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Everything posted by RiktheRed21

  1. VI “What were you thinking? Riding off into the Dread Wastes, not even knowing where I was or what state I was in – you could have gotten hurt, or lost, or worse! And since when do you ride a horse? Let alone a deathcharger!” Brin ceased fuming long enough to glare questioningly at the girl, hands on hips and eyebrows raised expectantly. “Sissy Friede showed me,” Charlotte mumbled, her eyes downtrodden. “And Sparklehoof isn’t that different from a normal horse. He’s just cold and strong, like you, mama.” Brinnea blinked, her stern expression broken. Light, what do I say to that? she wondered to herself frantically. Though Charlotte had been born five and a half years past, Brin was still not used to being a mother. The girl had been taken care of for five years by a dwarf paladin-turned-orphan-matron named Sister Friede. Brinnea was often surprised to hear of the things the dwarf had taught Charlotte, and felt a twinge of envy at missing much of the girl’s upbringing. “Who’s Sparklehoof?” Brin questioned, trying to maintain an air of authority. The façade was slipping. “Your horse! Just look at how sparkly his hooves are; they’re like diamonds!” Charlotte’s cheerfulness returned quickly. It seemed she thought the new name and a charming smile had made Brinnea forget her anger. She was mostly correct. “I never thought to give it a name before,” Brin mused out loud. “Never really seemed alive enough to need a name.” Charlotte patted the undead steed’s leg affectionately. The worgen-spawn August was sitting in a nearby tree, watching out for any more Mantid. Brin had been concerned when taking him in that she would have to protect him as attentively as she did Charlotte, but the boy had proven rather independent, if starved for affection. August was eight years old, so he was more developed than Charlotte in some ways. When he had come along with them, however, he barely knew how to speak the Common tongue. Charlotte explained he had been raised by worgen since his human mother had been taken by the Scourge. Brin made an effort to teach him proper speech. He learned rather quickly, despite the death knight’s amateur teaching skills. The boy took his duties seriously, so Brin was in the habit of letting him help out with things she normally preferred to take care of herself. He helped with cleaning, cooking, (thankfully his nose for food was better than Brin’s – being a death knight meant she didn’t need to eat, after all), and he watched after Charlotte when Brin was busy elsewhere. Resuming her lecture, Brin turned to August first. “And why exactly did you let her come here? I told you to stay at the farm.” The boy’s unnervingly yellow eyes blinked down at her fearfully. He replied in his abrupt and uncertain manner, “Couldn’t stop her. Came along instead. Safer together, Lupa says so.” Lupa was August’s name for Brinnea. He never said why he called her that, and Charlotte had no idea either. He was right about what Brin had said, though. She warned them that if danger ever came, they would be safest together. “I suppose that is acceptable, then,” Brinnea said forgivingly. She turned to Charlotte, who seemed to think the conversation was over, and had begun brushing “Sparklehoof’s” dark fur. “I didn’t say we were done talking, young lady. Put the brush away and look at me. Now, how did you two find me? The Dread Wastes are vast, what made you come this way?” Charlotte showed Brin a red stone she had on a necklace. “We used Colin! He can sniff you out from miles away!” Brin looked skeptical. “No, really! He’s smarter than a normal dog, grandpa always said so. He ran off to find you, and we’ve been following him.” “So where is the rascal now? I haven’t seen him.” Charlotte shrugged. “He ran off earlier, but then we found you with all those bug-people. I can summon him if you want, though!” Brin assented, and the girl gleefully sang an incantation to the red stone, which flashed brightly. When the light faded, a dog apparently made of lava, wearing a sparkling blue collar, romped around in the grass at the girl’s feet. Charlotte immediately tackle-hugged Colin, giggling as the molten corgi lapped at her face affectionately. Brin was thankful at that moment for her father’s specially-made collar. Colin would joyfully melt anyone’s skin off with his fiery tongue without the warding spell it kept on him. “Well that’s one problem solved. Likely ran off chasing a varmint or something. In any case, we ought to get moving. I have to finish my mission, seeing as I’m the last one standing. We should make good time on the horse.” “Sparklehoof!” Charlotte corrected, struggling to pick Colin up off the ground. “Right. Sparklehoof.” Brinnea bent over, helping the girl ease Colin into the saddle-pouch Charlotte had insisted on buying for the dog a few weeks ago. That way, he could stay with them as they rode places. The sight of a deathcharger carrying a dog on fire must certainly look rather peculiar, but Brinnea humored the girl anyway. Colin nestled into his cozy pouch, tongue lolling from his mouth excitedly. After helping Charlotte into the saddle and calling August down from the tree, she mounted up and urged the deathcharger to begin out into the open where they could pick up some speed. “Old Da taught me a few songs for long journeys,” Charlotte said as they picked up the pace. “Want me to sing for a while? Da says I’ve got a good singing voice.” Brinnea agreed with the old farmer, but she shook her head. “Singing is for foot travel. You could bite your tongue while riding.” Charlotte nodded, a little disappointed. The boy was glancing back at the woods with great focus. Too much focus to be simple caution. Brinnea asked, “You see something, August?” “Something…green.” Brinnea swore softly. “Sissy Friede would wash your mouth out with soap for that one, mama!” Charlotte chided playfully. “Don’t talk, you’ll bite your tongue.”
  2. ((More history updating, as well as a few info tweaks. News of Brinnea's death has spread far and wide.))
  3. V. She found the other rangers’ corpses later that night. It didn’t take a master tracker to see that Mantid tracks riddled the area around their final resting place. Brin could hear the insectoid wings humming not too far off. She kept moving, not stopping for anything the rest of the night. As the sun rose, hidden though it was behind the thick cloud cover that hung constantly over the Wastes, she knew she was being followed. The stench of death hovered after her, close on her heels. A death knight had a nose for such things, though Brin would have given nearly anything to be rid of the stench. It seemed to exist no matter where she went. A quarter of the way through the day, the orc made a mistake. He stepped into the open while Brin was keeping watch, awaiting his presence to draw nearer so she could get the jump on him. Mantid blood coated his leather armor, and a few roughly stitched wounds of his own glistened red in a beam of sunlight. His battleaxe had several nicks in its blade where he had forcefully parried Mantid strikes. His hatchet had been reduced to a billy club with a splintered edge. He seemed to be listening for something. Brinnea was no master of stealth or subtlety. When his back was turned to her, she charged, knowing the element of surprise wouldn’t likely turn in her favor. As expected, the orc spun to face her, battleaxe swiftly raised, broken hatchet forgotten on the ground, and a sinister grin twisting his bloodstained face. Her long sword flashed like a bolt of lightning. Blue runes ignited, leaving a trail of dazzling azure in the wake of her swing. Mokdeth was terribly predictable. He smacked her strike as if cleaving through the trunk of a tree and aimed a counterstrike at her head. She ducked under the blow and swung for his legs. She was surprised he reacted in time, leaping over her sword. He nearly clobbered her over the unprotected head before she regained her stance. “You dance well, death knight,” the orc spat, lowering his axe. To the untrained eye, he might have seemed tired and unable to continue the fight. Brin’s eyes were not untrained. “You killed the captain, pig! I will take vengeance for him and his rangers!” He scoffed. “His girth was useful for something. Not a bit of shrapnel got on me.” She roared as she thrust at his evil eye. The orc’s movement was swift and, in a way, elegant. A high thrust was pointless against that move. She had seen it used before, only by a knight’s sword. That is why she did not strike high. She feinted, and thrust her blade through the orc’s leather jerkin. Mokdeth merely grunted with displeasure at the sword in his gut. Brin cursed under her breath as she quickly drew back her blade. Fool! she chastised herself. You missed his liver, intestines, or anything really important. Leave it to Bumbling Brin to screw up a perfect feint! Growing more careful, Mokdeth stepped after Brinnea slowly, axe kept lifted in a more reliable stance. Brin aimed a few measured strikes at his feet, head, and hands. He dodged and parried them all, but did not counter. He seemed barely slowed by his wound. She pushed down her impatience and waited for an opening. That’s when she heard the Mantid’s wings rapidly approaching from behind. Rather than make a quick escape, Brin made a riskier maneuver. She cast a howling blast at Mokdeth, who sidestepped it entirely and countered. Brin parried his attack and ducked around to flank the orc, who kept up with her footwork, ready to reprise any attack she threw at him. His cocky expression faded into confusion when she sprinted off into the shadows. Brin took great pleasure in the sight of the orc frantically whirling to face the attacking Mantid who came from behind him. His surprise had cost him a wounded shoulder. She hoped he would lose his head, too. She was so caught up in her success that she never saw the insectoid that clubbed her in the side of the head. She fell head over heels into the dirt, her sword falling loose on the ground. Blood tricked down the side of her head, tickling her ear, though she could hardly feel it. A Mantid aimed a strike at her from above. She threw up her left hand to fend it off. The hungry-looking bug-man seemed surprised to hear a metallic impact when his blade hit her arm and glanced off. The leather of her glove tore, displaying the black iron hand she wore as a prosthetic. She kicked the Mantid off balance and drew her knife, plunging it into her attacker’s throat as she sprang to her feet. A second Mantid appeared. She hastily searched for her sword, but didn’t find it before she was surrounded completely. The dagger fell from her hand when she used it to block an attack. Desperately, she pulled the cord on her iron arm. The hand fell on a hinge, revealing the barrel of a cannon. Before she struck the ignition, a sword fell on her back. She felt the jagged blade slice through metal, leather, and skin. Her back grew damp. Now off-balance, her cannon shot flew with a deafening kaboom! By the time the smoke fell and the Mantid shook off their confusion, she could tell she had missed them all, sending the cannonball hurdling high in the air. Damn the luck, she thought to herself bitterly, abandoning hope. I’m sorry Charlotte. As she awaited the blade that would end her miserable undeath, something caught her eye in the near distance. A small flame. It grew rapidly, engulfing the Mantid around her before fading. Searching for the spell’s origin, she saw someone that filled her with both unparalleled happiness and infernal dread. Her five-year-old daughter, sitting high in the saddle of a deathcharger along with the wolflike boy who she called brother, spoke down to her, “Not to fear, mama! Your heroes have arrived!”
  4. IV. Brinnea spent the next week of travel saying nothing except to answer Furan’s commands. The orc proved an unfaltering pain in the ass for her specifically. Whenever he got the chance, he would throw insults her way, or challenge her abilities with offhanded comments or sarcastic mockery. She rarely said anything in return, fighting herself internally to avoid smacking him across the face for his idiocy. On the last day before their route turned homeward, he went too far. “If you weren’t a death knight, you’d be about the least threatening human I’ve ever come across,” he said with a mouthful of morning bacon slurring his speech. He gulped down the greasy meat without chewing much. “I bet your father was some pansy mage your mother took pity on. Or maybe he beat you as a runty pup. Would explain your lack of spine.” Flashes of her father rippled through her mind like waves in a storm. She remembered how he had loved her. And how the drink took that love away. She turned around to face the orc and punched him in the gut. He doubled over immediately, coughing up spittle at her feet. The rangers swooped in faster than Brinnea could believe and restrained them both. They didn’t keep Mokdeth still for long. He shook off the Pandaren and charged at the still-retrained Brinnea. He shouted, “Did I hit a nerve, pinkskin? Here, I’ll find another one!” He kicked her in the groin and laughed as she doubled over. The pain was subdued compared to what a living person would feel. That said, it hurt so much her legs went limp, leaving the rangers to hold her up where before they had had to hold her back. Before Mokdeth could follow up with another witty remark or low blow, an arrow impaled itself in his boot. It had missed his toes as far as Brin could tell; the orc reacted only by glancing sleepily at the arrow’s source. Furan stood apart from the group, calmly knocking another arrow. The expression on his face betrayed his serene demeanor, but his hands were steady and unhurried. “Everyone back in formation. Now.” The rangers released Brin as soon as she regained full use of her legs. They began to line back up to carry on down the path, and Mokdeth followed them, rubbing his core. He scoffed at Brin cockily. “Yeah, human. Fall back in line, like an obedient little zombie.” She raised her fists. “Oh, you don’t even know how to shut up, do you?” He pulled the arrow out of his boot, but didn’t move. He gave Furan a sidelong look. “You really want to get in the middle of this, Captain?” “There must be a way the two of you can work together,” the captain said with a hint of desperation touching his voice. “It cannot be this way forever. You’ll both end up dead out here if you cannot see that!” Before Brin could tell the Captain what she thought about that, one of the rangers shouted a warning. A buzzing sound rapidly approached from above, and out of the darkness from all around, buglike figures appeared, advancing at breakneck speed and bearing armor and weapons of dull amber. The Captain shouted an order than Brin couldn’t make out over the sound of beating wings. Her sword flashed into her hand, deflecting an amber blade before biting into the Mantid’s exoskeleton with a savage counterattack aimed at where a human would have a collarbone. One fell, and two more replaced it. The Pandaren rangers, human, and orc all stood together in a small circle, fighting the Mantid as they appeared. Brin thought their group had shrunk, and noticed a pair of Pandaren corpses out of the corner of her eye. Furan’s bow sat forgotten and trampled nearby. He had drawn his sword instead. Mokdeth fought like a demon, striking out with a battleaxe and a hatchet in either hand. Each blow crumpled Mantid bodies like folded paper, leaving a messy pile for the rest to scramble over. Brinnea parried, countered, and hacked her way through those that advanced on her. These Mantid were clearly not blooded given their lack of skill, but the ambush had done its work by the end. Attacks from above claimed three more rangers before the insectoids fled en masse. Six of them remained – four rangers including Furan, and Brin and Mokdeth. One of the Pandaren was badly wounded, and supported by two of her comrades. The amber blades did nasty work on the body – the spikes built into the blade made them cut unevenly, so they didn’t run deep every time. Instead, they left puncture wounds that bled more profusely than cuts, and some of the spikes even broke off inside the body to infect the bloodstream with viral infections. Brinnea knew the technique well. Too well. The ground around them was riddled with blood, bodies, and equipment. Furan gave a few quick orders, clearly expending great effort to keep himself calm. Brin gathered their dead allies for a small pyre before she heard more buzzing in the distance. “They’re regrouping,” she warned, “Sounds like there’s more than there were before. We have to get out of here, Captain.” Furan seemed torn. He looked at his fallen brothers and sisters in arms regretfully before sheathing his blade. “She’s right. There’s no time to tend to the dead. We need to get back to the Wall. Mei needs medical attention and we need to report this engagement.” Mokdeth stood before Furan before he could lead a hasty retreat. “We haven’t checked the last location, Pandaren. Are you planning on abandoning the mission due to a few casualties? Sounds like fear talking to me.” Brin took an angry step toward the orc before Furan signaled for her to halt. “We haven’t the time to finish the route, Mokdeth,” the Captain said with a level voice. “Don’t you hear the Mantid? There will be more – too many to handle. We have to get back alive.” “We? Or just you? I can hear the fear in your voice, Furan. There’s a job to do and you’re too scared to see it through. How’d a coward like you ever make it as a ranger, anyhow?” He’d gone too far. Furan struck him in the chest with an open palm. The orc collapsed onto the ground. “I sacrificed everything I cared about to get where I am today, orc!” the Captain put a foot down on Mokdeth’s throat, pinning him to the ground. Brinnea and the rangers watched on, unsure of what to do. They eyed he sky nervously as the sound of beating wings grew closer. “I have lost too many brothers and sisters to let it happen again! I refuse to be the last one standing this time, so get up and fall back to the Wall!” He released the orc just in time to be struck in the side of the head by a metal sphere. Knocked off balance, he stared blankly at the burning fuse at his feet before shouting an order to run. Brin’s eyes widened and she reached for both Mokdeth and Furan with her death grip spell to pull them to safety as the other rangers scrambled to follow their captain’s orders. She only managed to tug them partway to her, unable to pull two people so far at once. They were still well within the range of the grenade, and they both knew it. The fuse burned low. Brinnea was turning to get out of the grenade’s range, so she could only see what happened next out of the corner of her eye. Mokdeth grabbed the Pandaren by the scruff and tossed him back at the explosive. She somehow heard his hideous scream over the ear-deafening boom.
  5. III. They patrolled the trail in silence for some time, sticking to the shadows like bugs on a log. Brinnea fingered the hilt of her sword, trying to keep her senses focused on her task, but her thoughts drifted to the voice on the air. She tried to push those thoughts down, and listen to the sounds of the wasteland around her, but she feared the voice would find her again. Lost in thought as she was, Brin nearly fell over Furan when he stopped abruptly in front of her. “Quiet!” he whispered harshly. “Look over there, a small flame!” She followed his point, and saw it flickering in the distance. “It’s too obvious,” Brinnea said as she shook off her daze. “A trap?” He grimaced. “Or a signal for help. Come, it isn’t far.” He went, stepping soft as a fox despite his girth. She stepped after him, at least half his size but twice as loud. Not far from where the fire burned, they halted, still in the shadows, and watched closely. It was a campsite, by all appearances. A log was placed by the campfire, presumably for sitting on, and various cooking utensils, pans, and pots sat around the fire as if someone had been preparing a small feast in the woods. Brin eyed the camp suspiciously. There was no one in sight. Furan had a bow in hand, an arrow knocked and ready in case anything was amiss. Brin spoke softly, “I’ll take a closer look. Watch from here.” Normally the captain would remind her he was in charge, but he agreed with her this time. She approached the camp carefully, drawing her long sword softly. Shadows swam all around her. Too many places to hide. She shoved down the feeling of vulnerability and crept into the camp ever so carefully, trying to keep her light metal armor from making too much noise. There was no sign of any fighting even after a close inspection. Whoever had been there seemed to have just left without a fuss. Brinnea searched for tracks, but she wasn’t familiar with the hunters’ skills. She heard a branch snap as someone approached the camp. She stood ready to defend herself. Unconsciously, she was aware of the spacing between herself and Furan’s bow. She shifted her stance to give him room to fire. A young orc warrior dressed in grungy leather armor stepped out of the gloom carrying a hatchet in a hand, and firewood under his arm. Brin’s guard remained sturdy. “Who are you?” she questioned the approaching orc. “What are you doing here?” The orc grunted and tossed his firewood down. He kept the axe at his side, but eyed Brinnea with a hint of annoyance. “You here to steal my food, pinkskin? What’s with that hat? Think you’re some kind of Pandaren?” “We’ll be asking the questions, friend orc,” said Furan as he entered the firelight. His bow was on hand, but the string was not pulled. Brin cursed silently, reminded that the Shado-Pan were generally friendly with the Horde races. “What are you doing camping so auspiciously in the Dread Wastes, orc?” she asked almost threateningly. Furan gave her a sidelong glance. “An orc has no need for subtlety if his axe-arm isn’t broken. Name’s Mokdeth. I’m here on business.” He swung the axe up onto his shoulder casually. Brin wasn’t amused. “Not specific enough, beastman. Better start explaining yourself or I’ll—,” Furan cut her off. “Enough, Brinnea. The man has a right to his privacy, and our courtesy. But if you would, friend Mokdeth, perhaps consider travelling with our group? You seem a capable fighter, and our party has need of such.” This time Brinnea gave Furan a sharp glare. “We don’t know this orc, Captain! How can you trust him so easily?” Furan gave her an impatient look and she said no more. Mokdeth yawned and replied, “Sure. Can I expect payment?” Furan nodded. “Wonderful. I’ve been meaning to see how you Pandaren fare in a fight.”
  6. II. Days passed uneventfully. Most nights while the rangers rested, she kept watch. She was good at that. A death knight needs no sleep, so she could stay awake as the others lay down their heads. The night air bore much noise in the wastes. Life preserved even in this dark and desolate land. In the twisting nettles which served as cover, she could only see a little of the dim passage they were travelling on, so she had to rely mostly on sound to sense if anything was watching. The warbles of swamp cranes, the chirps of insects, and the distant howls of scavengers washed over her. One night in particular, in the cacophony of noise, she felt something hidden, veiled as if beneath many layers of water. She closed her eyes, and dove in. Murderer. Her hands clenched defiantly. “No,” she murmured to the voice on the air. Murderer, it whispered back. She shook her head, baring her teeth angrily. “No!” she seethed under her breath. You killed them. Killed them all. It was so easy, remember? Two swings of a sword and a wave of the hand, and the whole lot of them were doomed from then on. And later, after it all happened… “Stop! Leave me be!” She clamped her hands over her ears. The voices persisted. …But she deserved it, didn’t she? That black-haired bitch betrayed her own brother: your beloved. She would have left the girl to die. You did what had to be done. She clawed at her head, biting back curses. She knew the rangers would be listening, their thin sleep easily broken. She forced herself to sit still and listen. It was her task. What would you have done without me? Without your conviction? You would still be that weepy-eyed girl from Andorhal. Your father would have beaten you and your mother to death. You never would have survived as a death knight. The Horde would have caught you and put you to death as they so desire. You would have died a thousand times as you were! I made you strong! You survived because of me! She cried out, ripping her sword from her sheath instinctively. The rangers stood quickly, hands on their weapons. The voice had fled. “What is it? Did you hear something?” the Furan questioned grumpily. Brin sighed, putting her weapon away. “No. Er—yes, I thought I did. It was nothing.” The rangers tentatively lowered their arms. “Are you certain?” Furan pressed, taking a few steps toward the death knight, “Perhaps we ought to take a look—,” she cut him off. “I will look around alone. You carry on sleeping.” The head ranger shook his head. “You know the rule. No one travels alone beyond the wall. Not unless they are the last one alive.” The old Pandaren stomped out into the open without waiting for a reply. Sighing, Brin gathered up her hat and cloak, then followed after him.
  7. I. A pyre burned low in the dim, cool night. It stood alone in a vast ocean of darkness that reined as far as the eye could see. The Dread Wastes of Pandaria was no fine place to die. It was cut off from any decent folk by a massive wall, occupied by the wretched Mantid and worse creatures, but most importantly, over the wasteland was the overwhelming feeling of being watched. Something always watched you from the shadows. If you were lucky, it was something too small to cause any more than minor mischief, but on most days, it meant death lurked just around the corner. The Shado-Pan rangers knew the risks coming to this land – and that it was necessary. Given the speed at which the last swarm came, albeit sped due to the Sha, they had to be prepared in case another was just around the corner. Due to the nature of their mission, there was never time to send the dead home. Swift funerals had to be completed during brief rests. But burial was no option – the buried dead did not stay buried long in this land. A pyre was needed, to free the lost brother or sister from the taint of the dark lands. A small fire, not enough to draw attention, but enough to grant the final honor. The head ranger Furan lifted his bowed head and replaced his hat and scarf. He called to the small party – even smaller after the prior night’s skirmish – “Put the fire out and let’s get moving. Our work here is not yet done.” Eight Pandaren replaced their coverings. One human followed suit, raising her hood and placing a smaller-sized hat on top of it. Waving a hand, the fire extinguished in a flash of sudden frost. Only cold embers remained where the fallen ranger’s corpse had been. While the other rangers gathered their spears and packs, Brinnea tried to remember a prayer her mother had taught her when she was a child. In the bitter dark, her quiet words went unanswered. Not certain what she had been expecting, she joined the other rangers as they moved out into the wastes.
  8. ((One final warning, this story contains gore, violence, and foul language. Enjoy the long delayed conclusion!)) Kazarak clawed along the sides of stony corridor walls nearly blind from exertion. He had heard sounds of battle outside, and Naavi had not returned. Every instinct told him sitting still was pointless and foolish. He had hoped for years Naavi might someday return, and now she had. No amount of pain or weariness would keep him from her. And there she was – leaning up against a blood-soaked wall. Her breathing was labored, and her left arm was missing from bicep to fingertips. Kaz sucked in air harshly and flung himself to her side. “No!” he shouted defiantly. In the dry, burnt air, he gathered what water he could and pressed it against her wound, willing the blood to cease flowing and the gashes to close. His strength failed, and water splashed to the ground. Blood seeped from the wound again. Naavi’s hand brushed against his face gently. “Rest,” she said breathily. “Put away…your axe. Rest now, my love…” Her hand fell limp on the floor and her eyes stared blindly at something no one could see. Kazarak reached for her, but she was gone. *** Green fire crackled behind the door Brinnea and Laurana faced. Gripping their weapons tightly, they gave one another reassuring looks and together, they kicked the door open. Darkness greeted them as they charged into the breach. The witch’s silhouette knelt before a casket reverently, a disembodied fire illuminating the area about it from above. The death knights reached out with shadows for arms, taking a shoulder each and tugging towards them. The robed figure flew at them, and blades flashed. The warlock spun about in midair, flinging flames from her hand towards Brinnea. Instinctively, the knight shielded herself with runic magic, absorbing the magic into her body. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a violet shadow dart at Laurana. Cynthia’s skull artifact collided with Laurana’s blade, cracking and deflecting the blow intended for its master. Beams of light flashed from the skull’s eyes, burning through the death knight’s flesh and the wall behind her. Grimacing, Laurana struck a second time, this time shattering the skull utterly. The room filled with light, sound, and force. Brinnea felt herself hit a wall and everything went black for a moment. Her eyes fluttering open, Brinnea witnessed a flickering purple light die out at the center of the room. Blood and gore lie strewn about the room, and Laurana was nowhere to be found. No! It can’t be! Brinnea glared angrily at Cynthia, who was conjuring a doorway behind the casket. “Cynthia!” she shouted, springing clumsily from the ground. The warlock turned back to face her as the doorway opened. “Oh, you just never die, hmm?” the witch seemed nearly unhinged with anger. Her golden eyes flashed dangerously as she shouted, “Very well! I’ve been saving a certain spell for just such an occasion! As fun as it has been, it is time to say good night and fare well, my dear!” The room grew hot and dark as a black flame sputtered to life in Cynthia’s hand. Brinnea darted toward her, prepared to take whatever punishment she must to end the fight at last. The black flame darted towards the death knight’s heart. She wouldn’t make it before the spell hit its mark. I’ve failed, the thought flickered through her mind. I’m sorry Charlotte. Sorry for everything! A pillar of ice lanced from the ground before her, cutting off her route of attack and deflecting the dark bolt up into the ceiling, where it compressed into a small point before exploding in a flicker of shadow. Brin glanced over her shoulder. Charlotte stood in the doorway, her hand misting with cold fumes. A bright smile lit her face and tugged at Brinnea’s heart. A tear flowed down her cheek. A second shadowfire bolt flickered its way past her ear and hit the child squarely in the chest. She flew down the hall a long way before skidding to a halt, motionless on the floor. Brinnea’s mind snapped. Everything went cold and numb. She vaguely noticed turning from her child’s body and towards the mad witch’s menacing smile. “What a dumb little cunt,” Cynthia spat, “She’s yours for sure, Brinny! Too stupid to get out of the damn way, hmm.” She felt herself move forward as if in a dream. Her sword hung limp in her hand. Her eyes fixed on the witch’s. The black fire flashed to life, and flung itself at her. She flung herself at it, taking it in her chest and holding it there as she took a few steps towards the warlock. Then she drove her blade into the witch’s abdomen and plunged the spell into her mouth. Cynthia screamed dully somewhere far away from Brinnea’s ears as it seemed. All she saw was the woman’s face turn black under her maimed left hand. Black veins travelled across pale flesh, burning away everything. Nose, cheeks, ears, golden eyes, black hair, all burned to nothing. Then Brinnea’s own hand crumbled into ash. She didn’t notice. Her world was gone, tossed into the fire. Some sense that had become useless to her noticed a chilling presence rise up from the witch’s body and fly into the nearby casket as if dragged. A whisper scraped at her ears, but she ignored it until it was gone. It was over. All of it. Then a cough from behind her snapped the world back into being. Brinnea shook off her trance without a second thought and darted back into the hallway she had come from, and knelt by Charlotte’s side. The girl gasped for air, taking in deep and frantic breaths. Brinnea unlaced the girl’s shirt and checked her body for damage. There was no scarring, no blackening, and no tendrils of fire burning away at her. More tears came unbidden. Brinnea held the girl against her body tenderly. “You’re alive,” she said bewildered. “You’re alive, you’re alive!” Charlotte caught her breath and pulled away to look in her mother’s eyes. “We’re alive,” the girl said. *** Shanoris watched as other night elves lowered her sister’s thoroughly covered body into a fresh grave beneath a tree. Three weeks had passed since that fateful day in Felsoul Hold. The mothers had been reunited with their children. The wolf boy and Brinnea’s girl had vanished by the time she had come to from the witch’s curse. Her nephew had chosen to stay with his family in Darnassus, so Shanoris had taken him there, along with her sister’s remains. The Fargazes were a ritualistic people. They made certain Kyrande had a proper burial, and would wait until afterward to turn their wrath against Shanoris. By the time the ceremony neared its conclusion, she had already gone. Three weeks ago, her vengeance had been stolen from her. In the ruins of Cynthia’s chambers within the Hold, she had found the witch’s remains burned half to ashes beside an empty casket. Another body rested in many pieces across the room. Shanoris could tell it had been a death knight, and sniffed out what remained of a head in the corner of the room. The features all felt the same, and from all Shanoris could tell, she had found the final resting place of Brinnea Velmon. Elune took my vengeance from me. Both culprits responsible for Kyrande taken right under my nose as I wandered like a fool in a trance! She had spent the too-long boat ride to Kalimdor drafting a letter mentally to deliver to a writer later. Her acquaintances in Stormwind ought to know about the demise of their former comrade. They’ll know that justice has been done, but what does that leave me? Am I to become the hunt as my fellow Illidari have? The forest of Darnassus surrounded her, serene and disconnected from the world’s troubles. With all the peace in the world about her, she still could not clear her head of the demons’ swirling, churning hate. Begrudgingly, she had the letter written and sent to the General before returning to her hunt. *** Kazarak sat at the edge of a cliff, holding in his hand a length of black cloth. On it lie the ghastly sigil of the Grim. It was all he had taken of his possessions from the Hold before departing. He was tired. The weight of the cloth itself was multiplied by the weight of his grief. Naavi was gone again. Now he had a choice in his hand. Return to the Grim and fulfill his vision? He knew in his heart that the chance for glory and greatness still lie within his grasp. Yet he hesitated before this path. All his family lie down a second path. A peaceful path with only one hardship resting at its beginning. He saw his father and mother down that way. He saw his brothers and sisters, his children and Naavi herself. They were all of them just as he remembered them: happy and proud. Proud to see what he was. He had been a paragon of justice and a champion of peace. But that was then. Now, he was a filthy murderer. The stain was set in too deep. He saw the path of glory, full of its hardships and pain. He spat at that path; he had made his choice. It was many months before an adventurer happened upon the picked-over bones at the bottom of the tall cliff. The travelling fellow groaned impatiently, having found only a simple tabard tucked in the fingers of a skeletal hand. *** Brinnea and Charlotte finished a prayer at the foot of a fresh grave in a pass between the city of Suramar and Felsoul Hold. Marking the grave was Parigan’s greatsword, both halves dung into the earth. Someone would undoubtedly take the blade’s remains someday, but for now it made a decent memorial to the man. Brinnea chuckled softly, and Charlotte asked, “What’s funny, mama?” Brin ruffled the girl’s hair playfully, responding, “Your father always hated this sword. He used to say it was too heavy to carry around all the time. I asked him all the time why he kept it around, but he never told me. I think I know now, though.” Charlotte stared up at her mother curiously. “Why did he?” she asked innocently. Brin stood, and her girl did the same. They faced the rising sun, admiring its beauty and serenity. “He carried it so he would never forget the weight of it all. Of war and peace, hatred and passion, death and life. He kept it to remember how to feel.” Some hours later, the pair of them rode atop Brinnea’s grim steed, facing out into the sea. Charlotte asked, “Where are we going, mama?” Brinnea answered, “Wherever we want. We’re free now. But, is there anywhere you’d like to go first?” “I heard Pandaria’s great.” “Alright, let’s go.” They began to wade across the top of the sea on rapidly forming chunks of ice before halting a moment. August raced from back where they went. Charlotte invited him to join, and he timidly hopped aboard the dark horse. They rode on into the distant sea, three souls bound on one adventure. The End. ((This may well be my last WoW story. It was a wild ride and I'm glad I've finally given my characters each a conclusion. For better or worse, I'm moving on to make new stories. I hope you all enjoyed the mess I wrote for you all. Peace.))
  9. Brinnea huddled in a cage even smaller than the one she’d been given before. Her lifeless legs hung limp below her waist. The wrathguard’s mace must have shattered every bone she had in either leg for all she could move them. Even as an undead, the pain of them was unbearable. Between the confined space, the pain, and the deepening feeling of despair, she was miserable to say the least. Before having her and Laurana carted away to separate cells, Cynthia had said, “For this behavior, the both of you will receive the ultimate punishment, hmm.” Laurana’s head had seemed to be half a skull at that point. Why did I risk myself for her? I’ve doomed her, myself, her son…and Charlotte. I wasn’t strong enough! The crushing failure that had been her fight with Morkoreth reminded her of how powerless she truly was. She had never wanted to be a knight, let alone a death knight. Once upon a time, she’d dreamed of being a mage, unravelling the mysteries of the world. As a child, she pictured heroes in stories as something she could never aspire to, but she tried to emulate their heroism and selflessness in everything she did. A good deal that did me, she thought bitterly. I’m a murderer, a poor excuse for a warrior, and on top of it all, the world’s worst mother. Charlotte deserves better than me. A clanging sound told her her jailor had entered the cell. She lifted her head enough to see the Inquisitor float menacingly toward her. Without a word, the demon lifted her cage onto his back and floated back to the cell entrance. Brinnea thought about giving the demon a tongue-lashing, but thought better of it. It wouldn’t help this situation any. When they emerged from the hold’s bowels out into the grim wasteland the Legion called their base, she heard Laurana barking angry comments and insults at her jailor. Guess she disagrees with me. Cynthia had gathered all the Widows into a line, with demons surrounding them. Brinnea was reminded of her arrival at the Hold, and began frantically searching for Charlotte in the crowd. She couldn’t see her, or the satyr Letraxia anywhere. The jailors set her and Laurana’s cages on the ground, but left them sealed. Laurana shouted at Cynthia, “You coward! Let me out of here and we’ll settle this once and for all! No more tricks, just you and me!” She bashed at her cage wall, bent double just to stand at the most height her cage offered. The death knight’s head still shone bright white on one side where the skin had been scraped off by Morkoreth’s mace. Brinnea grimaced at the sight of it, but Laurana was so angry she didn’t seem to even notice it. Cynthia smiled at Laurana, but ignored her taunts. She turned to the line of Widows and began to speak. “My dears, I bring you here today to teach you a valuable lesson. Or, re-teach you one, rather. I’ve told you all time and again that loyalty is rewarded where disobedience is punished, hmm. These two women blatantly disregarded my orders and turned against me, weapons in hand. That will not stand. Any of you with ideas of disobeying me need only witness what happens and decide for herself whether it is worthwhile.” Cynthia’s hands lit with fire. Brinnea’s hands curled into tight fists. Burning to death isn’t the worst way to go, I suppose. She bit back panic and lifted herself to a proud sitting position rather than a curled-up ball. Laurana was still cursing Cynthia and the witch’s entire family. Brin tensed as Cynthia prepared to hurl the balls of fire at them, readying herself for the end. Before the fire could leave her hands, they were snuffed out by a brisk breeze. The sudden gust blew Cynthia’s hair all over her face. The witch clawed at her hair angrily, and turned to face the line of Widows. Brinnea saw where the wind had come from, and it was clear Cynthia knew it as well. “Kyrande, dear,” Cynthia began calmly, just barely containing a fearsome rage, “Why did you just cast a spell at me, hmm?” The night elf defiantly glared at Cynthia, and replied, “I’m through with being your slave, witch. Do your worst.” With her last word, she flicked her wrist, blowing more wind in Cynthia’s face. The breeze continued past the witch, but Brinnea didn’t think anyone noticed as the jailor’s key near Brin’s cell was plucked from his waist and fell just beside the death knight’s cage. Kyrande gave her a nod as Cynthia roared, hurling a ball of fire at the elf’s feet. While the burning woman screamed, Brinnea bit back her anger and grabbed the key, unlocked her cage, and felt her magic return to her with the seal broken. She formed an icy dagger and death gripped the jailor down to her level. The inquisitor’s eyes gaped in horror as she plunged her blade into his neck, drawing the fel blood into her body. Bones crackled and muscle groaned as Brinnea’s legs repaired themselves magically thanks to the fel blood. Cynthia took notice of her just as her legs came back into working order. The witch hurled a ball of fire at her, but Brinnea hid behind the jailor’s body. It was blasted into ashes, but Brinnea was already on the move. A fireball toward her. She activated her anti-magic shield and turned the spell into fuel for her runes. She froze the second jailor solid as demons began to rush toward her. Everything moved so quickly, she didn’t even notice the jailor’s key was in her hand until she unlocked Laurana’s cell and yanked the death knight to her feet. They stood back-to-back, a frost sword in one woman’s hand, and a blade made of shadows in the other’s. Laurana spoke to Brin as she absorbed one of Cynthia’s fireballs, “This makes twice you’ve saved me, Brinnea. I misjudged you when we met.” Brinnea blasted a row of demons with ice and cut down a felhunter as it closed in on her. She replied to Laurana, “Think there’s any chance of getting away this time?” Laurana tried death-gripping Cynthia, but Morkoreth stepped in the way. Laurana broke the connection before the hulking demon yanked her instead. “Only with a miracle,” she said. Brinnea hadn’t tried to get her hopes up, but something about the way Laurana said it made her feel somewhat hopeful. At the very least, we’ll die outside this way. Just as Brinnea prepared for the charge of a dozen angry demons, a pillar of green fire erupted in front of her. She made to jump out of the way, but it only separated her from the demons. That isn’t Cynthia’s fire! A shadow flew across Brinnea’s face. She turned to watch Shanoris Fargaze plunge glaives first into Morkoreth’s violet body, slicing into his flesh angrily with cut after cut before leaping backward, burning the demon’s body clean through with beams of fel fire from her eye sockets. The wrathguard roared as his body burned away into nothing. Brinnea and Laurana blinked at the demon hunter. Shanoris growled at Cynthia, “You! That was my sister you burned to death, you conniving bitch!” Brinnea could feel the fire between the two from where she stood. “Mama! I found you!” a familiar voice called to Brin from her side. She looked, and stared in disbelief at Charlotte, who tugged at her ragged pants excitedly. Alongside her were the molten corgi Colin, and a rather hairy boy about her age, who looked about ready to puke. Brinnea replied, “Charlotte! How did you get here?” The girl beamed at her. “Colin found us help! He showed Miss Shanny where we were and she saved us from Granny Letta. Then we came to get you!” The demons began wading through the wall of fire. Brinnea told Charlotte to get behind her, but before the girl did as told, she pulled something out of a blade and tossed it at Brin’s feet. Instinctively, she scooped it up and cut down a felguard with her own runeblade. Charlotte called to her, “I found the armory! I told you everything would be ok, mama!” The next few minutes were a confusing tangle of demons, ice, fire, and various shouts and taunts. Somehow, Brinnea managed to avoid being torn apart in the midst of it all. Charlotte seemed to be dodging around using her blink spell, handing weapons to the other Widows as they began to take heart and fight against the enclosing demons. Shanoris seemed to be chasing after Cynthia as the witch apparated about, hurling shadowy balls of magic at the demon hunter. The elf dodged past it all, and kept after the witch insistently. A doomguard scooped Brinnea up by her feet as she stumbled pulling her blade from another demon’s gullet. She swiped at the doomguard’s hand as it prepared to cast a spell at her with its other hand. Just before it could, it yelped and dropped her abruptly. She rolled to her feet roughly as she hit home, and dug her blade into the large demon’s leg. She noticed Colin had dug his teeth into its other leg, likely saving his master in the process. She smiled as the demon fell to the ground, and she plunged her blade into his chest. Colin continued to nibble at the demon’s corpse until it suddenly vanished in a puff of green smoke. He panted happily at Brin, who quickly said, “Good boy!” and charged back into battle. At one moment, she stood beside Laurana, fighting toe-to-toe with a horde of demons, then she was defending Vemynisa as the draenei provided barriers of light and healing for the Widows all around. Many and more faces passed by her and fought alongside her for what seemed an eternity of battle. Brinnea had to admit to herself as the battle waned; This does feel rather like the climax of one of those stories. At long last, the demons all were dead. The Widows cheered, tired but most alive. Laurana grabbed her from one side as another muscular woman took her other side and they lifted her on their shoulders. She blinked and laughed, cried and breathed easy. She saw Charlotte cheering at her from in the crowd. She seemed so happy and proud, all directed at Brinnea. It’s over, she thought triumphantly. We won, and now we’re free. Shanoris screamed from somewhere to the north. Brinnea never saw her before she fell to the ground. The crowd that had been cheering a moment ago was now standing stock-still all around her. A voice cut into her mind like a knife in its sheathe, “You think it’s over, hmmm!? Your suffering has only just BEGUN!” Everyone around turned to face Brinnea. Vemynisa, Shanoris, Charlotte and her wolflike friend, even Colin. Every eye in sight had glazed over to a distant stare. Only Laurana at her side seemed completely cognizant. A thought flashed into Brinnea’s mind as the crowd’s weapons and magic turned towards her, The Skull! That must be it! Laurana grabbed Brinnea’s hand and pulled her out of the crowd as their zombielike friends began to strike at them. They were slow and sluggish enough for them to get away easily, but Brinnea couldn’t see Cynthia anywhere. “Laurana, the skull! It won’t work on death knights! That’s why we haven’t been put under her spell!” she said quickly as Laurana tugged her up to higher ground. The black-haired woman was already searching for Cynthia when she replied, “That’s part of why I went to the Scourge. I had the idea that the Lich King’s control might give me resistance to her skull’s power, but I think it’s just the opposite. We Ebon Knights broke free of Arthas’ control once. It might have something to do with this as well.” Brinnea caught a glimpse of something shimmering from the hold. Looking closely, she saw Cynthia slip into a side entrance, and signaled Laurana to follow. They sprinted around the mass of the hypnotized, still slowly meandering after them. Brin looked for Charlotte in the crowd, but couldn’t see her. Please Light, don’t let her be trampled… As they ran, Laurana said, “Your girl, she was with August. My son.” Brin blinked at the other death knight. Despite herself, she grinned. “I guess they got along about as well as we did.” Laurana scoffed, rubbing her bare skull. “I sure hope not.” Brinnea kicked the hold door open as they reached it, and was greeted by a spear’s head darting toward her. Off-balance, she was unable to avoid it. Laurana, however, was prepared for it, and yanked Brin out of the way, then knocked the spear away with her sword. Naavi stepped back as the black-haired death knight pressed past her guard, threatening to cut her open. The troll glared at the two of them, barring their path. Laurana swore at her, prepared to attack again. Brinnea put a hand on her shoulder. “Naavi,” she said calmly, “We have the witch on the run, and the children are all safe. We can end this and free ourselves, but only if we work together. You don’t have to be afraid of Cynthia anymore.” Naavi bore her teeth at her, tightening her grip on the spear. “My children are all dead, death knight,” she growled. “And you shall go no further.”
  10. “I got it!” Charlotte shouted excitedly, leaping up from a crouched position as her rune flared to life. August jumped nearly as high as her exclamation shocked him from his slumber in the corner. Rubbing sleep out of his eyes, the wolfish boy blinked in astonishment at the flickering fire on the floor where the rune had been. Charlotte laughed maniacally as a figure rose from the floor-fire slowly. It had taken a week and many tries, but she had finally cinched the summoning ritual. Now I’ll be able to break out of this prison and rescue mama! The fires died out as suddenly as they had appeared, leaving behind a small, stubby dog made of fire and rock with a blue runic collar around its neck. The dog barked excitedly and leapt at Charlotte, nearly knocking her over. “Colin?” she asked the fiery beast with disbelief. He barked affirmatively and licked her face. Despite his incredible heat, the collar he wore reduced the surface temperature to avoid causing fires or burning people. That was what confirmed Charlotte’s suspicion. Her mother had made that collar herself. August sat in his corner, petrified of the sight of Colin. The molten corgi had yet to notice him, but Charlotte expected the friendly creature would get to know the doglike boy fairly well soon, as was his nature. She spoke to Colin, “I’m happy to see you, too, boy! I was sorta hoping for something bigger though. You have any friends you can bring?” The dog cocked his head at her unknowingly. “Oh well,” she said dismissively. “I’m sure we’ll think of something.” “WHAT IN SARGERAS’ NAME WAS THAT NOISE?!” a booming voice rang out in the halls outside the circular room. August leaped up even higher this time, clawing his way up the wall in a panic. Charlotte gasped and frantically ran around, trying to cover up things indicating she had been using magic. She threw her blanket over the rune on the floor and stuffed the book August had brought her under the bed. She thought she had everything well hidden, until she remembered Colin. The dopey dog was sniffing curiously at August as the boy scrambled up the wooden wall with his sharp fingernails. Heavy footsteps drew closer outside. Charlotte used a blink spell and grabbed Colin, hoping she could get his attention. Gazing deep into his fiery orange eyes, she gave him a command, “Go find mama, Colin. Bring her here so we can get out, ok?” The dog licked her nose. The door burst open, and the big satyr Granny Letta gasped loudly as a molten corgi darted between her legs and out of the room. She was so preoccupied watching where the dog went, she never even noticed August slide past her and into the shadows of the hallway. Charlotte gave an audible sigh of relief. Letta turned her frigid gaze on the child. “Charlotte, you should know better than to have guests in your room. Granny’s gonna have to punish you for this.” Charlotte winced, thinking about her sore back. Come on, Colin. I’m counting on you. Kazarak stirred from a pleasant dream into a dark space, dimly lit only by a fel green torch in a nearby sconce. The bed was soft – softer than any he’d slept in for a long time. As a troll, he was accustomed to finding beds too short for him, and preferred patches of dirt or long hammocks. His body, stripped of all the gear he’d been wearing when he was last conscious, felt as heavy as a hunk of steel. He tried to lift an arm, but he may as well try and lift a kodo. His false arm was equally immovable; the slab of earth molded into an arm was normally controlled by his power over the elements. Evidently, even that power was sore and tired. Groaning, he turned his head to see a jug of water and a goblet beside him. Great. Water for my thirst, but no way to get it myself. As if reading his mind, Naavi appeared in his view, moving on silent feet. She poured water into the goblet and helped him drink down a bit. He tried to slurp down too much at once and started coughing. Naavi sighed with exasperation. “Like taking care of a baby spider monkey. Drink slowly fool. You haven’t moved in four days.” Kaz may not have moved in that long, but he could still laugh. It hurt, but he did it anyway. “I…missed you…too.” He got another good look at Naavi’s face. Her sharp features were as rough, and her skin as weathered as the last time he’d seen her, three years past. Her amber eyes and green hair the same, though her hair had perhaps grown longer, and her eyes sharper. Given the state she had been in before, however, she looked significantly more alive. It was like one of his dreams had come to life. Naavi put a hand on his forehead. “Fever’s starting to break. You are a tough bastard, Kaz. No wonder I chose you.” “If I remember,” Kaz rasped after taking a slower gulp of water, “I did the choosing.” Naavi shook her head. “You stuttered a few words, maybe. Everyone knew I was the man of this relationship.” Her half-smile faded as her hand drifted to the scar at his throat. “How did this happen?” Kazarak cleared his throat, holding back a cough. “Alliance deserters. After the siege…I escorted Darkspear emissaries…across Pandaria. Hoped to…work at peace. I was…too preoccupied with thoughts. Didn’t notice…the trouble until…it was too late. They killed everyone.” Naavi set the goblet aside and threw her arms around Kazarak, resting her head against his chest. He closed his eyes and let the warmth of her body wash over her. He inhaled her aroma, letting her become one with him as they had been before. She seemed to be crying when she said, “I’m sorry Kaz. I…I never should have left. I should have told you I was alive, at least. I can’t imagine what I put you through all these years…” Kaz mustered up strength he never knew he had and lifted his arm, resting it on her head gently. She looked up at him, her eyes shiny with tears, yet still as strong as always. “It’s in the past now,” he said with a smile. A knock came at a door Kaz couldn’t see. Naavi carefully stood back up, placing Kazarak’s hand back to his side softly. As she backed away from his bed, she said, “I promise I’ll explain everything when I return, love. I know I owe you a long talk. Rest up. You’ll need your strength soon.” Kazarak didn’t need to be told twice. Naavi drifted out of sight around an unseen corner, and the shaman slipped back into his pleasant dreams. Haven’t slept this good in years.
  11. Kazarak lurked in the shadow of the Hold, watching as dozens of demons streamed out, chasing the shadow of the fleeing demon hunter. His breathing ragged, he tried to stream water from the surrounding air into his chest wound to cleanse it of infection and seal it, but the dryness of the air prevented him from gathering any substantial amount of water. He grimaced, the cut stinging like an angry swarm of jungle wasps. Could be worse, he remarked silently, ducking lower as a felguard stomped past him. At least I still have my head. He frowned, remembering his defeat once again. He wasn’t strong or fast enough, even with the element of surprise on his side. I have no honor left, truly. He ran his blood-covered left hand over the makeshift stone arm on his right side. He watched the stony fingers close into a fist. Felt it, but he could not feel it. A torn spirit and a mangled body, that’s all I have left. I may as well never show my face from behind this mask again. He fingered the wooden mask tenderly, running his calloused fingers along the jagged scar, the only remnant of its former owner. Kazarak was jarred from his recollection by a piercing pain in his chest. He looked down, and saw the point of an arrowhead poking through his chest. His vision went fuzzy, and instinct took over. Leaping out of cover might have seemed a foolish move before, but he had no other option now. Demons turned their heads as the troll tumbled from his hiding place. Kaz looked to where the arrow had come from: the high ground above the rocks. The sun caught her amber eyes between two smoggy clouds. The wind picked up, streaming through her verdant braids as she nocked a second arrow. Kaz’s axe slipped from his grasp as he drew it from the loop on his belt. A name hung in his mind, held as close to his heart as the memory of a loved one. He called up to her, his voice raspy but resolute, “Naavi, is that you?” Her face twisted in confusion at first. He removed his mask, letting it drop to the ground. Then her face brightened with recognition, her eyes brimming with tears. “Kazarak?” she asked uncertain. “Yes, it is you!” Demons circled Kazarak, lifting their weapons to crush him into the dirt. Naavi’s face hardened, and she called, not to Kaz, but to them, “Felguards, hold! The Mistress wants to see this one herself.” The demons stopped in their tracks, and lowered their arms. The huntress slid down the cliffside and stood before Kazarak, holding her bow behind her in the oh-so familiar stance. It would have been a beautiful moment, but Kazarak began to feel the arrow wound again. His vision faded to black suddenly, and his legs gave out. The last thing he saw before losing consciousness was Naavi’s worried expression as she carried him away from the sun, into the shadows. Brinnea stood quickly, returning her hand to Laurana’s shoulder as Cynthia swept her way back onto the dais and resumed to sit on her throne. Morkoreth was at her side, but the trolless was nowhere to be seen. Brinnea wondered to herself what sort of trouble they had left to address. Cynthia spoke in a more irritated tone than usual, indicating whatever it was had been left unresolved, “Thank you for waiting, hmm. Now, where was I? Ah, yes, your punishment. Brin, dear, would you mind unsheathing your sword?” Brinnea’s body tensed. She gave Laurana an apologetic look as the death knight glanced back at her questioningly. The sword slid from her scabbard and rested in her hand, the point low to the ground. Cynthia gave her a false reassuring smile. “That’s right, now stick it in Laurana’s mouth, hmm. A liar’s tongue is not welcome in my halls. Remove it for me, will you?” Brinnea’s grip on Laurana’s shoulder loosened. She looked at the sword, then to the other death knight’s eyes. The sword sat limp in her hand. Cynthia spoke again, growing more impatient, “Right, shouldn’t have asked. I command you to remove the liar’s tongue. NOW.” Brinnea gritted her teeth. I’m going to regret this. She lifted the sword to be level with Laurana’s mouth. Then she pointed it promptly at Cynthia and channeled her runic magic through the inscriptions on its edge. A long spear of ice protruded from its tip, jagged and fast moving. It rapidly drew closer to Cynthia’s neck, only to be shattered by Morkoreth’s mace. Brinnea moved quickly, hearing the screeches of the winged demons above. She handed her blade to Laurana, who paused no more than a moment before readying herself for a fight. Brinnea forged two blades made of ice, her icy blue eyes fixed harshly on Cynthia as the witch stood from her throne. The woman barked a rude laugh. “You are both fools! You shall learn what it means to defy me, hmm!” Her hand darkened; an aura of shadows was cast upon the room, snuffing out green torchlight. It darkened until Brinnea could not see more than a foot in front of her. She and Laurana stood back-to-back as the screeching demons flew in from the shadows. They cut them down, narrowly escaping the rake of their claws a dozen times. Laurana drew bones and blood from the fallen to form a shield around the pair of them as Brin sheared through tendons and leathery wings with razor-sharp ice. More demons lurked towards them from the shadows. Dark creatures, with no defining features. They seemed more like lumps of raw shadow than corporeal beings. Brinnea cut through one, dividing it in two. It split like water, only solid like gel. The two halves flopped to the ground, then merged back together to reform the creature. Brinnea gritted her teeth as more drew closer. She tried freezing them in place with a series of howling blasts of frigid air, but the ice seemed to melt as soon as it touched them. They lunged at her, one by one. She tried cutting them all out of the air, but she couldn’t possibly stop all of them. They latched on to her body, sticky and hot like a liquid fire. They expanded across her skin, forming a layer of shadows across her body. As more and more piled on top of her, she felt her muscles contract and her skin burn. A sense of overwhelming despair cast over her heart. Then the beasts slipped from her body and flew off into the shadows. Brinnea looked around curiously until her gaze rested on Laurana. The dark puppet strings retracted into her fingers and she gave Brin a cocky smile. “Throwing creatures of shadows at a dark puppetmaster is a grievous error, don’t you think?” Neither Brinnea nor Laurana saw the wrathguard until his mace crashed down on Laurana’s head. Brin’s eyes widened in shock. Then she yelled defiantly and lunged at the hulking demon, plunging a shard of ice in his eye. The violet demon grunted, apparently only mildly annoyed by her attack. She smacked him across the face with a few icy blasts to get her point across. Morkoreth batted her away with the back of his fist before lifting his fel-stinking mace off the fallen death knight’s body. Brinnea tugged at the giant weapon with a death grip, but it didn’t budge; the demon’s grip was too strong. He rushed her, aiming his shoulderplate to spear her through the gut. She rolled to the side, and sprinted to Laurana’s body. She wasn’t moving, but her head was still intact. Part of her hair had been wrenched off her head, along with the skin of her scalp. Brinnea tried to ignore that. She took her sword back from the black-haired woman’s limp fingers and readied herself for the demon’s next charge. Morkoreth came in more carefully this time, stomping to her left, then her right, and then left again before swinging his mace upwards from the ground. Shards of the floor tiles flew at her as fast as shrapnel. She blasted the stone from the air with ice before closing the distance to the demon, stabbing him in the thigh. Morkoreth bashed her hands loose from her blade with the haft of his weapon. She rolled away again as his mace plunged downwards at her, smashing the stone floor where she had stood. The demon ran his fist into the hilt of her blade, shattering it as if it were a needle caught between two rocks. Brin thought quickly as the wrathguard closed in on her. She spotted something on his belt, and made her move. I may not be able to death grip your mace, she thought to herself as she reached for the broken sword at Morkoreth’s waist, but I can sure as hell grab this! The blade slid loose and flew into her hands as she ducked inside the demon’s guard. She sliced upwards with a short leap, cutting into his tainted flesh with the jagged tip of the greatsword. It raked across him abdomen and pectorals, but before she could reach his throat, the handle of his mace smashed into the crest of her head, knocking her into the dust. The blade clattered on the floor, having fallen from her maimed hand. She lifted herself up to see Morkoreth’s mace falling down towards her. I’m sorry, Pari. If only it had been you here, this demon wouldn’t have stood a chance. She smiled, envisioning the wrathguard’s head severed by Parigan’s mighty strike. If only… The mace fell on her legs, and a searing pain shot through her lower body. She heard bones cracking under the force of the impact, and she screamed in agony.
  12. Most days Shanoris saw the world as a vibrant mix of colors splashed on a brilliant tapestry of scents, sounds, and waves of motion, painting a picture of the world few could truly see. Today she saw the harder part of her Illidari gift. In the midst of Felsoul Hold, all she saw was red. Red with rage, seething and pulsating all around her like bright, oppressive bonfires. Every flame was a target, something she was meant to rid the world of, warglaives in hand. She was meant to live and die fighting those fires, but today, she had to force herself to ignore them. Even casting her spectral sight away from the horde of demons, she could still hear, smell, and feel them all around her. Like a tidal wave, the sense of them washed over Shanoris, threatening to sweep her away. But her focus was on something else. A strange, familiar blend of sensory details. She felt it…but she couldn’t believe it. The demon hunter rubbed her tattooed shoulder, a chill suddenly stalking over her in spite of the blazing inferno of the Hold. It was a room, full from wall to wall with an odd mix of different Azerothian races. Elves, humans, dwarves, trolls, orcs, and so on, all confined in small spaces like cages as far as she could tell. There was a minimal demonic presence in that wing of the Hold, as well. Those must be Cynthia’s pets, she concluded silently. Far too close to her hiding spot, a massive infernal wandered by, shaking the ground. Shanoris’ body, she knew, would be completely invisible to it, but she tensed in any case, hands tightening around the grips of her glaives. Once the great stony demon had passed, Shanoris darted into the open, ducking from one hidden place to the next, edging closer and closer to the Hold. Finally, she reached the wall of the cells she had detected. She could hear their heartbeats now: most still and steady despite their position. Shanoris focused her strength on her muscular legs and bounded up to the top of the wall swiftly. She found a weak point in the roof and let her demonic blood heat to a boil until it exploded outward, shattering the stone at her feet. Two demons stood baffled on either side of her as she fell from the ceiling. Shanoris threw one glaive, slicing the head off a felguard. The demon grunted, his body burning to nothing in green flames as his head flew from his neck. The other demon charged forward, axe at the ready. Shanoris leapt over his head and raked her remaining glaive down his back, spilling his demonic guts open. Then he burned, too. The first glaive flew back into her hand. She smiled, satisfied with her performance. Then a voice drew her attention, a woman’s voice saying weakly, “Shanny?” The demon hunter turned her attention to the cell where the voice came from. She had felt right earlier. It was her. “Kyrande.” The death knight Laurana knelt before Cythia with her icy blue eyes fixed firmly on the witch’s golden ones. Morkoreth stood at the side of Cynthia’s throne, honing the flanges of his mace with an oil rag that smelled of vulgar things like blood and vinegar. Brinnea rested her maimed hand on the captive’s shoulder, and gripped the hilt of her blade in her better hand. The black-haired knight snarled at her hand in between stare-downs with Cynthia. Brin couldn’t help but admire the woman’s tenacity in the face of danger. She found herself longing for that strength. Foolish. If I were like her, I would be right where she is now. “Ah, Laurana, where have you been?” Cynthia mused playfully, her darkly colored lips quirked mischievously. “I’ve been so worried I might never see you again, hmm!” The death knight sneered back defiantly. “Enough of your games, wretch! If you mean to ‘punish’ me, then get it over with!” Brinnea tightened her grip despite herself. Part of her hoped Laurana could still make it through this alive, and the last thing to help her now was to be disobedient towards the witch. Cynthia sighed dramatically. “Well, I tried to be understanding. No one can deny that, hmm? My dear, for your actions, you must pay. I simply cannot allow my Widows to do as they please. That would invite anarchy, and that is no good for anyone, hmm.” Brinnea choked down the desire to roll her eyes. Laurana didn’t even try to hide her disgust. Cynthia continued, “For abandoning your new family in this time of war, you must—“ The trolless Naavi sprinted to Cynthia’s side, looking flustered. The witch paused, her smug smile fading quickly as her servant delivered a message in whispers. When she was done, the troll awaited Cynthia’s order. The witch exhaled annoyedly out her nose and stood. As she drifted towards the side door, the troll close at her feet, Cytnhia addressed Brinnea, “Don’t move until I return, hmm. There is a matter I must attend to at present, but we are not finished here.” Morkoreth tossed his oil rag aside as he followed Cynthia and Naavi outside, slamming the rough metal door behind him. That left Brinnea, Laurana, and the swarm of flying demons watching them from the ceiling. Brin let her hand drop from Laurana’s shoulder. The black-haired death knight looked back at her from her knees, conflicted, as if unsure whether to punch Brinnea or take off running. “So…,” Brin said carefully, “We’ve got a lot in common, I’ve noticed.” The kneeling woman’s face twisted in confusion. Brin blinked, and stammered, “You know, because we’re both humans, death knights, and uh…” Laurana interjected, “Stuck in an impossible situation? Yes, the similarities are staggering; I noticed it as well!” If Brinnea possessed the capacity, she was certain she would be blushing. What the hell am I doing? Trying to make friends at a time like this? A familiar voice popped into her head then and answered her, What other time is there? We don’t all get a tomorrow, don’t forget. Brinnea leveled herself. “I know things seem hopeless,” she said calmly as she sat beside Laurana, her hands in her lap. The black-haired woman eyed her suspiciously. Brinnea continued, “But we will get through together. Only together. The witch cannot control all of us.” Laurana shook her head sadly. “I wish I shared your optimism. Cynthia is too powerful, and has every advantage. Even if we tried to wait out the war, and if the Alliance and Horde managed to win, we would still have to live with what we’ve done. I couldn’t bare the shame of betraying my people. Not again. Hope? Where are we supposed to find it in this grim place?” Brinnea smiled at her warmly. She spoke, her mind full of thoughts of those who had spoken with her the way she now needed to, “Hope is something you find within yourself. Even in the darkest of times, all it takes is remembering what it is we fight for. For me, it has always been my Charlotte. My hope is one day we can live a peaceful life, and move on from the mistakes I’ve made. More times than I can count, I’ve lost sight of that hope, but it has always returned to bring me back from the brink. Never lose sight of what gives you hope, Laurana.” Shanoris gritted her teeth in rage. Kyrande couldn’t even look at her sister now, after all she had said. “Cynthia…,” Shanoris seethed, “She killed our brother? Imprisoned you and…your son. I…didn’t even know you’d had a child.” Kyrande’s heart beat slow and sad, no ounce of defiance left. She spoke grimly, “He was beautiful, my darling Kota. I named him for his father. I…needed something to remember him by. Elune blessed us with his birth the year after you and the other Illidari were imprisoned.” Shanoris shook off her frustration and punched her sister’s cage angrily. “I’m getting you out of here, Kyrande.” She readied her glaive, but before she could cleave the cage’s lock, Kyrande yelled at her, “No! You must not free us! If the witch found our cages empty, she would put the children to the knife!” Shanoris snarled and lowered her blade. She barked back, “Then I’ll find them and free them all first! You believe that, missy! I may be blind, but I can feel how hopeless you are just by standing here!” Kyrande sighed. “I’ll not get my hopes up just yet, sister,” she said, downtrodden despite her sister’s efforts. “You know, it is ironic. For thousands of years, it was you behind bars, and I sought to reassure you from outside. Time makes fools of us all.” Shanoris tried to ignore the unintentional insult. Before she could reply, she heard something coming her way. Fool! The entire Legion could have snuck up on you by now! She swung around, leaving her sister with a quick reminder, “Count on my return, sister. I won’t be long!” She sprinted back to the spot she had descended from and leapt up through the hole she had made in the roof. Taking a quick survey of the surrounding guards, she chose a direction and moved to glide off. As her wings spread, a jolt of pain shot through her back. She fell to a crouch and clutched at a spike of earth that jutted from her left shoulder, its inside pulsing orange with lava. She whirled around, throwing her glaive at her assailant. The shaman leapt over the thrown weapon and readied his axes. Shanoris felt his feet shuffle close, his weight, though greater than hers, was thrown lightly into each step. He kept light and ready to move in any direction at a moment’s notice. He’s wary. He should be! Shanoris swiped at him, testing his reflexes. The troll easily ducked inside her defenses and aimed a strike at her throat. Despite his quick movements, Shanoris was much faster. Before he could reach her, she shifted behind him and delivered a kick to his rear, sending him flying over the edge of the roof. She grinned as her glaive flew back to her hand. She expected to hear the troll’s body thump on the ground below spectacularly, but was disappointed when he flew back onto the roof, aided by the wind. Shamans. It had to be a shaman. “This is an odd place to pick a fight, redblood. The Horde needs to learn how to pick its fights in better locations,” Shanoris grinned at him smugly. The troll grunted back raspily, his voice somehow familiar to the night elf, “This…is about you and me.” He shot a bolt of lightning at her, but it fell off-target. Shanoris had leapt overhead and drove her glaives downward at the shaman. He rolled aside, and swept back in for a counter-attack. Shanoris knocked his strike aside and let loose a pair of fire beams from her eye sockets. The troll grunted with effort as he sidestepped toward Shanoris’ left side. She grimaced as the fire of her eyes fizzled out. Her left arm responded slowly with the jagged length of rock still stuck in her shoulder. He’s preying on my injury. Smart, I’ll admit. The troll’s axe fell toward her throat again. She moved her body so the head of it struck the rock. It sliced clean through, nicking her breast but otherwise missing its mark. She stepped back before the troll could get another strike in. Blood flowed from her leather jerkin, oozing from the axe’s cut. Shanoris’ face scrunched up angrily. “You’re gonna regret defacing my dignity, swine!” She charged so fast, she must have been a blur to the naked eye. The troll certainly seemed to see her that way, as he barely got his defenses up in time to block her first strike. He never saw the second one coming. He flew backwards at the force of the strike. When he rose, his chest was wet with blood. Shanoris chuckled. “Haha! There, now you have one to match.” The troll snarled and tried to rise, but his legs spasmed and he slipped down to his knees. “You…have beaten me,” he growled. “Beaten me again. I…have lost my honor. Kill me, quickly.” Shanoris would have glanced at him in confusion, had she the eyes to stare him down with. As it was, she replied, “Have we met before? You said I beat you ‘again.’” The troll rasped bitterly, “Yes. In Westfall, months ago. You broke my tusk.” Shanoris noticed the length of his left tusk was half as long as the other. Then she remembered. “Ah,” she remarked, “I remember now. You were a prisoner with the Gilneans. No wonder you are so eager to die, after so many failures.” He merely dipped his head humbly. The elf continued, “Well, I’m certain the world won’t miss one of your kind. There’s far too many trolls as it is. I shall grant you the death you desire.” She stepped forward, resting her blade against his neck. She felt something odd about his throat. A scar perhaps? An old wound would explain the rasp. She ignored her own inquisitiveness and drew her glaive back to remove the troll’s head. Just before she could strike, she felt more enemies drawing near; this time they were demons. Shanoris spun around, slicing through the flesh of a winged demon that had nearly reached her. Dozens more had already begun circling overhead, and the roof was now occupied by a squad of felguards, a wrathguard, and a human warlock that could only be the dreaded Cynthia. She was watching Shanoris like a hawk, her demeanor still and elegant. Her heart beat steadily, completely unaffected by anything around her. She addressed Shanoris smugly, saying, “Well well, if it isn’t the Gilnean Illidari. I was aware you had evaded the battle in Val’sharah, but I never expected you to come to your death so willingly, hmm.” Shanoris laughed loudly. “My death? I think you have that backwards, witch!” She lunged forward, aware of the many flying demons diving toward her. She was focused on the witch herself. I’m fast enough. I can end it, right here. Kill her, and get away. It didn’t work out that way. She was quick, but the wrathguard beside Cynthia was just as fast. His mace blocked her path just in time to stop her dead in her tracks. Unable to change course, Shanoris was helpless as the winged demons fell upon her. They buried her in a pile of flesh, leathery wings, and razor-sharp claws. They ripped and bit at her viciously, tearing blood from all over her body. Any normal person would be infected with deadly fel toxins, but as a demon hunter, Shanoris could survive the poison. She struggled under the demons’ attacks, lifting herself upright in time to notice the wrathguard hefting his large mace overhead. Shanoris gritted her teeth, gathering all her fury, then unleashed it in a single burst. Her body transformed; the demon within her escaped her control for a moment. The winged beasts flew backward at the force of her wings spreading. She leaped aside, her speed even greater despite her increased size. The wrathguard’s mace smashed into the ground where she had sat. Cynthia’s smugness never wavered. Shanoris’ rage bellowed in her chest. Dammit! I’ll never reach her in one piece! At this rate, I’ll be torn apart before I get her. Shanoris used her speed to dash off the roof, making a rude gesture at Cynthia as she glided off towards the canyon exit. She grimaced as her body shifted back to normal. Her wounds stung, but none more than the slash across her breast. That reminds me, what happened to that asshole troll?
  13. An icy breeze licked at Brinnea’s cloak and the landscape of the Icecrown Glacier sent unnatural chills down her frigid skin. The very thought of being near the land of the Scourge again put the fear of death back in her heart. It had been years since she had left, hoping never to return. Now, she was on a mission with no thought but to keep moving forward. One death knight isn’t impossible to capture, she thought to herself. But this one has put her lot in with the new Lich King. If I am not careful, I could end up a prisoner of one with total control over me. Despite her cautious ponderings, Brinnea marched onward toward the ominous, grim gates in the distance. As she drew up on the gates, doubt crept into her like a creeping plant in a ray of sunlight. Instinctively, she felt for the blade at her hip. The feel of the leather-wrapped steel hilt reassured her only a little, but it was enough. Icy blue eyes from every angle watched as she entered the sanctum of the Scourge. A pair of skeletal knights bearing the Lich King’s standard stood in her path at the pinnacle of the Citadel entrance’s stairs. One, or perhaps both at once, spoke to her, “What business have you in the Citadel, Ebon Knight?” Brinnea stood at her full height, pushing any hint of reluctance or emotion of any sort from her visage. Thusly donned, she replied. “I seek one of my order,” she said. “Laurana Corman. She arrived some months ago, alone as I am.” The guards spoke without hesitation, “The one you seek lies within, but is no longer of your order, Ebon Knight. She has returned to the path of the Scourge.” Brinnea nearly betrayed a hint of surprise. Desperation can lead people to the oddest of decisions, but to return to the Scourge willingly? I must be careful with this one. She spoke again, acting unnerved by the news, “Precisely why I must speak with her. The Knights wish to know why she has betrayed her vows to the Deathlord, and I am here to learn such. Grant me passage, and I will be gone all the sooner.” She tried to exert her unholy power over them, to bend their dark souls to her will. Anything to make this conversation end. The guards’ bare skulls regarded her with ominous grins. They replied, “You have no power here, Ebon Knight. Your every move is watched and judged by the Master. Do not betray our peace, or you will beg for mercy long before your soul is scattered on the cosmic winds. You have been warned. Now enter, and conclude your business quickly.” They stepped aside in perfect unison, and the gates began to peel open slowly. The screech of metal and ice scraped down Brinnea’s spine as she strode confidently toward the maw of evil she had entered in the darkest of waking nightmares. A measly skeletal figure awaited her within the gates, which shut ominously behind her after she entered. The skeleton chattered at her as she approached, “Brinnea Velmon. Follow me. Your fellow knight awaits in the educating hall.” The death knight followed the undead minion wordlessly, keeping her head stuck straight ahead no matter what menacing shapes moved out of the corners of her eyes. When the pair at last arrived in the educating halls, a familiar scene played before her eyes. A floating, robed lich with its skeletal face, boney hands, and cold aura, cast its freezing gaze upon a room of freshly dug up corpses with the same blue glow to their eyes. The instructor shouted whispers at the unwilling listeners. Their heads would be filling with visions of the Lich King’s ideal world: a world of unending. A world without war or death or disparity. It always seemed a bleak, lonely vision for the world to Brinnea, but on some days, it seemed to make sense. Even now, she wondered if everyone would be better off without freedom. Your flesh is a weakness, a voice echoed in her mind. Brinnea realized she was staring into the lich’s eyes. She shook off the spell with great effort, leaving her hunched over and shaking. She had nearly forgotten how hard it was to resist the Scourge’s magic here, in the icy heart of the Lich King’s domain. The skeleton lifted a stark finger bone at a black-haired beauty of a woman adorned with the armor of a Scourge knight. Her pale, flawless complexion was perfectly still, and fixated on the instructor. She seemed to be hanging on every dark word the lich was saying. Brinnea pictured herself sitting there in Laurana’s place. It hadn’t been that long since she actually had. She composed herself, regaining her posture and stepped forward into the hall. None of the students’ unblinking eyes even registered her presence as she walked past them. She stopped alongside Laurana’s bench and moved to place a hand on her shoulder. Before she could, the apparently mesmerized woman snatched Brin’s hand by the wrist and held it away from her shoulder. “I know why you’re here,” Laurana said plainly, her icy voice sharp as steel. Brinnea snatched her hand back with some difficulty. “Laurana Corman,” she replied carefully, “The Knights of the Ebon Blade have wondered at your disappearance.” Before she could continue, the other woman stood and snatched the sword from her belt and held the tip just a finger’s length from her eye. The other undead never so much as glanced their way. Brin held up her hands defensively. Laurana glared at her. “You’ll never take me back to that hell, alive or dead. I’d rather give up my soul than live as that woman’s slave!” Brinnea calmly spoke, “What about your son, Laurana?” The black-haired woman gritted her teeth and deepened her scowl. Brin continued, “August, was it? How could you just leave him back there all alone? I’ve seen what she does to them, you know I have.” Laurana snarled back at her, “My son was all I had left in the world! I loved him more than anything, but no amount of love can make what she made us do right. I did what I had to do to escape. You would do the same if you had any sense.” Brinnea closed her eyes. Charlotte’s weeping face filled her mind in the endless void of dark. There’s no way in hell this woman is damning my daughter. Her eyes fluttered open, regarding the black-haired death knight with scorn. She said calmly, “I’m gonna break your arms first. Then your legs. Then I’ll drag you by your useless limbs back to hell with me. Because I will do anything for my daughter. That’s a promise.” Laurana moved to pierce Brin’s eye with the blade, but she had been ready for that. She turned her head to the side, allowing the blade to slide harmlessly across her icy skin, as hard as steel. Then she smashed Laurana’s sword arm with a fist just as hard, shattering bone under the fierce strike. The black-haired death knight growled as the blade slipped from her grasp. With a flick of her finger, the sword wriggled to life and flew at Brin’s eye. She shielded herself with an arm and kicked at Laurana’s leg, cracking her knee with a precise blow. Her opponent fell to her knees, but refused to cease fighting. She channeled her runic power, taking control of Brinnea with dark tendrils like puppet strings. She could feel her blood, bones, and skin tugged sharply backwards by an invisible force. Brinnea took a deep breath, and focused all her power into her lungs. With a long, bellowing exhale, she cast a frigid cone of frozen air at her opponent, and in moments she felt the tug of her spell loosen. When the frosty mist cleared, Laurana was frozen solid, and Brinnea stood before her surrounded on all sides by Scourge. She gritted her teeth. No way out of this one, it seems. But the undead did not advance. That’s when she noticed the fel green portal opening beside her. Cynthia stepped out from it, her golden eyes arrogantly cast out into the crowd of icy undead. The wrathguard Morkoreth and the Inquisitor Envious followed closely behind her. The Scourge instructor spat a curse and shouted, “How did you get in this sanctum, wretched servant of the Burning Legion?!” Cynthia gestured from Morkoreth to the frozen death knight, and the wrathguard dragged her into the portal while the undead continued to gape. She then turned to the lich and replied, “I have my methods, hmm. Your master has been rather busy of late, I must say. It would not do for knowledge of his actions to fall into the wrong hands, now would it?” The lich glared back, its skinless face aglow with cold rage. “You arrogant warlock!” it barked at Cynthia. “You think the Lich King is afraid of the mortal races of this world? While they divide themselves so fruitlessly in a war against your kind?” Cynthia smiled back at her. “Oh, I know he is, hmm. After what happened to his predecessor, I am more than certain he would be displeased to have the eye of the Light’s champions shine back on Icecrown. Perhaps it is inevitable, but that process can be sped up, for certain. Or, you let me go, and take no vengeance for this intrusion. That way, both our enemies shall be all the weaker. There is no need for past wrongdoings to bring us at odds at so inopportune a time, hmm?” For a long, tense moment, Brin stood stock-still, waiting for the lich to reply. The tall, cold figure floated silently, its empty blue eye sockets fixed on Cynthia’s bright gold eyes. At long last, the lich said, “The master has deigned to grant your request, witch. Begone before he revokes this generosity.” Cynthia simply nodded, and motioned for Brin to follow through the portal. As the dark, azure halls of the Icecrown Citadel with its frozen, palid servants slid out of view in place of the oppressively hot, verdant wasteland of Felsoul Hold, Brinnea couldn’t help but think, I honestly cannot tell which is worse.
  14. “Uuughh, come on already!” Charlotte groaned loudly, her focus slipping. A glyph flickered dimly on the ground beside her bed. She sighed in exasperation and threw her hands in the air before falling back on her bed with a thump. She covered herself with her sheets and choked back tears of frustration. Grandpa showed me how to do it, she thought bitterly. Why can’t I do it? For four days, she had struggled just to ignite the summoning glyph she had drawn. She had drawn it from memory using a fiery hand spell she knew well enough. The soot and sparks hand singed her hand for all her efforts, and she still couldn’t get the glyph to light up completely. She had decided to find a way to get out of the room over a week ago, after August had snuck off back wherever he had come from. If he could sneak around the halls, maybe they could get out together. That was the hope, anyway. Charlotte had hoped to summon a helper from the Firelands like her grandpa had showed her to impress August when he came back. If he came back. Why can’t things just go right for once? She heard the door to her room open and shut. Her heart skipped a beat. August! She leapt out of her bed excitedly, wincing when her back stung from the sudden movement. The doglike boy shied back into the shadows timidly when she moved suddenly. Charlotte’s face beamed at him, and that seemed to calm him down somewhat. The boy placed something on the ground in front of him. The red-haired girl cocked her head curiously. “What is it?” she asked, taking a few careful steps forward. August nudged it toward her a bit with his hand. As it slid into the magic candlelight, Charlotte saw its leather-bound surface clearly. “Toe,” August said plainly. Charlotte snickered, holding the back of her hand to her mouth. The boy looked at her curiously. When she had composed herself, she replied, “That’s a tome, silly. Where’d you find it?” August sniffed the air for a moment before saying, “Room. Treasure.” Charlotte’s eyes widened. Treasure! Granny must be a treasure hunter like a mean dragon from Sister Friede’s stories. She bent over and carefully lifted the tome, reading the title in the dim light. “A Beginner’s Guide to Incantations,” it read. Charlotte glanced back at the worgen boy. “This is really nice, August.,” she said cheerfully, smiling when the boy blushed bashfully. “But how’d you know I needed it?” August pointed at the glyph on the ground behind Charlotte. “Circles. Magic.” The young redhead raised an eyebrow at the boy. “Have you been watching me while I sleep?” August’s ears drooped shamefully as he nodded. Charlotte continued, “Ok, that’s weird. But still, it was nice of you. You wanna see what I’m doing?” The boy looked more uplifted when she offered to demonstrate. The two of them spent the next few hours poring through the tome, looking at various spells they could use to escape. When August finally said, “Must go. Now,” Charlotte looked at him questioningly. “Where do you go, August? Do you have a room like the rest of us? How do you get out?” The boy crawled to the door, swinging it open with a quick pull. He turned back to say, “Fast. Like Mother. Not brave, like father.” It was the most words at once Charlotte had heard from him so far. After staring into his sharp yellow eyes for a moment, Charlotte gasped as he seemed to dissolve into the darkness outside the hall, and the door shut. Shanoris Fargaze had never felt so glad to be blind. There had to be over a hundred corpses of her kin scattered across the glen that had been the center of the village burning all around her. Gilnean soldiers milled about, searching for flesh to devour. The demon hunter had been returning from her mission to spread the word of danger regarding Felsoul to the Illidari. Now, it seemed she was out of a job again. The Gilneans that had requested her services were all dead. Esmerra Blackmane, a woman that Shanoris had respected greatly for her youthful zeal and passion to help others, was scattered about in pieces not far from the tent where they had last spoken. It was no question as to who had done all of this. Velmon. Esmerra was right to fear her. The elf tightened her grip on her warglaives, her concentration set on the south, toward Suramar. Cynthia Blackmane and Brinnea Velmon both will feel retribution soon.
  15. ((WARNING: More gross scenes and naughty language.)) A ghoulish figure hunched over a limp corpse, tearing and consuming bloody flesh from its bones greedily. All around, smoke billowed from burning huts and other bodies met the same gruesome fate as the one at the ghoul’s feet. The panicked and horrified screams of the elven villagers had long since died out, and the demonic invaders had moved on, leaving the undead to themselves. A shadow flashed from the nearby brush. The ghoul grunted, looking up from its meal, sniffing the air curiously. An axe fell upon its head, splitting it down the middle with a soft crunch. The axe withdrew just as quickly as it had fallen, its owner staying low to avoid attracting the other ghouls. The troll shaman examined the half-eaten, legless corpse the ghoul had coveted, recognizing her only by the half-consumed crest on her chest. Lady Esmerra Blackmane’s flesh had been stripped from her, head to stumped legs, as if the undead had mauled her all at once. The rumors about her bearing the worgen curse had turned out to be true, as well. Kazarak snarled under his breath. Damn it! Curse my rotten luck… The troll had spent months stalking the Broken Isles to find where his captors had gotten off to, in the hopes of reclaiming the honor they had stripped from him. Now in the span of two weeks, he had found two of them, and lost his chance at both. Kaz thought he heard a growl in the near distance, and looked up from the dead Gilnean noble to search for any approaching undead. He saw none coming his way. Then something tugged at his leggings and he jolted to his feet. The formerly lifeless body was now moaning and clawing at Kaz with a hand that was more sinew than skin. The troll scoffed. At least I get the satisfaction of putting you down. He twirled the axe in his hand playfully before clubbing the worgen with the blunt edge. He smashed her into the ashen ground, striking her head over and over until it was a red puddle and his forearm was drenched. He rolled his left shoulder with discomfort. Still not used to this. He looked at the stump on his right side, silently lamenting the loss of his arm. Shaking off the regrets, he stuck his axe back on his belt and searched the body until he found what he was looking for: a pale stone with inactive runes. The troll grinned, feeling his luck turn around. She kept it on her person, but the runes are dark. She must not have gotten it to wake for her. The tabard is sure to be around somewhere, as well. He took another look around at the ruined village, the fel fires still burning the surrounding forest. A tree snapped and fell over with a mighty crash somewhere to the west. Kaz scratched the back of his head, grimacing. Or perhaps I speak to soon. In any case, I got the more important piece. Whoever took my kill is in for a world of hurt. He stood to go search for the skull-emblazoned tabard the wolf-witch had stolen from him. The room was black as pitch. Silent, it was, to those without the aptitude to hear the truth. The black-haired warlock with the eyes of burning gold sat with her thighs resting on her calves. Her hands rested atop the silky green fabric that pulsed heat like a heartbeat. Cynthia’s intense eyes were fixated on the empty sockets of her skull artifact. Whispers weaved a web in her mind, cold and soothing. A vision shimmered in her mind’s eye, slowly drifting into focus amid the void. A lone man, chained by a thousand bindings hooked into his flesh like a macabre art piece. He was a shadow on a slashed white background. The wails of agony he emitted curled even Cynthia’s resilient will. He breaks. But not easily. Cynthia stepped into the vision, approaching the imprisoned man, whose image flickered like a candlight as she drew closer. The figure lifted his head, regarding Cynthia with her own golden eyes. He exclaimed in a voice without breath. Cynthia flashed a smug smile at him. “Oh? Happy to see me, hmm?” The figure’s eyes were wide and his mouth agape with delirious idiocy. Cynthia snickered. “Well, I have some news for you, child. Your daughter, Esmerra? She’s dead. By Brinnea Velmon’s own hand, no less, hmm.” The man continued to stare stupidly. Cynthia rolled her eyes. “You put too much faith in that girl, boy. She was useful, of course, but not in the way you intended. She makes a fine widow for my collection. Do you even understand my words, hmm? Is there even an ounce of yourself left in this vessel?” The prisoner gave her no answer but to moan weakly. The chains clinked all around Cynthia. They felt far too much like a cage around her for comfort. She whipped her dress about as she turned away from the pitiful sight. “You may have betrayed me, boy, but you are my son, after all. I believe you are in there somewhere, and I will enjoy finding you so we can start this over again. For now, I must leave you. Have fun with your eternal punishment, hmm.” The vision faded, and in the same instant, the door to Cynthia’s chamber slid open, bathing the room with a rectangle of light from outside. Cynthia’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “Why do you interrupt my meditation, hmm?” she questioned the intruder. A bold voice rich with the accent of the jungle trolls replied, “The death knight has returned. She stands in the hall, awaiting your presence, milady.” Cynthia sighed, brushing off her dress as she lifted herself to her feet gracefully. Her skull floated up to remain at eye-level, still softly whispering in the back of her mind. Naavi stood in the doorway, her posture straight and her face hard as stone, gazing at Cynthia as if she weren’t even there. The warlock drifted to her servant on light feet, placing a hand on the troll’s arm intimately. “There’s something on your mind, Naavi, hmm. I can always tell. Spit it out, girl. What’s distracting you?” The troll reluctantly spoke, “The other knight still hasn’t come back.” Cynthia tsked at the troll. “I know as much, hmm. But there is something else, isn’t there? Come now, don’t hold it back on my account.” Naavi drew a breath in through her nose and out through the mouth, responding, “It’s the anniversary.” Cynthia’s eyes went wide. “Ah,” she said, “I’d forgotten. How many years has it been, three? Time sure flies when we have fun, eh girl?” The trolless seemed unamused, her mind still adrift. Cynthia released her grip. “Come, let us join dear Brinnea. She has quite a tale for us, if my spies are any good at their jobs.” Brinnea tapped her foot impatiently, a finger tapping on her waist. She half-expected to tap the hilt of the dagger she had carried, but the troll Naavi had taken it away the moment Brin had entered the Hold. She’s quick and quiet. A dangerous one, her. And not the sort to leave anything to chance. Not that the dagger could have helped her situation anyway, but Brinnea was already missing the comfort of carrying a blade on her person. At last, Naavi re-emerged from the bowels of the Hold, with the witch close behind her. The troll sulked off to the side of Cynthia’s chair, keeping her spear pointed at the flying demons above. Brinnea tried to forget they hovered overhead. Cynthia took a seat in her chair, that skull of hers levitating by her shoulder as she addressed Brinnea. “Welcome home, Brin,” she said cheerfully. “I trust your mission was a success, hmm?” The death knight nodded, hardly daring to look up at the witch’s eyes. “I scouted the camp and found them weak enough to attack. I signaled for the demons and killed the leader,” she reported the attack concisely. Cynthia seemed disappointed. “Ah, but that isn’t all, is it? Did you see someone you knew there?” Brinnea scowled at the floor. Cynthia continued smugly, “Someone once close to you perhaps?” The death knight exhaled sharply before replying, “They were led by Esmerra Blackmane. But I’m sure you already knew as much.” The witch chuckled softly. “You’re learning, hmm! I see everything, dear.” Brinnea still refused to make eye contact, but she managed to say, “I wanted to ask if I could see Charlotte. I did all you asked and more.” The witch’s cheerful demeanor shifted into a more threatening one. “No. You do not ask anything of me, hmm. You do as you are told, and you receive what reward I deem fit for the task. Today, you have earned a pair of plate boots. Keep up the good work.” Cynthia stood and made to leave. Naavi tossed a pair of boots in Brinnea’s direction as the knight gaped at the warlock angrily. Cynthia didn’t even look at her. The troll gestured for her to take her boots and move for the dungeons. On their way back to her cell, Brin spoke to the troll, “How can you bear to work for that vile woman?” Before she even knew what happened, Brinnea found herself pinned up against the wall with a knife at her throat. The same knife she had carried on her mission previously. Naavi’s green eyes were uncomfortably close to Brinnea’s icy blues as the two stared each other down. The troll broke the tense silence first, “Do not speak ill of the Mistress if you feel like staying alive.” She eased back on the knife and shoved Brinnea roughly down the hallway. “Keep walking. Silently.” Brinnea’s cell slammed shut, leaving her with her limited space, and a new pair of boots. Actually, they were a used pair, still covered in blackened stains from whatever poor sod had had them on last. Brinnea set them aside as best as she could in the cramped space and gave Vemynisa a sad look. The Draenei looked slightly relieved, but otherwise as steely as always. “Welcome back, Brinnea. I see you were successful.” “Yes,” Brin seethed. “Successful at killing a lot of people, some of which I cared about. All for a pair of boots. Hoo-fucking-ray.” Vemynisa looked surprised by Brinnea’s outburst, and at a loss for words. She curled up a bit more in her cage and looked at her hooves. From behind Brinnea, Kyrande said, “Hey, go easy on Vemy, Brinnea. She doesn’t understand emotions the same way we do. And those people you killed didn’t just die for some boots. You know that.” Brin turned to look at the elf with a scowl on her face. “That’s the most I’ve heard you say since I got here, Kyrande. Yes, I know why I did what I did, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m sorry to you, Vemynisa, I didn’t mean to upset you, but Kyrande, I need to ask you something.” The Draenei perked up a bit at Brinnea’s words, but she said nothing. The elf looked up with a confused and defensive expression. “What?” she asked rudely. Brinnea replied, “Do you even still want to leave this place, or have you so given up that you don’t even feel anything anymore?” The elf looked surprised, and abashed. “I—um…,” she stammered. Brinnea cut her off, “For a while, I thought there was no hope left. But look at us! There are dozens of us here, every one a survivor. I’m not giving up on us, and I won’t let you give up on each other.” Kyrande, Vemynisa, and most of the other Widows looked up from their sorrow over at Brinnea. She recognized something in their eyes. Barely a flicker, but it was still there, lying in wait. Hope. They haven’t lost it, and neither have I. “We are getting out of this hell together. That’s a Light-damned promise.”
  16. ((WARNING: Graphic scenes, violence, and suggestive themes)) “You get orders from on high yet, there, Dav?” a voice thick with the accent of Gilneas spoke casually. “Yup. Increasin’ security on the southern border again. I say it again, Blackmane’s paranoid. No demon’s ever come up this far north since the druids got ahold o’ things again.” The guards stood a shoulder’s length apart, leaning on the wall of an elven hut. Around the corner, a hooded figure lay on a bench, apparently sleeping. Brinnea had noted the guard’s movements the day prior and deigned to take position on the bench to catch any conversation shared between the morning shift. From past experience, she found them to be the most talkative. The pair speaking now hadn’t said anything interesting for the last half hour, but this grabbed Brin’s attention immediately. Blackmane. Only one person that could be. “I dunno, there, Dav,” the funnier talking guard replied, “Jenson’s been spreadin’ tales about more demons poppin’ up in that Hold they were at the other week. Some new commander or somethin’, there.” The straight-talker scoffed before replying, “Jenson’s one o’ the ‘inner circle,’ though. Blackmane’s got the bug in all o’ ‘em. You should’a learned a thing or two by now, Bobby. We’re the common folk, can’t reach too high without getting’ your fingers stepped on.” Brinnea stood from her bench. Her good hand went to her knife instinctively. “Jenson’s always thought I was an okay guy, though,” Bobby argued without a hint of rudeness in his tone, “B’sides, it pays to get ahead, you know. Like, uh, Miss Blackmane always says at her speeches—“ “Initiative pays more than gold,” Brinnea interjected. Dav and Bobby spun about, their eyes widening at the knife in Brinnea’s hands. Dav fumbled for his weapon. The death knight kicked the sword hilt sharply, sending the steel back into its sheath, and its owner stumbling. She moved quick, grabbing the guard around the throat with her forearm before putting her knife to his throat. She glared at Bobby, her eyes glowing dangerously. “Drop your sword,” she said sharply. Dav shook his head with a grimace on his grizzled face. Bobby gave him an apologetic look and unsheathed his blade with his off-hand, dropping the weapon at his feet. Brinnea sidestepped into the shadows. The night elven village was small, and the elven populace was not one to be out and about at this time of day, but it was better to be careful. “What do you want?” Dav asked carefully, his hands held away from his sword belt in a surrendering motion. Brinnea replied, her voice level for the first time in weeks, “Tell me where to find Esmerra Blackmane.” Esmerra leaned back in her wooden chair, right arm sore from writing. She sighed relief, finally finished composing the last in a lengthy series of reply letters. Her allies in Stormwind were happy to help track down the rogue death knight, they had said. However, their forces were spread thin fighting the Legion, and they could not spare more than a pittance of troops to hunt for her. Each of their replies had gone that way. Esmerra rubbed her temples, taking deep breaths to temper her frustration. The fools don’t understand the danger of leaving her alive out there. Not one of them even acknowledged the new threat in Felsoul Hold, either. They all think I’m paranoid. Or that this is some personal vendetta. Not for the first time, she wondered if they were right. Was she overly concerned about this? With Suramar’s power waning, and the Legion’s allies in the Broken Isles beaten into their shadowy corners, the demons’ hold on Azeroth was slipping fast. Even if Cynthia was a dangerous foe, it was only a matter of time before she would be forced to flee, or surrender. Brinnea Velmon would go the same way. The flaps of her tent whipped open suddenly, sending a jolt through the stressed druid’s body. She groped for her staff before realizing it was only her first guard, Sir Doyle Wolfcrest. He stood at attention before her, but the old knight’s stoic face betrayed a sense of worry that he did not often wear. He spoke frantically, “Lady Esmerra, the Legion’s begun an attack from the south! Our scouts never even saw them coming, and there are infernals raining from above! The troops rally to face the threat head-on.” Esmerra’s face drooped in disappointment. Despite herself, she felt somewhat relieved it was only the demons attacking, and not the vengeful death knight. Don’t be an idiot, Blackmane! The demons must never be discounted as a threat. She stood, grabbing her staff in an elegant motion. Her doubts had been shaken away. “I will lead them myself,” she said confidently. It wouldn’t be the first time she led troops against the Legion. “Gather a detachment of your swiftest riders and disperse into the town. The elves must be taken to the barrow and kept safe. Watch over them carefully, Doyle.” The knight looked ready to argue, no doubt concerned for Esmerra’s safety, but he thought better of it, saying, “It will be done,” and about-facing. He moved so quickly, he nearly ran face-first into the elderly Walther, who was entering the tent as Doyle moved to exit. “Oh!” the old advisor exclaimed. “Oh, it’s just you, Sir Wolfcrest. You gave me a bit of a fright, I must say.” They stepped around one another awkwardly in the small entrance space, Doyle taking extra care not to bump the frailer man with the protruding sword hilt on his belt. Once inside the tent, Walther addressed Esmerra, “My lady, there’s troubling news from the village. A small horde of undead has broken out among the populace. Reports say some of the ghouls bear the Gilnean crest and armor.” The younger Gilnean gaped at the man, her former resolve already slipping away again. She’s here after all. “My lady?” Walther asked with a voice of concern. “We must be on guard now, Walther,” Esmerra said as she moved to exit the tent. She urged the man to follower her, which he did with a confused frown on his face. “Brinnea Velmon is among us.” Sounds of metal crashing against metal and screams of horror filled the air all around Brinnea as she sprinted from one wooden hut to the next, keeping low and out of sight of the nearby Gilnean riders. The horsemen began to disperse into the village, which was overrun with dozens of ghouls the death knight had raised from the corpses of the guards she killed. The first two had reluctantly told her where Esmerra’s command tent was stationed. They were the first ghouls she had raised to create this panic, covering her tracks. The elves will be fine so long as the Gilneans do their jobs, Brinnea reassured herself. It wasn’t the first time she had attacked a village without an apparent reason, but the death knight cast her doubts away and focused on why she was really here. The oversized tent bearing the grim colors of Gilneas and the icon of the royal crown alongside the black wolf of the House Blackmane sat just beyond the edge of the forest-bound town’s border. Brinnea couldn’t see Esmerra anywhere. She moved to run for the tent once all the riders had gone past into the town center. Suddenly, a javelin flew past her head, nearly staking her through the eye. Sir Doyle Wolfcrest sat upon his armored horse across from her, formerly out of sight behind the hut she had sprinted around. The knight drew his sword and readied a shield on his off-hand and kicked his steed into a charge. Brinnea’s body tensed and loosened all at once. She reached behind her, using a tendril of shadow to grab the weapon that had nearly ended her life, and pulled it to her hand. Just as Doyle reached her, she lifted the javelin to the horse’s eye-level and let momentum do the rest of the work. The weapon cracked from the impact, and before Doyle ever got within sword-swinging distance, his horse crumpled to the ground with the head of his javelin stuck in its eye. Brinnea moved quickly, taking the dagger Naavi had given her from her belt. Doyle was trapped under his mount, his shield-arm bent at an odd angle from the fall. He desperately tugged at his sword-arm, still trapped under the dead horse. Brinnea never gave him a chance. “Murderer!” the knight shouted with his last breath. The death knight’s blade plunged past the opened visor on his helm into his eye socket with an oozing, crunching sound. With a swift motion, Brinnea pulled the blade out, trailing blood and brain matter along with it. She heard a shout off to her right somewhere, before being launched into the air with a powerful blow. She landed roughly on her tailbone, summersaulting backwards before regaining her footing. Across from her with wide, angry eyes was Esmerra Blackmane, her hand still glowing with moonfire. She was accompanied by Walther, her old advisor, and three Gilnean guardsmen. Brinnea’s cloak had caught fire, so she whipped it off her body quickly. The spell had impacted on her chest, and had probably burned her badly, possibly broken a few bones as well. Brinnea didn’t care; she didn’t feel any of it. All her focus was on the woman before her. “You couldn’t be content with those you already killed, could you, Brinnea?!” Esmerra shouted, her voice full of venom. Brinnea snarled at her, “It’s your turn now, murderous bitch!” The druid’s whole body flared with moonfire as she changed form into a worgen. She drew her hand back as if to throw everything she had at the death knight. Brinnea and Esmerra roared. The death knight stretched her hand out, and in a flash the two women’s hands were connected by a long strand of inky blackness. Brinnea tugged Esmerra’s casting hand downwards. At the druid’s feet, light flashed brightly, blinding everyone around. Yells of pain were barely audible above the din of Esmerra’s great spell. The earth split under its force, and dust billowed where it had landed. Brinnea moved through the dust briskly, knife at the ready. She found where the druid had stood; all that remained were four charred bodies of the men standing around the druid, and Esmerra herself, laying in a puddle of blood and a pile of gore that was once her legs. The young Gilnean still gasped for air, the stumps of her legs gushing blood fast. She still appeared as a worgen. Brinnea heard a story that when worgen perished, they revealed their true forms at last, no longer able to hold back what they truly were. The death knight gazed at her with a satisfied smile. “If there is any justice in this world, you will find only suffering in the next world,” Brinnea said callously. The druid drew a deep breath, and managed to gasp a few raspy words. “Is…Charlotte…worth all this? All this…death? Sadness?” Brinnea frowned at the girl still clinging to life. “Yes,” she replied. “I will slaughter whoever I have to if it means she has a chance to live free.” Esmerra’s face was drenched in tears now. That struck Brinnea. It was so easy to forget Esmerra was still nineteen years of age. She was so young, and yet capable of as much hate as Brinnea. The druid spat at her, “Your mother…would be ashamed…of you.” Brinnea hand tightened around the hilt of her knife. Using every ounce of willpower, she turned away. More shadowy tendrils spiked from her maimed hand, grasping at the nearby bodies. Brinnea listened as they groaned their way back into the realm of the living, and gave them one silent command: Eat. She stayed put until the sound of Esmerra’s screams died out.
  17. Charlotte sniffled, curling herself into a ball in the corner of her room in Granny Letta’s Barrow. The room, made largely of polished tree wood, was dimly lit by a magic light floating at the center of the ceiling, casting shadows on the walls that disturbed the red-haired girl’s already unpleasant thoughts. Granny Letta, the goat lady who watched Charlotte and the other kids, had brought her back here from the dark green place in the south that smelled similar to the plagued lands Charlotte had grown up in, only with the smell of a fireplace burning rotten wood mixed in. Another jolt of pain sent a shiver up the girl’s spine. She winced and choked down a squeak. Granny’s ointment burned like hot pokers, but the old lady had promised it would make the pain go away faster. “You see, dear,” Granny Letta had said, spreading the stinging white cream on the girl’s back, “Your mama doesn’t love you anymore. Only Granny does. Granny Letta will take good care of you, I promise.” Her voice sounded sweet, but Charlotte knew she was lying. Granny’s friends with the mean lady with the green dress, she thought to herself bitterly. And mama would never hurt me unless she had to. She didn’t even want to! Stupid, mean Granny! She winced again. Too much squirming caused more pain. Earlier, she had tried lying in the down feather bed in the center of the circular room, just under the light, but she couldn’t lay in a way that wouldn’t upset her back. She had ended up on the floor, but she couldn’t remember how long it had been. Suddenly, the door to her room opened, and just as suddenly shut again. Charlotte sprang up to her feet, adrenaline dulling the pain. The shadows and the flickering light made it difficult to tell if there was anyone in the room. She put her back against the wall and called out in a voice weak from crying, “Wh-who’s there? Don’t you dare try to scare me, I know magic!” From the shadows, a small boy crawled on all fours, staring up at her with bright yellow eyes. They looked fierce and scary, but also a little frightened as well. They reminded her of a squirrel when cornered, trying to look strong when it was an act. At least, that’s what Sister Friede had taught her when the dwarf had taken care of her in the plagualands orphanage. There was something else peculiar about the boy, as well. Fur jutted from his ears like from a dog’s. He cocked his head at her like a curious puppy as well. Charlotte lifted a hand slowly. The boy flinched as if she was going to throw a spell at him, but she only waved, and he calmed down. “Hi,” she said to him softly, “I’m Charlotte. What’s your name?” The boy opened his mouth, mimicking the motion of Charlotte’s as if the words were unfamiliar. Then, he replied slowly, “Arr-rrgh. Aagh-August. August.” Charlotte’s eyes lit up. He’s like a puppy-boy. Or a boy-dog? Well, whatever he is, he’s cute. She took a step forward carefully, keeping her hands outstretched like Sister Friede had shown her. “August. That’s a nice name. Are you a human boy? I’ve never seen another human with eyes or fur like yours.” “War—Worgen. August, Worgen,” the boy said, lifting his head to sniff at Charlotte’s hand as she got closer. The girl felt a hint of pain, but it seemed distant now. She was too excited to feel down about herself now. “Oh,” she said happily, “I read about Worgen. You can change shape into a wolf, but with two legs and two hands like a human. I heard elves were the first worgen, but most of the ones seen nowadays are from up north, where my papa’s from.” The boy’s ears twitched oddly when she said ‘papa.’ He made an odd sound like a dog’s whimper and put his head under his hands. Charlotte put a hand to her mouth. “Oh no, I’m sorry! You lost your papa?” The boy nodded. His eyes welled up with tears. Charlotte knelt down beside him and pet his jet-black hair. “I knew a lot of kids who lost their papas. I lost mine, but he came back. Maybe yours will come back too?” August looked at her hopefully. She smiled and rustled his hair playfully. “Yeah, I’m sure your papa’s looking out for you still! That’s what they do. I bet he’ll come find you any day.” “Pr-promise?” the boy said suddenly. Charlotte smiled warmly and wrapped the boy up in a hug. He looked rather shocked at that. “Yeah, I promise!” Brinnea had been in her cell for weeks by now. The daily routine of food delivery had become the only way to tell the passage of time now. She had counted a dozen visits, once a day by her first count. In that time, she had become more and more jittery. She hadn’t killed anything in nearly two weeks and it was beginning to weigh on her. A death knight must claim life, cause pain, in order to sustain the dark magic that granted them life. The longer she went without doing so, the more she felt the urge to kill. To try and keep her mind off it, she had spent her time meditating as she had learned in Pandaria, and when that failed utterly, she talked to her neighbors. To her left was a Draenei priestess named Vemynisa. She was a hardfaced straight talking woman with a mind for logistics and numbers. She was everything Brinnea wasn’t, but they got along alright given the circumstances. To the right was a night elf with downcast eyes that spoke of a time when she had been proud of herself. Vemynisa had introduced her as Kyrande Fargaze, a Warden. Both of the woman had had their husbands murdered before their eyes, and their children kidnapped. Vemynisa was missing her young daughter Rhyanisa, and Kyrande, despite rarely speaking, eventually spoke of her son Delruin. Brinnea told them about Charlotte as well; it was only fair, after all. The more she spoke of her, the more she felt desperate to get out of the cell and do something. Anything. Over the last twelve days, Vemynisa had told her about how things were run in the Hold. The Widows were used when Cynthia requested their use for a special mission. These ranged from scouting territories and reporting defenses to the Legion without getting caught in the act, to assassinating key military and political figures to reduce the Azerothian resistance. Every successful mission earned the Widow in question a certain reward, chosen by Cynthia, that fit the difficulty of the mission. Gear, clothing, luxury items, greater portions of food, and so on, could all be rewarded. Greater still, a truly life-risking mission could be rewarded by a visit with the Widow’s child. Normally brief, an hour at maximum, but these visits were what they all truly longed for. Vemynisa had yet to earn that right, but she had heard of those that did. An orc woman, Roggra Strongaxe, had gotten a chance to see her son after performing a task she had only spoken of once. Vemynisa hinted it had something to do with a betrayal against the Horde more heinous than any could recover from. Vemynisa had also mentioned what happened if a Widow should fail to complete a task, or try to escape. They were dragged back and forced to maim their child until Cynthia was satisfied. If they would not comply, Cynthia used her Nathrazim Skull to bend them to her will. The child usually did not survive that, and the Widow never survived after the child was dead. Brinnea recalled the skull in question from Cynthia’s taunting visit in Dalaran months ago. Parigan had been completely unable to resist the skull’s magic. No amount of physical or mental willpower could resist it, at least, not from a mortal body. “It isn’t all powerful,” Vemynisa was telling Brinnea now. “I’ve seen her use it to bend dozens of us at once, but the effects are weaker against more targets. I theorize it has a limit: she cannot control us all at once.” Brinnea perked up somewhat. “Then all of us together could overpower her,” she said, keeping her voice hushed in case a hidden demon was listening. Vemynisa frowned at that, saying, “Even if we managed to get ourselves free, it is highly unlikely we could fight our way through the demons to get to her, all overpower her, and prevent her from harming the children. We would be trapped in Felsoul Hold, terribly under-equipped, and outmatched. Besides, most of the Widows wouldn’t dare risk it if the children were still imprisoned.” “But there is a possibility!” Brinnea exclaimed softly, “We don’t have the luxury of choosing the right moment here, Vemynisa. We have to take what we have.” From her right, Brinnea heard Kyrande speak before Vemynisa could form a response; “It doesn’t matter what we do. The witch owns us now, and she always has something worse in store, no matter how many times we tell ourselves we’ve seen it all.” The death knight faced the Warden with pleading eyes. “You can’t let yourself give up hope, Kyrande! Delruin is counting on you, isn’t he?” “Yes, he is,” the night elf said, “And I can’t let him down by risking his life on a gamble like this. As Vemynisa said, there are few of us who would.” Before Brinnea could say anything, the door to the dungeon opened. Must be time for the food run. Hard to tell since I don’t hunger for it. She was proven wrong when a trolless, not the usual imp servants, walked into view holding an envelope and a spear. Vemynisa had told her about this one. Naavi the Witch-Lover, Kyrande had labeled her. She was a huntress of the Darkspear who had lost her husband and children to the Kor’kron. By the time Cynthia got to her, Naavi had already given up all hope. She had surrendered herself to the witch without any need of coercion or threatening. The other Widows spoke of her only with bitterness and hatred. Brinnea saw in her eyes the same desperation she saw in the rest of the Widows. The troll stood before Brinnea’s cell and looked the death knight in the eyes, slipping the envelope through the bars. It fell onto Brinnea’s lap with a dull thwip. As Brinnea opened it, Naavi unlocked the cell and gestured for her to exit, keeping a distance away with her spear at the ready. Inside the envelope was a list of instructions written out in common. · Scout Gilneas Brigade camp in southern Val’sharah. · If defenses are susceptible to immediate attack, send signal using flare enclosed. · If defenses are not susceptible to immediate attack, report strongest and weakest flanks, supply counts, number of active units, special units including healers and spellcasters, and leaders to Felsoul Hold. · Do not become compromised. · Do not jeopardize the Sisterhood. · Do not attempt to escape. Brinnea held the flare mentioned in her hand as she stepped from the cell. Once she had read through it, and looked at Naavi expectantly, the troll poked through the paper with her spear and held it over a torch in a nearby sconce. The paper caught fire and burnt quickly, then Naavi led the death knight outside. As they exited, she looked back at Vemynisa and Kyrande. The Draenei gave her a look as if she were trying to remember what Brinnea looked like. Kyrande gazed at her sadly before shaking her head. Once at the edge of the Hold’s corruption, Naavi tossed a knife into the grass. “Take the knife,” she said simply, “You may have need of it.” Then the troll spun around and walked back into the hellish pit. Gilneas, Brinnea thought to herself. How fitting. She picked up the knife and summoned her deathcharger with a flick of the wrist. She mounted up and took off for Val’sharah. Light, I ask no redemption for this. I know I’ll receive none. I only ask mercy for the souls I must doom today. Light, have mercy on them. They know not what comes for them.
  18. ((WARNING: Graphic scenes, violence, and suggestive themes)) Brinnea sat slumped over a stone bench in the Stormwind park, the sun beating down on her hood and casting grim shadows on her face. She stared at her left hand, short three fingers, and lost herself in thought. She had just departed from the General’s office, half-expecting to encounter a band of vengeful Imperial Keepers intent on cutting her down. She had been disappointed on that front. Katelle was far from dead, as well. Brinnea was still wondering if that should make her glad or not. It had been an impossible choice: the deaths of the only people who may still believe in her, or condemning her daughter to the ire of a mad witch. In the end, all she had done was hide in a corner of the General’s room while the woman she had come to murder patted her and told her everything would be alright. Speaking to me as if to a child. She knows what I am. Brinnea thought again on Katelle’s words. “We'll figure something out. We always do.” Words of comfort. Kind words. They were foreign to Brin now. She considered them with only cynicism and suspicion. She was worried for her life, and that of her unborn child. She thinks of me the same as the rest of them. I’m a killer. Something to be feared and reviled. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to look past the false comfort. She fooled herself, again, into believing it was real. The General’s words even made her believe she could save Charlotte and be a mother to her again. Fool! Have you learned nothing? Light, why? Why am I cursed with this wretched hope? Footsteps grew closer to the huddled death knight on the bench. Unconsciously, her hand rested on the hilt of her knife. The approaching figure stopped before her. She lifted her sore gaze up to the silhouetted man, dressed as a commoner out on his business, standing between her and the sun. “Mother says it’s time to come home,” he said plainly. “The girl’s getting impatient. She won’t wait for you much longer.” With that, he carried on as if he had never stopped. Brinnea’s heart sank. She was watching, after all. Nothing to do but return to that hell and beg for Charlotte’s life. Gods, I can’t lose her too! Brinnea’s eyes were glued to the smoothly carved stone within Felsoul Hold’s interior. Ahead, at the end of a long hall, Cynthia sat in a silvery chair of night elven make, gazing at her as a disappointed mother would her disobedient child. Charlotte sat in a similar chair beside her, except it was charred black, an ominous and obvious message that had sent a jolt of fear through the death knight’s chest. The hall was watched by dozens of batlike demons, who drooled and licked their lips staring down at Brin. The wrathguard, Morkoreth, stood vigilant beside the warlock, his mace set under his massive violet hands with the flanged head resting on the floor by his feet. Parigan’s blade, still in halves, was tucked into his belt along with a number of skulls, still dangling flesh off them. The demon must have shed blood lately. The warlock spoke, “You disappoint me, Brinnea. I gave you one simple task: kill the General and her family. Bring me their heads. But you brought me empty hands and the stench of failure. Come closer, will you? I refuse to shout at you from across this hall.” The death knight never lifted her gaze as she walked across the hall, coming to a halt a few paces from Cynthia’s chair. The witch sighed deeply. “Do you understand why I sent you on that task, hmm?” Brinnea simply shook her head. “Tsk, you didn’t think very hard. It was because of the way you acted the other day. You disrespected me in front of the other widows. I can’t have that, hmm. One dissident and the whole order breaks apart. No one would take me seriously after that.” “I apologize, ma’am,” Brinnea forced herself to say, however softly. Cynthia chuckled softly, standing. She placed a hand on Charlotte’s shoulder. The girl flinched, but did not shy away. Brinnea commanded herself not to make a move. “It’s alright, hmm. I’m giving you another chance, see? But first, I have to punish you for this. Charlotte, dear, why don’t you stand up for me?” Brin watched as her daughter stood, her face written with anger at the warlock, who smiled pleasantly down at her. “Very good. Now, take of your belt. Atta girl, hmm.” Cynthia folded the belt over, pulling it tight so it made a loud snap. Brin looked at her with a pleading expression. “Pl-please don’t,” she stammered quietly. “Please don’t.” Cynthia looked at Brin as if confused. She replied, “Me? I’m not doing anything, hmm. Brinny, I want you to really focus now, you’re going to take this belt and whip the skin off your daughter’s back until I tell you to stop.” The death knight stared. She couldn’t do anything. With every fiber of her being, she wanted to take her sword and drive it through Cynthia’s throat. But she couldn’t do it. There was no way she could protect Charlotte after that. They would die, trapped in Felsoul Hold. Cynthia continued, “I understand this is asking a lot, but I need you to do what I said. Now.” Brinnea gaped at her, but said nothing. The witch made an exasperated sound, saying, “What the hell, hmm? Would you rather I had Morkoreth do it for you?” The wrathguard looked unamused with the idea of whipping a small human child, but otherwise didn’t react. Brinnea trembled, barely keeping her feet planted. She stepped forward, and took the belt from Cynthia’s outstretched hand. Charlotte suddenly spoke up, “It’s ok, mama. It’ll be ok.” Brinnea’s eyes welled up with tears. Cynthia tore Charlotte’s shirt, exposing the girl’s pale flesh, prickled with goosebumps. She turned the girl around, giving Brinnea a clear target. The death knight tried to lift the belt in her hand, but nothing happened. Her hand refused to move. Cynthia hovered over her shoulder. “We’re waiting, hmm. Are you going to make me count? Very well, then. Three.” “No, I can’t do this, please give me another chance!” Brinnea begged, her body shivering. Cynthia merely replied by looking her in the eyes, and saying, “Two.” The death knight finally lifted her hand. The belt hung in the air, jittering in her unstill hand. “One!” Brinnea gasped, and let her hand fall. Whip! Charlotte cried out in pain, her frail frame crumpling under the force of the lash. A thin red streak had appeared across the diagonal length of her small, pale back. Brinnea put a hand to her mouth. Tears streamed down her cheeks. What am I doing? This is my daughter! Cynthia scoffed. “A good start, hmm. Again.” Whip! Charlotte was curled in a little ball, sniffling and speaking from the pain. Brin’s chest felt heavy, but she forced herself to lift her hand again when Cynthia said, “Again!” Whip! Blood shot across Brinnea’s face, leaving a streak on her right cheek. “Again!” Whip! “Again!” Whip! “Again!” Whip! By the time Cynthia allowed Charlotte to be taken away by the monstrously grotesque Letraxia, her back was slick with blood. The satyr woman had to carry Charlotte out. Brinnea let the belt fall from her hand. The warlock returned to her chair. “You belong to me, hmm. You will do as told from now on. Never question me, or this will become a routine. Or until the little girl dies from blood loss. You will be shown to a cell, where you will stay until I have use of you. Off you go, hmm.” Brinnea allowed herself to be led to a dungeon beneath the hold’s interior, where dozens of cramped cells lined up, patrolled by felguards with halberds as long as pikes, and the inquisitor Envious. The hooded demon looked her over closely before snapping its fingers, summoning a gang of imps. It issued a series of commands in the demonic tongue before floating away. The imps giggled and set about their work. Brinnea allowed the vile creatures to strip her of her gear and clothing. Her palid and scarred body stood exposed to the acrid air, unbothered by the slight chill. Some of the imps dragged her stuff off while the rest threw a small pile of rags into her arms for her to put on. She made no effort to hurry in covering her nakedness, even as the imps chuckled and licked their lips hungrily. When she had finished dressing, they escorted her to an empty cage beside one occupied by a draenei woman in rags similar to hers. One of the imps locked the cage, trapping Brinnea within, and said, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere unless the boss says so! Ta-ta, dead lady!” With that, the evil little creatures vanished with a puff of smoke, leaving Brinnea alone with the quiet sniffling and hushed cries of the other widows. She put her head in her hands and curled into a ball defensively. I’m a Light-damned monster. I deserve this. Even with this betrayal, Charlotte isn’t giving up on me. I have to carry on for her. If she is ever set free, she can live happy with Katelle and her family. She promised she would. In a heartbeat, she said. Despite herself, she still felt a flicker of hope dimly lit in her heart. But not me. This is what I deserve.
  19. Esmerra stood in her tent, listening to the rain patter on the canvas as her hand trembled and her heart raced. She took deep breaths to calm herself, as the druids of Hyjal had once taught her, but no amount of meditation or focus could ease her guilty conscience. She had convinced herself once that the deception had been for the greater good, it was the only way she could drive herself to act on it every day until now. But now that it was over and done, well, she had hoped to feel released. That death knight was a killer, a murderer, she thought to herself bitterly. She doesn’t deserve my pity. So why am I feeling like this? Before she could muster up an answer, Shanoris entered her tent, blind eyes gazing up at the dark tent’s ceiling. The Illidari cocked her head at Esmerra curiously. “Are you quite alright, my lady?” Esmerra responded immediately, nearly shouting, “I’m fine. What do you want?” The elf raised her eyebrows, but gave no other indication of surprise or offense. She replied, “You did just kill your own brother. I sorta figured you’d need some company to get your mind off of it.” Esmerra made a low growling noise in the back of her throat. “He wasn’t my brother. He was just a rotter who killed my father and brother.” Seeing Shanoris’ sympathetic expression, Esmerra took another deep breath and sat down on her mattress. She gestured for the elf to sit beside her. Shanoris unstrapped her glaives and leaned them against Esmerra’s desk before taking the seat. It was easy to forget the demon hunters were blind with how much they were able to “see” of their surroundings. Even the faintest gesture left some sort of mark they could sense. It made them apt hunters, and excellent judges of character. Esmerra respected Shanoris’ ability to read people. Shanoris spoke up first, putting an arm on Esmerra’s shoulder while she gazed blindly off at a corner of the tent; “I had a sister before I was chained up by the Wardens. Hell, maybe she’s still alive in all the mess stirred up these past few years. Her name was Kyrande, and she was the light of my life when we were young. That was, whew, a looong time ago. I ended up a demon hunter at a time when Illidan was considered a traitor and a danger to everyone. Guess that hasn’t changed much though. But Kyrande, she was a Warden. She always was, looking back on it. Even though I was decades the elder, she was always looking out for me, and the family. I never made it easy on her, though. Several times in our lives when I counted on her to help me, she chose to protect herself, though, and I suffered for it. I hated her for many years of my life. I was imprisoned for a few centuries, at least. Probably more, but time gets a bit hazy after a certain amount of years, you know? Anyway, Kyrande visited me as often as she could. It was our routine. I mean, I didn’t have much say in the matter, and it took a long time for me to get accustomed to speaking with her again, but eventually I accepted that what she had done was meant to protect me. Which is why, when it happened again, only a decade ago on the Black Temple, I knew I couldn’t bring myself to hate her for it. At least, not for long.” Esmerra glanced at Shanoris with narrowed eyes. “Is this story supposed to make me feel better?” The elf sighed, feigning disappointment. “The point is,” she continued, “My sister wasn’t a murderous lunatic like your brother, er, that undead asshole that got smashed. He and his crazy death knight wife needed to go for the good of all Azeroth.” Esmerra had a sudden realization. Her jitters weren’t from the guilt of what she had done, but the unconscious realization of what she must do. Cynthia cannot be allowed to have a weapon like Brinnea Velmon at her disposal. I must not let my focus drop now. “Shanoris,” Esmerra said all of a sudden, her voice calm and confident. The elf seemed to heed her as she said, “You are exactly correct. But our work isn’t finished. In return for bringing down a dangerous man, the Legion took a perhaps more dangerous woman to be their tool for destruction. We must send word to the Alliance. Brinnea Velmon is a servant of the Legion. She must be killed on sight. I will use every ounce of political weight I have to ensure the word is spread. There can be nowhere left for her to hide.” The elf seemed accepting of the order, and stood to leave. “I’ll spread the news,” she said. “More importantly, I’ll be keeping a close eye on Felsoul Hold. That witch was more powerful than I had anticipated. The Illidari must be informed of the danger, but I can’t exactly report anything until I can be sure of what we’re up against. If you need anything, you know how to reach me.” As the elf departed the tent, Esmerra felt her resolve solidifying. She knew her task, and it was time to set about accomplishing it. She sat at her desk and began drafting letters to Alliance officials. As she signed the first letter, her hand slipped, spilling ink on the blackwood desktop. Sighing in minor annoyance, she stood to fetch a rag to clean up the mess, but stopped when she noticed something odd in the ink. The liquid stirred unnaturally, forming into some shape. After staring into the shimmering black substance for some time, she finally recognized what she was looking at. It was a bird: a falcon bearing a sword in its talons. The symbol of the Velmon family. Her hand shook again. She had no doubts as to why
  20. The smell of corruption, of death, disease, and brimstone, filled the air. The night sky was alight with verdant fires and swirling, choking smoke. Chunks of rock and fel flares descended from above like a sinister meteor shower. All around, the earth quaked with the booming thunder of explosions. Felsoul Hold was a land that belonged to no one but demons now. They were all around, stalking the shadows and parading in the eerie green glow. The massive, small, and everything in between all mingled, watching, waiting, some licking their lips hungrily. Brinnea ignored them all. She huddled in the dark corner of the inquisitor’s cell, head buried between her knees. Her thoughts could drift no further. Instinct dragged her back to the here and now. Subconsciously, she thought about why she was even still alive. Esmerra had clearly wanted her dead, but Cynthia had stopped her. The witch isn’t done toying with what’s left of my life, she thought to herself, sadness parting in the wake of a storm of anger. The train of demons halted before a smaller extension of the main hold. Cynthia’s voice cracked a command like a whip in the demonic tongue. The cage fell to the ground abruptly, sending a shudder up Brinnea’s spine. The cage door flew open and the hooded demon that had carried her poked its head in. “Try nothing,” it’s raspy voice dragged along her back like a knife, “You live. We are always watching.” Brinnea stood slowly and moved to step out. The demon grabbed her and yanked her roughly into the open air. She stumbled and rolled along the ground, rising in a kneeling position. She was surrounded on all sides by the demons. Felhounds, imps, wrathguards, doomguards, inquisitors like the one that threw her from the cage, all watching in a circle around a line of people facing Brinnea. They were of various races: humans, orcs, trolls, dwarves, it seemed as if every race of the Alliance and Horde were represented. Only two things were common between each of them. They were all women, and they all had the same stony, emotionless expression written on their faces. A quick count put them at about thirty to forty. Cynthia stood between her and them, a proud look about her, as if her hard work were on display. “Welcome to the family, Brinny,” the warlock said in a singsong tone. She flipped her long, silky black hair over her shoulder and called to those behind her, saying, “Widows, say hello to your new sister, hmm?” All in sync, the women recited back, “Welcome, widow. Welcome to the family.” Brinnea stared at them all in line, horrified. Few of them did more than give her an indifferent look. Most just gazed off into the middle distance, or glued their gazes to the ground. Cynthia stepped forward, standing just two steps from Brin. The death knight thought about killing the witch now. It could be easy. One rune would be enough to make a knife sharp enough to pierce her throat. One motion, and she would be dead. Her seven fingers curled into fists. Cynthia grinned down at her. “Well?” she asked expectantly. “We’re waiting. What? No ‘thank you?’ How ungrateful, hmm. Your new family rather generously accepted you, and they don’t even know who you are. What you are. What you’ve done, hmm.” Brinnea glared up at Cynthia, icy eyes full of hate. She replied, voice hushed and harsh, “I’m gonna kill you.” The witch paused, then scoffed. “You ought to rethink your tone, hmm.” The woman stepped back, gesturing to the demons on her left. A beefy slab of satyr meat wearing a nursing gown stepped forward, leading a small human child with a bag over her head by the shoulders into the middle of the circle. The satyr gave Brinnea a toothy grin and unveiled the girl. Charlotte gasped, coughing between breaths as she choked on the acrid air. Her large, pool-like grey eyes stared at Brin with surprise. She called out, “Mother!” earning her a smack on the back of the head from the satyr in the gown. “Hush, child!” the demon hissed. “You let her go!” Brinnea shouted. She stood, her sword flashing into her hand. Cynthia’s hand lit with fel fire, as the warlock said, “Tut-tut-tut, Brinny. One wrong move, and little Charlotte’s the one who suffers, hmm. Throw the sword down, now.” Brinnea reluctantly tossed the sword aside. She watched Charlotte closely. The girl looked more surprised than scared, rubbing the back of her head sorely. The death knight felt a sharp smack in the back of her leg, and fell to the ground, off-balance. She looked behind her at the wrathguard who had prodded her with the handle of his mace. She recognized him by the skulls on his pauldron, and the two halves of a greatsword stuck in his belt. “On your knees, worm,” the wrathguard Cynthia had named as Morkoreth said deeply. Brinnea gaped at him with a twitch of rage on her face. The demon merely glared back, no hint of amusement in his beady eyes. Cynthia put her fire out with a flick of the wrist. “Much better, hmm. Now, I have a few things to explain, and I won’t be happy if you interrupt again,” the witch brushed soot off her hand with a handkerchief as she drew close to Charlotte. Brinnea grimaced, all of her might concentrated on keeping herself still. Cynthia pet Charlotte’s head, brushing her bright, shoulder-length red hair aside to get a look at the child’s face. “She looks more like you than she does her father, hmm. The freckles, for one. And the eyes, the hair. She’s a pretty little thing.” Charlotte scowled at the woman brushing her hair and eased away from the hand. “You talk funny, but you’re just a bully,” the girl said defiantly. The satyr holding the girl looked to Cynthia for instruction, but the witch merely chuckled, covering her mouth with the back of a hand. “Ah, that’s more like her daddy, hmm. He was certainly adamant in the face of danger.” Brinnea’s teeth gritted, and she said softly, “What do you want from me?” Cynthia’s gaze drifted back to her. “Ah, back to the point. You see, Brinny, this gathering of misfits is my personal army of go-getters, hmm. Widows, all of them. And, more importantly, mothers. Just like you. Convenient, isn’t it? In all my years, I’ve learned one thing if I’ve learned anything, hmm. You take a mother’s child, and she’ll do anything to save him, or her.” She gestured to the line of widows. “What I do is direct that strength at whatever stubborn problem I have. The problem goes away, and I reward them by taking care of the children. It’s a win-win, hmm.” “Wh-what about the husbands, then?” Brinnea said with a glower. “You kill them all, and enslave the women, take their children hostage?” Cynthia simply cocked her head at Brin with a crooked smile on her face. “Do you realize what is happening here, girl? Look around, hmm!” The witch stretched her arms outward at the surrounding demons. “It’s the end of the world, Brin-Brin! Time to grow up and face the truth: you either join the Legion, or you burn with the rest of the rabble.” She stepped forward to Brinnea, offering a hand to the angry death knight with a look of confidence and superiority. “Welcome to the winning side, hmm.” Brinnea looked over at Charlotte. The little girl shook her head. Brin slowly lifted her arm, taking Cynthia’s delicate, outstretched hand in her own. The witch grinned warmly down at her. “A fine decision, my dear. Charlotte will be safe with Letraxia, hmm. She’ll have dozens of other children to play with, lots of open space to roam, and safety from the war. As long as you stay loyal--,” she put her other hand on Brinnea’s shoulder firmly, “—your girl will be just fine. So, to start, I have a task for you. A test, of sorts, to ensure you understand how this deal works. I want you to go to Stormwind, to the office of your old boss, General, uh—,” she looked over at the Inquisitor from earlier, “—what was her name, Envious?” The hooded demon scratched its chin thoughtfully, replying succinctly, “General Katelle Larmont, head of the Twilight Empire’s Keepers.” Cynthia nodded appreciatively and continued, “General Katelle, yes. You go to her office, and you look her dead in the eyes, tell her the Legion’s won. Tell her, oh let’s see, ‘The sun has set for the Empire.’ Yes, that seems dramatic enough, hmm. Then you kill her.” Brinnea gaped at Cynthia, wide-eyed. The witch continued, “Run her through with your blade, strip flesh from bone, really get out your frustration, hmm? Oh, and I’m aware the girl is with child. Make sure she loses it first, see the fear and sadness on her face, it’ll make you feel better about yourself. Then find her husband, that elf with the ridiculous hair, and her girl. Kill them all, hmm.” Brinnea’s jaw trembled and her hands shook. No, I can’t do this. I can’t do that to Kate, not to anyone! “I-I can’t…you can’t…please, I-I-I-,” Cynthia slapped Brinnea across the face, leaving her reeling. She tried to stop her fall with her left hand, but without all her fingers, she couldn’t stay upright. The demons laughed all around her when she hit the rocky ground face-first. The witch snapped at her, “Don’t you fling your spittle at me, hmm. You speak when your spoken to, not stammer like a half-witted ogre!” As Brinnea drew herself to her knees, spitting out blood and panting desperately, as if she needed the air, Cynthia drifted swiftly to Charlotte, who continued to glare at the witch insolently. “If you can’t obey,” the black-haired woman warned, “Then your girl suffers, hmm. I need to hear it, right now. Tell me you will kill the General.” She lit a flame in her hand, drawing it close to Charlotte’s face. The girl’s eyes lit up with panic, and she tried to back up. The satyr, Letraxia, held her still. Brinnea reached out toward Cynthia. “Wait. Wait!” The witch shook her head with a sneer. “You don’t get to make demands, hmm! You tell me, now! Say the words, ‘I will kill them!’” Brinnea clawed at the ground desperately. “N-no, I c-can’t! Please don’t. Please!” Tears streamed down her face for the second time today, an act she didn’t even know was possible before. Cynthia’s burning hand grew ever closer to the little girl’s pale face. Charlotte made a squeaking sound that seemed like fear, like terror. Brin was hyperventilating, taking in more air than she had done in years as a death knight. Her vision blurred from the tears. Everything was askew. Laughing voices called out all around her. She swore she felt her heart beat, just for a moment. Charlotte’s hair started to smoke from the flame. “I’ll do it!” Brinnea screamed, “I’ll-I’ll do it, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all, just please. Don’t hurt her.” The witch’s fire went out, and her cocky smile returned. “Obedience,” she said. “It makes life so much easier, hmm? Do as I ask, and everything will be alright. You’ll never have to lose anyone again. Now go. Do the deed, and bring back their heads, hmm. Don’t delay, I’ll be watching. You don’t want to make me angry again.” Brinnea had been given her sword again. Allowed to walk out of the hold unscathed. She had barely taken a step until Charlotte was snatched out of sight by the repulsive satyr. Letraxia had offered Brinnea a kissing motion before shoving the girl away. Brin could only gape and wander toward the exit slowly. Now, she was standing at the edge of the hold’s corruption in the land of Suramar. She collapsed to her knees, hands holding her up. Blood trickled from the cut on her cheek, leaving crimson drips on the slowly darkening grass. She lifted herself up to her legs again, choking back another sob. Her hand went to her sword’s hilt. She drew it slowly, flipped the blade around, holding it by the middle. Slowly, she placed the tip of the sword in her mouth. The thing about death knights, being undead and all, most wounds didn’t have any effect on their mortality. A blow to the head, though, or any damage to the brain, would kill them like anyone else. A method of retaining a knight’s honor in the face of torture or indignity was called “falling on your sword.” It wasn’t the sort of knightly thing she had learned from her father’s tales. But with the blade in her mouth, all that was left was to let herself fall. That would be the end of it. One moment, and she would be free. So why do I hesitate? What holds me back? It was Charlotte, of course. Her daughter: the only good thing she had ever wrought. She couldn’t let her down again. Not when there was still a chance. What chance is there? What choices do I have left to make? She could live, but at the cost of other people’s lives. The lives of people I care about. Those are few enough now. I do this, they can still live. Maybe Charlotte can, too. But she couldn’t be sure. The sword fell from her grip. She burst out in tears again. She fell to her knees, again. For the third time in her undeath, Brinnea Velmon was lost to grief. She yelled as loudly as she could, pounded the ground with her hands until they stained the ground red. Tomorrow, she would visit her friend, and she would have to kill her.
  21. ((WARNING: Graphic scenes, violence, adult language, and suggestive themes)) The light faded. The air crackled and whipped at Brinnea’s cloak. Her illusory mask had long since fallen off, exposing her pale, shocked expression. Her chilling blue eyes were wide with horror. Lying in the shallow earthen ditch marked by the demon’s mace was what remained of the only man she truly loved. Parigan’s body had been scorched so badly his armor had melted as well as his flesh. Only bones remained where Esmerra’s spell had fallen. His midsection from waist to chest had been vaporized in an instant. The fallen warrior lay still, his body still burning in places from the arcane fire. His greatsword, which he had used to shield himself a moment before the spell landed, had been seared in half, each piece lying on either side of the undead’s body. Brinnea’s own body was entangled in vines draining her energy, so all she could do was kneel and gaze upon the gruesome sight, smell the repulsive stench, and think about how she would never see her one true love alive again. And then he gasped for air. Brinnea’s already wide eyes somehow grew even more agape. What remained of Parigan’s upper half twitched and writhed, trying to take in air without any lungs to fill. His metal jaw swung open and shut over and over, as if he were trying to speak. Esmerra had begun walking back to her followers, hunched over and panting from the great effort. Shanoris had a hand on her shoulder, keeping her upright. Now they turned back to look at the body they had left behind. On the other side, Cynthia laughed mockingly. “Esmerra, my dear, you seem to have left a bit of a mess,” she said, her golden eyes flickering between Parigan and the druid. “B—Brih--,” Parigan rasped from the crater. Brinnea panted as if she could not catch her breath. “Nooo…,” she moaned as tears streamed down her face. “Leave him alone…pleeeease…” She trembled uncontrollably, still restrained by the vines. Parigan’s eye met with Brin’s. “Brin…I…,” he coughed a stream of dull green blood onto the ground beside him. “This is truly saddening,” Cynthia said, shaking her head in mock shame. “Morkoreth, put him out of his misery, won’t you?” The wrathguard beside the witch grunted, lifting his already bloodstained mace from his shoulder and stepping toward the gargling undead. “Brin, I lo—love you—“ CRUNCH The demon’s weapon fell to the ground with a resounding clash of metal against metal. Bones crunched and gore flew every which way. Green drops of blood splattered across Brinnea’s face. The eye she had been gazing into popped right out of Parigan’s skull as it deflated under the sheer force of impact. Brinnea felt herself scream, but she couldn’t hear it. All she could hear was a high-pitched ringing sound; everything else was fuzzy and distant. The demon lifted his mace, and stringy pieces of skin and innards came along with it. Parigan’s body still twitched; his hand extended toward Brin’s own reaching desperately trembled before the mace came down for another impact. DOOM The weapon hit more ground than body this time. Parigan’s hand fell to the ground, still spasming. WHAM With another mighty blow, Parigan’s last movements died. The demon seemed satisfied with his work and stepped back to his master, who watched on grinning. All that remained of Parigan was a bloodstained pile of bones, bits of black metal, a cloak plastered with gore, and a pale, outstretched hand. Brinnea’s head lifted to the sky as she wailed with all the strength she had left. What happened next seemed more like a dream than reality. Shanoris drew toward Brinnea at Esmerra’s command, a glaive in hand. A sharp objection from Cynthia stopped her, though. The death knight didn’t care what was said. Her mind and body were focused on what remained of Parigan. Time passed slowly. Her thoughts drifted. Esmerra and her followers departed. The vines drew back, and the false fingers rotted away to nothing. A demon lifted her up and carried her into a cage it carried on its back. She didn’t resist. She couldn’t, even if she wanted to. Esmerra’s betrayal had sapped her of everything she had. Cynthia’s eyes appeared before her as the cage was sealed. The witch leaned in close, a smug smile on her face. She spoke softly, barely a whisper, though Brinnea could not tell if it was her ringing ears that made it so, or the woman’s own speech, “You are mine now, my dear. You belong to me, hmm.” Brinnea’s thoughts drifted. “Hey, wake up,” a familiar voice called to her from behind the veil of a dream. Brinnea opened her eyes to see Parigan’s face as it once was. His brown eyes stared into hers, his scratchy beard pressed against her cheek. His thick, disheveled black hair smelled of forge fire, pinewood, and home. His hand was on her shoulder, gently squeezed. It felt comforting, reassuring. Everything was going to be alright. “You were shaking in your sleep.” “I…,” she said uncertainly, starting to sit upright. “I was having a nightmare.” She trembled as thoughts wormed their way into the back of her mind. Thoughts of death, finality. “Hey,” Parigan said stern, yet warmly, “It was just a dream. Everything’s alright here.” Brinnea looked at him, unsure. She nodded. “It was just a dream,” she agreed. Parigan’s hand drifted to her belly, rubbing it softly with affection. “Have you thought anymore about what to name the little one?” Brinnea bit her lip, something she used to do when she was thinking. “I’m not sure,” she replied, her hand clutching Parigan’s. “Maybe Sarah for a girl?” Her husband chuckled softly. “After my mother? C’mon, we could be more original. Besides, I like Maria better if we were taking parents’ names.” Brin smiled at him. They kissed, holding each other close. She felt warm, and safer than she had in a long time. She was reluctant to break their tender moment, but when it at last ended, she asked him, “Alright, then what about if it’s a boy?” Parigan grinned wolfishly. “I’ve always liked the name—“ His face halted in place, as if frozen in time. The bed grew colder, and the room dark. Brinnea felt all the safety and comfort drain away as thoughts drifted back to the nightmare. “No,” she pleaded. “Don’t send me back! Not there, please! Let me stay!” Everything faded to black, all except Parigan’s face. Green blood trickled down his head like rain. “Let me stay!”
  22. “…nothing. Everything is in place,” Esmerra’s said in a hushed voice. Brinnea rounded the edge of a boulder and saw the young noble standing alone, her back turned to the death knight. “It’ll all go according to plan. Don’t worry.” Brinnea took a step closer, startling Esmerra, who nearly jumped off her feet in surprise. “Oh, Brinnea! I was just talking to myself. I’m a little on edge. Ah, but all the troops are in place. Some of Lord Hunter’s finest sharpshooters and my own druids. Cynthia won’t see what hit her.” Brinnea smiled widely. “That is good to hear. But you shouldn’t be out on your own here, Es. Suramar is still a dangerous place, and Felsoul Hold is even worse.” The clank of armor signaled a new arrival. “Yeah, sis, it’s dangerous to go alone,” Parigan said tauntingly. Esmerra paled and scowled at her undead brother. “Parigan. I trust Shanoris found you well?” “Well enough. You always did have the strangest friends back in Gilneas.” Brinnea crossed her arms in mock judgement. “Oh really? I seem to remember you got along better with her than your other siblings.” Parigan snorted. “Did I ever claim to be normal?” The two chuckled softly. Esmerra half-heartedly laughed as well. “It’s, uh…good to see you two hopeful again.” A raven swooped in from above, landing on Esmerra’s arm. She listened as it chortled into her ear for a moment before it flew off. The druid took a deep breath and said, “Cynthia’s almost here. The number of guards is correct as well, observers and all. My faerie dragons will keep a sharp nose out for them. I’ll see you two on the other side.” With that, she changed form into a black bird and took off. Brinnea exchanged a look with Parigan. “Are you ready to get our daughter back?” Parigan nodded. She handed him an illusory mask, which he slipped on. His form slimmed and grew taller as he took the form of a Suramar spellsword. Brinnea put her own mask on, assuming her role as Lisia. The two walked toward the meeting place without hesitation. Brinnea ran back through the plan for the thousandth time as the meeting drew closer and closer. She would act terrified as the elf had been the night Brinnea took her face, and Parigan would say nothing, feigning mutism. Since he hadn’t had time to practice his role, they figured that would be the most convenient. Once Cynthia was in place, the snipers would fill the demons full of Gilnean lead, the druids would vanquish the hidden observers, and Brinnea and Parigan would lock Cynthia in place with icy chains and caltrops. Afterward, they would have time to pick the location of Charlotte’s prison from the warlock as painfully as necessary. It seems so simple, but it’s never simple with Cynthia. We have to be ready for anything. Despite her desire for caution, Brinnea couldn’t help but feel hopeful, as Esmerra had said. She truly believed they could do this. They could get Charlotte back, once and for all. And there she was. The witch appeared, flanked by an entourage of demons: two wrathguards and a pack of half a dozen felhounds. Lisia really pulled through for once. Once Charlotte is safe, I’ll avenge her and those children. Cynthia dressed in fel green robes trimmed with gold, and had a knife on her belt. A skull floated beside her, recognizably shaped like a dreadlord’d head. It pulsated a sickly green aura, and seemed to be staring right through Brinnea with its voidlike eye sockets. The death knight tried to look scared and concerned as the warlock approached. Parigan stood resolute beside her. “Late again, hmm,” Cynthia said, seemingly bored. “I was beginning to think I needed to remind you how our arrangement works.” Brinnea stammered, as meekly as she could, “N-n-n-no, ma’am. I simply…had trouble picking a specimen. The, uh, the Nightfallen have taken to stealing the children away from the city. I don’t know how they manage it, I swear!” Cynthia sighed, and replied dryly, “And here I was holding out hope you had an offering hidden behind a rock somewhere, hmm. You should know better than to come empty-handed, Lisia.” “I-I am so sorry, my lady! Please, give me one more chance, I promise I will not fail again!” Brinnea considered falling to her knees, but she worried it might lose her the advantage. Cynthia merely rolled her eyes. “You know I get tired of hearing you say that, hmm. Well, I suppose I can give you another chance. However, you will not be leaving here with everything you have now.” The witch cocked her head to the side. Two of her felhunters padded closer slowly and menacingly. Brinnea feigned fear, backing up slowly. “N-no, please…,” she began. Cynthia scoffed. “You know how this works, Lissy. You come empty-handed, I take your hands instead, hmm. You can have someone else stuff kids in silken bags from now on. Your new help, perhaps.” She nodded at Parigan, who stood silently, and hand raising toward his blade. The felhunters snarled as they approached. Then, two gunshots rang out, and the hounds’ heads exploded. Brinnea paused for a moment. No more gunshots could be heard. The other demons looked around for whoever had the audacity to attack them. Cynthia’s eyebrow plucked up at Brin. No more gunshots followed. What are they doing? This isn’t how we prepared for this. Brinnea looked at Parigan, but he was looking around just as much as the demons were, pretending to be confused by the events. Brinnea nearly kicked herself for not thinking as quickly. She spoke up, “Wh-what was that?” “You had better pray whatever it is dies quickly, hmm,” Cynthia said, annoyed. She gestured, and her felhounds took off at a sprint to search for the shooters. The wrathguards fell in closer, their massive bodies offering Cynthia cover. Still, no more shots rang out as the hounds passed the disguised pair. Brinnea gritted her teeth. We might have to improvise. We won’t get another chance like this again. Her hand went for her sword… Suddenly all her strength went out from her. The death knight nearly fell to her knees with fatigue. What the…? Her left hand started tingling. She looked down at it, but where her fingers had been, now there were three rapidly expanding sprouts. Vines crawled up her arm, digging thorns into her skin that sapped the life right out of her. Now Brin really did fall to her knees. Parigan Looked down at her, risking to ask quietly, “What’s going on?” His blade was halfway off his back now. Gunshots rang out, finally. But it was with horror Brin realized the shots were aimed not at the demons, but at Parigan. The undead took a shot across his helm, knocking him senseless. Two shots went through his chest, another two through his legs, and one in his good arm. He collapsed, keeping himself upright only by his prosthetic hand. He gasped out a stream of green blood. Brinnea’s arm had been completely covered in plant life now. Then she remembered. A year ago, an orc had sliced nearly three fingers off her hand. The replacements she had gotten were so like organic material that she had nearly forgotten they weren’t the digits she had lost. Those fingers were obtained through druidic magic. Druidic magic by someone close to her… “Esmerra,” she said, barely above a whisper. Cynthia grinned at her from across the rocky way, a light of satisfaction in her eyes. “Ah yes, I couldn’t have managed this little trap without our star actress, hmm. My dear, why don’t you show yourself?” Brinnea turned her gaze where Cynthia looked. Esmerra appeared out of thin air, along with a dozen druids. An observer hovered above them, its magic clearly responsible for the invisibility. Brinnea stared at her sister-in-law with disbelief. “Es…why?” Her strength to speak was running dry as the entangling leech vines dug into her shoulder and torso. The druid gazed at her with a face full of contempt. “You really believed that whole time that I was standing beside you because you were justified in your actions? No! You are a murderer and a coward, fleeing from justice with the excuse of saving one – just one! – girl that means nothing to no one but yourself. But worst of all, you let that monster loose on this world, unchecked,” she pointed harshly at Parigan with a shimmering staff. The air was shifting as she spoke. Parigan roared, drawing his sword. His wounds practically exploded blood, but he ignored it out of pure rage. Then a huge mace smashed him into the ground, leaving a crater where he stood. Brinnea gasped, barely able to move now. The vines wrapped around her neck and waist. Parigan sputtered, his body crushed and broken under the wrathguard’s weapon. Cynthia chuckled softly. Brinnea felt rage build in her chest, only to be quashed by cold fear. “Pari,” she called quietly, barely able to produce a sound, “Stay down, please…” Esmerra approached the undead. Her human form shifted into that of a worgen. Shanoris and Walther joined her from behind the crowd of druids, staying close by her side. The worgen’s hand pulsed with the moon’s glow. “You tore our family apart, Parigan. Now I’m going to do what should have been down years ago, when you first rose from the dead. For Ersolon, mother, and father!” She swung downward, producing a blinding flash of light. Like that, Brinnea was blinded. A word was on her lips, but she could not speak. A frozen tear drifted down her cheek. Cynthia’s laugh echoed in her mind.
  23. ((WARNING: Graphic scenes, violence, adult language, and suggestive themes)) Rain dribbled down on Parigan’s helmet and cloak, adding more weight to his already great burdens. Though as an undead, he travelled light of usual provisions, such as food and drink, he more than made up for it with the sheer amount of armor, weaponry, and engineering equipment he had on him. That, and he was dragging a fully grown, partially petrified troll along behind him by a length of rope. Despite having saved the shaman from one of the most embarrassing deaths Parigan could think of, his new ‘friend’ seemed rather grumpy and unappreciative of the current situation. “Would you rather I carry you like a damsel in distress?” he had asked with a smug grin on his face before they had begun moving. The troll simply glared at him as the undead tied the rope around his waist. “Look on the bright side, friend. With your arms—excuse me, arm—petrified, as well as your legs, you won’t feel much of anything until after a good night’s sleep.” They had been walking a few hours now, long enough for a storm to blow in overhead. The troll had said barely a word to him since they began. Parigan was growing bored and restless. “So,” he said, “Wanna tell me why you want me dead now, or just keep weighing me down like a silent, tripedal anchor?” The troll said nothing. Parigan snorted in annoyance and tugged the rope a couple times to get attention. “Hello? You still back there, or did I tie this thing to a boulder?” “Why did you…do it?” the shaman rasped in his segmented, slow way of speaking. Parigan made a tsk noise and replied, “Uh-uh, I asked you first. You said before I killed people. Horde people. Did I get someone you cared about, or is this an honor thing?” “Does it matter?” the troll questioned. Parigan replied without skipping a beat, “It matters if you have more friends coming after me. I don’t like surprises.” The troll scoffed behind him. “You should…stay out of Horde territory. Many remember…your actions in Winterspring. Sunwalkers, bounty hunters, soldiers. Grim.” The shaman paused with that last, ominous note. Parigan replied, “By process of elimination, I’d say you’re either a bounty hunter or a Grim. Most people won’t even mention those lunatics without a good reason or a death wish, so I’m guessing it’s the latter.” “Freeing Brinnea Velmon…made you an enemy. Killing fifty Horde…earned you an execution.” Parigan tapped his metal chin with his free hand in mock pensiveness. “Thought it was more like a hundred. Anyway, I’ve met a few Grim, but you certainly are the weirdest one I’ve met. One arm, a hot head, and a face that belongs on a Forsaken alchemist’s operating table.” “So why…did you leave me alive? If not for…the harpies’ curse…I would kill you.” Parigan chuckled softly. “Our little game of hide-and-seek never did get decided for sure. Though, your life is still in my hands.” “Hand,” the troll corrected. Parigan smirked. “Right. Well, I suppose I thought it rather unfitting to let you die in a harpy nest.” “So. I live…or die…on a whim. Just…another day at work,” said the troll. Parigan tensed. He felt a presence drawing closer from the brush nearby. He let the rope drop from his hand – prompting an abrupt “Oof!” from his companion – and drew his sword in a swift motion. A figure in all black sprang out, a blur to Parigan’s eye. The night elf skidded to a halt before him, panting, a smile brimming on her delicate face. Her eyes burned fel green, but she didn’t seem to be looking with them at all. Illidari, huh? He thought to himself. He eyed the oversized warglaives strapped to the huntress’s back warily, but since she had revealed herself without drawing them, he figured it was relatively safe to lower his blade. “Hey there,” the she-elf said as she caught her breath. “Thought I smelled an undead around here. I’ve been looking for one of your kind. Tall, wears all black, heavily armored, and carries a slab of iron he calls a sword. Seen anyone like that?” Her smirk aimed at the ground ticked Parigan off. A smartass, this one. He replied curtly, “What if I have? “Then I’d ask you to point me in the right direction to find him. Duh,” her reply deepened Parigan’s frown into a scowl. “You got something to say to me, or did you track me down just to waste my time?” The elf chuckled, apparently amused. “Well see, warrior, we elves have nothing but time. Oh, or I guess we used to? Sorry, I’m new to the whole mortality thing.” Parigan continued to stare at her. He shifted his wrist, rolling the sword in his hand back and forth, contemplating whether or not swinging it about a bit would speed this conversation up. Luckily, the troll handled it by himself, scratchily shouting, “You! Come to…finish me off…while I cannot stand?” The elf cocked her head to the side at the troll. “You sound sort of familiar. Have we met, troll?” The shaman gritted his teeth and shook in place, still too stiff to move his muscles much. “I’ll teach you…to remember.” Parigan scoffed at the absurdity of the situation. “Let’s hurry this along and get introductions out of the way. We seem to desperately need it. I’m Parigan, but I’m sure you both already knew that.” Crazy follows me like a cloud of stink. The elf stood up straight again with an obnoxious little hop. “Name’s Shanoris. Shanoris Fargaze. Illidari, and currently serving as bodyguard to Lady Esmerra Blackmane of Gilneas.” She added on a bow and an “At your service,” while Parigan scowled at her again. Great. What does Esmerra want now? Could it have to do with Brin? The troll spoke up behind him, simply saying, “Kazarak Bloodskull.” Shanoris sniffed. “Kazarak, eh? Well, Kaz, you have a nasty habit of getting yourself captured. And crippled. Maybe you should switch professions?” Kazarak roared, belching a gout of flame in the elf’s general direction. Parigan sidestepped out of the way, but the fire never even reached Shanoris. She stood in place, smugly. “Oh, that feels rather warm. Guess I struck a nerve. Wouldn’t be the first time I struck you, though.” “Fuck you,” Kazarak grunted as the fire extinguished. Parigan sighed. “Shanoris, get on with what you came here for. Now.” The elf replied with a hmph, “You certainly lack the same manners as your sister. No wonder she turned out the nobler of you two. In any case, she invites you to Shal’aran. Cynthia’s been found, and we thought you might be interested in helping rescue your daughter and all.” Parigan noticed Kazarak’s expression soften for a moment, but it could have been a trick of the light. Parigan himself nearly dropped his blade at the announcement. “Suramar? You’re certain?” The elf nodded. Parigan sheathed his blade. “Tell Esmerra I’ll be there tonight. We’re putting an end to this hunt.” Shanoris smiled. “Now you sound just like your sister. I’ll run ahead and let her know. Try not to fall too far behind, plate-head.” With that, she whipped around and bounded off into the woods, faster than Parigan’s brain could register. The warrior wasted no time gathering up Kazarak’s rope and pulling him with renewed speed. The wet cloak and armaments didn’t seem so heavy all of a sudden. He nearly shouted back at the troll, “There’s a cave nearby I’ve been using for storage. It’s well-hidden, so you’ll have plenty of time to recover and enough provisions to keep you alive. I don’t care if you come after me again, but maybe you’ll consider holding off a couple days, eh? I’ve got something to take care of.” He didn’t bother looking back to see if his guest acknowledged what he said. We’re coming for you Charlotte. Just hold on one more night.
  24. “And you’re certain you can trust what she said?” Esmerra Blackmane looked Brinnea up and down doubtfully, pondering all the death knight had told her. “I already inquired in the orphanage where she worked,” Brinnea replied, face and voice as steely and steady as ever, “The trade has been expected for some time, and there have been many like it already.” Esmerra grasped her chin thoughtfully. The young woman was a vision of beauty and charm, long black hair well-groomed, black leather armor etched with golden curls, and her billowing cloak wrapped around her lithe frame in the dank cold of the cave beneath Shal’aran. She had come in response to an urgent and unexpected message from her sister-in-law Brinnea, who had been out of contact for months after the demon invasion. Such a frantic correspondence was worrying, and drew her attention from matters in Stormheim with the rest of the Gilnean army. “Very well,” Esmerra responded at last, “So what is your plan? Cynthia is a formidable foe, and clever in spite of her insanity. She may smell a trap at the slightest slip. You would place yourself at her mercy.” Brinnea scoffed, though her expression remained unchanged. “I would not choose to face that woman without a plan, but in truth, she should be afraid now. At last we are a step ahead, and we cannot afford to squander this opportunity. Charlotte is depending on us.” Esmerra glanced over her shoulder at her guardians, Illidari Shanoris, her smug expression turned bored by the long conversation, and Walther Vayne, his elderly features weary with the burdens of recent imprisonment by the demons. Esmerra thought to herself, Dare I risk my people in such a venture? Aye, I must. It is my duty as a noble to rid the world of such a menace. I cannot falter. She took a steadying breath and said, “It is a great risk, but I must agree with you, sister. We must act now, or we may never get a better opportunity. My soldiers will come to your aid. Only my finest and stealthiest.” Brinnea smiled warmly, a rare sight from the knight of frost. “Thank you, Es. I don’t know what I would do without you.” Esmerra’s heart skipped a beat. “I—The same to you, Brin.” They spent the next hour discussing strategy, overlooking sketches of the Suramar western ring. They talked over where to position troops to get the best vantage over the meeting place. They nailed down details of how to pin down the enemies, especially the elusive Cynthia. By the end of it, Shanoris seemed about ready to fall asleep. Finally, Brinnea asked Esmerra one last thing. “I would appreciate it if you tracked Parigan for me. Last I heard, he was investigating a lead in Val’sharah. You would be more welcome there than I.” Esmerra closed her eyes and drew a breath for patience. Her history with her brother Parigan was checkered to say the least. Once they had warred with one another, Gilnean against Forsaken, and she had fallen under his mercy. He has not treated her kindly. Not to mention he killed Father, she thought to herself bitterly. She had never forgiven him since, but Brinnea trusted he had changed, so she did not act against him. “I…will send someone for him. I don’t think I can go myself. Apologies.” Before Brinnea could reply, Shanoris practically shouted, “I will find the man! It shouldn’t be a difficult thing. Val’sharah has changed little since I once roamed it in exile. I’ll have him here in mere hours with my speed!” Brinnea stifled a chuckle. “You are an eager one, Fargaze. You remind me of some old friends.” Esmerra didn’t like the way Brin was eyeing her just then. She cleared her throat loudly. “Anyway, that settles that matter. If you’ll excuse me, Brin, I have preparations to attend to. Good luck with your own.” Brinnea offered her a hug. With a slight hesitation, Esmerra stepped forward and embraced the woman, shivering slightly at the chilly touch. “Thank you again, Es. Safe journey!” After exiting the cave that the Nightfallen called their home, Esmerra addressed her companions, saying, “This is dangerous ground we tread upon friends. We must be cautious, or we may lose our way.” Walther dipped his head respectfully, replying, “We stand by you no matter the danger, my lady.” Shanoris snorted. “I am a little newer to serving your house, but what you plan is necessary. We must never shy away from danger if this world is to be saved. We must stand together.” Esmerra nodded to them appreciatively. “Soon this burden shall be done away with, one way or another."