Throggok took it upon himself to put it back together. That was only days ago. Today, as Throggok hammered at the metal he heard the call. "To arms! Lordaeron approaches!!" The smiths would be removed from the forges soon, to join their brothers and sisters in battle. Until then, they worked harder, faster, and didn't notice that Throggok removed himself and Juggulator from his place by the anvil. It was still in two pieces, and if given enough time he would have been able to repair it. The thought of just how much time he spent on this single weapon weighed on his conscience, but he still saw his father's eyes in the grooves of the axe's handle, designed to resemble a spine. No, this piece of their lineage would survive. Pulling out loose bricks from the floor of his cubicle, Throggok dug into the dirt beneath until he had enough space to hide Juggulator. Still wrapped in loose hide, he placed the broken axe inside and placed a hand over the still-warm bundle. "You will taste blood again," he promised. "I swear it." Outside of the cubicle, he could hear the loud slap of boots against stone. They were running, now, to move into position. Carefully, he moved the bricks back into their place and kicked loose dirt into the cracks between them. Satisfied with his hiding spot, the old smith pushed himself back to his feet and pushed open the chest that held his armor and axes. With the future secure, it was time to meet his destiny.
  18. I especially love when the Arcane Guardians almost say "Kael'Thas" and have to quickly change over to "Lor'Themar."
  19. So... this thread is from 2012. But It's really interesting to me. Silvermoon *has* changed a little in BfA, especially with the *literal* changing of the guard, Theron's new and improved skin (which makes him even more regent-lordly) and with Sylvanas even more on the out, Silvermoon is probably looking mighty good to the Horde right about now. Of course, there was that strange business with the Alliance and the Horde banding together against Sylvanas and, I think Undercity's actually gone now, but yeah. What do we all think about this now?
  20. SHOW RULES 1. This event is open to all Horde and Alliance RPers. 2. This event will take place entirely in the designated Discord Server 3. You may apply on as many characters as you want. Please list your main/player name to ensure that only one of your characters is selected at the beginning. Prize will be distributed as available (Given contestants can be spread across multiple servers or not even have an active subscription) 4. Most of the Show will be freeform RP in the House. The main goal of this event is to KILL have fun and put characters in a different situation while giving people a chance to rp with others that they would never meet with otherwise. 5. There will be occasional IC challenges. The day and time of the challenges will vary, to give opportunity for everyone to participate. The challenges will take place in Discord, but will start and complete within set time frame, so participants will be expected to be able to be active and attentive during it. Winners of the challenges may be determined by dice rolls, contestant votes, audience votes, or possibly other means. Winners will receive points and/or some other meaningful award. 6. IC, applications have been left in all major taverns with instructions to leave nominations and volunteering in drop boxes located in neutral towns. If your character would have no reason to join the show but you wish for them to participate, claim anonymous submission by a friend/enemy. 7. The contestants will NOT be all from one race or one guild. Such balancing will be kept in mind as contestants are selected to ensure variety in the household population.(edited) 8. Each contestant will earn points through various challenges and means, part of it will be luck based, but participation will lead to a higher chance of prizes. 9. Security has been employed to keep the peace within the house and around the property. They will not interfere with minor fights but anyone attacking with deadly intent will be detained. Please respect their authority and if your character does get violent, play along with getting arrested. Punishments will range from loss of points to imprisonment to other means. Repeated offenses will lead to a ban. 10. If you are interested in participating in The House, please see the #applications channel. 11. All House RP rooms are "open" meaning anyone in the house can enter and join in the RP there at any time. Bedrooms might be an exception depending on the RP. (Please do NOT RP any explicit content on this server) -------------------------------------------- AUDIENCE Anyone may participate in special Audience events. These may include voting on winners of events and other issues, being a special guest star in the House for a short period of time. Suggestions for events, and even running an event may also be options for audience members. Anyone in the Discord server who is not a contestant will be given the Audience role. This is another opportunity to RP outside of your character's usual circles as they watch the show and talk to other fans and viewers(edited) --------------------------------------- SECURITY ANYONE may play a member of the security team (A member of Livewire or a Mook) if one is needed to break up a fight, except for the people involved in that particular fight. Security will only break up fights that look deadly in nature. They may lock the offender(s) up in the cells. They may also step in if someone is trying to cause harm/theft to the House or the support staff or any other serious violation. Livewire Security Co.: Well trained, beefy, intimidating, and surprisingly affordable, members of Livewire are trained to be observant and well versed in a number of non-lethal takedown techniques and the use of a variety of tools to apprehend and subdue those who become too rowdy such as pepper spray, nets, manacles, stun guns, and a variety of small arms. They are best noted for their eye-catching, bright uniforms. Mooks: Mooks are not very bright, but they are large, strong, and very durable. They are also equipped with a variety of weapons including nets, stun guns, and the heavier armaments that may do more than knock someone out. Players are expected to play along with any member of the security team trying to apprehend them. RPing resistance is allowed, as long as the player allows security to "win" in subduing the character.(edited)
  21. If it worked once, they'll hit it, shape it, and hope it works again! Welcome to the Second Season of The House, an Azerothian reality show created by Razz Blastwhizzle! (Link to previous show here: The House is an RP event that will take place entirely in Discord and welcomes both Horde and Alliance participants as contestants or audience members. There will be chances for the audience to participate and help guide the challenges for the contestants. The main goal of this event is to put your character into a setting with other characters they might not normally interact with, for some fun RP! More information about the house is available on the Discord channel as well as the channel to apply for a spot on the show! All applications are due by December 29th! Discord link:
  22. “Thank you for the work you’ve done, Vathelan” It had been a week since the Accords were signed, and yet his Lord’s words still echoed through his mind here within the selected section of the Guildhall’s underbelly where he and his half-elf bodyguard took measurements for the housing of the Scryer Communications Relay Crystal. A week passed and yet he could feel the phantom touch of Cerryan linger upon his shoulder. “We will be better for it, and I’m sure it’s something Draco would’ve been proud of.” This, as likely expected, had served well to motivate the young Magister even further-- though perhaps not for the reasons his lord would have anticipated. It was in these depths of Sanctuary’s halls that Frostwhisper worked to hide his shame of the secrets he still kept. Jotting another note within his Glass Scroll, he worked to silence the nagging doubts within his mind as he turned his attention back to his companion. “Kirital, if you would please pace the steps again for confirmation?” “Sure, yeah.” The burly man hosted a long create above his head as he carefully paced out the distance again, a quizzical look of focus pinched his features. “It’s what you had before. So these… uh…” He continued as he began to low the crate and its heavy contents, reaching about chest hight before he found the words for his question. “...These things. Do we need to build this thing now, or where you’re done with…” A nod towards the pane of glass Vath was working on, “That?” For a moment the Magister was silent as he looked over the measurements and calculations. When satisfied he nodded before answering the questions set before him. “These measurements are required in order to build the chassis for the central communications hub for Sanctuary's improvements. Thanks to some preliminary paperwork, the actual synthesis of the crystal should have already been started. Given the necessity of it all… I’m hoping it should be done within a month or so.” His eyes traveled back from his work and to his assistant who was still carrying the crate assigned to him, the last of the ones set in a particular order to help ensure accurate markings. “You can set that down where you are standing, please. We need to ensure that the measurements are accurate and fit to the schematic’s specifications to ensure its stability… considering some of the materials required in the process are… um… Volatile if not handled appropriately.” Kirital moved with even more caution at the news, providing his form ample opportunity to show off as they flexed and tensed in a smooth motion as the crate sets to the ground with a soft ‘paff’. “Volatile. Right.” His head swiveled to look at the others he set in place, with even more near the Magister. “All of this for housing a crystal?” “We’re only in pre-production. In time we’ll be organizing a team of engineers to do the more complex sections as well as Golems to do the heavy lifting. I warned the Commander that her requirements would prove quite costly and time-consuming.” A small sigh left the lips of Vathelan as he tried to let the comments go, his smile not given the chance to waver. “Think of this Crystal as both the Heart and brain of the network we are establishing. Would a visual demonstration aid in your understanding of what we’re about to build?” Kirital took a seat on one of the larger crates, his hands resting together on the edge between his thighs. One situated he gave several eager nods, “I also have some questions later too.” Frostwhisper’s smile grew a measure more at the enthusiasm before fading as he concentrated on the mathematical equations he had been reading on the Glass Scroll as he converted them into the sub-thermal spell required for such an accurate frost-model. “The entire housing chassis will be built into the floor, but for the sake of the model…” As he applied his mana, water would be conjured and frozen simultaneously. Its mass grew with each breath as he poured more into the spell. First grew the outer wall in a circular fashion, when completed the spell would work inwards. Various bumps grew within the bowl-shaped structure before bridges of ice culminated into a central hub. For the majority of the time, which was of growing minutes, not seconds thanks to the size and intricacy, all the while the room chilled further and further from the display… there was silence between them. One focused on the spellcraft, the other staring in amazement before he finally breathed an “...Awesome…” When at last the structure was complete with what looked to be some crystal in the center, Vath ignited some of the mana within to allow it to glow forming a dazzling and soothing illumination as its radiance echoed through the entire structure. It was only now that the Magister was able to speak again. “So, the Brain Metaphor is more literal in terms of design. All communications will not only be relayed through here-- it will also support the processing of such. To do this, we have developed an elixir of sorts to both amplify and stabilize these transactions.” With another gesture, the Magister conjured water that flowed within the inside the hollow section of the structure. Filling it like water in a bowl. “As this is a newer creation, we have had time to learn from the previous incarnation of this Magi-technology to allow Sanctuary the bleeding edge of what we have to offer. The fluid is also designed to facilitate growth of the Crystal overtime to allow it organically grow with the most efficient reactions developed within to better suit Sanctuary’s needs as it too continues to swell in numbers and responsibilities they wish to tackle. It is my hope, should Sanctuary prove to be the invaluable ally I have sold them as, that we can continue our partnership after the war-- and that this will help alleviate costs in the long run. For both parties.” “So can it...uh… talk to people?” A pause before another rapid sentence. “I had a nice chat with a blood golem once.” “At current, I am not planning on giving it the intelligence processes required for it to carry on a conversation-- I fear that may make certain key members of Sanctuary nervous, and I feel that overstepping my bounds so early in this relationship would be… ill-advised.” With a glance over to the ice-forged model, his mind began to consider the possibilities. “But… theoretically… with those processes added, it would be able to talk through us through the Emblems or other technologies we shall be using. Quite an interesting venture indeed. Hm.” “I was being generous describing it as a ‘conversation’, really. More like…” Kirital stiffened his limbs in mimicry of the golem in question. “‘Affirmative, Kirital’” He took a step and relaxed his posture. “Must be exhausting, doing this patrol all the time.” A step back to where he was previous, and the stiff mimicry continued. “‘Affirmative, Kirital’” With a long full-body stretch, the half-elf relaxed into his normal carefree persona. “It was a tired sounding affirmative, I think.” All the while Vathelan watched his companion enact his story, he struggled to bite back his amusement. “...Ah yes…” His composure returned. “The Golem technology tends to have enough semblance of intelligence as to ensure effectiveness in terms of autonomy. Speech aids them in their use as security, even. This, however-- I fear may be taken poorly if it spoke to people as you or I would, even if the research into such fields would be… quite fascinating. The potential in the ramifications for our people would be--” The Magister cut himself off as he shook his head. “...But I digress. I need to file these measurements still, shall we take this conversation back to my office?” Kirital was quick to grab both his pack and Vathelan’s. “Yeah that’s fine. Whenever you’re ready!” He was quite eager it seemed, though Vath tried not to put too much thought into it. With a nod, the Magister snapped his fingers. This action set forth a chain reaction behind him as he followed his bodyguard up the stairs, the miniature arcane explosion within the ice structure was just strong enough to send it crashing down in a portal that would send the frozen ice and its watery contents to safely plummet down below into the sea that rest beneath the floating city. They had plenty more work to do, and the Legion waited for no one.
  23. Cobrak

    To Ash

    “Here, the prisoner has given us the location of their supply caravans. Utilize the mountain passes, burn everything we cannot take.” The form of Grand Marshal Sakainu Redmoon towered over a sprawled map laid before him, the armored kaldorei traced an invisible line through one corner of the parchment as he spoke. Hunched over the map as well was a pandaren fellow in heavy plate, stroking a thickened auburn beard; at his side was a female Dark Iron woman, wreathed in reinforced ebonweave that glimmered but slightly with innate magical defenses woven in. “That will cripple the local garrison, and we can take-” The door to his room suddenly burst open, startling all but the night elven commander, who merely lifted his gaze to regard the newcomer. Red hair disheveled, helmet at his side, was the young spellsword Thoel, hand clutched tight around a missive bearing the royal seal. He did not bother with commentary on the matter, it was little wonder Thoel broke into the conversation without the standard procedural greetings. Skainu merely held out a hand, the order silent. Little heed was needed, as Thoel practically slammed the letter into his commander’s hand. “...Orders from Stormwind.” Not ordinary orders if his tone had anything to do with it, Sakainu mused to himself as he read the notice himself. Thoel gulped, “...An armistice has been signed, we’re to cease hostilities with the Horde.” His teeth ground against each other with every word, fists clenching as though clutching onto reins to steer his growing temper away. Letting his captain stew, Sakainu focused on the orders at hand; to indeed halt operations against the Horde, and to return to Stormwind posthaste; commands to hand over all his gains and return to the status quo like an obedient hound. “Captain.” The sudden word caught Thoel out of his trance, him rigidily snapping to attention. “Assemble every soldier on the island.” His hands found the edges of the decree, and in one swift motion tore it in two, then four, the into eights. The process repeated itself until it was naught but confetti in his palm. Slowly he paced to the blazing hearth nearby, firelight reflecting in the lone ebony stare. “What naivete.” The torn shreds of paper drifted into the fire, piece by piece slowly consumed with each twist of his hand. “Peace. What peace can there be while our enemies still linger? The disease remains whilst the sheep cry out that the body is healthy enough.” The final shred sifts into the fire, devoured to the last, yet still he stares at the fire’s dance. “There will be no peace, not until justice has been meted out.” Drawing from the hearth, he turned to his officers and strode forward. “We are the Ashen Legion, we are those who carry the colors of those who came before,” The strolling pace became a stride, making to glide past those in the room, as though leading them beyond the confines of the room. “We are sworn to vengeance, no matter the cost, no matter the price.” His face was awash in moonlight then, the fires of the room replaced with white glow from Elune’s grace above them; yet still it burned within his gaze, staring down at the soldiers who had gathered in the twilight. His officers and more stood behind him on the terrace, stone-faced and resolute. “Victory will come when Orgrimmar suffers the fate of Teldrassil...when Thunder Bluff is a ruin...when Silvermoon begs for the days of Arthas after what we have wrought...when Suramar and Highmountain tremble in fear when they see the horizon turn gray with our numbers.” Redmoon’s fist shot into the air, as though clutching a sword that would not relent in its brutality. “Look to the skies of Darkshore! Look upon the wrathful gaze of Mother Moon herself! The Black Moon has risen, and it WILL NOT SET...UNTIL THE DAWN IS STAINED RED!” The rallying cry setting forth a mimicking pattern of hands rising in unison to salute the speech rendered unto them. Along with it, the crashing of a thousand voices yelling their approval.
  24. I cannot be "of the people." I do not have any people. I put myself above all others and always have for as long as I can remember. Any I could once claim as mine were erased at the hands of Arthas. Any people who were both of like mind and understood me are long since dead. There are some -- two, at my count, perhaps three -- who understand me, who know me, but they are not of like mind. The Grim, they are of like mind, but they do not understand me. The Grim are not my people. The Grim hold similar ideals, but not identical. The Grim open the path to endless violence, accepted and encouraged. They know and appreciate hate that consumes all. I wonder how many of them actually hold the Mandate closest to their heart, though. How many of them actually hold the Horde on the pedestal the Mandate demands? Their Mandate is a strong banner. It is easy to follow, durable, a strong moral core to uphold the violence, difficult to crack short of the crumbling of the Horde itself, but we all seem to fall under it for different reasons, none of which are actually the Horde. For me and I believe for Syreena, it is the humans. For Awatu, it is the dwarves. For most, it is likely one or two individuals who need to die, or the ephemerality that is love for chaos itself. For all of us, it is the death we need to bring to a few or to many. We accept Horde protection and supremacy as a stand-in for what we truly crave. But the way the Mandate is written, it survives despots and lunacy. It should also survive the fragility of being led by a company connected only by treason. How often does one have to betray the people one claims as their own before they realize what they have become, before they understand their truth? You have no people. You are all you have. It will not be for the elite, no, but it will be exclusive and I will decide who can have it. Wealth is an insufficient indicator of acceptability. It is a good one. Those who have amassed large amounts clearly hold themselves of highest import, but they do not necessarily have sense as well. With the rumors I hear, Northrend may be the only place I can stand to be awake without walking back into the clutches of the Bronze, a place I can survive while the Horde decides if it even wants to exist in the future, or if our precious factions are as meaningless as those who believe themselves heroes would like to claim. I know who I will bring here, and they are not the Grim. They are not my people.
  25. Cobrak tore from his two guardsmen to survey the fight, or rather, the toying of Sylvanas with a ragdoll. She was fast, faster than she was at Undercity; either that or the old orc was letting his age get to him. Unlikely, Cobrak thought to himself; Saurfang was as Vyzelok was, too stubborn to let age slow them down. Then, a clean shot on the Banshee; her reeling back. "You are all nothing!" That one cry broke the tension all around the field, and Cobrak couldn't help but stare forward at where the Warchief now doubled down on her condemnation. Deep down, he knew that's what they all were to her; nothing but pawns ever since she gassed her own people during the Battle for Undercity. It was an entirely different thing to hear it screamed as a tantrum, tying into a grand monologue about their idiocy. Cobrak merely lowered his head, unable to watch even as Saurfang fell and the Banshee took off...Shame had twisted his guts into a knot. The bald orc's initial cheer at the charge died in his throat as the first clash saw the High overlord struck twice and nearly fall from that alone. The follow up was easily thwarted and punished again until the Veteran fell to his knees. He stayed there with his back bared as an open invitation that the Warchief refused to take as she said something else. He could not hear her words but he could make out the look of disgust on her face. Saurfang was one of the strongest orcs he had ever seen in combat and she was making him look like.... HIM. He perked up notably when the blade split into two and finally struck the Undead but it was quickly turned around with the woman's declaration. He could not decide what hurt more, seeing the orc reduced to such a state or having one of the higher ups in Command repeat the same words he had heard a thousand times before. He was nothing. When the deathblow came, all he could do was stare in mute horror. Alaur shut his eyes and bowed his head, ignorant of the spell used but all too aware of what it meant. The Mak'gora had reached its conclusion. Before they could even speak of what happened, Sylvanas was gone. The anxiety in Vilmah's stomach reached its apex as Saurfang's body lay in the ground, his battle finally over. He had been a staple of the Horde for so long, the one voice she knew that they could always depend on, and now it was gone. Vilmah's voice was, too. It cracked as she heaved a mournful sob, shaking her head at the image before her. "For the Horde," she whispered, gripping both fists at her sides. Her hazel eyes focused on King Anduin, who with Thrall and their allies, picked up the body of Varok Saurfang. TINK TINK! Sylvanas' flag bearer signaled the others, inside. TINK TINK! "We really just letting the Allies in?" Gruk muttered in disbelief as the body of the orc was hefted onto the shoulders of many and slowly marched through the gates. The procession was heralded by the synchronized rapping of metal banners upon stone and iron, a pause and then two strikes, a pause and then two strikes. "Everyone has lost today." Alaur murmured. "Let there be solidarity, if even for a short time." Cobrak stared ahead, his mouth shut tight as he followed the tide of soldiers flooding in after the body of Saurfang. The chorus of flag strikes resounding around them as they passed through The gates into the city proper. "'E got us in." He finally spoke, staring ahead at the corpse through the throng of people from both sides. "Wit' jus' one life given." "Just one life," Vilmah repeated, wiping her eyes with the back of one gauntlet, her voice shaky and hoarse. "One important life, and.. one he gave, willingly." Swallowing down another mournful groan, the blademaster sheathed her sword and stepped toward the throng of soldiers following what was now a funeral procession. "He gave his life for all of us. Let's not waste it." "But what now?" Alaur asked quietly, casting a side eye at the line of Kal'dorei archers far to the left before looking at the line of banner and now wielding Forsaken atop the wall. "He exposed Sylvanas ... That does not change what has happened. That does not change how many agreed with what she did." "We keep goin', keep livin'." Cobrak spoke up, looking through the throng ahead of them into Orgrimmar proper, the streets packed with soldiers and civilians both. "Thar'll always be scars..." A glance over to Vilmah before he directs it forward, "Some...will ne'er let them heal, best we kin do is mend wut we kin an' keep walkin' forward." "It won't be enough." Alaur murmured as the crowd trudged through the tunnel into Ogrimmar's valley. A slab had already been raised to rest the remains of the High warlord upon and those that followed began to fan out and make room for the flood of mourners. "Why you gotta be such a pessimist?" Gruk hissed. "One of the visitors at this funeral is the biggest war criminals the Alliance ever decided to promote and so many others are traitors to the state. Once the feeling of loss and relief at the end of Sylvanas's reign dissipates we will be back in arms for past transgressions and downplaying our own. That's how its been, that's how it will be. Saurfang spoke many pretty words but at the end of the day, they will ring hollow." "Now isn't the time for your bullshit," Vilmah spat toward the elf, shouldering past him toward Saurfang's remains. She turned to look at him for a moment, her bloodshot eyes narrowed. "If you want to talk about what you think the future will bring, do it somewhere else. We're here to mourn someone who just gave his life for the people in this city, not listen to you talk about how futile you think his sacrifice was." Clenching her jaw, she turned back from him and marched with the others, hands shaking with both rage and loss and everything in between. At some point, she reached back for the flag on her back and unmounted it, sliding the flagpole back into the leather holster at her thigh. There was a long march to Saurfang, as members of the Horde (and some of the Alliance) shuffled past to pay their respects. It was surreal to imagine that just moments before, these same people had gathered to storm the gates and fight whatever stood between them and Sylvanas. Now they stood together, their voices quiet and for the most part respectful, as they waited their turn to see the legendary Varok Saurfang one last time. When it was finally her turn, Vilmah took the opportunity to take a knee and put her good hand into the soul beneath his body. This was the earth of Durotar, the earth of the city he gave his life to save. Saurfang had made many mistakes in his long life, but in the end, he was willing to give that life for the lives of others. That was a kind of bravery and honor Vilmah couldn't fathom most people capable of, and she searched her heart in wonder of what it meant. Maybe it was futile. Or maybe it was the last in a long line of sacrifices the Horde would need in order to rebuild itself. Seeing him dead in front of her, the same age as her father, the same clan even, she saw a father who not only lost his son, but also his Horde. Now, it was his again. "Your spirit will be with us always," she said quietly, clutching the earth in her hand before letting it fall back to the ground. Her respects paid, she stood and fell back into the crowd. There was more to do.
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