Author: Sakai Michiba
Summary: A fallen mage from Stratholme searches for the one thing he regrets losing the most.
Warning: Angst and undeads!
Author's note: I wrote this for a server challenge on Maelstrom-US, and I didn't win. =( But I really enjoyed writing it all the same.
Disclaimer: Blizzard owns World of Warcraft, k.
I never got a chance to say goodbye to her.
Once, I was a man of virtue. Tall I stood amongst the men of Stratholme, a talented mage of twenty-four years with all the luck in the world. I had everything I could ever have asked for--a job I loved, a woman that I was going to ask to marry me, and the arcane on my side--and I knew it. I knew that everything was going my way. Just that morning, I had gone to the jewelers and selected the finest Azerothian diamond solitaire for purchase, and I fingered it in my jacket pocket as I all but skipped down the streets of my hometown. I hadn't been home in a month, having been away on patrol, but tonight I would see her for the first time since my return to those familiar cobblestone streets. She didn't know I was home yet, but she so rarely left the city that I knew she would be there at her mother's, weaving another cloak for me.
I strode confidently up to her doorway and hesitated before I knocked. There was a commotion behind me, but Stratholme was a crowded city and I was used to it. I smoothed my hair back and knocked thrice. Footsteps hurried through the house from within, and I felt my heartbeat quicken. When the doorknob turned, I took a polite step back, but when her father opened the door, I knew that something was wrong.
"Domitian, get out of here!" he hissed, pale as death. He looked very ill, and the coughing fit his body gave in to a moment later confirmed it. I tried to wipe his spittle off of my face as casually as I could manage, striving to be polite, but my stomach was turning already. I regretted the lunch I'd just eaten, a heavy sandwich with fresh bread and gravy-slathered venison.
"I just wanted to see Tullia...Is she home?" I sounded a lot less confident than I wanted, but there was little to be done about it now. Her father was a soldier; I knew he could sense how nervous I was.
"No, she's gone away! Get out of here, I said!" He struggled to speak these words between his miserable coughs, but I persisted.
"Where has she gone? I really need to--"
"Away, I said! Get the hell out of the city, Domitian!" He slammed the door in my face. A moment later, I heard a heavy thump as something thudded against the door from the inside. Whatever it was, it scraped down the length of the door and rested on the floor at the base.
I turned away, unsure of what to do now. He hadn't told me where she was, and I had no other real reason to stay here. My stomach grumbled angrily, and I rubbed it with my palm before I set off down the wooden stairs. I lifted my chin and looked back and forth through the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone I knew, but my eye was immediately caught by another man. He stumbled on the cobblestone and fell so hard that I winced.
"You ought to be careful," I admonished as I hurried to his side, kneeling. He did not respond, and I thought that he had, perhaps, knocked himself out. I rolled him over and recoiled as lifeless eyes stared blankly upward, his mouth slack and leaking sickly-green bile. I should have called for help, should have screamed for someone, but as I looked around me, I saw another fall, and another.
The sound of church bells sang throughout the streets that were growing ever-quieter, and I scrambled to my feet. "What the hell is going on here...?" I whispered to myself, seeking solace in my own voice. I felt lightheaded as the sudden and familiar sound of galloping hooves approached me from behind, and I whipped around to face what was, to me, a blaze of white light.
"You are infected. You must be purged."
Then, all I knew was the swinging of a hammer and stars...Lots and lots of stars.
Dalaran, city of mages and adventurers...I should have been happy to be there. I set my pen down and sucked in a useless breath of air to blow over the parchment I'd been writing on, and with a steady hand, I reached into my robe pocket. The robe was finely made and dyed a deep shade of purple by a talented tailor, and I wondered how soft it was as I searched through the deepest inside pocket. The bare bone of my index fingertip brushed metal, and I slipped the ring around the end of my lifeless finger before I brought it from the depths of my pocket. It fell onto the wooden table with a soft clink and rolled to rest on the scroll I'd been working on. The diamond solitaire glistened in the candlelight of the Filthy Animal.
I remembered almost everything. A lot of my kind did not, but the circumstances surrounding my death were so traumatic that I could remember every detail. I detested the state my body was in, and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I avoided looking at the ring. There I was, a lifeless wretch in a noble's clothes, a reminder of death in a city so full of life. Gray skin stretched and tore over my skull, my pupilless eyes scarcely hidden by a large black hat, the brim pulled low to hide my shame. I could see the white shine of my cheekbones protruding where the skin had worn thin, and even from across the room from the mirror, I could tell that I looked feeble within these robes sewn for a human.
I tore my gaze away and looked once more to the parchment before I slipped the ring back into my pocket and rolled up the scroll. My chair scraped back as I stood up, the sound causing one of the vain blood elves behind me to curse in my direction. The scrape would have bothered me, too, had I been capable of feeling the sound tearing at the nerves of my teeth and ears. I ignored him.
The blast of wintry air was not abnormal for Dalaran, located high in the icy clutches of Northrend, but the festivites were. Groups of my allies grouped together, roaming the streets brimming with holiday cheer. Even the Alliance, my old comrades, were in good spirits, and I had caught the brunt of a playful snowball attack by a human more than once. Spiced rum and egg nog flowed freely from vendors and individuals with cooking prowess, and everywhere around me, gifts were being exchanged.
I walked in silence through Runeweaver Square and could not help a chuckle at the goblins. Their magical device, the PX-238 Winter Wondervolt, had been the talk of the city, and I had been repeatedly startled by some of my best friends in disguise as gnomes. I dared not step inside of it myself, having no faith in goblin engineering. My body was ruined enough.
The southwest corner of Runeweaver Square emptied out into the Alliance side of town, and I could not help myself. I slipped into the street and leaned against the wall, watching. Jealousy tore at me as I watched the humans laughing together, saw the touch of a blush on a woman's cheeks and the hopeful glint in a man's eye. I remembered that feeling.
A group of drunken carolers were making their rounds, and I looked down to hide my face as they passed me by. I traced the ring of gold in my pocket and sighed before I looked up again. Every day, I looked here for her. Her father said she was out of Stratholme when Arthas purged the city and burned it, and I had always believed him. I had no reason not to. How ironic it was that I was clinging to these memories as though they could bring feeling back to me when my bretheren could not wait to let them go. It was a weakness, they said.
This year, I was going to find her. She would be horrified by my visage, yes, but I wanted closure. It was the last great regret of my life, the one aspect of my existence that I had been unable to reconcile with. I stepped out toward the nearest human vendor and clenched my fist in my pocket before I looked at her. I couldn't speak Common anymore, couldn't bear to, but I could speak one word that might help me.
I met the vendor's gaze, knowing that she must have been horribly nervous and sickened by the stench of me, and I drew a rattling, unnecessary breath. "Tullia?" I gestured to the humans around, trying to make her understand that I wasn't asking if she was Tullia, but asking if she knew her. She took a step back and shook her head, lifting her hand to pinch her nose shut, and I nodded. I had no idea if she had understood me or not.
None of the vendors knew.
I spent many hours at the fountain at the center of Runeweaver Square that evening. It was the night before Greatfather Winter brought his gifts, and the snow was piling up around me in Dalaran. The fountain was freezing near the edges of the pool, and I trailed the bare bones of my fingertips through the water.
How could I have gotten my hopes up, I wondered, when it had been years? She had likely died in that house with her family, her dead father blocking her escape from the hell Arthas wrought upon the kingdom of Lordaeron that day. Not everyone had risen as I had, a shadow of my former self, and I could not expect that she had done so. With a whispered word, magic flowed through my body and froze the fountain solid. The ice shone in the light of the moon, and I allowed myself a smile at the grace of nature in the frozen fountain before I pulled the scroll and the ring from my pocket and lay them on the rippled surface.
I stood slowly and looked down at them for a moment before I nodded to myself and turned away. This would be my Winter's Veil gift to myself, I'd decided...I could stop torturing myself over this and focus on what really mattered. I needed to channel my energy towards the fight against the Scourge, not towards something that was over and, literally, dead.
The streets were mostly quiet, save for a few late stragglers. I saw fathers hurrying into shops that were still open, looking for last minute gifts, and a few were just enjoying the brisk evening. A group of Forsaken rode by astride a small herd of Zhevra, and I watched them, my allies, those who had been through what I had, wind their way slowly through the city. I felt an inexplicable urge to join them.
It was only the sound of crying that jolted me out of my trance, and I scanned the streets out of curiousity. I turned to look behind myself, back into the square, and observed a huddled figure in the snow, heavily bundled in winter clothes. It must have been bonechilling out, and I wondered how I'd missed the figure while I was sitting at the fountain for all those hours. There were no footsteps in the snow save for mine. The human in me urged me to check on it, as a child would freeze to death outdoors in this snow, and so I turned back.
"Come now, stand. We'll get you inside," I murmured in Gutterspeak, and the sound of my voice so startled the figure that it threw up a smokescreen and vanished. I waved my arm through the smoke, attempting to clear it, but in that moment of weakness, I felt the pressure of something sharp being pressed against my spine. I froze.
"Leave." It was in Common, a woman's voice, and I understood but had no inclination to comply. I shook my head. The pressure was more intense, and I took a half-step forward to maintain my balance. I could feel the arcane's slippery presence sliding around my bones, and I pushed it discreetly outward, towards the knife against my back. Ice crept with spindly fingers around the blade, cementing it where it was as the woman hissed again in my ear. "You have no business here, you--"
I took my chance and slipped temporarily from the plane of existence, the magic lifting me from the spot and setting me down a foot ahead in an instant. She was so surprised by the sudden movement that she had no time to react as I whipped around and grabbed her delicate wrist, ready to break it in my bony, clutching fingers. Her hood fell back.
It was as though I were twenty again; blue eyes held me captive as I stared down into the familiar eyes of the rogue I had known so well, the woman I'd been torturing myself over for what seemed like an eternity. She knew, she knew, and she looked away in shame as I released her in a moment of world-shaking shock. "Tullia..." The scroll hung from her other hand, and I could see the shine of the ring clutched behind it; I wanted to reach for them, to tell her it was just a story, but she knew.
Tullia took a deep, visible breath before she looked over at the fountain. "You've been there a long time. I thought I was going to freeze to death." I could only nod. "You left this, and I...Well. I never forgot." There were tears frozen on her cheeks, and I reached up to break the trail off. She caught my hand, but she didn't recoil in horror at the feel of my bare bones. I didn't know what to do as the human, living woman dropped the knife and wrapped her arms around me, as she ignored my decomposition and clung to me, and I realized that she was with child.
"Tullia...?" I knew her language and couldn't speak it, couldn't ask the burning question on my lips. She shook her head to silence me, and I was so tense that I was trembling when she pulled away and smiled that smile of hers that would have sent me to my knees were my heart still beating. As it was, I just stared at her, unbelieveing and quivering so harshly that I had to catch my overly-large hat before it slid off my head.
She looked away. "I never expected to see you again, Domitian. It...soothes my soul to know you're here." The words were cold all of a sudden, and I knew what she was trying to do. She needed to distance herself from me, needed to make it sterile, and I understood. I loved her, more than anything, even in undeath, and I knew what I had to do.
I cleared my throat. "Tullia..." She looked at me, searching for the handsome young mage she'd been in love with, probably still loved even though I was little more than a festering corpse. I searched for the words in Common and, when I found them, I touched her cheek. "I never really loved you." Had I been alive, I'd have not been able to say the words. "That--" I pointed to the scroll. "--is a lie."
She was confused and hurt, and she looked down to the scroll in her hand. Somehow, the ring had made it onto her finger, along with a wedding ring and another large diamond. "Wh-what?"
I turned my back on her. "Forget me." I set my jaw and clenched my teeth as I took the hardest step I ever took--away from her, after all of those years of searching. "Go home."
"No!" I hurried forward a few steps to keep her from seizing my robes. "I'm not Domitian anymore." The snow was falling so thickly now that I could hardly see through it. "I'm...someone else."
She wasn't following me as I ran from the square, and I heard the soft thump of a body hitting the snow as I rounded the corner. A moment later, a keening wail ripped through the otherwise peaceful night, and I looked desperately for the circling Zhevra with their Forsaken riders. I had to get out of there, had to get away from her and her crying, from my desire to rush back to her and show her I could almost be as human as I had been those years ago. When I found the group, I lost myself in the middle of them, and I could hear their whispers, their near-silent welcomes. They knew what had happened; I suspected they had been watching all along. I was lifted onto a Zhevra behind another rider, and I slumped against her back. "I threw it away...My chance..."
The rider nodded once. "We all have." She reached back and touched my hand. "It's better that way."
I thought about Tullia and her wedding ring, the curve of her belly, and I nodded. It was better that she went on with her life, that she forgot about me. It was better for me that I forget her. I got to say my goodbye to her, and that had been my goal all along.
It didn't stop me from sending a vial of green ichor to her the next morning, infected with the plague. But when she didn't appear before me in the weeks after, I found that my spirits were lifted. I had received my Winter's Veil gift--peace of mind--and could now focus on the fight against Arthas. I no longer winced when I looked in the mirror.
I was Forsaken. I had no need of my humanity any longer.