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May 13, 2011 / Bika

Fiction Friday: The Right of All Horde VII

Guilt rears its ugly head and misery rules the day. Vengeance and justice aren’t the same thing at all, are they Verdus?

Please enjoy Part VII of this series, written by Verdus, co-authored by Claire (& me!). Missed any of the previous posts? Visit the links below:

* * *

Fenniel was extremely nervous.

He couldn’t imagine why Verdus had sent him a letter asking to meet in Stonard. Verdus ought to know that Cersei worked there, so Fenn tended to avoid the Swamp of Sorrows whenever possible. He hadn’t seen his sister since he arrived, but Fenn still couldn’t escape the feeling that any second he was going to hear Hello, little brother. He coughed nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Hi, Fenniel.” The voice, clearly Verdus’s, came from behind the nervous hunter. “I’m sorry to call you down here, but it’s important and there wasn’t anywhere else to meet.”

Fenn jumped. “Um, really? Is there something important in Stonard?” Aside from my terrifying sister.

When he turned around to face Verdus, he almost didn’t recognize the tauren standing in front of him. The druid looked as if he’d aged ten years since their last meeting. Dark circles featured prominently under his sunken eyes, and he seemed unable to stand up straight. A faint aroma of alcohol wafted over Fenniel as the wind shifted slightly.

“Mister Verdus? Are you alright?”

“Not really, no, Fenn. I haven’t been sleeping well. The Earthmother… well, let’s just say that she isn’t very happy with me at the moment. It’s why I asked you here. I need your help to make things right.”

“Oh, um, okay. What’s wrong?”

Verdus turned and walked toward the compound’s gate, motioning for Fenniel to follow. As he walked, Verdus pulled the keys to his motorcycle from a pocket on his belt. “I took something that wasn’t mine, Fenn. I have to give it back.” Pausing for a moment, the druid sighed and clutched his temples, as if nursing a headache. “Look, I’m sorry that I’m being so vague about this. I’m sure it’s got you nervous, and I’m sorry about that. But this isn’t something that I can explain very well. I have to show you. Come on, we have a ways to ride.”

Fenn nodded. “Should I take my bike or ride in your sidecar?”

“We should share my bike, I think,” Verdus replied. “That’ll make it easier to explain on the way.”

“Alright.” Fenn swung a leg over the sidecar, and hopped in. “Where are we going?”

Verdus stepped astride the seat of the motorcycle and started the ignition. “It’s out in the middle of the swamp. Pretty nondescript.” Lowering his goggles and opening the throttle, Verdus drove the two of them out away from the fort. He didn’t speak much at first, his face making it clear that he was trying to decide how to say what he needed to say.

The pair rode in silence for almost ten minutes, the rumble of the engine and the passing wind their only company. Finally appearing to come to a decision, Verdus said, “It’s about Libby, Fenn. I found out what happened.”

Fenn’s voice cracked. “…What?”

“She didn’t leave you, Fenn. She was murdered. I…” Verdus’s voice faltered. A moment passed in stunned silence between them as he regained his composure. “You said you didn’t want to know the details. I found who did it, I tracked them down, and I took vengeance. I wanted to tell you before, but… Earthmother forgive me, I thought I was doing the right thing.”

“I know she was murdered.” Fenn’s voice was quiet. “They told me that.”

“I mean… Stars and stones. I mean it wasn’t random, Fenniel. It wasn’t just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was lured out there, her specifically.”

Fenn shook his head. “I don’t think I can handle this. Let’s just go home.”

Verdus slammed his giant hand down on the handlebar of the motorcycle, turning the motorcycle a shade to the right. His eyes were overflowing with regret and desperate frustration. “Dammit, Fenn! Haven’t you been listening?!” The druid seemed on the brink of tears. “I took what wasn’t mine! Revenge for Libby wasn’t mine to take, Fenn, not the way I did it. And certainly not with who killed her! The Earthmother is punishing me, Fenn. She shows me in my dreams.” Verdus turned his head slightly to look at his friend, his face pleading. “I haven’t slept for six days, Fenniel. I need you to help me set this right.”

“Verdus.” Fenn took a deep breath. “I don’t want revenge. I want my wife back.”

Verdus’s expression visibly crumpled, leaving him mute for several moments. “I know that now,” he said quietly, barely audible over the sound of the engine. “I thought you would, I thought that I could get you the justice you’d been denied. I even thought that I could help Libby, in a way. But I was wrong, a damn fool blinded by anger and loss and arrogance. You don’t have to take your own revenge, not if you don’t want to. But I can’t just leave things as they are. I need your help, Fenn. Please, help me.”

Fenn winced. “Okay.”

They continued to ride in silence for several minutes until Verdus slowed to a stop. “We’re here,” Verdus said. The spot bore almost no indication that a battle had been waged here the week before. The only oddity was the small pool of mostly clean water which had filled and masked the hardened, baked-mud basin. The druid got off the motorcycle and moved up to stand next to it, staring down into the water. “What I did here was cruel, Fenniel. I see that now. Libby’s killer isn’t actually dead, Fenn. Not yet, anyway.” He turned and looked back at his friend. “I have to bring her back up. I have to show you who it is. After that, it’s up to you. Are you ready?”

When Fenniel didn’t respond, the druid turned back to a spot behind the tree, closed his eyes and began a low chant. For several moments, the only movement near that tree was the druid’s hands, working complex somatic portions of his spell. Then the mud near the tree began to buckle, pushed and displaced by pressure from below. Slowly, a gnarled mass emerged from the ground, every inch of it covered in a thick layer of swamp mud.

“I…what is that?”

“That, Fenniel, is a prison of sorts. It’s a mass of roots that held your wife’s killer completely still under the ground. She’s been down there for six days, kept alive by devices giving her air and water. I hadn’t thought about the mud coming back up with her, though…”

Fenn’s hands shook. “She?”

Verdus nodded slowly. “She,” he said. The druid raised his hands and, for the second time in this spot, let loose a powerful surge of water. The roots held fast against the wave, barely rocking against the force so deeply they were anchored, but the majority of the mud was quickly blasted free. What remained was a dripping tangle of green and brown plant matter, with only brief glimpses of cloth and metal peeking through the gaps. Verdus moved to the head of the mass, looking down briefly into the unfocused eyes of the prisoner, and motioned for Fenniel to approach. “I’m sorry, Fenn,” he simply said.

Fenn took a step closer. “She’s…that woman is Sin’dorei.”

Verdus nodded silently, waiting for Fenniel to continue approaching.

“I think I might puke.”

“That’s okay. I did too.”

“Who, um…” Fenn cleared his throat and frowned. “P-please tell me I don’t know her.”

Verdus couldn’t bring himself to answer. Instead, he silently reached down and unstrapped the mask from Cersei’s face.

The warlock’s eyes snapped open and she sucked in a huge breath. “Please please please. Let me out. Please.” She coughed and her body barely shook underneath the roots binding her.

Fenn slumped down onto his knees. “This…Verdus. My sister. This is a mistake.”

Verdus knelt down beside the overwhelmed Farstrider. He knew that he could only begin to guess what his friend was feeling, and the guilt over the pain he was causing twisted his insides like a screw. “I wish it was, Fenn. I really do, but it’s no mistake. I found a witness, I saw everything that happened through his eyes. Sweet Earthmother, I wish I could forget, but I can’t. Your sister killed Libby.”

Cersei continued to struggle against the roots and babble incoherently. Fenn started to cry.

“This is a mistake. It’s not true. Please just let her out, Verdus.” He wrapped his arms around his knees and curled up into a ball. “I’m sorry, Cersei. I’m sorry.”

“It’s true, Fenniel,” Verdus continued, desperately trying to get Fenniel to see the truth. “I wish it wasn’t, but it is. She wasn’t even satisfied with killing her. After it was done, she ripped out Libby’s soul. She kept it as a damn trophy!” he said, all but spitting those last words.

“P-please just let her go.”

Verdus swallowed, torn with indecision. “That’s really what you want? After everything she’s done, you want to let her go like nothing happened?” Verdus paused, praying to the Earthmother for forgiveness for his next words. “Is that what Libby would want?”

Fenn shook his head and buried his face in his hands. “I d-don’t know what to do. This can’t be true. It just can’t. You don’t understand.”

“What don’t I understand, Fenn?”

“This j-just has to be a mistake. My sister would never kill my wife. I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell Aedoren. We can’t tell her. You had to have made a mistake. How do you know?”

“The beasts of Desolace saw the whole thing, and I relived their memories. It was…” Verdus swallowed and turned away, unable to meet Fenniel’s eyes. “It was horrible. But it was true, and what they saw and heard and smelled left no room for doubt. You know animals too, Fenn. They don’t lie. They can’t lie. I’d never even met your sister before all this. Ask yourself, Fenn, how could I have found her at all, if not through what they showed me?”

Fenn was silent a few moments before nodding. “I can’t kill her. I can’t leave her to die. I don’t care if she killed my wife, she’s my sister. I…I think I need Ysani.”

“Do you have your buzzbox with you?” Verdus asked. “You could call her. Ask her what she thinks you should do. Because Earthmother knows I can’t help you with this decision.”

Fenn fumbled through his backpack. “I have it.” He threw a few cookies out onto the ground and pulled out his buzzbox, clicking it on. “Y-Ysani?”

Several minutes passed without an answer and Fenniel was about to send another message when the paladin’s familiar voice came crackling out of the device. “Fenn! Hi! What’s going on?”

“Ysani I need you. Right now.”

“Oh wow. Sure, Fenn, where are you..? Are you hurt?”

“I’m not hurt. I’m in the middle of the swamp, with Verdus. And…and…with my sister.”

“Aedo?” Ysani sounded both worried and confused. “I should come out there, you don’t sound okay. Is Verdus right there with you?”

“Yes. Yes he is.”

“Let me talk to him, okay? Is Cuddles with you too?”

“N-no, she’s not here. I’m going to hand the thingy over.” Fenn stuck the buzzbox out towards Verdus, who gently accepted it.

“Ysani,” Verdus said, “it’s not Aedoren who’s out here. It’s Cersei.” She listened quietly as he explained everything that he’d learned, and all that had transpired in the swamp, leaving nothing out. “He doesn’t know what to do, Ysani, and I… I can’t help him with this. I’ve done enough harm already. I’m going to hand you back now. Please, help him.” Verdus pressed the buzzbox into Fenniel’s limp hand, gently closing his fingers around it.

“I… Fenn. You’re there, right?” She forged ahead without waiting for a response. “Shit. Um. Okay, look. She’s still alive, right? So keep her there, for the love of the Light get her something to eat if she can handle it, and don’t let her go. I’m coming down there myself. Verdus,” she almost shouted, to be sure he could hear her, “you and I are going to talk about this later.”

Fenn nodded. “Okay. Okay. Um.” He picked up a cookie off the ground. “Do you think she can eat these?”

“Fenn.”

“Yeah?”

“I know this is really scary and hard to deal with but I need you to keep it together for me until I can come help you, all right?”

“I’m fine. Maybe…” Fenn’s voice cracked. “Maybe not.”

Ysani used the most soothing tone she could muster. “It’s going to be all right. We’re going to get through this together, I promise. If you feel like you can’t handle it just remember that I love you and I’m on my way, okay? Can you do that?”

Fenn nodded. “O-okay. Do you think she can eat cookies?”

“Broth or tea would be better. See if Verdus has any. I have to go, I’m almost at the portal, but I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

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