God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
– Alan Seeger (1888-1916)
I’ve been having these headaches lately. It started shortly after we pushed back Gul’Dans Horde in Tanaan. Other brave soldiers and heroes went into the Citadel and eventually slayed all of the enemies …
I was left outside.
It was the headaches, you see. Master was very worried about me. In fact, she was so worried that she even put in the paperwork for a prolonged term of R&R. As the brave Alliance and Horde heroes alike stormed Hellfire Citadel, Master was back at the garrison with me. She held me down when I screamed. She gave me Fionas peculiar tea when I shook. She sang to me, an ancient eredar lullaby, as I whimpered and cried.
It’s hard to explain to the living, the maladies of the Scourge (redeemed as I am). Not long ago a wave of barfing and lose stomach went through the garrison. Several people, most of them young, died from it. Healers tracked it down to bad water, eventually, but before that happened … well. Let’s just say that the grain merchant from Embarii went back with a black eye and a few extra bruises. People were afraid, you see … so many of the living remembers the Plague. When the living are afraid they become violent.
I didn’t have the human malady of running stomach. My disease was far worse. Few things can kill the Scourge. The Forsaken Wrathgate Plague came close. That was not my thing. My sickness was even more dreadful. A disease all of the Scourge fear … My disease was Panic.
Ah yes, we call it that. Panic. There’s no cure for it. Back in the day, anyone caught with Panic was instantly killed, the remains burned. A panic-diseased Scourge can not be repurposed. Experiments showed it (My Creator did a thesis on it; “On the Topic of Panic, A Naxxramas Experimental Laboratory Study No. 2232”; the Argent Crusade currently keeps the monograph in their archives). I’m not sure of all the stuff, but I do know it comes down to muscle memory. Morphic memory, as it’s also called, is simply too strong. Sometimes, the construct will keep on trembling, shaking, lashing out, fighting back. It’s as if the muscles refuse to die, even though the spirit has died. That’s why the Scourge not only want to break your body – but first break your mind. With fear, with terror, with pain …
Sometimes it works, too. Sometimes it doesn’t. A construct that never gave up will start to shake. Eventually ut will simply fall apart. Sometimes it happens at the moment of resurrection. Sometimes it happens over time. Flesh Giants are particularly prone to Panic, or as it’s also called, the Shakes (among other things).
There is no cure.
Scourge folklore have a lot of cures, of course. None of them actually work. You can’t cure death, can you? The Shakes will kill you, eventually. Oh, we all do our best to ease the pain, right? It’s a nice gesture, no? I love my friends … all of them fear what I turned out to have. Even Master. I heard her cry at night, staring at her trembling hands. I heard her whisper “Menea … I miss you!”.
Master is dying. Then again – all of us are. Some just don’t know it yet or refuse to believe it.
My friends brought me all kinds of things. As I lay there, shivering and shaking, moaning and groaning, there was a parade of friends and gifts, living and dead. Gerry the Ghoul gave me maggots marinated in Lich Bloom. Isel brought me her elekk plushie. Boney gave me a tea, boiled on scrapings of his own bones. Ariok gave me rum. Huge (the Champion!) snuck down to the latrines, brought back his helmet full of piss, drowned a rat in it, spat in it and then boiled it down until there was nothing left but salt. Then he rubbed it on my head, hoping that it would ease my pain. It didn’t. I smelled funky, but my head still hurt (he later claimed it didn’t work because he couldn’t convince any of the females to wee in his helmet, but Huge is a bit, you know). Morissa … my girlfriend. Oh, it’s a strange word, that. It’s taken me quite some time to get used to it – almost as long as it took me to get used to Love. Anyway …
Morissa brought me nothing.
Fret not. There’s a reason, of course there’s a reason. You know why!
I think that’s what set my migraine off. I just wish they would have told me straight to the face. It happened on the day of the Battle of Tanaan Inlet, where more than sixhundred Alliance and Horde ships faced off against a fleet of nearly a thousand Iron Horde vessels. It was the biggest naval battle in the war, some say the biggest battle in all of Azeroths and Draenors history combined. Thousands of mariners! Glory!
The “List” was all that remained, a list of “complete casualties and missing in action excluding wounded or deserters”. We all started reading it in silence, but then Gorbin Boltcutter started reading aloud just so the people at the back could get the news then and not later. Gorbin is one of the porters, he would have made an excellent soldier but he took an arrow to the knee when he was young so he walks with a limp. We play Hearthstone together and he always lose, but I think it’s because he feels sorry for me. He likes me, even though, whenever he lose a game, he slams his fists on the table and calls me “ye stinking thieving cunt!” (He’s got a colorful language). He fashioned a pair of braids for me out of yak hair once (he bought the hair from Cousin Twohands, an intrepid traveler lured to Draenor by some ethereal fashion technologist).
Gorbin’s got a big, booming voice (no one can yell “cunt!” the way he does). You know what? When he started reading the list – it was one of the most horrible moments in my unlife. It went like this (I’ll never forget it):
“Ambershine, Sun, a passenger!” There was a low, wailing sound. From somewhere in the crowd. Then a pandaren tailor pushed his way out of the throng, hiding his face behind his hands … and sank to his knees in front of the Commander, yelling “She was nineteen, Commander! Nineteen! This is YOUR fault! YOUR FAULT!!! Sha take you! Sha take you all!”
I heard the Commander mumble “I’m sorry,” as Gorbins voice rang out across the Lunarfall Main Square:
“Blackpaw, Lin, she’s the bloody surgeon, mates! Light curse ’em all!” There was a ‘wooooo!’ from the crowd, though no one actually knew her that well. We’ve got a lot of pandaren in Lunarfall. “Blixby, Dixx, engineer!” There was mumbling, some gnomes yelled ‘No!’ but there was this eerie sense of acceptance among them … Then his voice broke, strong and factual as it were, as if he was reciting a Dun Morogh poem: “Boltc… ” He cleared his throat. “… Cutter, Dorbin. I, I … Oh brother!”
Then Master took a step in front of Gorbin. He was down on his knees already, screaming through his hands. It didn’t occur to me until then that the Living cherish life. I had brothers once, in Naxxramas (actually they were more like ‘collegues’ in death but I’m sure you get my drift). The Creator disassembled them all – and I felt nothing. To feel death – perhaps that is what it means to be alive?
Master screamed out the rest of the names. She wanted everyone to hear. Maybe she was angry. Maybe she wanted to be heard over the crying and wailing. Maybe she wanted to hurt her sister, the very much alive Commander. I don’t know. Things have been weird among the Exodar Sisters ever since Vassie tried to kill herself.
Gorbin had stopped screaming. He was just crying, gnawing his molars, pale as a sheet, right there in front of the callboard. He … shook. Perhaps the Living can get the Shakes as well. He was so proud of his brothers, Alliance heroes, he called them. Orbin, Dorbin and Corbin …
“Boltcutter, Corbin, a sailor!” Master screamed. She turned her blazing eyes at the Commander at the top of the stairs and continued: “Boltcutter, Orbin, second grade petty officer! Brown, Rufus, a sailor! Derek, Dirk, another sailor! Should I go on, Shu!? Or is this enough!? Don’t you know death, sister!? You want more of it to save this fucking world that won’t even let me save myself before I … we … Fuck Velen. Fuck you, Yrel! FUCK YOU ALL!!!”
Then Master started crying. She pushed her way through the crowd, mounted a dead horse and stormed out of the gates with sparks flying from the roadway. It was tense, I tell you. Some of the Karabor Honor Guards really didn’t know what to do (though I saw that some of them gave a short nod; there’s discord, barely tangible, but there’s discord allright).
The Commander didn’t reply. She turned around fast, though I saw her shoulders shake and I heard her sob. Ah, yes … Master can be very cruel to the Living. She can be cruel to the dead as well, though I don’t think she actually meant it.
Illona stepped up and in a low, mournful voice continued to read out the names, because people still had to know the price of glorious victory. That’s when I knew something dark was truly coming, because even I, and all of us undead, grew weary: “Lanthaire … I think that’s how it’s pronounced … The Citadel, fallen. Morag Bloodfury, Champion, fallen, the Citadel. Baron Almonaster, Lord of Second Farthing, Alterac, fallen, the Citadel. Count Ambrosi of Crook, fallen. Morissa, vin… Vindicator, Knight of the Ebon Blade. Fallen. The Citadel.”
Illona turned around, perhaps she was hoping to see the walking dead worried, but all she saw on our death knights faces was – nothing. “So many of you fell …”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “We’re already dead.”
I sat hunched down in front of the line of death knights, their blades still smeared with orc blood. The blood always stays on the blade (one day you will understand why). The draenei of Draenor fear them – and so they should! Then all of the knights, some two hundred of them, shouted in unison (and I dare say not only Illona but several other draenei peed themselves):
“LEAVE THIS PLACE AND NEVER RETURN!!!”
Ah, the old salute. It had been years since I had heard it with such force. It had been whispered, and mumbled, yes, but the last time I heard an entire cohort send the fallen off like that was after the Highlands Battle. Truth be told, righ then and there I was proud of the Ebon Blade. It’s our salute to the fallen. It’s complicated.
No really, it is! We all know what we are! We are the Dead! Whenever some hopeful prospect shows up at the Ebon Embassy in Stormwind the answer is always the same: No, we can not accept new knights or squires, because “this is the kingdom of the Scourge, only the dead may enter”. All of the living, usually young boys, go away with slumped backs and despair in their eyes. Sometimes the guards fish their bodies out of the canal. I don’t understand that … Because, you know, all we want to do, all of us Scourge … is to die. We don’t want to return. Our struggle is to die – yet we can’t. Yet we won’t. Yet we don’t want to … because some of us wants to live.
Because sometimes … death is a mere malady. Perhaps someone will find a cure, some day. We cling to hope like moths cling to the light, because even in darkness, not all who wander is lost.
We want to live!
“I would like an orgasm,” Morissa once told me. We were sitting on a hill not far from Embari. I had finally found the courage to ask her if she wanted to be my friend in undeath. She had accepted. We had pressed our lips against each other … because the habit of the living die hard. We had shed our clothes, and done the motions (if you know what I mean). Then, as we sat there, I carefully replaced her nipple (it had almost fallen off as I chewed it, because some habits die hard). I asked her: “What would you want if we were alive?”
Then she had to explain what an orgasm was. My brain tingled.
That was weeks ago. On the day of the List, well. It wasn’t until later that night, as I scampered across the flagstones towards the shed at the back of the Salvage Yard, it occured to me. Morissa would never confuse me again. Morissa would never make my rotting brain tingle again, creeping in a pleasant way with age old memories of things that was mostly forgotten (the living that I know say that sex is the thing they remember most clearly, when memories of love fade, sex is what remains). Morphic memories … They’re weird. Yet I felt it all. Lips against lips. Her fingers – and for some reason a Tel’Abim Banana (I’m not quite sure if that was a memory or soemthing else, I did wake up with sticky fingers that smelled … ok, let’s not go there, let’s just say I have hands that live their own life when I power down).
I felt the first pang of sorrow then. It was a feeling I had never cared much for before I felt it. So many bodyparts of mine kept sorrow in their fibers but I had never actually listened to it.
Yet I didn’t feel it enough, I think. It was more of a ‘oh well, this sucks’-feeling. I wish I could have felt more, but I didn’t. I just thought: ‘Morry is free now. She left this place, never to …’
I sighed then. And mumbled: “Return?” There was no answer but my own thoughts: ‘No. Because that’s … every muscle in my body want what Morry got. Death.’
Then I powered down (fell asleep, as some would call it). I thought that would be the end of it all.
It wasn’t. My head kept tingling. The feeling of spindly fingers inside my head was infuriating. I’ve had a spider in my head once, before I plucked it out through my ear (I’m a geist, we don’t bend to common anatomy!). It was just like that, a tickle, starting at the back of your neck, growing into a dull throb behind your eyes, caught between your brain and your skull … and then my head exploded in pain. It was like that time when a vindicator suprised me in the pantry of Lunarfall Inn (I was just picking cherries out of a pie because I like popping cherries and Maraad didn’t know that I was redeemed at the time and … you know). That hammer of light of his really hurt. It was that kind of migraine. A pain so tremendous it paralyzed me. Then my muscles and joints eased up and started to shake. It’s a terrible thing. Even such a simple task as digging out a piece of dried froth from the corner of your mouth can prove to be a challenge. I had to hold the cup of rum that Ariok offered me with both hands, and he still had to steady me by grabbing hold of my head and neck. Oh, I was a mess, for sure!
The Shakes. The scourge of the Scourge.
From there on, all I could do was whimper and moan – and shake. The living call it a migraine. We call it Panic, the Shakes, Death Rattle, Chittering (because of the sound your teeth make). It’s as if someone threw you in a cage and then closed it tight enought to almost break your ribs (been there). You struggle, and fight, like a fish on dry land, gasping … drowning … trying to break free, to run away. But there is nothing to run away from.
It’s not fear, because fear is something you can conquer if you set your mind to it. It’s Panic, and Panic is Chaos. Panic is Death. Panic sucks the energy out of everything, it’s the Sha, the Old Gods, the Dark. Panic is a hungering mouth that swallows all of your hope, all of your strength, all of your dreams and all of your life (or death – and believe me, most living wants to die when Panic sets in). It leaves you like a whimpering blob of Nothing.
I’ve seen Panic among the Scourge. I’ve seen things you would not believe … Aberations on fire, near Malykriss Hold. I watched Texals frost beams glitter in the dark near Angrathar Gate. All those moments, lost in time … Fragments of distant lands and people shattered against the invisible veil of pain inside my eyes … for days. Master held me and sang to me. Gerry mumbled curses over me. Ravennah brought me a flower and Isel gave me her elekk, and said “When I’m sad, Tim, Floof always keeps me company”. I couldn’t say anything, to any of them, not even Ahm. Why?
Because I was ashamed. I wanted to die but I could not die! Instead I moaned. I managed to don my old gloves on my shaking hands and dug my saronite claws into the scalp of my head. I felt no pain. I tore my skin off, I felt no pain. I nearly ripped my eyes out – I have two, it’s my leather mask that has one, mirrors inside – but my eyes were scared of the dark. Morphic memories. Tina (left eye) and Feye (right eye), both pleaded with me, in that way undead bodyparts scream inside me. They asked me to spare them. So I did. Once upon a time it took them weeks to die. They saw it all. The needles. The scalpels. The rapes and batons and handcuffs and … my body is a collection of terrible memories. No wonder I got the shakes.
I screamed and wailed like a banshee all through the everlastning night – and I was afraid. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: “I’ll tell you a secret about the Scourge. Listen well: We’re all afraid.”
I wanted to cry. you know what? The biggest regret of the Scourge – it is that we can not cry. I had no tears. I had only the sounds. Gulps of dead air. Trembling hands and legs. The invisible weight of hopelessness, crushing my ribs. PANIC. Despair. So delicious … but only if you enjoy torturing
Master cried and singed. Days and nights passed. Gerry and Boney and all the death knights and their ghouls and scourge fiends came and offered me what they thought would cure the Shakes. There was no cure. I shook, I trembled, I screamed and roared. I cried out for people long forgotten – mothers, mostly. Loved ones. I was tied to the bed. They feared I would kill myself (that’s funny, sort of).
One hour after midnight on the fourth day of the Shakes, I gasped a single name:
“Aliss … ”
(“We must flee, Tess! Run! Run, you fool!”
“But I have his helmet, he …”
“He does not care about you!”
“My duty … His helm … “
“Oh Mother of all Light … “
“Tessa, run! RUN!!!”
“My liege! You hel–“)
If I told you it’s impossible to scream so loud that you break your voice, you would not believe it. It’s true. You will break.
“Useless cunt, where’s my helme–“)
Then the migraine stopped. The shakes stopped. Then all was still and pleasant. Then all was Death. My mind, finally at rest. I saw fragmented images of the last moments of Thessalias life. They harvested my brain from the squire of a night elf noble who survived the Wrathgate. She did not. He fell down, stumbling on his own tailormade armor, and then decided to play dead. She did not. Maybe that’s how he had lived for ten thousand years – lived as a coward. She had not. It wasn’t his brain, nor any part of him, that was inside me. Instead I got the Wolverine.
That’s what they called me, you see. The Wolverine. Sixtyeight ghouls fell before the aberations finally took me down. By then I had neither nails nor teeth – I had, quite literally, fought tooth and nail. In its own twisted way, the Scourge that survived the Wrathgate later honored me as a centerpiece of their ghoulish banquet. My body, first stored in a coffin in Naxxramas, however refused the dark energies of Him, and I was never raised a death knight. I am told – it’s detailed in a writing currently held by the Argent Crusade – that the ghouls were told to save my brain (there was a lot of complaints about it and several dozen ghouls were later repurposed in the following riot).
I am the Wolverine. I am Thessalia.
Me. My friends used to call me Tim and Tim is what I am. I am Tim. Geist Alpha, destined to be a Leader of All Geists, second to none but Him! Redeployed in various army outfits after the fall of Naxxramas and eventually freed by Master Zavannah. I, Geist Alpha, died at the Wrathgate. I Thessalia!
I am the Wolverine. Always fighting to my last breath. Clawing, scratching, biting, screaming. I will not give up! I can not give up!
You can not defeat me!
I am no longer a construct. I am no longer a thing without a mind. The Maker knew he had found a Champion when he harvested my brain.
I am Tess. I am Tim. I am Legion. I am a person now. I have a mind. Because if you lose your mind, you are no longer a person. Which is why it’s imperative to keep your mind, no matter how bad the Chittering gets. Deep down in a hole you look up and there is light, because the Light never abandons its champion. Because you are never lost unless you want to be.
I am Thessalia, the Wolverine. I once loved a bard named Valiss. I once gave her an orgasm. We were going to move back to Dolanaar after The War. Her uncle grew hops there, he had a cottage we would live in. There were orphans we would care for; Damyan, a boy from Stormwind, Thyssie, a girl from Auberdine, Aurissa, a blood elf child found abandoned in a shipwreck not far from Azuremyst. This was my family.
Legion. Many parts. One body. Yet the mind controls it all. The mind is a terrible thing to taste, if you’re a geist. Isn’t that so, Tim?
(Oh yes, it is … I have a real name now.)
Tell me then, Tim … What is the secret of Life?
Let It Go.