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Old 04-19-2007, 11:36 PM
Nephalim Nephalim is offline

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Default The Assassination of Fenwick Thatros

Though this has not been reviewed by the ESRB, we expect them to assign a Mature, or Ages 17+, rating.

Layla Du Lac was dreaming.

She saw him, standing in a field of wild flowers. Behind him, a lake, and beyond that, the proud spires of the Capital. He was a vivid sight to behold – he was more real than she had ever truly seen him, in life. The colours of his face and hair were brighter, and the peacebloom below him shimmered in the sunlight, ruffled at his passing as he strode towards her. Fenwick Thatros reached out a hand.

She heard herself laugh, and walked to him. Then, she stopped. For behind him, Lordaeron was crumbling. The towers fragmented and collapsed in on each other without a sound. The walls cracked and chipped, like a great pressure was squeezing them. The white spires turned grey. From the base of the city, a shadow crept across the land. The trees of Silverpine withered at its touch. It swept across the lake, polluting the water, and the grass and wild flowers rotted once it reached the shore.

He was still reaching out for her when it swallowed him whole.

She awoke to Mordo’s face peering into her coffin, and with as close to a grin as his remaining face would allow, he uttered a dry whisper to her. “About time you woke up…”

And so ended the last dream Layla Du Lac ever dreamed.

Layla had lost both her eyes.

She lost her right eye on assignment, years ago. No more than fourteen meager years old. Her lord was King Terenas Menethil, and she was his personal spy – a gift from her trainers, the Stormwind Assassins. She was his mole in the broad kingdom, reporting civil unrest, whether light complaints or possible action. She usually posed as a vagabond, doing odd jobs on farms or taverns throughout.

He had come into Tarren Mill months before Layla noticed him. His name was Alan Clay. He stayed at the inn with seeming permanence. He earned no noticeable income, so far as she could tell, yet he seemed in no hurry to either return from wherever he came, move on, nor seek a lasting residence in the town. He paid his bill on time (every Thursday) and ate three meals a day. And though he dressed in drab, frayed clothing Layla had once seen him check the time on a truesilver pocketwatch and to better read an advertisement for a passing band of thespians, produced a beautiful monocle rimmed in mithril with a faintly violet lens. She recognized the intricate pattern around the chain as elven. He only used either when he thought no one was looking.

Normally, this would not have aroused much suspicion; even peasants had some heirlooms or trinkets which they either lauded with boisterous pride or hid out of fear of theft. When asked he claimed he was from a small outlying village of Stromgarde, and that he had come west because of “domestic problems,” on which he never elaborated. Meredith Carlson, a young woman who often frequented the taverns of Tarren Mill and came to the inexplicable conclusion that she and Layla were good friends, suspected that he had cheated on his wife. This, too, did nothing to make Layla think he was anything other than what he claimed to be.

What did it was a night when two farmers were complaining about some new policy to come from the Capital; a tariff on goods through the Thoradin Wall. She couldn’t remember the specifics but hard regarded it as inconsequential. The discussion expanded to the rest of the patrons, who each offered their own opinion, which Layla dutifully noted from her vantage point as a housemaid at the inn. Alan Clay added nothing unsolicited, but soon the perpetual (though, Layla decided, harmless) rebel rouser, Cariban Whitesteed, noticed him nursing a mug of ale in the corner.

“Clay! You’re from the other side o’ the Wall, what say you?”

Alan Clay shifted in his chair, very aware that every eye in the bar that wasn’t aimed into a glass or mug was fixed on him.

“I say,” he said, rather mechanically, “that King Terenas is the greatest ruler this land has ever seen, and I support whatever action he takes.”

Layla was tempted to shrug this off as simply a means of staying out of the argument, but there was something in the way he said it that made her pay closer attention to him. Over the following week, the peculiars of his manner – the monocle and pocketwatch, in particular – began to gnaw at her. Unable to tame her professional curiosity, she made up some excuse to go to Stromgarde and hitched a ride on a tradesman’s caravan. She investigated, at first casually but with an increasing, if unwise, fervor, dropping his name and description in every nearby community. It wasn’t until she mentioned the ornate monocle to a metalworker outside the orcish internment camp in the north that she got a clue. He said that such a monocle was unmistakably the work of an elven mage-smith who lived in Stromgarde.

High elves in Stromgarde were uncommon enough to make it easy for her to find him. But when she broached the subject of the mithril monocle, he attempted to deflect her inquiries. She pressed him harder until he confessed. He had made fourteen such monocles and they had all been bought by prominent nobles of Alterac.

She didn’t blame the smith for trying to keep his distance from these monocles, particularly residing in Stromgarde. Alterac, the bastard nation of the sons of Arathor, who betrayed them all to the orcs in the Second War, was not a popular note of discussion in Stromgarde, and any connection would not be viewed kindly. The rulers of Alterac had been arrested and exiled after the War, stripped of their riches, and forced to live in the wilderness like animals.

The mage-smith provided her with a list of the fourteen nobles, and Layla was able count out all but one – Alahar Vardus.

It was Layla’s own folly to meet with her contact Oni’jus a mere week after returning from her five-day trip to Stromgarde. Half-elves weren’t common enough to escape notice, and Oni’jus’ was not a face one easily forgot. She stayed in Tarren Mill for only half a day, but her presence sparked hushed conversation throughout the town, and she spent much of that time around Layla. Vardus must have seen her elsewhere. He seemed nobody’s fool, and if he knew Oni’jus had a connection to the king, he could have easily put two and two together. It was not conclusive, but it was, it seemed, enough to make him try to cover his tracks.

Layla was fetching milk from the cellars for the next morning when he attacked her. What followed was the first battle of Layla’s career – the first fight for which losing meant more than simple shame or a jeer from a colleague.

Had he had even rudimentary skill with the steel mace he carried, he could have killed her with the first swing. Instead his strike landed to the left of the base of her neck. The blow threw her face-down on the ground. She spilled the milk can. He prepared to swing again. She quickly rolled over, pulling a thin but wide dagger from her garter, and swung back, with the ill-conceived intention of deflecting the blow. She missed, instead struck his thumb. He dropped his mace with a cry. The attack forced the knife from her hand and she dropped it. The dagger fell to the ground, and Vardus kicked it away as Layla, still on the ground, the milk puddle around her, reached for the blade. He grabbed her head in both hands and slammed her into the wine rack on the closest wall.

Layla found the closest bottle at hand (’83 Burgundy – not a good year) and smashed it over his forehead. The blow knocked him back and she felt her own faculties dazed. Nonetheless, she kicked out his ankle and he collapsed with little ceremony. With a scream, she lunged. The knife, the mace, or any number of other weapons at hand were forgotten. She felt her way under his beard until her grip settled around his neck and tightened. She couldn’t stop screaming at him.

Vardus, however, did not forget the weapons at hand. When his attempts to wrest her hands from his neck proved futile, he searched, flailing, for anything to aid him. As her hands had found his neck so too did he find the neck of the broken wine bottle. He barely knew what it was before he slashed it at her face.

It broke her right eye like a soft-boiled egg. She reared back, repositioned her knee over his chest, restraining his arm and quickening his asphyxiation. Her dull thumbnails drew blood from his neck. She was still screaming.

She continued to strangle him, screaming all the while, for at least ten minutes after he was dead. Another maid found her an hour later. Tears from one eye, blood from the absent other.

The matter was handled with some finesse. The claim was that Vardus had let slip his identity to Layla one night when he had had enough ale to let such things slip and had then attacked her for fear of exposure. For ridding the land of one of the treacherous sons of Alterac, King Terenas congratulated her with a modest ceremony, and then had a feast in her honour at his home with his family and closest advisors. Though the public attention still regarded her as a traveling barmaid, at the feast Terenas revealed Layla’s true role, that she might be appreciated all the more. She was warmly recognized by the overwhelming legends seated across from her. Uther the Lightbringer, the archbishop Alonsus Faol, Uther’s elven student, Mehlar Dawnblade, and even an archmage of the Kirin Tor, Modera, all showered her with praise.

So, too, did Terenas’ two children who attended the feast; the young Calia, and the fair-haired teenager, Arthas.

Which brings us to her left eye.

Oni’jus later came into Arthas’ employ, and she traveled with him to Northrend. She came, eventually, to fear that the prince had lost his mind, and she attempted to return to Lordaeron to warn the kingdom. Though she died to the plague on her journey, she sent missives to other agents she knew throughout Lordaeron with a simple message: “Arthas is compromised. Protect the King.”

Layla set out for the Capital in a wild panic. The activities of the Scourge, the destruction of Stratholme, and the subterfuge of the Cult of the Damned had had every citizen of Lordaeron and abroad on edge. But the idea that Arthas had fallen far enough to harm Terenas was unthinkable. Layla had stolen a horse from her employers, and nearly killed him riding for two days straight.

She was too late. She happened upon a wailing peasant running down the road not an hour west of the city, his face dirty and his clothes torn. The self appointed messenger waved his arms about wildly, shouting but inaudible under the heavy hoof-falls of her mount. She slowed enough to soften the blows to the cobbled road so she could better hear him.

“The King is dead! By the hand of the Prince!”

She had failed her king. He was dead and his heir was a madman. It was like a swift blow to the kidneys. She felt dazed and nauseous, and had no idea of what to do now.

She left the horse to the messenger who took it with boisterous thanks and continued down the road, now shouting with even greater emphasis to be heard above the horse’s galloping.

Lordaeron was in chaos. With Terenas’ death, the Capital was lost. Ghouls and cultists ran through the streets, keen to the scent of foolish bravery and prudent terror. What tales managed to escape from the city spoke of rampant death and disease, the surviving populace who couldn’t run huddled in hideaways, terrified that they would be found by the roving gangs of undead and they often were. Layla avoided it. She spent the following days, maybe weeks, stumbling through the woods, occasionally happening upon a village or town. She did her best to stay clear the wandering Scourge forces. She had no idea where she was going or what she was hoping to do, but she couldn’t be rational in a world that refused to be rational around her.

As the days wore on, she began to lose her bearings, possessing only the faintest idea of where she was or how much time had passed. She lived off any tubers or berries she came across, which were sparse. The wildlife had begun to look and act strange, and she didn’t trust them enough to try to eat them. She slept much longer and deeper than she was accustomed to. It was likely due to this that she was happened across by a pack of ghouls.

She had been sleeping in the base of a dead, hollow tree when they happened upon her. It was the smell of rot and decay that woke her more than their growls and gibbering. They pulled her out of the tree with putrid hands and threw her on the ground, forming a cackling circle of death. She had lost her daggers days earlier, and didn’t even try to fight back.


The word stopped the ghouls in their tracks and their insane jabbering ceased. Layla looked up with her remaining good eye to see the circle part, and into their midst strode Prince Arthas Menethil.

She hadn’t seen him in years. He had grown older, but ten years didn’t account for the sheet-white hair, the moribund pall, nor the sinister delight in his eyes. Nothing she ever knew of him remained. She was amazed that she recognized him at all. He wore the trappings of some unholy knight. Black armour festooned with the likeness of skulls and bones, a deep violet cloak trimmed in white fur, and clutched in his gauntlet, a dark, smoldering runeblade, with cruel, jagged edges and a thorny hilt. A frosty mist fell from the metal, as if it had been freshly pulled free from a block of ice.

“I know you,” he said, drawing her eye from his sword to his face. “We’ve met before.”

Layla didn’t say anything. She couldn’t think of anything to say.

An insidious grin crept across his pale face. “Yes,” he hissed, “you were the girl from Tarren Mill. The spy for my father!”

She dropped her gaze to the ground.

“Look at me,” he ordered in a dark, quiet voice.

She turned her gaze upward, at his deranged, twisted face.

“Look at me!” he bellowed, lunging forward, and tearing the leather eye patch from her face. Her empty socket, her missing eyelid, and the twisted corners stared back at him.

“Where is Uther?” his voice was low again.

Layla hadn’t seen Uther since the feast at the Capital a decade before, and so answered, truthfully, “I don’t know.”

He knelt on one knee, bringing himself closer to her, and leaned on the giant sword. Its point sunk into the earth, and the ground surrounding it became etched in frost. It was as if the cold had infected it. “The Silver Hand is trying to consolidate their power. They are trying to take my kingdom from me. You served my father, and since you don’t serve me, you must now serve Uther. Tell me where he is.”

Layla shook her head. “I don’t –”

With a quickness she would have thought impossible in such full armour, Arthas reached into his boot, pulled out a thin, jeweled dagger, and cut out her last remaining eye, in one swift, brutal motion.

The world went dark.

She wasn’t screaming. This time, she wept with soft, futile moans, her body convulsing with her whimpers. Arthas grabbed her chin in his hand, and turned her face to his. “Symmetry, my dear.”

She almost laughed. Arthas kept a hold on her face for a few second more, then let her go.

Layla heard him mumble: “She doesn’t know anything.”

Then she felt his leather glove around her neck. He squeezed, she snapped, and she let her limp body fall to the ground. The black turned to white, and she died.

The undead didn’t need functioning hearts or lungs to live and breathe. Nor, Layla discovered, did they need eyes to see. She regained the depth perception she had lost years before. It took some getting used to. She would have expected being undead would take a lot.

But it did not.

She took to it immediately. She avenged herself on every mindless Scourge she came upon with silent resolve. The Forsaken were only too accommodating. Soon enough, she had a place in the Deathstalkers, training under Carolyn Ward, and even Sylvanas Windrunner, the Dark Lady herself, took a liking to her, with their similar fates. There was, however, a condition to this relationship.

Layla had been delivering a missive from Mennet Carkad to Varimathras when Sylvanas had called her to her side.

“I hear that bastard prince took your life,” Sylvanas asked it more than said it. Putting a gloved hand on her shoulder.

“And my remaining eye,” Layla added. She had taken to cover the sockets in a crisscross of leather bands.

“I imagine you’re hungry for vengeance,” the Dark Lady proposed.

Layla smirked. “Always.”

The elven grip on her shoulder tightened, and Sylvanas brought her face, suddenly grim and angry, close to Layla’s. “Just remember, Layla Du Lac, that either Arthas is mine, or whoever beats me to him is.”

She had left that meeting feeling rather confident about her place in the Forsaken, even if their queen had just threatened her life. Though, she imagined that every Forsaken felt at least some inclination to murder Arthas, so it couldn’t have been a threat Sylvanas wasn’t used to making.

Layla actually saw little of Sylvanas. Most of her dealings were with Mennet Carkad, the leader of the Deathstalkers, Varimathras’ force of infiltrators and assassins. Her methods were cold and exact. She lacked the penchant for extravagance that many of her colleagues enjoyed. She could enter and exit a building unnoticed by all, save the one she had been sent to kill.

It was neither fear nor faith that turned her to their cause, but simply because she had nothing to do otherwise. She didn’t start liking her new calling for some time. She sometimes wondered whether had been so sadistic and ruthless in life, and not lacked the inhibitions she once held, or if she had adopted these traits upon dying. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. She reveled in bringing death to all that stood before her. And with the undead agents of the Scourge, and the human fanatics of the Scarlet Crusade, there was much that stood before her.

She had not been a Deathstalker for long when Carkad summoned her to him with a new mission.

He wasted no time, and had already started speaking before she could sit down across from him at his headquarters in the Undercity. “Lord Varimathras has just sent me a missive about a threat to the Forsaken that must be immediately removed. His name is Fenwick Thatros,” she started, “one whom Lord Varimathras believes is a leader of the undead that have taken root in Silverpine Forest.” She looked away. She had thought him long dead. Carkad put Varimathras’ correspondence on the table before her, and, with a confident grin, continued.

“Your name came to mind immediately, Layla. I have faith enough in your abilities that you will carry out this mission flawlessly.”

Layla daintily touched the letter on the table, written thin and fine by the careful and steady hands of the nathrezim Dreadlord. Carkad noticed.

“Something wrong, Layla?” he asked.

She looked up at him, not sure if she should give an honest answer. “Thatros,” she decided, knowing Carkad was talented enough to catch her in a lie. “I knew him… when we were alive.”

He raised an eyebrow, more intrigued than concerned. “Will this be a problem?”

With a sigh, she folded the note and handed it back to Carkad, rising from my chair. “Of course not.”

The master spy took back the note with a smile, showing off his rotting teeth. “Excellent. The latest reports from the Deathstalkers in Silverpine indicate that Thatros can be found near the decrepit dock on Lordamere.”

In life, Fenwick Thatros was, of all things, a cook. He worked at the inn of Ambermill when Layla was stationed in Silverlaine Keep, not two hour’s walk west. They had flirted harmlessly for a while until something came over both of them that drove them to pursue their torrid love affair. Layla could never be sure what that was. Loneliness, most likely; the depression and schizophrenia borne of pretending to be someone you are not, perhaps. All Layla knew was that she needed more than ever to be close to someone. She needed to touch someone, for someone to touch her, and to feel it.

She had snuck out of the Keep late one night, and met Thatros at the base of a windmill in Ambermill. They had begun the awkward process of disrobing for the first time in front of each other, and the much more awkward process of making love with each other for the first time. They were nervous, they felt vulnerable, and neither was enjoying themselves.

Then, Layla’s eye patch had come loose, and she had hastily fumbled in an attempt to place it back on. Fenwick had stopped her. His gentle hands had taken hers. He had moved them away from her face, and taken the eye patch away, revealing the web of scars over her empty socket. His face had contorted, not in disgust or revulsion, but sympathy and sincere compassion. He had leaned in close, and kissed the wound, like the brush of a flower petal blowing in the wind. A tear had slipped from her good eye.

She had touched him, he had touched her, and she had felt it.

Silverpine Forest had always had a sharp, refreshing scent to it, and an air of mysticism blowing through the trees. Then it had died. The trees grew thinner, gaunt with plague. The grass, once cool and soft, was now dark, patched, and slippery. The wolves had always been a danger to travellers, but not so possessed of an insatiable bloodlust as they were now. The whole forest was lodged in autumn, forever dying but never dead, a status quickened by the agents of the Scourge which had made their home in Silverpine. The tauren had sent emissaries from across the ocean to assist with the repair of the forest, and the Forsaken feigned interest in that goal. In reality, none of them cared. Survival and power were all that mattered. The environment in which they attained either was superfluous.

The Forsaken had much control over Silverpine. After their formation, they had established a sizeable outpost in an expansive graveyard, known thereafter, simply enough, as the Sepulchre. The south, closer to the border of Gilneas, was another matter. Humans had successfully defended Pyrewood Village during the Scourge’s first foray into Silverpine, only to fall under the curse of the deranged Archmage Arugal, who had seized the nearby Silverlaine Keep with his army of lycanthropic worgen. Meanwhile, the ruined Ambermill had been retaken by Dalaran. These menaces from the Alliance had been their most palpable threat for a time. There were still mindless undead, but these were stragglers left over from the plague, who had been abandoned by the Lich King during his momentary lapse, but were too stupid to join with the Forsaken. These were idle threats, easily disposed of. They were regarded with as much interest as the local wildlife.

However, before long, undead gnolls, who called themselves Rot Hides, began to appear throughout the northern forest. At first, High Executor Hadrec, the leader of the Forsaken in Silverpine, had thought that perhaps these gnolls, too, were undead who had wrested their individuality back from the Scourge. This was not the case. They began to appear with greater frequency, and in the company of other undead. The banshee Nightlash led the Rot Hides to take a farm north of the Sepulcher, Maggot Eye pushed them into Garren’s Haunt. It was clear that the Rot Hides were part of the Scourge. What their plans were, and who lead them here, was a mystery to all.

And now, Fenwick Thatros was working with them.

Brokenstride, Layla’s somber, skeletal horse, plodded through Silverpine with little encouragement from his rider. She was reticent to meet Fenwick again, though not out of sympathy or a hesitance at killing him; far from it. She was perplexed that she felt so little about it. She wondered if she still loved him, if she would have loved him if they had stayed together. She wondered if she ever loved him, if she ever stopped loving him. She wondered if she loved anything anymore.

She wondered if love was something she was capable of.

As Brokenstride’s horseshoes clattered onto the wooden bridge, Layla turned to look out the river into Lordamere Lake, and the backdrop of the Alterac Mountains beyond, silhouetted by the setting sun. She sighed. Brokenstride grunted.

The horse meandered onwards for a short time before he came to a road leading west. Layla needed only to make a light tug on the reins and he stopped without argument. Some four years before, the cobbled path that led from the main highway through Silverpine to the docks on the edge of Lordamere had been well-traveled. But the forest had reclaimed much, in four years. The path was overgrown with grass and weeds, the cobbled stones obscured by moss. The path circled a clearing, and even from the road, Layla could see skeletons and ghouls walking about aimlessly between the thin trees. Through the pine spires she could see the sun continuing its slow descent, and then her gaze spotted, on the shore, the Decrepit Ferry – the name they had given the old dock to Fenris Isle.

She flicked her wrists, and Brokenstride continued in silence along the road.

After she lashed him to a post in the nearby Sepulcher, she returned on foot.

She was one with the lengthening shadows as she traversed the thin woods towards the shore. The Scourge were mindless, but what little resolve they had was focused on killing every living thing they detected with any of their senses. She had first surmised that this would be to her benefit, but had learned early on that this was, in truth, to her disadvantage. She had to remain as hidden and silent as possible. Any disturbance would be investigated by the wandering ghouls and armed skeletons. They lacked the capacity to think it was nothing.

A squirrel scampering through the clearing drew the attention of most of them, allowing her a quick, if risky, burst of speed towards the shoreline. Once through the clearing, the trees and foliage were dense enough to better conceal her. As she neared the shore, she could smell the damp, earthy smell of the lake, and heard a rasping voice shouting. She made a wide half-circle around the docks, and then climbed a sturdy pine tree to scout the area.

Her vantage allowed her a clear view of the Decrepit Ferry. Various animated corpses, in varying states of decay, meandered around the dock with no clear direction in mind. Of them, however, three seemed guided with a specific purpose. Two Rot Hide gnolls, and a human zombie. But by the way he moved, Layla could tell that he wasn’t just some mindless servant. He had consciousness. There was no doubt in her mind that this was Fenwick Thatros.

It was his voice she had heard. He appeared to be berating the two withered gnolls, who were scrambling about, trying to reorder a fair number of what seemed to be human bodies, wrapped in dirty linen cloths. They had been carrying them, maybe six, on a makeshift stretcher and they had dropped them on the ground. Moored on the shore by the dock was a small rowboat, in which more bodies, in identical condition, lay expectantly, awaiting their fellows.

Fenwick was walking throughout the dropped bodies, offering no help save a sharp if light open-palmed smack on the snouts of the undead gnolls, which they would respond to with a hopeless, pleading yelp. Layla was too far to hear exactly what he was saying. At one point, he seemed to try to convince one of the nearby ghouls to help the gnolls, but the creature either did not know how to help them, or was not following Fenwick’s instructions. If the latter, it confirmed that Fenwick was not the master of the Scourge in Silverpine. Of course, she had no way of confirming that.

But then, she wasn’t here for reconnaissance.

She waited in the tree until the bodies had been sorted out – deposited in the rowboat by the two gnolls, who then fled northward along the shore. Fenwick looked over the boat, and then walked out onto the dock. He walked to the very end and stared off into the lake. By now, the sun had set, yet its trail of twilight still littered the western horizon, casting orange and pink shadows on the undulating surface of Lordamere Lake.

Layla methodically descended the tree and hopped onto the grass with as little sound as possible. She reckoned she would only have to clear off two other Scourge soldiers before getting to Fenwick. She crouched behind the trunk of the tree she had just been in, and planned her attack.

The first was a skeletal warrior not far from her. He was, unfortunately for Layla, still clad in the armour which he had died in. Ragged and rusted though it was, the back of his neck – a vital weak spot with which she could have dispatched him with a single blow – was concealed behind a chain mesh descending from his iron helm. His arms, like the rest of his body, were fleshless save for thin, stretched, ragged meat. They looked so skinny, disappearing into rusted gauntlets which appeared comically oversized, as if an ambitious youngster had snuck into his parent’s armoury. Within one of these too-large gloves was clutched a worn claymore with a broken tip. As old as it looked, Layla preferred not to contend with it if she didn’t have to.

She crept up behind him at a steady pace, keeping low. Taking a last furtive look about for any nearby witnesses, she made her first strike. She drew her daggers from their leather sheathes, and as the skeleton was about to turn to investigate the noise, she plunged one into the elbow joint of the sword-carrying arm, between the two bones. Before the skeleton could respond, she twisted the dagger sharply, and shattered his elbow. The lifeless forearm, complete with claymore, fell with a soft thud onto the grass.

Even if it had occurred to the mindless creature to cry for help, all that escaped his jaws were dry, whispering gasps. He sighed with rage and turned on her, swinging his remaining arm as if it were a club, not even bothering to make a fist. She dodged his sloppy attacks and then jumped forward, kneeing him in the chest hard enough to bring him down, with her on top. As he hit the ground she felt his sternum crack beneath her knee. He heaved a rotten breath of frustration into her face, trying to pull her knee off with his remaining hand while the broken bone of the other flailed about wildly, as if not understanding its ailment.

Layla crossed the blades of her daggers over the exposed vertebrae of his neck, sticking their points into the chain mesh behind it, and jammed both downwards. The two blades snapped his neck off with a ragged crunch, and his body went limp beneath her.

She looked up to make sure the commotion hadn’t drawn any attention. Aside from a curious squirrel peering down from a rotting tree no one seemed to have noticed.

Layla gave the corpse a cursory rummage, finding nothing but rags and a few coins. She would have taken them, but she had left her wallet on Brokenstride. She was not about to fail her mission for the sake of some rattlesome loose change.

She approached the second skeleton with her knives already drawn. She was only a few feet away from him when he turned, purely by chance. The glowing red orbs in his otherwise empty eye sockets flared; he heaved his battle-axe and rushed her. Layla rolled to the side as the axe fell and lodged in the earth with a wet thunk. He tore it free in a shower of thick dirt and swung it again. She ducked under what could have been a decapitating blow, and then vaulted forward. She grabbed the skeleton around the neck and flung the rest of her body around, knocking him off balance and throwing him on his back with a whispered grunt as his helmet rolled away. As he tried to get to his feet, she delivered a sharp kick to the side of the head with the heel of her boot, knocking him back again. When he tried a second time, she administered a second kick, and crushed his skull.

She looked around to ensure her security. The way was clear.

Fenwick Thatros stood still and silent at the edge of the dock, his mace and shield on the ground at his side. If she held her cover, this battle would be finished before it began.

She stayed at the edge of the water, close to the ground, keeping an eye on the skeletons and ghouls lurking in the forests to the west. One emerged, walking along the vague remnant of the old path. With no other available cover, Layla immersed herself in the water, mindful of the splashing she made, and emerged under the dock.

The skeleton shambled across the docks, heedless of his noisy footfalls, and stopped next to Fenwick. Pulling herself on the supports with as little sound as possible, Layla slid along the water under the docks to hear them better. The skeleton spoke hardly above a whisper, and it was all Layla could do to drown out the sound of the water gently slapping the supports.

“Nightlash sends word from the Dead Fields,” the dry, mechanical rasp reported. “The Forsaken have increased their pressure on the outpost. She holds it still, but she requires reinforcements. She proposes to borrow some of your gnolls to fill the gaps of her defenses.”

She heard an irritated sigh, and thought for a moment that a third party had come into the conversation without her knowing. He was halfway through his first sentence when she realized it was Fenwick. He sounded nothing like he used to. His voice was deep, angry and foreboding.

“Tell that banshee witch that she’s not alone,” Fenwick retorted. “They’ve nearly picked my forces at the mass graves dry. If she wants more gnolls she should go straight to the source. I’m barely making quota as it is.”

The skeleton said something, but Layla couldn’t hear it.

“I don’t bloody care!” Fenwick bellowed in response to the unheard statement. “We’re making due with what we have. If she has a problem with that she can take it up with Thule. In the meantime, I still have a job to do. Now leave me.”

The skeleton spoke again, and Layla made out the word “displeased” but it was otherwise inaudible.

Fenwick replied with outrage. “Leave me!”

The heavy steps of the skeleton on the dock clumsily retreated. Layla used the sound to cover that of her movement in the water. On all fours, each movement of each limb slow and calculated, she crept up onto the dock, as silent as a shadow. She turned her head to look at the skeleton walking away into the forest. Assured that he was not returning, she crawled, like a meticulous spider on the hunt, towards her prey.

There was a sudden guttural growl to her right, and Layla snapped her head in its direction to see a ghoul careening towards her, its oversized hands swinging in front of it. She couldn’t tell where it had come from, but perhaps it had stumbled upon one of the skeletons she had dispatched. Layla did not care – had no time to care. She sprang to her feet as the ghoul leapt up onto the dock.

It took a swing at her with its bloated fist, its jaw hanging open in an empty grin of triumph. Layla hopped back and kicked the offending appendage aside, then rushed forward, and jammed her dagger up under its chin. The very tip of her dagger pierced the top of its skull, sending a few meager drops of blood, ichor, and brain into the air. The ghoul’s tongue lashed lazily for a moment, and then went limp, along with the rest of it.

Layla quickly pulled her dagger free, the blade slick with ochre slime, and turned to face Fenwick Thatros, knowing he would have heard the commotion and would come to attack her. But he did not. He stood, staring at her. They remained so for several moments, his thick club and cracked wooden shield at his side, her filthy daggers extended and held tight by nervous hands.

“Layla,” he whispered.


Had she not already known he was Fenwick Thatros, she couldn’t be sure she would have recognized him by sight alone. His once thick hair was nearly gone; now only stray locks hung on his patchy scalp. His face was pockmarked with rot, in place of his beautiful brown eyes were two orbs, glowing a sickly yellow, and his jaw hung from a single hinge.

“Layla,” he said again, his jaw buckling, and took a step forward.

She took a step back, and raised her daggers higher, if only to remind him they were there. “You must know why I’m here, Fenwick.”

Fenwick sighed a hollow sigh and turned his eyeless gaze to the silhouette of the ruins of Lordaeron to the north. “You’re one of them, then? One of the banshee’s pawns?”

“A Scourge lieutenant lecturing of pawns?” Layla spat. “I may serve others, but my mind is still my own. Can you say the same?”

“Layla,” said Fenwick, hanging his mace on his belt, “you can’t understand this. The Banshee Queen may claim that you have embraced your new lives, but all you have is a mockery of life. You must forget that. You must truly know what it means to be undead.

“Layla, do you remember that night in Ambermill?”

She said nothing, but her lips moved without her consent. They mouthed the word ‘yes.’

“So do I, Layla, and so does every other creature in the Scourge. We’re all connected, Layla. We’re all part of each other.”

“Stop it, Fenwick,” she said, holding up a hand. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“We can fight, Layla. Maybe I’ll destroy you, or maybe you’ll best me, and return to your lonely existence under your queen. Or you can sheathe your weapons, and I mine. You can give yourself over to the Lich King, and be a part of something so much bigger than yourself. You can be a part of something important.”


“Layla, join me,” he held out his hand to her, “and you will never be alone again.”

She would have cried were there any tears left in her.

Layla lunged forward, with a quick thrust towards his chest. He caught the blow in his shield. She swung her second dagger at his head. He leaned back to avoid it. He took his mace from his belt and struck her in the side. Layla winced, and shook her dagger loose from the shield in just enough time to dodge a second swing at her knee. She replied with a kick to his own, and he buckled, but held his footing.

Fenwick and Layla danced around each other’s strikes, saying nothing. Layla wondered if he was holding back. She knew, though, that she was not. Their fight took them to the edge of the dock.

Layla leapt forward with a thrust to his face, and he dodged, as she knew he would, to the side; towards the edge of the dock. She spun around and kicked at his chest. He caught her leg on his elbow, however, and instead bashed her in the face with his shield. Layla flew back in to air, over the edge and into the water.

There was a great splash, and then silence, and then stillness.

Fenwick gazed into the murky shallows of Lordamere, his glowing eyes searching for any movement. A stray sagefish, however, was all that caught his eye. He dared not dive in after her. Her daggers were sharp and swift, and they would cut through the water like a harpoon, while his wide, flat shield would lose all maneuverability. He knew this.

And she knew that he knew this. Layla climbed one of the supports to the docks, and watched him search for her. She drew a throwing knife from her boot and held it between her teeth. Then, she waited for a moment, and clambered up onto the dock.

Fenwick detected her immediately, and turned to rush at her. She threw the small knife at his face, and he caught it in his shield with ease, but as he did, she launched a second knife that struck his exposed knee, just above the kneecap. The moment he took a step forward, the blade caught on his bones, and the kneecap popped out like a jewel from a loose socket.

Fenwick cried out in despair and fell on his knee. Layla wasted no time. She kicked the mace from his hand into the water, grabbed his head with one hand, and, pulling it back, put her dagger to his throat with the other.

His chest heaved, though he drew no breath.

“Layla, please,” he begged her. “We can be together forever, in a way we never could be before. I love you.” He was sincere. She knew he was sincere.

“I love you, too,” she told him.

She cut his throat.

Ichor and embalming fluid poured out from his wound. He put his hands to his neck and looked at his lifeblood soaking his skeletal hand. Then he looked back up at her, with a face that asked a question but a mouth that said nothing. Layla dug her dagger in deeper, until she felt it catch on his spine. With her other hand still on his head, she pushed, pulled, and snapped his head off. His headless body collapsed on the dock, what little blood remaining in him pouring out of his severed neck.

Layla looked at the head in her hands. His sockets were empty. The glow had faded.

She sheathed her dagger, drew a small burlap sack from her pocket and deposited his head within. She started back towards the forest, but paused, and turned.

Layla walked out to the edge of the dock, and sat down, setting the sack beside her. There was no hurry. She would still be back by morning. So she instead decided to watch the night overtake the skies over Lordamere.

She tensed, for a moment, when she saw a small raft emerge from the shadows, piloted by an undead man. She had seen him before; he was Forsaken. She did not, however, know his name. His rotten eyes did not glow, he was bald, and had a large axe, etched with black runes, strapped to his back. His rotten jaw was lopsided.

They nodded to each other as he moored his raft in the shore.

“I’ve seen you. You’re one of Carkad’s Deathstalkers, right?” his voice was deep but quiet.

“I am.”

The man hoisted up a bottle of thick, dark green ichor. “I’m heading back to the Sepulchre. We could watch each other’s backs, if we traveled together.”

“Thanks,” she nodded, “but I’ll make my way back later.”

He bowed. “Very well, then,” he said, and then stole off into the darkening forest.

Layla dangled her feet over the edge and smelled the wind coming off the water.

Fenwick’s voice echoed in her mind. “You will never be alone again.”

Sometimes, all Layla Du Lac ever wanted to be was alone.

Last edited by Nephalim; 11-17-2008 at 01:44 PM..
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Old 04-20-2007, 07:22 AM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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Darkmoon Card: Blue Dragon

Damn nice. It had style.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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Old 04-20-2007, 01:20 PM
Aldrius Aldrius is offline

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Very nice.

I only skimmed it. But I liked what I read. The narration and the flow is very nice.

I love how Calia is mentioned but does nothing. That girl sure can't get a break.
"The Demons did their job well. You creatures are as reckless and bloodthirsty as they ever were."

Last edited by Aldrius; 04-20-2007 at 01:39 PM..
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Old 04-20-2007, 01:48 PM
Kerrah Kerrah is offline

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Darkmoon Card: Blue Dragon

By the way, you gave me a good laugh with your story. My mom asked what I was doing and I said: "Reading a story where they pop peoples eyes with glass bottles." I guess she won't ask me again from now on.
Originally Posted by Pliny the Elder
True glory consists in doing what deserves to be written; in writing what deserves to be read; and in so living as to make the world happier for our living in it.

Co-creator of UFS, a joint urban fantasy setting.
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