Monday, January 4, 2010

Chased by Destiny

Written while listening to King of Pain by the Police.
((I tend to think of my stories as "fan service" most of the time, because they often aren't stand-alone tales that could make for universal stories. That's one of the reasons I don't go out of my way to point people to my blog. That said, this may be the most "fan service"-y story of all, because of the rapid-fire way guildmates are mentioned without introduction, and the way actual in-game events are inserted almost at random. So. Fair warning given.))

. . . . . The sickly green tendrils of fel energy dragged claws across his mind, their tainted fingers tugging and stroking and promising all manner of unimaginable power if he let them in. Just a taste. Just a touch. You’re already halfway there… What’s a little more?
. . . . . No.
. . . . . The anchorite strapped a little bit of mental steel to his backbone and concentrated on the task at hand: rifling through the thoughts of the bound sindorei prisoner in front of him. Despite being half-hidden by shadows and mist, he could see the two Hand of Argus vindicators guarding the prisoner eyeing him nervously. Wasn’t that always the price of it? Those few who knew what he did for the Hand…he always made them nervous. He shut out his own feelings, his own thoughts, and concentrated on the sindorei.
. . . . . Like a file clerk going through papers, he shuffled through a series of images, searching for anything that would reveal the source of the constant influx of fresh troops that were attacking the newly formed camp of Blood Watch. He shuffled past an image of a large portal and red crystals – the Vector Coil, stopped, went back. On the bound and unconscious prisoner’s temples, fingers of shadow and magic over indigo skin tightened slightly.
. . . . . The shadowy anchorite opened his mouth to tell the vindicators about the portal the sindorei attackers were using to get more troops. As his mouth opened, the sickly green tendrils of fel energy rising from the sindorei swarmed in and began squirming around in his brain, lashing his soul and tearing him away from the last of the Light.
. . . . . No!

. . . . . “No!” Diyos sat upright in the too-short bed in the too-small room he’d rented at the inn at Valiance Keep. He began to shiver almost immediately as the pile of woolen blankets fell down around his waist; the pre-dawn air of a winter in Borean Tundra, even inside an inn, was not a place for bare skin. A soft chiming sound and a faint purple glow came from the table next to the bed. The anchorite groaned quietly and reached over to drop a small bag of coins over top of the communication crystal and hide it from sight and sound. It was because he dearly loved his little brother that he couldn’t answer that summons. Not now. Not while the shadows still tugged at him.
. . . . . He clasped a hand around the gold and brass symbol around his neck, pulled the wool blankets back up over his head, and tried desperately to get back to sleep for a few more hours.

. . . . . The draenei anchorite had just given up on taming the tangle of tight curls springing out of his head when a banging on the door to his room at the inn started up. “Quiet down,” he grumbled. “I’m coming.”
. . . . . When he yanked the door open and glowered at the interruption, the human boy on the other side of the door simply gave him a droll look and held out a package. “Post for Anchorite Diyos.”
. . . . . “Oh. Ehm. Thanks. One moment.” Leaving the door open, he moved three steps to the bedside table and fished a few copper coins out of the coin bag there. He dropped them in the boy’s hand after accepting the wrapped package, and then closed the door absently on the boy’s thanks.
. . . . . Diyos turned the small box wrapped in plain brown paper and twine all the way around, trying to discover its origin before he opened it, but he couldn’t figure it out. Shrugging his broad shoulders, he untied the twine and unwrapped the box. Inside it was a note written in Common and Draenei – “Happy Winter’s Veil!” – and a drawn heart. It was signed “Kylea!” A grin settled on the anchorite’s indigo face as he dug through the packaging and pulled out a flask with a stylized likeness of a Naaru – A’dal, maybe? – on it. He gave the flask a little shake and felt it slosh full of liquid. Eagerly unscrewing the top, he gave the liquid a sniff before he tilted it back. What he smelled stopped him before he got the flask to his lips.
. . . . . “Ohh…” He chuckled and screwed the cap back on. “Dreamfoil. Probably best not to guzzle that. How thoughtful of her. I’ll have to think of something to send. I hadn’t even realized it was Winter’s Veil already,” he mused.
. . . . . With one of the loose straps on his belt, he attached the new flask next to his old, beat-up, banged-up flask of mead, and then picked up his pack from the floor. He’d heard tales of abandoned tuskarr artifacts down below Amber Ledge and decided that he’d bring one of them back to the Modan Company to research.
. . . . . Time to go get a new story to tell his baby brother.

. . . . . Treasure-hunting is a risky business. The draenei anchorite was just stuffing an interestingly enchanted stone idol into his pack when the warning scent of grape fizz reached his nose. Magic, and coming quick.
. . . . . He dove to the left as a fireball whizzed over his head. “Naaru’s sake!” he shouted. “Don’t attack!”
. . . . . The sorcerer, one of the Beryl Order also scouring the site for magical artifacts, simply gave him a maniacal grin and started chanting again, channeling up another attack.
. . . . . Diyos smelled the grape fizz of arcane almost exclusively as he rolled back to his hooves and turned to face the sorcerer. He yanked the top of his pack down over his prize and said a swift prayer to the Light, conjuring up a glowing golden bubble of holy light around his form as he backed away from the Beryl sorcerer. “I don’t want to fight. Just got this one idol. I’ll be going now!”
. . . . . The shield around him rang like a crystal chalice as a series of arcane bolts struck it. The shield fizzled out before the bolts did, and two arcane bolts found their mark on the anchorite’s chest, jolting him with the mind-scrambling sensation of arcane energy blasting through his nerves. His hooves went out from under him and he went down on his back, scrambling backwards as the sorcerer continued to advance.
. . . . . “Okay, okay, you can keep the idol. I’m just going to leave. Please don’t shoot!” His words seemed to fall on deaf ears as the sorcerer lifted his hands to channel another blast. “Light take it,” the draenei muttered. As he got back to his hooves a second time, the shadows where the bluffs of the dig site obscured the afternoon sun crept towards his form and swirled up his body, enveloping the anchorite in shadows and mist. Through the wavy purple haze of shadow vision, Diyos focused on the attacking sorcerer and took that little mental half-step to the side where the mind became more visible than the body, where the glowing, crazed thoughts of the Beryl sorcerer seemed almost close enough to reach out and touch.
. . . . . And reach out and touch he did, focusing a blast of shadowy energy at the approaching sorcerer before he could finish his next incantation. The scent of grape fizz in the air and the dim red glow of an insane mind winked out as the sorcerer crumpled, unconscious, to the ground.
. . . . . The shadows slid away from Diyos as a wave on the shore sliding back to the ocean. He hefted his pack up onto his shoulder and turned to leave, just as a voice rang out over the bluffs, “Oy, draenei! Good job subduing that one!” A human mage in the unmistakable robes of the Kirin Tor scrambled down from the upper ridge, heading straight for him. She was slender and willowy, like many mages, with a heart-shaped face and ginger hair. She gave Diyos a bright smile as she approached, her hands held open in a universal gesture of peace. “We’ve been trying to get the jump on one of the Beryls for a few days now. Could I trouble you to help me take him back to Amber Ledge?”
. . . . . Diyos blinked at the Kirin Tor mage. She batted her golden-fringed green eyes at him and he sighed. He was such a sap for a pretty girl. “Fine,” he grumbled, reaching down as she did to grab one of the sorcerer’s arms and begin dragging the unconscious villain up the path through the dig site. “What do you need with a Beryl sorcerer anyway?”
. . . . . She frowned as the sorcerer let out a quiet groan. “He’s coming around…” A sigh escaped her as she looked at Diyos. “The Beryls have captured a Kirin Tor mage and sent us a ransom note. They’re going to kill her if we don’t pull all our forces out of Coldarra. We can’t be blackmailed like this by Malygos!” The fierceness of her words broke on a tiny sniffle. “But that’s my sister they have in that cage…”
. . . . . As they entered the camp with the woozy, barely-conscious Beryl sorcerer between them, a sudden flurry of activity sprang up. Two more Kirin Tor mages came to take the prisoner from them. Diyos watched them drag the sorcerer into the tower at Amber Ledge and turned to the mage woman. “Ehm. Well. Glad I could help in some small way. I’m Anchorite Diyos of Zangarmarsh.” He bowed slightly to her, smiling when he was rewarded by a dazzling smile from the mage.
. . . . . “I’m Nikkei Stern, a journeyman mage with the Kirin Tor. Why don’t you have a seat over at the table? I’ll bring over some food. It’s the least I can do to treat you to lunch for your help.”
. . . . . Diyos chuckled quietly to himself as he sat down at the table in the small mess tent the mages kept. And here he’d thought there would be a shortage of pretty people in Northrend…
. . . . . Nikkei returned with two bowls of northern stew and sat down with Diyos, expressing her profuse thanks again. The spoons had just clattered with finality into empty bowls when a baby-faced man in Kirin Tor robes ran up and frowned apologetically at the ginger-haired mage woman. “He won’t talk, Nikkei. We can’t get Lady Evanor’s location out of him through our own means.” The baby-faced man stopped as he noticed Diyos sitting at the table. “Although…”
. . . . . Nikkei shook her head. “No. No, we cannot ask that.”
. . . . . “Ask what?” Diyos rumbled, looking puzzled.
. . . . . “For you to get the information.” The baby-faced man paled. “Through means the Kirin Tor is not allowed to use. As a free agent, you, of course, could do what we cannot.”
. . . . . A scowl settled on the draenei’s features, making him look fierce despite his relatively slender build. “No. By Velen’s beard, no. I will not do your dirty work for you.”
. . . . . The ginger-haired mage sniffled again and quickly looked away. “He is right, Donathan. We cannot use such means. Lady Evanor…” Her voice trembled and broke. “She is lost to us. They will kill her.”
. . . . . Diyos lifted a broad hand and pinched the bridge of his nose as if to stave off a headache. He was such a sap for a pretty girl. “I’ll see what I can do.”

. . . . . Inside the tower at Amber Ledge, the Beryl sorcerer was awake and grumbling obscenities at the Kirin Tor mage standing guard over him. The mage turned to look as the draenei’s hooves clomped on the wooden stairs to the landing where the sorcerer was tied to a chair. “Ah. So, I…” The mage looked down over the railing. “I’ll just busy myself organizing these shelves here.” He nodded his head to a strange device bristling with spikes of arcane magic on the table next to the sorcerer. “Oh, and here, perhaps you’ll find this old thing useful…” With that, the Kirin Tor mage turned away and studiously watched the stone wall where there were no shelves at all, as if expecting them to pop up in front of him.
. . . . . Diyos glowered at the device on the table. “I will not participate in torture,” he rumbled.
. . . . . The Beryl sorcerer cackled at him. “A servant of Malygos would sooner die than aid an enemy!”
. . . . . With a quiet sigh and a grimace, Diyos held a hand out towards the shadows along the back wall behind the bound sorcerer. “I swore I was done with this after Blood Watch…” Like a hungry cat twining around his hand, the shadows came, flowing over his form and altering his vision until the world was made of glowing minds like stars where people had stood before him. The sorcerer’s red-tinted, crazed mind was his focus. Darkness-touched fingers came up to rest on the sorcerer’s temples as Diyos dipped into the shadier side of his art and began rifling through the sorcerer’s mind.
. . . . . Sheer insanity and rage battered against his own skull as he searched. Do your worst, priest! I’ll tell you NOTHING! screamed the sorcerer. The anchorite hit a wall of madness-infused arcane energy. The first wall he found, he tried to scale, but when he was thwarted, he blasted it with dark shadows. The second wall he tried to go around, but he had to blast through that in the end too. The third wall took two mind blasts to break.
. . . . . His physical form, under all the swirling mist and shadow, began to tremble. Nausea roiled in his stomach. Diyos had been down this path. He had done this sort of interrogation for his own people when Man’ari traitors on the ship had to be rooted out. For each of the sorcerer’s mental shields he broke down, he knew he was damaging the man’s psyche. If only he wouldn’t fight… If only he would just give the information already…
. . . . . Another wall. Another shield. Another step towards utterly destroying this man’s mind.
. . . . . There.
. . . . . “She is held in a prison, elevated and sealed. Someone named Salrand holds the key.” The anchorite’s voice echoed with a sibilance of shadows. His fingers released from the sorcerer’s temples and the shadows slid away from his form. The sorcerer’s gibbering, maddened howl rang inside the tower as Diyos turned to heave up all the stew he’d had for lunch in the corner next to the bookshelf.

. . . . . The bartender at Valiance Keep’s inn and tavern shot a concerned look at the robed draenei huddled in the corner. The poor fellow hadn’t moved, except to signal the barmaid and drink his alcohol, for nearly two straight days now. Deciding to shift the poor fellow up to his room, the bartender approached slowly. The draenei waved a large hand at him. “Morre kunn’looosssh,” he slurred as he knocked a gnomish radio off the table in front of him and onto the floor.
. . . . . The bartender leaned down and picked it up, recognizing it as one of the models common to adventurers in the area who were members of larger companies and organizations. He turned the radio back on and looked at the little calendar display that flipped the days over mechanically. “Hey, big guy, you’re goin’ to miss your company’s meetin’. Better go catch a gryphon.” Slapping the draenei on the back heartily, the bartender slid the radio into the draenei’s hand instead of a new mug. “Settle up your tab and get goin’.”
. . . . . “Oh hell,” groaned the draenei.

. . . . . At Southgate Outpost, everyone was nice and fuzzy. Even his thoughts. He was pretty happy with fuzzy, even if he still felt detached from the Modan Company’s Winter’s Veil party. They were decorating a tree. But maybe that was a druid. He wasn’t too clear on that. An elf ran out to get a star from somewhere for the druid. Someone shouted that Illumyn was naked. Carvain climbed the druid. Kylea and Ekanos sat down at the table with him.
. . . . . Diyos managed a bleary, bewildered smile at both of them – or were there four? – and looked startled to find himself with half a cookie sticking out of his mouth. Where’d that come from? He took it out and looked curiously at the half a cookie. The pretty pink flower leaned over the table and inspected the cookie too.
. . . . . What the hell?
. . . . . Entirely lost in the bustle of the party and the fuzziness of enough alcohol to down an entire regiment of dwarves, Diyos handed his half a cookie to Parsnip the pink flower and looked up as he heard a familiar sibilant hiss.
. . . . . “Look what I can do!” a night elf woman was saying as her form faded into shadows. Diyos swallowed reflexively.
. . . . . “I can do that too!” said Kensaij, who then faded into even less than shadows, entirely invisible to Diyos.
. . . . . The draenei anchorite stood up quickly, mumbled something he presumed was coherent to those at the table with him, and then wandered out of the Outpost and into the Dun Morogh snow. His hooves flattened down a figure eight in the snow as he paced and tried to stop the shaking. He knew the shadows were not quite so frowned upon here on Azeroth, but he knew what he could do, what he’d done, what he was.
. . . . . And what he was…was a bad draenei. A bad priest. A bad twin.
. . . . . He flopped onto his back in the snow and began to make snow angels. No reason. Just letting the chill of the snow mix with the fuzziness in his head to make him far too numb to care.
. . . . . “Is he okay?” he heard Kylea say.
. . . . . “’m fine,” he mumbled at the human man looking down at him.
. . . . . “Says he’s fine. He’s just making snow angels out here,” the human man said as he went back into the Outpost.
. . . . . The face of Ekanos loomed over him for a moment – why did he have white hair again? Oh, right, stinky shark. He blinked and smiled up at Ekanos, groping around in the snow for his flask. He’d emptied the old one on the trip to Dalaran, and started on the new one sometime after he’d been kicked out of A Hero’s Welcome in Dalaran, taken the portal to Ironforge, and gotten kicked out of Bruuk’s Corner. The new one tasted really nice, although it made him far fuzzier than the four days’ worth of non-stop drinking had. It was a pity it was almost out.
. . . . . And then it was entirely out, because Kylea snatched the flask from his hands. “Is this the dreamfoil?! You’re not supposed to drink it straight!”
. . . . . Before Diyos had a full grasp of what was going on, he was hoisted out of the snow and bustled back into the Outpost. It looked like the party had wrapped up. His friends dropped him in a chair on the second level and a large pile of bread appeared in front of him. “Eat!” demanded Kylea.
. . . . . “Can I have my flask back?” he asked plaintively. She shook her head. Listlessly, he broke off a piece of bread and stuck it halfway in his mouth. “Mmmph?” he asked.
. . . . . Behind him, Kensaij and Erodis were talking about being stalkers and learning how to hide. He was starting to wish he could hide. The chill of the snow had inadvertently begun to sober him, and the last thing he wanted to be right now was sober.
. . . . . Kensaij and Erodis left to practice being sneaky. Kylea left to her office. Diyos sat there with the bread in his mouth and wondered if he felt up to chewing it.
. . . . . “Alright,” said Ekanos as he leveled a serious look at Diyos. “Talk.”
. . . . . Much to his bewilderment, Diyos did.

. . . . . While he was rarely entirely sober, the draenei anchorite was at least significantly less sauced than usual as he stood in the auction house in Ironforge and browsed one of the many copies of the lists of items for sale. He needed more dreamfoil, but not to go back to drinking himself into oblivion. He had a tasty mead invention to work on.
. . . . . That’s when the call came across the radio.
. . . . . “Help me! I’m not really crazy! Someone come tell them!”
. . . . . “Kylea?” Diyos barked into his radio as he stepped away from the auction lists.
. . . . . “She is crazy!” came a male voice. He thought it sounded like Kensaij. “She thinks I’m Kensaij, but I’m Erodis!”
. . . . . Thoroughly confused, Diyos asked for their location, then headed for the Tram to find them in Stormwind. When he finally got there, it was to find two nearly identical night elf men and one nearly hysterical draenei woman.
. . . . . “I’m Erodis,” said the one who smelled like poisons. He tugged his crisply tailored black shirt straight, the same shirt as the other elf wore, and grinned wickedly.
. . . . . “And I’m Kensaij,” said the one who smelled like the wilds. He smoothed a hand through his dark blue hair, the same color and style as the other elf’s.
. . . . . “AUGH! Diyos! Tell them to stop it! Which one is Kensaij?”
. . . . . Diyos looked at them both. He thought about his answer for a moment, and then looked at Kylea. “That one is.” Of course, he was looking at nor pointing to either one of them.
. . . . . “AUGH! Ekanos!” Kylea waved over the doctor as he joined them in the street. “Help me out here. I’m not crazy! They’re playing a trick!”
. . . . . Ekanos walked around each man and sniffed them, inspected their faces, then made entirely ambiguous comments about which was which. As Kylea started yelling threats about breaking legs and chased after the two fleeing elves, Diyos turned to Ekanos. “Does this happen often?”
. . . . . “First I’ve seen of it.”
. . . . . “Hrhn. We should go have a drink.”
. . . . . The night elf doctor and the draenei anchorite headed off to the park to wait for the inevitable cries for help over the radio when Kylea finally caught up to Kensaij and Erodis.

. . . . . While the winter air in Stormwind was significantly more forgiving than the frozen gusts across Borean Tundra, Diyos still began to shiver as he sat bolt upright in bed again, awoken from his nightmare by the snores of his twin brother, Athos, in the next room over. For several moments, he listened to be sure his brother was definitely asleep before he threw back the covers, donned his robes, and crept out of his room.
. . . . . As quietly as hooves could manage, he snuck out of the apartment he shared with Athos in the Park District. Once out, he headed for the Cathedral. Maybe it was pre-dawn, but the Light was always welcoming. Maybe it was a human place, but the Light was always shining. Maybe it was a different form of worship, but the Light was always there.
. . . . . He just had to reassure himself that the Light was always there.

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