Gilnean paladin Varlus Jenneson escapes from his homeland in search of freedom and an opportunity to prove he can aid others. He is presented with one right off the bat: a goblin caravan got ambushed and everyone got killed, save for a night elf huntress that was guarding it. This is most irregular, but Varlus wastes no time in deluding that mystery and races towards Beren's Peril, where the huntress is kept. However, upon arriving to the cavern the paladin is surprised by a band of undead gnolls and knocked unconscious by its leader, a mysterious hooded man...
A PALADIN'S SOJOURNEdit
Chapter Two: The Hair of the HuntressEdit
“Wake up, paladin.”
I didn’t want to. I was way too injured to perform the small miracle of opening my eyes. I could still feel lightheaded and very sore; my body ached every time I took a breath. I could feel my own blood, both dry and fresh, staining my whole physiognomy. The many cuts on my chest still bled, but only a small amount now. Whether the crimson flow was slowing down because my wounds were healing or because my heart was getting tired of pumping, I couldn’t say. The latter explained the lightheadedness, but then again, the warlock’s spell had been colossal. I also felt cold, the upper part at least, ascertaining I was bare-chested. And a female voice was talking to me, telling me to wake up, to open my eyes, to see my prison and possibly my jailer as well. And all I wanted was to lie there (or, to be more precise, hang there) and sleep, perhaps even die.
“I know you’re not knocked out” the female voice continued, “for I can feel your heart beating rhythmically inside your chest. The breath of life has not left you yet, holy warrior. Open your eyes.” The voice went silent, as if awaiting a reaction. A small part of me felt sad for that, because hers was the most soothing voice I had ever heard. Did the voice belong to a spirit healer, an angel of peace, a beacon of hope? I did not know. Her voice filled me with energy, with health, with light. Where was I? Was I really alive? The pain was almost gone. Was I dying? Was that holy voice summoning me to the afterlife? I could not stand it anymore; I opened my eyes.
Reality, as always, proved to be far, far different from my fantasies. I was chained to a wall of rock, in what seemed to be the depths of Beren’s Peril. A bloodstained, obsidian, square-shaped altar rested just out of reach in front of me, covered by a yellow, ragged cloth. A heart still throbbing with the inertia of life laid upon it, with clear signs of having been torn out of its cavity only moments ago. Blood covered most of the altar and its surroundings. There was also a silver dagger stabbed firmly in the altar, blood covering what little could be seen of its blade and some parts of the golden hilt as well. There was not much left to see; only skeletons of different sizes, some still with flesh on them, covered the surrounding walls. The scene was hauntingly disgusting, save for one small detail.
Next to me, smiling weakly and looking at me, was a night elf. The voice that had talked to be probably belonged to her. Her pointy ears were pointing down in an unmistakable sign of resignation, tiredness and sadness. Her eyes were still glinting with the characteristic blue of a night elf warrior, but the gleam was not as strong as I remembered it to be. Perhaps it was another sign of her waning strength. Her skin, while obviously purple, was a shade darker than normal, though maybe the combination or poor lighting and the many injuries she had sustained, not to mention my own tiredness, gave me that impression.
I would have never figured out who that night elf was were it not for her hair. While obviously dirty and far from its perfect state due to our present condition, it was still a marvel to behold: pearly white, waist-length, it was as if the night elf was wearing a silk cloth on her head, a coif of glory, a piece of the moon woven into her hair.
She opened her mouth to speak. “I am glad you are awake, holy warrior. I am—“
But I knew her name. “Arcanna Silverveil. I know.” I was surprised of the enormous amount of effort it took me to talk. The night elf was also surprised, both by the little energy I possessed and by the fact her identity was not unknown to me. She blinked. I breathed deep and felt a sharp stab of pain on my back: one of my lungs (possibly both) was ripped, stabbed or pierced.
“How do you know my name?” she asked. I could see she was no longer smiling.
“A goblin told me” I said, noting my very shallow and weak voice. “You were journeying with them to Pyrewood, right? I found the caravan’s wreckage: no survivors. Only one, but he didn’t last long. Couldn’t do anything. He gave me the information necessary to find this place… and your name. It was his last act on this world.”
“I was protecting them, yes” said the huntress, struggling a bit to find a less uncomfortable position. “I joined the caravan while it passed through Southshore. We met at the local inn, they mentioned their trip to Pyrewood and I offered my help since I knew Silverpine Forest is not a place to be traveled lightly. But alas,” she sighed sadly, “my bow and glaive were not enough.” Now she looked away. Was she hiding tears? Why did she care that much for a bunch of goblins she hardly knew?
She turned her face back to me. “How were you captured?”
Now it was my turn to sigh, albeit with considerable pain. “I screwed up. Didn’t notice the whole gnoll death squad or the warlock commanding them until it was too late.”
“Him!” spat the huntress bitterly. “Who is that human? Why is he in charge of these creatures?”
“I don’t know. He hasn’t said anything to you?”
She shook her head, her ears following suit comically. “I only saw him once, and not clearly, it was only a blur of red.” She paused for a second. “What do you think he wants from us?”
I considered it for a moment. “Judging by the skeletons and all the lovely scenery, I’d say he wants our body parts.”
The huntress looked revolted. “Why would he want our body parts? Who can be that insane?”
“Him, apparently.” I pointed with my head towards the numerous skeletons. “They haven’t been eaten by gnolls… well, not all of them, anyway. Look at the ones to your right that still have flesh attached to them: the missing bits have been torn out cleanly and neatly, as if a butcher did it. That was a knife’s work, not teeth. In fact… I think the knife on the altar was the one used to skin those poor fools.”
Arcanna went silent for a moment, lowering her head. Perhaps she was picturing the warlock skinning those corpses. I, for one, was busy thinking how to escape. Those restraints, while crude, were not something I could release by myself; given the context we were in, they were most likely held clamped together by magical means. The knife was way out of reach, and even if it were close, my cramped and badly beaten legs could never have grasped it firmly. Nor was any chance to grab one of the places’ many torches and burn away one of my hands to free myself. No matter the angle I looked at it, it seemed our only chance to escape, for now, was to wait for external factors to appear.
Arcanna reared her head back up. “Why did you come here, paladin?”
It was a question I expected, but was not totally ready to answer. Because she had a point: why did I go to Beren’s Peril? It was out of my way. It was of no business or interest of mine. Then it became clear.
“It was my duty. I couldn’t just leave you or any survivors here to die.”
Arcanna smiled, but I had more to say. “There was also a sense of revenge. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know. I shouldn’t have felt that, I’ve been trained not to.”
“I am still grateful you are here, paladin.” I forced a smile; my face muscles screamed in protest. “What is your name?”
“Varlus. Of the Jenneson family.”
She nodded. “Varlus Jenneson. I was wondering something… the goblin has told you my name, but how did you know it was me? You did not know how I looked like. Or did you?”
Her question was not out of impatient suspicion, but of calm curiosity. Her eyes were fixed on mine, as if trying to find the answer in my mind, without words. I smiled again.
“I knew the instant I saw you. You truly honor your name, Arcanna Silverveil.”
For a moment as she looked away once more I thought I spotted a few shades of scarlet in her purple cheekbone. Did she blush? That question, however, had to be left unanswered, since my instincts warned me of a third presence in the damp cave. Arcanna felt it before me, since her ears became fully erect and she faced forward abruptly, as tense as I was.
She did blush.
“How touching, Gilnean. It’s a pity you two won’t make it through the day. A half human, half night elf would surely be one for the books of history of this world. A true first.”
“I can see him” whispered Arcanna, looking at a somewhat general direction near the altar. Well, ‘somewhat general direction’ just didn’t cut it for me.
“Show yourself” I ordered. I heard a whooshing sound.
“Ah, but of course. I forgot your sense at detecting unseen things is quite subpar.”
With that, our enemy materialized. His was an odd appearance, though certainly in the evil range. He was wearing a blood-red cloak with purple rivets, very regal and arcane looking, which covered his whole physique. What lied beneath was cleverly concealed and hidden, at least for my eyes. He was also wearing a collar made of skulls which was deeply sickening, not just because of the skulls themselves, rather because these skulls’ tiny size suggested they once belonged to human babies. One of these skulls still had an eye stuck into its right eye socket, its bloodshot gaze lost in an unfathomable expression of horror and pain. Resisting the urge to throw up, I looked upwards to his face, no longer hidden by the hood.
“Monster…” uttered Arcanna, furious.
The warlock laughed at her. “So are you, oh huntress. So are you.”
He grinned, and that detail finished to wrap up a pure evil visage. His skin was almost gray and sunken; his skull clearly noticeable. His eyes were waxy and without any spark of life of any kind. Even his hair looked dead, like a crude rug forcibly glued onto his heavily wrinkled and scorched head. Was he an undead too? Somehow I didn’t think so. He clearly noticed I was looking at him, and my face must have been screwed in disgust and repulsion, because he stared at me, grinned again (his teeth looked rotten) and gave me a rather unnerving and exaggerated bow.
“Appealing, aren’t I?” He stood back upright. “I’m afraid to say my luck with the female gender has been completely null as of late. Not like my young ages at all, for certain.” He laughed horribly.
"I wonder why” I commented with no real interest, my mind still bent on figuring out a way out of our prison.
“I do wonder what our huntress has to say about that fact? My dear, you sure have been awfully silent since your last compliment.”
Arcanna couldn’t hold it anymore: arcing what little she could forwards she vomited the contents of her stomach on the rocky floor. Perhaps the nauseating smell that impregnated our prison had finally gotten to her, or maybe her mind projected the image of the warlock infatuated with a woman. In any case, the warlock looked extremely amused, laughing manically.
“Oh my. Certainly not a display up to your noble and regal standards, oh huntress” cackled the warlock amidst the laughter. I still needed more time to think.
“What do you want from us, warlock?” I asked. It worked, for the warlock slowly turned towards me again with an interested look.
“Now, that is the first interesting thing I’ve heard so far. Allow me to explain my plan to you, Gilnean.”
“How do you know I’m from Gilneas?”
“Your clothes’ tailoring is most certainly Gilnean. Your sword is, pardon me, was a fine example of Gilnean steel. Your attitude as well as that mark on your right forearm clearly shout Gilneas. Any more examples?” For some reason he seemed uneasy.
“How do you know I’m a paladin?”
“I saw you trying to heal that goblin in the forest. You have neither the garments nor the disposition nor the power of a priest.”
He was clearly fed up with my questions, but I had to keep him talking. “But how do—“
“Shut up!” he roared, and casted a spell at me. I had just opened my mouth to keep talking or scream or insult him when it hit me. At first glance it seemed to do nothing, but when I tried to speak or make any sound at all I felt like an iron fist was squeezing my windpipe. I had been muted, thus losing the only weapon I had. Glancing to my side, I saw Arcanna was still looking down and trembling. Was she really that nauseous?
“I will speak now” began the warlock. “What I want from you two, Gilnean, is simple: your life essence. I need it to empower myself and my army. Now, before you even begin to think these pathetic gnolls are my army, let me tell you these are nothing more but live, in a matter of speaking of course, dummies for my true army. They need to train, test their skills, powers, and overall effectiveness and potential. What better way to do that than to use already dead creatures such as this?” It had logic. “Releasing them from the Lich King’s control and bending them over to me was very easy… after all, if those Forsaken losers could do it…” He paused for a second, and he could see my question in my eyes. “No, Gilnean. I am not just another mad soul looking for simple conquest. I serve a higher purpose. A far more impending doom looms over this damned world, Gilnean.”
He walked forward until he was face to face with me. I still saw no way out and I felt I was running out of time.
"Put it this way… the Burning Legion was our lapdog.”
My plans for escaping vanished, since that revelation left me awestruck and petrified. What could possibly be more terrible than the Legion? Which immensely powerful syndicate of evil could dare to call the Legion ‘their lapdog’? But his eyes had changed: they were now shining with a soft shade of violet.
“We are the Apocalypse of this world, Gilnean. The End. The Cleansing. We are the Ones that Rule. We See. We Conquer. We Define. We Reign. We are We, and You, and Them. We are All. We simply Are. And you two will form part of It” the warlock whispered in a prophetical tone over my ear. His putrid breath creeped up my nostrils. He was so immersed in his devotion to this unknown force that he did know realize Arcanna was somehow free from her shackles. I quickly looked back to him to keep the element of surprise.
“Humans. Night elves. Dwarves. Orcs and tauren and trolls and gnomes and every single existing thing on this world belongs to Us. We cannot be denied. We must not be denied. We were Created to rule!” he shouted, spitting me with every word.
“Not anymore, warlock.”
Before he could realize who or what had spoken, his head was slammed headlong into the wall by Arcanna’s mighty kick, his skull cracking audibly. Master of dark magic he might have been, but he was clearly no match for Arcanna’s evident domain of melee fighting, and he realized that as he stood against the wall on the receiving end of the huntress’ revenge. Before he could utter a word, the huntress kicked the dagger from the altar free, stunned the warlock with a well aimed punch at his jaw, caught the still flying dagger in the air, pinned her victim on the wall with her arm and raised the weapon in her left hand, getting ready for the killing blow.
“Big… mistake…” mumbled the warlock as he could, a drop of violet blood slipping from his mount and into Arcanna’s arm.
“I made many” replied the huntress, and sank the small blade up to its hilt into our enemy’s neck. Surprisingly, he didn’t gasp or scream or anything, though his eyes surely displayed the expectable surprise of impending death. He slumped to the floor and just sat there like a statue, eyes wide open, but not really looking at anything. He stopped breathing with yet another grin. Unceremoniously, Arcanna kneeled and pulled the dagger from his throat. It made a clean sound.
The constricting feeling in my throat had lifted, and only then was I sure that the warlock was no more. I looked to the huntress, who was now examining my bonds. I had to make the obvious question.
Not surprisingly, though certainly unfitting, she smiled.
“I do have some arcane knowledge. That is why my hair is white.”
“Silvery” I objected, as she opened my cuffs with ease. The warlock’s spell had probably lifted, but maybe she accomplished this by means of his new, unknown talent.
“Use your magic, Varlus, and heal us. Then let us leave this place. Take the dagger, I can defend myself barehanded.”
I left her hair’s mystery for later.