My Bloody Valentine
Cian fought to retain consciousness. The road which cut through Felwood was drenched in his blood, its stones slippery from the acid-green ichor. Travelers that passed their party threw him disgusted looks as their mounts skidded by. But he barely registered this, or anything else, as the majority of his senses had completely shut down. He was draped over his skeletal horse, fingers clutching the reins in a vice-grip, while the rest of his body hung limp. His breath, already ragged, was pronounced and rasping like an angry snake.
Ingomar's healing no longer helped. The curse's potency increased by the minute, creating deeper and more stubborn wounds that refused to mend.
"I'm sorry, lad," Ingomar said, sounding both sincere and exhausted. "I don't reckon there's any more I can do for ye."
"S'alright," he mumbled, too weak now to be aware of the pain.
"We'll be there in the next half hour," said Linnaris. "Moonglade is just through this cave."
Thankfully, Cian was friendly with the furbolgs who inhabited the cave, so they would not pulverize his already rapidly disintegrating body.
"Woo," he said, as their mounts entered the cave—and then vanished, spooked by the damp, enclosed space. Cian collapsed and mumbled, "Damn."
He was dimly aware of strong hands lifting him up, felt himself held close against a cold breastplate, felt his head loll on the silk fabric of a shirt sleeve.
"Don't worry," said Eulalia. "I'll protect you."
He sighed, and for the first time in almost a year, he let go of himself.
"No one within the Undercity has been affected," said Sylvanas. Her icy echo was punctuated by the click-click of her gloved fingers on the stone table, around which the leaders of the Horde were gathered.
"That may be so, but your people are somewhat inclined to roam," Thrall pointed out. "And it is those that are our primary concern."
Sylvanas stared at him, and he could trace no emotion in the chalky marble of her face—no defiance, no rage, and no conciliation.
"What would you have me do?" she said. "If they are too weak to resist the Lich King's will, I am sorry for suffering their presence in the first place."
Thrall realized that chinks had been gouged out of the stone beneath Syvlanas's hands. She was not angry. She was livid.
"I have always encouraged the destruction of the Scourge," she said. "That includes any Forsaken who fall back onto that path."
"Do you not wish to aid them?" asked Cairne.
Sylvanas considered the tauren chieftain before replying, "If they can no longer help themselves, they deserve no help from me."
"So, you mean to say…" Thrall began, trying to phrase his next statement very carefully, "that you yourself have felt no … pull?"
"Yes. Of course I have." She clenched her firsts. "I have heard that sniveling voice every day since those ziggurats appeared. But I shall not give quarter to the one I am sworn to destroy, and no true Forsaken would either. If any of you understood that, we would not be having this conversation."
"What would we be doin', den?" said Vol'jin, unable to restrain his contempt.
"Dealing with this," said Sylvanas. "Exterminating them."
She rose from the table. "I will return to my city. I will tell my people to guard their minds—but that if they should slip, there will be no mercy. I advise you to do the same for those Forsaken within your own lands."
She turned and left. Thrall frowned at the cracked stone and said, "That was a bit less productive than I had hoped."
"I do not want to beget violence with more violence," said Cairne quietly. "But I have already lost good people, my people, to this disaster. Two right at my feet. I cannot allow more innocent blood to spill, if it is within my power to stop it."
"I understand," Thrall said. "We have all suffered losses. We want to support our allies—"
"But not at the cost of our peoples' lives!" Vol'jin said. "Ya know I trust ya, Thrall. Trust ya wit' my own skin. But I got ta agree with da Banshee. We cannot help dem."
"If I recall correctly," said Thrall, "you never thought the Forsaken could be helped at all."
"No, I didn't," Vol'jin agreed. "An' dis ain't hurtin' my opinion."
"I spoke with Hamuul Runetotem before coming here today," Cairne said. "He said to me that the Forsaken in the Pools of Vision were making breakthroughs towards a cure. They left a journal of their findings."
"Oh?" said Thrall. "Do you have it?"
"No," said Cairne. "He gave it to a night elf druid. She has taken it to Moonglade. She claimed to know an uncorrupted Forsaken, who will read it for her."
"I see," Thrall said.
"I do not feel that this was unwise," said Cairne, eyes on Sylvanas's empty seat. "Given what we sometimes suspect."
"Did this night elf mention any names as regards who she was meeting?" Thrall asked.
"Seems a bit outta place. A night elf an' a Forsaken."
"Indeed," said Thrall. "Have you heard any more from your mage?"
"Not lately," said Vol'jin. "He be makin' his way to Moonglade."
"Then I suppose we must hold our collective breath for a while," said Thrall. "I have temporarily detained all of the Forsaken in Orgrimmar. I pray to the spirits that I can restore their liberty soon, and without bloodshed."
The last time Cian had shut his eyes, he had awoken in a fallow field in Silverpine, with soil and grass spilling out of his mouth, with his fingers rust-red with blood, his armor torn, his hair caked with shards of bone and bits of flesh. Beside him were several corpses, each rent to pieces. Some of their limbs were scattered across the field. Beneath the dirt on his tongue, he tasted the salt of these men.
He choked and spat, clawing at his own throat, as his physical memory replayed what he had done, what he thought he had dreamed.
Since then, Cian had been careful never to let his eyes close for too long. Sleep meant to relinquish his will, and to unfetter his mind, such that the memories which were dammed in his waking life flooded freely into his conscious.
And his body was animated by those memories, driven to repeat the grisly crimes. Therefore, he cast off the human habit of sleep, of resting the eyes, which was not too difficult, as he neither grew tired nor did he properly have eyes.
But the curse had sapped his defenses to the point where he was simply depleted of strength. He had not known exhaustion of this kind could still exist for him, and he had no stores of resistance upon which to draw.
Cian lost awareness of his situation. The dark cave turned completely black, the sensation of Eulalia's silk shirt dulled, and the voices of the women softened to whispers, then silence.
Yet though his mind receded, his body remained active, controlled by primal rather than rational commands. He grasped a faint notion of violence: the warmth of blood, the snicker-snack of breaking bone, the wet glurch of shredded skin. He tasted bitterness, and the old familiar salt, the oil and the bile, of a violated body.
After a time, he heard not a shout but a gentle murmur near his ear, of someone pronouncing his name over and over, as though it were a consecration.
Images returned sharply, in painfully bright focus. He was in a forest. The air was cool, and dewy with mist. The mist was tinged crimson. Eulalia knelt, her arms around his waist, her cheek pressed to the hollow of his throat, her lips whispering, "Cian, Cian, Cian."
Gashes marked her face, and her armor was gouged and glistening with green blood. The dead surrounded them: tauren, night elves, both prostrate on the leaves, their final expressions fearfully defiant.
Beside them, Ingomar and Linnaris. Injured. Grim. Ingomar stared at him as through trying to cut his soul.
Not that she thought he still had one.
Cian shuddered, spat out blood. He dripped with the blood, like it was sweat. It poured from every crevice, it saturated his skin, his armor. The blood stained his bones.
He looked at Eulalia, who was still holding him, not worried about the ichor smeared on her neck and lips as she continued to intone his name.
He pulled away from her violently, so that she nearly pitched forward.
"Welcome back," Linnaris said.
Ingomar said nothing.
"I … I'm sorry," he said, backing away.
"Cian—hold on—" Eulalia said, but he didn't look at her again, he didn't dare. He turned and ran into the forest, away from the corpses, away from their solemn faces, away from the overpowering smell. He stumbled deeper into the trees, overwhelmed with guilty panic. He should have left that Warsong Gulch. He should have never agreed to this ridiculous quest.
He had lost control.
Recalling the slashes across Eulalia's face, he stopped, and held up his clawed hands. The bones were too caked with bits of skin and dried blood, both red and green, to tell him anything coherent. Had he attacked her? And Ingomar, and Linnaris? Ingomar's unforgiving eyes, cold and pale like a frozen lake, bore into his memory. He saw contempt in them, hatred for his depravity, and a fury so cold it smoldered.
But worse than that were the unspoken words within that expression, the triumphant declaration: I knew it.
Sick with shame, exhausted, wounded, and stumbling, Cian ran until he reached the mouth of the Stormrage Barrow Den. His mind fuzzily processed the twisting network of caverns as a place to hide, rather than as a sacred labyrinth for sleeping druids. He limped inside, and after a few minutes he was crawling, with no particular direction, through the muddy tunnels. Perhaps, he thought, he'd be permitted to end his life here.
"Dat was some performance, mon."
Then again, perhaps not.
An'jin loomed over him, infuriatingly placid, smiling.
"I'll … kill you," Cian said, struggling to rise. He lurched forward, daggers out, shakily aiming for some part of An'jin's throat.
Icy shackles sprung up around his ankles, and he vanished, shattering them.
"Now, let's be keepin' our heads," An'jin said mildly.
"Shut up," said Cian. "You've been stalking me since that fight in the Gulch—why? What do you want?"
An'jin sat down in the dirt and uncorked a bottle of water. "I just find myself wit' an innerest in your affairs."
"You, or the Scourge scum you work for?"
An'jin choked on his water. "What?"
"Play dumb, then! Don't even have the courage to own your betrayal!" Snarling, Cian leapt from the shadows and jammed the hilt of a dagger into An'jin's neck. In the next breath, the mage disappeared and reappeared on the opposite end of the tunnel.
"Now you insultin' me," said An'jin. "And I don' like bein' insulted."
Cian marched towards him, slowed by the mage's invisible ice armor. An'jin flung out his palms and said, "Ya need ta relax, mon."
Suddenly, Cian felt very small, very fuzzy, and possessed of a deep desire to chew grass. He looked at An'jin with as much hate as his watery, button shaped eyes could muster.
"Now den, my little black sheep," An'jin said. "Let us chat."
Of course, by 'chat,' An'jin actually meant that Cian's sheep body would meander about stupidly for a few minutes while the troll spoke.
"I'd rather have ya carve out my entrails den work for da Scourage," An'jin said vehemently. "But ya be true ta a point—I be workin' for someone. Vol'jin, ta be precise." He paused, as though allowing Cian time for a response he couldn't give.
"I been followin' ya because of da nature of your quest," An'jin explained. "Not many Forsaken are innerested in anyting but furtherin' some dark plan of your Queen. Even less Forsaken pursue dese aims with a night elf."
The spell wore off, and Cian lay, breathing heavily, but no longer reaching for his knives.
"Oh, by da way," An'jin said. "Dat looks like a nasty curse, mon. Can't believe you're still kickin'." The mage waved his three-fingered hand and the wicked sigil on Cian's cheek faded, as though wiped away.
Instantly, his mind cleared. An'jin handed him a cinnamon roll. "Have a snack."
Cian bit into the roll and said, "You're still a stalker."
"My profession affords me much swift movin'," An'jin said. "Meanin', I can keep tabs on ya without shadowin' your every moment, as ya seem ta be imagining."
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway," Cian said. "It's all ruined now. We're finished … I'm finished."
"I wouldn' be so sure about dat."
"I can't go back. They wouldn't want me to, anyway. I lost it … I could lose it again. I, I could hurt her …"
"Hmm? Da elf?" An'jin said. "I tink ya ought ta worry more about what she can do ta you … Tho ya were pretty fierce out dere."
"So you saw it," Cian said. "Then there's no need for us to discuss this. Please just leave me alone."
"Yeah, I saw it all right," An'jin said. "Saw ya fightin' off a whole group of yer kin. Saw ya protectin' da woman ya came in with."
"What?" Cian said slowly. "No, that can't be … then why …"
"It was like your mind had gone," said An'jin. "Eyes glassy. Not wieldin' your daggers. No art, no strategy to ya movements. Ya fought like you was possessed—as though you was fightin' yourself and tha evil surrounding ya."
"Ah," said Cian. "Then, the injuries on Eulalia's face …"
"Not you, mon," said An'jin. "Fact is, ya threw da one clawin' at her right into a tree."
Cian's eyes narrowed. "Did you help."
An'jin blew on his nails. "In my way."
Cian shook his head. "I still lost control. I'm a danger to them. Especially to Eulalia."
"Your life, mon," An'jin said. "I just don't think it's gonna be dat easy."
"Regardless of who you answer to," said Cian, rolling over so that he was face-down in the dirt, "it's not your business."
An'jin conjured another stack of rolls and left them beside Cian. "Reckon not. You be takin' care, mon."
The low hum of arcane channeling filled Cian's ears. A moment later, the troll teleported to Light knew where. Cian exhaled. What should he do? Return to the Undercity. Ask Syvlanas how he could help. Or he could run, run as far south, as from the Lich King's gaze, as physically possible.
Fool. My reach is infinite.
Oh, no. Not again.
Cian got up from the dirt, dragged himself outside, and made it as far as a small clearing. He rested on a slab of rock, exhaled, and tried to think only of his thin, tattered breath.
Shut it out, shut it out, shut. it. out.
"Oh, Cian. If I had known you were going to be so ungrateful, I never would have offered you my gift."
He turned to face the voice, a familiar one, ice-cold and poison-sugar sweet. The Lich King receded, presumably because his messenger had arrived.
She looked so different now. Her hair, remembered as limp and dusted with ash, was in tight, pale blonde curls. Her plump lips were the color of dead roses, her eyes dark, outlined in black, with heavy eyelashes. Her cheeks were powder-white and painted with sigils, her slender neck was engulfed by an imposing silk mantle, and her breasts strained against a long, patterned dress.
He shuddered, leaned back against the rock, and then she pushed him down, so that he was sprawled across the stone.
"What do you want from me," he said weakly.
"I'm waiting for you," said Nina. "I'm waiting for you to accept who you are."
"Oh, is that all." He couldn't move.
Gently, she cupped her palm against his cheek. Her fingernails were black, and filed to exacting points, sharper even than his bone claws.
"You are immortal now. You have power beyond imagining. Power that I gave you."
"This isn't immortality!" Cian said. "This is a travesty."
"I'm so sorry you feel that way." Her voice was light, kittenish. "I can see now that you're not ready. You need more time."
He struggled in earnest, but found himself bound by intangible fetters.
"Ooh, you're angry," said Nina. "That's good. That'll serve me well."
"Burn in hell," said Cian.
"I am," she assured him. "It's marvelous."
She drew her hand back and grinned. "I will give you another gift."
But before an incantation left her lips, an arrow whistled across her hand. A bloody line stood out starkly against her skin, which was lemon-juice pale. The arrow struck a tree, its feathers quivering.
Nina sneered. "Nice aim."
"That was a warning," Eulalia said, stepping into view. Her usually open face was drawn, as were her bow and arrows. "I suggest you go on to wherever your home is."
Nina's fingers twitched. "You're entirely too relaxed, sweetie. Go back to crouching in the bushes."
And, suddenly, not of her own volition, Eulalia ran. Her direction wasn't fixed, and her mouth was contorted, her eyes wide, as though she saw something too horrible to describe.
"Eulalia!" Cian cried.
"This is the one you told me about," Nina said. "Back then. Right?" She looked at her wound, which still bled freely. "I'll enjoy watching her die."
But then, Eulalia stopped running, so abruptly that Nina was startled.
"No, indeed," said Nina. "That wasn't nearly long enough to satisfy."
Eulalia barreled back through the trees, flushed and sweating. "Miss. You should not have done that."
Nina yawned dramatically. "Your legs could use a bit more exercise, I think."
And, again, terror seized her, but this time for only the merest half-second. Once that half-second passed, something in Eulalia changed. She became not just flushed, but angry, scarlet red—all over her body, her clothes, even her white hair took on a red sheen. The white tiger bounded up next to her, and it too was red, and grown three times its original size. Eulalia, now nearly nine feet tall herself, spoke in a rattling, primal growl. "I asked you not to do that, miss."
Her attack was rapid, savage: a barrage of arrows, the giant cat hissing and tearing at Nina, who fought to cast a spell, to frighten them again, not realizing that in those moments Eulalia existed as a being of undiluted rage, and that every other feeling in her was shut out, leaving behind the most basic, violent instinct.
Cian felt the psychic bonds that held him weaken, and he leapt off the rock.
"Enough!" Nina shouted, and she stepped backwards, tearing open a portal behind her. She reached into a fold of the dress and took out a small, wrought-iron cage, in which a human heart was trapped, still beating slowly. "Call her off!"
"She's not my dog," Cian grumbled, and Nina glared at him in a way that suggested she begged to differ.
Eulalia's cat nipped at the arm holding the cage, and Cian said, "It's all right, Eulalia!"
Her expression unchanged, Eulalia motioned to the cat, which reluctantly abandoned its task and returned to sit, still enormous and red, near its mistress.
"I've kept this, Cian!" Nina cried shrilly, thrusting the cage in front of him, "Fortified it! And without it, you will never, ever regain what you've lost." She let loose a hacking laugh, and blood flecked her lips. "So if you want it … come and get it."
Then she crawled into the portal, which sealed itself after her.
Cian gripped his chest, his fingers sinking into the empty cavity on the left side.
Eulalia regained her usual color and shrank, then fell to her knees.
"Oh my," she breathed. "Too much, too much …" and she crumpled fully, prompting Cian to forget his shock.
But he realized, crouching beside her, that she had only fallen asleep. Gently, Cian touched the length of her ponytail. Her hair was damp and hot from the fight, but still soft, still thick enough to bury his fingers. Cian pulled himself up. He turned away. He could not remain and continue to endanger her.
But before he rounded any trees, Ingomar and Linnaris burst into the clearing.
"Stepping out after the lady falls asleep?" Linnaris said slyly. "That isn't very becoming of a gentleman."
"Aye," coughed Ingomar, red-faced, panting, her hands clutching her knees. "What she said."
"Catch your breathbefore talking, Ing," said Linnaris.
"Oi, whatever," Ingomar said. "We cannae all be zoomin' from point A tae point B whenever the fancy strikes us."
"Well, provided about five minutes pass between any given fancy," Linnaris said, with a shrug.
Cian shook his head. "I'm no gentleman. Take care of her."
"Reckon she'll be nigh inconsolable when she wakes up tae find ye've abandoned her," Ingomar said.
"I'm not abandoning anyone," Cian said. "I'm doing her—all of you—a favor."
"Oh, Uther," said Ingomar. "Spare me."
"Really," said Linnaris. "You think you're traveling with blind, double-amputee toddlers who have no recourse against the fury that is you. Granted you were impressive back there, but your form was severelylacking."
"Why do you care? Neither of you even like me."
"Hang on there," said Linnaris. "I don't know you. Although this crying zombie act isn't winning any points."
Cian looked at Ingomar, who said, "Can't argue with ye on my account, laddie. But if I let ye walk off, Euls will jus' go runnin' after ye, see? And as you just witnessed, I ain't so fond 'o runnin'."
Yawning, Eulalia raised her head. "Don't go … I went through all that trouble …"
"Did you see what she had?" Cian said quietly.
Eulalia yawned again, and rolled over onto her back. She stretched her arms to the sky, her back arched above her bed of leaves. "You mean the cage?"
"My heart," said Cian. "She kept it."
"Romantic," said Ingomar.
"And she said …" Cian paused. "She said a lot of things. But I have to go after her. I've got to get it back."
"Is this a Tinhead thing?" Ingomar said. "Although you look more like a strawman …"
Cian scowled. "The point is, as lovely as this futile quest has been, I've got something better to do."
"Now listen here, laddie—" Ingomar began, but Eulalia interrupted.
From her position on the forest floor, her luminous eyes focused on the purpling sky, she said, "I do not know what you think you have to do. But I know that I have a made choice, and once I make choices it is odd that I unchoose them. Because I want to do this. I feel that it is right. So now you are making a choice, and I am asking if you are doing this because you think it is right, or because you are scared, or ashamed? D'you think I would not help in this also? D'you think I was lying?" Her voice faltered. "D'you really think so much of nothing about me?"
"Me!" Cian said. "The way you looked at me … the way you all looked at me!"
"We were a little shocked," said Linnaris.
"Ye started spasmin' in Eulie's arms," Ingomar said. "An' then we were overrun by a mass 'o mindless Forsaken, and ye …"
"Flipped out," said Linnaris. "Completely. I mean, for the sake of defending us, but still."
"It wasn't you," said Eulalia. "It was someone else."
"And that's exactly what I mean," said Cian. "Nina orchestrated that. She could again. And next time, I might turn on you."
"Like we said. Three versus one," Ingomar said. "I'm nae worried."
"Speaking of fighting, this is a great heart to heart and all—pardon the phrase—but Moonglade is still under siege," Linnaris said. "If you'll observe the mist."
The dewy mist which permeated Moonglade's cool forest had nearly darkened to black. When any of them spoke, they tasted the coppery hint of blood.
The women called for their mounts, and waited expectantly for Cian.
"Wait a minute …" Cian said.
"Shut it for noo," said Ingomar. "We can mope this out later!"
"Save the Cenarion Circle first. Soul-search afterwards. Come on," Linnaris said.
"If Kiero is hurt," said Eulalia, "I will cry."
Cian called for his horse.