Sometime later, I’m not quite sure how long, time blurs oddly when you’re being beaten nearly constantly, I was being locked away in the Vault. I knew this because the guards were assuring someone that no one ever broke out of the Vault. I’m quick like that, even with my head full of fuzz and rattling marbles. As they were locking me away, presumably to throw away the key, Shaw entered my cell to have a lovely chat with me. I’m pretty sure there was tea and biscuits, but, like I said, it was kind of hard to tell the difference between what really happened and what was only happening in my head. Savage beatings, sleep deprivation and other general assorted maltreatment tends to muck about with the grey matter.
Where was I then? Oh, right.
“It’s your fault, you know,” I said, sipping tea through split lips. There was a trickle of blood in the rim of the cup as I set it down. If you looked quickly it looked like a woman’s lipstick.
“How do you figure that?” Shaw’s silhouette loomed against the light from the cell door.
“You know my history with the Twilights,” I said calmly, stabbing a quarter of cucumber sandwich at him for emphasis. The sandwich looked tiny and delicate in my purple, swollen fingers. “You know what they did to me. And you sicced me on them anyway. I know you, Shaw. You knew something like this would happen. Don’t act like this isn’t exactly what you wanted.”
Shaw steepled his fingers and peered at me over them, sitting across from me at the small table and tea set, “Are you quite certain of that? You’re certain that you aren’t just a monster? You do what you want to do; you always have. Presumably you always will. Don’t try to blame me for something you’ve been dying to do for the last five years.”
My shoulders slumped and the weight of the iron prisoner’s collar around my neck felt as if it weighed a hundred times more that it did. Maybe he was right. Light knew I hated Arkenhill enough. I knew there was that part of me that I didn’t talk about at parties. The part of me that enjoyed the hunting and the killing, the part that exulted in the spilling of blood and the rending of flesh. The part of me that had roared triumphantly as I stalked the halls of Arkenhill’s manor like the right hand of Death.
The part that had always made Saya just a bit wary of me.
If I wanted to be completely honest with myself, which I really didn’t, I had enjoyed the crap out of killing all those cultists and probably wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. But I wasn’t about to admit that. Not to Shaw and especially not to myself. I was the last person that needed to hear that.
Shaw tossed a scrap of cucumber sandwich to a filthy, rag-draped figure curled up in the shadows of the corner of my cell. I watched myself slowly uncurl and sniff at the sandwich before hungrily devouring it, eyes wild and alert for threats and challenges for my food.
I was starting to think that maybe this wasn’t really happening, after all.
“Of course this isn’t real!” Shaw thundered, suddenly growing a good thirty feet tall and sprouting horns, a tail and a very impressive set of bat wings. The Battle of Mount Hyjal raged all around us, all chaos and screaming, desperation and bravery. Eredar-Shaw spread his thickly muscled arms wide, taloned hands gesturing around to take in the confusion and fury of the wild battle all around the tiny little table and tea service.
“This is what is real for you!” Eredar-Shaw roared to be heard over the virtual wall of noise of the battle, “This is where you are alive!” A squad of dwarven riflemen were obliterated beneath a falling infernal, the giant demon of stone and fire in turn getting shattered by a passing orcish demolisher. “This is all you’re good for!”
I was in my armour again, the Bloodfang leather worn and broken in so well it fit like a second skin. My swords seemed to tremble in my hands, like eager coursing hounds baying to be loosed to chase the rabbit, eager to shed blood and take lives. A pack of felhounds surged my way, driven by a succubus pack mistress. I felt the feral grin twist my lips, bringing a new bright bead of blood from the split in them. I leapt for them, cutting and slicing away until the demon dogs and their mistress were so much twitching meat.
I was about to turn for more foes, when the succubus started to rise again, her component parts reassembling themselves along the lines of my cuts, still dripping dark purple ichor to hiss and spit upon the ground. She swept her mane of raven hair back from her face and Shannon stared back at me, her eyes at once accusing and inviting. Given that everything I was experiencing here was most likely taking place in my own mental landscape, this really said a lot about how I really felt about my erstwhile apprentice.
“Mr. Draaaaaake,” the succubus purred with Shannon’s sultry-innocent voice, “You’ve done a very bad thing. You need to be punished, you naughty boy. Come here.” She cracked the whip quite expertly over my head.
“Tempting,” I smirked, even as I was turning to run, “But we both know you’d enjoy that a lot more than I would.” I felt the crack of the whip at my back, licking the back of my cuirass before I was away.
I’ve no idea how far or for how long I ran. I don’t remember stopping. I do remember picking myself up off the floor of the Stormwind Cathedral, though. A young acolyte knelt at her prayers in an alcove nearby, the table before her coated in old wax and festooned with burning candles. More importantly, though, it was covered in a floor-length cloth. I dived for the table, scrambling under the cloth just as the heavy boots of the Watch pounded into the nave. I poked my head out just enough to wink, smile and put my finger to my lips, entreating the pretty young acolyte to not reveal me. Her surprise and awkward blush told me she wouldn’t give me away, though her eyes darted toward the Watchmen looking about the nave. Unwilling to disturb the smattering of priests and acolytes going about their business, the Watchmen performed a perfunctory search and departed. After the last one left, the cloth lifted and Sayessa knelt there, looking every bit as beautiful as she had the last time I’d seen her alive.
She silently helped me from under the table and sat me down on a nearby stool. A small incense burner filled the tent with a cloying sweetness, but also effectively covered the small of illness, injury and death. A dozen cots, all full, filled the rest of the field hospital. I was one of the lucky ones; I was only bleeding from a couple dozen wounds. It was a fight to stay awake, despite the sting of Saya’s needle and thread, deftly stitching up my hurts, and the pungent scent of her salves and poultices, keeping infection away.
“All of them, hm?” she said absently, her nimble fingers guiding the thread to close a cut on my arm.
“Every last one I could find. Every one who answered the passphrase,” my voice sounded hollow, distant. Oh, right, the incense was also mildly narcotic. That was why Saya wore that mask over her mouth and nose.
“And exactly how much closer are you to bringing me back, now?” She snipped the thread on the suture and moved on to the next one, a gaping hole over my heart.
“That would be stupid. I can’t bring you back. No one can,” I hissed in pain as she cleaned the wound and folded the skin back in place.
“Mm. Well, at least you realize that much.” I swear she smiled a little when I winced at her sticking the needle in me to start sewing again, “So, why? It’s been five years. Are you still so angry? Do you have so little self-control?” She stopped sewing and took my chin between her slender, blood-stained fingers, forcing me to meet her eyes, “Is that why you let yourself be caught?”
Shaw’s silhouette loomed before me again, framed once more in the light spilling in from outside the door to my cell. I was sitting at the table again, my swollen fingers clumsily holding a cup of tea, one eye swollen shut. A tiny trickle of blood dripped slowly from my chin from a fresh split in my lip. I was tired. More than all the beatings, all the mind games, my own guilt, everything was piled up higher and higher and finally came crashing down on me all at once and settled in as a singular bone-deep weariness that no amount of sleep can ever relieve. The kind of weariness that sets in after a few weeks behind enemy lines, weeks of being always alert, always running, adrenaline always pumping at full tilt, never coming down. When you finally get the chance to relax, it comes as a great crashing, crushing wave and there is nothing you can even think to do against it.
“Why, Drake?” Shaw asked again, stern, patient.
I sat quietly, considering the question carefully and studiously avoiding the answer that was staring me in the face, but I refused to admit. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to admit to myself why I had given myself up. I knew, deep down, that I was a monster. Wasn’t that enough? Why did I need to admit my failings to someone else? Why did I have to admit it to Shaw? Shaw! The last man on Azeroth you should give deep, dark secrets to.
The chains weighed heavily around my wrists and neck. The teacup looked so tiny and delicate in my red, taloned fist. So beautiful and delicate. Just as Saya had been.
I was so tired.
“You already know why, or you wouldn’t be asking,” I rumbled. My cell seemed tiny, stifling. My wings were cramped in this tiny space. If I could just lie down, stretch out. Rest.
Shaw’s silhouette peered at me over steepled fingers again. The gleam of his eyes the only indication he wasn’t just a creature of shadow, “Because you need to hear yourself say it. To admit it. Truly admit what you already know. To understand.”
“And then you’ll let me sleep?” I hated the pleading tone in my voice, but it couldn’t be helped and I was too tired to try to cover it up.
“As long as you like,” Shaw’s voice was almost gentle, paternal.
I needed to be stopped. I was out of control and I knew it. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. It was like being at a bar or a party or anywhere and watching yourself do something amazingly stupid. You know it’s stupid. You know when you start that it’s stupid, while you’re doing it that it’s stupid and afterward that it was stupid. But you can’t stop. It’s like an avalanche or an earthquake. There’s nothing anyone can do but watch you be stupid. And no matter how much you want to stop, how much you try to stop, you just can’t make the connections between wanting to stop and actually stopping. It was like that, for me, only I was killing people. I was angry. Too angry. Furious. Furious about the Twilight’s Hammer and their little plots and schemes. And the more I thought about it, the angrier it made me. So I started thinking, why shouldn’t I just kill them, then? I have the ability, why not use it? And that was all that that part of me that is a monster, that enjoys killing, needed to be able to take control. Only one is never enough, is it? Like any other junkie, I just needed another hit, another fix. Sure, it would start with just the Twilights, but how long until I was slaughtering anyone in the street who pissed me off? Oh, they were a threat to Stormwind the monster would say and that would justify it. How long before I was nothing more than a mad dog and needed to be put down? There was only one way to stop myself and that was to have someone else do it for me. And in the Vault, at least I’m among my own kind.
I could feel Shaw’s sneer, “How very noble of you, to sacrifice yourself for the greater good.”
“I was thinking more that I was saving my own ass,” I sniped back, “I may be a monster, but I rather prefer being alive to the alternative.”
Shaw let the barest hint of a smirk touch the stone of his face and turned to face out to the city again. I shifted in my chains to look out the battlements as well. SI:7 headquarters was a hive of activity behind us, but out here on the wall it was quiet, with only the buzz of the living city below us.
“Good, I was afraid you had taken a turn toward the altruistic.”
I made a gesture that told him exactly what I thought about that. Shaw actually chuckled and put his hand on my shoulder, giving a reassuring squeeze, “You’ll be okay, Drake. It’s going to take some time, but you’ll be okay,” he turned and looked back out at the city for a moment and said, “You should rest now.”
At those words, every bit of the exhaustion that had been dogging me since they dragged me from the gallows came crashing down on me and I slept.
The dark-skinned draenei pushed a lock of smoky hair back over one of her broadly curling horns, “Your man is…very conflicted. He would make a fascinating study.” She set about collecting her implements: a small incense burner that gave off a cloying sweet smell and a small tea set.
The head of SI:7 and the Stormwind Assassins frowned. Most people didn’t care to see Shaw frown like that. It usually meant people were about to die. “That is less informative than I was looking for.”
The draenei woman could already feel the headache building behind her eyes. She could tell it was going to take quite a bit of opium to dull this one. Working mind magic of the intensity and detail Shaw had wanted always put an immense strain on her. “Wounds of the mind are difficult to recover from, at best, and your man’s are old and deep. It is a wonder he did not break long ago.”
“That much is understood, Ms. Trellen,” Shaw closed the cell door behind her on whisper-quiet hinges and led the way up the stairs and back out of the Vault. “What I need to know is if you can repair what damage he’s done to himself.”
Ms. Trellen fixed Shaw with her pale-eyed stare, the one that tended to unnerve humans. Shaw didn’t flinch. “One does not simply fix the mind, Mr. Shaw, as if it were a stopped watch or torn harness. It takes time, effort and, most of all, trust. Your man has never met me. You cannot expect miracles overnight.”
Shaw was silent as he signed both of them out, thinking of the best course of action. Hard times were coming. It was in almost every report, every note that came into SI:7 these days. Things were getting bleaker, more brutal, ruthless. Shaw wasn’t sure exactly what lay ahead, but he did know none of it was good. To make matters worse, while Varian Wrynn was a fair and just king, he was also reckless and intractable when it came to the Horde. If the rumours of Hellscream’s get taking over the mantle of Warchief proved to be accurate, there would soon be open war between the Alliance and the Horde once more. Shaw was going to need every capable hand he could get and he needed them sooner rather than later. Drake could be a valuable asset, even if he only trained new recruits, but only if he could be controlled.
“Of course,” Shaw said, sighing, “Do what you can, but, please remember that time is of the essence. I need him to be in control of himself again.” He would never say as much to Drake, but Shaw knew without a doubt that he could rely on the swordsman, thief and assassin to always work to protect Stormwind. That was the one thing they had always seen eye to eye on, even if they differed over the exact methods. Shaw knew that before long, he was going to need as many men and women he could count on as he could lay hands on. The other shoe was all set to drop and it wasn’t going to be gentle when it did.
Ah, yes, the cell door.
Standing in the doorway, just as she had nearly every day for the last two years was the Priestess of the Shadow, Iriandra Trellen. She stood a full head taller than me and the horns and the tail were a little off-putting, but the rest of her was curved in all the right ways and in all the right places. Her dusky blue skin gave her an even more exotic look, as did the tiny fangs and solid white eyes. I’ve also been in prison for two years and she has been the only woman I’ve seen in that time. Which, I suppose, is better than most of the refuse in the Vault, who would be lucky to see another living being, let alone a beautiful draenei woman.
“How are you today, Khol?” she asked, her faint draenic accent giving her words a slight lilt. I wasn’t sure if she just had a very slight accent or if she had purposefully tried to eliminate it.
“Oh, just smashing,” I grinned, “I thought I might take a morning constitutional around the lake and then perhaps breakfast on the east veranda. I believe the cook is making poached eggs and fresh bacon, if you’d care to join me?”
She was kind enough to humour me with a chuckle and a genuine smile, “I am glad you are in good spirits. I know how much your confinement chafes.”
“Yeah, well, you can laugh about it or you can go mad, right?” I smirked, earning another genuine smile. To make her smile so easily twice in one visit wasn’t normal. Something was bothering her and she was taking every opportunity to be distracted from it. As much as she’d been mucking in my head, I couldn’t help but learn a bit about her as well.
As usual, I helped her set out the tea service and incense burner. I pretended I didn’t know that she drugged my tea and used the incense to keep me under and, by way of thanks, she pretended to not know that I knew. As this sort of arrangement went, it worked pretty well. I was broken and I knew it. If it took being drugged to the gills four days out of seven to be less broken, that was a sacrifice I was willing to make. Besides, Iriandra used really good drugs.
There was the faintest tremor in her hand as she went about preparing the daily tea, almost unnoticeable, but for the tiny vibrations in the water. Something was very wrong. Looking closer, I could see the tension in the tiny lines at the corners of her eyes, the way her lips were imperceptibly turned down. I know she prided herself on the difficulty people had in reading her face and if not for the fact that hers had been the only friendly face I’d seen for the last two years, I might not have noticed either. I kept silent for the moment, though. Whatever it was probably wasn’t any of my business or even be related to me. Above all, Iriandra had made very clear from the outset that our relationship was strictly professional; though we had certainly become friendly, perhaps even friends, in the time we’d worked together. I wasn’t about to damage that relationship by pointing out her troubles.
Once I tasted the tea, however, I knew something was very, direly, wrong. It lacked the distinctive musky sweetness of ghost mushroom extract she used to put me into a stupor. The only reason I could think that she wouldn’t need the soporific would be if our work was done, in which case I would be due to be released. If I was to be released, I’d like to think she would be happy for me, not tensed up like the proverbial long tailed cat in the proverbial room full of rocking chairs.
“So what’s wrong?” I asked, taking a louder than necessary sip of the tea.
The shadow priestess looked blankly at me for a long moment before sighing and setting down her own teacup, “You’ve felt the earthquakes?”
I nodded, “Of course. We’re almost a hundred feet underground here. We’re lucky none of them have brought the whole place down. Last night’s was the worst of them all, though. I heard more than one man praying.” I didn’t bother mentioning that I had made a couple foxhole prayers, myself.
Iriandra took a steadying breath, keeping her hands flat on her thighs, as if she were trying to keep them from trembling, “Last night was not an earthquake. Stormwind was attacked.”
I found myself on my feet before I’d realized my brain had given the command to my legs. My stool clattered noisily. “Then I need to get out of here.”
“If only it were so simple,” Iriandra motioned me back to my stool and took a sip of her tea, “All indications are that it was Deathwing who attacked the city.”
That made me pause a moment, “Isn’t he dead?”
“Reports of his demise, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated,” Shaw said laconically, leaning against the door to my cell.
I didn’t realize how much I had suddenly tensed up until I felt Iriandra’s calm, warm hand over my own.
“I trust there won’t be another incident?” The glare Shaw fixed me with told me all I needed to know about what would happen if there was.
I looked to Iriandra for a moment and nodded once, giving her a warm, grateful smile, which she returned. “No, that’s not going to be a problem.”
Shaw grunted and tossed something onto my bunk and motioned to someone outside the cell. He didn’t stick around to say goodbye. Not that I was looking for a long, heartfelt reunion with him or anything. I was pretty sure that with Deathwing’s attack he was busier than a two-bit whore on nickel night.
Iriandra and I finished our tea while she filled me in on two year’s worth of news while we waited for my release to be processed. She’d been forbidden from talking about the world outside my cell with me and she seemed eager to share, like she would with an old friend. That thought was rather pleasant and distracted nicely from the other, darker, thought that lurked over on my bunk.
I paid full attention to Iriandra as she spoke, if for no other reason than to avoid looking at my bunk and the old noose that lay upon it. Shaw’s message had been received, loud and clear.