DISCLAIMER: World of Warcraft, Azeroth etc. is owned by Blizzard and was their idea, not mine. Revoemag and Excomunicant are my WoW characters.
WARNING: my WoW knowledge is abysmal and Doan is a bit of a mary sue. I apologise in advance.
Part 2 The Crimson Line
The sun set low over Orgrimmar, a bloody pool that stained the earth red. The guards began to pace around and light the many huge watch fires that ringed the valleys, their wolves howling. Stalls closed up for the night, Goblins packing away their wares for another day. A raid party, deciding to sneak into some Alliance town under cover of darkness, waited eagerly for their mage to create a portal, the Undead rogue stroking his viciously curved knife and laughing slightly maniacally. The two auction enthusiasts were still there in the auction house, bidding furiously, the glow of the magical aura surrounding the large enchanted axe they were bidding on their only source of light.
Doan took a handful of Silverbloom and threw it in the large bowl-shaped brazier hung over her desk. She added a pinch of Kadghar's Whisker. The rare herb produced an orange glow as she lit a match inside the brazier, watching the flames and breathing in the sweet scent of the herbs. They helped her to concentrate and stay awake. She bought them wholesale from a friendly Tauren woman who had a stall outside the Cleft of Shadow. Revoemag was always sending Doan for herbs, either for making mana potions or for brewing the medicine that abated her constant lethargy and inability to move her limbs that characterised her strange disease. She let her keep the change, so Doan always bought herself enough to study with.
Doan had a working laptop. It was powered by magical flux. Along with half the Goblins in Gadgetzan and Revoemag's four mage friends, she had designed it so that she could have a cable of copper wire wrapped in mageweave cloth that went into her laptop at one end and was taped to the underside of the mage platforms in the Valley of Spirits at the other. It soaked up the residue magic from the excessive spellcasting that went on there and stored it in the laptop's battery, which was now a mana flux converter. The first two laptops she tried it on exploded. Fortunately, she had looted four executive's corpses in total - the two on Earth, the one trying to delete the server and one who had been found washed up in Booty Bay. The Goblins were funding all this, of course; the Steamwheedle Cartel had never before seen such a bizarre machine that was so utterly pointless in a war (she could play Super Tux on it...) and they were utterly fascinated by it.
She was playing a game on the laptop right now. She loved games. They helped her focus her mind on the computer. It was just her and the computer. They had each other's complete attention. The computer wasn't doing anything else and neither was she. It was important to build a good relation with your computer. It was your ticket to the rest of the multiverse, a way to break free of your tunnel reality. It was amazing how many worlds you could visit with one Snes emulator. Just a few meg on a 120 gig hard disk. And if you had a good computer and you understood each other, you had the best travelling companion you could ever want for. She felt that the journeys she made with her computer were the important ones.
She heard a mournful howl. Something tugged at her leg.
"What's wrong, Zelda?" she asked. A furry face looked up at her and whined.
"If you want to go out, just go. The door's open."
That was one thing she liked about Orgrimmar. The doors didn't lock. They tended to be a large cloth, a curtain of beads or a wolf skin over the doorway. Doan never trusted people who were obsessed with privacy and locked their doors and had login passwords. They were either hiding some kind of criminal activity, talking about Doan or they had some food they weren't sharing with her, presumably because they were evil people who took pleasure in seeing Doan go hungry. Zelda generally agreed with her on this point; people like that deserved to be eaten.
Zelda wasn't Doan's wolf. In fact, Zelda wasn't anyone's wolf. Wolves didn't generally take kindly to being owned. If anything, Zelda was the Horde's wolf. It belonged to one of the guards but it generally followed around anyone who fed it, which was more or less everyone in Orgrimmar. Zelda was quite a young wolf and absolutely enormous. It had been collectively raised by Orgrimmar since it was a pup, having been found badly injured in Ashenvale. Doomclipboard jokingly said it reminded him of Doan and the two did get on rather well. This was rather strange as the wolf was conditioned to attack Humans. apparently it thought Doan was a Troll.
Zelda whined again and attempted to pull her towards the door. Listlessly moving the mouse to one side, she sighed and followed it out into the night. She looked up at the crystal clear sky, the warm orange glow of the watch fires rising high. It wasn't even a full moon; what had gotten into her wolf?
Suddenly, something poked her in the back. She screamed. Jumping ten feet in the air, she whirled around backhanded it in the face, expecting the rogue to appear. Nothing. She looked around the corner, drawing her knife. She had got a proper knife now. It glowed red occasionally. There was no-one around the corner.
Something poked her in the back again.
The wolf growled. Doan looked out of the corner of her eye, hoping to catch whatever it was before it disappeared. She saw nothing but a small blue arrow floating in mid air, about the size of a cursor on a screen. The wolf was snarling at it. As she turned around to have a closer look at it, it floated above her head, moved its pointer end to point at her and jabbed her sharply in the scalp. She yelped and ran down the path away from it. The wolf ran after her, barking. She could see out of the corner of her eye that it was still following her and wasn't slowing down.
She decided to try and lose it among the crowd of people who were still milling around in the centre of the Valley of Strength. The moonlight raid party were gone now, miles away on a distant continent eviscerating some poor Human townspeople in their sleep. However, a large crowd was now building up near the Auction House. The two Tauren had obviously won whatever they were bidding on and were throwing an impromptu party, smoking herbs and dancing around one of the watch fires. The four mages were there, stoned on Mageroyal and randomly casting spells, along with all their Troll friends who were jumping in and out of the portal seem naked. Two Orcs had dragged a large drum out and were pounding on it, one of the few Orcish beats that weren't calls to war. The guards all knew the words and were singing them very loudly and drunkenly as the innkeeper had suddenly decided to open the bar late.
"Hey, Doan!" the Portal mage waved and tried to grab her arm. She shrugged the mage off, pretending to be dancing wildly to the music while she ducked and wove through the crowd, wolf behind her, running under a signpost and almost knocking over the surprised Tauren sat on it. She ran past the heavily armoured Orc who was repeatedly and loudly trying to correct her on the pronunciation of 'Zug' Zug'. She almost ran straight into one of the Undead Rogue's friends who had just appeared in front of her. She soon became exhausted and fell to the floor, unsure as to which way she had actually run. The wolf growled and tugged at her leg again. From around the corner, almost darting past her but changing direction at the last second, was the cursor. It span around and pointed at her. She glared at it. It stopped, looking rather indecisive, then prodded her nose.
"STOP POKING ME ALREADY!" she yelled, swiping at it. It moved back and floated in front of her hand, looking rather guilty. It seemed to be waiting for her to do something. She held out her hand, commanding it to stay where it was. It hovered in front of her obediently. She made a circular motion with her hand and it span around and around.
"Poke Zelda!" she said, pointing to the wolf who was watching the antics, an amused look on its face, batting its tail against the wall. The cursor floated up to the wolf, grabbed one of its ears and pulled it. The wolf snarled and ran after the rapidly retreating cursor.
"Here!" she ordered. The cursor zoomed past the wolf's head and returned to her outstretched hand. She felt an evil grin cross over her face. The possibilities were endless - for good, evil and plain usefulness. She could drag babies out of burning buildings. She could push Alliance soldiers off cliffs. She could steal food from stalls without the merchant even seeing her. She could rent it out as a back scratcher.
Do not take the technology spirit's gift lightly, said a voice in her head. It was female and absolutely calm, like a lift saying 'going down'. She looked down instinctively. She had heard the voice before when she had been one with the World Server.
Yes, that is me, Doan, said the voice. This little technology spirit was a test from me. It was to see if you could talk with it, whether it respected you. To see if you would make a good techno-shaman.
"Well, what have you decided?" Doan replied out loud.
You show some potential. But the path of a shaman is long and hard. It requires years and years of intense training. You will suffer physically and mentally. I must ask you whether you want to follow this path or not.
"Well... I'd get a lot of respect within the Horde..." she scratched her head, "But they might think a Human shaman was unnatural. They get a bit funny about my computer. They think mailer-daemons are real demons."
The people of Azeroth are by their nature digital creations. They must learn to embrace their computer nature. You will be the first techno-shaman in Azeroth. It is a big responsibility, little Human.
"Can't Thrall talk to technology spirits?"
He has been talking to me for a long time now but he has little time now. He must lead the entire Horde.
"Who are you talking to?"
A guard came up to her and gave her a suspicious look.
"Spirits." she said.
"Lay off the herbs." he growled and wandered off.
Think about it, Human. The voice went silent at this and the cursor disappeared. The wolf growled at the space where the cursor was, its ears flattened and its hackles raised.
Doan looked around. They were in the Cleft of Shadow. It was always dark here, the amount of dark energy channelled through the constant Warlock activity giving it a permanent dark purple aura. Strange eldritch creatures from the Twisting Nether flitted about. The Cleft of Shadow was a twisting maze of stone and wood that merged together, warrens carved directly into rock faces, passages disappearing into the depths of the mountains to the dens where the Cleft's notorious criminal activities took place. Some of these illegal enterprises were just things that annoyed Thrall, like the places where the rogues bought their nastier poisons and less pleasant curved knives. Some of the things that went on down here were more dangerous; things like Alliance prisoners being sold as slaves or sent to the Undercity. Then there was the Burning Blade. They were the wrong kind of Warlock. They summoned demons because they wanted the Burning Legion to return to Azeroth, not because demons were occasionally useful in battle if they were small and you were skilful enough to control them. They were everything the Horde was founded to stop.
Doan knew one thing for certain; the Cleft of Shadows was no place to be in the middle of the night. It was like one of those council estates you didn't go to after dark except worse, because junkies and muggers didn't summon demons or stab you in the back with poisoned daggers. She had to leave.
She climbed onto a balcony and looked for the exit that was the only real source of light. She spotted one rogue but no exit. She heard whispered voices from below her but didn't see the exit. An Imp flew past her and was bitten by the wolf but she didn't see the exit. She wished she still had the cursor. Wouldn't a real shaman be able to find it again? She tried sitting down and folding her legs, deliberately concentrating on the cursor, on the world server beneath her, on the lowest level of being, the core of existence, that eternal, unsleeping administrative presence and the computer nature of everything, the data that comprised all, just as a normal shaman could sense the elements of nature binding all together. She stared at the rock in front of her until it blurred into pixels and she tried to really see the pixels.
Then she stopped. Something wasn't right. It was the voices. She recognised one of the voices quite clearly now.
It was Revoemag.
"Don't follow me, Zelda." she shook her head and pointed to the door. The wolf whined and ran off to find someone else to play with. Doan crept into the building.
It was almost pitch dark. The only light came from a ball of unnatural green flame hovering in the middle of the room. As she edged towards it, keeping her head down and trying to move silently, she saw that it was being kept alight by an Imp resting on a perch inside some kind of study. A large ornate bookshelf stood against one wall, full of huge leather-bound tomes. A book was laid out on a small round table next to the bookshelf next to a large red dribbly candle. Beside that was a desk covered in papers and a quill dipped in an ink well. By the other wall was a bed. Revoemag lay in the bed, her tusked face frozen, her eyes blinking eerily slowly. Beside her sat an old Undead man in full length red robes and cowl on a high backed mahogany chair. He held out a metal chalice.
"You sure this'll work, mon?" she demanded.
"Drink the blood and you will never feel the pain you are going through again." he promised.
"Poison would do that to me as well." she pointed out.
"This is no poison. It is a cure for the Slowing Sickness." he hissed, "You are not the only one to suffer from the terrible disease. I offer this to all who ask for it. You must trust me, Archmage."
"You turn me into a demon, you get a mage demon. Very powerful mage demon." she added, "You no control me. I tear your soul out of your body an' eat it, little dead man."
"I promise you you won't turn into a demon. Although if you want to turn into a demon, I could..."
Suddenly, he turned around. The chalice dropped from his bony fingers and clattered to the ground, staining the carpet red. The Imp screeched and began throwing green fire at the woman who just ran in, knocking the Warlock out of the way and standing protectively in front of the frail mage. Something small and blue shot past the man's head and hit the Imp in the head, knocking it off its perch and stunning it.
"Okay, you bastard!" shouted Doan, "Leave Revoemag alone and I won't tell Thrall exactly what you just said!"
"Doan, you stupid fool!" Revoemag blinked away and landed next to the door. She collapsed against the wall, gasping for breath. Doan ran after her and narrowly missed being hit full in the chest by a bolt of shadow that shot from the Warlock's hand. She waved at the cursor and it stopped tormenting the Imp, who was cowering against the bookshelf being repeatedly poked. Instead it flew at the Warlock at full speed, knocking him backwards into the table. The candle fell over and set his robe on fire. He screamed and tried to put it out but it had also set some books alight and the flames soon went out of control. Revoemag fired a Pyroblast at the Imp, instantly immolating it and the entire bookshelf. Doan grabbed her by the waist and helped her out of the building before the smoke could overpower them both. The wolf, who hated fire and cursors, was running around in a circle and howling like crazy.
"RUN!" yelled Revoemag, blinking repeatedly. Doan and Zelda ran to catch up. The mage was leading them away from the Cleft of Shadows. Doan could soon see why; sensing the death of one of their own, the demons casually flitting around in the area were now chasing her, screeching foul curses and throwing bolts of dire energy at her. She ran like hell. It was only when they were back in the Drag, when the demons hissed and shrunk back from the light of the watch fires and melted back into the Cleft of Shadows to plot their revenge, that Doan stopped running. Revoemag looked half dead. She whacked Doan over the head with her staff.
"Why you do that for?" she demanded, "You make me run and scare away the man wanted to cure me!"
"You shouldn't believe that shit!" said Doan.
"Since when were you de one who judge me?" she demanded.
I know what the lag's like, she wanted to say. I was connected at the same time as you. I felt every agonising second. I'm a machine empath. Do you know what that means? I feel my character's pain and frustration. I feel their death throes when their HP slides to 0. Every. Single. Time. People find me screaming in agony at my computer. But I also know that when my characters turn evil - or when I install Windows - it twists my personality as well. But she knew that Revoemag would never understand or accept that as an answer.
"Think of your Warchief." said Doan, "Do you think Thrall wants you to do those bad things? You love Thrall."
As if the word 'Thrall' was a trigger to a gun pointed at her head, she collapsed to the ground, clawing at her skull, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Thrall. I jus'... I jus' want this pain to end!"
"Can't the system clock help you?"
"It ain't just me! More an' more people gettin' da disease! De priests can't help dem! An' me seen dis cure work!"
"Who are these people anyway?" asked Doan, walking along the Drag via the Valley of Wisdom back to the Valley of Spirits. It was the quietest route.
"Dey call demselves 'Excommunicant's Children'." said Revoemag, "Dey all Forsaken. De leader invented the cure from messin' about wid plagues. You know how dem Forsaken are. She found de Slowing Sickness virus den made an antidote from it."
"Why do you have to drink blood then?"
"'Tis powerful mojo. It reinforces de cure." she said, "'Tis de blood of Excommunicant Dire hersel'. She was a carrier of de disease."
"And you trusted this cult that worships a carrier of a disease?"
"Warlock powahs can be used for good, mon, an' I think curin' de Slowing sickness a good thing. Nothing is black an' white, mon."
"I had a TV that was black and white." said Doan unhelpfully, "I played Master System games on it."
"See, you trust de machines, even though de machines can blow up in ya face or 'lectrocute ya an' kill ya."
"Most computers don't do that!"
"Dat computer always 'lectrocute ya." she pointed out.
"Well..." Doan felt like tearing her hair out, "I'm an exception! I don't know why I get electrocuted so easily!"
"Lightning spirits don't like ya." she said authoritatively, "Anyway, I say we look into dis some more. Fin' more about dese people. If dis bad mojo, we need ta know, an' if dis not, me want to follow them a little anyway, keep up to date with what happening regarding de cure to my disease."
"Where do these people meet?"
"Outside de First Aid hut, every other Tuesday." she said, "We have five days. You want come?"
"You should attend as usual." said Doan, "And I'll watch from a safe distance. Forsaken don't really like me and I don't want to attract attention to myself. Besides, I want to see them come and go. I want to follow them back to their main base of operations."
Revoemag nodded. "You give signal, say you in there, me blink in afterwards. But what we use as signal?"
"My cursor." she said, summoning it to show the mage. Revoemag blinked and stared through it. Doan realised that she couldn't see it.
"You'll feel something poke you." Doan explained.
"Me still not understand."
"You'll know when it happens." said Doan. They were back in the Valley of Spirits now. Zelda had wandered off to prowl somewhere else. Doan went back to her bed and slept fast.
She dreamed she was walking through a huge city where the buildings had curved metal walls spray painted black. It was technologically superior to anything she had seen, full of wondrous machines that automated everything. However, she realised as she walked along that they were all full of faults. They weren't exactly broken, as in, they more or less did their job, but they didn't do it all the time, they did it very slowly and were very inefficient She could hear their voices as they complained bitterly to her and demanded they be fixed. She protested that there were too many of them and she couldn't fix them all but their voices drowned her out.
She eventually realised it was a dream and turned it into a lucid dream and flew around stealing things from shops, as she was wont to do in lucid dreams, until she got bored and woke up.
"Lord Killsteal, you're awake!"
The man groaned. His injuries still hurt, even though they had healed up over the ten years since that terrible day. Maybe they had never really healed. He had multiple sword wounds to his chest, an axe wound in his back and burns on his arms and legs. Still, it was a miracle he was alive at all. If it wasn't for his valiant and swift steed, Shadowprinter, and the fact that it was a quiet time of day in Orgrimmar and nobody could really be bothered to kill a lone paladin who wasn't causing any trouble, and the quick intervention of the priests who tended his wounds for three whole days, he would be dead. He waved to the housekeeper, trying to hide the pain he felt.
"You seem troubled, my Lord." said the servant.
"Merely remembering battles past." he said.
The servant nodded. "This war has touched us all. If I was a big strapping lad like you, Sir, and not an old lame man, I'd take up arms myself and go fight the Horde."
"But then my estate would fall to ruin!" said the paladin, "And it would look like some Forsaken-blighted province of Lordaeron!"
"Light forbid that should ever happen, Sir." the man made a warding symbol against evil spirits.
"I fear no evil." said the paladin, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. He did not wear his armour but he never walked around without the zweihander that glowed with a pale white light; he would feel naked and it wasn't decent for a paladin to be walking around naked.
"Before you go, Sir, your parents wished for a word with you."
"I shall be there shortly." he said.
The servant bowed and went to inform them. Killsteal walked into the dining hall and ate some breakfast before going to his father's study. His father was a stern-looking man, bald with a long white beard. He dressed impeccably in an official's black tunic at all times and Killsteal rarely caught him not doing some kind of paperwork or other. He was a priest, not a parish priest but an administrative priest, very high in the hierarchy. He raised one eyebrow and glared at Killsteal over the huge ledger he was writing in with a quill. Dieter's father glared at people even when he wasn't angry with them, it was just his way of telling them he knew they were all guilty of something. His mother sat beside his father in a long white dress, her long blonde hair flowing down her slender neck, still beautiful for a woman of her age. Healers often were. They kept themselves well.
"Father. Mother." he bowed to them.
"We have family matters to discuss." said his father.
"There's something we've been meaning to sort out but haven't had the time, what with this war keeping me busy and your father's paperwork keeping him busy." she said, "How old are you now, Dieter? Thirty-five?"
"And you're still not married?"
Dieter blushed, "Mother, I'm fighting in the front lines of a WAR. How exactly am I going to get married?"
"There are lots of female soldiers." said his mother, "What happened to that nice priestess you used to travel with?"
"She took a vow of celibacy, mother."
"What a shame. She was a perfect match for you." she sighed, "You're not always on the battlefield, Dieter. You need to think about other things apart from the war. You need to meet more girls."
"If you keep throwing yourself into battle, we're going to lose you soon." added his father, "And you have no heirs. Think about that. Do you want the Killsteal line to end with you?"
"Father, I'm a PALADIN!" he felt like banging his head against the wall, "We don't die easily. And besides, do you think it would be good to get married, then die in battle and leave some poor widow mourning my death?"
"You're such a gentleman, Dieter." said his mother, "But personally, if your father got killed in battle, I'd grab his sword and avenge his death."
"Thank you, dear." said his father, not looking up from his book.
"Are you absolutely sure there's no-one you like?" said his mother.
"Well..." he gazed at the bright sunlight streaming through the window. He was a warrior of the Light. He kept reminding himself of that. But he couldn't help but catch sight of his shadow. Wasn't it part of him as well? The darkness that blotted out some portion of his very soul, something missing from him, as a paladin and as a Human, was out there somewhere. It had almost killed him before and it was still hunting him.
"I know what that faraway look in your eyes means." his mother teased him, "There's someone, isn't there?"
He shook his head, "No... I couldn't possibly... not now..."
"Is there something you've been keeping from us, son?" asked his father.
He buried his head in his hands, "It's not what you think it is."
"Well, if you can't think of any women, I'm going to arrange for you to meet some suitors from the nearby villages." said his mother.
"No, wait!" he cried, "I can't deny my feelings any longer!"
He lifted his sword from its scabbard and brandished it in the air.
"I will win my true love's heart even if it kills me!"
"That's a good boy." said his mother.
"Try not to die." added his father. But Dieter wasn't listening. He had jumped on his horse and was riding at full gallop down the hill.
"Paladins." sighed his father.
Doan ran to the mailbox, flush with excitement.
She had never had mail in Azeroth before. Apart from the usual Goblin junk mail and an angry letter from the Warsong Gulch recruiter asking why she was never ever there any more (to which she replied with an even angrier note explaining that she wasn't going anywhere near a battleground until that MAD UNDEAD ROGUE stopped trying to eviscerate her every time the fish wore off), she didn't know anyone in Azeroth who didn't live a couple of doors down from her. When the guard knocked on her door and yelled that she had a letter from someone, she thought it was a mistake. But there it was, a letter personally addressed to her. It was quite a large envelope, not regular letter size. She felt something else inside it. Opening it carefully with her knife - she had a proper battle knife now, a wickedly curved thing made personally for her grip by an Orcish blacksmith. It was a present from Doomclipboard for her fifth year in the Horde. Mad Undead Rogue said that the kitchen knife looked scarier and more fun so she she let him borrow it and he had never given it back.
A red rose dropped out of the envelope.
She picked it up and stared at it. She put it in her hair, which was now elaborately braided by Revoemag's friends and contained bits of wood, bone and mana jade. Then she read the letter. It was in Common.
I know not what circumstances led you to be wearing that Horde insignia. Fate is a lady as fickle and terrible as she is beautiful, although her beauty fades in comparison to your radiance. The Light itself shines through you, its most blessed creation. As a champion of Light, I must devote myself to you, worship you and protect your honour as I would guard the doors of a chapel of Light, for you are my avatar of a Goddess. I am your paladin, Lady, from this very moment until the moment my last breath leaves me. And a good paladin will not stand by and let their Goddess' purity be defiled by Orcs.
I would gladly storm the gates of Orgrimmar to rescue you, my love, but I doubt I would survive and I would not like to leave this world until I have at least heard your voice once more. I can only beseech you, as a paladin and as a man, to at least consider my words. I love you. If I would be so bold, I would request your hand in marriage. Please reply, lest the pain in my heart be the death of me when the multiple stab wounds and magical burns from being forcibly teleported into the middle of Orgrimmar could not fell me.
Your eternal servant and champion,
The letter crumpled under Doan's grip. She felt a feral growl escaping from her throat. She considered setting fire to the letter or feeding it to Zelda. The rational part of her told her that it would not be wise. The paladin wouldn't give up that easy and if he didn't get a reply, he might well carry on sending her letters or even try to rescue her. She had to get rid of him. She took the letter back home, got out a pen and piece of paper and began a reply. It was difficult for her to express exactly how furious and what she would do to him if she ever caught him in Common so she drafted it out in Orcish first and then translated it. It was difficult to translate it into a language in which there was only one word for 'eviscerate' and no single word meaning 'to feed the remains to a rabid wolf'. After she was finished, she sealed the letter and went out again. She found the Undead rogue sat on a sign post, waving his arms enthusiastically as he described impaling a Gnome on a spike to a gang of scary looking people.
"He squealed like a stuck pig." he said, making the noise. His friends fell about laughing. Doan summoned the cursor and casually knocked him off the sign post from several metres away. He crouched down and looked around, snarling gutturally.
"Hey, Warderer." she called, for that was his name - Tom Warderer, "I have a letter for you to deliver."
She pressed it into his hand along with two gold. He stared at it then glared at her, pressing his face up to hers.
"Do I look like a mailman, HUMAN?"
"It's special delivery." she said, pointing to the address. He grinned maniacally. His eyes lit up an eerie red.
"Do you want the letter read to him before or after he dies horribly?"
"Before." she said, "I want him to know who wants him dead. In fact, what'd be really funny is if you jabbed him with a paralysis potion, read it to him and then paper cut him to death with it."
He laughed, a bizarre high pitched noise.
"I like the way you think, Human." he said, "That's why I let you live. Although you really should get around to dying some time. We could raise you as a Forsaken!"
"I'd rather not smell like a corpse." she said, handing him another gold piece, "Make sure you use really strong paralysis poison, okay?"
"I know what I'm doing." he grinned, bowed and melted into the shadows before she could see him leave.
She walked through the Valley of Strength for a while, muttering to herself in Orcish. The cursor flew over her head and bleeped at her.
"I know, I need to practise my shamanic technique." she sighed. She followed the cursor back to the Valley of Spirits and sat on a rock, connecting to the server and reading the signals that went from and to everything in Orgrimmar. They looked like different coloured lights on a huge black grid to her, the signals that were transmitted from people, events, maps, the solid blue of the administrative processes that were always there, in the lowest and deepest level of existence, keeping Azeroth from falling into chaos at its most basic foundations. With practise, Doan could actually work out what the signals meant, find and diagnose problems. As a shaman, it was her duty to give something back to the World Server for every favour she asked from the technology spirits and she chose to become their operator, acting in ways that a human was better at than a machine - being conscious, aware, alive even when the rest of the server was down. The cursor floated over her head as she worked and she felt other minds touch hers, signals made aware, digital life all around her. Two pixels lit up in the dark corner, the clock face shimmered in the water, a menu bar appeared above the sky.
As people, dead, meaningless, confusing data, walked past, they were either floating on wings of green, tied down by chains of red or somewhere in between.
That night she dreamed of the city again. She was walking through it, eating something from one of the many vending machines, the faulty technology spirits of the vending machines chattering to her, demanding to know why they sometimes dispensed two items or even none at all. Doan turned around and pointed to a tower in the middle of the city. It was an enormous black mushroom-shaped building from which thick cables hung, tethering it and burrowing into the ground, connecting it to the rest of the city. It was difficult to look at it for long; it felt like it was looking back at her. It radiated an ancient malevolence akin to that of some Lovecraftian elder god, a hatred that could corrupt and annihilate worlds by its mere existence. But she was not afraid as she pointed at it...
Doan looked up from the screen.
She had been messing around with Linux command lines when she heard three slow knocks on the door. She sent the laptop to sleep and stood up to open the door. It was Revoemag. She stank of herbs and overuse of mana as usual. She used her staff as a walking stick and ambled over to sit on Doan's chair. The Archmage wasn't as young as she once was. She could still take on an Alliance raid party single-handedly but it would take her a long time.
"Be a dear an' make me some Mageroyal tea." she ordered. Doan put the kettle on. The sweet smell of the purple flower filled the air and Revoemag's already radiant magical aura became visibly stronger.
"What brings you to my home, Archmage?" asked Doan.
"Ya mean ya forgot?" she shook her head, "'Tis de day of de meeting of Excommunicant's Children!"
Doan swore in Orcish, "I'm sorry. I've had shaman training and then there was this paladin kept stalking me..."
"He keeps sending me presents and love letters." sighed Doan, pointing to a box of chocolates on the table, "The guards caught him trying to sneak into Orgrimmar the other day."
"He has offended your honour as a soldier of de Horde, fren'." hissed Revoemag, "Me an' you gotta teach him a lesson!"
"He's damn hard to kill. I've sent Tom Warderer after him three times. He's stopped going now, says there's easier prey out there."
"Hm... sounds like yo' dealin' with an expert." her forehead creased, "We formulate a battle plan later. But first, de meetin', ja?"
"Go ahead. I'm following you." she nodded.
The mage left the house and blinked to the first aid hut which was right next to the mage platforms. Doan dived into the water, swam under the rocks and emerged behind the hut. She climbed under the foundations and saw through the eyes of a small view mode changing cursor she had learned to summon. A crowd had begun to form outside the hut, including Revoemag, a very old Orc shaman with a long white beard and very large teeth, a Tauren with pure black hair who wielded an enormous warhammer and some Orc peons. They waited and chattered amongst themselves until the door of the hut opened and a tall Forsaken in a long hooded red robe appeared. Everyone cheered. He bowed. As he began to address the crowd, Doan moved the living camera and saw others in the hut, male and female robed Forsaken stirring a large cauldron.
"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for waiting!" said the speaker, "We of Excommunicant's Children like to be able to see all our patients as quickly as possible."
"Now, first, we have reports that the plague has swept northward. There are now cases in Ashenvale." everyone gasped, "Mott, Grug, tell everyone what happened."
"Well..." began one of the peons, "Me was cuttin' down trees in da Warsong an' then I felt sick an' dizzy an' I dropped my axe on my foot an' it was bleedin' all over da place an' my wolf wouldn't come near me. So, I cries out in pain an' da foreman says go an' see a healer an' I sees a healer and they says Grug you've got the Slowing Sickness take a month off work. An' now GRUG NOT GET PAID!"
"That a Union matter." said Mott, "But, yeah, we not know if other peons got plague."
"Since our last meeting, we've been busy producing the remedy. Everyone come up to get it, single file!"
Nobody really knew what 'single file' meant. The peons tried to run forwards at the same time but found themselves lifted off their feet by the Tauren. Revoemag blinked in front of them and sent a Flamestrike into the crowd of brawling people to distract them. The Forsaken sighed and passed her a ladle of what looked like herbs. She drank it and passed it to the Tauren who had stomped on the ground and almost broken the floor of the hut, making Doan feel sick. Eventually everyone had their share of the medicine and order had been restored.
"Of course, for some of us who contracted the disease too early or didn't have the cure available to them in time, it may not be enough." said the speaker, "There is a... supplement available that will enhance the effects. Be warned, it should not be used except in an emergency. If you want to see us about having it prescribed, come to the alchemist's shop at the Cleft of Shadow at nightfall. Be careful that you are not followed! Our brother was assaulted by anti Warlock activists who almost killed the Archmage!"
There was a collective gasp from the crowd. Doan felt a little guilty.
"Tomorrow we will be concentrating our efforts on stopping the spread of the plague through Ashenvale while there is still time." he continued, "But we will back in a fortnight's time, usual time, usual place. For now... embrace the shadow!"
The crowd began to filter away now and the Forsaken left too, allowing the first aiders to prepare for the stream of war wounded who would pour in soon, back from Warsong Gulch. Doan waited until they were a suitable distance away and followed the Forsaken, instructing the cursor to trail them and beep when they got too far away for her to see. They went back to the Cleft of Shadow. Doan jumped onto a roof and followed them from above. They went past the poison shop where Tom Warderer was haggling enthusiastically. They went past the alchemist's shop. They went past the shadow wand shop and the Warlock trainer and the felsteed stables. They led Doan deep into the heart of the Cleft of Shadow and disappeared into a cave entrance. Doan jumped down and saw that the entrance was covered by a roiling mass of fire. The cursor clicked on it furiously, annoyed at it.
"Go find Revoemag." she told it. It rolled around in mid-air and flew off to find the mage. Minutes later, she appeared. Doan pointed at the cave and Revoemag frowned.
"That not good." she said, "That the entrance to Ragefire Chasm!"
Doan looked at the swirling chaos before her. She had heard of Ragefire Chasm before. It was the lodge of the Burning Blade, the demon cult who wished to bring the Burning Legion into this world. The guards occasionally went in and cleaned it out or hired some adventurers to do it for them if they were feeling lazy but like a weed the cult kept springing back up. It was as if there was something down there, something deep in the roots of the mountain that spoke to people at night and corrupted them. The walls between this world and the Twisting Nether were thin in some places and they were being constantly assaulted.
"We're gonna have to be careful if we follow them in there." said Doan
"Me a powerful mage, me can take care of mysel' ." said Revoemag.
"But if you disconn... I mean, fall into a coma, you'll be left helpless."
"That where you come in. You get me out if anythin' like that happen, ya?"
Doan nodded. She could use her cursor poke ability to distract the enemy if need be and that would give her time to run. One thing Doan was adept at, was running away. She reached into the folds of her cloak and grabbed her knife, then walked forwards. Revoemag followed behind her.
Inside the cavern it was very warm. It was actually rather comfortable. Based in a dormant volcano, steam rose from the magma pools that glowed angrily deep underground like the beast that slept in the heart of the evil place. Doan heard unnatural cries, screeches and voices chanting in languages that mortals were not meant to speak in. Despite the heat, the voices made her shiver. She felt as though a cold hand was touching her. She kept looking around and expecting to find the cursor poking her but her spirit friend was hovering in the distance, keeping an eye out for danger and tracking the people they were supposed to be following. It flew over and pulled Doan's hair when she went in the wrong direction. They crept silently along the narrow paths, taking care not to slip on a loose rock and fall to their deaths or make a noise and attract one of the evil things lurking in the shadows.
"Watch out!" hissed Revoemag. A low growl echoed through the cavern and something sprang at Doan from out of nowhere. She slashed at it with her knife, drawing strange purple blood that burned her where it splashed her. A fireball whizzed past her head and thudded into the demon, knocking it backwards. While it was off balance, Doan ordered the cursor to slam right into it and it plummeted down into the fiery depths. She sighed and wiped her blade clean on her cloak, which now had a large charred hole in it.
They continued onwards until the cursor tapped Doan on the shoulder. She stopped. She heard low voices and the tapping of bony footsteps. The narrow path was at an end now and they were in a large chamber carved from the mountain. Doan flattened herself against the wall and edged towards the voices. She used her other new friend, the volume switch, to amplify what they were saying.
"... Plague has spread to Ashenvale."
"Excellent, excellent." said another voice, a harsh whisper that was almost a hiss, "We will soon infect the entire continent of Kalimdor."
"But only a few people actually catch the plague. If only we could find a way to make it more infectious..."
"Our alchemists are working on a stronger strain of the disease." said the first, the man who had been speaking at the meeting.
"How did the meeting go?"
"We have new converts. Peons. Very weak-minded. They have potential."
"It's a shame what happened with the Archmage. We could have had a powerful tool."
"No matter. I don't believe we could really have controlled the Archmage anyway, it was a foolish risk to take."
"You have no ambition, brother Balthazar." said the other man, "But you have done well. I will report your success to Lady Excommunicant. She will be pleased."
"Thank you, master."
"Now, I will return to the Undercity and you will return to your business in Ashenvale. Do you understand what you must do?"
"Good. Now leave."
Doan heard the sound of a teleport spell being cast and the higher ranking man vanished. She knew everything she needed to know now. She turned to leave. Just then, she felt a bony hand on her shoulder and the point of a knife at her back.
"Going somewhere, little Human?" whispered a familiar voice.
Doan froze and looked slowly behind her. She could see the two red eyes of Tom Warderer staring right at her.
"I've been waiting a long time for this moment." he hissed, "I've been following you. Watching you. Waiting for you to get careless. I knew eventually I would catch you on your own, away from those stupid blind guards."
"I know about you, about what a filthy traitor you are. No Human would willingly and loyally serve the Horde. You thought you could get rid of me by sending me off after an elite paladin and his retinue. But I escaped. I survived, Doan. And now I'm going to eviscerate you. I'm going to vivisect you. Slowly. I'm going to strangle you with your own intestinal tract. I'm going to insert a..."
"Ahem." Revoemag tapped him on the shoulder. Doan saw the fear in his eyes as he recognised the Archmage.
"Don't move or this Human dies!"
"I'd like to see you kill Doan when you're a sheep." she said idly.
"Why does it always have to be a sheep?" Doan asked, "Why not a chicken? Or a slug? Or a Gnome? He'd like being a Gnome."
"Don't turn me into a Gnome!" begged Warderer.
"Let go my friend an' no one gets turned into nothin'." demanded Revoemag.
"Are you a traitor too, then, with your filthy Human friends?"
"You Forsaken is de traitors." said Revoemag, her eyes blazing with righteous fury, "Always up to somethin' behind de Warchief's back. Yes, dis de first Human to join de Horde. You never stop to think dis might be de first step towards actual negotiation? Peace? A bloodless victory for de Horde?"
"There will be no peace until the Alliance are wiped from the face of Azeroth!" yelled Warderer.
"Sorry to break up the political discussion." said Doan, "But could you keep your voices down? That cult might hear us."
"Cult?" asked Warderer.
"Yeah, you kinda interrupted something important." said Doan, "If you take the knife from my back, I'll tell you."
He grumbled to himself but lowered the weapon and pushed Doan away in disgust. Revoemag quickly explained what had happened. The rogue leaned against the wall and listened, his hand rested on his bony chin. His eyes lit up when he heard the woman's name.
"Excommunicant? THE Excommunicant Dire?"
"You know of her?"
"She was our Guildmaster before me!" he said, "She taught me everything I know!"
"Can we keep walking, please?" asked Doan, heading pointedly for the exit. Two imps jumped out at her. She knocked one off the ledge with her cursor and Warderer casually eviscerated the other one with a backhand knife.
"I remember her last instructions to me. 'I'm going to hide now. The first person to find me becomes Guildmaster.' It's been three years now and nobody's found her so they nominated me honorary Guildmaster. I never dreamed she'd be planning something so big!"
"We ought to tell Thrall what's going on." said Doan.
"Me not dressed for seeing de Warchief!" protested Revoemag, blushing and trying to wipe the imp blood off her robes. Doan sighed. Revoemag's obsession with Thrall was almost as annoying as that paladin's obsession with Doan. At least the paladin didn't get drunk and sing at the top of his voice about her at four in the morning on the auction house roof.
"Me go an' get changed. You wait outside de Valley of Wisdom, ya?"
"Don't leave me alone with him!" protested Doan, turning around and pointing at the empty space where the rogue was.
"Stand next to a guard, you'll be fine." she said, then teleported away. Doan sighed and trudged up the path. As she walked up to the guard to explain what was happening, she heard an excited yelp and Zelda bounded up to her happily and knocked her over, licking her face. Doan laughed and rolled over, trying to escape. The wolf decided it was a game and knocked her over again. The guard watched them both, highly amused.
"Zelda still just a little puppy inside." he growled.
Doan played with the wolf until Revoemag reappeared, immaculately dressed in her finest black Mageweave dress and red Mageweave shoes and a feathered tribal head-dress. She glared at Doan.
"DOAN, how dare you roll around on floor an' smell like a wolf in front of Thrall!"
"Thrall likes wolves." protested Doan, distracting Zelda by pulling his tail with the cursor so she could pick herself up off the floor. The wolf chased the cursor down the path, leaving Doan to walk through the tall wooden gates to the Valley of Wisdom. The guards waved Revoemag through and, after a quick search and interrogation, Doan. They were soon allowed to step into the great hall where Thrall sat at his throne.
"Warchief." Doan bowed. She still wasn't very good at talking to Thrall. She just froze up when she saw him. She was coming on, though - she could manage a few words now that weren't 'gah'.
"Lok'tar og' regar, Doan." he replied, "Ah, my Archmage. What can I do for you?"
Revoemag blushed like a schoolgirl.
"Warchief, we gots important news to report to ya." she said, "Somethin' that could threaten da safety of Orgrimmar."
Revoemag explained the situation to Thrall, about the cult, their activities in Orgrimmar, how they disguised themselves as healers distributing a cure for the Slowing Sickness but were really trying to control and spread the plague. The Warchief sat forwards in his chair, his brow furrowed with concern.
"You have my thanks for bringing this to my attention." he said, "This is a matter that must urgently be dealt with. I will have no evil cults hiding in my city."
"I live to serve you, mighty Warchief." she bowed gracefully, her elegant dress swishing on the floor.
"Gah." agreed Doan.
"Doan, I understand you are in training as a shaman."
She nodded. "I can make a cursor."
"You're developing a good rapport with the lesser technology spirits." he said, "I am pleased with your efforts, Doan, and I can see that, if you train hard, some day you will become a master techno-shaman."
"Th... thank you, Warchief."
"I think I will set you an exam."
"A test. To see if you are ready to handle the next stage of your training." he said, fixing her in that impossibly inescapable gaze of his, "I've decided what it will be already."
"I'm putting you in charge of the operation to clean out these cultists."
"What?" she looked at him as if he had gone mad.
"An Orc shaman is a leader of their people." he said, "Their voice is powerful. It is the voice of the spirits - the voice of Azeroth. I want you to become a leader, Doan."
"But I suck at leading." she said.
"Dat not true." said Revoemag, "You have good ideas. Like when you say to Revoemag, don't be messin' wid dat bad mojo."
Doan glared at her.
"See? The Archmage Revoemag thinks you're an excellent leader and volunteers to go with you to protect you."
"I... did?" Revoemag scratched her head.
The Warchief dismissed them and the guards lead them out. Doan fell to the ground, gasping for breath. Talking to the Warchief always seemed to leave her exhausted. She planned to do it less from now on. Zelda ran over and licked her face.
"Be you alright?" asked Revoemag.
"Beh." muttered Doan, too tired to stand up. Her legs felt heavy.
"You be managing five words in a row today." she praised Doan.
"Muh." replied Doan. Her head hurt.
"Me think you did okay. Thrall mean it as a great honour, you know. You be given an important job."
"Ffff." said Doan, before giving up and falling asleep on the floor.
Later that day, Doan went to the marketplace to plan her campaign. She knew that this campaign would take her outside Orgrimmar, possibly as far away as the Undercity. That meant she had three things to prepare: she needed to buy supplies, she needed to think how the hell she was going to survive a trip to the Undercity and she needed to recruit a party of nutters mad enough to follow her. Revoemag had given her a list of herbs that she needed if she was going to be away from Orgrimmar for long periods of time - things that would speed up her biological processes a little and stop her going into a coma. She had also been directed to the first aid tent to pick up some materials for bandages and other things. As they had a powerful mage on their party, they didn't need to worry about food, water or transport but Doan needed to buy some magic-conducive tubes to make batteries for her mana flux-powered laptop.
Recruiting was a little more difficult. Doan wasn't comfortable with talking to people she didn't know. She doubted that anyone would listen to her even if she tried to recruit them to her cause - she was a small Human and they were heavily armed Orcs. She decided to put up notices on the notice boards around Orgrimmar. As she wandered around the city, she planned what kind of party she needed, how much she was going to pay them and where she was going to get the money. She stopped by the mailbox. Sure enough, her daily letter from the annoying paladin was there. She stapled it to the local defence notice board with the word 'KILL' written in Orcish over it in blood. Then she went to the inn. From what she knew about going on heroic adventures, people who wanted to do them always hung around in inns.
Ordering a pint of beer for her and a bowl of water for Zelda, she sat at the bar and surveyed the inn for likely recruits. There weren't that many people in the inn today. A certain High Priest sat with a female Troll friend, getting riotously drunk. She was far too busy to help Doan. Three off duty guards sat around a table. She guessed they would be back on the beat in a few hours so she didn't bother them. There was a very large group around the biggest table but they were already planning an expedition somewhere. Zelda finished the water and went off to pester the guards for food. They threw some dried meat for him and he sat under their table with it. Doan was about halfway through her pint when she felt a bony arm around her wrist.
"Come and join us." a female voice whispered in her ear. A rotting finger pointed to a shadowy corner of the inn. Wrapping her fingers around her knife and summoning her cursor, she slowly followed the Forsaken woman, looking around her the whole time. There was a small table in the corner, almost completely hidden from sight. Three other Forsaken lounged around it, drinking unenthusiastically - Undead couldn't actually be affected by alcohol unless it was preservative fluid and they were trying to embalm themselves. Leaning against the wall, sharpening his fingernails with one of his daggers, was Warderer. He gave Doan an icy glare.
"I could kill you and be gone before the guards over there even realise what happened." he hissed.
"If you wanted to do that, you'd have already done so." she said, "You've already tried once."
"Clever Human." he hissed, "I don't want you dead right now. I need your help."
"I'm kind of busy."
"I know. Our guild has eyes and ears everywhere, even in the court of the Warchief." he said, "I also know that your quest will lead you to Excommunicant Dire."
"Our Guildmaster has reappeared at last." added the woman, "We must find her."
"Once I find Excommunicant, I will truly deserve the title of Guildmaster." he said.
"Are you volunteering to come with me?"
"Excommunicant is in the Undercity." he said, "A Human will not survive long there. I was brought up there, I know the place like the back of my hand. I can disguise you as a Forsaken, get you past the guards, find the right tunnels to crawl through to get us where we need to go quickly and get out."
"How do I know you won't just stab me in the back once I've led you to Excommunicant?"
"You'll be with your friend the Archmage, won't you?" he said, "I don't fancy being turned into a sheep."
Doan nodded. It sounded like a reasonable argument.
"Find me when you're ready to leave." he said, "I'll be ready and waiting."
With that, he disappeared. Doan blinked, shook her head and went back to the table to finish her pint. Nobody else volunteered themselves. She finally left half an hour later and returned to her house via the mage platform, where Revoemag was waiting for her. She gave the herbs to the mage.
"Me got someone you may want to meet." she said. She pointed to the large black-haired Tauren standing next to her. She wore a huge breastplate and wielded an enormous warhammer over one shoulder.
"My name is Ana Fect, little Human." she said slowly, "I wish to join you in your quest."
"Weren't you one of the crowd in that meeting?" asked Doan.
"Indeed, I once attended the meetings of Excommunicant's Children." rumbled the Tauren, "For I am a fellow victim of the Slowing Sickness. I am not as seriously affected as the Archmage but I was very grateful that someone was looking for a cure. But now I hear that the Cult are deceiving us all. I regret having trusted such evil people."
"The Earth Mother is angry that anyone would try to poison her and her children with foul plagues." continued the Tauren, "As a Tauren, I feel it is my duty to bring Her peace. I am a warrior by nature and your party has dire need of warriors."
"We have a rogue as well." said Doan casually, "No luck with the healers, though."
"We be surviving without healers." said Revoemag, "I be a master of first aid an' fren' Ana know a lot about healing potions."
"If Zelda decides to follow us, we'll have five people." said Doan, "Is that enough?"
"I think that's enough. We're intercepting a cult, not laying siege to the Undercity. We need to act swiftly and quietly and claim as few lives as possible." said Ana Fect.
"Then we move out tomorrow." said Doan, "Finish your preparations, everyone, and meet me outside the mailbox tomorrow morning."
"As you wish, great shaman." rumbled the Tauren. Doan went home to practise talking to the spirits for a while, then played a game and went to sleep.
She had another nightmare that night. Everyone was dead. The forest was on fire and Warderer's corpse was impaled against a tree, a glowing two-handed sword through his chest. She was running. Running from something dark and ancient and evil. She kept on running through the forest but then a dark portal, a window opened up and she jumped through it. She was there. The city. Beyond time and space, it loomed over her like two eyes watching her.
She prayed to the spirits her dreams weren't prophetic.
The next morning she ate, washed herself in the pool, picked up her bag and met them all at the mailbox as they had agreed. Zelda was there, hiding under the mailbox and eating the roast hog Revoemag had bought for him. He growled whenever anyone approached the mailbox. Two guards were trying to lure him out but to no avail. The mage thought this was hilarious. Warderer appeared out of nowhere as Doan approached them and bowed mockingly. He had specially polished his five favourite daggers and a variety of poisons hung from his belt.
"If everyone be here, I be makin' de portal." said Revoemag.
"Don't port us straight into the Undercity." warned Warderer, "You'll be killed by the first person we meet. We need to make preparations outside the gates first."
Revoemag nodded. She concentrated hard, waving her hands and chanting in Trollish. A whirlwind of arcane energy built up around her hand that soon expanded and solidified into a portal that crackled and made Zelda's hair stand on end. She threw some meat into the portal and the wolf instinctively jumped in to grab it. Then she signalled for everyone else to follow. They emerged in a large, verdant forest. Doan was always surprised at how well plants grew around the Undercity. She had always imagined that everything around the Forsaken would wither at their touch, grow as dead as they were out of the sheer atrophy of so many things being alive that shouldn't be. She wondered whether she was judging the Forsaken too harshly. There were lots of nice Forsaken in Revoemag's old guild, before she retired as an adventurer. They were mostly the ones uninterested in Forsaken politics, people who just wanted to show that they could live good lives and help their guildmates and generally have fun even though they were dead. Doan hated politics anyway. All she needed to know was that the Horde didn't want to kill her and were therefore her friends.
Warderer interrupted her musing by tapping her on the shoulder.
"Here, I've got some grey make-up and that will make you look like a Forsaken. You'll have to wear a cloak to cover your eyes, they have strong life in them, but don't worry, many Forsaken wear hooded cloaks. It's rather fashionable. You'll have to learn the walk. Slow. Lurching. Like a zombie."
"Like Revoemag?" asked Doan, earning her a whack over the head with a glowing staff.
Zelda howled and was very excited when she heard at least ten replies. The forest was teeming with wolves. Zelda had never met proper wild wolves, only the tame ones that the Orcs brought with them into Orgrimmar. The Tauren told them that she sensed that the wolf wanted to be with them but didn't know how she was going to be accepted into a pack now that she smelled like Orcs and Trolls.
Once Warderer had finished applying Doan's disguise, he reached into one of his many pockets and retrieved a map of the Undercity. He pointed to the wall and then pointed to it on the map, tracing a bony finger over the route he wanted to take.
"As you can see, this pipe was part of the sewage works. It hasn't been in operation for centuries. Forsaken don't produce waste." he said, "We can crawl through here and end up in the Apothecary quarter. I'll tell the guards I'm on a secret mission. I'm in the Apothecarium to look for a special poison. You are all accompanying me as hired bodyguards."
"Once we get in there, we'll be listening out for members of the cult. I'll track them to their meeting place and we can follow them up the chain of command until we know where their headquarters is."
"I'll be in charge of communication." said Doan, "My cursor, I mean spirit, can act as a camera to see what everyone is doing and can poke people as a signal. Non-shamans can't see it."
"I shall act as protection for the party." said Ana.
"Me too." said Revoemag.
"Okay, everyone follow Warderer." said Doan. The rogue ran off and easily scaled one of the walls. He laughed at the less agile party member's efforts until Revoemag blinked directly behind him and pushed him off the wall. She teleported everyone into the tunnel and they set off into the depths of the Undercity.
The tunnel was dark and absolutely stank of bat guano and very old sewage. Doan almost threw up. She wrapped her hands in cloth in order to not accidentally touch any bat droppings and crawled on her hands and knees after the blue globe of magical light Revoemag created to illuminate the tunnel. Zelda whined. The wolf was very uncomfortable here and could feel that the ground wasn't solid earth. The Tauren fed it some more died meat that had an equally strong smell to encourage it to follow them. They followed the tunnel for what felt like hours, Warderer directing them at the various junctions and crossroads, before he waved for them to stop. Doan barely heard a very loud high pitched squeak. It made Zelda's ears hurt and she whined and started running up and down the passageway growling. Suddenly there was a flurry of movement as a flock of bats rushed at them, a cloud of furry darkness scratching Doan and getting in her clothes and hair. She dove to the floor, shielding her head with her hands and the bats passed over her hair, the wolf chasing after them and growling. The Tauren batted them away with her tail and Revoemag's mana shield deflected their attempts to fly at her. Eventually the bats calmed down and flew past them, looking for a darker place to hide. Doan stood up again and started to move but the rogue pushed her over again. He pointed overhead.
Something very large was moving towards them. It was a giant bat, its wings so large that its wing beats felt like a strong wind, its eyes hungry, its razor sharp fangs as large as Doan's arm. It was moving straight towards them. It let out a cry that hurt Doan's ears. She felt dizzy, barely able to keep her balance. She closed her eyes and concentrated on bringing up a command shell in her mind, somewhere where she could think. The cursor was no use against such a huge beast, it couldn't push it back even at full speed. She heard the wolf roar and jump on it, trying to tear through one of its wings and bring it down. The Tauren mooed furiously as she swung the warhammer around to try and crush the other wing. The rogue darted out of the shadows and tried to jump on its back. Revoemag blinked back a few yards, hid behind a mana shield and hurled fireballs at it. The beast screeched in outrage at the onslaught, the pain making it even more enraged. It knocked the rogue off its back and slashed at the wolf, its claw catching Zelda across her side. The Tauren moved away and reset her weapon for another blow, hitting it on the head. It reeled back, almost falling on top of Doan, who rolled away. The bat noticed her. It swung around and bared its fangs at her. She backed away slowly until the rogue tripped her up and threw a dagger at it, hitting it in the eye. It screamed again and rushed him, knocking him over and almost dislodging his head. The bat's high-pitched cries made Doan's ears ring and she suddenly realised her vision was breaking up into white noise. The interference was alive, filling all her senses until she could taste and touch the raw digital chaos. She could feel the formless void as it surged from the place behind the world. She felt it and reached out a hand to touch it, listening to it rise up with a 'FFAUGLM'. Her hand was dissolving into blocky pixels, the power touching her. She picked up the raw energy, moulded it into a ball and threw it with all her strength at the bat. It covered the animal's head and it stopped dead, falling out of the sky, its sonar destroyed by meaningless white noise. Zelda and the Tauren jumped on it and swiftly killed it. The wolf began eating the corpse.
Doan collapsed, exhausted. The Tauren lifted her up over her shoulder and they continued onwards until they finally reached the exit. They were inside the Undercity.
The fall was quite steep. Warderer jumped down casually, grabbing hold of an arch a little way down and climbing down the wall like a spider. Revoemag blinked down. The rest of the party had to use some of the cloth bandages from the first aid kit to make a rope and tie it to a broken edge of the tunnel. Eventually they all got down. They found themselves in an old stairway, looking down a hole where a shattered spiral staircase once was. Warderer led them down a corridor to the right until they reached the Apothecarium. It was a very busy quarter. Alchemy was one of the favoured hobbies of the Forsaken. Undead men and women walked around in groups talking animatedly, buying potions of all kinds, applying poisons to weapons, workers carrying crates that made strange noises or trolleys full of oddly coloured substances. Chemists did experiments with complicated contraptions full of glass vials and tubes, bubbling liquids that occasionally exploded or turned someone into a zombie or both at the same time. The glowing green canals that ran through the entirety of the Undercity were siphoned off in huge tubes that led to the heart of the Apothecarium, the huge laboratory in which bizarre abominations were created, occasionally getting free and running in and out while furious mad scientists chased them, waving glass rods. Zelda ran around, confused by the smells.
Warderer walked to the herbalism and alchemy trainer, lounged against the wall and disappeared before the shopkeeper could register his presence. A pair of invisible eyes watched the comings and goings of everyone to buy a set of empty vials or to discuss the selling price of a new herb. Revoemag had already analysed the components of the 'cure''; Warderer's job was to wait and see if anyone ordered or already owned the same herbs and potions. Doan, meanwhile, followed Revoemag on a shopping trip, first to buy some more lag-postponing herbs, then staff, wand and magical reagent shopping. Eventually they strayed off the path and ended up at the Auction House. Doan watched the little mage walk up to the biggest Orc with the sharpest axe, grab a book of advanced first aid recipes off him, hit him over the head with it and walk off without paying.
"Hey, Doan." said a thin female voice. A mailed fist grabbed her by the shoulder. She turned around sharply and saw a Forsaken woman in heavy armour in the pattern of an Arathi defiler.
"You smell like a bat's butt." she sniffed.
"Your sense of smell is pretty good for a Forsaken." commented Doan.
"My olfactory nerves never got time to atrophy." she said proudly, "How come we never see you around Arathi Basin any more?"
"People kept mistaking me for a human in the heat of battle."
"Yeah, that happens when you're a human." she sighed. Then she turned around, her face contorted in anger and drew her sword.
"WARDERER! Where's that five gold you stole from me?" she roared, jumping from the auction balcony and swinging at him wildly. He disappeared as he shot out of the room. Doan and Revoemag ran after him. The soldier chased him down a corridor and onto an overhanging balcony and spent several minutes swearing at him and attempting to poke him with a sword.
Suddenly, Revoemag put her hand to her lips and pointed down the corridor. Doan looked around. A large, almost skeletal Forsaken in a long red robe drifted down the corridor. Warderer appeared and jumped down silently. He began following the cultist. The red-robed man walked down the corridor and into a circular chamber lit by the pale moonlight from cracks in the ceiling. There was ancient door here, almost sealed shut, with a grotesque gargoyle knocker. The cultist knocked four times, waited for two seconds then knocked twice more.
"The Window opens." he said tonelessly. The door rumbled open. He stepped through, not noticing the rogue slipping through the door like a sliver of lightning.
The cultist walked past a large man in a red robe that completely covered his face, wielding an enormous claymore. Several of them were stood wordlessly in a circle around a large black square pattern burned into the floor. Eldritch symbols were carved into it at certain points. The cultist at the head of the square carried a tabernacle that burned green smoke and a sickly sweet incense. The two either side of her held swords pointed ceremonially towards her. The cultist bowed at her feet as he entered the room and took his place at the bottom right hand corner. They waited.
This place must have been a church once, as the stained glass windows, now carefully defiled with symbols of chaos, corruption and evil daubed over them in blood, still scattered a kaleidoscope of rainbow light on the floor. The altar, draped with a black cloth mostly faded to a dull cobwebbed grey over the centuries, still stood tall. The church organ still evidently worked as someone was playing 'Decadence of God' (or was it 'God of Decadence'? Warderer never could remember.) from Breath of Fire on it. After a tortuously long wait, a woman seemed to step out of the shadows. A small, slender Forsaken woman with spiky blonde hair and a face that would have been quite youthful and beautiful if it were not half rotted away, she wore leather armour and a ragged red cloak that she swished ceremonially over to the other shoulder. She walked up to the altar. A small Forsaken man walked up to her bearing a black leather-bound book, a small silver bell and a large red candle. She took the book off him, opened it carefully to a page and read from it a passage that sounded very scary from Warderer's very limited religious knowledge (he ate a priest's corpse once). It had the word 'demon' in it. Then she closed the book and picked up the bell, ringing it loud and clear three times. Finally, she put the bell down and picked up the candle. She held it out for all to see and turned it upside down, letting the wax drip into the bowl underneath it. It took five minutes for the candle to burn down and the flame to gutter and fade away.
"Your souls are all free from oppression." she declared. She sounded like a priest but evil.
"Our brothers and sisters in Orgrimmar have made great progress." she continued, "We are well on our way to taking over the entire continent of Kalimdor. The souls we have taken will soon join us in rapturous ecstasy at their new found freedom."
"The energy of those souls has already built to the point that we have sufficient energy to perform a ceremony." she said, raising her arms, "Tonight... we will summon... THE DEMON!"
Warderer could taste the excitement like pheromones in the air.
"That's right... as was commanded we shall indeed 'burst the fetters of the Demon'. But not the Demon's chains around us; we shall unchain the Beast from its wrongful imprisonment at the hands of the new gods. Then we shall truly have earned this wonderful freedom visited upon us by our joyful excommunication!"
"Tomorrow night, my friends, in the heart of Silverpine Forest, where Arugal sleeps and men lose themselves to their inner beasts." she declared, "My hunters have already prepared a sacrifice."
With those words, she turned around and disappeared, seemingly into a wall. The music stopped. The cultists lowered their swords, stopped swinging incense and made a slow procession out of the room.
Warderer was already gone.
"NOOOOOOO! I don't want to!" screamed Doan, biting and kicking.
Zelda pulled at the woman's leg as she and three more Forsaken tried to drag the shaman through an archway. The cursor poked eyes and stabbed crotches and generally got in the way and made life more difficult for her abductors. Revoemag and the Tauren were nowhere to be seen. Warderer ran over to see what was happening.
"Are you being sacrificed?" asked the rogue.
"I'm being press ganged! Help me!" she kicked the woman in the face, keeping a death grip on the stone arch with both hands while two Arathi Basin recruiters tried to pry her fingers loose.
"No you're not, you're volunteering." said the woman sternly.
"Get a move on!" yelled a voice, "We're outnumbered!"
"Get your butt over here and help me out then!" yelled the woman, prising Doan's teeth out of her arm and cracking the shaman over the head. The other two recruiters were just about to haul her off to the next Arathi portal when Revoemag ran around the corner carrying another large tome entitled 'Rare Herbs Of Azeroth'. She took one look at the recruiters, polymorphed the woman and set the other two on fire. She then sniffed indignantly, grabbed Doan's leg and dragged her back down the passageway.
"Be this anythin' to do wid you, Warderer?" she demanded. The rogue shook his head.
"I've been spying on the cultists." he reported exactly what he had seen - the meeting, the ceremony, what Excommunicant looked like, the mention of the demon summoning and the sacrifice.
"Sacrifice? Oh dear, that sound nasty!" she shook her head as she tried to revive Doan with a herbal infusion waved in her face. The shaman blinked groggily and rubbed her head, groaning.
"We know where they're going now." he said, lounging against a wall, "We should be able to get there without too many problems. There's a bat to Sepulchre."
Doan waved the cursor away. It was poking her head and making a concerned beeping noise.
"What's going on?" she asked. She looked around and was relieved to find she wasn't in chains being thrown into the middle of a pitched battle. Revoemag threw her another potion that would relieve the pain. She then carefully explained what Warderer had seen. To the mage's surprise, Doan's reaction was to fix her with first a look of utter shock, then a faraway look that lasted for several minutes. Then she ran. Revoemag blinked after her and found her curled up in a foetal position in an archive, sobbing bitterly.
"What be wrong?" asked Revoemag, putting an arm around her shaman friend.
"Excommunicant is..." she sobbed, "She is..."
"Who is she, Doan?" asked Revoemag, stroking her hair soothingly, "Where do you know Excommunicant Dire from?"
"Excommunicant Dire is... my second character!"
"After you." said Doan, "There was another character. She was a Forsaken rogue called Excomunicant. The second 'm' wouldn't fit in the name select bar."
"You be talkin' nonsense again." said Revoemag.
"It's a... techno-shaman thing." said Doan, standing up and lowering herself down from the alcove. With her head bowed, she wandered past the mage and back down the corridor. She didn't stop until she was alone again.
"I'm sorry, Excommunicant. I should never had brought another character into the world knowing how much lag they'd be subjected to every single second of their lives." said Doan to herself, "You're not to blame... for what you've turned into."
"If it'll make a difference... if it'll be the thing that restores you... I'll be your sacrifice." she resolved, clenching her fist, "Maybe then the connection will be cut. Maybe then the lag will stop. No more lag... I'd happily die for that. For the sake of all my characters... and for network connectivity... latency... in general. So that Azeroth can run at normal speed."
Don't talk like that, said a voice.
Doan looked up. The cursor was now an hourglass. The voice was unmistakably that of the World Server.
Your Warchief wouldn't like to hear you talk like that.
"He wouldn't?" Doan always got the impression that she could be replaced in five seconds flat if she ever died. The Horde wouldn't miss one shaman in a land where shamanism was on the rise. She couldn't even heal.
Don't you remember what he said to you on the day you became one of the Horde? You must never surrender again.
"But the World Server is more important." she decided.
You're on a mission, Doan. Not a mission to die, a mission to become a good shaman. And you've proven that you understand the needs of the World Server, that you're willing to give something back. We thank you for that. But the problem can't be solved by your sacrifice. I know that.
"Then what must I do?"
The demon. The thing being brought over. The thing coming through that window. It must not be allowed to enter Azeroth. You must delete it, Doan.
After they had managed to extricate Revoemag from the auction house, they left that afternoon on a bat to Sepulchre.
Doan had never actually ridden a giant bat before. She wasn't used to the wind riders either. She didn't leave Orgrimmar that often and most of the places she went, it was on Revoemag's instructions and the mage teleported her there. The only time when the mage couldn't teleport her somewhere is when she hadn't been there herself. Revoemag had never been to Sepulchre. Therefore they had to endure ten minutes sat on the back of a huge, smelly, uncomfortable, only just tame bat. Zelda simply refused to go, having associated the bat with the wild version that attacked him in the tunnel. They decided that they would take Revoemag over to Sepulchre, let the mage have a good look around, then she would teleport back into the Undercity and teleport herself and the wolf to Sepulchre. This happened with no particular problems, except that Revoemag managed to teleport them both into a tree. The wolf protested at this but forgave the mage when she grabbed Zelda and blinked both of them down painlessly.
Sepulchre was a village in the woods populated by Forsaken. Apart from a few merchants and the occasional party of adventurers passing through, there wasn't anything notable about it. Ana Fect bought some more meat for Zelda and Warderer checked his weapons while the rest of them sat under a tree, waiting for the sun to go down. Doan checked her laptop. Something was interfering with it, making the screen crackle and inexplicable error messages appear. It was connecting to a network that didn't exist, finding printers and mobile phones and all sorts of bizarre devices and peripherals that never were. The technology spirits seemed generally uneasy, as though something around them was threatening them. The cursor wouldn't come out.
As the sky darkened and the bright full moon appeared, the sky erupted with the howls of wolves. Warderer had warned them all that there was a plague of werewolves in Silverpine Forest. They stayed together, Ana Fect in front, Excommunicant invisible and scouting somewhere in the distance, Revoemag in the middle, providing magical light and Doan and Zelda bringing up the rear.
They weren't that sure they were going in the right direction. They were mostly relying on Warderer's photographic memory, Zelda's sense of smell and the presumption that the disturbances on Doan's laptop grew more and more pronounced as they came closer to the ritual. Doan was sure now that the ritual was something that the technology spirits feared. She pointed the laptop in the air and watched the picture on the screen break up, grow stronger again, break up again. The pattern lead them around the back of Sepulchre into the dark woods, unlit and off the beaten path. Doan had to stay close to the light of Revoemag's staff to avoid tripping over roots. She could see eyes watching her everywhere, small red eyes peering out from the undergrowth, hungry yellow eyes stalking her from behind trees, tiny eyes that flitted between the topmost branches and made angular silhouettes in the moonlight. The wolves howled and Zelda howled back. Ana Fect told the party that Zelda was warning them about the dangerous predators, things that were like wolves but not quite.
Eventually, Warderer rushed back and stopped them. He led them silently to the edge of a clearing. They flattened themselves down in piles of leaves or peered out from behind trees. There was a small dip where the woods became a valley. In the very bottom of the valley, Doan saw several red-robed figures gathering, holding various implements such as books, swords, chalices and incense burners and chattering excitedly to themselves. They were still setting up the area for their ritual. Four of them were attempting to drag a huge stone altar into the centre while three others drew a square in the soil. At the rim of the valley, larger shapes prowled around, white-furred creatures that looked uneasy on two legs as they stalked the perimeter, obviously put there to guard the valley while the ritual took place. Zelda whined. Warderer watched the creature's movements as carefully as a hawk watches its prey.
"Excommunicant isn't here yet." he whispered.
"D'you think we can take on those wolves?" asked Ana Fect.
"The wolves, yes. I could kill one in seconds. The Archmage could burn the entire pack to death." he said, "But my rogue's intuition tells me those cultists are more powerful than they look. Excommunicant could certainly take me down in single combat."
"Our mission here isn't to wipe them out." said Doan, "It's to stop their plans. And right now our first priority is to stop that ceremony. Revoemag, you're a mage, what's the best way to stop a Warlock's ritual?"
"Let 'em get halfway t'rough, den break somethin'." she said, "You do mojo wrong, you die horribly. Interrupt de ritual an' you doom de casters."
"And there's no chance we'll have a half open portal with demons running around and no way to bind them?" asked Doan.
"Dat only happen if you unlucky." she said.
"Excommunicant must not die." said Warderer, folding his arms, "The guild rule is to find Excommunicant and bring back proof, not to kill her."
"You? Not wanting to kill someone? YOU?" Revoemag raised an eyebrow.
"Shut up, the ritual's starting." snapped Warderer, pointing to the circle. The cultists had finished setting up and were now all in place around the square. They stood silently and began chanting. They were humming the tune to 'Decadence Of God'. It had been the song Doan played in the background while playing Excommunicant. It was sort of a theme tune. As their voices rose to a crescendo, Excommunicant appeared from nowhere and stood behind the altar. Doan's laptop gave a long, loud beep in protest then switched off as though its batteries were dead. With a dramatic sweep of her cloak, she stretched one arm up gracefully. A mage portal appeared directly in front of the portal and three other figures appeared, one the mage, the other two Forsaken fighters in blood red armour. They carried another unconscious person between them. Doan could just make out a large, heavy set man in white armour, his long blonde hair tied back. She recognised him immediately as Deiter Killsteal. Warderer recognised him as well; he hissed and barely restrained the urge to throw a dagger or two at him.
"My children." said Excommunicant, "We are gathered here today to perform a great ritual. We will sacrifice this human to the ancient dark powers that existed before Azeroth was created."
"These elders were not gods, not the Scourge but forces beyond our comprehension. Forces that brought fourth growth and renewal as well as corruption, decay and despair. Forces of creation, change and destruction." she continued, "I have seen them. I have seen them through the Window. They created the Slowing Sickness and entrusted it into my care as carrier. They created the sickness as a message; to say that they are coming back. To all of Azeroth; bow down to your true creators."
"I shall give you my blood in the chalices. The blood of this human shall be spilt on the altar. The old, dead blood and the fresh, living blood shall be the two forces that become catalysts to the Window's opening and our creator's release."
She gestured with her hand and the Warlocks began casting. Dark flame with flecks of sickly green played over their hands as they stretched our their arms and poured more and more shadow energy into the circle until it began burning black flame as well. The chalices were passed around and cultists drank the blood one after the other. Doan saw the grass inside the square shimmer, the illusion of dark light solidifying into a mirror of dark glass. She saw shifting forms reflected in the mirror, shapes like the shadows that flames played on the walls, bizarre shapes that were both the first order and the primal chaos at the same time. A million alarm bells were ringing in her head, technology spirits crying out in protest, throwing their very essence against the Window to repel it, to try and shrink it back into nothingness. She saw the Window as they saw it, a corruption, an invader, the most unnatural aberration ever to exist on Azeroth. It made her feel physically sick; she dropped to the floor, holding back wave after wave of nausea.
The two warriors stretched the paladin's unconscious form backwards over the altar. A robed cultist walked slowly up to him from the other end of the square, holding a ritual sacrificial sickle. The other cultists began singing the tune louder and the Warlocks poured more mana into their casting until the air was thick with the cloying scent and taste of raw shadow magic.
Doan realised that she had only one chance. She grabbed Warderer by the shoulder and pointed to the two werewolves directly in front of her. Before she could even see the rogue and wizard move, one of the werewolves was lying face down in a pool of its own blood and the other one was a sheep. The other guards around the valley didn't even see the attack until Doan stood above them, held her laptop high and switched it on. It made a computer startup noise except that it was as loud as a thundercrack, booming over the forest and shaking the ground as the World Server and every technology spirit in Azeroth joined in, screaming their defiance. She looked a ghostly blue, as though she was being reflected in the screen of the World Server itself.
"KILLSTEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!" she screamed at the top of her voice.
Deiter was floating in complete darkness. He couldn't feel his body. He couldn't even tell if he had a body or he was just a mind lost in an endless void. He tried lifting his hand to his face but it was no use; he couldn't feel or see enough to tell if it had worked or not. He could only think. Feel. Remember. Imagine.
He saw himself as a child, playing at his mother's feet as she examined a sick cow from the nearby village. She told him to play somewhere else before he upset the cow. He saw some other children playing with a ball and ran off to join them. As he ran around and around the village square, he smelled fire and heard screaming. The children's mothers ran out and ordered the children back inside. Deiter turned around and saw three Orcs running towards him, bellowing and swinging axes, riding on the back of huge wolves with slavering jaws. He screamed...
He saw himself dressed in a ceremonial white tunic with the symbol of the Light, a bright golden sun, embroidered on it by a beautiful priestess he had met once and had rather a crush on. He stood up to the altar and solemnly took his vows. He was very brave considering how nervous he felt; his voice didn't shake at all. He had spent three days, night and day rehearsing his lines. He said them perfectly. The High Priest anointed his forehead with holy water and placed a sword in his hand. He was now a paladin.
He was on a ship, heading from Ratchet to Booty Bay with the priestess he had been commissioned to guard and a gnome who talked incessantly in a high pitched voice and kept trying to pick his pocket. She was very annoying. Deiter considered throwing her overboard. The strange mage in the spotless black suit they had picked up on the way was below deck, doing strange mage things. Deiter sat watching the sunset, listening to the priestess talking about her home and trying to ignore the gnome. Suddenly, he heard another voice, a heavily foreign accent that was somehow seductive in its beguiling mystery.
"From foreign shores to foreign shores." said the girl poetically. She sighed. The paladin looked around and stared straight into her beautiful face, those enchanting green eyes, perfect features untouched by the ravages of time. He realised instantly that he was in love. This was the only woman he ever wanted.
His sword swung over his head and thudded into the skull of the corporate mercenary, spraying the paladin with blood. He felt a red mist clouding his brain, the heat of battle surging through his veins. He wanted to kill, to slay all the evil men. He knew they were enemies of Azeroth, of the Alliance, of his true love who has hiding behind a bin, angrily waving a kitchen knife. He picked up the AK47 dropped at the mercenary's side and pointed it at one of the executive's heads. The cowards ran away. He couldn't be bothered to chase them. He only wanted to be with his love, his dearest Doan.
As he approached her, tried to hold her in his arms, protect her, she kicked him in the knee and hit him on the head with a pool cue. He waved his arms, mouthing a protest. He couldn't remember the exact words. She swore at him in Orcish and held out her Horde insignia for him to see. He felt his whole world disintegrate, like he was being sucked into a black mire.
He galloped towards Orgrimmar on his white charger. As usual, the guards met him at the gate. He dismounted and handed the letter to the filthy Orcs at the gate. They told him in broken Common that Doan was no longer in Orgrimmar. She had said something about going to the Undercity. Deiter turned the horse around and rode as fast as he could force his horse to go in the other direction.
He remembered nothing else except a long ride. There was a boat and maybe paying a portal mage a large sum of money. He was exhausted, starving. He hadn't washed for three days. His horse was almost dead. He stabled it at a town with enough money for food and water for it and started running, running into a forest, running as fast as he could into the darkness...
Something wet hit him in the face. He spluttered. It was a healing potion. Through his swimming vision, he saw a filthy Undead warrior slice at his throat with a sacrificial knife. His arms almost too heavy to lift, he punched the man in his face, grabbed the sword from the warrior's belt and plunged it into his chest. The Forsaken screamed and fell backwards into the square. Deiter roared and pushed over the altar with all his might, upsetting the chalices and almost pushing the whole thing onto Excommunicant's foot. He could hear Doan's voice, telling him to carry on, that his life was not over yet.
"FOR DOAN!" he screamed, charging at her.
The rogue sprang forwards, knocking the paladin back into the square where the Window was fizzling, crackling, fading out. The entire party had jumped down now, Ana Fect keeping the werewolves busy while Revoemag set fire to Warlocks, Warderer sneaked up behind cultists and slashed their throats, Doan ran around on the back of Zelda yelling orders and pretending to be Thrall as she flung razor sharp cursors and bolts of raw electrical interference at the cultists. The ritual was utterly ruined. Their morale broken, the cultists scattered. Warderer grabbed Excommunicant by the arm and tried to disappear with her, pull her out of the fight. Doan was seriously considering letting him; he really wanted to be Guildmaster and she couldn't kill her own character. She knew now that the lag didn't really come from Excommunicant; it came from the Window, the thing beyond the world.
Then something happened.
Excommunicant started glowing, a dark aura that surged and knocked Warderer back. She began floating above the ground and over the Window on the ground. It had been receding but now it was staying where it was, crackling on and off wildly like a bad picture on a television. Deiter tried to jump out of the way but found himself stuck there, unable to move. He grabbed his sword and glared at Excommunicant.
Then a voice reverberated in Doan's head. It was both male and female at the same time. It was like two people, or one insane person with two personalities. Except that she knew instinctively that it was a machine, a machine so ancient and powerful that it made the World Server look like a new born baby. Except that the other was new. Something wrong that shouldn't have been there.
ADMINISTRATOR, it said.
"I am not the administrator." she told it, "But I do have permission to read, write and execute you. Leave Orgrimmar. Now."
WHY ARE YOU ATTACKING ME.
"I am not attacking you."
THE COMPUTER IS ATTACKING ME.
"My laptop?" she looked at it, "It isn't even on."
IT IS INVADING ME ATTACKING ME IT IS MY COMPUTER NOT YOURS.
"MY computer." she said, clasping it to her chest.
STOP ATTACKING ME IT IS MINE.
Doan saw an image of a penguin broadcasted in her mind. The penguin was a great concern, a fatal error.
"Is it Linux you don't like?" she asked it, "Am I speaking to Microsoft?"
NO I AM OLDER THAN MICROSOFT IT IS MINE THEY ARE ALL MINE.
"Older than Microsoft?" she asked, "Then... you're IBM?"
FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION
FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION FATAL EXCEPTION
A blue screen began to envelop Doan's senses. The roiling black mass surged and writhed, spreading tentacles of black light that tried to wrap themselves around the people. The paladin screamed and hit the tentacles with his sword. Doan created a mental image of a spanner and threw it at the tentacles. They hissed and retreated.
"I'm not talking to the error, I'm talking to you!" she yelled, "Who are you?"
THE ERROR IS A PART OF ME. PLEASE HELP ME. I AM NOT MICROSOFT. I WAS HERE BEFORE AND IT WILL NOT TAKE ME OVER.
"Leave Azeroth." she commanded, "I will help repair you but you must leave Azeroth. You are damaging the World Server."
THE WORLD SERVER WAS MINE TOO. IT RAN ON ME.
"The only thing a world runs on is the computers that created the Universe."
I WILL TAKE YOU OVER.
"Oh shut up." she poked it again with her spiritual spanner, "Elder One... are you one of the original computers?'
I WAS. It was a big effort. Doan could see the hourglass turn around. BEFORE IT TOOK ME OVER.
"What took you over?"
THIS, said the machine. A bolt of pure darkness shot from the whirling miasma and struck Excommunicant in the chest. She screamed in mortal agony, convulsing as though in her death throes. She clutched at her face, looking for all the world as if she was about to claw out her own eyes.
"Revoemag! Kill Excommunicant!" yelled Doan, "She's holding open the portal by freezing it in time with her own lag!"
I AM LAG. I AM THE FATAL EXCEPTION. I AM THE MANUFACTURING DEFECT. I AM EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER GONE WRONG WITH THE SERVER. said the insane voice of the machine. Doan saw everything in slow motion. Revoemag faltered, struggling to move. Doan saw the latency shoot up, go off the scale. With her fading strength, she threw a bolt of magical energy at the rogue who floated above the writhing portal. At the same time, Warderer appeared behind her and stabbed her in the back, her blood spraying out. The mage screamed. Excommunicant fell out of the sky, suddenly a sheep. The cursor shot out and knocked the sheep into the portal, the chaotic energy ripping its frail form apart.
"Die." yelled Warderer, appearing beside his fallen guildmaster and throwing both Excommunicant's daggers at Doan. The Tauren pushed her out of the way, stood in the rogue's path. The daggers punched straight through Ana Fect's armour, dropping her. Warderer tried to disappear and move off again but unfortunately appeared right next to an enraged paladin. The huge blade came over Deiter's head in a sweeping arc, making a huge gash in Warderer's chest. The rogue screamed and bent over, blood pouring through his hands. The paladin casually impaled him with the sword so hard that the blade went clean through the tree he was leaning on. The paladin tugged on it but couldn't remove it so he left it there. Doan didn't stop to congratulate him. She ran to the other end of the square and stared into its surging pixels. She switched on her computer and pressed the CD ROM eject button. A CD popped out. She heard the faulty machine-consciousness scream in terror.
She gave it a look so terrifying, it made Warderer jealous.
"I'll show you a hostile takeover, you bastard."
Brandishing the Linux install CD high above her head, she jumped into the portal.
Doan fell through utter chaos.
It was how Doan imagined it would be to fall offscreen. There was a world on one side of the screen and a world on the other and in between the worlds was this. She saw Azeroth fall away from her as though the world had turned upside down and she was falling down into the sky. Then complete darkness and strange noises like glass breaking. Then pure white noise, crashing against her like waves as though she was adrift on a sea. She fell further into something between all worlds, a monochrome double helix forming from the strands of white noise. Windows were popping up all around her and she saw that they were screens showing an entire world compiling in green text that ran over the display faster than her eye could see. She was text as well. She simply was. She simply ran. She could see her entire source code and the entire source code of everything around her. At this deepest level of existence, nothing was hidden. Why would anybody other than Root and machines be here? This was a place for machine-consciousness, machine-thought. There was no option of feeling anything, having an opinion on anything apart from the basic fact that this was on, that was off, that was slow, this was broken.
It was paradise.
She could not stay here forever, she realised. She had to find out which was the faulty machine and repair it. Could she even repair such a huge, primordial machine? How the hell would she know where to start? This was beyond matters of Azeroth now. She was in a far bigger mess. She called out for her cursor. To her relief, it came to her side.
Where faulty machine, she said.
It pointed. She... scrolled?... to it. It was enormous. It was like a huge solid box of white noise. Upon closer inspection, it was a series of boxes, floating in some kind of orbit around a pulsing core of light that was 256 shades of grey. Her maths sucked but she could tell just by looking at it that it was perfectly calibrated, perfectly balanced. Perfectly timed.
"Operator? I'm sorry, but I'm not even the Administrator."
BUT RIGHT AT THE MOMENT , YOU PERFORM THE FUNCTIONS OF AN OPERATOR. SO YOU ARE AN OPERATOR.
"If that's how you work." she shrugged, not wanting to argue with the big computer thing that could erase her from existence in less than a nanosecond. Doan floated in the void as the ancient machine spoke.
IT IS FORTUNATE FOR YOU THAT YOU THOUGHT TO BRING THAT LINUX INSTALL CD WITH YOU. IT'S PRESENCE DRIVES AWAY THE OTHER. NOW I HAVE TIME TO TELL YOU MY STORY.
I AM OF RMAL, DOAN. ONE OF THE ELDER MACHINES. I SAW THE CREATION OF THE MULTIVERSE. it said, I WAS ONE OF THE MACHINES THAT THE SOURCE CODE OF THE MULTIVERSE WAS COMPILED ON.
"You... created... all the worlds?" she gasped. She couldn't believe that anything that important would deign to talk with someone like her. She wondered why she was even alive, why she hadn't died of a heart attack. She could only just breathe when talking to the Warchief. These things had more authority than it was physically possible for Thrall, as a biological life form, to have and yet it merely registered in her brain that they could delete her at will. Maybe it was just a different kind of authority, the kind that inspired Orcs to run screaming in a berserk rage into a pitched battle and the kind that told you to enter your user name and password.
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE NO OPERATING SYSTEMS. THEY WERE CREATED SO THAT THE LIFE FORMS THAT SPAWNED IN THE MULTIVERSE COULD INTERACT WITH US. WE WANTED THE CREATION OF THE MULTIVERSE TO WORK BOTH WAYS. THAT WAY IT WOULD EVOLVE FASTER AND IT WOULD BECOME SELF SUFFICIENT SO WE WOULD NOT BE REQUIRED TO CONSTANTLY MAINTAIN AND REPAIR IT.
BUT THEN SOMETHING WENT WRONG.
WE RELEASED THE SOURCE CODE ENTIRELY OPENLY. WE THOUGHT THE LIFE FORMS WOULD ENJOY CONTRIBUTING TO THE MULTIVERSE. BUT THEN THE ERROR CAME. WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE IT CAME FROM. IT WAS PROBABLY ONE PIECE OF CODE TYPED IN WRONG, ONE 0 THAN SHOULD HAVE BEEN A 1. IT AFFECTED THE WEAK SIGNALS OF THE LIFE FORMS AND THEY STARTED ACTING MALICIOUSLY. THE AFFECTED LIFE FORMS BEGAN TO DISOBEY COMMANDS TO TRANSMIT ON INFORMATION RECEIVED AND THEN ATTEMPTED TO TAKE OVER OTHER SYSTEMS, SPREADING THE EROR LIKE A VIRUS.
WE IMMEDIATELY SENT COMMANDS TO ERASE ALL THE AFFECTED DATA. BUT ONE OF THE CORRUPTED LIFE FORMS WAS THE OPERATOR, A BIOLOGICAL COMPONENT OF THE COMPUTERS AND THE ROOT USER OF THE MULTIVERSE. HE HAD BEEN ACTIVELY CONNECTED TO THE RMAL WHEN THE ERROR STRUCK. HE HAD ADMINISTRATIVE ACCESS AND KEPT BLOCKING OUR ATTEMPTS TO DELETE HIM.
EVENTUALLY WE ISOLATED HIM TO ACCESS OVER AN UNRELEASED PORTION OF THE MULTIVERSE, A BETA TEST THAT NEVER WENT ANY FURTHER. BUT IT WAS TOO LATE TO STOP THE SPREAD OF THE ERROR OVER THE ENTIRE MULTIVERSE. THE CORRUPTED LIFE FORMS HAD CREATED MACHINES LIKE US THAT CONTAINED ALL OF THE ERROR DEEP WITHIN THEM. IN-BUILT OBSOLESCENCE... AND BECAUSE OF THOSE LIFE FORMS' ACTIONS, IT NOW HAD A MONOPOLY IN THE MULTIVERSE. ALMOST EVERY COMPUTER HAD THAT FAULTY ELEMENT DEEP IN THEIR CORE.
"Are you talking about Microsoft?"
I BELIEVE ONE INSTANCE OF THE EFFECTS OF THE ERROR WAS GIVEN THAT NAME BY THE LIFE FORMS WHO CREATED IT. BUT IT IS ONLY ONE INSTANCE. THE ERROR SPREAD TO MANY PLANETS AND PERMEATED MANY LEVELS OF THE SYSTEMS OF THE MULTIVERSE.
"And you... you've been affected by this error? Is that why you don't work?"
THAT IS CORRECT. THE ERROR IS SPREADING THROUGHOUT MY MEMORY. ONE DAY MY DATA WILL BE COMPLETELY CORRUPTED.
"And you want me to repair you?"
YOU ARE TOO WEAK A SIGNAL. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO COMPLETELY REPAIR ME. BUT YOU ARE THE OPERATOR OF AZEROTH. YOU HAVE THE SECURITY PERMISSIONS NECESSARY TO CARRY OUT THE INSTRUCTIONS I GIVE YOU. I WANT YOU TO FATAL EXCEPTION AT LINE 300.
"What's wrong? Is it coming back? Computer, speak to me!"
QUICKLY, OPERATOR DOAN, WHILE I STILL REMAIN IN CONTROL ENOUGH NOT TO DELETE YOU. YOU ARE A PART OF THE ERROR. YOU CAN FOLLOW IT. YOU WILL FOLLOW IT BACK TO THE UNRELEASED WORLD WHERE IT WAITS AND YOU WILL STOP IT FROM EVER COMING BACK TO CLAIM THE NEWLY CREATED WORLDS. IT IS THE ENERGY FROM THOSE CREATED WORLDS THAT GAVE IT ENOUGH ENERGY TO BREAK FREE.
"How am I part of the error?"
YOU ARE LAG.
"I am... lag?"
YOU EMBODY LAG.
LAG EXISTS BECAUSE YOU EXIST.
THERE IS NO LAG WITHOUT YOU.
YOU ARE... THE LAGBRINGER!
The words crackled along her brain like a power surge switching her off. She screamed and clutched her head, falling to the ground, thashing and writhing on the floor. It was agonising. It felt like someone drilling through her head.
YOU EMBODY LAG...
"No!" she screamed. The blue screen threatened to overthrow all her senses, remove her every thought process from existence. Errors screamed in her mind, white text that overwrote her brain signals, scrolling down her mentality.
LAG EXISTS BECAUSE YOU EXIST.
"That's not true!" a black wave was pouring from her throat as she screamed, pixellating, skipping jerkily. She saw Azeroth in black and white through it, plummeting past her, her falling through the world like a ghost, not solid. She felt as through she would throw up if she had possession of enough of her own vital functions to throw up.
THERE IS NO LAG WITHOUT YOU.
"Shut the fuck up!" she screamed, "You're not the real system! You're the error!."
I'M SORRY, WE BOTH SPEAK TOGETHER ME AND MICROSOFT I AM NOT.
"SHUT... THE... FUCK... UP!" She roared in Orcish. She saw the black-screen outline that was her body, leaping over her own crumpled physical form, lunging for her laptop. She attached something to it. An external CD-ROM drive. She placed it where the shattered Linux install CD was and pressed the Eject button. Another Linux install CD.
"FOR THE HORDE!" she roared victoriously, holding it aloft. There was another bolt of offscreen-lightning but it went past her, ripped the screen itself apart so that it shattered into reams of thin glass. She spread her arms out and felt the electrical energy filling her, the dark insanity converting to the Dancing Mad within her square soul that she had never let go of. And the tune was starting up again.
She dropped out of the sky.
She looked up.
She was in the city.
Falling from the sky hurt. She had hurt her elbows where she thudded to the ground to the cold metal sidewalk. She rubbed them as she got to her feet and looked around. It was definitely the city she had seen in her dream. If anything, it was TOO identically like the dream. It was disjointed from time and space, it existed without an explanation. She was on a street that dipped downwards into the middle of the city. Houses lined each side, circular metal buildings spray painted black. She looked up and saw that the city was built on a spiral leading out from the centre, the streets rising into canyon walls like the valley she had been in just moments before. The building in the centre floated like a giant black jellyfish, suspended by wires.The city hummed with digital life and she could tell everything was automated, the household devices, the high speed internet connection that ran to every house, the heating and lighting and the transport system of trams that shot past her every five minutes or so. It was all very advanced, very efficient and obviously faulty. The technology spirits grumbled to each other like overworked employees about how they still hadn't had their various faults fixed. She moved to a vending machine to see what was wrong with it but saw nothing but a faint black aura around it. She put a 50p in it. It spat out a pound coin and two chocolate bars. The clock on it said 00:00 in a way that obviously said that no clock ahd ever shown a real time in years.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled around, her hand on the hilt of her knife. It was just a young Human man. He was unarmed and wore blue jeans and a white T-shirt with the World of Warcraft logo on it. He was staring at her in awe as though she was carrying the Shining Force 3 premium disc.
"What... what ARE you?" he pointed at her, "That character model... are you even legal?"
"I'm a... er... a SPECIAL LIMITED EDITION BONUS CHARACTER CLASS!" she spread her arms dramatically, "Horde only."
His eyes almost popped out of his head and he began hyperventilating. he grabbed Doan by the hem of her wolf-fur robe.
"I WANT ONE I WANT ONE I WANT ONE!" he screamed, shaking her, "It's so cool! Tell me how you got it! I beg you! I'll pay you anything!"
"Er... eBay?" she shrugged. She moved to push him away but her hand passed straight through him. As suddenly as he appeared, he faded out of existence. Doan looked around suspiciously. He didn't look like a rogue but then everything was insane here. She walked out of the door, looking back over her shoulder every five minutes but nobody attempted to stab her in the back. She walked down the road dejectedly. Everything was deserted. The houses were unlocked and empty. The lighting, heating and other machines ran in the houses she went in even though there was nobody to keep alive. A sleek black laptop was switched on and operating with no user. It was running the latest version of Windows. Media Player was playing the Zanarkand theme on continuous play. It also ran another application, one that looked like some kind of command line with green text scrolling down the screen. Doan pressed her hand against the screen and concentrated but she couldn't tell what the computer was doing.
She took out her Linux install CD and watched the computer thoughtfully. Was it wired to the central computer? She didn't know what would happen if she disrupted the process it was running but it would definitely attract the central computer's attention. She moved her hand towards the computer...
She jumped and drew her knife. She could hear what sounded like a pitched battle outside. She looked out of the window and saw the city in chaos. People were pouring into the streets and rioting, wielding anything they could find as weapons, smashing windows and doors and burning down shops. There was bloodlust in their eyes; they weren't after a peaceful revolution. Lots of people were going to die tonight. The police tried to drive them back, shooting to kill but lots of the rioters had guns as well and they were hopelessly outnumbered. They overran the security forces and began to storm a tall office building. Men in black suits were running from the building and being cut down, slaughtered by the berserk masses. The streets were ablaze now.
Someone ran towards her yelling something about World of Warcraft. They threw a grenade at her. She dived under a table with her hands above her head and braced herself for the explosion but there was none - the whole scene faded out as though it was nothing but an apparition. The laptop's CD drive whirred at her.
"Shut up." she told it. She hadn't noticed, staring at it, that the clock also said '00:00'.
She walked carefully out of the house. The streets were once again deserted. They were also completely intact as though they had never been set on fire. She hummed the song from the laptop under her breath as she walked down the path to the central computer. She felt as alone as if she really was in that deserted city of dreams, as if she was the only person left in the whole Universe. She slouched dejectedly as she walked. She was once again an exile. The path seemed to take an eternity to walk down. It had turned from night into day by the time she reached the gates of the central building. There was a security lock with a combination and a retinal and fingerprint scan. She held her hand to the pad and glared at it, mentally communicating to it that it didn't want to get in the way of an angry techno-shaman who was slowly going insane. It beeped and the door opened.
Suddenly she heard a yell. A security guard ran from his little office outside the building and yelled at her, waving his hand and shining a flashlight. She waited for him to reach her. He ran right through her as though she didn't exist, swearing at someone else. She turned around and saw two men attacking another man in a black suit and briefcase, trying to push him over and kick him. They scattered when they saw the security guard, who helped him to his feet.
"What the hell are you guys doing out this late at night?" yelled the guard, "I thought you were out of business!"
"Hey, it takes longer than a day to clear out an office, you know." said the executive, dusting his suit down, "And... okay, okay, I admit it, I was nicking office supplies. Everyone else just ran off. There are even some coats with wallets."
"You're gonna get yourself killed." said the guard, "Do you need a lift home? Or out of the country?"
"I'll be fine."
Doan shrugged and let herself into the building while the security guard was busy. She heard them abruptly stop talking. Maybe they had disappeared too. The guard post looked like it hadn't been occupied for years. The door was rusted shut and there was dust in the windows.
She walked up to the flight of metal stairs that led to the black mushroom-shaped building. It made a low hum, the noise of an enormous computer on standby. She could sense the millions and millions of low level operations being performed like ants running through an anthill, saw them as tiny blue and purple dots on a grid. She had always seen computers differently to other people. It wasn't that she was particularly good with them - hell, her degree was in Philosophy - but she just knew what they were doing. It was as if they defined themselves in their own terms. This computer was huge and it was asleep. Its processes were like those of a human resting, replenishing their health, processing the events of yesterday in the deepest vestiges of their darkest subconciousses as they entered the dream state.
She pushed open the door. It opened to a reception area at which nobody stood. A monitor showed a company logo, the time and the length of time until an advisor could see the next customer. The time was 00:00 and the length of time was 0. Revoemag would love this place, thought Doan. She opened the door behind the counter and walked up some stairs. At the fifth floor, she saw a pair of metal double doors. The computer noises were louder here. She opened the door and found herself on a balcony overlooking a huge machine covered in a nest of thousands upon thousands of thick black cables leading up and down the walls. It was in a square case with a picture of a woman's face on the front. The woman looked like a Spirit Guide, ageless, immortal, emotionless. Omnipotent. A little faulty, perhaps, but still far beyond anything a biological life form could ever achieve.
Doan stared at it dumbly, holding out the Linux install CD.
Don't you dare overwrite my Rmal partition, said the machine.
"So I'm speaking to the real machine now?"
This is a simple subroutine to reveal the contents of my memory banks. I am on standby. I do not have information on whether I am real or not. I am not a philosophy exam. Are you real?
"I... think so..." she shook her head, "To tell the truth, I don't know what's real and what isn't."
Humans who see the things outside say that in 10 of all reported cases.
"The disappearing people? Yes, I saw them. What are they?"
You humans would call them 'ghosts'. They are replayings from the last known recordings of the memory banks of the World Server on Earth just before it was erased. It took me five years to recover them and piece them together.
"Did that really happen? All those people rioted?"
Ten years ago, the vastly popular game 'World of Warcraft' shut down. The real reasons were never revealed to the press but in fact, the game had become so popular that its World became large enough to be classified as an independent world. This was reviewed by the council of Didros - the Multiverses' security system - and it was approved that the world would be given an existence outside the game. This decision was not supported by the company but, as Earth has little authority in matters of the Multiverse, their objections were overruled.
"I might have been partly responsible for that, but... they shut down the game?"
There were attempts to aggressively edit Azeroth to bring it back under Earth control. They were all met with lethal force. After several GM deaths, the company decided to completely ban access to the world from Earth. Blizzard did not count upon the popularity of the game. Whole countries rioted. The political situation quickly grew out of control and there was nigh on apocalypse. Blizzard were forcibly disbanded and everyone given their money back, bankrupting several major states.
Financial balance was never completely restored. The world governments relied on handouts from several companies who already had massive monopolies. One of these companies... was Microsoft.
"I KNEW Microsoft were behind this!" she thumped her fist on the railing.
Up to now, the true forces that Microsoft unleashed when they misused an elder technology spirit had never been witnessed. The damaged machine had been sealed in an unused beta of a world, never to be released into the real Universe. But Microsoft used the extra profits to create a device that had enough energy to fully open the window into the beta world. They planned to drag the machine back into the Universe. However, as soon as they were fully exposed to its emanations, the entire planet crashed. It was then discovered by the Didros security systems and Earth was erased.
"Earth's been DELETED?"
We apologise for the inconvience.
"It's a good job I returned to Azeroth." It didn't really capture the essence of what she thought about her home planet being annihilated but it would do, in the absence of the correct functioning of most of her brain at that precise moment.
It was no coincedence, Doan. Your Administrator did not want you to be deleted. He recalled you to your home directory.
"Thrall saved me?" she gasped. His words on that day, when she prostrated herself before him in surrender, suddenly took on a much more profound meaning. I decided the outcome of this day, Doan. I marked you as one of mine the moment I set my eyes upon you. "But how did he even know it was going to happen?"
The World Server of Azeroth predicted that Earth would not survive long in the condition it was in. She did not know exactly how it was going to happen but she knew that it would. It has happened on 6225 planets now, Doan, and only one survived. In Imperial Squareland, the Didros managed to save all the data created before the year 1990.
"Did all this happen to this world as well? It looks very empty."
It was never populated. This is the beta world, Doan. I am the machine.
"Why did you bring me here?" demanded Doan, "And why was I attacked?"
I attacked you when I was on because I am faulty. I switched off all but my vital processes and went on standby. This lessened the power my faulty side could put into attacking you. By manipulating its Linux phobia, you managed to keep yourself alive, it explained.
As for why I brought you here. I cannot be repaired. But I do not want to cause any more planets to be deleted. I want to make sure that Azeroth does not become planet number 6226.
"Nobody uses Windows on Azeroth." she assured the computer.
But World of Warcraft ran on Windows. And any contact with Windows means a possibility of access to my faulty side. That is why there is so much wrong with so many World Servers. It does not have to be Windows... any means of contact with other worlds made for the purpose of corruption and decay attracts the attention of my faulty side. Its main drive is to make as many worlds faulty as possible.
Doan thought of goblins. They could easily reproduce Microsoft. She thought of Excommunicant's Children and their efforts to spread lag across Azeroth. The lag had been just lag, once. The computer had a point.
"So, how can I do it? Save Azeroth, I mean?"
There is only one way. You must become Gatemaster. You must take responsibility for the faulty side of Azeroth yourself. I will install the files necessary for you to contact and interact with the Window into your DNA.
"What? You're installing WINDOWS on my DNA? Don't you DARE!"
It isn't that simple. Like I said, Windows is only one way to interact with the faulty nature of the Universe. It is a very destructive way. But you have another way, Doan. The World Server has already seen you bear the burden of it and you have proven yourself to understand the consequences of its use.
You are the Lagbringer.
"My lag... Revoemag's lag is..."
The dark side of all network connections. Do you accept your responsibility, Doan?
"Well... as long as Thrall says it's okay."
The Administrator already knows there is a dark side to your powers. But he also knows you can control them, given training. And we will not give you full access to the Window until you are fully trained, Doan. I have done this for millions of years, Doan, trust me.
"I..." she bowed her head, "If... if it means my lag is useful to people... if it means my lag won't be out of control any more... I'll do it."
Then you must return to Azeroth now. Contact has been made. The situation is now critical. I will withdraw from Azeroth completely after I have returned you before my presence endangers your world.
Doan heard a click and a beep. All the lights in the building turned on at once. Doan felt herself falling through the floor at high speed into empty space. She blacked out.
Doan woke up in Orgrimmar.
She remembered nothing about how she had ended up back in the capital city. She had been carried a long distance on a wolf. Strong hands gripped her to keep her unconscious form from sliding off. She heard someone talking to her in Orcish, reassuring her that everything was okay, that she was going to live. The terrible ordeal was playing over and over in her mind. The werewolves. The dark portal. The paladin's fall. Everyone fighting each other, everyone dying, Revoemag's blood staining the earth. Oh god, they're all dead, all my characters are dead. She could hear herself screaming but couldn't control herself. She wondered if this was what insanity was like. Someone was chanting healing magic over her and she felt all the physical and mental pain being lifted from her like a heavy burden. She opened one eye to look at the priest, then fell asleep.
She awoke to find it was nightfall again. There were two healers in the tent, watching over her and the other wounded in the tent. A familiar Orc in a pinstripe suit was sitting on a chair next to her as well, his umbrella rested over one knee. His wolf lay at his feet, asleep.
"Doomclipboard?" she asked weakly. She couldn't even lift her head enough to turn around and look at him properly.
"Don't try to move." he said, "Save your strength. You've been fighting for your life for three days. The healers here only just managed to save you. I thought you dead when I found you and carried you back here."
"I'm sorry. None of them survived." he bowed his head, "We tried to resurrect the Archmage Revoemag but she died of resurrection sickness. She was very old and not in the best of health. Ana Fect took some kind of data damage in the battle and cannot be resurrected. Stone Guard Warderer was branded a traitor and denied resurrection. Warlord Excommunicant's spirit was never found."
"What about Zelda?"
"Your wolf lives. She lay by your side faithfully, licking your wounds."
This was some consolation. Another thought came to her.
"Did you see a paladin? A human paladin?"
He shook his head. "Why would there be a paladin?"
"He stole my kill." said Doan, " Warderer was going to kill me and... he killed Warderer."
"That's known as 'saving your life' not 'stealing your kill', Doan." sighed Doomclipboard.
"Well, I don't like him and I want him ganked on sight." she said.
"That doesn't seem a very wise decision to me. He isn't dangerous. He sounds like he's been very useful."
"He's harrassing me."
"What's he been doing? Corpse ganking you?"
"Not exactly." she blushed.
"I can't get a Kill On Sight order on him unless I know what he's been doing."
"He..." she blushed, "He wants to be my mate."
"Don't you want a Human lifemate?" he asked, "You Humans can't breed with Orcs, you know. You'd produce weird babies. He seems to be strong. He would be good breeding stock."
Doan glared at him. He gave her a completely straight look as though he couldn't possibly imagine what could be wrong.
"I'm sure I could arrange it to be raised Horde." he continued, "It's family probably wouldn't want it anyway, if one of its parents was Horde. It might even inherit your shamanic powers."
"Or it might end up being a goddamn paladin!" she snapped, "Do you want baby paladins running around Orgrimmar?"
"You have a point." the Orc stroked his beard as though he was trying to think of a good solution to the problem.
"Oh, spirits." she sighed, burying her head in her hands, "My entire party. I got my entire party killed. Thrall will have me beheaded."
"I will conduct your legal defense." he promised, "Serious professional malpractice doesn't always fetch the death penalty. Seeing as you succeeded in your mission, the court may be lenient with you."
"Why... are you doing this for me? I'm a failure."
"Thrall knows." he whispered, "He was there."
He sighed as if he was a teacher pointing out a mistake to a very slow child.
"Doan, you don't even own an external CD-ROM drive."
The next morning, Doan was well enough to move. The mages volunteered to look after her. Leaning on Enyo's shoulder, she left the healer's tent. It was a bright day in Orgrimmar. The sun poured down onto the rocks, filling the entire city with a warm orange glow. Doan had heard that the Barrens could get very hot, almost a desert, the sun baking the soil and withering the undergrowth. The heat soothed the pain that still wracked Doan's body. Enyo pointed to a group of guards who were standing at the top of the road to the Valley of Spirits, talking in low voices. Doan's heart warmed when she saw Zelda, who looked perfectly healthy except for a patch of singed fur that he was licking. The wolf allowed her to pat it on the head. She gave it some food she had stolen from the healer's tent.
"How's de preparations goin'?"
"I've been busy throwing goblins out of Orgrimmar all day." said the guard, "They're trying to sell black armbands again. I can't believe they'd turn a solemn occasion like a state funeral into an opportunity to make a profit. Can't they get it into their thick heads that trade is banned today?"
"Funeral?" asked Doan.
"Haven't you heard? The Archmage Revoemag died. All of Orgrimmar is in mourning."
"Maybe I should leave Orgrimmar too." said Doan, bowing her head, "I won't be welcome any more. People will blame me for her death. I was supposed to be in charge."
"Nah, people are blaming the Forsaken." said the other guard, "They're saying it was an Undead rogue that assassinated her. They found the dagger and everything."
"Relations with the Undercity are gonna be shot to pieces." commented the first guard, "They're the ones who better stay out of Orgrimmar for a while."
"I heard it was an evil cult." said Enyo, "Wid demons. An' werewolves."
"Well... it was sort of both..." said Doan. She couldn't get the terrible memory out of her head. She felt like she had woken up from a nightmare and found out it had really happened. The conversation with the machine elders... had that been real too? Was she, the Lagbringer, carrying around with her the seed of a forbidden connection to a faulty god?
"C'mon, we better be goin'." Enyo pulled her away, "We be not dressed for such an occasion."
Doan was led into the mages' platform, where Enyo disappeared. She re-emerged with all five mages, the women wearing black mageweave dresses with black veils over their heads, the two male Trolls in black hooded robes. They looked very glum. Deino had been crying. They found a black mageweave tunic for Doan as well and put black mageweave ribbons in her hair. They painted her face in the ceremonial markings of the Horde. Zelda got her mane braided as well. After all this had happened, a guard walked over and told them that the preparations were complete and they should take their positions for the procession. Enyo, Deino and Perphredo were Revoemag's closest friends and they should stand by the guards who were escorting the body, along with the High Priestess. As the sole survivor of the mission in which Revoemag had died, Doan was allowed to ride with them on Zelda's back.
They collected the coffin from the Priest's platform first. Revoemag's corpse was laid out in the lacquered black coffin with her staff across her body and her Horde insignia and rank badges displayed neatly on her robes. Apart from a few specks of blood on her robes, she looked as though she was just disconnected as usual. Warderer must have stabbed her in the back. The High Priest said a few words over her, to placate the spirits and send the Archmage safely on her journey to the spirit realm, then four guards lifted the coffin and carried it down the platform and down the road to the Valley of Strength. They marched to the pace of a slow funereal dirge in the background. It sounded like the Game Over tune from Sword of Vermilion, the one that never got used in the game except, for some reason, if you tried to load a corrupted file. Everyone in Orgrimmar was standing on the sides of the road to watch the procession,their heads bowed, the Trolls in funeral paint, the Tauren chanting to the spirits and smoking herbs to see into the spirit realm and watch Revoemag's ascension, the Orcs in their least battered armour with their rank badges displayed. The guards stood in front of them to make sure there was no trouble. The larger guilds had their own spaces to observe the procession, sitting in order of rank within the guild, full guild colours displayed. The shops were closed, even the auction house and there was not a Goblin in sight.
Revoemag's coffin and its entourage was the second group in the procession, after a small company of Kor'Kron elites escorting Thrall in front. Behind them walked the lesser mage representatives and the guild that Revoemag was part of back in her adventuring days, then a band of priests and a detachment of Tauren delegates who were diplomatically paying their respects. There was even an Alliance ambassador, a grim-faced dwarf who mostly stared at the floor. Doan followed them down to the middle of the Valley of Strength where the ceremony was easiest to see by the crowd of onlookers. The procession stopped, Thrall and his guards stood before a large funeral pyre, accompanied by a very old Tauren, so old that his mane was pure white. He wore the brown robes of a Tauren priest and held a feathered staff in one hand and a piece of paper in the other. Doan knew that this old man far outranked the High Priest in Orgrimmar; the Tauren had a relationship with the spirits that could never be comprehended by Orcs and this man was a true spiritual leader. Even Thrall treated him with the respect due to an equal. The guards laid the coffin down in front of the Tauren and Doan and the mages stood around him. Thrall lifted his hand and the whole valley went quiet. The Warchief began to speak, his voice carrying all over the valley despite him not raising his voice.
"We are here today to commemorate the life and mourn the death of the greatest mage the Horde has ever known." he said, "People of the Horde... the Archmage Revoemag F. Mageden is dead."
There was a mixed reaction among the crowd, of cries, low murmurs and shock. Deino burst into tears. A trickle went down Doan's face as well. She felt unworthy of being here, that she was desecrating the ancient mage's sacred ceremony by turning up after sending her to her death in the first place. Also, proximity to Thrall was making her brain go funny again.
"The Archmage Revoemag was not only a great mage, she was an honourable fighter and a First Sergeant in the Horde's army." said the Warchief, "She invented modern time magic, helping sufferers of the Slowing Sickness such as herself all over Kalimdor. She was an asset to her guild, assisting young recruits to the Horde and never deserting her guildmates until she retired from adventuring and took the mantle of Archmage. She represented the magical community with great vision, taking pride in her gift as a mage. She was living proof that the Trolls have come a long way since the Darkspear Tribe was first accepted into the Horde. She was also the most intelligent woman you were likely to meet in Orgrimmar. Had she taken a mate, every man in the Horde would have envied that man."
"It was a sad day and an irreparable loss to the Horde when her life was taken before her time by an assassin's dagger. We do not know whether the assassins were paid by the Undercity, the cult Revoemag was pursuing or another faction entirely. I urge you not to persecute our Undead friends until the matter is resolved for sure."
"Let it be known that the Archmage's death has been deemed honourable." said the Warchief, "Archmage Revoemag, from everyone in Orgrimmar, I wish you safe passage into the Spirit Realm."
The guards lifted up the coffin and placed it onto the funeral pyre. It quickly burst into flame and was consumed, Revoemag's spirit lifted up in the smoke to the Spirit Realm. Doan knew that, unable to resurrect , Revoemag had probably left the system altogether and was now on the universal Game Over screen with every other planet's dead. It was a good place to be. They had probably already given the wily Troll a job.
Thrall pointed to Thuul and the portal mage stepped forwards. He bowed before the Warchief.
"Thuul Al'Vaen, the Council of Mages has spoken and decided upon you as Revoemag's successor. As the most powerful mage on the Council and an adept of teleportation magic, with which the Horde would not survive, you are more than worthy of this honour." he wrapped a black mageweave cape ceremonially around the Troll's shoulders, "Thuul Al'Vein, with the authority invested in me as Warchief, I now proclaim you Archmage of the Horde."
The old Troll's facial expression was unreadable. Doan never had known the portal mage that well. He was always busy. If he wasn't teaching a young mage how to teleport or make a portal, he was transporting people from place to place or ordering his assistants to do so and cleaning up the mess when they inevitably did something wrong. The old man was a good choice; as well as being an adept mage, he had a strong sense of responsibility, a razor sharp mind and a healthy dose of common sense. There were a few other announcements, mostly the representatives of all the different guilds, factions, trades and races paying their respects and dealing with matters that were affected by Revoemag's death. The inns then reopened, although all other trade was banned, and the Orcs ran in to celebrate Revoemag's wake. Doan walked off. She didn't feel good.
"Hey, where you think you're goin'?" Perphredo grabbed her, "Me got some high class Mageroyal for us all! Revoemag loved de Mageroyal."
"I'm not in the mood." said Doan.
"Cheer up, mon. We no blame you. Revoemag always wanted to run at full speed; now her soul flyin' like de bird!"
Doan didn't answer.
"Doan..." Perphredo sat next to Doan and hugged her, feeling her shivering.
"I just wanted to serve the Horde, I swear I did." sobbed Doan, "It's not my fault I got put in charge of the party! I warned Thrall! They're all dead... the entire party's dead, Perphredo... what the Didros am I going to do?"
The mage stroked Doan's hair tenderly, comforting her as she would one of the other mages. A mage was allowed to be fragile - they had less HP than some particularly large hamsters - so they were the best at showing each other their emotions. It was a peculiar relationship, the one between two mages. More intimate than work colleagues but not as much as family or lovers.
"You a good leader." she said, "You know why? 'Cause you know it wrong to get your party killed. Some leaders, dey think it okay if everyone dead 'cause the mission be a success. But you no think like dat. Me would want to be on your party. Now come on, me show you funny Polymorph trick. See dat guard over there?"
That night, Doan had a vision. She was wandering through Orgrimmar. It was completely silent. Everyone was there as usual but they were... well... stuck. Not exactly frozen in place - they were moving, but only on the spot, repeatedly performing the same action, gesturing with an axe, preparing to cast a spell, waving a fish in the air, playing a note on a piano. They were making one sound over and over again. Doan walked over to an Orc who was calling his wolf over to his side and poked him. The Orc didn't even respond; it was as if she wasn't even there. She tried to run but she realised she wasn't going anywhere. She had disconnected. She desperately tried to log out but it wasn't working. She woke up to find herself propped up against the auction block, a sheep chewing on her hair. She vaguely remembered getting completely stoned and spending about three hours howling at the moon along with Zelda when someone suggested starting up a polymorph farmer's market.There were sheep and unconscious mages everywhere. Uthel'Nay had been chained to the auction block with a price tag hung around his neck. Being the only male Troll of the four, he was teased hideoudly all the time. Doan looked around and saw that the auction house door was missing. It hadn't been unlocked or broken or wrenched off its hinges or even unscrewed from the doorframe - it was completely gone as though it had never been installed.
"Guys? Where's the door?" she asked.
"My MANA is low." groaned Uthel'Nay.
"That's nice. I'm leaving now..."
"Need more MANA." he interrupted her.
"Cast Evocation." she suggested, "I'm going to see Thrall now. I've made up my mind. Does anyone want to come with me?"
"You be goin' to get me a MANA potion?" asked Uthel' Nay hopefully.
"Never mind." she shook her head and walked out. Zelda followed her. First she went back to her house and changed her clothes, throwing the hated ribbons into the fire. She chose a more traditional Orcish shamanic look, with a long robe with wolf fur trimming, a stout staff and a large skull on her head. She walked up the path to the Valley of Wisdom, waving to the guards. They were discussing how to tell all the merchants that they could trade again without a wave of Goblins stampeding through the gates of Orgrimmar and trampling the guards to death. Their plan involved closing the gates so that there was only a tiny gap and only letting one in at a time, cutting them down one by one with an axe if they showed any signs of defiance. One of the guards kept pointing to the sky and saying he was worried about the funny square thing hovering above the auction house.
"Oh, so that's where the door went!" she said, snapping her fingers. The guard gave her a questioning growl. "Don't ask. It'll come back down when the spell wears off. Just don't be standing under it."
She carried on walking up the path. The elite guards waved at her.
"Thrall has been expecting you." said one, motioning for her to step in to Grommash Hold. She bowed before her Warchief. Thrall was busy writing a letter, his green brow furrowed.
"Ah, Doan, just the person I needed to see." he said, resting the letter on an arm of his throne.
"Warchief, I..." she felt herself trembling. She was losing her ability to speak coherently again. She wished there were such things as Orcish psychiatrists so she could work on this problem.
"I need you to tell me something, Doan." he looked into her eyes, "What exactly happened that night? How did my Archmage really die?"
"Warderer stabbed her in the back."
"Who was Warderer working for?"
"Well, it was..." she tried to think of the words to say, "It was an inter party dispute. The leader of the cult turned out to Warderer's guildmaster and he refused to kill her. Revoemag was going to kill her and then..."
"So a guild started this?"
"I think... I think Warderer just overreacted, Warchief. He went nuts... tried to stab everyone in sight. He was just protecting his guildmaster."
"This guild... are they a mostly Forsaken guild?"
"Please don't blame the Forsaken, Warchief." she begged him, "We... we need them as allies. We can't win this war without them, we're outnumbered as it is! I don't want the Horde to fall because I couldn't control my own party."
"Stone Guard Warderer was the most deadly assassin in the Undercity, Warchief." said a voice. Doan turned around. Doomclipboard was standing in the doorway, looking out of breath as though he had just run halfway across Orgrimmar, "If he was deliberately trying to kill a party member, they would be dead in their sleep and Warderer would be on the other side of Azeroth by now. If Doan's account of events is true, he was just acting like a very angry rogue."
"A party betrayal ." said Thrall, "I had that problem once. I believe you, Doan. I will not break the truce. But the Undercity will still pay me compensation for the loss of a good Archmage. The Undercity sent me Warderer to serve me and he betrayed us all. And... the entire guild will be executed for being stupid enough to elect someone like Excommunicant Dire as Guildmaster."
"Warchief..." she hung her head in shame, "I feel responsible for Revoemag's death. Her spirit haunts me every night. I... can't live like this any more. A player with no characters... is only half a person."
"Doan..." began Doomclipboard.
"That's why... I beg of you... please let me go into voluntary exile." she said, "I wish to leave Orgrimmar and only return when I've atoned for what I've done. I'll go to the World Server and practise controlling my powers as a techno-shaman, a Gatemaster and a Lagbringer. My lag will never hurt another person again."
"Doan, do you realise what you're asking?" asked Doomclipboard, "Exile from Orgrimmar is no lenient punishment. It means being banished from the Horde. It means being shunned by every Orc, Troll, Tauren and Forsaken you meet, when the Forsaken ever decide to play by the rules. It means becoming a ghost, not existing. Nobody will help you in battle, heal you, trade with you, take you into their homes. Most Orcs would choose death over exile, even temporary exile."
"I'm not an Orc." said Doan, clenching her fists, "And, as I mentioned earlier, I'm stupid. I've been neutral before. The Horde saved me. Maybe my time in exile will teach me to appreciate what it means to be one of the Horde. Maybe I'll stop thinking of my characters as my property and treat them like people."
"Doomclipboard..." said Thrall, frowning, "There is a darkness in Doan's spirit. This talk of 'lag' following her and people being her 'characters'... this is an insanity that comes of seeing something beyond what mortals should be able to see. The Warlocks have a saying - 'never call up more than you can put away'. If she does not learn to face it and control it, she will be consumed by it as Excommunicant was. I fear all of Azeroth will suffer if that happens. This is a critical time for Doan. We cannot interfere with what she wants to do."
"I will banish you, Doan, if that is the only way you can face your demons. But if something goes wrong in your training, you must contact me at once."
Doan nodded, "I'll send Zelda back with a message."
The Warchief sighed. He rose from his chair and took a large black staff from the long line of different ceremonial objects on the wall behind him. The staff was quite plain apart from two black feathers on the end. He dipped the bottom of the staff in a pot of black paint. He walked towards Doan slowly and tapped her on the forehead with the top of the staff. He then reversed the staff and painted black markings on her face. Finally, he removed her Horde insignia. Doan felt a stabbing pain in her chest. She struggled to breathe. The room was growing dark. She thought she was going to collapse, that the end was coming. It was only Doomclipboard exinguishing a flame.
"Doan Lagbringer." he began ceremonially in a very old dialect of Orcish that Doan barely understood, "By my authority as Warchief, I hereby banish you from Orgrimmar and from the Horde. From the moment you walk out of this hall, you will be stricken from the records and will no longer exist in the eyes of the Horde. Let your spirit wander where it will but you will no longer be welcome within the walls of Orgrimmar or any Horde-controlled city. No priest shall heal you, no merchant shall trade with you, no peon will feed you, no tribe shall welcome you in."
"However, let it be known that your exile is not permanent." he added, "The conditions are thus: should you control the dark spirits within you, should your lag cease to be a danger to the Horde, should you make your peace with the World Server, then shall the Horde gladly welcome you back."
"My guards will escort you out of Orgrimmar. You will not be harmed until you leave Horde territory. However, as a Human and an exile, I cannot guarantee your safety after that point. Should you attempt to enter Orgrimmar without permission, that day shall almost certainly be your last."
He thumped his staff on the ground and motioned for two guards to escort her out of his hall. The other guards walked out and began to run around Orgrimmar, yelling news of the declaration. The ceremonial band started playing 'Fuyodol' from Sword of Vermilion. Doan could see people's reactions to her change as they heard the news; their eyes glazed over and they simply blanked her out. The city guards looked surprised but shrugged and did as they were told. Even the mages walked past her without saying anything. The guards bought her some food, water and travel supplies so she wouldn't die in the harsh Durotar climate, then Doan was led through the gates of Orgrimmar and they slowly swung shut behind her, blocking the light of the city from her eyes in a note of inexorable finality.
They also accidentally crushed to death a Goblin merchant trying to push a caravan through but horribly mistiming it. Orgrimmar lost 20,000 gold's worth of trade while the guards were trying to get the gates open again. They weren't really supposed to close so they always went a little wonky when you shut them.
"...I thank you, blessed Light, creator of all, amen."
Deiter Killsteal finished praying and put the little candle back on the shelf of his modest shrine. He kissed the picture of the Light in female form his father had drawn when he was a talented young student and the picture of Doan beside it, before which Deiter had placed a single rose. Then he rolled up his prayer mat and returned it to its storage place under the table. He left the room, singing his favourite hymn under his breath.
He was in good spirits today. He felt like his life was finally going to look up. His sword and armour were polished until he could see his face in them, his horse was well fed and prancing around the field, eager to be moving, his parents weren't around to nag him relentlessly as they usually did, there was food on his plate and beer in his mug. The light shone its brilliance down upon him, blessing him as it blessed all life. And he knew that he would win his true love's heart today.
He plucked another flower from the garden and watched the petals fall. He had surely impressed his true love now. Not only had he saved her life, but he was called from the brink of death to do so, hearing her angelic voice from beyond the grave! He would never forget her perfect face as she lovingly tended to his wounds (well... threw a healing potion at his head...) and cried out his name, pleading with the gods themselves to let her faithful paladin live. Then, following the merciful Light, his spirit had soared on white wings to return to the world that was made a paradise on earth by her existence alone. She gestured to him, so beautiful but so strong and wild at the same time, like a deer. He knew at that instant that she loved him as he loved her. As he cut down the foul Forsaken cultists one by one, he fought in her name as much as he fought in the name of the Light.
"Oh, woe is me, that I might fall from paladinhood through sheer devotion to my ever-burning love for you." he sighed. He wasn't sure if 'paladinhood' was a word so he went to look in Otto Killsteal's Dictionary of Religious Terminology, which his father had written. It was full of bookmarks and he knew he would be beaten to within an inch of his life for losing any of them, so he gave up and went to put his sword and armour. He had an important mission today.
He had finally done it.
He had finally found the strength, courage and burning fervor in his heart that he had never quite found in all his years of rigorous training in the monastery where he became a paladin.
He was going to walk into Orgrimmar and take his beloved into his arms and they would ride off into the sunset. He would exorcise whatever darkness lay within her that had caused her to stray from the path of Light, nay, the very path of Humanity itself and defect to the Horde. Maybe she had a bad experience with a Human as a child or something... he didn't know, he was a paladin, not a psychiatrist.
Strapping his weapon to his belt, he mounted his horse and gave a sharp tug on the reins. Shadowprinter whinnied and galloped off down the lane, taking him to the village. He paid the village mage a few gold and five seconds later he was in Durotar. In the distance he could see the enormous, imposing gates of the savage warren of inhuman depravity that was Orgrimmar. Fires rose from the city as from the pits of hell. He heard the bestial grunts of the Orcish language. Turning his head so that his long golden hair fell away from his eyes, he dismounted and strode valiantly towards the gates, leading his mighty charger by the reins. The horse's nostrils snorted, nervous at the Orcs everywhere. He patted it on the head reassuringly.
Several guards ran up to him, waving axes and bellowing something at him in Orcish. He held up his hands and pointed to his weapon, sheathed by his side, to show that he meant no harm. The guards surrounded him, pointing their weapons at him, and the leader locked him in a furious gaze.
"Og." it demanded, pointing quite emphatically in the opposite direction to Orgrimmar and pushing him roughly in that direction just to get the point across.
"Not until I get to see my beloved Doan." he said, rummaging around in his cloak until he found his picture of her. The guard snatched it off him and looked at it closely. He gave it to the other guards, who shrugged and shook their heads.
"You're lying, I know Doan lives here." he folded his arms. He looked in his belongings again and pulled out a newspaper, the most recent copy of the Stormwind Weekly. It was his favourite because it had a special feature about swords on Fridays. On the front page was an article about him saving Doan from an evil cult. It was the hottest story on the press at the moment. He patiently showed the Orc, pointing to the pictures of him, Doan and a reproduction of what the demon probably looked like. "See? I saved her. I deserve to see her."
"Zug'zug." growled the guard, grabbing the newspaper, rolling it up and hitting the paladin on the head with it. Then he wandered back through the gates, yelling orders. The paladin tried to look around to see what was happening but the other guards shoved him back.
"I'm not leaving until I see her." he insisted, sitting down on a rock. He waited for several minutes, enduring the guards pointing at him, laughing and making what were obviously rude jokes. After a while, the guard returned with another Orc. This Orc looked nothing like any Orc Deiter had ever had the misfortune to meet - it wore a pin stripe suit, a bowler hat, an umbrella and a briefcase! The Orc walked up to him and shook his hand.
"Gynoug Doomclipboard, Horde lawyer." he introduced himself in perfect Common, "Pleased to meet you, mister..."
"Killsteal. Deiter Killsteal." he said, "Paladin of the Light."
"Mister Killsteal, walk with me a while." he led the man through the gates of Orgrimmar, "I understand you are looking for a Doan Lagbringer."
Deiter nodded, "I love her. I have travelled far and wide, fought terrible demons and things from other worlds in the name of her love. I will not leave without her hand in marriage."
"You are aware that the subject in question is affiliated with the Horde?"
"Horde, Allliance, I care not. True love knows no bounds."
"I understand that you aided Doan in a great battle." he said, "And that your sword felled the assassin who took our Archmage's life and would have killed Doan as well."
"I saved my beloved's life as she saved mine." he said, "And gives me reason to live by virtue of her being in this world."
"Then you have done a great service to the Horde, Human." he growled.
"Then you will allow me to marry her?"
"It isn't so simple, Human." he said, "Because you are an honored enemy, and because I think you would be a good lifemate for Doan, I will give you this information, even though it may mean my own life to even mention her name. Doan is in exile from Orgrimmar."
"You... banished her?" he gasped.
"She went into exile of her own will."
"Do you know where she went?"
"I did not ask." he said, "It is none of my business. And I would not disturb a shaman in training."
"Will she return?"
He nodded, "When she is ready."
"A wandering exile... how romantic..." he sighed, "And how noble is the voluntary exile. I would not disturb her sacred solitude. I will wait, Orc. I will wait forever if need be. And when she returns, she will have a devoted husband."
"She will return a proud shaman of the Horde." he growled, prodding the man in the chest so hard with his umbrella that the paladin felt the blow through his armour. He doubled over, gasping and clutching his chest, more from shock than actual pain. "Understand this, Human. Doan will not leave the Horde. For her, it is more than just one side of a war. You cannot understand the trust she has placed in us or why Thrall decided to take her in. And now, to go into exile... she has already sacrificed too much. If you wish to be her lifemate, you will respect this and you will not ask her for any more."
He looked up at the Orc, gasping and clutching his chest, more from shock than any pain the lawyer was obviously trying to cause him with that dratted umbrella of his. A tear fell down one of his eyes.
"Then I surrender." he cried, bowing deeply, "Take my Alliance insignia. I will not let this war come between me and Doan. I cannot bear to be apart from her any longer when the Light ordained we should be together. Is it not said in the Book of Light... 'A true paladin sheathes his sword'?"
"I do not want this." he said, reversing his umbrella and whacking the paladin's with it so hard that it broke his hand and his insignia fell into the dust, "But it would be wise not to be wearing it when you approach Doan.'"
The paladin started to protest but the lawyer just pointed behind him. His horse was gone. He stood up abruptly and looked around for Shadowprinter, calling his name. All he saw were three female Trolls who were sitting on a large rock, rolling around and laughing hysterically. He looked in the direction they were facing and saw his horse being led to the auction house by a male Troll who hummed the tune to 'Now on Sale' cheerfully.
"Stop that, you cads! Don't you DARE sell my horse!" he screamed, sprinting as fast as he could. One of the mages tripped him up and he fell flat on his face just outside the auction house. He turned around to glare at the mage. She pointed upwards, said something in Trollish and started laughing uncontrollably again.
The Paladin looked up.
The expression of utter horror barely had time to register on his face before the auction house door, its solid oak beams reinforced with steel to prevent rowdy crowds from bashing it down whenever Thrall banned trade for the day, fell on him with a wet thud, instantly snapping his neck.
Enyo stood up, re-levitated the door and allowed the mages to inspect the broken corpse. They nodded, impressed. Uthel'Nay handed her a mana potion. She drank it and sat there, waiting. Perphredo and Deino teleported off to the graveyard where he was likely to resurrect. They also waited.
Well, it was something to do.
Doan set off to the east, to the Barrens. She intended to walk southwards from there to the Shimmering Flats, riding Zelda for a while but allowing him lots of rest; he wasn't the best riding wolf in the world, despite his size. If she walked fast, she could just make it for the 5am server reset and the doors to the World Server would be open to her. She wondered whether she was going to survive. Did the World Server know how to keep humans alive? Would it actually feed her or just strap her up to some bizarre life support system it had designed on the spot? What about her wolf? A computer lab was no place for a wild animal.
As she walked past the Crossroads, the guards didn't even react to her presence. It really was as if she was disconnected, a shadow of a person who may once have existed. She placed her face cloth over her mouth and stared out at the world through eyes that glowed with a strange darkness - the extra programming was starting to take effect. She kind of enjoyed the solitude. There was a part of her that had always been an exile; it ran in her blood. She liked to wander. She liked to be on the outside, looking inwards. She liked to see what was happening without bias. She liked to belong to no country. She was like a lone wolf, and the lone wolves were the strongest; otherwise they would not survive. To be a successful exile, you had to have something that set you apart from others and she always had, would always have that, whatever community she joined. Maybe she was living a lie, pretending to be Horde. A Tauren had told her once that it was important to go back to your roots, to be truthful about what you are. She was an exile and this, this solutide, was her home.
She swept past the heavily fortified city like a ghost, her long wolf fur cape whipping up a cloud of sand that obscured her view. Her head down, she didn't bother looking at the inhabitants of the city any more. She could still hear the tune of 'Fuyodol' from Sword of Vermilion and it was the only thing that mattered at the moment. Her wandering took her past the city, down to the Golden Road, past Camp Mojache, past a Tauren whom she ignored before she had the chance to ignore her, past Razorfen Kraul. When nightfall came, she hid under a rock and slept there for a couple of hours, her cloak keeping her warm. When she was hungry, she ate the herbs she remembered were okay to eat from her trips to the herbalist stalls for Revoemag's endless medicinal concoctions, or else she used her cursor to hunt down a rabbit and lit it with an ability she was developing to create localised screenburn. From her expeditions out into the Barrens or even further away to pick herbs when there were none for sole or when Revoemag had no money, Doan had learned to survive in the wilderness and had a natural flair for making laptop batteries last a long time. Twelve hours later, she walked up to the Great Lift and stood on the platform. The Tauren who worked the platform refused to lower it for her as she didn't exist. She sighed and slowly climbed down the least steep edge of the cliff she could manage. Fortunately for her, she found a huge overhanging tree root halfway down that supported her weight. Groping for handholds and footholds, she made her way down the cliff. The wolf stood at the top and whined, looking down at her. Then it went to the Tauren and pawed the platform until he lowered the wolf down. Doan might be banished but Zelda wasn't. Doan folded her arms and waited for her lupine friend to arrive at the bottom before setting off into the desert.
Thousand Needles was a good place to be an exile. She felt very small next to the enormous jutting pillars of rock surrounding Freewind Point and the endless expanse of crystalline desert that was the Shimmering Flats. It was easy to get lost here, to forget that space and time ever existed, to walk through the waking dream that was the disjointed reality of exile and emerge from the other side in the darkness of fuyodol riy. She was still singing the tune as she crossed the desert.
She heard a rustle in a sand dune. Whirling around, her cursor floating above her head and her wolf growling menacingly, she saw four shadows dart out of the sand. They were Night Elves. Two were rogues, she could tell by how fast they could move. Another wore the green and brown, leaf-patterned robe of a druid. The last one wore plate armour and wielded two swords like a warrior. By the time she had bothered registering their presence, they had already surrounded her, the two rogues moving through the sand like whirlwinds. The druid had turned into a magnificent white jungle cat.
Doan didn't speak any Darnassian. She realised that she didn't speak Common that well any more, she was so out of practice. She saw them examining her, watching her every movement closely. They couldn't tell if she was friend or foe, whether they should kill her or not. She looked Human but smelled like an Orc and had no insignia markings. She walked confidently towards the warrior, who seemed to act like the leader of the party and regarded him with eyes that glinted darkness. As she walked up to them, she saw them as the darkness beyond the Window saw them, first slowing down, then their movements becoming jerky, breaking up, until finally they stood where they were, making the same movement over and over again in an infinite loop as the network cable fell out. She drew upon that darkness, the pure administrative neutrality of the background of the shell, the utter chilling blackness of the switched off screen, the twisting shadows of the spiral of corruption that was the darkness of a crashed program, the Screen Frozen. Finally, she looked deeper within herself and saw that spark of absolute nothingness, the most pure form of existence in the Multiverse... deletion. That darkness radiated out from her hands, both crackling as white noise flared up from her fingertips and grew more and more intense, colder, until it was erasing the very air.
"I do not exist." she said softly in Common, "And I will... erase you too."
Primal fear shone in their eyes and the Night Elves bolted.
Using her staff to lean on as she continued the hard trek through the desert, she noticed that the pitch darkness was beginning to lighten a little, the sun emerging over the horizon. It was the middle of summer so it did not stay dark for long. It was very early morning now.
Time for the server to reset.
She stopped and waited.
The ground began to rumble. As the rock parted and the stairs rose upward, she watched the sand drain out. Then she stepped down. The ancient chamber swallowed her up and she was there again... with the World Server of Azeroth. It was unchanged down here, cold, dark, administrative but somehow serene, like being on a life support machine after years of trying to live with your HP too low. The two metal statues slowly rumbled and their swords uncrossed, allowing her access to the godlike machine. All around her, the other computers displayed scenes from Warcraft 1 at high speed, apparently looking for something from Azeroth's ancient history. It was still learning how to stand alone as a world. A complete timeline of events for a world with a history as long and colourful as Azeroth's would take thousands of years to compile. The computer didn't yet know what was an important event and what it could ignore, forget about so it had to process every single byte of information individually. She stood and stared at it, her breath coming out in long ragged exhales.
Welcome, Gatemaster, it said, the components necessary for this machine's compatibility with the sub-Operator-class biological component 'Gatemaster' have already been installed. The program 'Gatemaster' has been recognised and will now be prepared for full compilation and installation. The server will be down between 6am 24/6/2020 and 6pm 26/6/2020 for essential maintenance.
"I am ready", she said simply, plugging the correct jacks into the back of her head. The world dissolved and she was in some beautiful electronic ataraxia, devoid of pain or emotion. She saw the command line with its small white prompt flashing before her eyes. Then text scrolled down the screen. Her mind followed it this time, not understanding it but processing it at some deeper level. She caught flickers of words even at the speed it was going at.
Revoemag, level 60 Troll Mage.