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May 6, 2011 / Bika

Fiction Friday: The Right of All Horde VI

Is revenge really as sweet as they say? Will good prevail, or will Verdus have his trunk handed to him on a silver platter?

What does it mean to be the good guy, anyway?

Please enjoy Part VI of this series, written by Verdus. Missed any of the previous posts? Visit the links below:

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Verdus had little trouble following Cersei’s path as she fled through the swamp. Between the scent trail that his cat form’s sharp nose picked up, the sounds of screaming that pushed their way through the rain, and the lingering connection to the insect swarm that he’d summoned, he had more than enough cues to stay on her trail. Catching up to her was a different matter. She had a head start and was moving, understandably, as fast as she could through the muck. Still, he would have expected her to get caught up on a root or a rock or some other obstruction by now, given that it was pitch black and she was being attacked by a swarm of giant insects. Either she was remarkably sure-footed or extraordinarily lucky.

Despite the delay, however, Verdus wasn’t particularly bothered. In truth, he was rather enjoying the chase. Now that the months of planning had come to fruition and the riskiest parts of the plan had succeeded, all that was left was the final chase. It reminded him of the old days, in a way, or at least the good ones. Being a hunter again, engaging in that primal struggle between predator and prey, gave him a simple, guilty thrill.

Let her run, he thought to himself. Let her understand some of the fear that Libby must have felt. When she’s exhausted herself from her flight, finishing the job will be quick and easy. Why not enjoy the chase for what it is for the time being?

Naturally, that was the moment when everything fell apart.

Cersei, blinded by fear and thousands of biting, stinging insects, finally stumbled over an unseen obstacle. She crashed face-first into the mud and the bugs wasted no time in descending on her. For several seconds she huddled there, shielding herself from the onslaught of fangs and stingers as best she could.

It was enough time for Verdus to close the gap between them. Reverting to his natural form as he approached, he reached down to the large pouch hanging from his belt and the devices contained within. Striding calmly toward the huddled form of his friend’s killer, he knew that it was time to end this. He was mildly surprised to realize that he wasn’t smiling.

With no nowhere left to run, Cersei’s panic quickly transformed into blind rage. With a howl of defiance, she lashed out at her tormentors. Sulphurous flame erupted from her body, pulsing outward to engulf everything around her. Verdus was able to dive out of the way, but the insects were consumed entirely, falling to the ground like tiny, twitching meteorites. The warlock scrambled to her feet on the cracking, flash-baked mud, seeking out any further threats. As she whipped around and saw Verdus, he saw her face contort with insane hatred. With an arcane gesture and a clipped cry in a language that he didn’t understand, Cersei attacked.

Verdus barely had time to exclaim, “Shit!” before the spell landed. He nearly lost his feet as a feeling of pure agony clawed at his body, the pain like a living thing trying to rip its way out of his frame. Forced to one knee, the druid gasped out a quick rejuvenation spell. The opposing magics began their own private war within his nervous system, and while the pain was mostly suppressed for the moment, he could feel it growing. He didn’t have much time before it would overwhelm him again.

He looked up just in time to see a burst of harsh, purple light flash from between Cersei’s fingers as she crushed something in her left fist. In the same motion, she thrust her open right palm toward the druid. The fabric of reality ruptured before her, offering Verdus the briefest glimpse into the Twisting Nether beyond before the warlock’s felhunter leaped forth. Before it even touched the ground, Cersei shrieked, “Kill him! Kill him!”

Struggling back to his feet, Verdus’s mind raced as his plan collapsed before his eyes. This was supposed to be a quick snatch-and-grab. Drive the target out into the swamp alone, ambush and subdue her, then fit the devices. There was no way he’d be able to accomplish that last, critical step unless Cersei was incapacitated, especially not with one of her demon minions in play. While he gave himself good odds on winning in a stand-up fight, he wasn’t at all sure that he could do it without killing her, which would defeat the entire purpose of the plan. Libby’s murder and Fenniel’s grief demanded so much more than a quick, clean death as retribution, and Verdus had sworn to deliver the vengeance that his friends deserved. Now all of that was at risk, and all because he’d gotten cocky.

He had to buy time. He needed to keep the pressure on until he could find an opening to strike, but do so without seriously wounding her or getting himself killed in the process. All the while, the agonizing curse slowly overpowered the healing spell that was barely keeping it contained. Beseeching the Earthmother for aid, he called out for allies of nature to come forth and protect him.

The felhunter had sprinted across most of the distance separating it from Verdus during that instant of frantic contemplation. In fact, it was just about to pounce upon the druid when the Earthmother answered his call. Three nature spirits, shaped like vaguely humanoid trees, burst forth from the swamp’s ample ambient plant life. By the time the charging demon recognized the danger, it was too late. The treants converged on it, the first one slapping it out of the air with its wooden fist while the other two slashed at it with wooden talons. The demon tried to break through their interference, but their simple numbers pushed it further and further away.

Verdus was so busy scrambling away from the frenzied spiritual melee in front of him that he didn’t see Cersei casting a follow-up attack, though he certainly felt it. Circling around the warlock, away from the hissing demon and the creaking treants, he managed to power through the pain and nausea from the new afflictions as they took hold. Verdus could feel corrupting magics rippling erratically through him, manifesting as weeping sores and boils on his skin, some literally bursting with shadow energy. He tried very hard not to think about all the things they were doing to his insides that he couldn’t see.

Repositioning himself, Verdus responded with one of the most basic spells taught to all neophyte druids: Moonfire. Again and again the lunar energy lanced down from the heavens as he ran, requiring little more than a word and a quick gesture on his part. It wasn’t exactly a devastating tactic, as the burns from the lingering energy were far more potent than the initial strike. Unlike most of his options, though, it could be cast on the run, allowing him to seek more advantageous ground. Keeping his eye on the background behind Cersei during the exchange of spells, Verdus finally found the angle of attack he needed. He stopped circling the warlock and began to slowly advance on her instead, continuing his lunar assault.

Further enraged by the relentless hammering of arcane magics and the failure of her minion, Cersei refused to give up even an inch of ground. Standing fast and chanting in that alien, infernal language, she began to rip Verdus’s very life force out of him. Ephemeral, sickly green streamers flowed out from his chest and into her outstretched hands. As an icy numbness spread out from his heart and the lingering agony spell reached a crescendo, threatening to overwhelm him, an observer might expect Verdus to despair at seeing Cersei’s burns heal over before his eyes.

That observer would be wrong. It was exactly the opening that Verdus needed.

Shifting into the form of a cat, Verdus charged straight at her. Between the speed of the dash and her concentration on the life draining spell, Cersei never had a chance to get out of the way. Verdus rammed his skull directly into her gut, yielding a very satisfying gasp from the warlock as he knocked the wind clean out of her, the spell fizzling instantly. While she was still doubled over and gasping for air, Verdus quickly shifted back into his natural form, emerging in a crouch at her feet. Putting all of his pain and anger into one defiant roar, Verdus thrust forward his arms and unleashed his coup de grace.

A veritable wall of wind and water materialized between him and Cersei and roared forward from point-blank range. Slamming up and into the warlock like a reverse avalanche, the typhoon lifted her clean off her feet and flung her backwards with incredible force. The trajectory slammed her back into the tree directly behind her, exactly as Verdus intended. She hit the tree obliquely, spinning off to one side before limply hitting the ground in a spread eagle.

Wasting no time, Verdus focused on a binding spell before she had a chance to right herself. As he chanted, enormous roots as thick as his arms pushed up from the mud on which she’d landed, coiling themselves around her limbs and torso. They would keep her from moving or rising, which under normal circumstances would have been enough, but Verdus kept chanting. As he did, smaller roots began to branch out from the main ones. While the thick, primary roots would keep her mostly immobilized, they left wiggle room that he couldn’t afford to let her have. The smaller, secondary roots would solve that, winding around her arms and legs. Still smaller tendrils branched off of those, wrapping like hungry snakes around every segment of each individual finger, pulling them apart and binding them such that she was unable to make even the smallest gesture. By the time Verdus stopped channeling his spell several seconds later, the only joints Cersei could move were her toes.

Verdus flopped onto his back, gasping with pain and fatigue, and turned his attention to the very urgent healing that he needed. Cersei was no longer an immediate threat, as the roots would hold her for as long as he needed now that they were in place, but her prior spells were still doing a great deal of harm. As he waited, panting, for the healing spells to do their work, he looked over to the treants. They stood not far from where they’d been before, keeping a silent vigil over the battered, unmoving form of the felhunter. The demon’s material form dispersed as he watched, retreating back to the Nether to recuperate before its master called it once more. Once it was gone, the treants looked directly at Verdus for just a moment and then dispersed as well, returning to the Emerald Dream. It was just him and Cersei now.

Minutes passed before Verdus rose again, and he was irked to find that one of his legs still hadn’t fully healed. The muscles felt like they’d atrophied from Cersei’s corruption, forcing him to grimly limp his way over to the immobilized warlock. Looking down at her, it was hard to feel any particular satisfaction in the victory. She looked like a drowned rat that had been basted in swamp muck, then staked and tied for the swoops to pick apart. Pure hatred burned in her eyes, and likely the only reason that she wasn’t spewing invectives at him was the root looping around her skull and holding her jaw shut.

Verdus drew a dagger from his belt, prompting a flicker of alarm on the face of his prisoner as he leaned down over her. That expression evaporated quickly when he simply severed the root holding her jaw shut, leaving behind one of naked surprise. It was shock alone that continued to hold Cersei’s tongue as he re-sheathed his blade.

It took a great deal of effort for Verdus to keep the rage out of his voice as he spoke. “I’ll make this very simple for you,” he said, enunciating each word with cold patience. “You hurt two very good friends of mine. You murdered one and broke the heart of the other. Vengeance is the right of all Horde, and I’ve come here to claim mine.” He paused momentarily, letting his words hang in the air before her.

To her credit, she raised no protest, neither of innocence nor righteousness. Wheels turned behind her eyes as she silently processed what was being said, trying to find an angle.

“But,” he continued, “you’re in a position to buy your way out of this. You have something I want. I know that you warlocks can pull a person’s soul out of their body at the moment of death. I’ve seen the little crystals that your kind put them in. I think that’s what you did to Libby when you murdered her. Earthmother knows you’d be arrogant enough to keep a trophy.” Verdus leaned even closer, until his snout was mere inches from Cersei’s face. “I want Libby’s shard. Give it to me and I let you live.”

The warlock smiled. “You believe I killed my poor baby brother’s wife? I’m not an animal.”

“You’re not nearly as clever as you think, elf. Despite luring her out into the middle of nowhere, I still found an eyewitness, one far more credible than you. You’re right about one thing, though. You’re not an animal, you’re less than that. Animals don’t torture people out of spite.”

“Wanting revenge makes you no better than me. Or do you call what you’re doing right now something different then torture out of spite?”

Verdus smirked. “And yet I don’t hear you trying to deny anything. You can call this whatever you like, though I think ‘torture’ would be quite a stretch after seeing what you’re capable of with a knife. I’m not here to debate semantics or morality with you, I’m here for Libby. Give me her shard and I’m willing, reluctantly, to let you go.”

“Finar’alah!” Cersei spat. “Do you think I’m a fool, beast? Do you really expect me to believe you’ve done all this just to let me walk away? No, you’re going to kill me no matter what I say. You obviously know who I am. If all you wanted was that cow-whore’s soul, you could-”

Verdus didn’t let her sentence get beyond the insult towards his friend. With a snarl, he struck her in the face with a back-handed blow, backed by all the strength he could muster. The warlock’s head snapped to the side as she cried out, the thorny roots tearing gashes around her forehead where they bound her. Abandoning his mask of calm and the pretense of a good-faith deal, Verdus jerked her head back to face his. “Give me the shard!” he bellowed.

Cersei spat blood in his face and laughed, as only the condemned can when they know they’ve had the last laugh. “Nether take you! Nether take my worthless, idiot brother and his damn cow-bitch, too! You want her shard, animal?! Grab a broom and start sweeping about twenty paces behind you. Whose soul did you think I burned back there to call my felhunter so quickly, anyway?”

Verdus’s heart stopped in his chest as horror and fury swept through him. He knew exactly the moment she was talking about, remembered the exact hue of purple light that marked the destruction of the last remnant of his friend. That Libby’s soul could be gone because of his reckless arrogance was too terrible to contemplate. He wanted to scream and to cry, to crush this wretch’s skull beneath his hoof. He wanted to cut the vile, poisonous woman’s heart out and feel her still-warm blood leak through his fingers. But most of all he wanted to make her suffer, and he knew that nothing his anger drove him to would be worse than what he’d already planned, what he’d come prepared to do from the start.

As Cersei had her last laugh, Verdus yanked open the pouch at his side and pulled out an odd mask-like device. He thrust the device onto her head, taking advantage of her laughter to insert the tube on the mask’s inner face into her open mouth. She tried to curse at him as he fastened the holding straps around her skull, but her words were swallowed by the gleaming metal. Through the clear eye-plate on the mask, she followed his movements as he cut a section of robe away from her upper arm and strapped another unidentifiable device in place against her skin. The mask silenced her yelp of pain as needles sunk into the flesh of her arm, seeking out veins. Finally, he pulled out a small amulet and fastened it around her neck.

“I want to make sure that you understand what’s about to happen to you,” Verdus said as he adjusted controls on the two devices. “I’m not the only one that you wronged when you murdered Libby, nor was Fenniel. Libby was a druid, like me, a servant of the Earthmother. You took someone very valuable from her, and it’s to her that I’m going to give you. Before I leave here, these roots are going to pull you down into the earth.”

Cersei’s eyes widened visibly at being told that she was going to be buried alive. She screamed something, but the words were too muffled by the mask. Despite her pleas being too muffled to make out, the fear was unmistakable.

Verdus smiled as if reassuring a frightened child. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry. You won’t suffocate. That would be far too little time for the Earthmother to decide what to do with you.” Verdus tapped the mask on Cersei’s face. “This thing? It’s a modified deepdive helmet. It’s going to recycle the air you exhale to make sure you keep right on breathing.”

She began to struggle, straining against the roots holding her down. Her panicked exertions got her nowhere.

“Of course, even with that you’d dehydrate in just a few days,” he continued, as if there had been no interruption. “Still not enough time for the Earthmother to weigh your case properly. That’s what the device on your arm is for. It’s got an enchanted pearl inside that siphons water from the Elemental Plane. A gift from another friend of Libby’s for just this purpose. That water gets funneled into your bloodstream through an intravenous drip, not too fast, not too slow. It’s just right to make sure you get the fluids you need to live.”

Her struggles intensified, but the roots bound her too thoroughly. Without even an inch of leverage to exploit, Cersei was left with nothing but silenced pleas and threats.

“That leaves you about two or three weeks before you starve to death down there, which I reckon is more than enough time for the Earthmother to make up her mind. It seems like a pretty clear-cut decision to me, of course, but she doesn’t work on the same time scale that we do, after all. If the Earthmother forgives you for the horrible wrong that you’ve done to her and her servants, then she can lift you right back up out of that mud. I don’t think she will, though. You’re going to spend three long weeks down there as your body starts to cannibalize itself.” He gently lifted the small, golden amulet that he’d placed on her neck, making sure that she saw it before he dropped it back down. “And this pendant? It’s an anti-scrying device, another gift from that friend. It’s going to make sure that nobody ever finds you, not even your corpse.”

Verdus leaned in very close to Cersei’s face, dropping his voice to a near whisper. “You will know fear, just as Libby did. You will know pain, just as Libby did. And then you will die, just as Libby did. And nobody else will ever know, nor will they care. You’re going to vanish off the face of Azeroth, having run out into a storm in the middle of the night, and be forgotten.”

Standing back to his full height and taking a step back, the druid made a slow, squeezing motion with one hand. As he did the roots began to contract, pulling back into the earth whence they came. “Nether take you, Cersei Dusksinger,” Verdus said as he watched her pulled, silently screaming, down into the muck.

As he limped his way out of the swamp, Verdus felt no relief at his revenge. He should have been making his way home with the shard trapping Libby’s soul. He could have found a way to release it unharmed, letting her spirit return to the natural cycle. Months of planning, and the most important part forever beyond his grasp. Without that, everything else felt hollow. His only solace was in knowing that the whole horrible business was over and done with.

He was wrong.

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