Featuring: Aishen Thornewood
Aishen should have liked Northrend.
While the land had been tainted by the Scourge, much of it was still a vast wilderness that had remained unaffected not only by the hands of the Undead legions, but by civilization as a whole. Its vast open spaces, its dense forests, its hills and valleys all spoke of an untamed wilderness the sort of place that she had strove so hard to protect.
Furthermore, it should have spoke to her of her love of exploration and discovery, of the uncharted possibilities that lay ahead. Yet, at the same time, it was more familiar then the alien landscapes of Oultand, instead being grounded in a certain reality that she could appreciate.
Instead, she had largely ignored all around her, not bothering to explore the continent or see the wonders that it had held. She had been instead driven by her mission, the one thing that had bought her here. She had travelled north in response to the Scourge’s attacks on Azeroth, joining so many of her fellows in a crusade to destroy the undead legions for all time so they would never rise again.
That was her goal; that was her reason for being there. She had forsaken all else in her determination to eliminate the threat that the Scourge had presented. Since she had arrived here, she had done nothing but fight, engaging in an almost mechanical process of travelling across the continent and combating the forces of the Scourge and whatever other forces may stand in opposition.
She claimed that she was doing it because of the threat that they represented. That was partially true. Instead, the real reason was simple: she was angry. She had seen a fleeting moment of happiness and had it snatched away from her and, as a result, she was feeling bitter and vengeful.
It was this quest for vengeance that had bought her back to Wintergarde keep, one of the Alliance’s main strongholds on the continent. Once besieged by forces from Naxxramas, the undead assault on the keep had been broken by the Alliance’s forces, with Aishen amongst them. However, while their leaders had been defeated and the citadel itself assaulted, there were still remnant forces that posed a threat. She’d come here to see if there was anything that she could do to clear them off and relive the pressure on the Alliance’s forces.
Her logic was simple; when Wintergarde was safe, the Alliance could finally move their forces from there to Icecrown and towards the Lich King himself. And when he fell, the Scourge’s threat would be over; finished.
And then she could go home.
“No offence lass.” The Dwarven officer by the keep began, looking up at her. “But I’m not sure if there’s much that one more body can do out there.”
She glanced back at the carrion fields below, then turned to the Dwarf. “Surely there must be something.” She stated, angrily. “Your forces are still facing the Scourge”
“Aye that.” He replied. “Still…” He walked into one of the towers at the base of the walls, Aishen following him. “Tell you what, you look like something of a tracker”
“That I am.” She replied, still a hint of anger in her voice.
“Good. Then there’s something ye can do for us, lass.”
“Baron Morte” the Dwarf stated, a hint of contempt in his name. “One of the commanders of the Scourge forces that besieged us, and a foul one at that. He was responsible for cutting down far too many good men, and then enslaving them to the Scourge. Its one thing to see your people die, lass, but to see that happen to them…” He shook his head as he trailed off.
“But he survived the battle, correct?”
“Aye.” The Dwarf all but spat. He retreated from the fields when we started cleaning them up. He hasn’t run off to join the other Scourge, however. He was last seen headin’ east, possibly to Zul’drak to join them there.”
“So you want me to track him down and bring him to justice.”
“Aye lass.” The dwarf grimly stated. “Bring us his Sigil, so we know the deed is done.”
“Very well.” Aishen nodded. While a single opponent may seem insignificant, she had seen first-hand the power of a Death Knight. This one foe could not be allowed to escape. “If there is nothing else, then I shall begin my hunt.”
“No, that’s all.” He saluted her. “Take care, lass.”
She returned his salute with one of her own. “I shall. He will not escape me.”
From what she’d gathered, Morte had left the battlefield several hours before she had arrived in Wintergarde. There were reports that he had been wounded, but Aishen knew that such matters were relatively minor to a Death Knight; what would be fatal to a normal man was far less so to them.
Regardless, she had a trail, albeit a weak one. Even then, it was enough for her to follow and track her prey.
As she had headed northeast from Wintergarde, following his trail, the weather had worsened. While Dragonblight was always cold, it now was a blizzard of white as snow blew all around her. However, despite this, the Death Knight’s trail remained clear in the snow. Even as it darkened, Aishen pressed on – the night was no enemy to her, but rather an ally. She had spent her early life living in the perpetual twilight of Ashenvale, lurking in the shadows of the great trees…
…the unspoilt, untamed wilderness of perpetual night, where the soft purples and deep greens of the plants shielded those within from the outside world, protecting those within...
…so much similar to Teldrassil, and Shadowglen where she had met…
Aishen shook herself out of her reminiscing, focusing on the target at hand. She had a job to do, and intended to make sure that it was done properly, regardless of what it took.
She stopped her sabre, climbing off its back and landing in a crouch. Kneeling down, she examined the tracks in the ground, looking over them. These ones were deeper and better defined, looking to be relatively fresh. The older ones were already somewhat blown away or filled in by the blowing snow, but the crisp outlines of these told her that her prey was nearby.
Closer examination told her even more; the distance between the hoof prints told her that the horse was likely little more then trotting; furthermore, one of them appeared to be off-skew, as if the hose had been damaged (she refused to think of a Skeletal mount as having been injured) and had to slow down. Possibly, galloping away from Wintergarde had only served to further aggravate the damage causing its rider to slow down – which meant that he was likely nearby.
“Stay” she stated to her Stormsaber, confident that the beast could look after itself. Rifle in hand, she set out across the snow, Zaber padding along close behind her. Despite his incongruous brown and grey colouration, he seemed to blend into his surroundings, managing to remain surprisingly elusive for a large cat.
Heading further east, she continued to follow the trail for several more minutes before stopping. There was running water nearby, suggesting that she was nearing the edges of the Dragonblight region. She cautiously clambered up a rock, looking around. Through the snow below her, she could see a shape; an armoured figure, mounted on the back of a horde, slowly trudging ahead of her.
It’s him she thought to herself. She’d reached her prey, no doubt about it. Moving as slowly and silently as possible, she cautiously closed the distance on the armoured figure. Making a silent signal to Zaber, she watched as the Nightsabre peeled away from her, vanishing into the snow.
As she got closer, more features become apparent serving to confirm her suspicions. His armour was dark in colour, similar in design to that used by other Death Knights. Even more telling was his steed; a skeleton, it bore the insignia of the Scourge on its purple barding.
Confident that she had gone undetected, she paused, then raised her rifle. Peering down the scope, she centered him in his sights, then pulled the trigger. The silence of the wilderness was shattered by the sudden thundering retort of the rifle as it fired; moments later, the Death Knight was slammed forward in his saddle, struck in the back by her shot.
It hadn’t felled him; she didn’t expect it to. Experience had shown that the Scourge – and Death Knights in particular – took a lot of killing. He wheeled around, drawing his Runeblade as he did – only to have the snow next to him erupt into a cloud of white as Zaber leaped from his cover, snarling as he pounced on his prey.
There was a crash as the Nightsaber slammed into the Death Knight, grabbing hold with its claws and fangs. Using his mass and speed, Zaber pulled the knight from the saddle before bearing him to the ground. However, he recovered fast, throwing his attacker off and rolling to his feet ion spite of his injuries.
“Filthy beast!” The Death Knight called out, the hollow echo in his voice only adding to his anger. “You will-“
He was cut off by a loud crack, followed by another shot slamming into him, sending him reeling. Then, as soon as a fresh round had cycled into the chamber, Aishen fired again, the third shot striking home, blasting apart the armour over his shoulder. At the same time, Zaber again struck at him, his claws raking across the Death Knights’ midsection and opening him up.
With almost supernatural precision, Aishen took aim again, managing to put her sights on the Death Knight while avoiding the ferocious tiger he was facing. The shot rang out, slamming straight into the Death Knight’s exposed neck. He spun, a spray of blood gushing from him as he wheeled around, then collapsed to the ground.
She stood, cautiously walking towards the fallen Knight’s body, her rifle still at the ready while Zaber watched over them. He seemed to be still, but she wasn’t about to take any precautions. After all, her target was a master of fel necromantic powers; it seemed very unlikely that a simple bullet would be enough to stop him.
Aishen stood over him, rifle pointed down at his body. The Death Knight certainly seemed to be dead; however, her own experiences told her never to take a risk. “Watch him.” She commanded to Zaber, the Nightsaber replying with a low growl.
Slinging her rifle over her shoulder, she knelt down next to the Death Knight’s body. Up close, she could see that he was indeed the one that they had mentioned; a human man, his once handsome features had become sunken and hollow. His skin was an alabaster white, with his hair a lifeless grey. Both stood in stark contrast to the dark armour that he wore.
Leaning closer, she looked over him; he certainly didn’t seem to be moving at all; no signs of breathing or a pulse. Of course, with opponents that were between the living and the dead, it was very hard to tell how much of that was because she had slain him, and how much was simply from being a Death Knight.
“Looks dead” She began, glancing over him. There was a pool of blood by his side, but that was it. “But, just to make sure…” Aishen didn’t usually see herself as the merciless type, and certainly not the type to slay a fallen foe. However, in this case, she wanted to be as certain as possible. Practical experience told her never to assume that one of the Scourge were truly fallen until their body had been destroyed.
Besides, she knew the Scourge. They were ruthless and merciless, opponents that gave no quarter and expected none in return. The best one could hope for was to fall to the Scourge in such a way that their body and soul were put beyond reach. Otherwise, their victims were doomed to become their unwilling slaves, bound to undeath. The Scourge would have no hesitation about raising someone as an undead minion, friend or foe. They didn’t deserve any mercy.
She took the sigil from around his throat, pocketing it in her pack. Reaching into her belt, she took out her skinning knife, pressing it against the Death Knight’s throat, carefully watching for a reaction. There was none; either he truly was dead or he simply didn’t care about what she was about to do. She quickly slit his throat, the action electing no response form the fallen knight.
“That’s that.” She commented as she wiped the knife on his cape before stowing it. “Another damned Scourge defeated.”
“Well good for you.” A voice came from nearby; female and, to her surprise, speaking Darnassian. However, the voice had a hollow, unearthly echo to it – the tone she had come to expect from a Death Knight.
“Who goes there?” She called out, raising her rifle. All around her the blizzard continued to blow, creating a wall of white that seemed to blot out the rest of the world. By her side, Zaber growled loudly, looking around for unseen targets. “Identify yourself!”
A figure stepped out of the snow; the same size as Aishen, they were also a female Kal’dorei. However, that was where the similarities ended. This woman had long hair that was bleached a stark white and hung around her head in a ragged, straw-like mess, while her skin was a dried leathery colour, one that was not natural to her race. Her eyes, however, were the most telling; they glowed with an unearthly blue light.
It was clear that she was a Death Knight; the heavy, blood-red armour that she wore and the ornate runed blade she carried only underscored the point. What was odd, however, was that her blade was currently carried over her back, rather then at the ready.
“I’m just some Death Knight, that’s all.” She stated, her voice little more then a low hiss. “One who was pursuing the same target as you were.” She glanced down at the corpse. “You wouldn’t be a sport and give me the sigil so I can say that I got him instead?”
If it was a joke, Aishen didn’t find it funny. “Why should I, Death Knight? Why should I trust you?” She kept her rifle levelled at the woman, her eyes focused on them and her finger on the trigger.
The Death Knight sighed. “Good point. From where you are, I suppose I look like another Death Knight. And I’m guessing you don’t like the Scourge either.”
“Not at all.” She stated.
“Good. That’s both of us.” The Death Knight continued. “I’m not one of them. I’m one of those from Archerus, who left the Scourge and pledged themselves to the Alliance. Believe it or not, we’re on the same side.”
“I still find it hard to trust you.” Aishen angrily continued. “The Scourge- “
“-Save it” the other Elf finished. “Whatever your reason for disliking the Scourge is, mine’s better.” She gave a dry laugh, then grinned at Aishen, showing a lot of teeth. “Really, try me.”
“Killed you?” She cut her off again. “And then took your body, defiling your corpse and enslaving your soul, transforming you into an abomination to nature and an offence to all you once believed in? Is that it?”
“I-“ She began, and stopped as she considered the other Night Elf’s words. All of a sudden, the idea that the fighting the Scourge was keeping her from spending time with her lover seemed rather insignificant by comparison – and getting angry over it seemed petty.
“Tell you what.” The Death Knight continued, slowly reaching down to her belt. Taking a scrap of red material from it, she slowly reached up to her face, keeping her hands visible. “If you don’t trust me, that’s understandable. I’ll trust you instead.” She slowly wrapped the cloth around her face, covering her eyes before tying it in place.
“I don’t blame you for not trusting me.” The Death Knight finished, dropping her hands back to her sides. “I know I wouldn’t. But I will trust you, because I know you’re not me.” She paused. “So I’m trusting you not to shoot me, even though I’m blindfolded and can’t defend myself and I know you hate the Scourge.”
There was a tense silence, Aishen’s rifle still pointed at the head of the Death Knight. “Why would you do that?” She finally asked, speaking up.
“Because I can’t think of any way to prove it otherwise.” She finished. “And besides, as much as I hate the Scourge, I’m not that fond of what they turned me into. So if you had pulled the trigger, it would have been no big loss anyway.”
Aishen nodded, lowering her rifle. “All right, you have convinced me.”
The Death Knight raised one side of her blindfold. “Well, that was a surprise. Wasn’t sure that would work.” She shrugged.
“What do you want?” Aishen continued.
“I’d like the sigil, but I can understand why you wouldn’t want to give it up.” She removed her blindfold. “But mainly, I’ve gotten what I wanted, which was to get away without being shot.”
“You could have simply remained hidden without revealing yourself in the first place.” Aishen offered.
“Wouldn’t have gotten me the sigil.” She replied casually. “And I’m not the type to take it from you by force. Believe it or not, just because I’m a Death Knight doesn’t mean I’m a mass-murdering serial puppy kicker.” There was a pause. “Well, not any more.”
“Right.” Aishen finished. “You will understand if I do not give it to you.”
“Probably. I can pass it off, say someone got to him first.”
Aishen looked back at her. “You’re not going back to Wintergardeguard keep?”
The death knight paused, as if momentarily at a loss for words. “Uh, no. The person who sent me out here is with… a different group.” She paused. “Ebon Blade.”
“I see.” That was all Aishen needed to know. She’d had dealings with Darion Mograine’s freed Death knights in past; that did not mean that she had to like them. Form what she’d seen, they were just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the Scourge; that they directed their energies at their one-time allies was little comfort. “Then I will head back to Wintergarde with this.”
“Sure.” The Death Knight nodded. “Travel well, then.”
Aishen paused, looking back at her. “Excuse me?”
“Just something I got from someone I knew a while back.” She shrugged. “It was another life, one I can’t go back to. I was a different person back then.”
“I see.” She nodded. Leaving the Death Knight behind, she and Zaber began the trek back to Wintergarde. Somewhat off-balance by the Death Knight’s farewell – one she herself often used – she had a lot to think about. She had dedicated herself to destroying the Scourge, claiming that she was doing it out of a need to protect the world, the mission she had driven herself on for the last five years.
But the more she looked at it, the more she could see that a large part of her motivation was selfish. She was driven by anger more then anything else, and had been letting that cloud her judgement. The Death Knight she had just encountered underscored that point; someone who’s motivation was revenge and hatred and had very little else to live for. That, Aishen realised, was the last thing she wanted to be.
She blinked, looking around at the vast expanses of the Dragonblight; the open snowy plains and the suggestion of the towering peaks in the distance. For the first time, however, she saw the natural beauty of the place; a harsh, untamed wilderness that spoke of the power and grace of the elements that had shaped it; one where civilization had made its mark, but still seemed inconsequential against the greater whole.
The Night Elf quietly smiled to herself. There was a whole new world out there, one that she had seen, but, until now, never experienced. She had her duty, yes, but now she could look on it with new eyes, a new way of seeing it; one where there was hope, not just the demands of constant battle.