Perhaps this would seem like a small matter to you, but after the night ended, I was confronted roundly with my own arrogance…
The evening frogs were buzzing in the watery nooks of Orgrimmar as Keelath made his way to the portal home to Silvermoon. It was only after he had stepped through the portal that he realized he had little reason for going there. The healing of Mirium’s mind from Talthan’s manipulations was ongoing, and Keelath’s presence at the manor was still distressing and unhelpful to her.
So instead, Keelath lingered in the back ways of the sin’dorei city. He passed the dim alleys of the omniously named Murder Row, wandered west to the Dead Scar that still cut, unhealed, through the city, then turned back again to pass by the friendlily placed bar co-owned by Lellith and Lo-Shing near the gates to the Eversong Woods. Keelath briefly considered going in, but didn’t particularly want to be greeted by Adena and Tyreli, Lellith’s irrepressible twin daughters, and the drink sloshing around in his stomach, still undigested, was probably enough for the evening.
So it was sheerest luck that, as he was turning to wander in another direction, Tyrric stumbled out of the bar, seemingly after soaking himself in booze to a state even Keelath with his blunted undead senses could smell the liquor on him.
Tyrric saw him at about the same time as Keelath had spotted his brother. Tyrric gave a little tremble, and made to turn around and plunge back into the bar, when Keelath caught his arm. The encounter with Ondolemar’s adopted son flashed into his head again, along with the same distaste for how his other fellows in the bar had been losing themselves in their drinks.
“Do you really think this is going to help you?” Keelath growled at Tyrric. “Taking leave of your senses through the drink?
“Leave me alone,” groaned Tyrric.
In answer, Keelath only pulled him more roughly away from the bar. Tyrric stilled, as if trying to draw on his inner well of Light to burn Keelath’s grip off of him, but the magic didn’t come. It, along with his nerve, was something Tyrric had lost in Nya’lotha.
“Let go!” Tyrric cried again, and it was the clarity of his speech, despite being drunk, that gave Keelath pause. The death knight deposited Tyrric on the curb and then stood up front of him, arms crossed and seething, but unable to find words.
Weak, he thought. Weak. Not fit for a soldier. Barely for a man! Drunkard! Slouch! WEAK! Other insults ran around in his mind, even as another part of him put up its head and snorted at the impetuousness of his anger. But Keelath was angry. Tyrric’s moaning had struck a nerve in him somewhere.
Tyrric, sensing the disdain even if he hadn’t been shouted at, seemed to be barely holding back an outrage of his own. “Don’t you dare laugh at me!” was what eventually staggered out of his mouth. “Don’t you dare!”
It was an unexpected enough comment–humor was the furthest thing from his mind–that it broke through the tornado in Keelath’s head, at least temporarily. “Why would I be laughing at you?” he asked, more calmly than he felt.
“Oh, really? You’re going to push that at me? Keelath, my invincible brother…he could never perceive of what it’s like to have lost everything. To be powerless… He just rams his head through whatever he pleases, whoever he tramples without regard–“
It was ridiculous enough Keelath almost did laugh at it, but it also carried enough truth that it woke him up a little. Yes, Mirium had often accused him–lovingly, usually, though not always–of crashing through his life with all the destruction of a charging courser. So for once, instead of fighting back, he adopted a neutral, distant tone, observing, “You seem to think this is all about you.”
“I know how much everyone laughs at me behind my back,” said Tyrric. “My failures, my screw-ups…”
Keelath looked at him dryly. “And so what? Laughter’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”
“I’d rather they fight me!” Tyrric snapped, weaving where he sat. “Then I could show them how wrong they are about me. But they just dance out of range, laughing and jeering…”
“Yes, dancing out of your reach because they’re afraid of getting into it!”
“Afraid of Lightless, washed-up me? Ha!” Tyrric’s laugh was a hysterical screech, like a harpy’s. “Not likely! But what would you know? It never bothered you! Nothing ever bothered you! So emotionless…the perfect soldier, you always were…how could you ever understand what it’s like for me?”
Keelath grit his teeth, wanting to knock Tyrric flat, but perhaps inspired by that little part of him that was so derisive of his own thoughtless anger, he shoved the urge aside and relaxed. “You’re right in that it doesn’t bother me, Tyrric, but that’s because I don’t let it bother me.”
“Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Just imagine this punch to your gut isn’t actually a punch, Keel!” Tyrric leaned forward to take a drunken swing at him.
Keelath stepped out of the way. “Like all the times we would punch each other to say we loved each other as boys? Were those actually punches?”
“What?” said Tyrric incredulously once he picked himself back up off the ground. “The fel are you getting at…”
“We rough-housed a lot,” Keelath explained with some exasperation. “I would tease you. You would tease me. It was in fun. It was fun. And it made us both stronger.”
Tyrric stared at him for a long moment. “As if I ever needed a better admission that you just got off on pushing me into the dirt…” he finally grumbled.
Keelath hissed. “You really think I wanted to see you suffer, Tyrric? Really?”
Keelath could see the thought bursting behind Tyrric’s eyes like a soap bubble. Of course not. “Then why do it?” Tyrric asked weakly.
“Because maybe it had nothing to do with my power over you, and everything to do with…fel, I don’t know what they call it. Friendly competition? A game. A lesson? I lost some of those spars intentionally, you know, so you could learn how to pin me. And then when you got good at pinning me, I showed you all the ways your pinning technique sucked, so you could improve it.”
“And because you just liked laughing at me after I had almost lost all my teeth!” Tyrric cried. “Don’t you think I forgot that!”
“I was laughing because I hated how much I had almost made you lose all your teeth!” Keelath returned.
“That doesn’t make a lick of sense!”
“It does! Because how could I just…” Keelath winced, the memory pricking uncomfortable thoughts in him. “Tyrric, laughter is–is trying to civilize a discomfort. Siddling in sideways and extending a hand over something no one can properly talk about otherwise…”
“You could have just apologized.”
“And then what would you have learned about guarding your face in a fight? Just act pathetic and offended enough, and everyone will give into you, kindly punch around your nose…?”
It came out as a scream of rage, and Keelath stepped back in surprise: “You’re a monster for believing my pain isn’t real!” Tyrric shouted.
“No, I’m teaching you how to take care of yourself when the real monster tries to kill you! Protect your damn face, Tyrric! Protect it, now!”
Keelath raised a fist, and Tyrric reflexively brought up his arms to block with swiftness that touched a knot of pride in Keelath. And that’s when he found the real root of his anger.
Instead of punching him, Keelath instead reached forward and jerked Tyrric to his feet. “This feeling sorry for yourself stops now!” he shouted at him. “You don’t think I haven’t plumbed those depths myself? You really believe I’m emotionless? You, who would feel terrible about leading his squires and his wife into near death in Nya’lotha! What do you think I felt when I woke up after sacking Silvermoon, aye? After killing–eating–my own people, by the hundreds!”
“Sorry, I’m sorry…”
Keelath wasn’t letting up. “And you think I didn’t just sit there? That I moaned and cried and tried to block it with drink or medicine?”
“Well, I did!” Keelath’s voice took on a hysterical note, but he didn’t care. It was a washing out of the floodwaters…a cleansing. “And guess what, those things don’t work on an undead! I can’t get drunk! The only medicines that worked made me as mindless as the next ghoul. Those bottom-scrapers of the Forsaken army, reviled, and for good reason, as the useless, broken wretches they are!
“The other Forsaken would tear me apart, Tyrric. Quite literally take my legs and throw them in two different directions across a field and tell me to go find them, laughing all the while.
“But you know what I learned from that?”
Tyrric looked up at him, just barely, through the corner of his eyes, as if he was afraid of meeting Keelath’s gaze head on, or saying anything at all.
“I learned I had to crawl before I could walk.”
Keelath dropped Tyrric, passing a hand across his face. Undead didn’t cry or breathe as a general rule, and so Keelath couldn’t tell what the hitching of his breath was until it came out as gasping laughter.
“I learned…I had to crawl… before I could walk. And it was so ironic, so… priceless…I learned to laugh at myself, too. I saw what they saw. How pathetic and stupid I had become. But I also saw… something else. I saw that this horrible pain could lead to a little good, a little burst of…of joy. For someone. For me, even, if I just kept my own head out of my rear, took myself less seriously, and focused on the good things in what I had of life that mattered. Like that I had friends or that I could even crawl at all.”
Tyrric swallowed hard, working on a difficult question. Keelath lapsed into silence, eying him expectantly until it came out. “…so when you say…” Tyrric started carefully, “….when you say took your own head out of your rear…did they really stick your head up your asscheeks?”
Keelath let out a ragged chuckle, and Tyrric sheepishly grinned. “No,” Keelath said. “I was just a skeleton then, Tyrric. I didn’t have those.”
“Oh.” Tyrric started giggling, then looked uncomfortable and ashamed for doing so. But Keelath looked back at him, grinning, and roared out his own laughter.
It was dumb; they both knew it was dumb, but it was also a release. It was a place they could understand each other. That Keelath could look at himself and see what Tyrric saw…but also see something different, now that the pressure–the horror–of the situation was lifted away.
And perhaps help lead Tyrric to that understanding too, now that he wasn’t so busy fighting his own overwhelming emotions.
Keelath grabbed Tyrric close and hugged him. “I’m sorry, brother.”
Tyrric hesitantly put his arms about Keelath. “I’m sorry, too…”
“Please, just understand that what I do for you, I do to help you. The way I was helped. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now.” Keelath pushed his brother back. “Adversity is what makes us grow, Tyrric. What was done to me made me realize that I was different from those other undead by my strength, but also different in how I could use what strength I had. That I could work on it still, and grow it. So trust me when I say this…” And he took Tyrric by the shoulders, looking him in the eyes and giving him a brisk shake. “…you will get through this, but only so long as you keep your head out of your ass and keep crawling. Whatever it takes, you find your legs. You find them, Tyrric.”
Tyrric looked at him with a wince. “You don’t think that’s what I’m not doing?”
Keelath returned the grimace. “Well I can tell you one thing, and that’s the only thing a man found out in the bottom of his cups was how much the sun hurt his eyes the next morning. No good comes out of swallowing whole the role of victim, Tyrric. Absolutely none.”
“When it’s forced on you by another…” Tyrric shuddered.
Keelath shook him again. “They took my mind away from me. They raped my soul. Stole my afterlife from me. But I found the piece–the pieces, like my legs–of me that were worth keeping. And I added to them, in whatever ways I could, whether with their help…or not.”
Tyrric poked the flesh on Keelath’s hand pointedly: the stolen flesh created by unholy magic and the blood of innocents.
“I won’t tell you I’m proud of all those ways,” said Keelath with a faint nod. “But they at least taught me what not to do. When you hit a roadblock, or make a mistake, you haven’t failed, Tyrric. You’ve just found a way that doesn’t work. Learn from it, and keep searching for the right way. Never become too afraid of that question. Who you can be tomorrow that is even better than who you are today…”
Tyrric steadily squared his shoulders and stood upright. His eyes were pained, full of haunted memories, but his jaw was now firmed.
Keelath was fiercely proud of him.
“I’ll keep looking,” Tyrric said softly. “I swear it.”
“Yes.” Keelath closed his eyes, feeling the hangover of the emotional moment pounding on his temples, but he realized he still had more work to do, and pushed it away. “Good. …that is good. Now …you’ll need to excuse me.”
“What?” Tyrric was nonplussed by Keelath’s metaphorical and literal about-face, as the death knight swung around on his heel.
Keelath glanced back at him. “Truth is, you showed me another method that I’m ashamed to have used, and it made me see the mistake of using it on another just today. So if you don’t mind, I need to go correct it…”
…and so, I realized that what I said to you was misguided and hurtful. I use the term misguided, because it was taught to me, in various ways, that a hard lesson-including poor jokes about one’s appearance–is what makes one tough and confident. And though in some ways I still hold to that belief, I believe it now was detrimental to use it on you when there was only a slim chance in fel it’d go understood as that.
And so I’m sorry in calling you ugly, in a way that insinuated the only way to handle it was to deal with it.
Perhaps, again, this is a small matter that could be passed off as drunken men doing what drunken men will. It held personal meaning to me, though, in how I survived my years as Scourge, and I decided I’d rather err on the side of caution, if it would mean as much to you, either to your detriment–or perhaps to your guidance, if you’d care to hear the full reckoning.
Whatever you decide, wherever you go in this life or after it, go to the best of your ability. You’ll fall down, many times, but you won’t be conquered so long as you get up at least once more.
That is what I learned.
My regards to your kin, and sincerely,