What Darkness Lies, Part One

This fanfiction short was inspired by a roleplay scene wherein Tyrdan confronted Keelath about his loyalty to Warchief Sylvanas and her war. Tyrdan sees Keelath as surrendering to his curse and not questioning dishonorable authority enough, while Keelath sees the whole thing as a cold necessity of his new existence.

The idea of drinking blood restarting an undead heart was an idea I stole from the game-novel “Choice of Vampires”. I think it explained well why living flesh might have such a draw for the undead, in a way that’s not completely cliche and also not a complete depart from Warcraft lore. Keelath is a bit of an uncanonical cross between a ghoul, the death knight player class, and a San’layn, in that flesh, pain, and blood all “feed” him, though the latter most of all. I can understand the developers’ choice of not delving too deeply into the death knight addiction of inflicting pain so as not to hem their players in, but I also see it as humanizing the death knights a little too much, not taking literary advantage of the awful choices the undead have to make when trying to be a part of living society. Sylvanas is a wonderful villain in that she’s a horrible person from the point of view of our Real Life sensibilities, but taken in this context, her actions start making a little bit of unfortunate sense, too.

Author’s Note

The cavalry waited in the copse, flanks pressed alongside flanks, noses resting on tails. The horses didn’t mind the close quarters, because they were dead, risen and given purpose by necromantic magics uninterested in such civilities as personal space. Keelath’s steed was among them, and he was astride it, carrying his lance upright and his shield close to his chest. He’d have to remember to level the spear before leaving the fold of trees, or it would clack against the lowest branches and give away their position too soon.

The other Forsaken were as silent as their deaths. No thoughts passed through Keelath’s mind, not even observation of the terrain around him, as he would have once done—surveying the battleground to take note of anything his commanding officer might have missed. No, he and the others stood stock still as if in slumber, a waking dream like a living death.

The cries of orcish battle horns filtered over the hill. The horses jerked up their heads, and the Forsaken sat a little straighter. Their leader, once a knight of Lordaeron, walked his mount just out of the copse to make sure of the summons. Then he silently raised his arm. There was no need for shouting or for the colorful flashes of a signaling banner; the undead were of singular focus, and the small movement was all it took to call them to war.

The first line of horsemen charged, and then the second, as soon as the horses had enough clearance to leap forward and the men atop them to level their lances. Then it was Keelath’s turn, and he wrapped his hand in his horse’s straggly mane to keep from being unseated as the undead charger struck out as explosively as a racehorse. The point of his lance helped lead the way beside the horse’s right eye socket.

Keelath felt nothing, barely even registering the cold as the wind whistled past them, until they came over the lip of the hill. The night elves and the rest of the Horde were fighting viciously below, bodies and detached limbs and splashes of blood littering the landscape. The Forsaken knight beside Keelath—more of a banshee clinging to a solid form than anything—caught the scent of blood first. She shrilled a wail, and Keelath and the others also took up the ululating cry. A banshee’s scream was said to have the power to part a living man’s soul from his body, but Keelath didn’t believe it. In his experience, it was the fear that brought enemy soldiers to their knees, and his lance that then finished the job.

A well-trained unit, the cavalry split in two, wheeling off to either side of the night elven lines and coming back together to crush them in between. Some night elves were caught or knocked over by Keelath’s lance; others were trampled by Rosen’s hooves. One time his horse knocked into a bear, almost throwing them both to their knees except that the blow was only a sidelong one. Keelath’s horse stumbled on into the charge, and Keelath pivoted in his saddle to put the tip of his lance into the druid’s eye. The gush of blood awoke a vigor in him, but he didn’t have time to relish it while the battle was still ongoing.

The interior of the night elven force had just enough time to attempt a retreat. The druids rose into the air as a flock of owls and crows, some of them large enough to latch their talons into their companions and bear them away. The fragments of the orcish army flung fireballs and stones; the dark rangers that were a part of Keelath’s company sent arrows streaming into the sky. Just as many birds fell as flew away.

One of them, accepting his fate, pivoted and dived on Keelath just as an arrow entered his wing. The black owl came down on the death knight heavily, knocking him off his horse and nipping at him with a sharp beak. The pain barely registered to Keelath, a faint warning he was taking damage, but nothing that interfered with his spell-casting. He seized onto the druid’s soul and pulled it out with a vicious twist of magic.

The druid was a strong one, not dying outright but still losing his owl’s form. He slashed at Keelath like he still had talons, and Keelath bit down on the fingers instead. He held on grimly, grinding his teeth against the bones, gaining just as much satiation from the druid’s fear and pain as his blood. He then unsheathed his sword with one smooth motion, cutting the druid open from navel to nipple. Spitting the fingers from his mouth, Keelath jammed his hand up into the druid’s chest and ripped the heart free.

The druid was dead long before the organ ever reached Keelath’s mouth. Swallowing the prize whole with a hard gulp, the death knight tracked back through the field, in wake of his horse, ending more lives and taking their hearts, leaving a few intact as fodder for the Dark Lady’s necromancy. The eating of the hearts was part blood ritual and part necessity—an old custom from the time of the Troll Wars went that an enemy divested of his organs was more difficult to revive by magic, if not impossible. The blood and anguish also fed the death knight, supplying an energy that felt limitless as it crackled through his limbs.

The orcs, tauren, and other living races of the Horde stood back as the Forsaken finished their work. They accepted the need to leave no enemy alive, and take what reinforcements they could wherever they found them, but most of them did not like the way in which it was being carried out.

Keelath retrieved his horse from the other side of the battlefield, and looked upon them. Something twinged in the back of his mind, like a young man trying to get his attention, a young man who once had kinship with the blood elves in this group, if not the honor of the tauren. Yet he couldn’t remember just now who the young man had been, and overall it seemed unimportant. The heated blood of his enemy was starting to cool inside of him, the vibrant life energy he had taken from it now dulling, as his own blood slowed to a sluggish crawl and then stopped. He thought with anticipation of the next battle, the invigoration that would restart his heart again, if only for a little while.

Keelath took his horse’s reins and led it to the rest of the Forsaken. Rosen came quietly, its own battle furor spent. The company mounted and formed ranks, and without a sound, cantered back into the darkness.

Neither steed nor soldier needed rest, and there was only one thing that fed them. There was no life so strong and sweet as that of the night elves who cultivated it. Sylvanas cared for her people well, though their needs were utterly different to those of the living. Keelath thought of his brother, and of Mirium, and knew they would never understand.

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