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Old 02-09-2008, 07:27 AM
Nephalim Nephalim is offline

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Default Midnight in the Graveyard of Plenty

For the most part, this is how the eye works:

When one perceives an object, light from any number of sources is reflected off the object and into the eye. The light is bent by the cornea, and directed through the pupil. The iris expands and contracts to allow more or less light into the pupil. The light is then focused by the lens behind the pupil, passes through the vitreous fluid which helps the eye keep its shape, and appears inverted on the back, receptive layer of the eye known as the retina. The retina reads the light and then sends that information through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain interprets this information into the visual perception of the object.

The vitreous of a number of creatures possesses the strange property of absorbing light, and these creatures will appear to have glowing eyes. For reasons unknown in the science of anatomy, the use of different forms of magic can effect the colour the vitreous glows. The most well-known example of this would be the blood elves. And of course the undead did not use this process. The eyes were among the first things to break down and so they largely no longer possessed the organs, however the undead could still see, and they usually appeared to have glowing yellow orbs where their eyes once sat. Naturally, this too was unaccounted for in the science of anatomy.

Joaquin Winterbone knew this from having studied eyes for some time.

He had studied eyes because he often wished to be as intimately familiar as he could be with the things he ate.

It had taken little time for the graveyard in Southshore to fill up after the Scourge invasion. The humans there had taken to burying their freshly dead in makeshift graveyards in the regions surrounding their town. Shorthanded as they were, the humans were unable to properly guard these myriad graveyards - there were barely enough men to adequately guard the town.

The captured human farmers who divulged this didn't stop to wonder why the Forsaken wished to know.

The Banshee Queen, Sylvanas Windrunner, had given standing orders - likely to placate her allies in the Horde - not to desecrate any graves. Meanwhile, the brutal High Executor Darthalia of Tarren Mill all but entirely flouted this order, and its enforcement was therefore incredibly lax. Most of Joaquin's fellow Forsaken opted to instead murder the inhabitants of the farming community of Hillsbrad, and consume their flesh, if the need struck them.

But Joaquin was no gutteral savage. He was better than that.

Joaquin leaned heavily on his staff as he trudged through the soft earth. It had rained that afternoon, which made their job only easier. He had dirtied his good robes on his last outing, and so this time decided to wear an older, torn set of grey robes. One he wouldn't think twice about getting mud all over. The rain would make for a good turnout, he was sure.

His robes also afforded him a deep hood to conceal his features. As he came to the forest clearing, he pulled it back to sniff the air. Had anyone beheld it, it would have been a horrifying sight. In certain lights, from certain angles, there were some Forsaken who could foreseeably pass as the living. Joaquin was not among them. His flesh had rotted through in patches around his face, leaving small dabs of bone showing through the skin. His lower jaw was missing entirely, revealing a torn esophagus jutting from his neck, and a single row of crooked teeth. Two angry orbs, shining a putrid yellow, glared out at the world around him from where his eyes once were.

The world looked no different.

He sniffed the air. Mias was nearby, he could be most certain, or perhaps on her way. That was the one thing about working with Mias, it was quite impossible to sneak up on anyone. His attention, however, was drawn to another scent. His eyes fell to the ground.

There were possibly four dozen marked graves, perhaps as many as sixty. Some were appointed with actual headstones, denoting some level of permanence. Others were marked with arrangements of fragments of wooden planks, arranged in the sigil of the Light - the most dominant religion of the humans, on some of these were scrawled names and dates in charcoal. These were awaiting more lasting acoutrements. These were the most recent graves.

This graveyard lacked symmetry or order. The graves seemed to be situated in no uniform direction, there were no discernible rows. It seemed to have grown out from the centre, which meant the most recent digs would be on the outskirts. Joaquin sniffed again, and began to slowly walk the edge of the graveyard.

"Patrolling the grounds, Winterbone?" the voice was cold and stern, and sounded as if her throat was wound tight, coiled and about the burst. Joaquin looked up just as she removed the violet mask from the lower half of her face. Beneath it, leather straps were stapled into the edges of her mouth, and across her face. It froze her demeanor in an eternal frown - such was the price for a functioning jaw. She wore black, slim robes that hugged her frame and made her appear even taller than she was, which was imposing enough.

"These humans would appreciate the effort."

A side effect of her upholstery, unfortunately, was that she was unable to properly simulate the inflection usually necessary to telling a joke. It took some getting used to.

The edges of Joaquin's former mouth shuddered. "Lessa, I'm delighted. We've missed you these past few evenings." He continued to circle the graveyard.

She circled on her own, staying opposite him. Her movements were rigid and regal. "Business. I'd hope you could understand that." She stopped, sniffed.

"I caught it, too," Joaquin told her. "That's what I'm looking for."

"I see that Mias is on her way," said Lessa flatly, her eyes now on the graves. "Frankly I expected to find you already with plenty of company, what with the rain."

Joaquin knelt at one grave, sticking his fingers into the dirt. "Hmm, yes. Though I suppose we all have business enough to go around."

"Surely," came a disembodied feminine voice, nearly a whisper, "but we mustn't make habits of neglecting good friends..."

Two figures emerged from the woods, hand in hand. The smiling woman showed surprisingly impeccable teeth, while the man beside her had a somber look on his features. "And good food," he added wryly.

"I have it," Lessa announced, picking up the rim of her skirt and crouching down. She began to brush the dirt away, and nodded. "Yes, definitely."

Joaquin navigated the gravestones towards her. "How old was it?"

"He..." said Lessa. "Trevor... something, the charcoal's been washed off by the rain. The dates, too."

"No matter," said the undead woman, as she and her companion walked hand in hand toward them. She paused, forgetting herself. "Goodness gracious, how rude of me. I don't believe you've met. Mallen Swain, this is Lessa the Awakener."

The man bowed with some flourish. "How do you do?"

Lessa didn't look up, merely dug with her free hand. "Charmed."

"I'm delighted you came, Mallen," Joaquin waved to him. "I've been meaning to ask you when those dyes I ordered were coming in."

"All in good time, dear boy," said Mallen with a curt nod. "In fact I do believe it should be on its way tonight, if my couriers are as reliable as they usually are."

His companion walked over to Lessa and knelt down beside her. "He smells delicious."

"I'm amazed you can smell anything over your own scent, Mias," Lessa noted acidly. She paused, and fixed Mias with an arch glare. "I don't suppose you thought to bring a shovel..."

Joaquin held up his staff. The steel spike at its end, covered in mud, flattened and widened into the head of a spade. As he reached Lessa and Mias, he motioned Lessa to get her hands out of the way and began digging out shovelfuls of dirt.

"Well I would have," Mias replied, putting her hands on her hips, "but that banshee Melisara was out and about. I'm not going to salute with a shovel as she sees me leave Tarren Mill in the dead of night."

Mallen sighed. "I would imagine the Dark Lady has better things to worry about than whom among the Forsaken are participating in these little graveyard picnics. Besides, were there ever any serious inquiries we could always blame those wretched Nethander gnolls. Blasted creatures cause us enough trouble, we might as well put them to good use for once."

Joaquin's makeshift shovel struck something solid.

"Dear me," Mias noted. "That's quite shallow. Not four feet, even."

"Hardly breaks three, I reckon," Mallen agreed.

All four of them got down on their knees and began pitching dirt from the hole, expanding it. Lessa wiped dirt off the lid of the coffin. The wood was still bright yellow, beneath the mud. It was only a few minutes before Joaquin shook his staff and the spade receded into the shaft. "I think that's enough." He and Lessa bent down at the head of the coffin and gripped the palls. It took three tugs before it broke loose from the surrounding dirt. Once the head was free, it was a simple matter to stand it upright. The body within banged against the walls with each motion.

Joaquin planted his staff in the ground and pulled a small crowbar from his belt. Lessa drew her dagger, and the two stuck their utensils between the lid and the coffin and began prying them apart. It wasn't long before they had shucked the coffin open like an oyster shell. Mallen grabbed the top of the lid and tugged it forward. The body within had slumped against it, and slid out as Mallen gently set it on the ground.

The four stood around the body, examining their quarry. He was largely intact, no visible wounds or blemishes. His dark hair was matted down, but still held some volume. He had been handsome, it seemed, in life. His eyes had been fixed shut. He was dressed in a fine white silk shirt, a twill vest, and dark trousers.

Lessa pulled up her robes, and squatted down beside him. She carefully unbuttoned his vest and shirt, handing them to Mallen. After examining his torso, she turned him over. A large bruise was discolouring most of his back.

"It's just his blood pooling," Lessa noted, "not indicative of cause of death. He looks maybe four days dead." She ran her hands along his hair, and though gentle, she still pulled out a tuft. She fluttered her fingers to shake it off, and continued. Her fingers paused at the base of his skull. "That's interesting..." She leaned back, dusting the hair from her hands. "It would seem he died of a sharp blow to the back of the head, though it doesn't look like a weapon or implement. He probably just fell."

"Why would that be interesting?" asked Mias with a laugh.

"Perhaps 'fortuitous' would have been a better choice of words," Lessa mused. "A head wound like this means that there was cranial bleeding. Since there are signs of neither a medical examination nor any effort to embalm him, that means that his brain has been marinating in blood since he died."

Mias and Mallen's faces virtually lit up. "I imagine we're splitting it four ways?" asked Mias.

Lessa gave Joaquin a look, but he shrugged. "Split it however you wish. I want only his eyes..."



The ideal time, Joaquin had discovered, to devour a human corpse raw was generally between three and five days. Before that, the meat was stringy and largely flavourless. After that, the molds and insects overwhelmed the body's natural flavours. It was during that window that the meat retained enough of its compsure, but had a tangy hint of rot to it. Of course there were other factors. Heavy drinkers' organs were often inedible, or if not, had a very synthetic taste to them. Large amounts of alcohol in the system prevented early decomposition, but the Forsaken connosoiurs were not against decomposition.

Embalmed corpses were a complete waste. Not only was the meat spoiled but it was also mildly toxic to them, as most Forsaken had been embalmed themselves, in very specific fashions, and the chemicals and methods used by most humans compromised the Forsaken's.

However death was becoming more and more common to the humans of Southshore, and embalming was an expensive practice. In normal times, the town would usually pay for the procedure, but after the fall of Lordaeron, the magistrate of Southshore was, evidently, no longer footing the bill. As such, finding an embalmed corpse at one of these graveyard picnics was rare, and usually they could smell the fermaldahyde within four feet of the coffin. They did, however, exhume an embalmed corpse every now and then. Sufficed to say, it tended to ruin the evening.

Trevor Whoever had been quite the feast. Joaquin, as promised, had eaten the eyes, leaving the bloodsoaked brain to the other three, though Lessa was unimpressed. They each took a limb, though Mias claimed she couldn't finish his thigh, and wanted to save room for his genitalia. The stomach and viscera were discarded, Mallen and Lessa shared his liver, and Joaquin consumed his heart. Mias took his tongue for later.

Not three quarters of an hour after digging up his corpse, the Forsaken were well-fed and quite content. Joaquin and Lessa leaned up against graves, Lessa picking her teeth with a broken collarbone, while Mallen and Mias danced through the gravestones, feeding each other bits off Trevor's spine.

"So," said Lessa, breaking the silence. "It's been some time since you last told me of your plans. Has there been any developments since then?"

Joaquin sighed, his windpipe shuddering. "I've nearly spent all my holdings searching for my Vexra, but the best spies and informants my money can buy have turned up nothing. I have in the meantime had several agents who claimed to have a lead on Delirium, which was a ship I thought had sailed."

Lessa nodded in agreement. "As had I. In fact I believe I warned against pursuing her at all. Finding Vexra would be difficult enough, but they'd have records of her, at least. Delirium, on the other hand..."

"Actually, I've expected to be hearing from them for the past two days, now," Joaquin looked at Mallen and Mias. "It would be most unfortunate if they were to perish before giving me the information I seek."

"Indeed."

Suddenly, Mias pulled away from Mallen. She stood very still, for a moment. Mallen attempted to speak but she hastily shushed him. "There's someone out there!" she hissed.

Joaquin with his staff and Lessa with her gravestone hoisted themselves upright. Joaquin listened intently for a few moments. "I don't hear anything," he confessed.

"Well I don't, but I can smell something," said Lessa. "Whatever it is, it's embalmed."

"Perhaps another dinner guest?" Mallen suggested. "Though unfashionably late..."

"They'd know better than to show up this late," Joaquin snapped. "This is a convention of those among us who wish to sup as distinguished ladies and gentlemen among friends. One who would show up nearly an hour late to eat the scraps we leave them would have no place amongst us."

"Quiet," said Lessa softly, and he fell silent.

Joaquin could smell him now, as well. The various salts and enchanted embalming fluids of the Royal Apothecary Society produced a distinct cocktail of aromas. Whatever it was, it was most certainly a fellow Forsaken, and as it was strong enough to be smelled from such distance, it demonstrated that the Royal Apothecary Society had taken no steps to mask the odour. This was no assassin, no Deathstalker. No agent sent for the distinct purpose of finding them.

"I am Forsaken!" a voice Joaquin didn't recognize came through the forest. "I seek no quarrel with any who roam these lands but I am armed and ready for any who seek one with me!"

"Then what business do you have here?" asked Lessa coldly.

"I seek Mallen Swain. I was told I could find him here."

Mallen looked at his fellows guiltily. "Over here!" he called. "It's all right, I'm Mallen Swain."

After a few moments, he emerged from the shadows into the graveyard. He wore the trappings of a Deathguard, the first and last line of defense for the Forsaken - dark violet chain mail and a hood that cast a shadow across his pallid features. As his glowing eyes surveyed the graveyard, and the various remnants of Trevor, his face contorted into a frown.

Mallen raised his hand. "Mallen Swain," he introduced himself. "What brings a Deathguard like you out here in the middle of the night?"

"I was guarding a caravan from the Undercity," he explained. "The courier paid me a few extra coins to deliver these missives to you immediately."

"How did you find us?" asked Lessa.

"I was given some basic directions," the Deathguard replied, "and I was... instructed..." his eyes darted to Mias, "to... follow my nose, so to speak."

Mias nodded. "The result of an embalming anomaly, I'm afraid." She extended her hand daintily, hoping, Joaquin surmised, for a kiss. "One that earned me my monicher: Mias the Putrid."

The Deathguard instead took her hand and shook it. "Roberick Dartfall."

He handed Mallen a tick envelope, sealed with black wax, and his eyes fell on Trevor's grave. His brow furrowed.

"You seem perturbed, Deathguard," Lessa noted, folding her arms across her chest. "I'm afraid it's all leftovers at this point but help yourself to whatever you wish."

Roberick stared back at her for a few moments. "I'm afraid I must decline."

"Were I to guess," said Joaquin carefully, "I'd say that you were... displeased with our conduct tonight."

Roberick turned his gaze to Joaquin. "I feel there is little to be gained by desecrating a gravesite. If anyone should understand that the dead should be left in peace, I would think it was us."

Lessa and Joaquin exchanged glances. "How much will your silence cost us?" Joaquin asked.

Roberick rolled his yellow eyes. "I won't do myself the trouble of turning you in," he scoffed. "I do have some loyalty to my countrymen. Besides, it was Darthalia who told me where to find you. It's obvious that these excursions of yours are not beyond her knowledge."

Joaquin glanced at Mallen and saw that he had successfully opened the envelope and was reading the letter within, but held in his hands a smaller envelope as well.

Roberick cleared his throat. "I will instead simply say that you have disappointed me. After all the trouble we go through to make a reputable name for ourselves, you and your ilk would undo all the work we've done toward that goal."

"Well," Mias huffed dramatically, "I was considering giving you the tongue, but now I'm quite afraid you've gone ahead and slighted me."

Lessa made a strange noise, which Joaquin guessed was a bemused scoff filtered through her upholstery.

"Winterbone..." said Mallen quietly, holding up the smaller envelope. "It's addressed to you."

Joaquin furrowed his brow, and took it delicately from Mallen. The envelope was small, but thick. It was kept shut with wax, but no seal had made an impression upon it. He broke it and removed the letter, which had been folded much more than usual to fit into such a small envelope.

The script was thin and delicate, even flowery. It was a hand, Joaquin knew, that was unused to writing in the language of the Forsaken commonly known as Gutterspeak. It read as follows:



My Lord Winterbone,



My sources have located the subject Delirium, through, I admit, mostly luck. There are no recrods of her movements, so I'm afraid this cannot be positively verified. Nevertheless, given the unique circumstances surrounding this case, I am quite confident that we have found her. She has been taken in by a family named Weeks. They live on a cottage on the shore of Lordamere Lake, about an hour's canter east from Dalaran. You will know this house by the likeness of an owl upon their windvane, and the mass of ivylark on its southern wall.

Because of its relative proximity to Dalaran, the Syndicate seem to have avoided the cottage. The greatest dangers the Weeks are prepared to deal with is the odd mountain lion that strays too close to their home. I have assessed the threat as minimal. I still have agents abroad searching for any leads on Vexra, and expect to have something new for you at the end of the month. For obvious reasons, there can be no tangible connection between myself and whatever fate befalls the Weeks. Destroy this correspondence once you have read it. Good luck.



-R



The "R" is, perhaps, misleading. It was not a character belonging to the Common alphabet. The only reason he knew that character could be roughly translated into R was because he had seen it so often, and because he knew what it stood for.

Joaquin absently reached into his pocket and withdrew a silver coin. "Dartfall!" he called.

Mias had been further teasing the Deathguard and he seemed on the verge of leaving. He turned when his name was called.

"Do you know my name?" asked Joaquin.

Roberick glanced at Lessa, and then back at Joaquin. He sighed. "I do not."

With a flick of his thumb, Joaquin tossed the coin to Roberick. The Deathguard caught it against his chest.

The letter in Joaquin's hand suddenly ignited into a quick-burning flame, that reduced the worn parchment to dust in the blink of an eye. The corners of his broken jaw tugged at his features in as much a grin as he could approximate.

"Excellent."



It was an hour's muddy walk back to Tarren Mill. When there were larger turnouts, they would leave in smaller groups, staggering their departures by fifteen minutes or so. With only four, though, there was no need. After they entered the town square, they bid each other good night and went their separate ways. Mallen retreated to his house with Mias in tow, and Lessa to the inn. Joaquin pretended to be reading one of the notices posted by the nearby church until he heard the door to the inn close.

Immediately he jogged over to the stables next to the inn. One of the tendons in his right leg had loosened since his embalming, and when he had to move at speeds above a casual gait, it forced him to limp awkwardly. But limp he did across the town square, bursting, as quietly as possible, into the stables.

Theodore Mont Claire awoke with a start, and fumbled for his rifle for a moment before realizing who it was.

Joaquin made no apology, and instead made for the skeletal horse stabled third from the door.

Theodore snorted. "Oh, beg my pardon, Lord. I suppose common courtesies such as knocking are among the trivialities of life we've chosen to reject as well, hmm?"

Joaquin rolled his eyes as he opened the gate and entered. "Don't be such a diva, Theodore."

Theodore looked as if he was about to stand but decided against it. "Diva?" he cried in exasperation, perhaps a few seconds too late. "What are you taking your steed out so late for, anyway? Oh, keep it down, for Light's sake! It took me half an hour to get those hyenas down and I'm assured they're quite light sleepers."

"I'm just taking Rotwake out for a few hours," Joaquin explained, as he threw the violet drape over his steed. "His neck goes into rigor if he's penned up for too long." This, incidentally, was a lie. "I should really get an apothecary to take a look at him."

Theodore grumbled something, but looked away. "Very well. But I'm locking those doors at three on the dot, so if you expect to be back after then, don't bother knocking until dawn."

Joaquin forced the bit into Rotwake's jaw and tugged on the leather reins, leading him out. He nodded to Theodore, who did not return the gesture, and he walked out into the night. He was still so occupied with adjusting the bridle that it took him almost a minute to notice the figure in the town square.

Lessa the Awakener stood very tall and very still. She wore the same bleak robes as before, though the muddy hem of her skirt appeared to have been cleaned. Her fingers were steepled in front of her chest. The soft night wind ruffled her hair and robe, but she otherwise could have been mistaken for a statue.

She spoke as she always spoke - the only way she could speak.

"Forget something?"

Joaquin sighed. "I'm just taking my horse for a quick ride. His neck seizes up if..."

"I know exactly what you are doing, Joaquin, and it is far from a quick ride. Obviously, I shall accompany you."

"I require no aid, Lessa. Flattered though I am," said Joaquin with some irritation.

"It will be less trouble just to take me, and you should be anxious to leave as quickly as possible. And you should be happy to take anyone willing to help you and stay quiet about it afterward."

Joaquin looked at her for a few moments more, before heaving a sigh. "Very well, but we have to share the saddle, Rotwake won't let anyone right him bareback."

The going was slower at night. They left the road shortly after they emerged from the town proper, followed the foothills of the Alterac mountains west, until they skirted the human town of Hillsbrad. From there, they could see the shores of Lordamere Lake.

They followed the shoreline for three hours, past the glittering magical dome of Dalaran, casting an eerie pink glow on the countryside surrounding the ruined city. There were some guardsmen amongst the ruins, accompanied by elemental servants, but they either didn't notice Rotwake and his undead riders, or they had no inclination to give chase. It was obvious, at least, that the skeletal horse and his masters were not concerned with the remains of the magical city.

Lessa was quiet. Some amongst the Forsaken still went through the motions of breathing - their bodies were still under the delusion that they were alive, even though their minds had wholly embraced that reality. Their chests rose and fell, pushing and pulling air through their broken, rotting organs. Joaquin himself could not escape the habit. Lessa had, and were it not for her bone-thin arm wrapped around his waist, he might have forgotten that she was there at all.

Joaquin found the ride particularly comforting. The sky was blotted with clouds, but these did not obscure the gibbous moon, leaving it free to reflect on the dark, undulating surface of Lordamere Lake. The smell in the air was a blend of damp earth, fresh water, and night, all coupled with the tangy scent of Rotwake's embalming fluids.

Lessa broke her silence with a sigh. "Shouldn't we be there by now?"

"Perhaps my contact overestimates Rotwake's running speed," Joaquin surmised. He turned back to her with as much of a smirk as he could manage. "Surely a priestess of the Light can be patient, hmm?"

"I am no longer a priestess of the Light."

Joaquin raised an eyebrow. "I confess this has been a matter of some curiosity to me. I have not attended Father Lankester's weekly sermons so I'm afraid I am not up to date on precisely what this new religion entails."

"It is not a religion, Joaquin," Lessa answered serenely. "Not in the sense that you understand it."

"What, then?"

"When the Dark Lady freed us from our bondage, many of us who had been within the clergy were met with something of a... an existential crisis, if you will," Lessa explained. "You see, the Light is a religion that preaches peace and harmony with the world around us. This is the ultimate goal of any devotee. However we were at peace and harmony with the world when we were enslaved by the Lich King. We were all of one mind and intent. We lived and died as the Lich King saw fit, and bewitched as we were, were happy to do so.

"The Holy Light also tells us that we, the walking dead, are abominations, unfit to exist. So in being as we are, we Forsaken blatantly violate two strict virtues of the Holy Light. And as we have no drive to either return to the Lich King's service, nor die, we concluded that the Holy Light must, then, be false."

Rotwake whinnied curtly.

Lessa continued: "However we cannot deny that the Light has great power. As members of the Church, we had seen it, been familiar with it - even felt it ourselves. In knowing that the Holy Light preaches a false truth, we recognized that it didn't seem to matter. There is power, then, in faith, regardless of the truth in the subject of that faith. Which boils down to the truth behind our own beliefs: there is power in the One.

"We are not Scourge, we are not the Light. We are who we are, we can choose our own shadows and our own lights. Our powers are only limited by the limits we place upon them. Sarvis and his disciples practice the shadowy arts, while I and others still wield the Light - or a reasonable facsimile of that power.

"This is the truth of our philosophy. We have struggled to free ourselves from the mental bondage of the Lich King and the ideological bondage of the Light. We should value our freedom, value the Dark Lady who made it possible, and value ourselves for being strong enough to regain and retain our identity, such as it is. There is power in such things - there is metaphysical significance."

Joaquin nodded. "I admire your conviction, Lessa."

Her arm suddenly appeared next to his face, her hand, with the tips of her bones jutting from the decayed ends of her fingers, pointed ahead. "There."

The cottage was quaint, squat, and dark. The southern wall - the wall facing them - rustled in the night breeze, overtaken by a creeping vine dotted with large white blossoms: ivylark. Atop the apex of the roof was a small iron weathervane that creaked softly from the wind. Atop it was wrought the likeness of a seated owl.

"This is it," Joaquin muttered, pulling on Rotwake's reins. The skeletal horse whinnied, but slowed and turned about obediently. Joaquin climbed off, and helped Lessa down. The horse walked over into the shallows of the lake, and began going through the motions of drinking the water. However, with neither tongue, nor flesh around his jaw, he merely splashed the water gently about.

The two Forsaken walked side by side together to the crudely lashed wooden fence that bordered the garden, which was wrapped in a batch of snow peas.

They stood together, very still, peering into the dark house.

"This almost seems too easy..." Lessa mused.

Joaquin nodded. "Maybe so, my dear, but we've no grounds to get sloppy. Delirium can be... delicate, at times."

Lessa sighed. "Let me find her, I will protect her, and then you can unleash the full might of your sorcery upon these humans who would call her their own."

Without waiting for a response, Lessa strode towards the house, and began stalking about the perimeter, peering through the corners of the windows.

Joaquin loped up behind her and crouched. "Make sure you're not seen!" he hissed.

Lessa gave him a grimace but said nothing.

She peered into a window, then silently rounded a corner of the house and was lost to his sight. Her shadow peeked back a moment later and she hastily motioned him towards her.

Joaquin gracelessly shambled, keeping himself under the windowsill, around the corner, to find Lessa squatting beneath another, her back leaning against the wall.

"I have a clear line to her from here," Lessa whispered.

Joaquin nodded. "Very well. Keep her protected," he flicked back his sleeves and flexed his fingers. "I'll flush them out."

The two undead crept their separate ways. Lessa a mere few yards from the window, Joaquin up a small hillock to the east, which allowed him a clear vantage point to strike anyone attempting to flee either north or south along the shoreline.

Lessa raised her hands, steepled her skeletal fingers, and closed her eyes in deep concentration. She suddenly flung out her hands, and golden sparks flew from her fingertips.

This was his cue.

Joaquin gathered his energy, raised his hands to the sky, and felt the air around him growing colder. He threw his hands forward, and a rush of piercing cold flowed out from his chest and through his extended arms.

Above the cottage, snowflakes began to fall, first softly, then more furiously, whipped about by a violent wind. In seconds, the surgical snowstorm had hail accompanying its gentle snowflakes, then finally huge, jagged crystals of ice that pelted the cottage mercilessly. There were voices from within now, and sounds of scuffle, growing more agitated with each moment. A window shattered. An ice shard smashed the weathervane off the roof.

Joaquin held his hands still forward, felt his limbs quivering to sustain such force. A cold breath of air escaped his ruined mouth.

It was only a few minutes before the roof buckled under the torrential force of the blizzard swarming only around the cottage and nothing else. Even Lessa, though her short hair whipped about wildly, remained untouched by a single snowflake, though her hair whipped about wildly in the wind. Finally, the roof caved in on one side, and ice and snow invaded the home from the gaping, growing wound. Screams issued from within. He heard the door rattle.

"Joaquin!" Lessa shouted.

He broke his spellwork, and the blizzard dispersed instanteneously. He struggled not to fall to his knees as the intoxicating cold left him, and feeling returned to his limbs.

The door to the cottage opened and a young woman, still in her bed gown, stepped out, at her side, a boy child, whose hand was clutched in hers. She may have spotted them, Joaquin could not discern, but she immediately fled southward, the boy struggling to keep up with her panicked pace.

Joaquin moved to cast a spell, but saw that Lessa was already ahead of him. The priestess placed her hands in front of her chest, and Joaquin saw a swirling ball of golden light illuminating her face. With a modest flick of her fingers, the ball dispersed. A bright flash of light streaked across the forehead of the young boy. He made no sound, merely fell limp at the girl's side.

The girl continued running at first, dragging the boy at her side, perhaps hoping he was just dazed or perhaps not even realizing he had been struck. But when she looked down, horrorific realization struck her, and she first dropped the child, repulsed, but then attempted to pick him back up.

Joaquin and Lessa watched.

After a few moments of this, the girl stood, and with a desperate, defiant shriek, she began to charge at Lessa. Joaquin threw back his hand, and slung forward a jagged bolt of frost, trailing snow that melted as it touched the grass in its wake.

The bolt connected with the girl in the side of the head. The impact jarred her sideways, and carpeted her head and shoulders in an hoary frost. She staggered, and fell. As her head struck the ground, a twisted crack split open along her forehead. The blood, however, was too frozen to escape.

The sounds of magic and destruction faded from the air, and the two Forsaken stood still, for a moment, listening only to the listless tide of the Lordamere.

Lessa approached the body of the girl and knelt down beside it, gently combing the flecks of snow from her hair.

A quiet mewling escaped the cottage, now ruined and covered in snow and ice. Joaquin's eyes lit up. "Oh Lessa..."

Picking her way daintily through the rubble, a black cat climbed up a fallen rafter. She sat down, curled her tail around her legs, and meowed loudly.

Joaquin strode towards the cottage. "Do you remember me, my precious jewel?" He stood directly in front of her, and held open his arms. The cat jumped off the rafter and into his arms with a contented purr. He stroked her sable fur as she attempted to nestle further into his elbow.

"Delirium..." Joaquin cooed, "how I've missed you! There is only one other whose absence has left a more bothersome taint upon my soul." He brought his face in close to hers, and the black cat strained her neck, sniffing the end of his nose. "And you, my dear, shall help me to find her once again."

Lessa stood, brushing the snow and water from her fingers. "So it was a success then? Regaining your prized familiar was worth all the trouble?"

"What trouble?" said Joaquin with a nonchalant shrug and wicked psuedo-grin. "A picnic in the forest; a moonlit ride along the lakeshore; and some fresh air and exercise." He added with considerably more sincerity: "I do appreciate your help, Lessa, it would have been much more trouble without it."

Lessa nodded.

"I'm in a celabratory mood," Joaquin mused. "I've a bottle of Pinot Noir I've been saving at my room in Tarren Mill. Would you care to join me?"

Lessa sighed mechanically. "Not tonight. It's been a long day, I could use some rest."

Joaquin cupped one arm beneath Delirium and motioned Lessa towards Rotwake. "Another time, then."

Rotwake was lying on the grass, wet with dew, near the shoreline. When he saw his master approach, he clambered methodically to his hooves. Joaquin ushered Delirium onto the horse, and she curled up on the exposed blanket in front of the saddle, closing her eyes almost immediately.

Joaquin paused, eyeing the cat affectionately. "Look at her. I was afraid she wouldn't recognize me - that perhaps our state would prove jarring. But it doesn't matter to her at all. She's completely comfortable with me. More, I'm sure, than she was with those... those people." He sighed; a process that sounded like a soft, gutteral shriek through his mauled mouth. "The world just got a little better, Lessa," he concluded. And with that, he climbed up onto the saddle.

Lessa turned, and gazed at the snowy ruins of the Weeks' cottage, with vapour streaming slowly off of it. She sighed, too. Through her own mauled respiratory system, it sounded like nothing at all. "I don't believe in a better world."

She spoke with no inflection. Joaquin couldn't be sure what she meant. But as she climbed onto the saddle next to him, it didn't matter. He had his loyal servant once again, and a good friend at his side. His world, such as it was, seemed more complete and dignified than it had felt in months.

Of course, he was far from finished.

Her face flashed in his mind. Her beautiful face, her unrelenting eyes, surrounded by dark dyes, overlooking a thin, violet mouth, whose corners curled ever-so-faintly in a sinister smile.

Wait only a bit longer. I'm coming for you, Vexra.

Last edited by Nephalim; 02-09-2008 at 07:30 AM..
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Old 02-10-2008, 10:34 AM
Timolas Timolas is offline


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You do indeed write extremely well and fluently, without a doubt.
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Old 02-10-2008, 10:37 AM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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I suggest reading this to all.

Also, any specific reason Joaquin was thinking about her eyes in the end? *knowing look*
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Old 03-31-2008, 05:33 PM
Timolas Timolas is offline


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I reread it properly, and I'd like to add that I was impressed by your attention to detail such as the breathing. I'd only have changed the beginning description of the biology behind eyes to be less detailed; though I know what you were getting at.
I'm glad you didn't portray the Forsaken as perfect angels; I think you did them justice in regards to the contrast between those who would go about their business in this fashion, and those who would stick with ideals, such as the messenger.
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Old 03-31-2008, 06:36 PM
Cantus Cantus is offline

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That was an unexpectedly refreshing little story if I may say. A few hiccups here and there, all completely reasonable, and an extremely good sense of pace. The attention to detail was wonderful, and best of all the conversation pieces weren't jerky and displaced.
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Old 04-02-2008, 10:53 AM
Lon-ami Lon-ami is offline

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So

Cool

Keep them coming. These style rocks.
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