Author: Iceworth PM
Redemption comes tomorrow, but undeath comes today. Drat.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Tragedy - Forsaken - Words: 4,470 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 5 - Published: 05-18-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3544455
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Bread?" The young woman offered the basket, fat rolls resting there contentedly.
The middle aged female considered, holding her head still for a brief moment, then shook her head. "Not for me, thanks," she said.
The teenaged boy gave the basket a contemptuous glance. "Not hungry."
"If I eat," said the girl with a frown. "I'd just throw it back up."
"All the more for me, then," the young woman grinned impishly, taking two rolls and dumping them on her plate, replacing the basket in the centre of the table. The girl looked up, her eyes alight.
"And for the beasts that live in your hair," she grinned.
"I'll brush it tomorrow!" said the young woman, as if she had been expecting this.
The middle aged one looked exasperated. "That's what you said last week, Xanthium. The longer you leave it, the harder it'll be to undo those impossible knots."
"I'm a procrastinator, Aunt Agatha," said Xanthium without looking up, reaching out for more bread, having already devoured the two rolls hungrily. "Actually, I might give some of my squirrels this, if you don't mind."
"You mean there are some live ones in your room?" the teenager looked up with horror. "Those poor bastards! I thought you killed them all!"
"It was an accident, honestly Alex!" Xanthium grimaced in an embarrassed attempt not to smile. "Are you all sure you don't want any bread? It's not like it's diseased or something."
"It looks it," the girl stared into the bowl with a pained look on her face.
"Don't be picky, Lenora," said Agatha off-handedly.
"But look at it, it doesn't look normal."
"It's better than the grain we didn't have before," said Agatha. "I thought we'd starve."
"Point," murmured Lenora. "I don't like living on vegetables. They're disgusting. But I think I'll have some corn now, better than that crap."
Her suspicious eyes hadn't moved from the rolls.
"I baked that bread, I'll have you know," Agatha poked her daughter in the shoulder, half smiling.
"Yes, Mother, you are a terrible cook," said Alex dryly. "I'm surprised you didn't set the kitchen on fire again."
"That's enough of your cheek, young man," Alex received a sharp jab in the shoulder. "Don't eat it if you don't want to, but whatever happened to it, it's the grain. It looked rather funny. But it's better than nothing."
"I know," sighed the boy. There was a brief minute of silence before he filled it. "Xanthium, are you planning on going to the barn dance?"
"Are you?" answered his cousin, on her fourth roll. She made a face, putting it down, half eaten on her plate. Her tastebuds had finally caught up to her stomach.
"Of course," smirked Alex. "I like laughing at people while they try to dance."
"Suuuure Alex, we all know you're a sixteen year old teenage boy, no need to pretend," Xanthium looked smug, her eyes flicking to her cousin. Alex rolled his eyes. He had heard this before. "You don't even have a girlfriend yet."
"Don't rub it in," he muttered, glaring at the tablecloth. "I've got my eye on Karen, alright?"
Xanthium laughed, whilst Agatha pretended not to hear. She had long ago learnt that being interested in her children's lives only made them too embarrassed to open up at all – besides, Xanthium always updated her on what happened. They never held back with their cousin. They adored her. This thought made the woman smile.
"Be careful you don't kill anyone," Lenora teased Xanthium.
"Oh, don't be silly," Xanthium snorted. "I only do that to squirrels, you know – er, I mean – "
"I'm going to act like you didn't say that," said Lenora.
"So will I," said Xanthium.
"Me too," said Alex.
Xanthium stood up, pushing her chair back, and took her empty plate to the sink. "I'm going to feed the squirrels," she said over her shoulder, before walking by the table and nicking two rolls from the bowl in the middle of the table. She put one foot on the bottom step. "Then I'm getting changed for the dance. Be back in ten." In a few seconds she had disappeared into the top floor.
"Yes dear," said Agatha, now scrubbing her own crockery.
"Can I go too?" pleaded Lenora. "Come on, Mum, please?"
"Keep in Xanthium's sight, then," said Agatha. Lenora rushed over to her, squealing, and hugged her mother from behind.
"I promise!" said Lenora. Agatha smiled at her.
"Now stop distracting me, little fly," she said. Laughing, Lenora skipped to the table and picked up the remaining two plates. Her older brother gave her a nod and grin of thanks.
True to her word, ten minutes later Xanthium came down the stairs in a swirling yellow skirt and thin, white blouse. And – miracle of miracles – she had brushed her hair!
Alex stared at her as if he'd seen a ghost. "How the heck did you get it all smooth like that in ten minutes?" he said. "Did you skip feeding the squirrels for it or something?"
"Nah, the squirrels are happy," smiled Xanthium. She shyly twisted a black, silky lock around one finger – something which, on a normal day, she was unable to do.
"But you washed it too!" Alex was aghast. "You couldn't have been that quick! Not with your hair being the way it was!"
"But…" Alex's face relaxed into a smile as he regarded the much-loved rogue. "You're the same as always, I see," smiled Alex.
"How so?" Xanthium raised her eyebrows. "I don't wear skirts or brush my hair all that often, I'll have you know. Or blouses, for that matter – I'm freaking cold here!"
"You're still wearing your daggers," snorted the boy.
"Can't be too careful," Xanthium's face grew serious as she fingered the blue hilts, feeling reassured as she caressed them. "What with the undead and all."
"You alright, sweetie?" Agatha came into the room. "You look a bit pale."
"The bread probably poisoned her," joked Alex. "She's gonna die now, I bet."
"I'm fine," grinned Xanthium. "Just a little tired. And… nervous. About tomorrow."
Lenora pirouetted into the room, wearing a deep red dress. "Look at me!" she squealed. "Aren't I so ugly you keel over instantly?"
"Do you ever wear any other colours?" said Alex.
Lenora glared at him, ceasing her movement to put her hands upon her hips. "So what if I like red?" she challenged him.
"I get tired of it," was Alex's comment.
"You're not the one wearing it!"
"I have to damn well look at it, girl!"
"I'm your sister and I'm not dressing like a skank – "
"Lenora!" said Agatha warningly.
" – so it's not like you should care about how I look!"
"Enough, you two," said Agatha. "Don't make Xanthium want to murder you tonight."
"I said, what happened to those squirrels was an accident…!"
"I was joking, Xanthi," said Agatha, ruffling Lenora's hair.
"I just brushed that!" snapped the girl.
"You two take care," Agatha patted her son's shoulder and gave Lenora a hug. "You too, Xanthi."
"I'll keep an eye on them," Xanthium reassured her aunt, addressing the unspoken concern that Agatha was considering voicing. "I promise."
"Thanks Xanthi, it means a lot to me," Agatha embraced her niece. "Be Carefall."
"I told you to stop it!" giggled Xanthium. "Not my fault that's what my father's name is! And of course I'll be careful, Auntie."
Agatha sighed. "Call me paranoid," she said. "But what with leaving for Kalimdor tomorrow, I wouldn't be surprised if the Scourge would be planning a final invasion."
"We'll all be safe," said Xanthium. "I promise."
Agatha frowned as she remembered the horseman that had brought the urgent message that Lordaeron was to be evacuated. He had been about to say something else – something about the grain – but had promptly fallen over and died of exhaustion before he could say anything else.
"I think he was just concerned we was gonna starve," a local had commented. "We'll be right, the shipment came in yesterday. 'Bout bloody time, all the other villages got theirs ages ago."
"Did you hear about Stratholme?" another villager had asked, and the conversation had since turned to Arthas.
"Alright," back in the present, Agatha smiled at Xanthium. "But you look a little ill – if you get sick, come home straight away – "
"Mother," said Xanthium. "I mean Auntie, we're quite safe from the plague here, and you know that. I don't have it – no need to be unreasonable." Despite her words, her tone was kind.
Agatha sighed. "I know," she said. "But remember the horseman… he could very well have been carrying it."
Xanthium simply nodded. "We will all be back in a few hours," she said. "Or at the first sign of chaos."
Alex huffed. "I can take care of myself."
"Not as well as you'd like," Xanthium poked him. "Alrighty, let's go!"
"Yay!" said Lenora, following her cousin and older brother out the house.
Agatha watched with a smile on her lips long after the front door shut. Xanthium had lived with her since she was fourteen – after being shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, the girl's aunt had finally been discovered. It was no wonder – Agatha was married with children, had changed her first name from Pansy and cut herself off from the Greenwings a long time before. Agatha hadn't even known Ismene, her only sister, had had a child.
"She's still alive," was the first thing a bitter fourteen-year-old Xanthium had ever said to her aunt, her eyes swimming with tears she refused to acknowledge the existence of. "And I don't care. I just hope she pays for abandoning me one day. I just hope she pays."
But now Xanthium was so sunny and cheerful after Agatha had carefully coaxed her out of her shell. She wasn't surprised that her niece had a slightly sadistic streak – Ismene had been starting training as a rogue the last time Agatha had seen her, and parents passed on traits to their children, after all. Agatha had grown to love Xanthium like a daughter.
She gave a small choke, tears brimming in her eyes.
After almost ten years, Xanthium had called her Mother.
Twilight was hanging in the air as Xanthium and her relatives made their way to the dance. Around them, other locals talked and laughed. Alex eyed up the teenaged girls. Even Lenora stole looks at boys her own age.
"Oi, you two," she bopped them on the head, one by one. "You're meant to be good tonight. I'll be reporting back to your mother. If I catch either of you snogging someone behind a bush or some stupid thing like that – "
"Xanthi!" Lenora flushed with embarrassment. "I'm only twelve!"
"Don't give me that crap, Lenny," said Xanthium with a wicked grin. "It never stopped me from luring a boy the same age from prying eyes!" Lenora laughed.
Seemingly out of the blue, a village defender approached the three. "Be on your guard," he warned. "Head to your destination as soon as possible – we've seen undead on the prowl not far from here."
And with that, he was gone, talking to the girls Alex had been staring at.
"Should we go home?" said the boy.
"No, we'll be fine," insisted Lenora. "They'll probably go to one of the more populated towns."
"I think they've been evacuated already," murmured Xanthium.
"They won't notice us," said Lenora, persisting.
"The journey tomorrow's going to be dangerous if the scourge are nearby… you two should probably get a good sleep and get ready – "
"Xanthi!" pleaded Lenora. "This is our last night here! And tomorrow we're saying goodbye to all of this! Please, please let us have some final fun before we go!"
Xanthium sighed. "Fine," she said. "But if the undead are sighted again, we're going straight home, understand?"
Lenora nodded. "Got it. You're the best, Xanthi."
"Oh, stop it, you," a smile crept into Xanthium's face.
Xanthium stepped out for a breath of fresh air in the night. She had been dancing for two hours straight, and her body was paying the price. She felt exhausted, and slightly ill. Groaning, she held her head in her hands, leaning against the barn wall, inhaling the cold, sharp air. It did nothing to dispel the effects. She listened dimly to the music and rhythmic thumping of dance coming from inside the barn, and heard some gentle footsteps crunching on the dead leaves and gravel. She smiled, recognising them. As a rogue, she could identify people by the noise they made while they walked.
"Are you alright, Xanthi?" said a male voice, and two arms wrapped around her shoulders, a head leaning on one. "You don't look well."
"Hello Alex," Xanthium mustered a grin. "You're all too happy to hug me when no one's watching."
"It's the ale. I think I've had too much."
"Tomorrow's gonna be hell for you, then," said Xanthium.
"And for you, too. You look really pale, Xanthi. Maybe we should go home…"
"Maybe we should," Xanthium murmured. "Where's Lenora?"
"She's – "
"Here," said Lenora, appearing beside Alex. "Hello Alex, you're rather huggy tonight."
"Shut up," Alex separated from his cousin, embarrassed. Xanthium laughed weakly.
"Who's up for an early bedtime?" she asked.
Surprisingly, her cousins agreed, Lenora running forward and tugging on Xanthium's arm. The woman smiled wearily, picking up her pace slightly.
It was evident some others were heading home too, despite the dance only just begun – it would go long into the night, travelling tomorrow or none. Some people stumbled and swayed, singing loudly and drunkenly, while others trudged down the well worn dirt paths, the realisation that they would be leaving forever with the dawn alone keeping them sharp and sober.
The trio were approached by another person once again, this time by a complete stranger – a oman who had a deathly grey pallor. "You don't look well," she said to Xanthium.
Xanthium stared at her. "And you don't either!" she blurted. She felt Lenora grip her arm tightly, and Xanthium quickly realised how rude she had been. "I beg your pardon for saying it!"
The woman grinned, showing yellowed teeth. As if she had realised this and caught herself, she quickly closed her lips in a small, but forced smile. Suspicion took root in Xanthium's mind. Could this be one of the undead she had been warned of?
Don't be stupid, Xanthium. If she was, you'd already be dead! The scourge were mindless murderers, Xanthium knew that. If only her common sense would override her intuition, and suspicious instinct.
"There are a lot of people unwell tonight, I have noticed," said the woman. "Listen – if things get really bad, head to the camp just outside your village. We can help."
Xanthium took a deep breath, unable to find words to say. Finally, she settled with, "Thank you. I'll keep that in mind."
The woman nodded. And, unnerved, Xanthium went on her way.
She had never seen that stranger in the village before.
After dutifully relating the night's events to Agatha – including their experience with the strange, corpse-like woman – Xanthium decided to head to bed. She was so tired she was stumbling – or ill, a voice inside her said – and even the overwhelming desire to eliminate the rest of her living squirrels paled in comparison in her need to get rest.
But when she stepped into her bedroom and deactivated the traps she used to prevent her inquisitive, yet lovable, relatives from sneaking inside, she knew there was something wrong immediately. She looked around her room, her rogue instincts making her poised and wary, one hand drifting slowly to her daggers as she tried to figure it out…
The squirrels! She hurried over to their cages, peering inside.
There were several lumps of grey fur. Funny – Xanthium could swear the squirrels she had captured were the red kind, but those…
She wrinkled her nose. There was a disgusting smell. Something had killed them. She knew it.
"The bread probably poisoned her. She's gonna die now, I bet."
A joke. A joke that now, hours later, chilled Xanthium to the bone.
Panic rose inside Xanthium. The squirrels – who had eaten the bread – were now dead. And here she was, ill. Possibly fatally.
The wheat! Xanthium cursed, immediately making the connections. The plague had come after the wheat had been distributed! And the grain had looked so strange. The horseman – who had died trying to tell them something about the food source. And, rumour had it that there was a connection between the number of deaths and the number of –
Xanthium started as she saw movement in the cage. Eyes wide, she watched as one of the squirrels stood up on its haunches, blood covering it, proportionally massive wounds all over it. It had gone insane. It had murdered the others, Xanthium realised, who lay, their bodies discarded, where they had fallen.
The squirrel lunged at the bars of the cage which, thankfully, held firm. Xanthium immediately picked up her dagger and opened the door – and the rodent quickly latched onto her leg. Xanthium struck it in the back of the neck without a moment's hesitation. She felt pain as the blade went through into her thigh, and quickly shoved the tiny body away before its blood could drip into hers. But she knew it was too late.
Great. She had probably made herself worse now! Angrily, she stumbled towards the bed, not bothering to pick up the dead squirrel, leaving its corpse on the floor where it lay. She needed rest, now. No, she needed to clean up her wound, now. She needed water, now – she felt so thirsty, so dizzy…
"Xanthium!" there was a banging on the door, the call piercing Xanthium's hazed reverie. The voice was familiar, but Xanthium couldn't register the owner – the sensation as annoying as a buzzing fly. "Xanthium, is something wrong?"
Out of habit more than common sense, Xanthium reactivated the traps. No one came into her room. "Zombie squirrels," was all she said to the person outside. "Fine, need sleep, see you… see you… morning."
"Xanthium! Let me in!"
Her sickness was worsening. Xanthium swallowed down the vomit that demanded harshly to hurl out of her mouth and onto the floor, swallowed again and again before she won that battle. She felt hot, then cold, hot, then cold, so rapidly, so much sweat and chills… so ill, so ill, and minutes ago she had been fine! It was the squirrel's blood, the disease getting straight into her bloodstream… The disease that had changed the squirrel into a killing machine, one that would do the same to her…
Even though she realised this, it was as if Xanthium was separate from her own mind. She sat there, screaming at her mind, screaming at her body, to wake the freaking hell up! Connect together and cease the disassociation! Something was wrong, why didn't her conscious mind realise that?
"Mother," Xanthium murmured. I love you, her fevered mind wanted her to say. I love you so much, Mum. "Mother, I'm fine… I'm fine..."
Then, with those last words, Xanthium collapsed and died.
It took ages to find a way around Xanthium's fatal traps and take out the body. Xanthium was buried in the cemetary in the clothes she wore, a purple amulet around her neck, but in the night a deathly pale woman approached the house and its inhabitants.
"We have to burn her," was all the nurse said. "Before the plague spreads. Everyone could be infected right now. You have to leave, now."
Lenora's face was streaming with hot tears. She had loved Xanthium more than anyone else in the world – even her own, crazy mother – and to have finally lost Xanthium to their enemy, so close to redemption, was heartbreaking. Her brother embraced her tightly. Agatha, stiff with shock, nodded.
"Alex," she said briskly, her motherly instincts kicking in to replace her dysfunctioning conscious mind. "Finish packing, now. Grab only what we need. And get the swords while you're at it."
"And nothing that's been made of the grain," said the nurse.
"What?" said Agatha sharply.
"We believe that has been what is causing the plague," said the nurse. "But before we could come to this village, it had already been distributed. If you've eaten it… it's too late…"
Dread. Nothing but dread.
Then overwhelming relief flooded her. "We haven't," Agatha felt truly happy for the second time that day – happiness that she had felt when Xanthium had called her Mother. "We haven't!" she broke into smiles.
Without a word, Alex obeyed Agatha, his sister trailing behind him like a lost sheep.
The deathly pale woman exposed Xanthium's grave herself, the priest carrying the body out. It was strange – a purple bruise spread along her neck, and this made the priest frown. No one saw the corpse's eye crack open as the priest carried her down the stairs, crack open ever so slightly. No one knew of the cunning, yet enslaved mind behind it, waiting for the perfect time to strike….
The perfect time was never given a chance to come. Vira Vineglimmer carried the body as fast as she could to the camp, where the rest of the forsaken waited.
"Is this the last village?" she gasped, setting Xanthium down. Quickly, one of the other undead bent over the corpse, already working the magic that would help Xanthium's will along. "We've got our work cut out for us. This is the first one, and I saw dozens of others sick too."
"We should quit while we're ahead," said the spellcaster. "We've barely made it this far."
"Sylvanas needs as many people as possible, Dom," insisted Vira. "We can't let her fall to scourge… the girl had looked so upset…"
"A relative?" Dom cocked his head, his blue, glowing hands hovering on either side of the unconscious woman's head. "They all are distressed, but never as distressed as when they find out what happens to their loved ones…" he sighed. "And for your information, Vira, yes, this is the last village. The last ships to Theramore leave tomorrow evening, so I've heard."
The woman stirred slightly.
"Let's hope she can help us," said Vira.
"Hope has only taught me how to be let down," muttered Dom. "I wouldn't count on it if I were you, Vira."
Kill. Something. Anything. If it's alive, it must be dead.
IT MUST BE DEAD!
No… I don't want to kill…
There was an image of a decapitated, grey squirrel, blood pouring onto someone's leg…
Not anymore. It's time to kill. Everything must die. Everything MUST die.
Where's my daggers? She murmured. She tried to move her hands but they wouldn't obey her. Hang on – where were her hands? She couldn't see them. She couldn't see her own body. Her mind had completely detached.
Yes. Killing would make her feel much, much better. But… she needed something bigger. Squirrels did little to relieve her stress. Maybe a person or two? She had already killed in self defence once, and not felt guilty. Maybe it would be better…
There. She couldn't see her hands – she couldn't see a damned thing – but she could feel them gripping her dagger and weakly trying to remove it. She heard urgent, quiet voices, fluttering out of reach like pieces of paper in the wind.
She felt something push gently down on her chest, just below the base of her neck. Easy girl, said one of the voices, becoming louder. Easy there…
She's scourge now. We couldn't save her.
No, Dom, don't give up… if you don't have a will, exhaustion doesn't make a difference.
"Difference to what?" she groaned. She was immensely relieved to feel the rumble of her voice in her throat. "I just want to kill something… anything…"
I'd say she's Forsaken, Dom.
Huh. If you say so. Wake up, undead one…
The voices became clearer.
"Drink this," said the voice of Dom. Xanthium tasted the familiar flavour of a healing potion, and felt herself regenerate. Her eyes flew open, and this time when she tugged, her dagger came out of her scabbard with ease.
"Scourge," was her first word, pointing at the two undead above her. "Leave me. You don't want me."
"You're dead," said one of them. The female one. "So am I. And so is Dom. My name's Vira."
"Stop it! Leave me alone!"
"Shh," said Vira. "You aren't scourge – none of us are."
"Of course I'm not – "
"You're dead, Xanthium."
"I can't – "
"You are," said Vira. "Properly, you're undead. But you have your will, you're not scourge. Dom, where's the mirror?"
"Vira," said Dom. "I don't think this is the – "
"The sooner we get this over with, the sooner we can rescue the others!" snapped Vira. Dom quickly fetched a broken shard as big as Xanthium's palm, shining it in her face.
A grey face. Sunken eyes. Dead flesh. Who knew how long she had been like this? She nodded mutely, shocked, as Dom tossed it aside.
"I'll go back to rescue the others," said Vira. "I can hear their screams already. We could be too late."
"I think we are," murmured Dom. "Come on, there's nothing more for us here, we'd only get mistaken for the scourge too – "
"Fine," said Vira sharply. "Come on, Xanthium."
Wobbly, Xanthium got to her feet and numbly followed the others, her mind still trying to grasp this information. She had to be dreaming, but when she looked down on her body… she saw such detail it couldn't be. When she pinched herself, she barely felt it – but she didn't wake.
It was real.