Whispers in the ranks, or what was left of them at any rate. The reality was bitter ash on the tongue and a poison in the mind. The wretched undead had taken everything and infected the land. The devastation they wrought had been beyond imagining—yet still they came. Wave after wave. They didn’t stop and they didn’t rest. The dead had no need for such things.
*We must defeat the Scourge at all costs.*
No one could say who started it, but there was a hardness the in the eyes of some that wasn’t there before Arthas’ betrayal. Before Uther’s death…A sharpness of the soul that would cut down the enemy as surely as it would the person wielding such a lethal blade. No sacrifice was too great, and no one was too great to sacrifice.
*Some costs are too high.*
Could they live with themselves? To wage such a war bordered on insanity, and the line between madness and reason was thin at the best of times. These were not the best of times. Sorrow filled the eyes of some of the others, as though all the world was not large enough to contain their heartache. It was a time for much mourning.
Righteous vengeance or compassion? Follow the Light. Supplicate. Bare your soul. Give your life to the cause. Both ask, but which path is madness and which is deliverance?
Hone the blade of Judgment and hold it to your throat. Pray to the Light. There is no turning back.
“So, what say you, Paladin?”
The faded, crumbling pages of the cracked, leather-bound tome were so fragile, Karsten dared not breath too forcefully lest the pages fall to ruin. Of course, the knowledge in the book was not the only thing in danger of falling apart. The tower, built far too close to the edge of a weather-worn cliff, was in danger of toppling over the edge if he so much as put one foot in the wrong spot.
“It has to be here,” he growled softly. He closed the book, carefully, and put it down in the growing, neatly stacked pile on the sturdy, but rotting, table at the top of the tower.
Just as he moved to pick up another one, the hairs on the back of his neck prickled and he froze, but he dared not turn around. Giving the wayward energies attention only made them stronger.
It was a reckless mage that didn’t clean up leftover magical energies, and the former owner of the tower had been such a practitioner. Left to its own devices, such magics would be pesky at worst, but given the magical pursuits of the less-than-sane owner of the tower…It would be best if Karsten finished his business here. The faster the better.
As he reached for the book again, a menacing hiss sounded from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, nonchalantly. He then decided that he deserved some commendation for the fact that he kept a bored, neutral tone, instead of having his sandy blond eyebrows fly from his face in shock.
It was a large, oozing blob formed from an amalgam of magics, ranging from fire to fel. Where its drippings fell to the floor from what Karsten assumed was its mouth, it ate through the already corroding stone.
“It was too much to ask that this would be a simple task, wasn’t it?” Karsten sighed. He then snagged the book, shielded himself, and blinked through the window toward the crashing waves eating away at the cliff.
The roar of the blob as it lunged to bite Karsten, followed by a howl of displeasure and crashing of the tower as it fell into the merciless ocean, did little to assuage his foul mood. The resulting wave from the tower’s demise didn’t hurt him, but shields kept out magical and physical damage, not seawater.
He thought about slogging his way to the shore before making a portal, but then had a better idea. To be fair, the person who’d sent him on this inane task deserved nothing less than what Karsten had experienced. He held the still dry tome above his head, and with a wicked grin started the portal spell.
The rattle of bones churning in the dry ground offered a hollow, delicate melody, like a wind chime caught in a breeze created by the damning sighs of the many people she’d killed. “Such sweet music,” she crooned. Her glowing, ice blue eyes flashed in anticipation as she pondered the grave before her.
The tombstone was so old no one living would be able to decipher the weather-worn stone, and for the first time in years she smiled. It cracked her bloodless lips and revealed a set of sharpened teeth, which were almost as startling as her exposed bones and minimal skin.
“Rise,” her raspy voice called, and the one in the grave before her had no choice but to do as she commanded. “Rise,” she urged, “and obey.” The final word held power like thunder, and was like the cracking of a whip.
As the rotting, putrid ghoul heaved its way from the earth as though it were being spat out, it quivered at the feet of the creature in front of it. “Come,” she said, her voice full of compulsion like lightning striking at what was left of the ghoul’s brain. “We have much work to do.”
Melancholy hung in the air, giving the grief of those gathered a weight that could be breathed in, sitting heavy in the chest like a crushing stone. Their Chieftain had died in glorious battle, and the gathered mourners were howling their despair to the moon hanging full and low in the sky.
Torchlight bathed the deceased’s many wounds and countless scars in an orange glow. Even in death, his grim visage spoke of a life of hard-won victories and hardship. He’d carved a better life for his people from this land like a skilled butcher, and they had flourished under his command.
The first indication that something was amiss was the hissing. Then, slowly, murmurs rose from the back of the crowd like the rising tide, and the crowd parted in a reverent wave. Snakes, nearing too many to count, slithered between all those gathered to coil at the base of the dais where the Chieftain lay. Their eyes glittering in the low light, they stilled, and waited.
Following on their tails, a woman walked with an almost lyrical step, as though there was music only she could hear. Hips swaying, her dusky purple skin glistened with sweat, and the ornamentation of carved bones around her neck clattered softly as she moved. She studied the Chieftain’s body with keen eyes.
Then, a husky voice came from the depths of her hood; “Da whispas of da loa hold true: his spirit lingers here, waiting for a guide back ta his body.”
Shock reverberated through the crowd, followed closely by a sudden burst of hope. The shaman pulled her hood back, revealing a thick braid from the top of her head trailing down to her mid-back with the coloring of the azure waters of the sea. Her hands began to glow with the soft green of growing things in the spring, as though she wove the very magics of life to her will. It bathed the Chieftain in a pale light.
“I be havin’ a vision of da future, love,” she whispered softly, so only he could hear. “It not be ya time ta die yet!”