Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Remembrancer, Part II: Tsurii's Decision

Four Hours After Deathwing’s Awakening…

I watched the elf as he paced back and forth in our meeting hall, one of the numerous hidden catacombs that dotted Undercity like Alterac Swiss. His hammer made a rhythmic clanking sound as it bounced off his leg armor, one hand absently rubbing his forehead with frustrated ferocity right where his newly-acquired helm still chafed. Katsuko’s magic-powered lanterns burned brightly in the dank cavern without the haze of smoke associated with a Dwarven or Tauren dwelling, yet the air was still hazy and thick with dust as the aftershocks of the tremendous earthquake we had all felt continued to rattle our senses.

I absently sat polishing my giant sword, testing the edge with a skeletized finger for the hundredth time. Try as I might to lighten the mood, our “General” was in no humor for frivolity. Even my Sylvanas v. Thrall deathmatch shadowpuppet show had failed to rouse a ghost of a smile. Kusamoto had simply looked over at me and said, “Tsurii, honestly, now is not the time for childish nonsense. Information. We must have information. All hell is breaking loose out there, and you want to play pretend? Make yourself useful and find us something to eat.”

It hurt a little, I admit, to be dismissed like a common serving knave. Besides, even the Banshee Queen herself had declared that my reinterpretation of the retaking of Undercity, while totally fictitious, was in every way an improvement on actual events. People just don’t appreciate real art, I suppose. Especially Blood Elf people.

Luckily, I was able to find a panicked, but still coherent, vendor in the main hall who hadn’t sold, lost, or eaten his entire stash of day-old bread. He wasn’t paying much attention as I handed him a stack of gold that would have made royalty blush. He absently pocketed the jingling coins while grimacing in trepidation as another aftershock rattled the foundations of old Lordaeron. Oh well. He deserved it for still being here. If he lived, he’d have a pleasant surprise when he checked his books later.

If he lived.

I headed back, quick to skirt through the ancient archway, more aware than ever that we were snugly cocooned under thousands of tons of masonry and rock that could give out if another monstrous quake came our way. I turned the corner, realizing too late that someone was standing there, waiting for me or another unlucky soul. Vermin, these looters. Almost as bad as the elementals Katsuko and I had fought to dispatch in Orgrimmar earlier in the week, except without the good sense to retreat when they were outmatched.

It was probably too late, but I whipped the bag of stale bread at the hooded figure and drew my blade, cold fire and the starlight from the heart of diseased suns flashing along its edge as I rose to strike. Only then did I realize that my improvised missile had not only missed the target entirely, but was now floating two feet from me in a halo of greenish-blue mist.

“Raising arms against your Queen, Colonel Tsurii?” came the corpse-warm voice it seemed like I had heard my entire life. “And here I thought you at least as intelligent as you were irreverent. It appears I may have to reevaluate my opinion of you.”

She stepped into the light, simultaneously beautiful, horrific, alluring, and repellent. I felt something stir inside me, as I always did in her presence, which I thought long since vanished. A powerful longing for something to believe in. Something worth fighting for. Something to make this cursed existence worthwhile. Who wouldn’t die for that, or kill for it?

I knelt, holding my sword pommel-first toward her as a sign of fealty. “My sincerest apologies, Queen Sylvanas. I’ve been set upon by these thieving wretches too much of late, and my paranoia is running higher than usual.”

Sylvanus chuckled, idly motioning for me to rise. “Forgiven, my loyal servant. Of all my Forsaken, you may be one of my favorites, even if you are somewhat lacking in tact. Destroying you for a misunderstanding would bring me no pleasure.”

I shuddered imperceptibly as I rose and sheathed my sword. Notice she didn’t say she wouldn’t, just that it wouldn’t be fun, I thought. “Much as this unlife is sometimes not to my liking, I think the alternative would be just as, if not more, unpleasant.” I took a deep breath, more to steady my nerves than any real need for oxygen. Breathing was a reflex with our kind, and nothing more. “My Lady, is there any news from our forces in Silverpine? Northrend? Felwood? We need on-site intelligence to allow us to plan any kind of strategy. Is it true that Booty Bay has been wiped off the face of the world? What of the reports of Twilight Hammer forces seizing large swaths of Durotar?”

“Patience, my friend, patience,” the Banshee Queen replied, raising a hand. “Walk with me. Time is short and we have many decisions to make.”

I nodded, falling in to step beside her. For the first time, I noticed her usual retinue of rangers was conspicuously absent. Sylvanas never traveled alone, especially since a large portion of the royal apothecaries had been purged from the ranks some three years previous.

With a small smirk, Sylvanas noticed my questing glance and what it signified. “I have sent my rangers to the farthest corners of the world,” she explained, “to act as my eyes and ears. More than ever, I must have scouts that are absolutely loyal to our cause to feed our generals accurate information. To feed your General accurate information, as well… even though we both know who truly issues the marching orders for Kusamoto’s Army.”

I opened my mouth to protest, shaken to the core that our secret had leaked out. The reality was that Kusamoto was a figurehead, nothing more. Katsuko and I were the ones who strategized, who planned, who conspired with turncoat Alliance spies like Morney and Lorosaphne for information on troop movements. Kusamoto was the face, the artful diplomat, the fiery speaker, the symbol of our organization to further the Horde’s goals. And while I might have been the brains, Katsuko was our beating heart and need for vengeance. We made a fabulous team, and had won more plaudits for our actions in Outlands and Northrend than I could count. We were loyal to the Horde, forever, for our lives. Did our Queen now think us disloyal?

A look from Sylvanas snapped my mouth closed around the dissembling I was about to engage in. “I am…somewhat surprised…that we were that transparent, My Lady. I hope you do not believe us traitors to the Horde, or to you. Our army exists alongside your own, furthering our own goals, and supporting yours when necessary. I hope you do not think-"

“What I think,” she interrupted, “is that you and the girl – Katsuko, isn’t it? – have done a marvelous job with very limited resources. Choosing that comely Blood Elf as your mouthpiece was a stroke of brilliance. And fear not, Tsurii. I know where your allegiance lies. You are fiercely loyal to your friends, your comrades, and most of all, your Queen. And I appreciate having an experienced strike force to apply with precision at a problem, which is exactly what you have given me.” She shook her head. “But there are events occurring that you and your General cannot stand against. Not yet. You see, Deathwing is loose from his prison in Deepholm. Those idiots, the Twilight Hammer, have released him to bring about their damned apocalypse. That’s what’s behind all this; that was the earthquake we felt, that was what demolished Booty Bay, and that’s what’s coming for us.”

I stopped and sagged against the wall. Deathwing? The Deathwing? How could…why would they… ? “Gods, do they truly know what they’ve unleashed? What he’ll do?”

Sylvanas shrugged as we continued down the hall, now just a few yards from the Army’s bolt hole. Around us, blacksmiths, weaponsmiths, combat trainers, and civilians streamed out of the city in all directions, looking for some supposed safety. “Who knows? Do they actually care is the better question. To them, the Father of Terror is simply a means to an end. A tool to be used to upset the old order and replace it with their own. But to him…they’re food.”

I shook my head. It was inconceivable, but the pieces began fitting together in my head: The elemental attacks, the sudden resurgence of the Hammer, formerly rock-solid sources of information suddenly going silent, never to be heard from again. All of it orchestrated by Deathwing from his prison of agony.

Sylvanas was right: Our Army could never hope to fight this, not directly, and my fists clenched in impotent rage at that thought. We had ended everything that had stood as a threat to the Horde, to the world, even. Blood Princes, upstart Emperors, elemental masters, even the Lich King himself. None could stand against my steel and resolve, Katsuko’s magic and fury. We had ended other threats, we could end him, too.

“My Lady,” I said, “I have served from the ranks on up. You know my record, you know my dedication. Command me, even if it is to go into Hell itself to fight this monster. Say the word and I will tender my resignation to Kusamoto and lead whatever forces you wish to place in my care. Win or die, we will be who we are, and we show Deathwing that his will be a short reign. I beg you, My Lady, command me.”

For the first time in years, I saw her actually smile as she placed a delicate hand on my shoulder. The feeling was electrifying, and I knew then I would give anything, anything to keep her and my people safe. Even my own life, paltry as it was.

“You do me more honor than you know, Tsurii,” she said, “but I am no fool. A strike against Deathwing now would simply waste resources we cannot part with. We have to come at him sideways, destroy whatever infrastructure he is attempting to build, before an assault can be mounted. And for that, I need everything you have in your arsenal, including your figurehead. Except…he isn’t precisely a figurehead anymore, is he, Tsurii?”

I frowned, trying to discern her meaning. Kusamoto? He was a scribe, an excellent speaker, a healer with great potential. He was also raw, untested, irritatingly moral…

And with a start, I realized what had happened since Katsuko and I had returned from Icecrown.

How he had slowly taken over the majority of our recruiting.

How he had taught himself finance and overseen Taka’s ordnance and supply decisions, thereby doubling our reserves.

How he had quietly suggested that Undercity, not Orgrimmar, would be a better base of operations, and how we had unquestioningly gone along with it.

And how our ranks had actually grown, our influence spread, while the “brains” of the operation toiled against the scourge in the Frozen North.

“He’s a natural leader,” I said with wonder. “How did I miss it?”

“Because he doesn’t see himself as one either, Tsurii,” Sylvanas said. “He believes you are still the one really in charge, when in reality, he has been for almost a year. But that means if something happens, he will expect you to bail him out of trouble, and that weakness will get him killed. I need him, my friend, so he must be ready when the time comes.”

I straightened, realizing I could hear Kusamoto issuing orders from just down the hallway. His awareness of the situation was total, even though everything around him seemed to be falling apart.

“Relay this to Ginawa,” I heard him say to one of our runners. “Silverpine is in chaos, from what I’ve heard, and he’s been out there for a few weeks. If anyone knows what the situation on the ground is, it would be him. Now. Go. Don’t stop for anything.”

I turned to Sylvanas as a juvenile Orc raced around the corner, oblivious to our presence, the copper and gold lion etched on his armor gleaming brilliantly in the muted light. In a moment of clarity, or perhaps prescience, I saw our crest flying high on a standard above a battlefield of unspeakable carnage. Tattered and torn, but still flying high, and beneath it, shouting out our last breaths in defiance, stood Katsuko, Kusamoto, and I. We were dying, but somehow, I knew our sacrifice had bought the world victory.

Dying wasn’t on my list of things that needed to be done anytime soon. But if I couldn’t die at my Queen’s side, it wouldn’t be a bad death, at that. A good death, in fact. An honorable one. “What must I do, My Lady?”

Sylvanas pointed in our General’s direction. “Send him to Outlands, Tsurii. He is more than ready. Send him alone, with only what he carries, today. If he survives, he will be the weapon we so desperately need in this dark hour. I have skill; I have legions at my beck and call; I have all the powers of the etherium at my fingertips. But I need leaders, generals, respected commanders, or else we lose. The whole world loses. He must be who he was born to be, and soon.”

I nodded. “It won’t be easy to convince him, but in the end, he’ll go. This I swear.”

Sylvanas smiled and started to say something else, but I never got a chance to hear what it was.

A tremendous explosion rocked the hallway, and I was thrown through the air to land in a heap of rubble. Dust and pain obscured my vision, but I fought against unconsciousness, straining to catch a glimpse of our Queen. She couldn’t have been caught in that explosion…she couldn’t be…

With a pained sigh, I saw her form emerge from the obscuring detritus of the blast, shimmering faintly behind a protective shield of sickly green light. She padded over to me as I heard the shouts and curses of our forces as they stormed in our direction. “Remember, Tsurii,” she whispered, “it’s Kusamoto’s Army. Make sure he realizes that.” With a high-pitched whistle, reality bent sideways and swallowed her in a wash of magical energy.

The last thing I remembered as darkness claimed me was the elf running in my direction, the healing light already forming at his fingertips. I thank you, my old friend, I thought, but if you knew the decisions I am making for you, for your own good even, you would curse me rather than heal me. And you would be right to.

I would.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Scenes from Azeroth II

Well, since we're having server authentication problems, let's get caught up. Where has the Army been? Fighting against the horrors of Deathwing, of course...

Here's Katsuko shortly after Deathwing's arrival on her way to Vash'Jir. One of the best screenshots I've ever done, methinks.

I'd talk about this quest if I could stop laughing.

Give an undead an ugly stick and then step back and just watch...

And here's Katsuko now. She was the first of the Army to the new level cap and is a very irritating 2 GS points away from being able to run heroics. Only having access to 2 Ramkahen dailies is really exasperating, since they easily have the best caster rep gear. I do appreciate the Cowboy Beebop anime hat, though, from the Earthen Ring folks.

Oh, and for you old schoolers? Outlands armor? Still outlandish.