The Marquis regarded his outraged grandson. "Yes, Chaminuka. That was her."
The youth scowled, lips white with fury for a woman he'd been raised by his mother to mistrust. His father's mistress, who had come and gone with a mostly silent guard. The tips of his ears were dark, and he looked up with burning amber eyes.
Life, I love life
but fear a world too similar
life, I love life
but fear imitation
My eyes drifted over the chessboard and didn't really consider them beyond a brief assessment of the end of last night's game.
I still enjoyed playing chess with Hugh, though I do wish that his excellent solution to my ailment hadn't involved letting some damned heathen entity reshape me to its liking. I'd won the game. I generally do. The image of Ythfas's first effort to best me suddenly arose, and I banished it with a snarl which tugged at my face and urged it to lengthen, to grow bestial. My second son and murderer. His head was not yet in my hands, my vengeance not yet accomplished to my knowledge. That still rankled.
I focused on the names of the intricate moves, and the urge eased.
1. Air - Ashenvale courses under me. Bobbing branches and streaks of green and gold blur as the wind whips my eyes into tears. It's so beautiful. The hippogryph beneath me screams like a hawk's predatory cry, and my soul exults to see my home unveiled this way, and celebrated. Something inside feels healed for a short time. That was four thousand years ago now.
2. Apples - A gleaming soft lit round shape on the countertop. So serene. My knife flashes, catching the moonlight in a silvery gleaming light. A voice inside me whimpers, but I turn the blade and begin to plunge it toward the blithely ignorant fruit. Pause, the tip quivering just above the skin. Flick it, and deftly skin the apple in a few short strokes, ignoring that child's voice inside with habit borne of millenia. Three years ago.
Tiarlatha opened the door at a single knock from the cloaked figure waiting. The cottage was nestled in rolling foothills, like any of a thousand other simple comfortable homes for refugees or peasantry. Nothing at all made it stand apart from another building. Nothing particularly identified the man who'd ridden up through the oaken wood, between autumn leaves, on a flea-bitten grey gelding with an unkempt mane.
Tiarlatha was not paid to be a fool, and had been made aware well in advance of her visitor's arrival by the tripping of some faint simple spell-webs she'd earlier placed along the paths to her cottage. Nothing obvious or strong. Nothing most mages would even care to notice; their sole notable feature was that any sentient being crossing them would extinguish them as if they'd never been, and her awareness would note the cancellation of each tiny spell-web, like a spider feeling silken filaments snapped.
Let an unseen eye travel over the seated man in the study. Long neatly tied gray hair which holds just barely to a red-gold past. An acquiline nose, patrician and long, set between two eyes which burn with a pale blue unholy light. Finely arching gray brows above the eyes, lines traced between and around. Neither an old man nor a young, but a man firmly esconced in the later side of maturity. No coltish aggression here, but solid confidence. The invisible gaze might linger here and there, then note the figure's occupation. He sits at a polished dark wooden desk, one sword calloused hand stained with ink as he holds a quill with long ease, its tip scratching along a page of a leatherbound book. One candle flickers, guttering to illuminate his work and his face, painting him in relief and deep shadow. It is past the bells of midnight, but as seems his habit, he remains writing, having left a bed rumpled and occupied earlier, setting down thoughts as he has since a boy.
The letter sat half open on my desk when I left. I'd considered crumpling it. Burning it. I decided those reactions would be childish, no matter how I felt about its author. The servants would attend to our bed before I returned home. I'd needed my Theryl's warm arms. I'd needed her kisses. Her love. When one goes to face the demons of one's darkest memory, one ought to go girded with armour. I kept my mind firmly centred on my love's body, the way she tasted, the sounds she made, the scent of her curling red hair. Call it armour if you like.
It performed the same function as I walked, feeling a ball of icy hatred burning deep in my gut. Protecting me from my own rage. I had many things to rage about, after all.
Ythgar Vinguld prowled from the repugnant edifice of Stormwind Keep, his lips quirked in a faint smile. His steps took him toward Old Town, and amid the hubbub of the street callers and the yells of washer women, he permitted himself to chuckle once.
Swallow sat relaxing in her apartment high above Shattrath. The Aldor had been good hosts. Good friends. Chaminuka, now almost three, had befriended some Draenei children, and used some of their tongue interspersed with Kadanga at home when he sat at the low table Swallow had purchased. Nehanda watched from within her playpen, clinging sturdily to the upper edge of the slatted construction.
Ythgar Vinguld preferred two extremes within which to mull and to ponder. He spent what in his living years would have been a ridiculous amount of time thinking, but then again, he also no longer slept. Those long hours in which he chewed over events, catalogued them, and then filed them first in cohesive order in his mind, then usually set in black ink on white vellum, served him in the same capacity that dreams and vague fantasies served and aided those still living.
Ythgar felt better, but the memory of life was a gnawing pain in his gut. He had to concentrate not to find the world of undeath unbearably gray and empty. Accordingly, Ythgar Vinguld busied his mind in seeing the final stages and elements of his plan, and in sewing up the last touches. Terenius had done his job superlatively, first infiltrating, then whipping his little rabble into a frenzy.
Ythgar found at times a certain cool pleasure to be had in inflicting his presence upon the oh-so-pristine streets of Stormwind, or the sward of the Park. Raked, no less. The grassy lawn looked like a painting. And merely emphasized to the old nobleman that the denizens of Stormwind were living in a fantasy world where everyone could love everyone else. So much the better to watch the shocked expressions and averted eyes as he stalked past, blatant in his affiliation and character. He may as readily have been wearing the insignia of the Scourge emblazoned upon his skeletal breastplate instead of in a belt pouch for all the horrified faces he saw turning from his very existence.
Ythgar savagely dug his spurred heels into the chilly sides of his deathcharger. The ache to go home had come upon him the way an itch does.. growing in intensity until it was a maddening goad he couldn't escape. Something urged him faster... beckoned him.. until with atypical brutality to his mount, he charged toward Vingetrymming Manor at a breakneck speed. His haste abated with a suddenness like water dousing him when the hooves of his mount struck and dug into the loam at the edge of his family's ancestral lands. With equal force, the former Marquis of this land hauled on his mount's reins, the cruel bit forcing the unearthly beast to rear, screaming a haunting, wicked cry.
Aidyn prowls through Scryer Tier, her hands clenched around the hilts of her daggers. Nothing. No sign, no message.
Okay, so she had been out of contact with him for months, the tribes needed her services. The least he could have done was send a message... tried to hunt her down. That is what he does, isn't it? Hunts things.
Damn herself for letting herself fall for him, letting herself feel. First Ythfas, now Kevkaln.
Fine, so be it.
She snarls as she mounts her gryphon, urging it to flight, turning towards Nagrand. The Kurenai still gave her shelter when needed. She would be safe there and rebuild the walls, rebuild the mask, hide Aidyn behind the mask of Sekhet.
Aktarin sat astride Talah on a crag of the Alterac mountains. Her customary ebony mail was replaced with a new suit of chain enameled to resemble the red-gold of autumn leaves - a gift from her general for services rendered. She had yet to decide if she liked the change. The mail certainly fit well. A dark cloak hung around her shoulders, hood loose on her back. The trailing end was arranged over Talah's barding and armour, to the huge feline's disdain. At her side a new dagger - another gift. This one pleased her in its construction and midnight hue, and she had belted it over the black and gold of her tabard and armour with a slight smile. It was easier to think only of weapons, armour and arrows. To let a hand trail along the straps on her wartiger to run over the fletchings in her quiver. To live completely in the moment, with neither past nor future, and think only of the throats and bodies which would sprout those selfsame fletchings before long.
Aktarin sat at her goldenwood desk and regarded the neatly penned scroll before her with weary eyes. There were days, she felt, when she just wanted to hurt things. This was one of them. Evidently in the Tempest Keep, her new commissioned officer - commissioned very much unwillingly - Ta'Srith "Snowsinger", had caused some trouble.
Swallowtail lay on the bed she had made in the corner of Aradhel's room. The huge Kal'Dorei warrior insisted they share a bed, but when the human wished to curl in her own blankets, Aradhel never asked otherwise.
There were still nights when Swallowtail did not wish to speak or think, but only lie and feel her baby's kicks in her belly, and try not to think of the man whom she'd once loved. It wasn't easy to forget someone she'd loved so utterly and deeply. She'd meant it when she'd sworn to him that no other man would lie with her. None would. Only Aradhel, her lover and mentor. Only Aradhel would know Swallow's lips or the feel of her body beside her in the bed they usually shared. After Ythfas... other men felt hollow to the girl from the jungles of Stranglethorn.
Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?
nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
Sekhet prowled through the Kurenai base in Telaar, restless and worried. Kevkaln had promised that no matter what happened, she would not be alone. Hah! The promises of any male were empty, she knew that now.
“I will wait for you” he had said after the confrontation with Agira. But no, so much for that promise, finding one of his own race that appealed to him, apparently turning his back on the one he called Aidyn.
Swallow sat with her back against smooth polished wood. It was a reassuring pressure, and somehow supportive. She had spent so many hours reflecting on her life until so recently, only to come to a realization that nothing mattered but now. It was a truth she'd known once before the wiles of the grubby world outside her home permeated her vision. She was only truly free so long as she knew that single essential truth. The chains of the past were impossible weights otherwise, clanking sullenly about her ankles, tainting the future and the present with the rattle of their imprisonment.
Do you remember a girl called Tansie?
No. Shut up.
She was about fifteen.
Hair down to her waist. It was honey-blonde. You liked it.
How would you know? Desperate, distract him, don't want to hear this, don't want to feel lust anymore, not to HIS voice.. no more...
Oh, I know these things. Fathers do.
You were dead by then. You'd been dead for a while, father.
Death didn't stop YOU, did it?
I didn't have a choice about that, did I. Bitter.
You're making a choice now, aren't you?
What do you mean?
You're walking north, aren't you. Walking through hell. That's what this is, you know.
Ha. I was dead once. There's no such thing as hell. If there was, considering all I've done, I'd have gone there.
That's because, as you put it so well, you had no choice last time.
His eyes were playing tricks.
Eyes... they weren't eyes. The fish had eaten those. The hollow empty places filled to the brim with sickly greenish-yellow light that he somehow saw through... were playing tricks.
He'd stopped running an eternity ago, and simply walked in the blackness. Swish, swish, swish.
Every footstep took willpower at first, but now it was harder to stop than to keep going. If he stopped, he'd be down here forever, under the leaden weight, and in the terrifying cold.
He saw things in the eternal midnight of this icy hell he'd chosen. Sometimes they were horrific fish twisted by some unknown hand into shapes of nightmare and demonic visage.. sometimes they were worse.
He absently detached another fleshy eel-thing from his elbow and squeezed it as he walked.
He sits below the low roof on the lowest step that leads to the door of the golden hall, watching the rain. Wrapped in a blanket they gave him, his hands curled around a mug of tea, Tamlin rests within the occasional splash of rain, not enough to be soaked by it, as it is gentle tonight, but enough to feel it...pattering against him.
Amarok lies beside him. The Fur-King, true master of the Golden Hall, shakes his mane and pins his ears; looking less than regal and quite wet.
It was time to go.
Ta'Srith looked around the basement lab she'd claimd within the Tower. It was spotless, tidy, and neat. No sign of the deaths, or the torment she'd inflicted so calmly.
Her studies within the Tower had progressed as far as they could. The half-sentient artifact was progressing and growing along with its soulmate.
She looked over at her carefully packed bags, mind moving with its usual crystalline precision.
Ythfas was lazy. A skilled but undisciplined student. For a time, he'd been eager to learn, and had attended to the knowledge she'd given him, and the awareness of lifestream magic. Yet for the past few moons, the human had not attended a single morning lesson. His last had been shortly before the infant was given to his pet.
Sekhet couldn't focus.
Her poisons lay on the table before her, but she didn't see them. All she could think about was the encounter in Tanaris with that hunter who dwelt in the Tower... Kevkaln? Yes, Kevkaln. How odd. She had always just called him "Adept".
And now, now the Master has abandoned his Tower, abandoned those who served him, in all ways. She was realizing just how foolish she had been, falling for the man who had saved her life. No, not the man, but an idea. Swallowtail had the right of it. He didn't love those who lived within the walls of the Tower.
She buried her head in her hands, remembering.
(Continued from Sekhet's "A Request" )
Swallowtail eyed the message sitting in the slot at Aldor where she usually found ores her friends sent her, or gifts from her teacher and lover. It was writing. Writing!
She'd never really understood why the so-called "civilized" peoples of the world felt a need to limit themselves to such transitory things as paper. Their memories faded like leaves after they ceased to exercise their minds. And the notion of capturing thoughts.. it was repugnant. But, it was common, and typical.
She eyed the bird-like scratch marks on the page, and briefly entertained a fantasy in which a bird had written to her.
I miss you, Owaissa.
The guests began to file in, looking around at the converted greenhouse, the wooden pews taking up the center, the altar at the far end, the tables stacked with food along the walls. Though the snow fell outside, the interior of the glass hall remained warm.
Lord Julestern turned to his plump wife, speaking over the head of his daughter, as if she were not there, “Why we couldn’t just hold the ceremony at the cathedral is beyond me. If you ask me, there’s something very funny about that Marquis. Something decidedly unsavory.” His mustache twitched, and he gave a “harrumph” to emphasize his point.
The whispers assaulted the young girl as she ascended the stairs, two by two. She hadn’t been this far up into the tower in a year. The whiskey made her ears buzz, but her chest was warm, even though her fingers were still cold and black with soot.
Parts of her uniform were blacked or burned away too. The spell hadn’t worked like she’d expected. Too much whiskey, she imagined. No matter though, she would deal with Thienna when the time came. Oh yes. She would deal with her.
Swallowtail turned and looked around the room she'd bought for a handful of glittering coins. The Aldor Rise loomed high above the city of refugees below, and held a sort of perfect beauty to it. The Light which coruscated upward like some trailing ribbon of joy lent an air of peace to both the Rise and the City below.
Swallowtail hefted the pack to her shoulder. She'd carefully oiled her ceremonial blue - and -gold armour and felt that curious lump in her throat again. It didn't defend her, and this place was filled with enemies from the top down. She would have liked to wear it. Would have liked this to have been the home she'd wanted it to be for herself and her son. Her face dark and cold - a good mask, she was finding, to hide how very much it hurt inside to be betrayed in this way - she pushed open the door, taking the steps to the nursery, trying to force her mind from how bruised her heart felt to how much she loved her son.