This is an origin story to a character I used to play in World of Warcraft. It's been a while since I wrote anything in English. Reviews and constructive criticism are much appreciated. Please enjoy.
There are certain things that pose a true challenge to human patience, no matter if the human in question is a farmer, a street wench or a soldier fanatically devoted to his cause. In that last case things get far more complicated if one includes tons of water pouring down from the sky and rivers of mud beneath metal-clad feet, those feet being attached to a metal-clad body and the metal being eaten away by rust before one's eyes.
Yes, indeed there are moments when even a knight of the Scarlett Crusade would throw it all to demons if only it brought him any closer to a nice cozy tavern and a mug of mulled ale, away from the clanking armors and that stupefying sound of pouring rain, that by each dragging minute-
Sergeant Seyrin Clearwater suddenly felt that if he didn't do something immediately, the tip of his blade would become his own undoing, instead of the first undead wretch's he met. That was why he came to a halt so abruptly that several of his soldiers nearly tripped and fell, carried by momentum and their own significant weight. He waved his hand, commanding them to change formation and they did so without complaint. They always obeyed orders. It was what they were trained to do. It was what made them undefeated.
At least that was what they believed until a few weeks earlier, when whole patrols started to go missing. Reinforcements were sent from their base of operations, even better equipped and prepared. From those last few groups only solitary soldiers returned – or rather what was left of them did. All that the guards found at dawn by the heavily fortified gates of Hearthglen were charred human remains, by some miracle still wrapped in scarlet tabards.
The captain was furious, although the word didn't really do justice to his near destructive, obsessive rage. Clearwater was fully aware of the burden that rested on his shoulders. He had to be successful. Whoever, or whatever was behind those attacks, he intended to destroy it. And he was determined to do so before one more night in freezing rain that cut his skin like a whiplash and kept pounding on his helmet like a drum deprived him of whatever little sanity he had left.
He took in their surroundings – a few run-down buildings, a tripped wagon, a pair of stinking dead oxen, a low fence that looked as if a giant had leaned on it, and around them a forest of shrunken unnaturally twisted trees that might have once been pines. Nothing out of the ordinary. He turned to look at the men and women under his command and—
Shouting would have been useless even if the sergeant did manage to open his mouth in time to give one last order. All of a sudden a different kind of rain fell upon them – a rain of fire and acidic smoke. Out of the corner of his eye he saw armor melting on several of his men. Their muffled screams added to the roaring of flames. A part of Clearwater's mind cowered in horror at the scene, but he would not have gone as far as he had if mere death could take away his ability to think clearly.
Obeying an instinct older than training, the sergeant rolled on the muddy ground into cover behind the fallen cart. His ears were ringing from the blast while the moans of the dying slowly grew silent. Drops of rain hissed on heated ground, dousing the flames. Clouds of steam blocked out his vision. Clearwater hunched as much as the armor allowed him, his back against the cart's crooked wheel, and grabbed his sword. He waited, although he wasn't sure what for.
He did not know how long it had lasted. The sky darkened, it's shade now crimson red. Through the sound of his own pounding heart he heard a distant inhuman howl of a ghoul – a sign of the coming night. Smoke and steam had thinned. A thick stench of death and burned meat hung in the air, and with it a faint note of gunpowder. Nothing moved in the darkness that slowly fell upon the woods.
Seyrin forced his stiffened limbs to move and stood. He had a duty to his fallen comrades, a duty stronger than fear. He would not let them become Plague fodder. Not while his heart was still beating.
Their bodies were a macabre sight, half-burned, mutilated beyond recognition and frozen in unnatural poses. It was enough to make anyone feel sick. Lucky for him, Seyrin was not just anyone. He carefully sheathed his sword and with some effort pulled his gaze away from the mass grave. He needed something to make a pyre. Perhaps a few planks from the wagon?
He dragged himself back to the hideout he'd just left and slowly circled around it. The dead oxen reeked of decay. Seyrin covered his nose and mouth with one arm, staring intently into the thickening darkness. Suddenly he shuddered when a shape caught his attention. A few steps away, in the shadow of a tree, a woman's body lay. It must have been a woman. The corpse, although weeks old, still had long pale hair and a ragged brown dress draped over it. Seyrin knelt by the body. Strange that he hadn't noticed it before. He would not be surprised if exhaustion had made his senses betray him.
Then he blinked. And again. And again, until he felt his eyelids and his stomach alike turn into cold lead.
The dead woman's eyes were open and staring right at him.
Run, fall, run. Hot air on sweaty face. The metallic taste of blood.
Just a little more.
Arms starting to go numb, legs made of lead. Pulsating pain between the ribs. Exhaustion? Broken bone? Ruptured lung? Who cares?
Just a bit further.
We won't make it.
A blood red halo above the woods. Thick black smoke that squeezes tears from the eyes and turns each breath into torture. And that stench…
May the Light have mercy on my soul.
Was she there? His Johanna, his little Julie. They had to be there. None had any chance to escape. The order came so quick…
And I followed it.
Lungs screaming for air. He used up the last of it to shout out commands. Torches and swords began their work. Need to run faster.
It had to be done. We had no choice. There was no hope for the people anyway.
Was there not? What if someone survived? By the Light, they might still live!
You failed them.
A noise… Captain Trevin Aldaine rapidly raised his head and stared into the flickering flames in the fireplace. A dream? Most likely. He dreamed often. He was usually glad for not remembering a thing afterward. He loosened his grip on the chair's armrest. This very afternoon they dragged sergeant Clearwater's body into his office. Allegedly he was still alive after they found him, although a missing tongue made interrogating him quite impossible.
There was that noise again. Aldaine froze. Something told him that same sound rose him from his restless nap. He threw a glance at the nearby staircase, but no… that wasn't it. A vague sound was coming from outside his door, all the more clear in the dead of night. In one fluid motion the captain rose from his chair and reached for the sword on the table.
He entertained no illusion. He had not earned his command by being hopeful and a soldier's sixth sense confirmed his every misgiving. The recent attacks, the sergeant's funeral pyre, still warm. No, coincidences did not exist as far as he was concerned. He sneaked up to the heavy door, released the lock and shoved the doors open, ready to slash at the darkness with his sword.
His opponent was nowhere to be seen, but once his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the sight of two guardsmen lying motionlessly at the bottom of the stairs made a shiver run down his spine. He was not afraid. All fear had left him long ago. This was something much worse. He slammed the door shut and locked it, as he had done countless times before. Still tightly gripping the sword, he turned around.
Next to the chair he had just left a figure stood, bathed in firelight.
- Hello, Trevin – a coarse female voice croaked.
This isn't happening, his mind mused over and over, fighting the nightmare with what little strength it had left. But the nightmare was right there, a walking caricature, a mockery of all things living. Aldaine stared at the creature in horror, gripping his sword like a holy symbol.
- Do you not recognize me? – the nightmare mocked. – I suppose I would be disappointed if I could still feel. Fortunately, it does not matter anymore.
Everything about her was colorless – transparent dead skin, filthy strands of hair framing her face, tattered dress, more rags than clothing – everything but the eyes… Her eyes glowed with something Aldaine could only describe as demonic fire. Deformed, deathly features made the woman's face look cruel and macabre.
And yet… and yet there was something painfully familiar about her, something he had tried to banish from his memory for years. As if through a thick veil of mist he heard a sharp metallic sound, not realizing it was his own sword falling from his limp hand.
- No – he heard his own voice, although he could not recall moving his lips. – No, it's impossible. You died. I saw it. I made certain they didn't miss a single house. It all burned down. The whole city. I saw it. I saw…
There was warm liquid streaming down his cheeks, floorboards creaked beneath his knees. He felt nothing. His world was reduced to those two eye sockets burning with hate.
The undead snorted.
- Oh, they nearly made it. Do you think they listened when I screamed your name? When I showed them the royal seal? When I swore I never touched that damned grain? Fools. Brainless pawns, even worse than the Blight. They all died before I bled out.
He shook his head as if trying to wake up.
- You cannot be her. By the Light, Johanna... what have they done to you?
She gave a short raspy laugh.
- Your Light left me the moment I died. Now it can kiss my rotten ass. And you are going to pay, Trevin. You'll pay for everything. For me, for her...
- No! – he all but choked on his tears. – I tried to get to you before... To save you, save Julie...
The woman moved much quicker than her state would indicate. A kick to the stomach pumped all air from Aldaine's lungs. He doubled over, but before he could fall, bony fingers grasped his hair and tugged him up. He moaned.
The undead woman leaned over him. A faint smell of earth and mould nearly made him retch.
- Don't you dare speak her name! – she hissed. – Our daughter is dead because of you and your prince! You are unworthy to even remember her!
- No – he breathed weakly. – I...
- Enough words – she cut him off and her ghastly eyes glowed more brightly. Still holding his hair in an iron grip she raised her other hand. Aldaine vaguely realised that she was holding his own sword.
- Till death do us part, remember Trevin?
- And if not mine, then maybe yours will.
Darkness enfolded him.
The creature that once was Johanna Aldaine looked dispassionately at the captain's corpse. She could very well endow a few warlocks with the blood that spilled from his open throat. For a moment she even regretted such a waste of resource. She drove the blade through the wooden floor right next to the body. She needed no souvenirs. She got what she came for.
A stair creaked nearby. The undead turned her head around like a predator, sniffing the air. The thick smell of blood drowned out all else, but her eyes were enough. On the landing stood a six-year-old girl in a nightgown. The child's eyes were wide with fear, her pale lips trembling.
Time paused for a few long heartbeats before a hoarse voice broke the silence.
- Don't be afraid, Julie. You are safe now.
That night a powerful explosion blew captain Aldaine's quarters to pieces. The clerics that examined the commander's remains determined that he had been killed before the explosion. They never found the body of the captain's daughter among the ashes. There was no sign of the culprit.