Welcome to another edition of Wrathgate Wendesday! This week, we take more examples of collaborative Fic and RP from the Wildfire Riders expedition to the Wrathgate. The Riders, under the command of Tarquin, are manning a Ballistae perch far from the front lines. That does not mean things will be easy. In fact, a Crypt Lord erupted behind the perch, forcing the Riders to respond.
First to Respond are Shad and Laz, two Riders who have a surprising amount in common, despite their obvious differences. The druid and the magus are running to support the Riders left to man the Ballistae.
Those riders are under Bricu’s command. While he is calling the shots and directing fire, he also made Tarquin promise something. That promise is being called into effect now.
Last, and certainly not least, Ebon Knight Jacob Balthasar. Jak’s responsibility at Wrathgate was to keep the Arcane Ladies (Yva, Davien and Genise) safe from any counter-attack. We see how this particular death knight responds to oaths.
Haemon was sweating. Sure, it was cold, but that wasn’t what made it weird; he was concentrating on the well being of no less than fifteen people at once, after all, so there was ample reason for it. The odd part was that he was managing it through bark. He hadn’t even known he had sweat glands in this form. There wasn’t really time to muse on it at the moment. He had a unit’s strength to buoy. He concentrated mostly on the battle nearby, sparing only occasional thought for the mage at his side. The front lines needed the support now. He’d funneled rejuvenating blessings to each of the plated warriors as they faced down wave after oncoming wave. They were what epic tales were made of. He just kept them that way.
Laurus, on the other hand, was more along the lines of an arcane horror story. Or perhaps, the elf reflected as another maniacal cackle echoed off the snow, a comic poem. “Enjoying yourself?” he muttered sarcastically as he focused on the berzerker elf in the center of the fray. Illi probably wasn’t about to tire, but she could stand to have a few of those little cuts knit up, and the big ones diminished.
“Heh, hah! What, aren’t you?” the mage replied with his own brand of innocence.
The tree sighed. “A healer’s job is to keep people alive, and in a conflict like this, I am bound to fail at some point.” Not that point precisely. No, Jolly’s ankle was not about to give out, surprise, ghoul. Bet you thought you had him. “It is a rather depressing state of things, and as I am not given to the sorts of dramatic displays of power you are, people will only know I am here when I do fail.” His branches moved smoothly, as though he were conducting nature’s orchestra. A little accent there with the lifebloom. “So…nnno.”
“Depressing? Stop being so bloody sentimental.” The mage snorted. “Far as I can tell, everyone that matters is still alive. More importantly, we still are, and we haven’t even–”
Murphy and his dratted Law promptly cut Laurus’s confident announcement off and began a wicked scheme to invalidate it. The human lost his balance in the earthquake and quite nearly fell on his face. Haemon, having stabilized himself with a limited root system, shrugged the tremor off. “See, this is what happens when you open your big fat mouth. You prove me right.” He peered down to the ballistae and counted living heads. One, two, three, four, five… Well, one almost fell…
Laurus rose, invisible, to squawk indignantly. “I didn’t even finish! What have you got to be right about?!” Fate answered with the collapse of a good portion of the hill on which the Rider ballistae were balanced, followed immediately by the first two legs of something that probably had too many.
“Looks like company is coming,” the druid noted calmly before the crypt lord’s full form was in view. Then it was time for a bit more tree sweat. “Oh sweet assfucking Elune,” he spat in his native tongue, “I hope that thing doesn’t come up up here.” Laurus probably wouldn’t catch all of that, and thankfully the emerging crypt lord didn’t either. “Geists,” he announced in Common as the tiny springy abominations began to worm out of the hole. “They will be overrun if it is not just a few. Anything you can do to plug that hole?”
“I’m working on it!” Drachmas protested, snapping his fingers at a charging Vrykul and bringing it to its knees, face contorted with pain. He moved again, pelting the tunnel’s maw with shards of ice. While it did slow the advance somewhat, it also drew the attention of quite a few pairs of sharp, glowing eyes attached to sharp, glinting claws. There were people over there. People were notably tasty. It was worth their time for four or five of them to spring that way. “Shit, shit, shit!” Smug, confident Laurus naturally folded at the first sign of danger; his blizzard fizzled in favor of a bubble of mana, allowing the next wave of geists, now chilled and irritated, to seek out their attacker. On the up side, at least they weren’t immediately leaping for, say, the dangling ap Danwyrith.
“Acting as a distraction helps, I suppose.” As usual, Haemon had to take care of things himself. He slipped into his own form–by Elune it was fucking cold–and thrust a hand up to call to the clouds. “I am curious, Laurus,” he mused. “If I bring the storm, what kind of blizzard can you get out of that?” A proper storm took time, and this wasn’t going to be one, but it might be enough to answer that ponderance. How well -could- mage and druid spells mix?
Given that his mage on hand was recoiling in panic still, he’d probably have to wait to get his answer. “Do I look like a forecaster? Hurry up with the lightning!”
“I am working on it.” The falling rain, liquid despite the cold, had begun to slicken the mountainside leading to them and send some of the dead things back from where they came, scrabbling for footholds. “And thank you ever so much for your collaboration.” Tendrils of electricity shot out from the makeshift cloud to properly charged assailants, cooking them from within. Those without a charge who made it past the gauntlet of icy slope and well-done comrade bomb were taken out by thick, heavy bolts of ice, Laurus’s power getting a boost from the druid’s storm.
Breathing in the moment’s peace after the storms ceased, Haemon slapped Laurus on the back and offered him a well deserved shock of innervation. “All right,” he mused, slightly worn but pleased. “Now I am having fun.”
The relative quiet was shattered by a scream. A glance around for the source only revealed an incoming cadre of geists, seemingly from several directions. Ignoring the elf, they dove straight for the shielded mage, who predictably panicked.
He was not alone. The scream that erupted inside Haemon’s head (“HOW DOES THIS EVEN HAPPEN?”) was not precisely panic, but clearly the panther spirit was disturbed. It lay with the elf proper to take a breath, shift to vegetable form, and make sure no one stole his pleasure of ripping Laurus’s head off. “Laurus, here!” He extended a branch and jerked the mage into the relative safety of his trunk. “I’ll keep them off, you get rid of them!” It was apparently simple, inoffensive, and necessary enough a command that Laurus did not protest or even sneer at being bossed around. He obediently backed into the bark and fired an ineffective spell at the geist pushing him back.
As the undead circled around, preparing to feed, Haemon wrapped himself around his mostly useless ward and began to murmur an unbroken stream of ancient elven tones. ”Come on you fucker, fight, strength of the leaf restore unto you your body and mind that you shall not fail…” He was not a fighter himself, not like that, but he was fairly stuck. He’d be vulnerable as an elf, and thick bear hide would only leave him unable to heal. Nothing the monsters could do to him surpassed what pain would be waiting with Fells should Laurus not return unscathed. ”Drink from the geyser of unending life under the protection of the seed, come on, wake up and fight…” Despite the claws raking bark for his back, he spared no thought for himself. Laurus needed all the help he could get, especially when the bubble finally broke.
The spray of blood that sprinkled Haemon’s leaves with scarlet served to rouse the mage from his stupor. He growled and began casting in a whirl, screaming death as his companion whispered life. Slowly, the druid released him and turned to face the attackers behind. Lacking the ability to go all that much on the offensive, he did what any proper ent would do: he threw people. Still focused on Laurus’s health, he roared and blindly grabbed forward, catching one in the mouth, or maybe its mouth caught him. It mattered little, as he wouldn’t feel the pain until later, and the toothy grip only made it that much easier for him to pitch the beast over his head and down into Laurus’s blast of flame.
Valiant and violent though their efforts were, they weren’t exactly winning. The action was beginning to take its toll on Haemon’s concentration, and he wasn’t so quick to parry the next incoming claw. There was a perfectly calm moment, as he removed the pointy things from what might otherwise have been his cheek, during which he decided shifting back to flesh would be a bad idea anytime soon. Absence of bark, after all, meant absence of skin. That they had begun to chip away at his trunk proper meant that he would be in very real danger of immediate death should he shift. “We need a breather,” he gasped, shoving the claws and the geist attached over the edge of the embankment. It would only be right back. “Retreat, or finish them?”
“Can your wooden legs keep up with me?” Laurus asked, surprisingly considerately.
“Not if you blink all the time,” the druid purred. “Otherwise, yes.”
Naturally, the first thing Laurus did after summoning four very accurate and very irritating copies of himself was to blink away. Fortunately, the copies were also irritating to the geists, who lost all interest in the vegetation and immediately followed the normal, sensible instinct of attempting to destroy Laurus Drachmas.
“It is good to know some things never change,” Shad muttered to himself as he skidded down the hill.
Bricu dropped his gnomish glass and gripped his axe with both hands. With his cigarette still clenched in his teeth, he barked out orders, his voice angry but still steady. “Beltar, Ulth. Shoot the fuckin’ insect!” He’d sounded much the same ordering someone thrown out of the Pig. He watched as his friends peppered the Nerubian’s hide with gunfire. The gun’s reports echoed through the valley. Each bullet clattered against the scourge-thing’s carapace, drilling deep holes into its chitin. It clacked its mandibles together, laughing away the newest scars. It hissed something in its dead langauge, and the ground erupted into scourgling beetles. Ferocious, tiny beetles that could shear flesh off of bone in seconds.
Cool and collected, Beltar recocked his ornate firearm and did something that made the gun clack and creak like a toppling house. When he pulled the trigger again, bullets hailed down on the beetles in short sprays, driving the madly chittering beasts down into the snow and here and there cracking a shell or bursting a vulnerable face. Further up the hill, Ulthanon spat a continuous stream of elven curses as he fired shot after shot into the slowed insects, dropping them one at a time, as fast as he could keep up with the swarm. They scuttled up the hill towards the two marksmen.
Freed from the hail of bullets, the crypt lord dragged its ponderous bulk forward, glittering black eyes fixed on Bricu. “Veteran,” it gurgled, and improbably, dipped its horned head in some form of respect. “It is Anub-Kayet, Prince of Seven Maws, who gives your life to the Majesty. I am honored.”
“The fuck?” Bittertongue stared at the creature from under brows drawn down in anger. Bricu gripped his axe with both hands and glared at the Nerubian in front of him. “Yeh want t’explain yer self ‘for I cut yeh in ‘alf?”
“You bear the marks of His first conquest, Veteran.” A leer in the Nerubian’s voice, an inescapable hunger in the hunch of its bestial frame. “To bring such a soul to Him, to feast on such flesh…ah, northman, you will taste of glory!”
Bricu planted his feet in the turf and spat, the chittering of the locusts and the curses and grunts of his comrades echoing in his ears. “The name’s Bittertongue, yeh fucker.” He hefted his axe as his comrades circled the Crypt Lord, stalking, hungry shadows with knives close to hand. Somewhere back by the tent, a wash of heat erupted, but he couldn’t worry about that right now. “An’ sorry ta disappoint yeh, but after years o’ picklin’, I taste like arse.”
Threnn moved to Bricu’s shoulder, mace in hand and shield covering their child.
“Threnny, off the line!” He shouted.
“Like. Fuck.” She said calmly. “Nowhere is safe, so we stand here, remember?”
Anub-Kayet clacked its mandibles with glee, interupting the Bittertongues. “A child! A spawn! And yet unborn! Ah, if you could but know the bliss-” Anub-Kayet’s boast was cut short by a lance of violet shadow. The beetle reared on the back pair of its six legs, hissing in pain. A spinning ball of the same purple and blue shadows broke off the lance and shimmered in front of Bricu and Threnn, and coalesced into the elegantly curved frame of Ilarra Stormrunner.
“Oh pooh.” She giggled, “What about me? I want to play too!”
“Yeh lot get behind the bloke in the metal suit!” Bricu shouted.
“Too bloody late now!” Threnn shouted back. She was whispering a prayer of healing as Anub-Kayet crashed to the ground. Two of its six eyes seemed to focus on the priestess.
“Back to the shadows with you, fractured one.” Anub-Kayet’s mandibles split apart as a spout of vile green ichor shot towards her. Stormrunner tried to shift to the shadows, but the ichor was too fast. Ilarra was covered in the substance before she could flee. Threnn changed her prayer, cleansing the poison from her system. Bricu watched as Illarra fell to the frozen ground. At first, he thought she was sobbing in pain. It took half a second to realize she was still giggling.
While Threnn cleansed Illarra, Bricu ran towards Anub-Kayet, swinging his Axe upward into the Nerubian’s mandibles. “Spit this way, yeh fuckin’ tosser!” he shouted. Bricu pulled his axe up and out of the Nerubian’s still clattering jaws. Anub-Kayet lunged forward, but Bricu took another step forward and brought his axe down on the Nerubian’s left front leg. Chitin shattered and the monster shrieked like a steam engine, lashing out with its other claw; the air shimmered golden in front of Bricu’s face, and he and Threnn exchanged a grim smile as the thing’s talon skidded off of nothing. Tarquin darted in, with tottering, graceless speed, and rammed the point of his knife home in the joint of one buzzing wing; ichor sprayed the air, and the northman skipped back, nearly falling on his arse in the snow.
“Hit an’ run, that’s the way!” Bricu slammed the haft of his axe into Anub-Kayet’s forelimb, prizing himself some distance from dripping mandibles. Now it was Isi Underhill, shrieking a stream of obscenities as she sprinted forward and bolted onto the thing’s hunched back. With a revolting splintering noise, she hacked a rent in the many-scarred hide and drove her blades into it, over and over. The Crypt Lord’s screams were a cacophony, a thousand whining arrows, a hundred burning beehives. Tarquin approached again, circling to stay behind the thrashing monster, and Ilarra, still giggling in spurts, dragged herself to her feet.
“Ek’fani kazai ashkur ashkeia thruk-” Seething, the Nerubian bit back its curses, hunching into itself. “Enough, vermin. My amusement ends.” With a shuddering effort, the thing flapped its crippled wings, and with terrifying speed hurled itself into the air. Flexing its boneless body, it whirled, sending Isi flying into Ilarra, one of her swords still standing in the monster’s flesh. Another stream of poison studdered from its parted jaws, and Tarquin dove for the snow, steam hissing from his cloak where the venom made contact. Laughing, chittering, drooling, Anub-Kayet succumbed to the pull of gravity on its immense bulk and thundered to the earth directly before Bricu, its lashing forearms knocking him sprawling.
“Feast!” it shrieked, the cracked coals of its eyes settling on the lonely figure of Threnn Bittertongue, all its cultivated manner gone. “Praise! Feast!” Dragging the ruined hulk of its body across the bloody snow, whining and drooling and bubbling laughter, the Prince of Seven Maws enveloped Threnn and the hope growing in her belly in its shadow. “My worship,” it burbled. “My glory…”
Bricu, still on his back, reached for his axe. “Tarquin, don’t yeh dare fuck this up! Do it now!” Bricu screamed. Tarquin ap Danwyrith rolled to his feet, tugging the ruined mess of his cloak from around his neck – and Anub’Kayet turned to Bricu, a fathomless hunger in its eyes. “Come on, tosser!” grunted the Veteran, his eyes flickering between his wife, his friend, and his likely end. Tarquin crouched to spring, a knife in one hand, his face an agony of indecision. Threnn stared at him, her eyes narrowing, and then took a step forward and opened her mouth…
Somewhere, there was a battle, itself a side note to a far greater one; somewhere, men and women he might have called comrades were struggling for their lives against fathomless ranks of his eternal enemies. His old allies. Behind him, the woman he loved was pitching what little life the world had left her into the cauldron of her magics, with regard for little but pyrotechnic results. It was all a deal too much to have on one’s mind when the world had dwindled to a screen of pummeling limbs and gibbering masks.
The geists were everywhere, at least a dozen if not a score, less the four or five inanimate corpses in the snow. Those bodies had taught them caution, and they were damnably fast learners; they flanked him and clawed at his sides, dragged down his limbs with the weight of their slimy flesh and brittle bones, leapt and struck and danced away. Jakob didn’t know whether help was on the way from the famously self-interested mercenaries he had pitched his lot with, or if he would fight his way clear only to be greeted by the slavering mandibles of a Crypt Lord.
He heard the niggling whisper at the back of his mind as another leathern fist slammed into his side, impact felt through his armor. No. Not here. He jammed the hilt of his axe backward, felt the impact of flesh. Another came in on his left, too slow, and his sword plunged upwards into the soft flesh below its chin. It fell, squealing, but another replaced it, clawing at his arm, the runeblade nearly falling from his grasp. He growled two words in a dead language, gathering the soothing cold from their flesh, leaving a boiling blood in its wake. The flesh of the one on his arm erupted in black spots, and it joined its fellows in a chorus of agony – but they were still on him.
And the cold was in him now.
Desperately, Jakob twisted and thrashed, whispered another word and the snow erupted and dragged down a geist that was attempting to wrench the helm from his head. His axe tore through flesh and bone, dropping a forearm to the snow, but the jagged stump behind it punched into his pauldron and tore a scratch. Another impact, behind him, buckled his left knee. It was only a matter of time. He struck blindly, hearing the shrieks. Strange how they sounded more like joy than pain. There was likely a reason for that. Down on one knee now, his left vambrace crushed to his arm. The world seemed nothing but a horror of writhing flesh, an orgy of punishing monsters. It was time.
He lowered his head and breathed in the cold, drew the Northrend winter into his lungs. He opened himself to the voice that murmured and threatened in the cellar of his mind. As he did, light bloomed across the corners of his vision. The pressure slackened, released momentarily. When he looked up, a great invisible hand was tracing an inferno across his foes, scattering fire like a bridesmaid’s petals. Geists staggered back, thrashing and clutching. A voice, a human voice, was shouting at him, telling him to rise. Ordering, in fact, and insultingly so. It seemed help had come at last.
Jakob Balthasar looked on the fire swirling towards him, and felt no heat. Under his helm, his lips tugged up into a smile, pulling away from the flesh of his face, and as his eyes sank back into the sockets around them he closed his thinning lids, and opened them to -
-beauty. Fire dances across his foes, and while fire is no friend to him, carnage was ever his love. The maggot-men squirm and squeal, with the voices of naughty children, and he does not doubt their faces are curled to dismay at this, their punishment. They ought to know better, he thinks. I am beloved of the winter. He rises. One of them, scorched to gristle, is still clinging to his back; he barely felt its weight. He plunges his sword into a staggering geist, and when it turns from minion to meat, leaves the blade standing in its flesh, reaches up, and pulls the misbehaving thing from his back. He holds it at arm’s length, laughing when it flails at his face.
The Voice is silent, he realizes. It was not immediately obvious, so compelling was this world of slaughter, but his Lord’s Voice was not waiting for him on the other side of the wall of being. And here, so close to His home – there must be a reason, but the knight will not question it. He is free to do as he will, and so he does, laughing again and dropping the writhing geist to the snow and blinking when its head is suddenly in two pieces. How light the axe, how swift the blow! He barely remembers it, and grieves.
A cough, air expectorated from lungs with inhuman tones. He whirls to see the strangest of sights. A tree has grown here in the snow, a smallish tree of odd shape, and it has in turn grown itself two blinking eyes. One of its limbs stirs. Almost like a mortal man, reaching for him. Green washes over his vision, and the earth’s hand tickles his flesh beneath the cold iron. He knows that this is meant to soothe him as it does its work, but the repair of his battered flesh simply itches. The tree seems to notice it too, so much so that it speaks. ”What are you-” He laughs a third time, and louder at the expression on its face, for he has never been such a horror as to cause the very trees to grow features and voices to startle at him. It is a good day.
“Fucking come on!” There is another one, a tall man with hair the vibrant orange-red of funeral pyres, with a face stark with panic and ornate black robes dusted darker with soot and rent here and there. ”He’s on his feet, druid, there’s still that - that!” One outstretched finger, indicating a many-legged enormity pitching from side to side as it strikes at the tiny figures of living foes. For a moment the scene is meaningless; he idly catches another burning geist as it tumbles past, inspects it for the moment of a breath, and then his axe tears the spine from its body.
“I already took care of them, Balthasar!” The man, even in his obvious anxious rage, found time to be smug. He remembered him now. A lord among the living, such as it went. ”Quit fucking around, that thing’s coming for us next!” More memories. A Crypt Lord, the chosen zealots of his Lord, forever blathering about their worship and their high status.
“Good,” he croaks, and both of them stare at him for a moment. He reaches down and plucks his sword from a corpse he barely recollects making, feels it in his hand. The weapons have no weight, but this, this has a presence. Like a lover’s breast, and this stirs some other memories that he shoves aside before the cold can reach them too. Perhaps later, but this is not the time. He raises axe and sword for a moment, then lowers them both and whispers a secret to the blade, a secret that excites it and makes it shine. ”In fact,” he adds, remembering now humor, “I’ll hurry him along.”
Man and tree stare at each other now, with the strangely identical expressions of those who find themselves among the mad. He sympathizes with them, as much as he can. It must be difficult, he muses as the runes grow brighter, and he prepares his challenge, to be a sane man.
After all, this is the land of winter. Those poor souls have no place here.