WoW Fan-Fiction Contest
Here is the final version of the story:
By Mataoka (Shaman)
Since his death, forced awakening, and following an ill-bonded allegiance, the Death Knight always felt itchy. It was as if his own skin had stayed in the grave, and the mesomorphic Val’kyr gave him spun metal as a replacement, the kind the kitchen girls would scrub pots with which left their hands looking like the undersides of raw meat. When he broke free of his sutured chains, through stitch-steel and blood, he did not feel any sense of redemption. To have felt resolve he would have needed control of his will, and this was left in the deep hole. He would transfer fealty from one gibbet to another, but dead all the same. Even walking through the streets to pledge to a new king, the quick spit, shouted, screamed, or worse, shunned his presence. They wanted him back in the grave, too.
He could not remember who or what he had been in the life before. The losses he felt were like a mouse in the room—scared memories scurrying to hidey-holes. He could never quite catch them in the light. There was a woman, her face masked in opacity. He was a Night Elf by race, but his former daily routines, skills, or origins he could not recall. He was masterful with runes, however. If he came by this trade or talent in his second life, or from his first, he did not know. His powders were soft as pollen flakes, his stones intricately engraved with caliper precision. He knew how to bend rocks to his will, proof of his physical strength. Once demolished and cut, however, he could not put them back to their original state, much like his own false apotheosis.
His kind, the order of Death Knights, was maligned at every turn, and this life of death was hollow and numb. But—his options were narrow. He had died once, and been brought to serve against his will. He could die again, and considered this option. Spend an afterlife in nothing, or an eternity of boredom in this life. He had nothing to prove to anyone, but he was alone, and he wasn't ready to go back to Death empty-handed a second time.
Was there ever a moment when she wasn’t there, the awkward girl with the black cat? She was reading her mail, studying its contents, and she tripped over the low curb by the steps of the bank. She blushed, hoping no one had seen her, embarrassed. All of her letters, cloth, and flasks scattered out of her bags, and she scraped her knee.
Whatever he had been in the past, whomever he had loved, and how much scorn he had met—he did the only thing he could do now, of his own free will, for the first time in eons—he gave her his hand, and helped her up.
And he fell in love.
He healed her wound, in his tainted fashion, picked up the items, but did not say a word. His scarred, wrecked voice frightened others, and they stopped listening years ago. She smiled at him so openly, the chill that was his constant cloak thawed, not warmed by blood or disease, but pure sweet light. He croaked a laughed, and she did not flinch.
Mrs. Whitworth, the black cat, who wasn’t always a cat, knew this look. In her previous form, she resembled a woman who looked like she had not been kissed enough, so her authority on looks between a man and a woman is suspect. But she still knew. She ushered the girl away from this knight, but missed witnessing him walking backwards, so he could look at her as she walked away. He stayed silent.
There are first meetings all the time. They are as commonplace as a breath. But—it is the second meeting—no trompe-l’oeil, no false start, but the second meeting, that breathes into the phantoms and creates solid standing flesh.
He could not stop thinking about her, wondering if she was a trick of light. He hadn’t been this agitated since he was a young man.
She had an ineffectual shadow side contrasting to her light spirit. She could never really master it, however; Annaen’s shadow side was her vanity. She felt beautiful, and sexy, and mischievous from her light, holy spirit. Sometimes she would turn to the shadows and pretend to skulk around the city streets as if she mattered, or had power. This side smoldered deep indigos, purples: a bruised sunset relinquishing solar rays to star streaks. But stars are suns; the perspective is all about distance and leaps, as both sides existed within her.
She felt an odd chill, as if someone watched her: the second meeting approached on tiny feet.
Mrs. Whitworth left the dead vole by the dandelions and urinated clover. She could not bring Annaen many gifts other than rodents; careful not to disembowel them, for she was certain Annaen would enjoy gutting them herself.
“Mrs. Whitworth, please—please. Enough with the dead things; at least—“ Annaen did not finish her sentence, as Mrs. Whitworth strolled off, nose and tail in the air, showing her cat fanny. Mrs. Whitworth fancied herself the authority on perfection and graciousness, and if Annaen did not value her efforts, well then…and the cat, which was a woman once, felt the chill, too. And smelled him.
The second-meeting opportunities are quicker than snowmelt. He stepped in the path of the cat, and picked up the vole and disposed of it in the sewer grate. Annaen did not see the tiny vole quicken a bit upon his touch.
“You have come to my aid once again, sir, thank you,” she bowed. “My name is Annaen, and you should know you have just tossed a gift from my cat, Mrs. Whitworth. You would be wise not to cross paths with her again—she is very protective!”
He had not used his voice in so long, his broken instrument, he coughed before he spoke. “My name is Tomik, priest, and I am used to cats who scratch.” He was going to ask her to walk, to go, to do the next thing…but he had no idea what the next thing should be. The moment perched on an awkward branch, deciding to fly or nest. It nested: she spoke next.
“Ah, do you smell that, the smell of gunpowder and greasy Darkmoon Faire food? I was on my way to waste some time there. Would you care to accompany me? Seems you have saved me twice now from spilled mailbags and dead voles, so I’m sure the dangers of the fair will be no match for you!”
He nodded, and reached down deep, deeper than his grave, to his natural Night Elf grace and charm, the sometimes smug serenity that comes with his race, and he touched the back of her arm, and led her toward the Faire’s entrance portal. She had no idea how difficult that was for him. Some sense made her stay in shadow form; her holy vestiges of golden light seem incongruent with the night. Shade would be best.
Tomik had been a proud Night Elf. The dead king was dead again. Tomik’s service as a Death Knight for the Ebon Hold was closed: he had loosed the bondage from the dead king’s service recently for him, but eons for the citizens of Stormwind. Their short memories held no room for regard for Death Knights. They still screamed when one was reborn, the idiots. His service and loyalty were superfluous. New dangers and threats loomed, but for the moment, his current battles were his own.
He felt ridiculous at the fair. But look at her—her shadow self could not hide her smile. The night blasted with fireworks, embers competing with stars, the food was sugary and hot and greasy and abundant, as if he was a starving man; and the best part of the evening, she did all of the talking. Annaen did not talk to hear herself, though; she asked him questions, and when replies were slow, she could build on his single word answers and weave a tapestry of insight and humor he had forgotten he had. She made him feel smart and strong with her words. He made her laugh. And every time she laughed, for him, she was charmed. Her priest responsibilities had been so demanding lately. So many injured, entitled, and ignorant. No one knew the dedication and training required to heal, to medicate, the sheer willpower of discipline. Her thoughts had begun to turn queerly phantasmagorical recently--thoughts of not healing someone if they were disrespectful, or using her mana to save herself. This went against every one of her vows, “To heal and serve by the Light, and do no harm to others, sacrifice myself for the good of the righteous cause.” These vows were becoming increasingly more difficult to keep.
Those strangers she healed did not understand what it meant to die as a priest.
There was never pure white light—it was an illusion of grays, sheer brushed burnished starlight fire, the materials that made the stars and the universe, the very grit of the gods, were hers. These powers were triggered outside of her control, however.
If they felt the pain she did when her spirit released---in the panic of the moment, her triage of heals, the scraping of flaky blue mana pools that were no longer azure blue, but burnt blue, scorched, and the wings bursting from her narrow shoulders, no longer being able to bear the burden of all the dying around her, the inside of her shoulder blades would start to poke and burn, like poisonous needles thousands of times over, from every pore, erupting from her skin as she turned dirty white-grey, streaked in tears and sweat, her wings radiating with her invisible blood, pooling, mixing in the mana, so she could continue to give until she dropped from her death. The death-angel personae made these entitled warriors bitterly complain, to them, it was a sign of her failure, not theirs.
She was exhausted from the lack of gratitude for her healing arts, and the brief life in the shadows was intoxicating. He could not take his eyes from hers, and she him.
“Why do they call it the Darkmoon Faire when it only happens during the full moon? Did you ever wonder that? I mean, think about it, Tomik, the moon isn’t dark, it’s full light! I wonder why.”
He ignored the smell of bones coming from the forest. Shamans can smell them, Worgens, too. And Death Knights. Annaen was oblivious to the cries of marrow coming from the dark woods outside of the Faire’s bright but jumpy lights. He steered her away from the edges so as not to trigger her healer’s instincts. She needed a respite, this was clear.
She sought out a carnie for a longer and profitable quest. A trifle, really: bring back the ‘souvenirs’ of 250 angry souls. Annaen considered the proposal, for this was worth much to the fair workers, these bits and gruesome parts. She accepted, and told Tomik she had heard of just the place to gather these tokens, and they would have time to return to the fair in a few days.
They did all they could do that night except for the spectacle fighting—they left that for the young warriors of Stormwind who felt they had something to prove. Toward the end of the night, they flew from cannons into the ocean, soaked and laughing. Mages rushed by drying their robes by blinking, and druids shook out their fur, nonchalantly, shambling back up the docks’ ramps. They had no spells of fast drying in the pockets, however, and the night air had a chill. He was accustomed to frost, so he pulled her in close, and she did not protest. His skills of blood health warmed her, and her inner light warmed him, too. They stood near the docks, an audience to the cannon fodder, successes and failures alike, but not keeping score.
Some of the bravest acts are not on a battlefield or in a castle chamber. They are the conquests of fear of spirit. Not the first kiss, but the second. The moment where a kiss is going to happen, but hasn’t happened yet. Her hat was still very wet, so he pulled it off. He put his large hands on her hair, and shook it out, and kept his hand behind her ear, and pulled her face to his: one heartbeat, two heartbeats.
And he did the only thing he could do now, of his own free will, for the first time in eons—he kissed her, and she kissed him back. Her hand went behind his ears, his scratchy whiskers surrendered to her creamy face, her face took no prisoners of beard, breath, or beating hearts—he was all hers. He tasted like licorice, she thought oddly, fennel…and something else: a tiny scent of grave moss, but it wasn’t detracting. If anything, something in her responded deeper: to him, she tasted like more. Cravings of kisses.
Mrs. Whitworth tried to cut the evening short. She sashayed between the two, meowing loudly for supper, company, or attention. This broke the moment, and when all seemed possible, now he faltered, panicked almost, and wondered if he could tell her the truth: “I cannot give you children. I cannot give you a home with walls and fires. I offer only my twice-used soul.” He wasn’t that brave yet.
But Annaen kissed him again, a second time. Mrs. Whitworth would have to wait.
They decided to meet at the old citadel. Annaen did not fear this place, having no real understanding of its history. She was one of those with a short memory, or rather, an uneducated one. She was curious about the monsters and skeletons patrolling this landscape, but did not fear them. And why question or investigate what one doesn’t fear?
He arrived there first, at the round tower wedged in a mountain’s belly. There stood Rokir, Rider of the Unholy, among hundreds of spawning minions. Rokir had never escaped the Lich’s influence, and served him loyally throughout the conflicts, past and present. Rokir was the one who locked the traps.
Tomik spotted Annaen flying in from the east, her damned annoying cat by her side. She swooped down, and began to caste her most deadly spells, unfortunately, diluted by years of healing, these shadow spells weren’t powerful enough to stop the waves of undead spawning from the ash in the stones, multiplying; Tomik used his easy skills and defeated this wave, but barely; she was dizzy from the disease and stained with their hate, so he carried her to a safer place.
“Annaen, these creatures, you don’t know, but they can still kill you.”
“Oh, I’ll be fine! You’re here now, and I only have a few more to gather.” She jangled her bags with the muffled sounds of broken bits of body parts and gold. “Help me, Tomik.”
She tried again to go full-bore into the undead mobs, all of them slashing, cutting, and poisoning her with toxins from the vats of the damned. She did better this time, but only because he was amazingly skilled with his swords, and he knew their fight style—they played dirty, but so did he.
What has started out as a carnival challenge becomes a very real battle. Rokir stepped into middle after another onslaught, and a huge, pus-filled-patched beast, no, two, no—a dozen, climbed into the tiny circle, blocking their escape on other side.
“Tomik, are you still the scared little elf, who left his wife to die?” boasted Rokir. “Thank you, kind Knight, for bringing us another one.”
It all came back, ghosts from the grave, with claws and fangs.
In that tiny moment, all they had was faith. She became a healer for him, and he defended her. He cut Rokir back down, futile, but temporarily satisfying. He arose again, and again; Annaen healed him, but the minions from the west attacked, he could barely recover, and he saw her wings, and knew she was dead. He heard her silent scream and felt what she felt: a thousand stings in his back, and cried, and killed. She healed him, and fell.
He had a gift from the old King he was never meant to receive, a gift that exacted a terrible tax on those to whom it is given. The Death Knight could bestow life.
Before the next attack, he touched her, and brought her back. He carried her away, back to their home city. She was as she would be as an angel; covered in gauzy-grey waves, transparent, but still there. Raised, revived, and living. Bringing one back from the dead has unseen or unknown costs---there is an intimacy, a bond, that will always exist in some modicum of strength. For Annaen and Tomik, this bond demanded a tithe of truth.
With her back to him, she asked:
“Why are you here?”
When the Lich King burnt my home, and took me as an initiate, what was left of my soul skittered for safety, separated in flicking, scratching pieces in my mind.
The quartermaster clothed me in my death. I wore black boiled leather that smelled of mold and rot. It was thrice sewn, layers of thin skins bolted together in pieces by a demented tailor. The green-faced lieutenant paced back and forth back and forth back and forth as if he had a mission that led to nowhere and the preparation itself was the battle. The King commanded me to go seek out another in chains, and make a choice: my life or his, or hers. I surveyed the once brave souls chained to the walls like dogs of hell’s master. No one was spared: sugar-lump Gnomes, broken Dwarfs, and proud Draenei, even beserking Trolls, mollified and placid. One poor Troll was gnawing at his scabby wrist trying to eat his way free, and then going into frothing fits. And then I saw my wife.
She did not love me, did not want me. Our last conversation was her leaving me for another.
I am sorry.
I had promised her to love her forever, and I never let go of that promise. But-she killed me before I died.
And the new master offered me a choice, my last choice of free will. This one choice had only one outcome, serve the Lich forever, or die again. Both were death. I could choose my wife as the one, kill her, and rid of us both of pain. I could choose her, and murder her for her betrayal. If I killed her, I could put an end to her misery and save her from eternal servitude to the Lich. I knew what awaited me. The Lich killed me, and raised me, to serve. I did not want her to meet the same fate.
Now understand—she was no ordinary woman. If I fought her, she would be advisory worth my skills. She had claws, and fangs, and handily bested me in play wars. She was no match for my strength, though, and could only barely win in her animal forms. I went to unlatch her chains, and she looked at me—I could not tell if she was pleading for me to kill her or to leave her be. I did not know. I do not know. Her eyes were marked with the symbols of her beasts; sharp leaves for healing powers and the powers of the sun and moon of our people. She was a terrible healer, lazy most days, and dreamy the next. But I would like to believe she was trying to help me. She offered me a gift with her last look: she did not want my last memory of her to be her blood.
I let go of the key and chose the troll warrior instead. She did not watch as I slaughtered him.
Do you want me to tell you I am sorry? I cannot. He had a family, I am sure, or those who loved him. I did not care then, and I cannot care now. I know my wife was killed when another of the legion of initiates crossed into the plague lands. The ones in the chains always die.
Tomik did not try to hold her face again. He did not try to hold her at all. It was for her to decide if she wanted him still, a man who could kill his own wife, or a man who could not.
He could not know, when he brought her back, that was all she had ever longed for, and she was in no pain. Slowly the dust of the grave shook off, her form and shape filled out with air and blood, and she knew, no matter what this man could or could not give her, he would love her.
She looked at Tomik, smiled, and said, “We have some icky things to deliver to the carnie. Let’s go in the morning, please? And then we have some other things to do, not sure what, but we’ll think of something! Maybe Rokir needs to die again…oh, maybe that can wait till the next full moon, I don’t know, but something! The Worgens need our help—it’s beautiful there in Gilneas, maybe we can travel there after we rest?”
For every word she spoke, she drew closer to him, until he realized he was holding her tightly. This is the only promise he needed to keep, engraved as a master intaglio, engraved in stone.
And Mrs. Whitworth brought him a rat.
This is just another little love story, about a pair who has nothing but one another. And if you haven’t been kissed enough, like Mrs. Whitworth, that is a shame. If you don’t believe in love at first sight, or second sight, and if you don’t believe in the power of second kisses, I feel sorry for you, because those are powerful things. And if little ones, you would hear another sad story of long-lost love, of broken hearts, I hate to disappoint you…but they lived happily ever after.