Prelude into Hell
I stood there frozen as the Alliance forces came over the hill, their actions reflecting the Hoard they claimed to hate. Like flashes of instant rage, the sunlight gleamed off their steel armor and weapons casting crystalline beams in all direction. Around me, the howls and cries of the members of the Horde army reverberated through my skull causing my tusks to quiver painfully. Shouts of assembly and barked orders scrambled for supremacy in the cacophony. Time slowed as I saw the Arathi Highlands in all their glory for a brief eternity; the lush grasses motionless, mid-sway in a nonexistent breeze. The sun glinted off mica deposits high in the mountains above, throwing streams of light in all directions. The distant cry of a Highland raptor could be heard over the approaching masses, sounding like a scream of anguish at the forthcoming slaughter. All this I heard and saw while I desperately tried to remember the phrase to a spell, the hand motion to summon a storm of ice to slow the oncoming host.
Suddenly a Tauren grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me and shouting in my face.
"Marc! Snap out of it, we need you right now!" Harley... it was Harley; he was shaking me when suddenly I realized where and who I was. Looking around quickly, I saw Jake and Shelly, their undead flesh glowing with the preparation of spell and summon respectively. I glimpsed Rad off in the distance moments before he faded from view, going off in search of unsuspecting victims. There was a sharp push at my back and I looked around to see the Horn covered face of Oreo, Harley's pet Raptor, who seemed to have much more intelligence than he should.
The sound of rushing water resounded, and I was turning back to see Jake's Water Elemental emerge from nowhere, while the low bass rumble of Shelly's Void Walker complained of his summons to battle, and suddenly I was intoning the spidery incantation of an Ice Storm to throw into the midst of the rush of Human, Dwarf, and Night Elves bearing down on us. When the battle was joined, the screams of the fallen and wounded pierced me to the core. Blood mixed with dust and dirt, creating a quagmire of slime underfoot, and mirrored the sludge of confusion threatening to take over my mind. Our minds. It was then the thought came again – the one I had fought with numerous times while looking at a reflection of this blue skin and tusks of mine.
Could I fight and kill Humans, or any living being for that matter, after being one for so long?
At this point I can assume you're confused. Trust me; it cannot be worse than those first few days. A dream come true and a nightmare I couldn't wake from. But I digress; I am getting ahead of myself. I will start further back, a little history to fill in the blanks and bring you up to the present.
Three or four days a week, I lost myself in the mass online game known as World of Warcraft, created by Blizzard Entertainment. Most people know of this game, or have at least heard of it. Game mechanics aside, it is simply a virtual world where you create a fantasy character and live an alternate life; any more of an in depth explanation would be a useless endeavor. Well known around the world, it was played by countless millions. Some, like the younger fans that had the time, made it a lifestyle and filled every spare moment with play like an addiction. Others, like my skydiving wife, loved the game but only played when real life slowed down to allow it. A few others in the group and myself fell somewhere in between. Suffice it to say that after years of playing I still learn new things about the game every week.
It was a typical Saturday night as we all gathered online, donning headsets and settled into our respective seats. Snack food, drinks and, for some, cigarettes all within arm's reach for the hours to come. I had a room in the basement allowing me the freedom to spend hours uninterrupted at the game, while my wife, Tanya, had a desk in the living room upstairs for when she chose to join in. Firing up a smoke, I took a swig of soda and logged into the talk server we used to speak to each other while playing and found everyone already there and bantering as usual.
"Whoops, there's Marc, shhh," Jake started right off.
"Where you at man?", Joe's deep voice inquired immediately after.
"Gimme a sec, I'm loggin in now," I responded while opening the program and hammering out the necessary password on my keyboard.
"Well hurry your old ass up," Jake cracked jovially.
"IgnOring youuu," I retorted in a sing song voice, receiving a chuckle from both Jake and Joe for my efforts.
A few loading screens later, I found myself sitting in the capital city of Orgrimmar staring at an all too familiar scene. Gasbag – Jake's undead mage character and the first of five in this group of friends was bouncing around in incessant circles atop the roof of the Orgrimmar bank, talking casually about whatever came to mind. No matter how long he played the game, the guy's fascination with the feature allowing players to jump never seemed to cease. Although he assures me he is actually quite sedentary, I often imagine him wiggling around in his chair, unable to sit still even in reality.
Despite the extensive list of annoyances Jake could put out, he was actually quite an interesting fellow, and a bit of refreshment in this sea of uniform personalities. At the age of seventeen, he had a voice deeper than my own, and he conveyed a presence that deceived most into believing that he was actually older than his age. He seemed to find humor in the many anomalies and exploits of the game, and would abuse them to whatever degree he could. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to sort through my mail in game and separate the auction winnings from the 'boar intestines,' 'rotting bear carcasses,' and other useless items he would send.
Closely following Gasbag in his seemingly random path of endless hopping was Radamantis, Joe's undead rogue character. He seemed to be infected by the leaping-disease as well, which was a common occurrence with too much exposure to Gasbag's contagious habits. Joe had many characters that went by many different names, but for some reason the name "Rad" had always stuck with him, regardless of his proper title. He was a veteran player enjoying the game since its earliest days and knew his way around better than most. He was a very easy-going guy, always brimming with advice and good company. Although he preferred sticking around this group of people, his resourcefulness gave him the ability to be quite independent when he needed to be.
Sitting quietly on the sidelines, Masharret – Shelly's warlock (and the final of the four undead characters) mounted her fiery Felsteed. She sat transfixed by the sheer stamina that Gas and Rad demonstrated through their unending jump cycle. Having been around us for so long, she had adapted to our constant stream of sarcasm and incorporated it impressively within her own sense of humor.
Standing idly in the corner, Nutterbutter – Harley's Tauren hunter character remained unintentionally stealthy while observing the conversations and habits of people within the group. With a preference for naming his characters after cookie brands, a habit he extended to naming his characters' pets. The thought of nobody noticing him had always tickled his cynical sense of humor, and he loved to stay quiet behind the scenes whenever he could. There were many more that joined us periodically for these nightly forays into fantasy and fun, but it seemed as if we had become the core for which an ever cycling number of people revolved around.
In the middle of the crisscrossing jump patterns that Rad and Gas had started months ago, I sat stoically with my wife, Tanya; an eye in the storm. Tanya didn't play on her undead warrior Leani as much as she used to; real life had a way of making itself important when it needed to, and she had been spending more time with her family. This included playing on another character with one of our young nephews. It was a rare pleasure to have her with us on this occasion.
"Fer' Christ's sake, Gas, would you quit jumping?" I exclaimed, my patience wearing thinner with every last jump.
"No way man, jumping is 97% of the game!" said Jake, provoking sarcastic responses and thus initiating the nightly ritual of witty remarks and derisive comebacks.
"And what's the other 3%?" asked Shelly, humoring the fabricated statistic.
"Well let's see… "Jake began and then proceeded to list off a slew of percentages followed by their subsequent fictitious meanings with an enthusiasm reserved for young children and over enthusiastic Kangaroos.
"Nice", I stated, entertained by the effort.
"Jeez Gas, with 97% of the game being jumping, I wonder how many space-bars your keyboard goes through," said Harley, revealing himself to everyone.
"Holy crap Nut, how long have you been here?" questioned Joe, suspending his jump cycle out of surprise.
"For about 20 minutes or so," he said with a chuckle.
"Jeez, this guy won't leave me alone! He keeps asking me to group up and quest with him," said Jake, easily frustrated at the repeated messages he was receiving from other players.
"It's because he thinks you're a girl. Why DID you make a female character anyway Gas? Some fantasies we don't know about?" teased Joe.
"It's kind of sad to think that people see a female character with the title of 'Gasbag' and don't stop to consider the possibility that the player is actually a guy," said Shelly.
"Hey, I'm not complaining. Guys treat you with more respect in this game if they think you're a woman. I mean, I just go with their assumptions," said Jake, defending his choice.
As normal as this banter was, it seemed to be giving me a headache. My head was dully throbbing, so in an attempt to prevent a full-blown migraine, I changed the subject.
"So as much as I enjoy just sitting here in Orgrimmar watching your plucky characters jump the night away, is there anything that we actually need to do?"
There was a brief silence as everyone mentally sorted through their lists of priorities and their incentives to do them.
"Well…" Joe began, "We could do some battlegrounds. I'm in the mood to do some player-vs-player fighting."
"Good idea, Rad, I could really use the points and Shmee could use the practice," stated Jake with a snicker. It was true, I was horrible at PvP battles; Jake and Joe had even nicknamed Shmeegun, my troll mage character, as the 'Dead Blue Troll.'
"Very funny, Jake, but I'm not going to pretend that I know what I'm doing while fighting other players… so yeah, I wouldn't mind the practice."
"Well, you know, I wouldn't mind getting a few instance dungeons done…" piped up Tanya, known for having a slight distaste for PvP. "I mean we do have a pretty good group here."
"Good players, yes, but we'll need a healer if we're going to do an instance," chimed Shelly. "Now that I think of it, there's too many of us to do an instance."
"Yeah… in all honesty I don't think I'm up for an instance anyway. My head's killing me tonight," said Jake, still jumping in circles.
"Oh my god, I know what you mean; my head's throbbing right now," drawled Shelly.
"What, do we all have headaches tonight?" is something I wouldhave said, but suddenly I noticed an ambient static that seemed to have just come within human-hearing range. It resonated in my skull causing me to wince. Sounding like the low guttural hum of a massive generator, mixed with the hiss of a television tuned to a dead channel. With every passing second, its pitch climbed a few hertz, making a slow and gradual gradient of really annoying sound.
"Ok, who's holding down their talk button?" I interrupted, not paying attention to whatever the topic had wandered to.
"What was that Shmee? I don't think anyone was talking just now…"
"Does anyone else hear that humming sound?" I asked, now totally confused. I frowned as a chorus of "nope's" fell over each other, and said, "Well damn it, I hope it's not my soundcard acting up… I can't afford to replace that right now." A whine crept over my voice as the sound intensified in pitch and volume at a seemingly exponential rate. The noise got louder, the rhythmic throb faster and twice as maddening each second. I soon realized that the noise was not coming from my headphones, so I took them off and began to wander the room, searching for a source.
It was infuriating, and it was exactly what my headache did not need. I suddenly found myself inexplicably angry, but not because I was frustrated; it was a kind of manic anger, where for a brief period I had the feeling that I had completely lost my mind. Reality was swirling around me, the noise overpowering every one of my senses, and my head felt as though it would explode. I could faintly make out the complaints of the others through the nearby headset. Apparently they were experiencing the same phenomenon I was, which now brought me to my knees from the pain.
I grabbed my head in attempt to somehow muffle the noise which had grown to an overwhelming scream of insanity. I felt my consciousness slipping further and further away as my sight dimmed and the screams of Tanya from upstairs were barely audible over the deafening frequency inside my head. A bright flash of light washed everything from my view and faded along with my cognizance as I fell into blissful blackness.
A roar of fury split the air as the demon's concentration was broken. His carefully primed summoning was interrupted by the sting of a blade piercing his calf. In desperation he closed the spell, letting those he had called fall where they would. Turning his wrath on the first target he could find, he brought his foot down, intending to squash the gnat that had caused the disruption. The tiny form was so small to him that he could not even tell what race it was. Yet as it rolled out of the way with blinding speed, he knew it would not be an easy kill.
The clanging of machinery and whispering of wraiths combined with the stench of death surrounded him in a blanket of corruption. He had listened to these sounds and reveled in this decay for months now, his newfound awareness making every second sweeter and every sensation more intense. Even those hated moments when he had been defeated and reborn were now looked upon as a birthing cycle into his newfound power. The first few times had been infuriating, thinking he had worked out everything to the last detail, and then losing it all at the last moment galled him to no end. After all his time spent out within his tower fortress (left behind by the destruction of his lord during the third war), he was finally able to return to this realm where he belonged. He had found a new source of power, a possible way to finally be rid of all the irritating gnats that assailed him, inevitably overcoming him every time. Bringing his attention back from his reverie, he focused on the group of insignificant bugs attempting to assail him. Throwing his arm out in a wave, he blanketed them in a haze of choking poison then shouted an incantation that slowed them all to half their normal speed. He grinned as he watched them choking and attempting to run from the cloud.
Three of them began to gesticulate feverishly and act as if they were throwing something at the ground, creating small wooden totems, a form of magic he knew Shamans to be capable of that had beneficial properties for everyone in the group. One seemed to neutralize the poison as their coughing and choking became less and less. Another created a fierce wind that dissipated the cloud, while a third seemed to enhance the spell casters ability as their attacks grew in intensity.
He was less concerned with any damage they had on him than the overall distraction from what he had been doing. The fact that these mortals could inconvenience him at such a crucial time was infuriating, and the more time it took to get rid of them the angrier he got.
"Impudent mortals, all of you will now die!"
With that, he activated the two huge automatons behind him, massive mechanical constructs called Fel Reavers, which stood some 50 feet tall. Black metal encased the entire form, the legs like fluted tree trunks, bottomed out in squared off blocks that served as feet. On its back, two huge cylinders rhythmically pumped up and down, providing power and locomotion. The head resembled a death mask of grillwork and sharp protrusions, instilling even more terror in those it faced. Setting these loose on the group, he also threw out showers of fiery meteors, striking all his targets and setting them aflame. He was able to take a small amount of pleasure, stomping out one of the little flailing fireballs. Between the mechanical monsters grinding the group of attackers underfoot and the demon's flaming meteors, it didn't take long before there was a new coat of blood and gore for his minions to play in.
A sound behind the demon brought his attention to the small cage near the massive stone structure that served as his throne. Inside was a grotesque simulacrum of what once could have been a human. This creature (which could have been human, were it not for the grotesque proportions that it was made of), composed of masses of translucent flesh, looked as if someone had haphazardly attached its arms to the torso. However, its front was in sorry neglect, being left open, exposing bone and sinew. The head, which was now busy retching through the bars violently, was a model of Frankenstein's monster with no hair and its features bloated from decomposition.
"Just think, soon I'll be able to do this in your world as well," His voice boomed as his grin turned into laughter.