Monday, April 11, 2011

Entombed (Fiction)

As I've harped on earlier, I was one of the finalists for the Blizzard Worldwide Writing Contest thing last year, and after the entries and excerpts were posted, I waited to see if there was going to be anything more forthcoming from Blizzard and it seems like there is not. There was also some interest from a couple of people in reading the story, and I didn't like the idea that the story might never be seen by anyone else.

So, I decided to post it here. It's behind the cut. Please feel free to share the link. I might even start writing more WoW related short-fiction if folks enjoy it!


ENTOMBED

The priestess watched her ward performing the funeral rites with a dull ache in every part of her body. Sleepless, red eyes burned as they watched the boy perform a hasty funeral. He chanted all the words correctly, his hands contorting into the proper signs as they marked the virtues - the heart, the hand, the lips - and at last, the boy touched his fingers to the man's eyes, closing them, a faint glow of power to cleanse any remnant of Plague. The look of terror passed from the corpse and some measure of peace settled onto the still, white face. Another soul safe from the Lich King's long reach.

The boy, Alfred, stood up slowly. The censer hanging lifelessly from his hands, its copper burnish now faded and lost behind scratches and dents, and the last of the incense long gone so only ashes shifted in the dark insides. Mia, once a chaplain of the Silver Hand, then the Argent Dawn, and now the Argent Crusade could not help staring at the dull swinging thing, once full of light, a glowing vessel of comfort, but was now empty. Hollow. Just like her.

"There are more on the stairs," Alfred said, his voice flat, blank of emotion, as if he had become immune to this butchery, this pit of open battle at the age of thirteen. And her - a lifetime spent on battlefields, healing the wounded, gathering the dead, and it was this place that had broken her at last. Sapped the last of her strength, drained the dredges of her will. She looked up, through gaps in the jagged ceiling and through the endless blizzard she could make out the spire, rising, pale blue, impossibly high, impossible to assault, it was all without hope. She had come here to far and forgotten ends of the world to help end the tyranny of the Lich King but instead, they had come to their own ends in his Citadel.

Mia clicked her tongue, shook her head, and scolded herself. She would not give in to these thoughts.

"Come," she folded her hands and pressed them into her sleeves for some warmth, "They will need attending to.”

They passed hallways full of corpses, those fallen in combat collapsed on the stairs, those used for decoration arranged on the walls. They worked in grand courtyards built from bones of some titanic creature illuminated by torches burning with eerie blue light. Among mausoleums and cathedrals crafted to worship unimagined horrors and in broken Cathedrals that once housed abominations, the dead lay scattered and it was impossible not to see them as part of the architecture. Illuminated panels in some twisted mockery of a sacred telling described the Lich King's ascension, and below the glass lay the remains of the cult, some dead by the hands of the Crusaders, others by their own hand in the hopes of an unholy resurrection that was yet to come.

To all of these fallen, Mia and her ward attended as best they could, while the Cathedral rang with the song of combat, a grand symphony of horrors composed by the Scourge and executed upon the Argent Crusaders. The spent life around her was simply currency paid for this grim commission.

Try as she might, Mia could not break out of these bleak musings, and she turned to her escort.

The rear guard stood at a distance, providing the two of them with a shield should any Scourge forces remain in the Lower Spire, and the Lieutenant sent his men to collect the corpses and carry them out to the pyres as Mia and Alfred finished their work.

As they moved, Mia counted the dead on her rosary, the boys and girls, the Kaldorei and the Sin’Dorei, the Draenei and the Dwarfs, the Gnomes. Even the monstrous Orcs and Tauren, the barbaric Trolls, all in Crusader robes, all earning the right to be free of a tormented afterlife through their martyrdom. The rosary clicked in her hand, over and over, an extension of her limb, an old friend worn with the touch of her fingers, her prints pressed into the beads and they clicked, clicked, clicked counting out spent lives.

In the endless night of the glacier, deep inside the eternal dimness of the Cathedral, it was impossible to tell time. Soldiers rotated in and out, the rear guard went up to the front lines and collected the wounded, the dying and the dead, no sense in leaving armament for the beautiful yet eerie Val’kyr. Time slipped away into a meaningless blur, her senses dulled, and when Brother Jacob came up with the last rotation, and laid his trembling hand on Mia's shoulder, she was shocked by his presence. "Take your rest, Sister," he smiled, the lines in his face creasing into a smile, his hand trembling in the frozen heart of the Citadel. "And take the boy with you. We will take over for a little while."

Mia bowed her head and when Alfred took the Brother's hand and kissed his ring, she saw just how tired the boy was, his eyes half closed, the censer drooping in his hands just an inch above the steps and she sighed. This place drained her, took all of her strength away until she could focus only on her duty, it narrowed her consciousness down and she had neglected the poor child, unfed and driven for countless hours.

"I will get you out with the next patrol that leaves to replenish supplies," she told him quietly, too proud to apologize, but humble enough to correct her mistake. She would carry out the duties alone.

"I'm fine," he said, looking up with a burst of energy, the censer held properly in his hand now, his eyes wide, red with exhaustion, and desperately searching her face for approval, "I'm sorry if I did something wrong, but I promise, I'll practice the chanting..."

"Hush, child," she offered one of her rare smiles to him. "It's for your own good. This is a stalemate and the enemy holds the advantage. If this turns badly, I don't want to see you fall into his hands."

The boy shook his head and a dull, stubborn look crossed his face and Mia knew it was useless to argue. She had never been a mother but she had spent enough time caring for orphans in the Second War and the Third. She knew that look well. At least in the Plaguelands, there were no more children. She only had to contend with the dull, banal horrors that they had all become accustomed to. It was not like this. She missed the smell of the place, the relentless clouds of plague scented smog, it was something real, it was substantial, the putrid olfactory assault was a reminder of being alive, but here, there was only the relentless cold, the brutal numbness of winter, the complete absence of life…

Mia stopped short and Alfred moved on, towards the glow of yellow fires near the entrance of the Citadel, towards the pyres, towards warmth. She could not keep her thoughts from turning inward, from turning sour. She had heard people saying the same thing over and over again, this place drained you, sapped you, stole from you, but what it really did was infect you, not with a disease but with inertia, with hopelessness, with the acceptance of defeat.

She realized she had already given up. She was ready to die here, in this tomb. And with a shudder, she realized the potency of that word. This really was a Tomb. To call it a Citadel was a mistake, an impression of the living used to give this place some scale and meaning that made sense. Now, it was clear to her – all who dwelt here were dead, and the dead abide in tombs. Something froze within her, a cold horror slowly enveloped her body, and she was freezing, not from the chill of the place, but from the thoughts flooding her consciousness.

Alfred stopped, two dozen yards ahead of her and turned around, aware that he was alone. "Priestess?" he asked, peering at her, and she saw herself, a lady in soiled white, her robes a dull and lifeless gray, alone, in the midst of the bones and blood, and she picked up her skirts, and hurried after the boy, eager to be close to another living thing, her breath full of guardian prayers, her hand outstretched, hungry to share his warmth.

--

Alfred slept, his head resting in Mia’s lap and she tried to rest, leaning back against the wooden crates but sleep would not come. Her hand stroked the boy’s head, his shaggy brown hair stirring in the slight wind that made its way into the supply tent where she had found a small corner for them out of the blizzard.

Mia could remember those flashes of dread from within the Citadel - the Citadel - she repeated firmly to herself, but she did not want to focus on those feelings, she turned away from them, and looked down at the child in her lap. She descended, instead, into her memories of him, in search of hope.

“He came to train as a Squire with his brother,” the sergeant said, "The two of them went into Ulduar with the Knights. One of those Ironforge expeditions found him somewhere inside, terrified, hiding in some corner and managed to coax him out. Never found anybody else from that unit."

Alfred was thin then, his limbs and face were so narrow that he seemed cadaverous. Yet, there was life in him, and it pulsed with tenacity, he clung to what remained of his health while Mia nursed him back to life, and then, he clung to her, as if what life she had given him might flee if they were to be separated. And for the first time, Mia relented.

She could never remember all the faces of all the orphans she had come across. There were simply too many. Thirty years in service to the Light. Thirty years of war. First, the countless children orphaned in the butchering of Stormwind, the ruined caravans lumbering up to Lorderon, their haunted eyes hungry for vengeance, their tiny limbs, hungry and emaciated and she was there, still young, just a child, hopeful that she might help these children barely younger than she was.

Years later, a fully grown woman herself, she was among the refugees flowing out of a dying Lorderon, with the children and the women in carts full of misery and anguish, leaving behind so many men to hold the roads from the living dead, children screaming as bodies of diseased adults were carried to mass pyres. Lines of children, herded onto caravans again and she was among the priests forming an unbroken line about them, as if their holy circle of white could contain the sorrow somehow.

And in all that time, she never took a child as an apprentice, never forged a connection with one to train and to educate. Until Alfred.

There was something about the stubborn set of his jaw that kept him alive all that time in Ulduar, and then his determination to stay with her. Perhaps having been a stubborn child herself, she identified with him.

She had been hurt, abandoned, forgotten, left at a Cathedral in Lorderon by an unknown hand, perhaps it was her father, or perhaps her guardian grown tired of an extra mouth to feed. But she had developed a desire to rise above her station. To make something of her life beyond the limited expectations of her keepers who gave her up. A familiar resentment rose for a second, but she crushed it down, that hurt was old and that, though mended, could never fully heal. But this was about the child in her lap, not about her anger.

Alfred was no orphan. She could have sent him home, to a mother he said he had in Southshore, but something kept her, perhaps a selfish need, she was getting on in age, she bore her gray temples without affectation, and perhaps it was the ever-diminishing grains of life left in her hourglass that made the decision, to keep the child with her. For someone to remember her, and the vanity pierced her with guilt and she muttered a small prayer of apology for her pride.

Or maybe it was the odd pulse of something that remained in the child. She had cured many ill people, sickness of the body was easily diagnosed, but the soul was a different matter. While she had never entered into that cursed place, she had heard tales of Ulduar, had heard of the madness and the whispers people heard. Only the most brazen dared to go as far deep into that fortress as Alfred's master had taken the child, and whatever happened in there, was blocked away behind walls of terror in his mind. And behind that wall, was Shadow.

For the last year, in the frozen wasteland, she taught him to read and write, to pray, to perform the duties of an altar child, the rituals taught to all initiates. From their time in the Dragon Blight in the besieged Alliance holdings to the construction of the Tournament Grounds, he had followed the lessons with a fierce will, and learned, never complaining, and if sometimes she felt there was a smoldering hunger in his eagerness, if she sometimes felt the shadows of the events in Ulduar grow long in his frustration, it was only to be expected.

Of all the Virtues, Tenacity was his pillar. It held him upright in the face of unbearable horrors. He turned white, and trembled when she first taught him the Funeral Rites with a young foot solider who gave her life in battle. Her body was brought to them in a twisted fashion, no field healers had seen to her, given her up for dead at sight, her torso ripped through with lances and her eyes staring, unfocused and glazed, like a doll, giving her some false visage of life.

Together, they had set her body right, wrapped her in a shroud, and with shaking hands, and shaking voice he had said the words, formed the signs, while she swept the smoking censer above the body. It had taken all of his strength to touch her face, to close her mouth, to shut her eyes, and then it was over.

She smiled to think of it, the humility that grew in him that night, it glowed, and she had thanked the Light for that moment, if that memory was the greatest of her achievements in this war, she would be satisfied, for having brought such a child into the Church.

The memory still warmed Mia as she looked down at Alfred, nearly a year later now, and he had already given the rite to more worthy men and women than most priests did in a lifetime among the safe, green hills of the civilized lands of Azeroth.

The boy lay still, undisturbed by her slowly stroking hand, and only the slow rise and fall of his shoulder let her know that he was sleeping deeply, peacefully, and perhaps some of his peace passed through to her, or perhaps it was mere exhaustion catching up, but the howling wind faded for a moment, and a blissful unconsciousness took her.

--

Her dreams of Lorderon were green, and full of a summer heat that she could remember clearly, even years after the sickness that took the land. She remembered the horse fields, the lushness of the forests, a green so vibrant that it screamed in exaltation of life. And in that dream, she wandered, awakening the land with her bare feet, young and youthful, she ran from the eastern edges of the elf-lands to the western coast, faster than a horse, taking seven-league-strides, and the Light burned within her. She was younger than she could remember, she felt the grass between her toes, the wind burning in her lungs, and she laughed with the sheer joy of exhaustion.

And then she saw smoke rising from mountains in the west, she saw rocks hanging above the ground, hanging in the air like a horrific omen, the earth trembling beneath her feet, the grass died and was ash, dust filled the air, a choking cloud and she was afraid. A language deep and resonant and alien, chanting words that broke nature filled the air. The sun was swallowed up by black clouds rising from the crack in the earth, the world was plunged into darkness. Mia trembled, she clung to herself and could not find the prayers that were always ready in her mind, and she struggling waiting for the words to spill out, her lips moved, singing a soundless, wordless hosanna begging for succor.

In the hanging stones, among their long shadows black as tar, amidst the elements gone mad, the earth in the air, the water burning into scorching steam, the wind howling a mad scream, some unholy fire churning out a black smoke that ate the light, she saw a limb rising out towards her, an endlessly long fingerless limb, that reached out from the forgotten and mad guts of the world, and the elements hurled towards her, the rocks, the smoke, the steam, the screaming wind, to take her, to tear her, and the shock of the stones against her ribs was enough to crack her torso, collapse her chest, the impact was so dull and brutal that her breath was gone and then the steam took her, scorched the skin off of her body, she tried to scream but the howling wind was too hot to swallow, and smoke poured into her lungs, suffocating her. She struggled, prone on a shifting earth for air, gasping for breath with a broken chest full of smoke.

Above her, the madness swirled, the sun was black, and she squirmed like a dying insect, a small animal overrun by a horse, unseen but left in torment, struggling for a breath that would not come…

And she awoke, gasping and the cold chill wind of the Glacier filled her lungs, and she gulped it down, heaving another breath, before realizing where she was. The tent was empty. Alfred was gone and she felt a panic, concerned for him, as if that nightmare had taken the boy from her and she rushed out of the tent, her hair wild without the hood to hold it in, the black and gray strands flying around her head in the gale. Above her, the Citadel stood as still and as tall as ever. Its heights were lost in the eternal blizzard, clouds raced and circled, like an endless portent of doom.

--

Mia went back into the Citadel with the next company to relieve the rear-guard. She had taken the time to prepare, cleansed herself with holy oils and collected all her reagents. The pyres were still burning, taller and wider than ever, and she gave them space, having no desire to steal warmth or take comfort from the burning martyrs. She climbed the spire with her guard, men and women wrapped in armor, their eyes alert and darting.

Her own eyes were for the dull stone beneath her feet, the endlessly worked and etched stone might have been beautiful, but instead, there was only the horror of undeath inscribed in endlessly repeated motifs. She could no longer bear to call the place a citadel, this tomb would bury them all, she was certain of it. But if it was to be so, she wanted to die with Alfred, to give him life for as long as she could, to save him from that thing in her nightmare, that organ of the Scourge that had infected even her most sanctified memories.

Suddenly, thunder sounded from far above and she stopped. The company drew their weapons, pointing up into the swirling clouds and mist beyond the heights of the walls.

“The Skybreaker,” a woman in armor said, trying to make out the titanic air-ship through the blizzard, “They're fighting something up there.” Stare as hard as they might, they could not make out any details and as the sound of thunder faded, they resumed their ascent.

Mia had never been this high up, the various forces assaulting the Citadel had made considerable progress but she could not allow herself to hope. Passing through a passage where icy mist filled the space, they entered the gaping inner spire. There were holes in the titanic, ribbed, curving walls, like caves in mountainsides, large enough to swallow ships, Val’kyr flew openly high, high above the reach of the soldiers gathering in the gloom, and in the center was the naked spire of ice. The force of the Frozen Throne flowed down the ghostly column with an undiminished strength, a relentless psychic assault that drove Mia down. Around her the soldiers walked with heavy step, most of them unable to even raise their eyes above the ground, holding on to the last reserve of strength to go on.

And then she saw Alfred, walking among the soldiers, a touch here, a prayer there, his hands were white, as if the Light was in him, and there was something about his face, a glory, a lightness, and it nearly broke her heart to see in him what she had never experienced. This was the peace of ascension, the stillness of the purest hearts inspired by the Light to do great works, and this was the greatest of acts, the inspiration of men and women when there was no hope, the most vivid reminder of what they fought for, the hundred of millions in Azeroth who would thank the few who came here, to Northrend. And even the beauty of the moment could not silence the whisper in her thought, that those who came would die.

Breaking from her escort, she walked to the boy and watched him. A divine providence seemed to grace those he passed, and they found motivation where none was left in the face of this titanic horror. Here, at the verge of assaulting the very heights of the Citadel, where the Lich King’s bleak influence was at its strongest, this child stood up and channeled the Light into these doomed men and women. Mia blinked tears out of her eyes and walked up to the boy, smiling thinly at him and inclined her head to him for the first time in respect. He smiled back, beatific and unnervingly beautiful as he bowed to her. “Priestess,” he bowed, “I hope you slept well.”

“I am rested,” she replied, "And pleased to see you working."

They began to walk away from the soldiers and the guards, in the empty space between the barricade and the wounded.

“A few wounded still need tending to over there,” he said, pointing out a makeshift shelter, where white clad figures lay in lines, some shrouded, others still moving, beneath the ribbed walls that curved as if threatening to enclose the chamber inside a bony cage. “I couldn’t do much to help them, but maybe you’d be able to heal some of them.”

She reached out a hand to clasp his shoulder, “I’m sure you’re capable of an…”

Something pulsed inside the boy, something dull, black and angry. It receded from her for a second, and there was something familiar about it, like a smell that reminded her of something black, was this the Shadow long forgotten in his mind, hidden behind a barrier now free to race through his body? She frowned, reached for that feeling, and then it was turned on her, flooding her, crawling up her arm and into her body. Like smoke rushed along by a wind, like a forest fire in dry season, the Shadow spread inside her, and before she could even bring up her own defenses against this psychic assault, it was choking her throat from the inside, all of her breath trapped, unable to make a sound, unable to take a breath, she gagged, stepped to one side, let go of the infectious boy. Alfred screamed for her, his face etched with worry and fear, reached out to catch her with both his hands, holding her clumsily in his arms, the Shadow rose from him into her and she saw that same, long black limb reaching out of the boy's mouth, it enveloped her and she fell into pitch blackness.

--

Entombed within the Citadel, entombed within her mind, Mia blinked and knew her eyes did not close nor open, but the reflexive action served to settle her some. If her eyes were open, there was nothing to see. If she could speak, her tongue had forgotten all words. If she could hear, there was only silence. Shifting, writhing shadows filled her senses with an impenetrable black veil. She could not feel breath, the freezing mouthfuls of air, but if she was dead, this was not what she expected.

Something had infected Alfred, some plague, some secret disease and it had lashed out to her, perhaps because it feared detection, and that was surely the worst of it. She focused on her meditative focus, fumbling for the feeling of beads in her hand, prayed for salvation from this limbo and felt the shadows pressing on her from all sides, disrupting her concentration, a mad whisper of hopeless threats filled her ears, but she chose to pray instead, focusing on her breath until she could feel her chest rising and falling with each intake of air. Slowly the darkness faded leaving a gray haze and then the blinding white of the gap above the icy spire, and at last the blur of colorless white solidified and she could see the Val’kyr circling high above. Undead vultures waiting for the living to stop moving.

“Alfred,” she gasped, sitting up suddenly and she was lying among the wounded, the smell of bandages and gauze lifting from their groaning bodies, and she stood up, her bones complained but she ignored them, walking quickly to the soldiers, “How long have I been in there? Where is Alfred?”

And the soldiers shook their heads, they did not know. She had been asleep for hours. Alfred said she was exhausted, needed her rest. Her panic grew with each word. Did Alfred realize he was infected? Did he reach out to her to catch her or to finish what she had started by reaching out to the shadows nestled inside the boy? She walked from patrol to patrol, from resting soldier to the men carrying bodies down the stairs. “Have you seen my boy? Have you seen my boy?”

Some pointed back towards the lower spire, others towards the front, where active combat raged. Mia realized she was panicking, remembered who she was, closed her eyes, and turned her mind inward, in search of Alfred’s thoughts. To peer through another person’s eyes was a skill used by those who studied the Shadow and Mia’s training had not turned towards such esoteric mysteries – but some things she had learned in the field, and this was one of them.

A hurried prayer for forgiveness was all she could offer before sending her thoughts out in search of Alfred. When she found him, it was a dull, diminishing spark, as if he were wounded, dying, but through his eyes, she saw hurried movement, a place with cramped walls small arched spaces overflowing with the bones of the dead, of creatures familiar and alien, the boys legs vanished among the dead up his waist, and he turned to look behind him, and Mia caught sight of the chamber she was in, but seen from another vantage, higher and from the west, she could see the camps to the east on the other side of the great space, dim and distant, and she broke the contact before whatever had taken hold of Alfred realized her presence.

For a second, she contemplated taking some of the guards with her, but what if Alfred was still under the control of this Shadow? What if these warriors took the boy’s life in haste? No, she had exposed him to the horrors of this place, she had thought foolishly that the Shadow was not a threat, she would not be responsible for his death. She would free him, save him, so the Light might grace him with inspiration once again. She pulled her stole tightly about her body, her hood over her face in penance and she hurried west, where the soldiers had just paid a bloody bounty for a bit of the Lich King’s tomb.

She took the narrow steps into the side of the structure. Up, up, up the narrow spiraling stairs with walls carved with cavorting skeletons and ghouls, a litany of terror etched into stone. Short of breath she pressed her hand to the walls for support and she felt their clammy surface as if the very walls were sweating. Or bleeding. She looked at her hand as it came away stained with a black tar. Trembling with fear, she climbed the steps and looking around, she realized the walls truly were bleeding, thin, dark lines crawling down their icy surface, the skeletons and ghouls were melting, pooling on the steps and slowly draining back down the way she came, dribbling and collecting into shallow pools then overflowing each step, a dark and terrible flood.

What horror was she walking into? There was no helping stepping into the stuff as she went on, her skirts trailed in the pools, and she did not touch the weeping walls again, lifting her skirts instead, leaving bloody fingerprints in the gray.

The stairs ended high above the open space where the assault was gathered. She stood near a small balcony and there was a gap here, into a dark space. Alfred had been standing in that gap when she saw him. She took a step into and was swallowed by it.

Mia sank, nearly up to her knees in something brittle and stiff, like a sink hole full of dull sticks. At the bottom of the pit her foot sank into something cold and wet, up to ankles. That hideous, black blood pooling at the bottom. She had forgotten the bones. A cold shudder ripped through her body as she felt their clammy touch on her legs. This was a Charnel, a source for the necromancers, a mass gathering of victims left to turn into bare bones for use as spare parts. The horror sank into Mia and she whimpered. "Alfred," she called to him, "I'm sorry I brought you here."

"I'm not," a voice replied, and she saw a pair of red eyes glowing in the dark staring back at her. It was Alfred but it was not him. The voice was heavy, it bore an accent, it was adult. Mia stumbled as she backed out of the Charnel while red light spread from the boy. Wherever it touched, bones rustled. He was buried in them, up to his waist, and the walls of the Charnel were melting, like wax too close to a fire, as if his presence was enough to turn stone to blood, the walls poured into the room. The bones began to rustle, rising from the floor as it filled up with blood. "We are so close to the beginning of the end here, Priestess," he hissed, "I've shown you the future while you slept, you know what's coming. I had hoped my message to you would be enough. I cannot wait any longer or these blind fools might succeed at toppling this place."

And Mia's mind raced, the fear and panic was giving way to her training, this was combat, even if she loved this child. Let him keep ranting, she thought, and prepared once again to enter his mind.

"The true keepers of the land will not rest while these puppets make claims to godhood," the boy sneered, his face contorting between abject fear and snarling victory. "Yet, even puppets must play their part, and the Lich King's part is not yet done." The bones clacked and clamored as if taking on a life of their own, the blood was now visible in a pool between the bones, it began to congeal, it began to use the bones as a horrific skeletal frame as if it was coming to life.

"Chaos rises," the boy chortled, "In the blood of my god."

Mia struck then, sending her thoughts towards the boy, her mind locked in combat with his, her soul enshrouded with the Light, and met his dull, red fire.

It was not Alfred. It was someone else, something else, perhaps it had been human, or something mortal and sentient once, now it was given over to this madness, and the chaotic nature of its attack was impossible to predict. Mia struggled, falling into his mind, into his black and red thoughts. Mountains were suspended beneath an apocalypse sky and the world did not make sense. The oceans were drained and titanic creatures lay sprawling across the barren world, their corpses dwarfing cities. Holes were carved into the face of the planet, and then she realized with slow dawning horror, not holes, no, but names, of the true keepers of this world. Hideous, madness inducing names should she read the unholy runes, and she tore her eyes away from this apocalypse, this madness, this hopeless nihilism. There was no fighting this. There was no victory against one who had already given in to his own death, there was no way to struggle against a suicide.

"Alfred," she said, "Come back to me my child."

She opened herself up to the madness, and it poured into her with all of its hideous strength, hungry, eager and desperate to consume another. And in that opening, in that desperate feeding, she gave all of her strength to the child, to that pulse of Alfred that remained deep within this black and red chaos. And she struck a pure note, a chime of identity, and Alfred reached out, weak, terrified, and afraid, yet he reached out, gripping her hand, desperately, clung to life and sanity with his endless tenacity.

"No," he said, his voice frail, a dull echo inside of this other identity, this other mind, and the absolute denial of this apocalypse, a rejection so final and complete that the madness paused, repulsed by its opposite and together the priestess and her ward struck, Mia striking with purpose, Alfred fumbling, clumsily, yet it was enough and the madness dwindled, it echoed between them, struggling for life, and then the Light turned white-hot, blindingly bright, and when it diminished, there were only two.

--

"I remember," Alfred and Mia sat around a fire, far from the soldiers, the boy wrapped in crusader robes far too big for him, his own clothes stained in that hideous blood. "I remember now, going into Ulduar, finding those... people, they worshiped something in there, and the Crusaders cut them down, but they had terrible allies, and after the battle, when only I was left, they.... they..."

Mia could see that he wanted to finish, that he could finish, that he had the strength now, that he no longer needed to hide from what had happened, but she did not need to know. It was his secret to keep.

"Hush," she said, "That is for you to know, and for no others."

Alfred nodded gratefully, and pulled the robes around his shoulders tighter and looked up the spire towards the Frozen Throne. "That voice," he said, "It called the Lich King a puppet."

Mia nodded and then smiled. "It also said it was acting to save the Lich King. From us. It was afraid for him."

The boy smiled, weakly, but it was there, and Mia took what strength she could from it. She had been a chaplain too long. She was an old woman. The ache in her bones said this was her last campaign. She would return to Azeroth and would no more walk the world as she had for so many years. Her duty would end with training Alfred, and he would continue the Light’s work.

But that was for the future. Now, somewhere in the Cathedral, combat raged, and soldiers were wounded, boys and girls were killed. A signal sounded and the rear guard appeared. The priestess and her ward stood up, hand in hand, and waited for the bodies to come.

6 comments:

  1. Very well written and deserving of notice.

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  2. Amazing story, never ending stories come out from Warcraft! Love it :)

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  3. Kudos on the good story!

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  4. This spectacular. I've often bemoaned the exceptionally poor way Blizzard expressed the supposed connection between ICC and Ulduar. Thank you for this fresh perspective.

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  5. This story is really great. Showcasing the other side of the war on the scourge was an excellent idea! Too much, we just think of the front lines and not the cleanup.Also, the ties with Ulduar, and visions of the coming cataclysm fit in perfectly!

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  6. Thank you all for the kind words! :)

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