Tomoraider's Campaigns - Short Stories

Click here to edit subtitle

   ...

  

   Sensation leaves her, like water draining from a sieve; like the sun as it steals away the light of day; like the song of the dragonhawks as they settle down for the night. Sound: the desperate cries of her companions, the victorious laughter of him -- the traitorous bastard they came here to strike down --  fades; a dull roar, the struggling beat of her mangled heart still ringing in her ears.


   Agony, too, fades. Corrupts itself into a dull throb, centered around the glowing, glaring crystal embedded in the center of her chest. Alessandra chokes, blood and spittle falling from her open, painted lips, and her body falls to the floor in a heap. Her eyes stare unseeing into the verdant eyes of their fallen prince; her’s dull with fading life, his dancing with hard-won victory.


   “--I almost pity you,” Kael’thas is saying, his voice hard, but even dying Alessandra can detect the smug, gleeful notes to it. He raises a foot to press the crustal through her chest, “you’ve tried so hard, after all.”


   The crystal reacts: its corrupting influence merges with her wild, volatile magic and causes sensation to return like wild fire. She screams, ill-prepared for ragged nerves and desperate, encompassing pain. Her eyes widen, her body contorts -- spine arching, hands clawing at the ruin of her chest -- and a voice, one that she barely recognizes as her own, shrieks out: “Go! You must leave this place,” she sobs out, the familiar syllables torn and ragged. “Run, please! You must live on; you must succeed where I have failed! Run!”


   Kael’thas stares down at her dispassionately for a moment more, and she desperately hates him. How dare he, she thinks -- among the last of her rational thoughts -- be the last thing she is to see? He breathes out a word, and is gone; leaving her to the torrent of her wild magic.


   It explodes from her slight frame, taking with it all that she is, and all that she was. And as Alessandra falls into nothingness, she remembers.


--


   Alessandra finds that, despite her reservations, she doesn’t mind the capital so much; Silvermoon is a beautiful city. It is a point of pride to be among her defenders, and they both -- Alessandra and her beloved husband, Aerrath -- take their individual duties quite seriously. She, with her regiment of priests and healers; he, with his unit of Farstriders patrolling the Eversong.


   They are all confident that matters will be put to rest soon, and that they will be able to return to the lives they had been leading before all of this unpleasantness began. As every High Elf knows, the Scourge holds nary a candle to their combined might.


   Alessandra stands, smiling to herself, and smooths down her robes with careful brushes of her fingers. Her break is long over, and it is time she return to Silvermoon’s temporary and expanded hospital. They’ve yet to have a casualty, and many of the injuries are handled expertly in the field. So far there has been little to do, beyond gossip with the other priests, and true to form: the patient waiting for her is a young boy who has not seen combat, but has stumbled over his own feet and fallen into his mother’s cooking fire.


   Her smile grows into something reassuring, “you’ll be alright, little one. I’ll have you fixed up before the dragonhawk crows!”


   He smiles nervously at her, intimidated by a strange adult but brave in the face of his pain. He’s got burns across much of his torso and chest, his arms, and on some of his face. He’ll be a fine Farstrider someday, she knows, and casts the necessary spells to numb his pain and repair much of his seared flesh.


   The boy’s brave face falters only when she smears a healing salve over tender, new skin and wraps him in bandages. He grows pale, his luminous blue eyes tearing up, but he doesn’t let loose even the smallest of whimpers. “You’ll be alright,” she reassures, smoothing a gentle hand down freshly applied bandages. “You’ll be a fine Farstrider one day; you’ll do us all proud, little one.”


   The child beams with pride and hops, delicately, from his perch on one of the hospital’s cots. He ambles to his grim faced, but proud father; a man Alessandra recognizes from Aerrath’s regiment. They exchange nods of respect and the pair leave; leaving Alessandra to her thoughts and the grim, uncomfortable knowledge that this relative peace will not last.



--


   The first casualties in the growing conflict with the Scourge is a small unit of Farstriders that had been responsible for running messages between the Lady Sylvanas and Prince Kael’thas. There is nothing left of them except a blood spattered path and skittish, injured hawkstriders.


   Their corpses, reanimated and shuffling mindlessly, are spotted amongst the growing number of Scourge a week later by a far reaching scouting party.


   As a nation they mourn. As a nation they call out for blood. As a nation they shriek in outrage.


--


   The changes come quickly after that.


   There is no more pretending that this conflict will be simple, or easy, or that the Scourge will fall easily to their blades and arrows; that they will go to their graves easily, just because their state of being is unnatural and cannot persist.


   Their leaders are not pulling any punches anymore; and the conflict is no longer a joke, even in high society.


   Farstriders, in great companies are sent to the south under the command of Ranger-General Sylvanas Windrunner. They patrol outreaching territories in greater numbers, and Aerrath tells her that each squad is no less than thirteen strong. He is among the Farstriders responsible for the patrols; for guarding their beloved capital and all that lives beyond it.


   Kael’thas has those left behind build and install field hospitals across the Eversong. Alessandra is deployed to one such hospital near the front lines.


   She isn’t bored anymore.


   The injuries she sees are no longer simple burns, but grievous and sometimes fatal. There are times she struggles to keep up, even working in a team of her fellow priests and priestesses. She often returns to her bed, hands still caked in the blood of her brethren and exhausted.


   She barely has the energy to miss her beloved Aerrath.


--


   They steal a few hours together as his squad returns to the company.


   She revels in the familiar feel of him; the scent of him. She tucks her head under his chin and breathes him in, fingers curled in the battle leathers he’s wearing still. He wraps his strong arms around her slight frame and strokes her hair. He comforts her, and she him; they murmur about the future and happiness that awaits them once this is over.


   The children they’ll have, the homestead they’ll own. The happy dream of growing old together.


   He takes her to bed that night, and when she watches him go in the morning she can’t help but shake in rage at everything the Scourge has taken from her. “Curse the Scourge,” she snarls, slamming a curled fist into the sanctum wall.


--


   The battle intensifies. It is a conflict no longer, but a war for survival.


   The Ranger-General is growing both more desperate and increasingly grim. She turns to Prince Kael’thas, rumored to be a strategic genius in his own right, and his Magisters for advice. Aerrath’s company is one of those given to the prince’s command.


   Alessandra cannot help but feel it is an improvement.


--


   Alessandra slumps, her body falling heavily against the wall. She clasps, absently, in one desperate, clawing hand a skein of water. It’s open and spilling down her forearm and robes. She doesn’t notice it, even as her body shivers against the cold.


   Death has visited her this day. It isn’t, by any means, the first life that has passed under her frantically working hands, but it is among the most familiar yet. She can’t help but see, in her mind’s eye, the proud but grim faced father that retrieved the burned boy from her care in Silvermoon. It seems so long ago, now, Alessandra laments silently; a time when there was hope and not this ceaseless, hopeless conflict.


   She can’t help but see his face, slack in death; face drained of blood and eyes dim and dull. The wound that tore through him was beyond her expertise, and those of the rest of her team but they had tried, valiantly.


   She tips her head back and wails in despair; in exhaustion.


--


   Everyone in the camp is talking about it.


   Alessandra ignores them, too weary to care at this point. On some level she knows that something, anything, that has the camp this excited is worth caring about, but she can’t. Instead she shovels her breakfast, which tastes of ash, down her throat and concentrates on retaining her strength for another grueling day of healing.


   Aerrath derails these intentions, however. He comes to her, grinning a grin she hasn’t seen in what feels like years and grasping her by the arms. “He’s done it,” he says, eyes luminous, “he’s figured it out, love!”


   “What?” She asks, a little stupidly.


   His grin softens and grows fond. He tucks a strand of golden hair behind her tapered ear and cups her cheek. “He’s found a way, Alessandra. We’re going to win this thing.”


   “Surely you jest,” she breathes, hope clawing at her heart like a desperate monster.


   He laughs, shakes his head. “No, my dearest.” They take a quiet moment together, enjoying and recharging in one another’s embrace. “We’ve been chosen for this, love, my company and I. We’re going to, as the Prince says it, cut the head from the serpent; the Scourge must be getting their power from somewhere, after all.”


   Hope is replaced by ravenous, rending terror. “You’ll be careful, won’t you?”


   “I’ve to see you before I die, don’t you know, Alessandra?” He sounds jovial, confident, and she can’t help but be swept up in her faith in him.


--


   She goes through the day in a fog. She heals, and mends, and does as she must, as she should, but does not truly see or comprehend any of it.


   Aerrath’s company leaves at sundown.


   The camp celebrates, already sure of victory.


--


   The next three days prey upon Alessandra’s waning hope, and nurture her growing terror and dread.


--


   They start coming in at dawn on the fourth day: the dying members of Aerrath’s company.


   Alessandra’s heart skips a beat in the face of her consuming terror, but she doesn’t let herself worry for long. She throws herself into the work, refusing to even think of the possibility of her beloved husband dead on some distant field or dying on another healer’s table.


   And, in the quiet moments, her growing dread stabs at her consciousness.


   The magister in charge of the hospital notes her faltering spellwork and sends her outside, insisting that she take a break; that she pull herself together and get her head on straight. She doesn’t move at first, and he glares at her until she turns and leaves; following the order.


   And that’s how she sees him; the mangled form of her beloved Aerrath.


--


   He’s still alive when she reaches him, stubbornly clinging to life as is his wont. His broken body is born upon a makeshift stretcher, held steady between two of his injured, but significantly less so, compatriots. Aerrath’s breath rattles in his lungs and her hands are already frantically working and attempting to mend the worst of it.


   His eyes crack open, and he smiles painfully.


   “See, love, h-had t-t-to see you,” he coughs, chokes and turns his head to the side. He doesn’t have the strength to bring a hand up to cover his mouth as frothy bubbles of blood fall from his lips. “O-one last time be-before I-I g-gave in…”


   The last of his strength, it seems, goes into the hand that he raises, shakily to cup her cheek. She freezes, sight clouding with tears. “Love you,” he breathes his last, a bittersweet smile upon his lips. He’d always joked he’d go to death’s door, in the face of her constant worrying, with a grin on his lips.


   She refuses to believe he’s gone. She doesn’t note as Aerrath’s body is lowered to the ground, merely following it dutifully, or the soldiers stumble into the hospital beyond her. She merely, mindlessly continues to work over her husband’s cooling corpse. She pumps spell after spell into his flesh, continuing despite and in the face of her growing exhaustion.


   She doesn’t stop until her fellow priests and priestesses pull her away, murmuring comforting nonsense that barely reaches her ears. Alessandra shrieks, an animal, mindless sound and shouts and rages. She struggles in their grip, trying and failing to return to her husband’s side. “He’s not dead! It’s not over yet, pl-please let me he-help him! Aerrath, don’t go; you can’t leave me! You promised! Please!”


   No one heeded her, and she cried and struggled against strong, steady hands until darkness consumed her.


--


   She did not return to the field hospital after that.


--


   Mostly she sat, and stared; catatonic in a way that worried those who knew her. They couldn’t do much though; there were more important things to be concerned with, namely the still growing conflict with the Scourge. She was returned, eventually, to Silvermoon where older, weaker healers tended to her condition.


   They bathed her, they fed her, they found the growing life in her womb.


   She absorbed nothing of their mutterings and barely recognized that they were there at all. Her mind was on her husband alone: the promises they had made; his smile; the way the sun gleamed off his hair and face; his scent, one which she barely remembered now; the feel of his hands on her skin, on her face; the way her hands and her magic had failed them both.


   How the sun had failed her, and him in turn.


   She vowed, silent and beyond the reach of anyone save her beloved Aerrath, to turn her back on the sun for its cruel and senseless betrayal.


--


   It was the smell of smoke that woke her.


   Screams and shouts; groans of the dying; the clang of metal on metal; cruel, vicious laughter: battle. Alessandra blinked away the fog in her mind, the catatonia. She stood, legs unsteady and no longer used to bearing her weight. She placed an unconscious hand on her slightly swollen stomach and gathered the drafty robes she was wearing around her.


   The whole of her being was focused on the approach of the Scourge; the ones who had taken her husband from her. She snarled, a vicious, animal sound and called on the shadows around her. To one, such as her, who had recanted the light, and the sun, they came willfully, gleefully.


   She stepped from her hospital bed, taking no notice in her bodily changes, focused only on vengeance.


--


   It had been weeks, she would later learn.


   Shortly after she had tried, and failed, to save her last earthly link to her beloved.


--


   Alessandra, garbed only in her hospital dress, stepped into the fray and commanded the darkness like an extension of herself. The shadows were sharp, honed on the whetstone of her sorrow, her bitterness, her anger, and her hatred for everything; especially the Scourge. She wrought destruction, and death quelled in her wake.


   Forever afterwards there would be priests of Shadow and Warlocks looking to emulate her.


   Long after exhaustion would have taken her, under normal circumstances, Alessandra obliterated the Scourge creeping through Silvermoon. She ground them to dust, turned them against their own masters, and her magic, a wild, untamed thing, sang with the fury of the destruction.


   It was only when something small and butterfly weak called to her, from deep within herself, that she stopped. Alessandra’s quaking legs failed her and she fell to her knees, inner thighs already soaked with the blood that spoke of her miscarriage. She wailed, realization striking her without mercy, and once again reached for the magic that had failed to save Aerrath. She begged and pleaded with the sun and its brilliant light to save her unborn baby, to let her have this one last piece of her beloved husband.



   Magic gathered in her hands, and with confidence that came with years of training Alessandra casted. But it was not the magic of the light, and the sun, the magic that she had devoted much of her life to that responded, no, it was something else; something far more sinister.


--


   The Scourge marched through Silvermoon, oblivious to Alessandra and her suffering. They took, and corrupted, and eventually destroyed the Sunwell.


--


   The Blood Elves, as Crowned Prince, Kael’thas Sunstrider, declared them were born shortly afterwards. He provided them with what, at the time, seemed to be the only solution: fel crystals that gave off Fel Magic. There were those, of course, who turned their backs on the Prince and left for elsewhere.


   They were High Elves, they said, and would not sully themselves with demon magic.


   Alessandra, whose heart was now as dark as the magic she commanded, stayed. She had considered leaving, briefly, but decided against it. She would bide her time, and she would find a dagger for Kael’thas’ smug back.


   She only needed the right excuse.


   She blamed him for her most grievous of losses.


--


   She was among the first of the Blood Elves to master a demon and declare herself a warlock. The darkness spoke to her, and loved her as the light had not. The demons, too, vowed their loyalty to her and served her gleefully.


--


   Alessandra never again, not that she would ever let on about it, reclaimed complete control of her magic. When she was angry things were likely to explode; shadows were liable to reach and strangle; and her demons often reacted according to her emotions rather than the words from her lips.


   It burned, her magic. Her blood boiled her from the inside of her veins, and her skin often felt too tight, too small, to truly contain the vastness of her magic. She bridled it to the best of her ability, but she knew that one day it would be too much.


   But there were things she had to do first, and do them she would. Then, and only then, would she join Aerrath and their unborn, unnamed baby in oblivion.


--


   Alessandra hated, and Alessandra waited.


--


   Kael’thas, fool that he was, was growing to respect, and worse -- for him, at least -- trust her! She suspected that he would soon appoint her to the position of Grand Magistrix as one of his trusted advisors.


   She would be able to strike, soon.


--


   He seems to relish the derision she treats him with. He toys with her, joking and jesting about things he knows not; it is enough for her hatred of him to grow darker still.


   The imp at her side cackles and flips, drawing anxious glances from the gathered elves.


--


   Alessandra soon saw her chance, and she took it.


   To openly move against Silvermoon’s traitor Prince; she relished in the proximity of her victory and stepped, eagerly, onto this new path.


--


   Aerrath, it turns out, has waited for her.


   He stands at a fork in an unknown path, beside him, hand clasped in his, is a tiny high elven girl. Her eyes as luminous, as blue and uncorrupted as her father’s stare at her, accusingly. She is beautiful, as beautiful as Alessandra had always imagined their children; silky, flaxen hair falling around her ears and around her shoulders; cherubic face a gentle mixing of their features. She loves her already, so much so that her withered heart breaks with it.


   Aerrath watches her steadily, sad and somber as she’d never seen him before. His eyes flick over her dispassionately, as if he can see the consuming darkness she had given herself to in the last years of her life, and then rest on her own, fel green eyes.


   “What have you done to yourself, Aless?” He asks, a tremble to his voice conveying the multitude of his emotions.


   She no longer knows how to read that tremble. She presses her lips together and sags to her knees. “What was necessary to avenge you, my love,” she says, unable to look away from him.


   Beside Aerrath the unnamed child tightens her grip on her father’s fingers. “You killed me,” she says, voice soft and high; like the whisper of wind through the trees.


   Alessandra’s heart tightens, and she wonders why she never considered the things that had happened from the perspective of her loved ones.


   “You’ve done so much,” Aerrath continues, his voice growing stronger. He pulls his hand free from their daughter’s and rests it, instead, on her shoulder. He pulls her to his side, but keeps his eyes on Alessandra. “I wanted nothing but happiness for you, Aless, and never, ever, wanted you to live like this if the worst had happened to me."


   “I don’t know if I can forgive you for it.”


   “I did the right thing,” she argues, despair clawing at her throat.


   “Yes,” he admits, “but for the wrong reasons.”


   “I had nothing left,” she insists, meeting his gaze defiantly.


   He smiles, and it is the same expression he wore when his life passed through her fingers; only stronger. “I know, and I love you for it, my beloved Alessandra.” He pauses, glances over his shoulder and then to his daughter before his gaze returns to her’s. “And now you have to choose, my love, to continue on the path you have chosen or to redeem yourself.


   “Do the right thing, for the right reasons this time, love,” and with his piece said, Aerrath fades into nothingness.


   Their daughter remains and eyes her mother skeptically. “Goodbye, Mommy,” she says, and she too fades.


   Alessandra Katryne stands in the world between worlds and walks forward. She chooses her path and walks down it, knowing, and hoping, that her family waits for her at the end.