“The rank stench of those bodies haunts me still
And I remember things I’d best forget.”
— Siegfried Sassoon
A wise man once asked: Why do we fight? Someone answered – because it is our nature. Others answered – because we must! Yet some other said – because we like it! A single, tiny voice said, in all the clamor from shrieks of Courage and yells of Honor:
Because we are fools.
On damp nights as wailing sha keeps people awake within the safety of the Shrines gilded halls, Shuanna toss in her bed. Sometimes – if she’s been lucky – someone puts a calming arm around her sweaty naked waist and their lips meet, yet again. It’s as of old, in Dalaran. Few people knew she often ventured far out on the parapet, on the very edge of the floating city … and looked down. A single step forward would end it.
“Did I bother you?” Mareka said.
“Nope,” Shuanna said.
“I like to look at the clouds from here. You?”
“I’m trying not to jump.”
“So am I, friend. Loktar.”
“Need to ask?”
Funny that. Marekas laughter. So crystal clear. For an orc. Those desperate nights as the abyss called, called both of them. Raace didn’t matter. Survival did. In a way they were all sisters of war, a band of brothers. Factions are just politics – a hug, a kiss. Sex. That’s life – and life is rarely about politics. Oh, she used to be a zealot; never talk to anyone but a fellow draenei. But spend some time in a foxhole with a tauren and an orc while the undead swarm the outpost …
You’ll change your mind then, friend.
Man, woman. Night elf, human, dwarf, gnome, draenei. Orc, tauren, troll, blood elf, goblin. It didn’t matter. She slept with anyone who felt the same as she. A never ending scream inside, the horrors they’d seen barely contained.
“Be gentle,” Elisabeth said, hugging the sheet close to her body, staring with grey cataract eyes on the bobbing under the sheet, down there. “I might break.”
“Oh shut it, you’re not a ghoul,” Shuanna said and giggled, her tongue finding its way.
“No … I. Am. Forsaken.” A gasp. “Dark lady save me! I didn’t know I could – feel!”
They all shared the same thing. On those long nights. They were all struggling to find peace. Dalaran – where politics didn’t matter unless you were a newbie. The veterans from the frontline assaults knew how even the smallest thing in life could be as precious as a mythic weapon. A smile. A wink. A gentle touch to stop the flow of tears when yet another list of casulties went up on the callboards.
She saw humans hug blood elves to stop the wailing screams. She saw orcs shake dwarves and burst into a joyful dance when someone’s name wasn’t on the list. She saw Forsaken break, tauren cry, night elves scream. She saw shuddering gnomes and dranei blinking, blinking, do not cry.
But they all did. Eventually we all cry.
They sought each others warmth back then. Their souls quenched, their bodies scarred, their lost friends … Better not think about what happened to them. They all shared the same thing, Horde or Alliance didn’t matter. Crusader or mercenary didn’t matter. They sought the peace, a thin membrane of sanity over their rage, their despair, their fear. Their life was fueled by Legerdemains drinks, by sex on silk sheets as the cool Northrend winds made the candles flicker, falter …. go out as she screamed. As they screamed.
“Light, lass! Do all yer draenei go on like this!? Lemme catch me second wind!”
“You sure you’re a warrior, Flint?”
“I show ye what stamina o’ Ironforge can do! Get on yer fours!”
“Grab my handlebars and go, tiny.”
She still can’t remember if it was an orgasm or horror that made her scream. On all those nights. And days. And mornings. Different people, different rooms. Eventually she got a “reputation”. But most of the people fresh from the front had such a reputation. The fighting in the streets with tenderfeet and moral zealots was almost as intense as the … but no matter. It all came down to this: How to Forget What Your Eyes Have Seen.
They all had the same eyes. Ten thousand yards of darkness in eyes wide shut.
She think most heroes live like that. Especially after Icecrown. Some went to Goldshire. Others went to Dalaran. A few ended up swinging from a rope they bought themselves, slipknot of their own fashion around a wooden beam in some long forgotten attic. She remembers the muffled voices around some dinner table, time and time again. Words through munching luncheons in a white tent filled with cold and hungry men as the never ending screams of ghouls echoed across the frozen plains. The Lich King had fallen – but the war was far from over. They thought of themselves as the Silent Vigil. The one’s who was left behind to keep the Scourge at bay.
“I hear sir Godfrey offed himself last night.” Her old voice …
“Good riddance! The Crusade does not need cowards!” His young voice …
“You’ve been here how long, Mareed?”
“Three days, ma’am. Proud to serve the Argent Crusade! Proud to serve with a kin-race like you, ma’am!”
“Uh-huh.” Her wry smile, eyes on the table, her muttered words and the barely contained snickers from other draenei, old in the game like her, and humans, tauren – all the living races. Ewerard the Librarian, though a Forsaken, also snickered (she remember that):
“Give it ten more days and then buy a fucking rope.”
A lot of people she met during those terrible, terrible days became upset. Some – especially fervent believers in the Light straight out of Shattrath – admonished her. Speaking such to Crusaders was not befitting the Light, they said. Well – she usually tells you, should you ask, what happened. Don’t mind the smirk or downcast eyes. It’s to hide her own fear, you see.
She cut many down. There’s a limit to the cruelty a mind can bear. Brave heroes, some still sporting their obsolete armors; khorium, enchanted adamantite, basic saronite and cobalt – “grunt wear”, they called it. There’s a lesson to be learned the hard way. It is this: The aftermath of battle is more than repairing your armor and sword. Repairing our mind, well …
What price is high enough? What sum could possibly be enough to erase the images from your mind? The young soldier, lost from his platoon, dragged away screaming as ghouls ripped him to shreds. The melting faces of the brave point-squads going into the dread citadel to be met with a barrage of foul and ancient magics. The haggard veterans from the Wrathgate, Valley of Echoes, Malykriss, Death’s Step.
Their eyes spoke another story than what their reports said.
Later on she mostly remembered the nightmares. She snuffed them out with drinks and sex and bouts of fearsome violence. She lived hard. Maraad saved her. Or so she thought.
“I … Am. HATE. You KNOW this, Maraad! I’m breaking! I’m turning dark, just like Vass. You fucking know it so don’t you fucking go all holy on me you little coward. Where were you when we needed you the most, huh!?”
“I was right there.”
“Bullshit! I never saw you!”
“Neither did the Scourge.”
“Then what AM I!?”
“What do you want to be, vindicator?”
“I want to know why I fight!”
“You fight because we are Light. We are justice.”
She went to the Aldor. She tried her best. Attonement, fervor, tried being, well … A Good Girl. She hung her mace upon the wall and never looked back. Or so she thought. Ther are turning points in a persons life. There’s been many of those in her life.
Chasing butterflies on the fields of Karabor (that’s a good one; she ended up covered in mud as she stumbled into a pit and didn’t dare to go home for hours. Eventually an old orc found her, huddled under a tree. He brought her back to Karabor and safety. She sometimes wonder what became of him). Or the final vigil of Shattrath (that’s a bad one, don’t ask). Many more – like the first time she saw a night elf. Or the first time she saw a human. Or …
She went to Shattrath by portal. She studied there, mended herself. She re-booted (as a gnome she once knew would have said). She cant stand portals, honestly. Everytime she has to use one she end up sprawled on the floor with her head spinning, puking. So she made her way on horseback towards the dread wastes of Hellfire. It was an uneventful trip. She came up across a hill and there it was.
Funny that. Back in the days she didn’t care much about the history of that road. She knew it of course. She helped redeem the remains. But she didn’t care. It was just a job, something that needed to be done. Only this time … History will crash on you when you least expect. It doesn’t take much sometimes. All it took for her was …
“Killing is not enough,” she said. For a moment she wondered if she was going crazy; talking to herself.
“Make them suffer then,” a voice spoke to her. “Make them bleed. Make them scream.”
There was no one there. Just her.
Sooner or later you pass through the light, go right through it, wander in darkness and find you way back – back to the other side of the light. There’s only one thing left to do then. A single word. Yet … It’s fraught with such power. It’s the devastation of your soul. It’s when you know there is no return. Maraad was wrong.
There is no Light.
There is no justice.
There is only the way of retribution.