Monday, November 2, 2009

Hungry Ghosts

Written while listening to Wandering Star by Portishead.

. . . . . With a clank of armor and a whuff of compressed feathers, Valdiis sank down onto the end of the bed in her rented room in the Legerdemain Lounge in Dalaran. She looked left and right out of habit, even though she had paid a premium to have the room spelled against prying eyes. Confident that she was alone, she pulled off her gloves, setting the gold tinted armor next to her on the bed. Gold armor was horribly impractical, mostly just a bit of ceremonial flash, but she had gotten it made for herself anyway, wanting something pretty and impractical for herself. It had always been one of her few concessions to feminine vanity – she liked her clothes. But having several sets of armor stashed in safe-houses around the world served a practical purpose too. Still, the gold was mostly flash, a way to dazzle her people into overlooking the subtle signs of Brokenness.
. . . . . She stretched out her bared hands, casting a mournful look at her long draenic fingers and short, stubby Broken claws. The devolution came late to her, but had death not stopped it, she would probably now be as stooped as the miners in the Crystal Hall she had spent the last week in. She kept her tarnished white hair wild to hide the rounded, fused scaleplates on her forehead. While she had come to terms with what she was now, her people had not. It helped that none of them recognized her, though, having been solely among her marsh-guard unit for so long. It helped that she had managed to elude most of the patrols of anchorites through the Exodar too.
 . . . . . The breastplate and pauldrons followed the gloves onto the bed. Some small part of Valdiis despised lying to her people in such a way, but she needed to remain able to travel anywhere uncontested. For the same reason, she kept nearly all of her skin covered, and doused herself with a scented oil to cover the scents of blood and death. Most of the time, she passed for living among those who could not sense death magic.
. . . . . No amount of clothing or scented oil or base trickery could wash away the blood that drenched her hands, though… Where had that thought come from? She stood to unbuckle the greaves and legplates. A deep male scream echoed in her ears and then she knew. “Ah, fine, fine,” Valdiis said irritably. “You have been patient – for a hungry ghost. Let me put my armor away.”
. . . . . With the care of a warrior for her arms and a woman for her outfits, Valdiis placed the entire suit of armor on the wooden stand in the corner. She slid her blade free of the straps on the back of the breastplate and carried her weapon back with her to the bed.
. . . . . “Alright, come take your piece out of me, Screamer.” She sat back down on the end of the bed and tugged on the leather thong tied around her neck, pulling it free from beneath the linen undershirt she wore. Dangling at the end of the thong was a large white bone, a finger bone…from someone with rather large fingers.
. . . . . As the bone swung free into her gaze, the deep man’s scream echoed in her head again. A shadow flared out from her head, a crown of night against the magelight in the room. The transparent form of a large male draenei robed in white and black appeared a few feet from the end of the bed. He wore a tabard with the symbol of the Argent Dawn upon it, but the symbol was obscured by a large stain of midnight blue blood over his heart.
. . . . . “Monster!” he screamed at her. “Murderer! Broken, tainted thing! You disgrace your family! The Light forsakes you! You are nothing! Fit only for slaughter and death! I see through your lies!!” The draenei continued to scream imprecations at her at the greatest volume those large bellows of lungs could manage, but no one in the inn came running at the disturbance; only Valdiis could hear him.
. . . . . Her face was impassive as she fell backwards onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling as the Screamer went on. Her trip to the Exodar had greatly agitated him. Ever since the first conversation with the Farseer, the Screamer had been beating against the inside of her head and giving wordless voice to his rage. She had no idea why it all bothered him so, but then, everything bothered her hungry ghost.
. . . . . “Vile, depraved beast! Slayer of innocents! Deathless abomination!” the Screamer went on and on. Amidst the insults and the noise, Valdiis clung desperately to the sense of peace the Farseer had given her. Part of her believed the Screamer was right, that she was a valueless blight upon the land. After all, had she not failed to save Colonel Celuur? Had she not failed her fellow knights with her lack of trust in her brothers at arms? Did she not fail them still with her silence about Captain Dagone’s condition? Was she not merely a heap of dead flesh powered by nothing but blood-spattered vengeance and still beholden to that wretched master of the unholy?
. . . . . No. No, no, no. The spiral was beginning to drag her down. She would not follow that path. It was her guide back to madness, and she would not look that direction again. She had told Kylea – who had surely spoken with Corporal Ayallia by now. It wouldn’t be enough openness to satisfy Major Eredis for sure, but that much openness would undoubtedly result in her final death at the hands of Captain Dagone. He’d been quite clear about that. She had done what she could with what she knew, and she aimed to save people, not harm them. She may now be a blasphemous weapon, but it was her own will to wield her soul now.
. . . . . At least the Screamer was the only voice in her head tonight. The other two had been blessedly silent all week. The worst times were when the Midnight – a cold, midnight-dark woman – used her throat to argue with the Screamer. The Midnight had made Valdiis hoarse with arguing more than once. The other, well, it was just a blessing it was silent.
. . . . . The crown of night haloing her head flared again and she felt a tugging upon the necromantic energy which kept her moving. My, the Screamer was ravenous tonight…
. . . . . Valdiis allowed the hungry ghost to draw upon her own energy in order to keep up his tirade. Although she did not know who this angry spirit was, she had an abiding sense that she owed him deeply, so she took his verbal abuse and parasitic siphoning for as long as she could stand it. After the Screamer had used up all the insults he knew in Draenei, he switched to Common and kept going. Valdiis grimaced; she hated the grating, stilted syllables of Common.
. . . . . “Enough.” With an inhuman flex of death-stiffened muscles, she sat halfway up and lifted her right hand, the left closing around the bone tied to her throat. A shadowy green coil of energy flew from her right hand, splashing death magic against the hungry ghost’s chest. A howl of fathomless rage rent the air as the transparent draenei faded. The crown of night around her head became a sullen shadow, and then sank into her skin.
. . . . . “Monster,” she echoed the insult aloud as she dropped back onto the bed. “Such a popular term these days…” Her eyelids closed over glowing eyes as she reached for the hollow feeling in her chest. Valdiis let it expand throughout her body, shutting down her energy systems one by one to allow her stores of necromantic energy to recharge. Her next duty station was going to be near the gates of Ahn’Qiraj in the Silithus Desert - might as well enjoy the comfort of a bed and cool air while she had it. Besides, she wanted to stop and visit the Farseer one more time tomorrow on her way to reporting for duty.

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