View Full Version : The Sleeping Mines by Helholtz of Gilneas
12-20-2009, 05:33 AM
Copyright, Helmholtz Pillus, 2009. Warcraft and all related fiction, characters, settings and any other fabricated devices belonging to the franchise are property of Blizzard, and are used without permission. Any characters that have not appeared before in anything sanctioned by Blizzard are of my own creation and may not be used without permission.
The Sleeping Mines
An Informal Yet Accurate Depiction of the Life of Marsz, the Faded Inferno, as interpreted by Helmholtz of Gilneas
It was a funny sound, somewhere in between a yelp and a grown – the type that when, even fully completed, always gave the impression of having been cut off abruptly. The noise was accompanied, and somewhat muffled, by the clings and clangs of armour too impatient to remain silent and the unmistakable phtt of a paladin’s behind meeting the hard dirt beneath him with an admirable amount of force. He winced as a straight, sharp pang quickly climbed his spine and settled rather irritatingly just beneath the bottom of his skull. He decided to ignore this pain, attributing it to his old age, which was rather dramatic and pretentious of him as he had hardly delved far into his twenties.
Marsz cursed his clumsiness, realizing – not for the first time – that the only reason paladins were so commonly the protagonist in tales of adventure and heroism was because they so frequently allowed themselves, through some silly sense of duty or bravado, to get into trouble. His brow creased and, using the very large maul that lay beside him (having created a sizeable imprint into the dirt itself) as a leverage, hoisted himself to his feet. His pauldrons groaned against his chest-piece and his sabatons moaned against his greaves.
“Tired already?” he chided with a curled lip, “I only put you on an hour or two ago.”
He often talked to himself to pass the time, when alone. Sometimes he extended such acquaintances to surrounding, inanimate objects; in this case his apparel. This peculiarity had gotten him into trouble more than a few times and he repeatedly endeavoured to squash the habit.
Marsz looked slowly upward at the shaft he had fallen down, remembering with a grimace that he had done the same years ago when he and four other companions had come through this place, searching for a missing friend. The smells of dust and aging timber held the paladin’s nostrils at their mercy; wiggling his nose and presenting him with a sneeze, which he fought off bravely. He also suffered from the unpleasant taste of old, upturned soil, ripe with specks of copper and iron that had lost themselves within the dirt. It left within his mouth the metallic taste he could not help but associate with blood.
His hand flinched toward his water bag but he stopped himself, as much as it pained him, for he would likely need it later. As he dropped his gaze he caught a shining butterfly dancing near the top of the shaft, far out of reach. He lost it for a moment, fast as it was, and did not see it after that. It brought a smile to his face, nonetheless, as he had seen the same tiny creature before, twice, though it had never shone so brightly.
Gripping hard the gigantic and outlandish hammer he had acquired in a far off land, he lifted it, with a grunt, over his shoulder, where he let it rest, still in-hand. Though somewhat more talented with a sword, the paladin felt more comfortable within the stereotype, having witnessed in his youth the enormous war hammers favoured by holy warriors past. It was a largely impractical weapon, being so unbalanced and greatly fatiguing to travel with. It compliments a paladin’s lumbering martial abilities nicely, however, often wounding or dispatching enemies without any particular finesse exerted by the wielder. This, of course, presents a hazard to nearby allies, which coined the phrase, “a paladin is only as dangerous as his heals are ineffective” and the belief that paladins are given the power to heal wounds only to make amends should they unwittingly strike a fellow in battle on account of their clumsiness.
And, on that note, let it be known to the readers that all paladins are incredibly, ridiculously clumsy. This author admits that he has not met every man or woman to ever proclaim themselves a paladin but has met a great many, and has not known a single one to lack this unfortunate trait. Any stories one might have heard that state otherwise are, I assure you, either exaggerated or entirely untrue. Paladins are, after all, powerful mascots that inspire hope within the hearts of many victims belonging to war torn lands, of which there are countless these days, and the truth would somewhat mar this. Even Tirion Fordring, throughout his entire campaign against the Lich King, did not run if he could help it, lest he trip and fall for with him would have descended the morale of his crusade, whose soldiers revered him as something of a god. This is a product, perhaps, of attempting the study of several arts of war, as all paladins are expected to do.
It had taken Marsz more time than he would have liked to become efficient with the Light but his travels since his last visit to these endless, narrow tunnels had taken him far indeed. He would not have survived them, as he often explained to whomever would listen, had he not suddenly learnt to properly wield holy magic.
Curiously, he might not have achieved such mastery had he not mustered the courage to seek out his friend deep within these mines, all those years ago. This realization was hardly new. In fact, so thoroughly had he dwelt upon it that the primary influence in deciding to revisit this damned pit, apart from the offhand rumour that business within had begun again and that darting figures could be seen, at moonlight, about the mostly deserted village that lay like a misshapen jigsaw puzzle outside the crumbling entrance, was a tiny, and perhaps selfish, hope that he might just learn some more.
Breaking from his reverie, Marsz took one sturdy step forward, which he thought was a very good start (thinking of the tumble down the shaft as something of a precursor to his new adventure).
“Abandon hope,” ignited the slow, carrying croak from somewhere hidden, “all ye who enter.”
Marsz’s eyebrows folded into a frown at the eerie and annoying feeling of being caught within a cliché. An elderly man with a loose, wrinkled face, complimented by a solemn expression, emerged from a stain of shadows.
The fiery haired paladin was not worried that he had not noticed the wispy-haired man, nor indeed that he had failed to perceive the shadows as capable of holding any sort of threat. He did find it perplexing, yet not altogether surprising, that there was anyone down here at all.
“No sleep within the mines... only death,” the stranger muttered, continuing his cryptic speech.
“Well,” retorted Marsz, unable to resist, yet also recognizing the hypocrisy of his quip, “what did you expect? Only an idiot would come to a place called the Deadmines.”
12-31-2009, 10:40 PM
“You are to be commended for the service you have done for Stormwind,” the Lady addressed the humans in the throne room rather pointedly, blatantly ignoring the rest. The two night elves and the dwarf set glowers upon her, however, that more than made up for any lack of attention on her part. Unfortunately or, perhaps, fortunately, she did not notice these glares. She scanned the room as if she talked to a crowd. Her voice was like song, approving and appreciative, yet her face was cold – beautiful, but ghastly. “If VanCleef had been successful –”
“We’d all be dead,” Marsz interrupted. Her eyes quickly found him and narrowed. The paladin felt himself flinch but opened his mouth to speak nonetheless, “or... something. Anyway, what happens now?”
A moment of quiet became a stretch of silence, and the silence grew heavy. And hot.
“Now?” whispered the Lady.
One of the night elves stepped forward, his blue eyes brightening, and put a long-fingered hand on his companion’s shoulder. Lean, yet tall even for a kaldorei, he towered over everyone else in the room.
“I think he means Westfall,” explained Denitian, as he was known to most non-elven folk.
“And Moonbrook?” asked JT, the second night elf.
“And the Deadmines?” Marsz took a small step forward. “It’s empty now,” he said, smiling weakly and looking to his friends. His grin dropped. “It’s more dangerous than ever. All it’d take is one angry person to take it over and then you could have another Brotherhood on your hands.”
It took her not nearly as long to answer this time, and perhaps it was this quickness of reply, or maybe it was her tone of voice that made what she said sound flat and thoroughly rehearsed.
“The king’s men are drawn thin, good citizens, but I promise you that we will exert any and all power at our disposal to help those under the kingdom’s care. We just need to get our soldiers back.
Marsz watched, eyes blank, the spectacle spread out before him. Shadows stretched and shrunk at the swaying of the too few lanterns spread about the underground clearing, influenced by a breeze of some unknown origin. A lifeless wind. The light chinks of broken cutlery, handled carefully and awkwardly, and the pitter-patter of naked feet slapping against dirt and stone were the only sounds the paladin’s untrained ear could make out. Although he suspected that a person with the most potent hearing would not catch a whisper. Dozens of people eating any scraps they could wrap their thin, bony hands around, yet none spoke. Men, women, children – thirty of them, at least – sleeping on tattered linens or under moth-eaten covers.
“Looks like those soldiers never got back,” Marsz muttered to himself.
“We are, all of us, soldiers,” moaned the old man loudly.
“Shh!” hissed Marsz, watching the near-silent scene as if it were a pane of glass ready to break. “Why are they all here?”
“...it may be a sanctuary or a prison...”
Marsz scowled at the old man, whom had insisted, with hand movements (words didn’t appear to be his strong point) that he follow him, deeper into what he called the Sleeping Mines. The paladin, often snobbishly referring to himself as a philosopher, wondered whether the minds of the elderly were truly addled in response to an extended existence or if, some time ago, one old man got it into his head that his mind had decayed and all the other followed suit. He had known an elf at one time, the paladin had recited once, who had convinced himself he suffered from a curse. He had been examined by respectable mages and they had assured him he was false. Days later, the elf was found dead with no identifiable means as to how he died. Furthermore, not a sliver of magic could be detected around the scene of death. So thoroughly convinced was he that he had been afflicted with some sort of demonic power, his heart stopped working. Marsz had a stubborn suspicion the elderly were similarly deluded. It was these musings of his that caused him one day to insist that he would fight off such decomposition, should it exist and seek to possess his brain. He would never, he promised, grow forgetful nor become incoherent, should he live a thousand years. This train of thought developed, as they often do, even further to such an extent that once when asked what his last words might be, should he be granted sufficient warning before his demise to voice them, he replied that it would be silly to answer such an irrelevant question for he had no intention of dying.
Let it be written that this author, while noting the ridiculous of the protagonist’s claims, thinks no less of the man for the personal incitement. Perhaps this is because I, along with any other that have heard the legendary tales of the Faded Inferno, know quite well what future belongs to Marsz. Being the storyteller that I am, I find myself giddy with excitement at this wonderful bit of foreshadowing and irony.
“So they are prisoners,” Marsz confirmed.
The old man nodded his head, eyes closed. He took so long to open them again Marsz believed he had simply dozed off and hadn’t answered this question at all.
“We are, all of us, prisoners, within the Sleeping Mines.”
There was that name again. Marsz wondered fiercely whether there was any significance behind such a title. He speculated that he and his friends had not defeated the mines as they had first thought but had merely subdued it to a sleeping state. The troubling thing was, what exactly was to happen should the mines awake? VanCleef was dead, Marsz had taken his head and presented it to Stoutmantle himself. Who then was behind the mines this time?
Some of the prisoners (as Marsz now saw them) watched him now. He had been adventuring for years now and had played the hero more than once. He never tired of the personal satisfaction he received upon turning fearful, hopeful eyes into expressions of gratitude. It affected him deeply that these eyes now stared at him without hope, only with a vile sort of interest in him and a curious speck of confusion as to why he was there.
Suddenly a thought struck Marsz like an arrow shattering against a flying bullet. His body tensed. “Old man, if these people are prisoner, how is it I entered the mines without trouble? Are there guards here, hidden?” Marsz relaxed himself slightly and addressed the stranger with a doubtful, quizzical look, “did... you kill them?”
The old man shook his head and seemed to fall asleep again. When he opened his eyes he muttered, “Not prisoners,” and pointed deeper into the mines, “prisoners,” and pointed back out the way Marsz had come from.
Marsz stared at him, mouth open. “I’m sorry buddy, but I’ve got no idea what you’re saying.”
Determined, the old man repeated his words and his gestures. Marsz frowned, concentrating, his mouth shrinking into a tiny little o.
“So... they’re not prisoners here,” said the paladin slowly, “they’re prisoners... there?”
The man nodded, once again taking a tiny nap.
“They’re poor,” Marsz concluded, “they can’t afford to live anywhere else.” He lowered his head, spreading his lips across his teeth in a desperate sort of way.
It seemed that it had all been a mistake. Those that had taken up residence within the vacant mines were no danger to Stormwind. Marsz felt a pang of bitterness at returning to the castle to relay the good news. It seemed VanCleef was not the villain here, it was Marsz’s own kingdom and its failure to live up to its promises.
Or so he thought.
Far off in the distance came a banging, what sounded like two pieces of kitchenware striking each other.
“What’s that?” asked Marsz. His voice was lost beneath the chaos that took hold of the room. The prisoners started to run around like ants, all of them in a panic.
“Awaken all ye shadows, embrace me!” commanded the old man and disappeared somewhere.
“Oi!” Marsz called in a hushed voice.
The noises continued. They travelled along the tunnelled halls. They grew closer. And closer.
Marsz shifted from side to side, looking for a place to hide. He darted backward and went around a bend, placing his back firmly against the cavern wall, waited and listened. The banging became louder. The sound seemed to grow monstrous. He scrunched up his eyes and bared his teeth. Finally, abruptly, the sound ceased.
A voice, high yet male, swam past the clearing and into the tunnel wherein Marsz hid.
“Stop sleeping!” he screamed. “Stop eating, stop sitting, stop breathing! Everybody stand!”
Marsz’s heart felt like a wild bird trapped within a tiny chamber, throwing itself against every wall in a bid to get out.
“Shift two out, shift three in! Work time!”
The owner of the mysterious voice, if it was indeed he whom possessed the makeshift cymbals, recommenced his symphony and the paladin could soon make out the scrapings of dozens of bare feet against the hard soil of the area ahead.
Even after these noises subsided and the banging faded well off into the distance, Marsz waiting several long moments before poking his head around the corner to survey the now empty room. Indeed, everyone was gone.
“Old man?” he whispered hesitantly.
“Old man!” he called out a little more forcefully.
“Damn it, old man, I haven't worked just on my own for a while and it never hit me til now but I’ve got the feeling I might not be so great at it anymore.”
There was a brief rustle of clothing and a croaky voice spoke from somewhere, “Put your courage to its sticking place!”
Marsz waited a few more seconds, expecting the old fool to show himself. He did not. The flaming haired paladin stomped the ground in annoyance and marched onward, cursing the fearful old man yet being quite afraid himself. Afraid of wading ahead toward a very unknown enemy.
01-07-2010, 06:20 PM
I am very impressed with your detailed and polished style. I didn't find any spelling or grammar mistakes in the text. And the story itself was very interesting.
Please keep contributing your works to the forum.
02-01-2010, 12:38 AM
What precisely, I wonder, is the true definition of a friend? Surely friend is too broad a term to warrant any real significance, once bestowed upon a person. If it is, in fact, an important title, surely it should not be used so commonly and without constraint. I myself have, of late, been something of a lone wolf. Hmm... a wolf indeed. What an amusing comparison, ‘twas the first that came to mind. Rightfully so, I suppose. Shall I elaborate on my amusement, I wonder? A part of me craves it but I am afraid it is not my secret to tell. It does not belong, in fact, to any single person.
Forgive my ramblings, especially if you find them impossible to understand. I am still of an able mind, you see, but there is a hurricane between my ears that wreaks havoc upon my concentration. I may appear jovial in my writing but were any of you gentle readers to someday, somehow come across me and, after surmounting that implausibility, further exert yourself to overcome my physical appearance, you would find a man very different from the author whose voice speaks within these pages. I am wounded, you understand. I am deprived of a stable mind and am prone to frequent lapses in focus. I am grieved with an overwhelming appetite and suffer vicious, violent, and depressingly frequent, outbursts. In simpler terms, I am bereaved of my humanity. There are two things I have found to counter such torments. They are martial combat and narrative writing. Locked within my tower as I am, there is very little that can be done for the former, though fortunately this also means that the only victim to my thoughtless frenzies is my four poster bed. Therefore, my only solace is in my writing. This does not always work, however, which accounts for the drivel above, and any other that might be found upon any paper my pen has touched. I should simply cross out all I have just written but for some reason I find that I cannot. My hand is stayed, and so shall it stay.
There is a reason why I have gone to so much effort to amass all these facts on the lives and travels of Marsz and his comrades. I needed to write but, just as importantly, I needed something that could hold my attention, something that felt important to me. Marsz underwent a dramatic transformation at the conclusion to his revisitation of the Deadmines. Curiously, as did many of his fellow adventurers at one time or another. Of the six that emerged from the Deadmines all those years ago, four of them would go on to experience radical alterations of varying kinds. Two of these were common, one was rare and quite amazing, but not unheard of, yet Marsz’s was arguably the most remarkable, and easily the most powerful.
I have experienced change, just as these people, and though we are separated, at this moment, by lands and sea I cannot help but feel akin to them. One day, perhaps, I will detail all their lives, as some others have attempted to do before me. Those others, however, did not have such an abundance of fact as I, did not know precisely the events that took place, nor understood how best to relate them. I often wonder whether I will ever seek to discuss my own life. Each time I come up with the same answer. No. My own transformation, while momentous to me and horrible enough in its own right, is not unique. Therefore, I feel, it is not much worth expressing. And besides, how can I stand against such tales as the raid upon Naxxramas? That story, however, belongs to one of Marsz’s companions and, as such, will not be detailed here. I apologize for even having mentioned it.
I have gone off on a very long tangent. Where was I? I was discussing the meaning of friends. Alas, I’ve strayed from the narrative too long, though, and shall not deviate further. I will have to return to the topic another time. The story will now recommence.
02-01-2010, 12:39 AM
Marsz felt more guilty drinking from his water skin than he would have had there been a drop of liquid anywhere around him. He found it somewhat vexing that there was no familiar drip-drop echoing in the distance, as he had become accustomed to in his previous underground exploits, which were not few by any means. It had been long since his last encounter with the Deadmines, as I have mentioned more than once, but he could specifically remember small patches of water around the place, of which there now were none. The mines, it seems, were completely without water, save that which Marsz kept with him, and had begun treating as something of a personal treasure.
That was not the only thing that had changed within the mines. In its past it was never easy to navigate but now that the number of tunnels had grown exponentially it felt, to Marsz at least (who admittedly possessed a rather pitiful sense of direction), rather impossible to find anything. Marsz had never been an able tracker and could not at all tell the difference between his own tracks and anyone else’s nor even see any tracks for the most part.
Despite this, he was never quite lost. Marsz enjoyed referring to what he called the luck. It was this luck of his, perhaps, that spurred him into the right direction for he would begin trudging along a pathway only to suddenly decide that he was going the wrong way, after which he would journey back a little and start again along a different passage. I do believe in luck, only a pompous fool would not, but I have come to believe that it is not luck that directs Marsz but something of a less haphazard nature. Indeed, this odd paladin was caught within the invisible yet powerful hands of fate. However, when you have come to live a life like mine you realize that luck and fate are two separate entities working independently from one another. It is when these two mysterious forces meet in opposition that things truly become interesting. Especially since fate can rarely, so hard as it might try, predict what luck is planning. This is because luck rarely considers its actions before performing them.
Were Marsz of a rational mind, as he sometimes is, he may have accredited his successful routing to his memory, which was generous enough to pick up certain familiarities about the place, buried deep within his subconsciousness, and guide him toward where he needed to go.
On that note, he thought, where exactly was he going? Where was his destination? He asked himself this question as he planted one foot in front of the other.
He had arrived, after hours of trepidatious wandering, at a room Marsz recognized as that which once belonged to VanCleef’s Foreman, the worker or tradesmen who was in charge of the construction crew. The chamber was adorned with dark, dusty crates, some of which had been broken into, and what appeared to be large brass or bronze bits of machinery. These had become dirty beyond any relation to their former colour, obviously unused and uncared for. The high ceiling had a heavy, four-face lantern at its centre. The lantern was unlit, however, and three of the four circular glass panes were either broken or removed entirely. Marsz need not have even taken notice of the infinite cobwebs about the place to realize that the Foreman’s place of work had been left to its own long ago.
“I wonder,” spoke him to himself, “why they do not keep the prisoners here...”
Seeing this room helped memories resurface to the forefront of his mind. He had run into battle against the first ogre he had ever seen without a weapon with which to fight it. In his excitement and anxiety, Marsz had left behind his hammer (which had been much smaller than that which he now carried) and was forced to fight with his shield. He could remember thinking, as Cheifner resolutely tried to test his strength against the bulking creature, that the group really could have used JT’s talents in such a battle. A silly thought, really. If JT had been with them, they would not have been there rescuing him in the first place. This image was followed by several others. He pictured Cheifner’s duel of blades upon a half-finished mast, suspended many feet above the ground, against a mechanical monstrosity. He saw Gamook’s ricocheted shot, replacing the Smelter’s eye with a bullet as the goblin held Denitian’s face inches from one of the basins of lava attached to the centre pillar. Suffice to say, had the little dwarf blundered his shot any more than had, in hitting the wall instead of the goblin, it may have rebounded into the night elf’s eye, which would have been unfortunate indeed. Not only that, but had Denitian not been exerting a significant amount of force already to keep the Smelter from killing him, he might have perished under the weight of the goblin, once killed. The next image was at the bottom of a ship. He could almost hear the horrifying crack of Noa’s arm, caught between the fists of an enormous dark-haired tauren and the splash as his limp body was thrown into the water. Finally Marsz saw the highest point of the ship, where all hell had broken loose.
That was where Marsz must go. Surely there would be answers there, if nothing else. VanCleef had used all his resources to reconstruct an ogre juggernaut, a ship employed by the Horde during the First War. He presumably intended to lay siege to Stormwind, to destroy the city he had helped build. Luckily, the juggernaut never left port. They had stopped him before he could carry out his massacre. Nothing had been done about the ship, however. At least, considering the level of attention shown toward the rest of the mines, Marsz could only assume that the ship remained where he and the others had left it, untouched.
His eyes did not so much widen as they drooped despairingly. He could not possibly guess at what this place’s new master had planned, but there was a very good chance it involved that damned ship. Still, this did not account from the prisoners... or whatever it was they actually were. It did present an explanation for the lack of guards. The new master was trying to keep a low profile, to remain hidden and undisturbed.
Marsz was beginning to wish he hadn’t chosen to come alone. He could always turn back, of course, but what if that gave these deviates all the time they needed?
He sighed. It was his duty to stay. He tried to reason with himself, to convince himself that the outcome would be worse should he perish within and fail to alert anyone of the danger, but to no avail. Denitian, his older friend, knew he was here. Should Marsz meet his end, people would come looking. He had no choice but to press on. His honour demanded it. He would be a coward otherwise.
Ahead was a corridor that branched off into several paths. At least one of them, if his memory served him, lead to the lumber room. He guessed at which one this was and started down it. He winced, as he walked, with every step. His footfalls were like drumbeats upon the stone-ridden soil. He could not be silent, no matter how he tried. This was more for his impatience than his lack of finesse, although his want of the latter was strong indeed.
He did not walk long before he was bathed in darkness. Behind him was the light of some lantern, blocked perhaps by jutting rock. Ahead of him was nothing. It seemed the lumber room was as abandoned as the Foreman’s office. Marsz hesitated, briefly, before turning back. The dark was not his friend. It festooned him no protection but kept his enemies hidden and safe. It was within his power to illuminate dim passages but such actions would certainly alert the villains to his presence more so than his heavy feat. He would prefer the brigands of this place to be ignorant of his existence for as long as possible.
Returning to the crossroads he found that most of the tunnels lead into darkness. All, in fact, but the tunnel he had first come through and one other. The second glowed with an angry red radiance that was hardly more comforting than any of Marsz’s other options. Still, with a grim sense of determination he walked onward into fire.
02-11-2010, 10:00 AM
Wow man. Good stuff. I'm a fan.
02-11-2010, 04:39 PM
Lift, swing, drop, clink, stop. Lift, swing, drop, clink, stop. Lift, swing, swagger, swing, clink, stop. Stop. Lift, drop, stop. Stop.
“Oi!” snarled a small, wily man with a black balaclava. He stalked across the dark iron floor and grabbed the worker by the arm. “That’s three times now you slacked off, mate. Don’t let it be four, yeah?” he warned. The worker nodded, his eyes closed against the sweat sliding slowly from his receded hairline and the pain that coloured his joints purple. His mouth cratered diagonally until the masked man loosened his grip, causing his teeth to crack closed.
Lift, swing, drop, clink, stop.
Marsz watched the prisoners hammer away at their projects. Having attempted smithing himself, once upon a time, the stalwart invader would have liked to say he knew precisely what it was they were doing. As with a disarming number of the paladin’s other former exploits, however, this one ended in disaster and left him quite ignorant of the work underway before him. His vantage point was reasonable, yes, but he was too high up the long, wide ramp that encircled the round cylindrical chamber wall. At least, this is what he assured himself. In the middle of the room was a large centre pillar, which blossomed into a fiery flower at its peak: a large container of lava that fed the hellish magma through the column to the tiny basins beneath. It was one of these very basins that Denitian, Marsz's old druidic companion, had once been in danger of falling prey to. The tunnel he had taken emerged approximately three fifths of the way up the ramp. There were pebbles and debris at his feet, the undisturbed remnants of the rock that had occupied the passageway before the new master had grown desperate in his hunt for materials.
He decided that he simply could not see the work they did and that he should, for investigative purposes, progress further down the ramp so that he may better test his knowledge in the area of blacksmithing. Not only was this a lie, it also brought to attention his vision deficiency which, while not so severe as to warrant glasses of any sort, left him at a distinct disadvantage upon large, extensive battlefields where opposing armies were, to him, naught but tiny blurs in the distance. To make up for this the universe had seen fit to enable his eyes to see uncommonly well at short distances. The advantages of this trait had never openly made themselves apparent. Regardless, unbeknownst to the paladin, it had helped him with certain things; his navigation of drastically altered, yet subtly familiar caverns, for example.
Marsz withdrew himself from the ramp’s outer edge and again made use of his hammer to hoist himself to his feet. It seems that the paladin’s hammer was more useful as a tool than a weapon. He made to slowly and carefully descend the slope when a hand grabbed at his shoulder and pulled him backward into the tunnel. He yelped aloud and his armour made a grand cacophony as he flailed about, trying to free himself. He fell onto his back, causing more noise, and desperately tried to turn so that he might glimpse his ambusher. He stopped writhing when he noticed it was the wispy-haired old man that held him, eyes wide and staring.
It was at this point that the paladin first noticed something strange about his... companion. He had not the time to think on it, on account of his dangerous situation, but the old man had something of a twinkle in his eyes that hid rather cleverly behind the alarm that was so prominent in his facial features.
“What the hell was that?” Marsz spat, referring to being brought to the ground by the old fool.
“He saves a life, he receives a life,” was the nonsense response.
“Stop talking like an idiot!”
“Who goes there?” floated a distant, somewhat hesitant query.
Marsz froze. The voice had come from below, beneath the ramp. The old idiot has alerted the damned guards.
“I said who goes there?”
Marsz edged closer to the mouth of the tunnel, making certain to keep himself completely concealed as he did so. He peered over, hoping that the guard was simply... talking to somebody else.
He was not.
“I’m gonna check this one out. You, come with me. You, watch the workers.”
The one speaking had a long moustache that dripped from the sides of his lips to his chin where it ended abruptly. The bandit he chose to take with him had shaved his head bald and tied a read bit of cloth around his forehead. The man in the black balaclava remained below. Marsz shot a scornful sneer at the old man before swinging his head back to watch the guards’ advancement.
The paladin began counting in his head. He could not say why, but it was a thing he was reputed to do during tense situations. Another feeling he could not quite explain was his fear. Surely, being the powerful and experienced paladin that he was, he would dispatch these three guards with ease. Why, then, did he feel so very vulnerable? He had once stormed the gates of Ahn’Qiraj beside his fellows. He had participated in one of the first raids upon Naxxramas beside JT, his old, night elven comrade. Granted, being one of the first assaults upon the citadel, it was somewhat unsuccessful, but that only made the experience more hazardous. Few from the foray had survived...
And yet, within the crumbled halls of the very first dungeon he had ever delved into, which he had endured on the barest sliver of the experience gained during his tutelage as a paladin, he could not remember ever feeling so helpless.
Marsz retreated slightly into the tunnel and awaited the incoming patrol. He heard the footsteps grow louder and louder. He saw their shadows, seemingly more solid than the floor below him, hidden beneath the darkness. Finally, he saw them. They stared into the abyss wherein Marsz and the old fool hid. It was clear, by their expressions, that they could see figures within. The thug with the moustache drew two short swords from his belt, and his lackey followed suit. They both edged closer to the mouth of the tunnel.
Marsz, letting his hammer fall to lean against the uneven wall, darted out with his hand and closed his fist around the leather neckline of the foremost guard. He yanked the man toward him and placed an open palm atop his cranium. He pushed the moustached bandit into the wall by his head, creating a satisfying crack that echoed through the channel. Before the second had any time to react, Marsz kicked him at his shins with his heavy boot, causing the bald brigand to stumble, and, once the man was on the floor, brought his foot down atop his head. This time it was a crunch that reverberated against the walls.
“Wha’s happening?” yelled the guard in the black balaclava.
Marsz, without a pause, grabbed his hammer and scrapped it along the floor as he quickly emerged from the passage and sauntered heavily downward along the ramp. The remaining guard showed a flicker of surprise in a twitch of his nose, but otherwise did not seem very ill at ease. Many of the prisoners had stopped working to watch the scene played out before them. The paladin looked glorious indeed, emerging from the darkness with shining gold and silver armour, showered with the blood of their dark enforcers. His face was grim and threatening.
Out of the corner of his eye the last guard noticed something that angered him more than the intruder. A fierceness that outdid the paladin’s came over him. An irritation that looked, to Marsz, to be the product insanity.
“Oi!” roared the madman and stomped over to the balding worker from before. “What the bleedin’ hell do you think you’re doing?” He grabbed the back of the man’s head and ripped it back sharply.
The poor man, like all the other workers, had stopped. A thing that, despite of Marsz’s presence, angered the guard not a tiny bit less than it would have had he not been there at all. The worker opened and closed his mouth, which reminded Marsz, quite sickeningly, of a fish hooked on a line, helpless and isolated.
“I–I–I–I,” he spluttered.
“Huh?” spoke the guard through gritted teeth.
“Please...” he breathed; a despairingly quiet noise that sounded like too much of an exertion for the weak, ragged worker, “Forgive me.”
The guard leaned forward and whispered in the man’s ear, “Number four... I shouldn’t have let it get to three–” he slammed the man’s face against the centre pillar and threw his head into one of the lava basins.
The headless body slivered to the ground. It did not twitch or move. It remained completely still. One arm had fallen out to the side, the other rested atop his chest. He seemed a city preacher, frozen mid-speech.
Marsz lessened his stride, bewildered. His breathing came deep and distant. It had happened so fast. The murderer turned to his attacker and gripped his blade shaft. Marsz recommenced his pace and swung his hammer backward over his shoulder with both hands. With a heave of his arms the outlandish mace, with glowing, purple shards of crystal floating about it eerily, saw that black balaclava-wearing bandit’s own head ceased to exist.
“How’s it feel,” said Marsz, forfeiting grip of his weapon once again, “to lose your head?” The dead guard did not answer him. The dull iron floor beneath the body went slick with dark blood that reflected in its surface the flames of the room.
He looked around at the poorly clothed workers, briefly thinking it odd that the first thing that should come to his mind in regards to their condition was their clothing. They quickly came into focus, out of the blur of his adrenaline. He spared a brisk, momentary glance for each and every one of them. He felt a balloon of regret when his eyes found the still body of whom Marsz now fancied as the preacher.
“You’re free to go,” he announced.
They did not move.
Marsz worried that they might be afraid of him. He gave them a reassuring smile that felt more taxing than the battle he had just endured.
“The way to the surface is clear, there are no threats,” he promised, “save the sprawling maze I came through to get here. I trust you will know you’re way out, though.”
They did not speak.
The paladin’s eyes creased. “You’re free to go,” repeated the paladin, forcing down his impatience. He looked for the cursed old man but noticed, with a tiny sigh, that the fool had hidden himself again.
“You,” he tried once again, loudly and slowly, “can... go... now...” Perhaps he should not have performed such a violent display.
“We have nowhere to go,” emerged a voice from the crowd. The speaker did not show himself... or herself. Marsz could not distinguish any gender from the hurried tone.
“Go back to Stormwind, of course.”
“There is no place for us there,” spoke a middle-aged woman at the front. Her hair had been cut and only small black bristles covered her dirt-stained scalp, “That much was made clear to us. Stormwind turned its back on us.”
Marsz frowned. “What do you mean? Are you people victims of poverty?”
“It matters not what we are, only that we work here for food and shelter.” She crossed her arms beneath her breasts.”
Marsz’s brow deepened. “Under such conditions? That man was just killed!”
She nodded. “He was my brother.”
The paladin gawked. “And you feel nothing?” Marsz retorted fiercely.
“It was not I that killed him. He would not have slackened from his duties a fourth time were it not for you. And besides, he would have died long ago, had we not been given work.”
He stared at her until he could not take it. He held the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger in anguish. “But this is wrong!”
“There is neither wrong nor right, but thinking makes it so,” came the whisper of the old man from his hiding place. Marsz ignored him.
“Who says it’s wrong?” insisted the woman?
“I say it’s wrong! I know what is wrong, and this is it!” Marsz was quite exasperated. He gaped at the ungrateful slaves. “I suppose,” he spoke with malice, “I’ve done you all a great disservice!”
Some of them had the nerve to nod. “Don’t you care for the goals of these people?” Marsz asked, kicking harshly the dead guard beneath him. “I believe they seek to harm innocents.”
“Are we not ourselves innocent?”
“I’m beginning to wonder,” Marsz derided.
“Nobody cares for us,” she continued.
“I do!” argued Marsz.
“You care for us this instant, the time it took you to kill these men. Will you care for us in a day? Or two? Will you feed, bathe and clothe us? Give us shelter?”
Marsz’s face dropped and he remained silent and indignant.
“I thought not.” She smiled, triumphant yet callous. “Now leave. If you wish to continue ahead, go. We will not stop you. We will continue our work and hope that after our masters kill you, they are not too angry at us for what you’ve done here.”
Marsz was furious. He was angry at the guards, angry at the workers and angry at himself. He was even angry at the damned, cursed Deadmines. He wrenched free his hammer and dropped its head into one of the lave pits to clean it of the bits of blood, flesh and bone. The crystal surfaced completely unmarred. He dragged it behind him as he walked slowly and somewhat aimlessly. He was quite torn as to whether he should continue onward or abandon his mission. The self-doubt he’d experienced earlier returned, trying to convince him to leave the dungeon. He wanted to listen very much indeed.
As he wandered, the young veteran noticed another woman watching him. The moment their eyes met she looked away in panic. Something within him flinched, he could not say what or why.
“Hello?” he ventured. His manner had returned to that of calmness.
She smiled very quickly before returning to her fearful expression. Her clothes were much better than the rags sported by the slaves. In fact, she did not appear very dirty or dishevelled at all.
“Who are you?” Marsz asked.
Unable to avoid him any further the young lady looked to him. She opened and closed her mouth a few times before answering. “Lady Natalie.”
“Nobility?” blurted Marsz, shocked.
She looked away again, wincing on some private mistake she had made. “I was... expelled from my household not two weeks ago and found myself here.” Her mouth very closed quickly as she spoke, as if her lips were trying to hold every word back and every sound she made was a blunder, or threatened to put her into trouble.
“That explains why you’re in much better shape that this lot,” spoke Marsz. She smiled briefly, as if to herself. “Tell me, are you in any better mental shape? Or are you as deluded as all these people?”
“I don’t understand...”
“Do you wish to be rescued or to remain here and be killed?”
The other slaves watched her cautiously, both wary of her and confused what she spoke, it seemed. The latched onto her words with their ears as much as she did with her lips. Not only that, but they seemed surprised by her presence. They appeared to have failed to notice her, or simply forgot she was there. She jolted slightly, as if hit with an idea. Her mouth spread into another smile; perhaps not all hope was gone after all.
“I would love to be rescued,” she said.
“Well, then,” Marsz spoke with a relieved smirk, “feel free to make your way out. I would accompany you but I,” he decided at that moment, “I need to finish what I’ve started.”
Her face fell and her eyes darted as she looked around the room for something. “Um... I’m too afraid. Would it be okay if I accompany you?” She appeared a shy little girl, despite her age.
Marsz was a little surprised. “Not really, it’s probably safer for you to remain here. I can collect you on my way back, maybe.” He was aware that he was acting terribly condescending, which was not helped with the aforementioned image he had of her as a child.
“No, no! They’ve heard me now, these others ones,” she motioned to the workers, “they know I want to escape. They’ll do nasty things to me if you leave me alone with them!” There was a desperateness to her voice that Marsz could not ignore, try as he might.
“Very well then,” he consented, confused and unsure of his words, “you can come with me. Be warned though,” he informed her as her features relaxed, “you will be in a great deal of danger.”
Her eyes grew large and her mouth tiny. She nodded rapidly and took two steps forward, apparently awaiting his lead. Marsz looked her up and down, unable to deny the flutter within him that told him he might be able to grow attracted to this girl – indeed, was attracted to her already. She was roughly his age and very beautiful, with shining blue eyes and golden hair. She was not haughty, despite her stature. Primarily though, it was that he was to rescue her that truly played upon his romantic sense, and his desire to live out one of the adventurous tales he had once been fond of reading, complete with intrigue, adventure and romantic intrigue.
It is safe to say that, for this very reason, she had him smitten from the moment she said she would love to be rescued.
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