Saturday, October 24, 2009

Zinaida's Memories

“Do you seek vengeance, sister?”

The young Taunka girl looked up wearily, the pain shadowing her eyes not quite hiding the fear and disgust. Despite the Scourge presence in their lands for so many generations, the indigenous cousins of the Tauren were no more comfortable with the walking undead in their midst than the majority of the Horde. One that looked so eerily like themselves probably didn’t help either.

“The invading undead slaughtered my family,” the girl said, her voice trailing off into silence. The Taunka refugee uncomfortably adjusted the ragged skins covering her strong, young frame as the death knight waited for her to continue. Zinaida wondered if she was missing some allusion – did the fact that the invading Scourge slaughtered her loved ones imply she sought vengeance or not? The living were so complicated.

“I would do anything to avenge them!” the Taunka girl finally asserted, glaring up at the death knight. The glare either spoke of hatred for her existing state or of pride, Zina couldn’t decide. Probably a bit of both, she thought.

“Take the blood-oath of the Horde, and you shall have your revenge.”

The girl exhaled, the sigh a mixture of hesitance and exhaustion.

Ranrele sighed, the sound hitting Zinaida like a blow to the stomach. This was her family, all she had in the world. If they did not accept her, who would? And now even Ranrele, the most amicable sister, was conceding.

“There is nothing for you here, little sister,” said the druid. Her tone suggested she hated every word she said. And yet she still said them, the death knight thought.

She turned to her grandmother. The old shaman was hunched over the cot, starring at her weathered hands. Tears still wetted her cheeks.

“Blessed be that your father is not alive to see you this way, Tadrolle...”

Her father? She never knew him; though, from what her sisters had said, she took after their mother more regardless. Would she be equally as ashamed of her?

As if to put the torch to her pyre, Zinaida turned to Negathle. Her eldest sister had not even looked at her since she had arrived, let alone speak with her. The hunter’s face was twisted with contempt; the moth fluttering at her shoulder hissing its master’s loathing. No, there would be no support here. She recalled her sister’s adamancy for the old ways - that streak of Tauren independence and reverence for the living Earth was absent in Zina both in mind and body. She was everything Neg detested.

She turned back to Ranrele and nodded. She turned away, her chest heavy with alien emotions of abandonment and fear. She hated those feelings more than any feeling of hatred she felt toward her family. She could understand their decision; she couldn’t understand this weight on her chest

“The dead remain dead,” she heard Neg finally say behind her.

“How can I trust the dead?” asked the aged man, standing up as if preparing to fight.

Zinaida took a step back to show she poised no threat, spreading her arms to prove her lack of weapons.

“The Knights of the Ebon Blade are free from the grasp of the Scourge. Scourge though we were, we now seek to destroy that which formerly enslaved us before it enslaves the world.”

He regarded her through narrowed eyes, a scar running down his wide face, halving the bridge of his nose. This Taunka warrior already knew battle.

“They destroyed everything I had – my family, my possessions, my home. Even if I were to seek vengeance, I have no means of doing so.”

She smiled in what she hoped was an expression of comfort. “The Horde provides for its people.” Zina walked with the warrior over to a crate full of freshly forged weapons. “You will be supplied with all you need.”

The Taunka picked up an axe, testing its sharpness with a thumb.

“Have you ever witnessed the place of your birth destroyed?” he asked, turning to her.

“Remember the rolling plains of Mulgore, where you were born!”

The Tauren at her feet stared up at her, unbelieving the form standing over him was the same woman who he knew before. At least, Zina assumed she knew him from before. Perhaps they were in the same convoy once, both fresh, young soldiers of the Horde eager to test their mettle in the Plaguelands. She had no idea, nor did she really care.

“Tadrolle...” the dying man exhaled, the tattered Argent Dawn tabard on his chest swelling with his ragged breathing. She brought her sword down across his throat.

“I was born in Feralas,” Zinaida said to the corpse, her voice impassive for the atrocity she had just committed. Yet the memory caught her off guard. Feralas? A vision of lush green flashed past her vision, the sound of water falling over stones rang in her ear. She shook her head to clear the discordant thoughts and turned to leave the compound. The Lich King promised her bigger prey than a simple Tauren.

“You are lost, girl,” a troll prisoner lying on a cot said, his back to her as she passed him.

“We are a lost people,” said the woman, clutching an infant to her breast. “Everything we know is gone. We are at the mercy of the winds.”

The child Taunka looked up at her from its mother’s embrace. Too young to know emotion, capable only of reaction. Zinaida envied the limits of infancy.

“The Horde provides guidance. We can rebuild and reestablish what was lost. That is why we are here.”

The lies came effortlessly. She could see the spark of hope kindle in the young mother’s eyes. Old enough to be cautious, but young enough to still have hope. These were the most difficult to recruit. They did not have a warrior’s heart, no champion’s drive, but they were the strength of the people regardless. They maintained the homestead, prepared the feasts, mended the wounds. They could weather the Scourge, if necessary: “Better an evil we know than an evil we do not,” Zinaida had heard an old Taunka say. She aimed to avoid such considerations.

“Join with the Horde, and you will be safe.”

The mother looked west towards the tundra lands, the only world she knew. The death knight could not read her face. She turned towards Zina, her brow narrowed in determination.

“Will we still be free?”

“We are freed from His grasp!”

The sword fell from her grasp, her fingers uncurling painfully from the hilt after having clutched it for hours.


The pain in her fingers, in her limbs, in her mind – it was just a fragment of the torrents of agony that surged through her form. Every innocent she ever killed, every friend she was forced to slay, they all came back to her in a flood of memories. The knowledge of her existence, of what she was reborn to do, she begged the ability to deny. This was not her, this was not Tadrolle Highmountain, the youngest of three sisters. This was not the warrior who sought to make the world better for her people.

The sudden absence of the Lich King’s will was like a dam disappearing from a river. Her mind and will were always there, only blocked and contained, funneled into channels for His purposes. And now everything that was denied her since her undead awaking had returned, overwhelming her senses.

And she hated it immediately.

Highlord Morgaine announced they would join forces with the people they had just been fighting against and end the evil that had abused them. Hundreds of voices cried out in triumph. Zinaida heard her voice scream with them, but it was not in dedication. It was in hatred for herself, and she wondered how many of the other voices felt the same.

As the Knights of the Ebon Blade scattered, out to rejoin the world, Zina remained at the blood-soaked battleground at Light’s Hope, rooted to the very spot her full consciousness was returned to her. She picked up the sword, given to her upon her rebirth as a blanket is given to a newborn. She traced the runes forged in the steel, enduing it with the spells that would harness her strength. She now knew what she was capable of, the power she wielded. It had never been used for good, it had never known life. It was a force born and bred for death, for suffering. And now she had to live with that knowledge.

She threw the sword away, and it struck a fallen tree with a resonating, hollow might.

The reverberating beat of the drums sounded over the night-draped land, calling the people to sanctuary. They were the drums of urgency, of speed. Come, there is safety here from the dark and cruel world.

“I am hardly able to lift an axe, young one. What would your Horde want with me?”

Zinaida smiled and kneeled down before the Taunkan grandfather.

“Your strength is here,” she said, touching a finger to her brow, “if not here.” She crossed her arms, laying her palms on her biceps, and bowed. The appearance of reverence for the aged was not completely in farce. Their knowledge of the land was vital. They knew the history of this continent far better than any other sentient race, and that would be crucial for defense against both the Scourge and Alliance.

The refugees were scattered among the huts. Many were already asleep; the sun set long ago. Those awake were encircling fires, scrapping the bottom of bowls and speaking to each other in whispers. The fire light illuminated the old man’s face, casting the features in sharp contrast. He looked as ancient as the mountains. Zina moved to sit next to him, fearing that her face in shadow, her eyes glowing blue with a frozen, inert life, would do more harm than good towards his decision.

“I need sleep,” he finally said. “I shall inform you once I wake.”

“Awaken, o daughter of the Scourge.”

It was if she was being pulled up from the warmest, deepest, most comfortable bed imaginable. What strength she had initially resisted in reflex, but it was soon gone, leaving her compliant to the power that called her.

Her eyes opened to see a place she did not know. She looked down at herself, confused by her very ability to think.

“What am I?” she heard a voice ask. It sounded from far away, but it rang in her mind indefinitely.

“You are Zinaida, a death knight of the Lich King. You live to serve Him.”

She felt the cold prod of steel on her hand. A geist was holding a sword, offering it to her. She took it, instantly comforted by its touch. This was right. This existence was good. She knew nothing of how she came to be here or what her Master aimed for, but there was no pique of curiosity. Such a drive was unnecessary.

“Take your weapon, and drive it into the flesh of this worthless intiate.”

The tall human man that spoke stepped to the side to reveal an emancipated woman chained to the wall. She was garbed in dark rags, and her eyes glowed with a furious blue light. Zinaida stepped forward, searched for confirmation inside herself that this was the correct action, received it, and buried the sword into the woman’s stomach. The dying creature howled in agony, but Zina found the action pleasing.

“You are worthy of the Lich King, Zinaida.”

She smiled in satisfaction.

The boy child smiled cheerily and waved at her as he followed his father away from the camp toward Agmar’s Hammer. This was her life now – recruiting the struggling Taunka into the very establishment that led her to her death and undeath. Perhaps the thought of a former member of the Scourge encouraging the destruction of their old masters helped deceive the refugees into thinking the Lich King’s forces were weakening. What hopeful fools they were, but fools without any better choice.

She lied for her life and she lived now to lie. Her Tauren heritage disowned her existence, her faction called upon her to use others to sow more seeds of pain. Even her membership with the Ebon Blade was based on a lie, for she had no motivation to slay Arthas. The retribution-driven leaders of the Ebon Blade would probably kill her if they knew that.

Maybe she would let them.

“Greetings, sister. Do you seek vengeance against the Scourge?”

1 comment:

Pixelated Executioner said...

Nicely done - awesome work. :)