Unlikely Heroes: The Lich Phage Marrowice

First in what will probably be a series of stories set between WCIII and WoW. Takes some liberties. I will note that there are good reasons why Liches are generally made from loyal shamans and necromancers, not enemy footmen. Phage will remain an ex-human, however, because I can think of few heroes less likely than he presently is.

Writing these because I got to thinking: for every hero who strides mightily about smiting his or her enemies, there must be another two or three who are just trying to get by. And if you think star-crossed lovers have problems, try finding someone to have and to hold when you have no fleshy bits whatsoever…

Chapter 1

Another hot noonday beat down on the Barrens of Kalimdor. An eagle circled lazily against a brazen sky, idly searching for small, furry things to dismember. Wild kodos snuffled contentedly as they grazed about the open plain. And, nestled in the shadow of a cliff beside a stream, the only Lich within several hundred miles hovered low to the ground and wished he were dead. Figuratively speaking.

Phage Marrowice rubbed his temples, producing a bony scratching noise. The ache in his head must surely be imaginary. Pain is a permanent condition of unlife, to the point that other races mistakenly believe that Undead cannot feel. After the first few weeks of horror and torment, Phage had learned to ignore or at least to deal with it. Now he had a stabbing pain behind his parietal plates, for no physical reason that he could see.

It was looking like a bad day to be a Lich. He'd drawn the short straw to begin with in being sent south to perform a reconnaissance of the Barrens, and all his requests for more resources had come to naught. His unlife had at one point actually been threatened by the Crypt Lord in charge of supply. Since he had only been Undead for a few months, and the Crypt Lord outranked him considerably, Phage had swallowed his pride and started south.

So here he was, sitting – or rather, hovering – under a scraggly palm tree in the midst of a miniscule encampment around the only gold mine for miles. It was a good mine. And it should be, considering the number of centaurs he'd had to kill to get it.

The location, however, is far from ideal. There was a stream on one side and an embankment of bare rock on the other, which in theory made it a very defensible location. In practice, however, the Barrens contained any number of creatures with the capacity for flight. None of them were particularly friendly, and all of them seemed to be slow learners. Phage had already lost a quarter of his original troops to dive bomb attacks from harpies, red dragons, the occasional phoenix(of all things), and one zeppelin which had crashed while carrying a load of drunken goblins. He'd had to rebuild half his makeshift necropolis after that incident.

Fortunately, the trees in the area were sparse. Once he'd satisfied his initial lumber needs – which were little, since their summoned buildings were inevitably mostly stone - there had been enough clear space to make it very difficult for centaurs and razormanes to ambush his camp. He'd even been able to keep several Blight-resistant types for shade.

The heat was another problem. As warm as the Barrens were even now, in autumn, his abominations were decaying faster than he could train new ones. The ghouls looked like mummies, and he hadn't even bothered to try to resurrect any dragons. Frost wyrm bones raining down on his skull would make the debacle just about complete.

He'd sent a shade northwards a week ago, starting the long trip back to Icecrown to make his report. This would make Phage's third attempt to get any reply whatsoever out of his superiors.

He had been moderately successful in his primary mission here. Unfortunately, his report that a very large force had left Orgrimmar apparently had reached Northrend at approximately the same time as the large force itself. The fact that no one had even bothered to teach him to teleport so that he could report in a timely fashion strongly suggested this mission was not a priority of any kind. The Orcs hadn't noticed his tiny encampment yet. In his current mood, he was sure it was just a matter of time.

And now an acolyte was moving in his direction with a purposeful glide which could not possibly mean good news.

"Lord Marrowice," the acolyte said, and bowed. Phage sighed, a difficult maneuver in one lacking lungs. He recognized this acolyte. The others seemed to have elected her to be the bringer of bad news, because whenever anything went wrong, she was the one he saw.

"Lord of what, Acolyte Felwyn?"

"Milord?" Felwyn Smallfinger said, blinking from under her hood. Like all the acolytes, Phage's only truly living units, she had lost her cultivated pallor in the constant sun of the Barrens.

"Do you know what I was, before I was an Undead?"

"No, Lord," Felwyn said. She had probably been a buxom girl once. Now she had thinned into wiry androgyny, like all the other acolytes who had survived life in the Barrens.

"I was a footman in Jaina Proudmoore's army. Before that, I was a peasant. A singularly inept one. I didn't even have a girl to leave behind when I was pressed into the infantry. If I hadn't been almost as bad a footman as I was a peasant, I wouldn't even be able to read. And now I'm a floating three-quarters of a skeleton because some unusually clever necromancer saw me go down fighting and thought I had potential. I didn't even get to choose my own name, you know that?"

"…No, Milord…?"

"Never mind," the Lich waved a bony hand at the puzzled expression on the acolyte's undernourished but very tan features. "What seems to be the trouble? No, don't tell me. The Night Elves are here to complain about the five trees we had to cut down to build the camp."

Felwyn stared at him wordlessly, eyes wide, thin lips puckered in shock.

Oh, no, Phage thought.

"How did you know,Milord?"

"Never mind, Acolyte," Phage Marrowice said wearily. "Bring whoever it is here." I suppose technically I should kill them just for being here, but I don't particularly want to bring a main force of Elves down on my head when I've got so few troops. The way things are going, no one back at Headquarters is going to know anyway.

"I live but to serve, Milord!" Felwyn said, and turned enthusiastically to carry out his order. Phage rubbed his forehead as he watched her glide away. How do they manage to walk like that, anyway? I can hardly manage a steady glide without any legs.