Cold Comfort Castle

Writer's Note: Hello. I'm Lord Goregore. As my small profile says, don't be worried about my name. It's misleading. If anyone wants me to explain it, I will. For now, story.

Chapter 1: A Simple Plan

His name was Zackel Wintersoul, and it had seemed like a good idea at the time.

Why wouldn't it? After all, he'd survived excursions onto the Plaguelands, a festering land of poison and ruin that had left a lingering itch on his skin for several weeks after he'd left it. True, he hadn't exactly been on the front LINES of the Plaguelands, and the Plaguelands hadn't been quite as dangerous since Naxxramas had moved north to the freezing wastes of Northrend, but it was hardly a place for a vacation. Even with Kel'Thuzad's departure, legions of potent Scourge infested the place, and Zackel had not spent every day he'd been there in his tent playing Thrust. Oh, he wasn't about to march up to the Kirin Tor and tell them that their new shining prodigy had arrived, but he was a pretty strong mage. He hadn't even peaked yet, at that. He was perfectly right in his assumptions that he could have handled it.

Maybe he'd just been overwhelmed by the supposed brilliance of the idea. The Alterac Mountains were also a poor spot for a vacation, but they were also close to where the magical city of Dalaran had once been. With its abrupt transfer from the Eastern Kingdoms to Northrend, there was probably a good chance that a few stray magical artifacts had lost, or left behind, or broken off, or whatnot. And with the fact that most of the creatures that now resided in the area after the immensely poor choices of the former namesake city were unsavory to say the least, there was probably a chance that not all of them had been found, or had been found by people or creatures who had no idea what they now possessed. Yes, perhaps he wasn't the first to look through the mountains, but nothing ventured was nothing gained. If he'd always been timid, he never would have bartered with that nasty goblin and his even nastier-looking Forsaken bodyguard (who Zackel had sworn was foaming at the mouth, which had made him wonder if corpses could still contract diseases like rabies, which had led to a long argument with a dwarf in a tavern one night that had ended with the fact that dwarves drank alcohol like it was water and that Zackel preferred water allowing Zackel to pick up his gear and run out the door when the first punch had been thrown and the intoxicated patrons of the bar decided they all had numerous disagreements they had to work out with the guy or girl next to them) over the red-gemmed staff he'd carried for months, a staff that had turned out to be infused with considerable magic. Besides, he'd survived the Plaguelands. He could handle himself, provided he was careful.

Maybe it was the curse of who he was. He'd been a mischievous kid, with mischievous features. Age had forged those features into the wickedly glinted features of a rogue, but Zackel had found his skills lay in the mystical arts rather than stealth and assassination. The coming of the Scourge and all that had befallen Azeroth in the past several years had cast a hardened pall over his face, one that usually came out when things were going bad or when he was concentrating on his spells. Still, his rogue-worthy face had led to some saying that someone like him should not have become a magician. Zackel, had anyone actually had the courtesy to say these things about his face TO his face, would have given them a wordless response, his gesture saying enough.

Those that had supported him were enough. No matter what, or what had come.

Though perhaps it would have been good if they had been around. Left to his own devices, Zackel did what many would-be heroes on Azeroth did: he trained and worked towards the day he would cross the Dark Portal and test himself in the hellish landscapes of Outland (even if Illdian was dead, there was still much evil, and power, lurking in its shadows), and then perhaps return to sail to Northrend and confront the Scourge on their home territories. But to survive getting there, he would need more than his own strength and what his teachers could impart on him. He would need tools as well, tools of power and knowledge. And since he wasn't swimming in gold, he had to find other means to get them.

Besides, the snowy heights of Alterac was the perfect place to practice one of the crucial tasks all mages in Azeroth had been called upon to learn since the battle against evil had shifted to Northrend. He could look for hidden treasure and refine his training and skills at the same time. A piece of cake.

So Zackel had headed there, staff in hand, blue-silver robes covering his body (which annoyed him sometimes, as his feathered hair was also blue, and more than a few curious gnomes had followed him around asking him the secret of the 'head-merged armor'). And he hadn't taken his strength (or where he lacked it) for granted. He'd set things in motion before he'd headed into the ruins of Alterac. He also hadn't assumed that he could effortlessly outsmart the ogres that lived there. The Crushridge Clan had defied all the efforts of the criminal cartel who called themselves the Syndicate to drive them out, and the Syndicate had numbers on their side (even if by Zackel's standards they were mostly rabble. Rabble, however, could still easily stick a knife in your ribs or shoot an arrow in your throat if you forgot that they could do this, no matter what kind of control you had over the ancient forces of the world). Still, he'd survived the Plaguelands. As long as he didn't end up pissing off the whole clan, he could probably be in and out.

It had worked. Right up until the point that it hadn't.

Said point had presented itself by a fireball coming out of nowhere and blowing Zackel a dozen feet through the air before he impacted face-first into a snow bank. Worse, the wild magic attack was NOT calm, controlled, and quiet like the ones Zackel had been using to deal with the Crushridge ogres who he'd been unable to avoid. The end result was the alarm being raised.

The far-worse end (in Zackel's mind) result was what was happening now. Which was, after some frantic fleeing efforts, Zackel trapped against one of Alterac's old walls, surrounded by dozens of ogres. He'd driven the front-lines back with some quick, wild magic, but much to his surprise, they'd STAYED driven back instead of charging back into more magical attacks that might have made a hole for Zackel to escape. Their numbers had quickly swelled into said dozens, rendering the chances of such a hole appearing far more remote.

Zackel swallowed hard. He may have survived the Plaguelands, but this was probably worse than anything he'd seen on them. Also, he'd never been forced into a corner there. That was never a good situation to be in, whether you were wandering Stormwind or the Netherstorm.

The ogres chuckled nastily, turning weapons over in their hands and licking their lips. So much for the myth that all ogres were idiotic berserkers who wouldn't know an intelligent tactic if it jammed a dagger up their rears. Worse was the fact that Zackel had actually considered that factor. Just not enough. Food for thought, if Zackel didn't become food for the ogres.

And it had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

"…all right then." Zackel said. "This could be bad."

Author's Note: Feedback would be appreciated.