Brotherhood

I did write a story for the Blizzard Global Writing Contest. I just didn’t get it cleaned up and submitted in time. I admit I didn’t make a huge effort to meet the deadline. Working it in between everything else going on would have put a big strain on me, and it mattered more to me that I actually write the story than win the contest, anyway.  I’m putting it here now so it can be read. It’s about the Trias family. I’ve talked about them before. About how there’s enough there to make them very interesting, but not nearly enough lore to really know what’s going on.  That left me a lot of room to play with.

Brotherhood

Coin in hand, the traveler stood at the fountain and told himself again to just make the wish and let it go already. It seemed ridiculous to be doing this. Not that the money was any great loss — merely a copper coin — but that the entire idea of masquerading as traveling nobility and walking right into a city full of mages seemed ridiculous. Wouldn’t there be at least some of them who could tell the traveler and his companion weren’t at all what they seemed?

This had been the topic of discussion with his companion late into the night before, long after they should have been asleep to prepare for the trip. “It’s not about fooling any of them,” his companion, who was also his elder brother and in charge of their operations in Hillsbrad, told him. “It’s about presenting a believable reason for our being there so as not to upset their city. The Archmage has agreed to let us meet our informant there.” The oldest brother sighed after explaining this yet again. “I don’t know what you’re nervous about. I never know what you’re nervous about! You were outstanding in the training, but you’re always second guessing yourself in the field. Just… get some sleep. We’ve got a long ride come dawn. If everything goes well, we’ve got a long ride after that to the next safe house, as well.”

The traveler reminded himself that his brother would be walking up any minute now, and it wouldn’t do to be seen standing in front of a fountain being indecisive about something as simple as making a silly wish. “But maybe it won’t be a silly wish,” he told himself. “This is Dalaran. Maybe my wish could come true if it’s a wish made in a city of magic.” He kept an eye on the agent across the street who’d been watching him for several minutes, though to passersby the agent may have simply seemed  to be a mage tending flowers, and thought once more what he would wish for.

Clutching the copper coin tightly for just a few seconds more, he thought to himself, “Being a rogue is hard work. One day, I hope to pursue my life’s one true passion…” and let the coin fall into the fountain.

———-

“I don’t know where Ma went wrong with you!”

“What makes you think myself’s the one she went wrong with?”

The laughter from the two men drinking around the campfire was loud enough that any travelers on the road would have known someone had made camp a little way up ahead. There weren’t many travelers on the roads in this area, though, and the little camping spot was one of the few places the two brothers had left to just be themselves. Even so, they never drank enough to completely lose control of their senses when they took these camping trips together. They were too well-trained to ever truly be carefree. Even in their own homes they slept with an ear turned to the door and an eye on the windows.

“Honestly, I do wish to know. What is it with the cheese?”

The younger brother thought for a moment before explaining. “I got tired of eating the same stuff, I reckon. I was walking through the Dwarven District one day and stopped by a tavern –“

“This may be something I can relate to, after all.”

“– and I ended up having something new. That’s all there was to it. I never realized before how similar all the cheeses we make are, and that it really takes a different people… such as our dwarven allies… to bring something new to the table. So to speak.”

“I wouldn’t eat gnomish cheese. I’ve heard a few stories about Gnomeregan. Good of them to give us support in a war, but I don’t know how I’d feel about clockwork cheese with dynamite filling.”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been offered gnomish cheese. Not that I’ve even seen many gnomes. But dwarves would be likely to have some, aye? They’ve got closer
relations.”

“I couldn’t tell you. But I can tell you to pass me that flask there. No, the full one. I’m going to hit you in the head with it and then empty it myself so you don’t go on about cheese all night!”

———

“I just don’t understand why the two of you have to run off together. Some boys grow up and stop shadowing their big brother, you know.”

He sighed, passing his hand over his face both out of instinctive reaction and to hide the clench of his jaw for a few seconds while he forced himself to relax. It would do no good to leave tomorrow having just had a fight with his wife. For as much as she worried that he might not come back alive one day, he was the one who knew what those chances truly were. He did his best never to leave on bad terms with her.

“I know it’s not what you expected when you married me, dearest one. It’s not even what I expected when you married me.” He offered a half-smile. “I’ve always been as honest with you as I can be, and just kept quiet when I can’t tell you the truth. You know that, aye?”

She nodded but didn’t speak. Her facial expression had softened a bit, though, so there was still hope of resolving this if he didn’t say anything stupid.

“I’m thankful that I didn’t expect this. If I had, I wouldn’t have married. I would have figured a family would be too much of a risk. Light knows I’m a man who needs a family, though. I need to be able to come home and feel you next to me after the things I’ve seen. A month of travel with my brother will drive any man back home as fast as he can get there!”

She just looked at him for another few seconds, as if waiting for what he would say next, before the full meaning of his words dawned on her. Then she broke into a grin and sat down at the table across from him. “Now you’re just having fun with me! Shame on you!”

He relaxed a bit and chuckled. “Parts of it are true. I wouldn’t have married if I’d expected things to be as they are. And that would have been a damned shame, because you’re the finest woman I could have married. And you do bring me so much comfort when I come back. You keep me grounded. What I do carries a certain risk of losing yourself. It’s something I can’t explain. I can’t find the words for it, and I shouldn’t say them even if I could. But you keep me… human.”

Elaine Trias frowned a bit, but it wasn’t the angry scowl it had been before. “Truly, darling, does it have to be the both of you each time? What’s this family going to do if neither of you came home one day?”

“That’s exactly why it has to be the two of us… so that we do keep coming home. We work better together than either of us could with anyone else. Better than either of us could on our own. He’s my brother, and that counts for more than I expect even other agents realize. As long as I go with him, I’ll always come back home.”

———-

They were three days outside of Andorhal when the run-ins with the undead started making Elling nervous. It was his job not to be nervous. No one fulfilled their duty by getting shaky and slipping on the basics of the task. His duty was to get in, get what they’d been sent for, and get out again. For that matter, they shouldn’t even be having “run-ins” with these creatures. He and his brother should be doing what they were trained to do… move unseen and unheard, strike quickly when necessary. But it seemed like the Scourge always knew where they were. These were not men, even though they had been at one time. These were… creatures. Not beasts, but something unnatural and abhorrent. They had no place in any living world Elling could imagine.

There was nothing left of the land that could be recognized as Northern Lordaeron. The Scourge had claimed everything as far as either of them could see, then destroyed it all. What stood in place of the forests and trees that had once filled the space between towns was a sick, putrid mockery of life. It was as if disease itself had risen up and tried to take the shape of life. Not that it had failed horribly, but that it had never intended to be a substitute. Everything was just there to mock them. To make sure that, no matter which way they turned, they were reminded that this would never be home to the living again.

As boys, they’d heard traveling merchants tell tales of people having picnics beside the lakes out here, living within just a few days’ ride of Capital City. It took longer to travel from place to place now than it had then, and not many were making the trip. Besides those who’d been transformed into the horrifying Scourge, there were those who’d managed to get out and weren’t likely to return. The few who had any reason to pass this way were forced to take twisting paths that would never have been taken before, adding time to the journey.

David Trias and his brother Elling were here for an artifact of some sort. Probably magical, as no one had identified it beyond “artifact” and told them how to recognize it and where it was likely to be. It sounded plain and uninteresting, yet was important enough to send specially trained agents in to recover from a place that was best forgotten, with the exception of driving the Scourge out. That translated into “magical artifact” for him.

Not that he’d ask any questions about it. It wasn’t his job to ask questions he didn’t need to know the answers to, and he wasn’t paid to do so. If anything, he resented having to speak with informants when they met with them because it was his brother who would do so much better with that aspect of the job. It seemed like it had been a lifetime ago that they’d made a journey this way before and stopped to meet an informant in Dalaran, but he knew it could have only been a few years. It stuck in his mind because he’d been nervous the entire time they were in the city, but knew not to show it, and his brother had been standing next to a fountain making wishes on coins and tossing them in. Elling probably thought that had escaped his brother’s notice, but very little did.

Moving through the shadows in a disease-rotted building – becoming part of the shadows themselves – David glanced quickly at his brother. Not much escaped Elling’s notice, either. They were a fine team. Neither of them was better at the job than the other. They simply had different skills, different strengths, that complimented each other. They’d always been that way, even as children.

———-

“When I find out what you boys are up to, one or the both of you is getting the business end of this belt! Have either of you got enough brains in your head to understand me?”

“You hush! Standing at the door and yelling ain’t going to do much except tell the folks down the road in town that you’ve got no idea where your own sons are!”

The boys perching on the roof of what passed for a small, empty stable looked down at the house where their father stood in the doorway. They could see their mother behind him, but her words had been more difficult to make out. They’d learned to follow the shapes of words from her lips for the times that she spoke too softly. It was a skill that came in handy now, as well. Neither of them spoke until their parents were back inside and the door firmly shut.

“Don’t go back until time for dinner. Ma ain’t taking up for us. She’s just hushing Pa,” David commanded his little brother.

“I don’t have to go back for dinner. I got plenty to eat right here.” The younger brother unfolded a piece of tattered cloth to display a small piece of hard bread and handful of squishy-looking berries. It wouldn’t have fed one child for half a day, but the two of them together viewed it as a grand feast they could take on the road with them.

“We ain’t making it to Goldshire by night, anyhow. This was a dumb idea, El!”

“There’s nothing wrong with the idea. It’s just not… well, it ain’t working the way I thought. We just need a better plan for the idea!”

———-

“You’re the dumbest kid this side of the Redridge Mountains!”

“How’s I supposed to know there was a hole in here? You said we were checking the cave on account of nobody said they knew what was here!”

David lowered the rope into the hole his brother had fallen down and saw that it came up just a couple of feet short. “This ain’t going to work. I can’t pull you up on my own. Had to tie the rope around a rock up here and now it’s too short to reach you.”

“There’s some rocks down here. Maybe I can pile them up and stand on them.”

“Maybe. Pile them up good, though! Don’t fall off and break your leg!”

The two sat next to each other at the cave entrance after Elling had made his way back up. “We’re going to get in trouble for getting home late again. But I’m not dumb! There’s no way I could have known!”

“No, you’re not dumb. You’re just not as smart as me. That’s okay, though. I’m two years older than you, so you have to get two years older before you can be this smart.”

“But then won’t you be two more years older and be smarter than me again?”

David laughed as he stood and extended a hand to pull his little brother up. “See, El? You’re getting smarter already!”

———

The walls around them used to be wood, but neither could have said for certain what they were made of now. Some folks who’d never seen the effects of the plague thought of it as something that just turned people into Scourge, but it felt like it changed everything. They weren’t just making their way through buildings where the undead hid, but through undead buildings. There was no safety in being indoors, and David reached into a calm place inside himself to stifle the urge to hurry the job just to be back outside again.

His brother was behind him, the two of them turned back to back and moving along through the shadows so silently that very few living beings could have detected their
presence. Not that there were any living things here besides them. The undead varied in their ability to detect the pair. There were undead creatures that seemed to have no mind or observation skills of their own anymore. They had to be alerted or run right into something before they knew it was there. Other creatures seemed to have more awareness, and were the ones that presented the greatest threat.

The artifact was supposed to be in this building unless the undead had moved it. That was a risk, and one that meant the mission would be a failure. The only reason for moving the artifact would be that something higher up in the Scourge heiarchy knew what it was and had ordered it moved to another location. The brothers had to find it here, or go back and report that it was gone.

David took another step and did not sense Elling moving with him. Carefully, he turned his head enough to glance behind him and saw his brother standing as still as a statue. If it were not for his own training, David might have thought his brother had simply disappeared. He’d moved into the darkest recess along the wall and flattened himself against it. Even the sound of his breathing was so faint that it did not break the silence, the room seeming too quiet. The sounds of ghouls could be heard outside the room, though. Wet grunting, limbs shuffling. David focused on the sounds and recognized that they were growing louder as the ghouls moved up the stairs and through the rotted building. If the two of them held their positions for a few moments, the ghouls would not be alerted to their presence.

———-

For a time – it couldn’t have said how long, nor did it particularly care – the creature had very little awareness of who it had once been or what it had become. There was something in the back of what was left of its mind that held impressions of a life it couldn’t be entirely certain had been its own. Flashes of what seemed they might be memories came with smells, or seeing flowers just before they were trampled and the land around them drained of all life. It tore the flesh from bodies that reeked of fear and gushed hot blood, and thought that it had seen itself in their place once.

These memories never lasted long and didn’t matter. It didn’t know exactly where it was or how long it had been there. That didn’t matter, either. It had orders. Not some slip of parchment telling it where to go and who to report to, but orders that were a part of its very being. It felt something pull it, calling it to move on. To go where the others went. To rise up and cover the land as part of the Scourge.

And then the feeling disappeared.

Awareness started to return, and he knew those things that had seemed almost like memories were, in fact, pieces of his former life. That he had once been human and alive. That he now was… something not what he’d been before. Whatever he was could not be called human, but he was no longer a slave and minion of the Scourge forces. He was not alive. He was not dead. Word was spreading among others of his kind that the Dark Lady called them the Forsaken. It was an accurate term. Others spoke of having been forsaken by the Light, but he had never been particularly devout and figured the Light’s blessings were fine and good, but he could survive without them. The truth was that they’d been forsaken by everything. They would no longer be welcome in their own homes. Life itself rejected them and pulled away, leaving nothing but rot and disease when they walked across the land.

They were truly Forsaken, and the Dark Lady was their salvation.

The underground dungeons of Capital City were being converted into a refuge for them, and he spent quite a bit of time scouting the darkest twist and turns down there. It gave him plenty of time to think about what he could recall of how he’d died. It wasn’t the ghouls that found them. He’d been right about those mindless things. It was the necromancer the ghouls had been following.

———

Three ghouls had made it most of the way up the stairs when a fourth rushed in like a rabid beast, punching its way through rotted boards. Elling lost his footing and tumbled away from the wall. Everything they were trained for told David to carefully move on. Elling knew the risks, and the mission was to get the artifact. If that meant one of them had to become a distraction so the other could get away, that was simply how things had to happen. It wouldn’t be the first time they had done things that way, though it was usually more of a planned tactic than a complete accident. Accidents shouldn’t happen, but the only thing to do with them when they did was turn them around and create an opportunity out of it.

This mission didn’t carry the same risks other missions had, though. Death was not the worst that could happen to them here. There was no training to prepare anyone for this. David stared at the ghoul dragging his brother by the feet, heard the shrieks of terror coming from Elling, and leapt into action.

There was no hope of fighting the ghouls off and both of them getting out. Even if there had been a slight chance, David saw the necromancer standing in the rotting hallway, waiting for them to die, and knew it would just call for more minions. There was a slim chance one of them could make it out, but only if the other sacrificed himself. Elling had a wife. Elling had dreams for his life beyond being an agent. Most importantly, Elling was his brother. He would pay any price for his brother’s life and exploit any possible opportunity to buy his brother’s freedom.

David gave the silent signal that meant “retreat” to the two of them. Elling kept fighting. David hissed at his brother, “Out! Out now, damn you!” Still, Elling would not let up on his attack against the putrid, formerly human thing that clawed and bit at him. Finally, David turned from the ghoul he’d been slashing at and launched himself onto the one that was attacking his brother. His dagger sunk into the back of the thing’s head, yet it kept flailing and scratching. With his other arm, David knocked Elling away and glared at him.

Elling meant to throw himself back into the fight, but if they made it out there would be hell to pay later for not following David’s orders. They were no longer small children, but his brother was still leading. David was the agent in charge of this operation. Elling had already disobeyed the order once, and doing so again could mean lasting consequences that would strain personal and professional relations for some time, depending on just how fired up David stayed about it. All Elling had to do was jump from the window and make it back to the spot they’d named as the rendevous point in the event that they got split up.

How could he do that with these things attacking, though? People didn’t just walk away from the creatures born from the plague. If he left now, there would be no meeting up. There would be no second attempt at finding the artifact. There would be no reporting back that the artifact could not be recovered, either. David could not be left to —

The last thing Elling remembered seeing before he hit the ground was his brother barreling toward him, knocking him through the window, and the ghouls still grabbing at his brother’s legs.

———-

Elling bolted straight up, the blankets twisted around his body and the stench of his own sweat filling the dark room. He shrieked in terror and started cursing and fighting against the blankets. He reached for his daggers but couldn’t find them, so he tore the blankets into shreads with his bare hands. Then he pressed himself against a wall and began to sob.

The small room he was in was something like a prison cell, but with an iron door instead of bars. There were agents on the other side of the door, peeking in and listening at the tiny barred window that existed for just that reason. “Get Shaw,” one of them said.

It was an eternity before the door opened and a lone figure loomed in the doorway. Elling knew who it was. He knew this was his friend, and no threat to him. But each step the man took rang like the pounding of steel in Elling’s ears, and he could smell him. He would have sworn he could smell the man’s blood pumping through his body as he stood on the other side of the room, and Elling let out a low growl as he tried to press himself even tighter against the wall.

“You aren’t there, Elling. You aren’t where you think you are.” The man spoke in a low, soothing tone. “You are in Stormwind. You are among your brothers. You are safe.”

“Brothers?” The word sounded like an accusation when Elling spat it at the man in the doorway. “I only have one brother! Do you know what they did to him? Do you know how they–” His words cut off and a sound woven of howls of pain, sobs of grief, and screams of bloodthirst erupted from him.

“I can’t let you out of here until you stop doing that, Elling. You do not have the plague, thank the Light. There are folks who want to help you get past this. Your wife wants to see you. But I can’t let you out until you can act like a man instead of a rabid animal. Think about that, Elling. Think about your wife.” The door behind the man opened and he stepped back out. When the door shut, Elling heard him speak through the window. “I am sorry, my friend.”

They said it was days later that Elling was let out of the room, but he’d lost all sense of time. Everything that had happened since he and his brother set foot in Andorhal could have happened within minutes, or he could have lived ten lives since then.

And none of it mattered anymore.

———-

The shop in Stormwind was at an excellent location. Folks going in and out through the front gates had to walk right past the Trias Cheese Shop, and they often stopped in
to buy food for the road or bring news from outside the city. It was, in fact, the reason Elling had bargained for the building. Location was everything when it came to being a merchant, and it certainly was true when it came to collecting information, as well. Elling Trias wanted to be the first to know if there was even a whisper of a rumor about the undead.

Recovering from what happened in Andorhal was a long road, and one Elling didn’t expect to finish walking until the day he breathed his last breath. Recovering from his brother’s death wasn’t such a process. It was something that would simply never happen. Shaw had nearly begged Elling to get his head back on straight so he could return to work.

“I’m not going to pretend to understand what you’re going through. I have more respect for you that that,” he’d said. “But we’re going to need people with your knowledge and experience. Last I checked, there’s only one of you.”

It just wasn’t something Elling could do. He’d be a liability to other agents, and his heart and mind were always somewhere else.

It might have been different if he could have known for sure that his brother was with the Light and his body was resting properly buried. There’d been a necromancer, though, and now the only question was whether the thing that used to be his brother was still out there, or had been destroyed in battle. The rise of the Forsaken in Tirisfal Glades gave him reason to believe it was possible that David was no longer a Scourge slave, but he would still be something that shouldn’t exist.

Yet, perhaps there was something of his brother left in that thing.

The very idea gave Elling enough nightmares to last him the rest of his life and then some. It was also his reason for opening the cheese shop. Everyone could believe Elling Trias had retired from whatever line of work he’d been in before and decided to open a shop in Stormwind. They didn’t need to know that he’d planned carefully to be able to use the shop as a means of collecting information from travellers, or that he spent hours each night pouring over rumors and maps and trying to work out where that thing that had been his brother might be.

Part of him knew that if he ever found what was left of his brother, he should destroy it and finally release David’s soul to be at peace. But if his brother was one of the undead, that might mean he was still very much like he’d been in life. Not one of the mindless ghouls, but still capable of reasoning and, though it might be far too much to expect, the ability to love his family. Elling did not know that he could destroy such a creature.

———-

Deathknell was a quiet town most of the time. Not that time had the same meaning it once did. David Trias didn’t feel time pass the way he had when he was alive. It had become a somewhat arbitrary thing, measured on calenders that only truly mattered to those who changed with the passage of months and years. Time only mattered to him in the sense of comparing the tasks he must carry out to what the living would be doing. Weeks and months became checkpoints along the way, such as passing a certain formation of the landscape.

He had been sent to Deathknell to train some of his fellow Forsaken in using the skills he’d learned in life. He taught them to slip through the shadows by becoming part of the shadows themselves. Some of them had to be taught the proper way to hold a dagger. It annoyed him, which let him know he was still capable of emotion. He’d trained several agents over the years. He’d taken them on missions with him so they could see firsthand how much the training mattered in the field. He’d never had to teach one that you “don’t hold the pointy end” before.

He would do whatever the Dark Lady asked of him. She had given the Forsaken purpose again, as well as freedom. Wasn’t that what “life” was? She was their salvation. If the Dark Lady wanted him to teach his brethren to milk cows, he would have taught them that, as well.

Staying in one place, even if it was Deathknell, allowed him the leisure of planning for personal projects. If the man he had once called “brother” had made it back to Stormwind alive, they would face each other again one day. It would be such a shame to have to slit Elling Trias’s throat too soon.

When night fell over Deathknell and David had time to simply sit and think, he sometimes thought it would be a shame to slit Elling Trias’s throat at all. This man had meant something to him once. It wasn’t that David had forgotten that. It simply didn’t matter anymore. Even his own name didn’t matter the way it once had. In life, it had marked him as being himself. Perhaps the most difficult thing he had faced in becoming an agent was accepting that, officially, he didn’t exist. He’d never completely accepted it… only that it was necessary to do things that way. Now, he found peace in shedding what it meant to be David Trias. Being undead was the very essence of existing in spite of the fact that he didn’t exist.

The only thing left of the living David Trias was locked away in Elling Trias’s memory. Some nights, sitting on the roof of the Church of the Shadow, David plotted how it could be kept that way. How he could make certain that Elling Trias had either no reason or no ability to act on those memories and whatever foolish emotions fed them. Other nights, David wondered if it meant Elling was the only thing keeping any part of him alive. It was on those nights that he was least offended by having to stay in Deathknell and teach beings who’d been farmers in life how to be deadly spies in undeath. Confronting the metaphorical
ghosts of one’s past and present could be upsetting and he saw no useful reason to do it. Explaining to beings who were once farmers that having pitched hay doesn’t make one an expert in the fine art of weilding a blade was much easier.

———-

“I’ve supported you in this as best I can. I love running the shop, and I sleep better knowing you’re here with me. But I don’t see what good is going to come of expanding things this way. Mark my words, Elling Trias, you’ll only cause yourself more heartbreak!”

Elling’s wife was near tears. She wondered if she should have put her foot down long ago and said a cheese shop was a fine idea, but the other idea could do no good. It hadn’t seemed like it could do any harm then, and she’d been desperate to believe something could bring some peace to her husband’s troubled soul.

When Shaw informed her that Elling had come back alone from that last mission, she thought nothing could be more terrible than the loss of his brother. She’d prepared herself for helping him through the grief and accepted that it could be a long, painful road.

It had been worse than that, though, and part of being married to Elling was not asking too many questions. At the very least, not expecting to get too many questions answered. She knew they’d had a run-in of some sort with the undead. She knew they’d gotten David, and that there was very little chance that he had not become one of them. She’d been forced to wait far too long to see her husband, and never really been given what she believed was a straight-forward, honest answer about why it was “too dangerous right now”. Elling had
filled in some of the holes later, so she knew he hadn’t been entirely of sound mind when he made it back, but that he didn’t have the plague. Even he would never really tell her why she couldn’t have taken care of him through that.

In some ways, she suspected, that was why she’d been willing to allow him a way of trying to keep track of rumors and speculation about the undead. She couldn’t be there with him through the worst of it, and the fact that it wasn’t her fault didn’t stop her from feeling like she’d failed him somehow. But now he wanted to expand the business so he’d have eyes and ears in Dalaran!

“Look, Elling… no one who has come into the shop has ever given you a solid lead. They almost got you mixed up in that mess with the Defias Brotherhood, and I know someone came and talked to you when the king was missing. I’ve never asked you about it, and I’m not asking you now, but don’t you try to tell me any lies about it, either. I’m not blind or stupid. Someone tried to pull you into that! I understand the Kirin Tor are opening the city to help with the war up there. How they moved a whole city to Northrend, I don’t understand. Nor do I want to! But if our business here in Stormwind has been any kind of example, that tells me you won’t find what you’re looking for, we’ll sell plenty of cheese, and someone will try to recruit you to go stick a dagger in Arthas Menthil’s kidney.”

“Elaine,” Elling began, but she cut him off before he could say more.

“No. I’m not sending you off to Northrend. You’re retired. You did more of a service for your king and country than most folks will ever know. You are not going.”

“No, I’m not,” he agreed. “I thought Lucien might want to try his hand at the business. Ben’s got things under–“

“Lucien? Elling, you’ve lost your mind! Lucien wouldn’t sell cheese or collect information! He’d spend all his time looking at women!”

Elaine couldn’t find it in herself to be outraged over the idea anymore, and knew that in another couple of days she’d just end up giving her blessing. As long as Elling was at home with her, maybe there really was very little harm in it. And it would be good for business. With the Alliance forces heading off to war, there wouldn’t be as many folks dropping by the shop in Stormwind anymore. Dalaran was supposed to be fairly neutral politically… more concerned about the business of mages than anything going on among the less arcane-oriented people… so maybe they could even make a few copper now and then from the Horde. Assuming Lucien could keep a civil tongue in his mouth and not get himself locked up for inciting a riot.

Maybe Elling could find some answers this way. If there was anything left of David, surely he’d be involved in war. If they opened a shop in Dalaran, he might walk right in one day. Elaine couldn’t be sure that would be the best thing, but any answers were better than Elling searching forever.

———-

A spider skittered across the wood floor, making the only sound David Trias had heard in several days. Deathknell was a ghost town. There had been some construction in Brill and the surrounding areas that put the power of the Forsaken on display for anyone who passed through. Deathknell had remained the same as ever so far, and David preferred it that way. It wasn’t necessarily that he preferred the rotted wood and overgrown vines, or that he clung to this reminder that the buildings, like the people who’d lived in them, were no longer part of the living world. He just liked the familiarty of it all. He knew every ledge, corner, and shadow of the town by now. He knew where the creaky boards were, and how fast or slow he could open something before the squeaky hinges squeaked. The town had become something of an extension of himself, and he wasn’t in any hurry to be rebuilt again.

As time went by and the number of Forsaken seeking training tapered off, David had found ways to amuse himself and been rewarded with more important tasks to carry out for
the Dark Lady. He’d sometimes assisted members of the Royal Apothecary Society. Their knowledge of poisons was impressive, and he was suprised to find there were a few
tricks he’d never learned that would have been a great help to him in life. Undeath had given him an edge.

An injury in the field had resulted in a leg that couldn’t be properly sewn up or replaced, though, and he’d returned to Deathknell. The Horde was sending their brave Tauren and orc sons and daughters off to fight in Northrend, with trolls and sin’dorei following. David respected the trolls a bit. They knew the value of biding one’s time in the shadows. And, of course, he’d never be found speaking against the Dark Lady’s former people. The Tauren and orcs, however, were fools who rushed off to find their death, inviting it to come to them with their shouts and thundering marches onto the battlefield. David had no inclination to suffer fools.

It wasn’t the battle against the Lich King that had emptied Deathknell, though. That had simply been inevitable. There were no new Forsaken. Where would they have come
from? Everyone who had been set free by the Dark Lady’s clever turning on the Lich King had either found their way to Tirisfal Glades, or just wasn’t going to show up. Now and then, some lost traveler would almost make a turn in at the graveyard before they realized where they were going and turned around. It happened less and less, though. Deathknell was mostly forgotten. David Trias was content to be forgotten with it.

Every now and again, the rotting flesh of his face attempted to stretch into a grin as he considered that this was exactly where he’d been headed all his life.

———

“I’m only going to tell you this once,” the SI:7 agent in charge said. “From this day forward, you do not exist. You are a shadow. A ghost. If you are captured, we don’t know what you were doing out there. For that matter, the entire brotherhood doesn’t exist. We won’t have to answer questions about you because there’s no reason anyone should ask us. There are no second chances. This is your single warning. You do not exist.”

David Trias nodded once, took his daggers, and stepped into the shadows.

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