(This story came out of the convergence of two things. One is the Feathermoon Peace Summit, a bit of RP that’s happening tonight, Friday 7 September, in Dalaran; a group of PCs from both factions will be meeting to attempt to broker at least a tenuous peace and time to heal in the wake of Deathwing’s destruction and the end of the Cataclysm. It will, of course, all go spectacularly wrong in two weeks or so…but the characters don’t know that.
The second is trying to explain the fact that I haven’t played World of Warcraft for going on six months now, and hadn’t played my dwarf hunter Beltar for a few months before that. He’s been absent for almost a year. I offhandedly mentioned something about this on Twitter one day a few weeks back and Marty–the guy behind Bricu Bittertongue, driving force behind the Peace Summit, world’s most ascerbic paladin and Number Two of the Wildfire Riders–came up with this idea. I took it and ran with it. Combine the dwarf’s newfound love of archaeology and the heightened state of tension between the Horde and Alliance, and season it with my tendency to do horrible things to my own characters, and, well, here you are.
There are several other parts to the story, which will come in due time as I write them. And yes, this means that I hope to get back to WoW blogging, and blogging about other games as well, on a more consistent basis. I don’t know if I’m over my critical WoW burnout, and my head is still kind of fucked up in a lot of ways, but with a new job and living in a new town taking some of the pressure off things, I am somewhat optimistic–a rarity for me–that I can get my poop collected enough to get my blog groove back.
Oh, this story is rated “R” for language, thick dwarven accents, and exploding heads.)
Beltar Forgebreaker had never been very good with numbers.
Mathematics, advanced or otherwise, had never been a subject that the School of Hard Living had bothered to teach him. He could do what he termed “simple cipherin’,” if he had quill and paper, or perhaps charcoal and rock, or even stick and dirt, to hand. He tended to count on his fingers a lot, out loud. Someone had once told him that if he’d apply himself to learning some sort of bizarre form of science he only remembered as “trigganawhatthfuckever,” it would make him a better shot. But that was pigshit, he knew. He didn’t think about being lethal behind the stock of a gun, he just was. He sighted, he fired, things died, and he didn’t waste time or effort worrying about the whys and wherefores of it. “Why mess it up with thinkin’?” was his reply.
Fact was, he simply didn’t need to be good with numbers. He could count the coin in a purse given to him after killing a target or completing a job as a bodyguard, and when that was empty, he went on to the next one. The nuances of finance, of computing compound interest or balancing a ledger, that was best left to others. As long as he had enough to eat and drink and whore and buy what he needed, with a little stuffed away in a sock for emergencies, that was fine.
But there was one number, now, that Beltar never lost track of, and never forgot. He carried it with him, every waking second, and he knew exactly how to cipher it and how he had arrived at the result. That number was precisely three hundred and sixteen.
It was the number of days since the orcs had captured him.
(The Pig and Whistle, just shy of a year earlier.)
Taverns like the Pig don’t operate on the same schedule as the rest of Stormwind, or even the rest of Old Town. The quietest time inside the Pig isn’t the darkest part of the night, just before dawn, but instead is the brightest part of mid-morning, when the good citizens of Old Town (there are a few, believe it or not) are at work, and everyone else is still sleeping off the previous night’s adventures.
This sunny, quiet morning inside the Pig’s main room, there were just two people up and about. One was Reese Langston, doing what Reese had gone for gods alone knew how many years, even before the Wildfire Riders had come along and taken over…cleaning mugs, arranging taps, preparing the tavern for the day ahead. The other was Beltar Forgebreaker, perched awkwardly in a chair too tall for his dwarven frame as always, gun propped against the table and bulging pack taking up another chair nearby. He was enthusiastically polishing off the last of an egg-and-steak breakfast, letting fly with a huge belch as he put down his fork.
“You knock the mugs off my shelf burpin’ like that, Forgebreaker, they’re coming out of your beard,” Reese growled without even looking up.
“Bah,” Beltar replied. “This little trip o’ mine works out, I’d get ya sommat fancy glass t’replace ’em…y’know, fer ’em tea-drinkin’ mage types.” He wiggled his fingers at Reese.
The barkeep snorted. “You ain’t said where you’re goin’ on this trip, anyhow.”
Beltar eased down off the chair and began arranging items in his pack. “Kalimdor, ain’t as sure ‘zactly where yet. Hirin’ on w’ Explorer’s League, doin’ some ruins diggin’ over ‘ere. Turns out Deathwing, in addition t’damn near destroyin’ th’ world an’ all, cracked open a few ol’ night elf an’ dwarf ruins, an’ th’ League’s been lookin’ fer folks t’, ah, ‘freelance,’ shall we say. Y’know, workin’ fer ’em but not quite workin’ fer ’em, case th’ locals git techy ’bout it. ‘Plausible deniawhatsit,’ one ’em perfesser types called it.”
“Never pictured you as the archaeologist type, Forgebreaker,” Reese said, putting down the mug he’d been polishing. “I always thought you’d use artifacts for target practice.”
Now it was Beltar’s turn to snort. “I ain’t no pointy-headed Harrison Jones-type what can’t tie ‘is boots, lad. But…Nether, I dunno. Gotta have somethin’ t’do what with peace breakin’ out like a rash, aye? ‘At Jones ponce gave me a coupla books, I read ’em, dig some diggin’, found out I kinda liked it and apparently I ain’t ‘arf bad at it.” A shrug. “Must be in our blood ‘r’ somethin’, dwarves diggin’ up ancient shit.”
“You told Tarquin or Annie?”
“Nah. They don’t need t’know.” Beltar went back to arranging his pack.
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong.” Beltar didn’t turn around but kept working on the pack.
“Horseshit. Don’t lie to a bartender, Forgebreaker. You oughta know by now that never works.”
“Ain’t nothin’ what needs t’be talked about, Reese,” Beltar replied shortly, still not making eye contact.
The dwarf stopped working on the pack, hung his head, and sighed before looking back up at Reese. “Aright, lad. Y’want yer answer? The short of it is, it ain’t like they need me ’round here noway.”
“What are you on about?”
“Take a look ’round, Reese. Deathwing’s done. Shaw’s backed down. Boss’s turned legit, as close as that boy’ll ever git. Riders got ever’thin’ under control ’round here. Sevens ain’t even fuckin’ wi’ us no more, on account’a th’ Riders bein’ dragonslayers ‘n’ shit. I ain’t no dragonslayer. They didn’t need me fer any ovvit.” He turned back around and started yanking on straps and drawstrings on the bulging backpack. “Ain’t but three things I ever been good at, Reese—used t’be four but I’m gettin’ on too old fer ‘at one. Number one’s killin’, number two’s drinkin’, an’ turns out, number three’s diggin’. Got ’nuff people ’round here t’handle number one, an’ it ain’t like y’can make a livin’ outta number two. So I’mma go dig. Might help git m’head right, might not, who knows? But hangin’ ’round here w’ fuck all t’do surely ain’t.”
Beltar awkwardly hoisted the pack onto his back and began strapping it on. “Figger they all might notice I ain’t been ’round in a few days, ‘r maybe not. Reckon if they don’t, ain’t no loss on either side, aye? ‘S all covered either way. I ain’t left no notes ‘r’ nothin’, figger y’can tell anybody askin’.”
Reese stood there with his mouth half-open as the dwarf finished adjusting his backpack and started walking for the door. “That sounds damned final, Forgebreaker. You are comin’ back, right?”
Beltar shrugged as he picked up Black Death, his rifle. “Prolly. I ain’t plannin’ t’git m’self killed, if that’s what yer askin’. Guess…I dunno. Guess a change o’ scenery might do me some good, I reckon. Feel like I’m actually part o’ somethin’ again, y’know, ‘stead o’ just th’ ol’ dwarf in th’ corner wi’ a pig an’ a ale.”
He stopped and turned back as he reached the threshold and stared out into the bright Stormwind morning. “Take care o’ yerself, Reese. I’mma miss yer cookin’.” A forced grin. “An’ mornin’s like ‘is. Yer…yer a good man, lad. See ya soon.” He stepped forward and disappeared into the dusty sunlight of the street outside.
“You too, Forgebreaker,” Reese Langston said softly.
That afternoon, when Reese went back around to the stable, he saw a familiar black shape standing in a stall to greet him. Squealer oinked once, seemingly pleased at Reese’s expression of stunned exasperation. There was a note pinned to a string around the boar’s neck:
Reese. Take care of the fat bastard for me, Jolly the drool factory too. Dog’s downstairs, he knows to go out to pee and shit. Not so sure about Squealer even after all these years. He ain’t bacon so don’t even. Beltar.
(Stonetalon Mountains. Nine days later.)
The view, Beltar had to admit, was worth the trip it had taken to get here.
The cliff to the north dropped a hundred feet or more into a green valley, dotted with scrubby trees. Beltar knew that the sea was off to the northwest, but a wall of rocky hills similar to the one that surrounded him blocked sight of it. No one seemed to live down there, which was odd to him; he knew the soil in the Stonetalon Mountains was generally too poor for farming, but he also knew the Tauren were hunters, and he’d seen signs of game when they had explored down there a few days earlier. Ain’t bad country fer Kalimdor, he thought. Beats all outta Desolace fer damn sure, least until th’ Cenarions get done with ‘er.
He turned back around and looked at the ruins that had brought them out here to this northwestern corner of Stonetalon, a place that was so damned remote that the maps didn’t even bother to name it. The Cataclysm had partially opened up the high valley in which he now stood and revealed what might have been some sort of pre-Sundering elven town or outpost—so the “perfessers” said. To Beltar, the columns did resemble some ruins he’d seen while flying over Azshara years earlier, but that was about as far as his knowledge of architecture went.
He, two archaeologists, and two Explorer’s League guards had been here for three days, digging and cataloguing the old elven ruins. They’d ridden in following the lead of a goblin that they’d paid a damned exorbitant sum to lead them through a tortuous pass in the mountains up from Desolace. The journey had cost them one of the pack rams that had been shipped in special from Loch Modan, and that had just been the beginning. Their erstwhile guide, the day after he’d gotten them to the valley, had up and disappeared. Beltar had a good eye for terrain, and thought he could get them back out to Desolace when they broke camp tomorrow, but the goblin’s sudden vanishing act had him nervous. These lands, he knew, were not only wild, but a war zone between the orcs and the Alliance. And as near as he could figure, the Horde was winning.
The sounds of an animated discussion carried over to him. Beltar looked over at the great white worg next to him and sighed. “Fuckin’ eggheads, Furball,” he shook his head. “Better see what’s what afore the perfessers stab each other w’quill ‘r’ sommat.” He picked up his rifle and walked over to the other side of the ruins, Furball casually padding along behind.
The “perfessers”–Dolwin Longstride of the Explorer’s League, and a Kal’dorei from Darnassus who had just introduced himself as “Carnelius” and hardly said six words to Beltar since—were standing over a half-buried piece of statuary, having a heated argument.
“I’m telling you, Professor,” Carnelius said, drawing the title out in a way that made it quite clear what he thought of it. “This is not what you think it is. There is no possible way that this could have been used in elven worship. It is a simple ornamental house statue from a period no further back than two hundred years before the Sundering, and has no real historical value whatsoever!”
“Far be it from me to correct ye, Professor, about yer own people’s history, but yer full o’ dung!”, Longstride roared back. “I read every history yer own scholars wrote on late Azsharan religious practices, an’ I’d bet a week’s bar tab in Ironforge that this here is a temple offerin’ statue. An’ see those jewelry carvings? That went out of fashion five hundred years earlier than what you said. This is a find, ye stuffy ponce!”
“Um…”, Beltar interrupted, straddling the statue to stand between the two academics. “I don’t rightly know whether ‘is bit o’ furniture’s from a temple house ‘r a house house ‘r a fuckin’ shithouse. What I do know izzat twilight’s comin’ on, and y’d best keep yer damned voices down! Sound carries a ways off those rocks up there, and in case y’ hadn’t heard, there’s about a shitload o’ orcs two valleys over what ain’t gonna take kindly t’us furtherin’ yer academic study. So pack yer shit up, an’ be ready t’ ride outta here at first light, ‘cuz we’re pushin’ our luck bein’ up here. Unnerstand?”
In the tense, echoing silence that followed, the only sounds were the chirping of the birds and the suppressed snicker from one of the caravan guards.
“Now see here, dwarf,” Carnelius finally managed to grit out through clenched teeth. “I do not take orders from…”
“Fine, lad,” Beltar cut him off. “Y’ don’t take orders from th’ likes o’me? Tell Garrosh Hellscream all ’bout yer ornamental house statue while th’ rest of us ‘r halfway back t’Theramore. This ain’t a classroom, y’ poncy git! This…”
Beltar stopped. Furball was staring up into the rocks to the east, growling. His fur began to bristle.
“Fuck,” Beltar hissed, and that one word had a weight of meaning behind it.
“What’s…” Beltar cut Longstride off. “’That there worg can hear ‘n’ see better’n any of us, an’ th’ way he’s actin’, I’d say we got company.” He glanced up and saw that the guards had already drawn their blunderbusses and moved near some defensive positions. Good lads. He reached down beside the statue, where he’d set Black Death down when he’d first come over. “Find yerselves a place t’hide if y’ain’t innerested in gettin’ in a fight, lads. I’d say this might be ’bout t’git ugly.” Fuck, why am I not wearing my armor? Because you can’t dig in armor, dumbass, that’s why…
There was a hissing sound near Beltar’s right ear, just over his head, from behind him. Reflexively, he turned and brought Black Death to his shoulder. The sight settled on a red-clad troll that had just stood up from behind a rock forty paces up the shoulder of the valley to the west, the other direction from where Furball had been looking. The troll’s arm was extended forward. Details burned into his mind—teal skin, green hair, yellow tusks—as Beltar stroked the rifle’s trigger once. The crack of the gun boomed off the walls around them as the troll flung his arms wide and disappeared back behind his rock.
Beltar spun back around to see Carnelius still standing there looking down…not at Beltar, not at the statue, not at Longstride. He was looking at the throwing axe protruding out of his breastbone. He touched it, eyeing it with what could have almost been academic interest had it been buried in someone else‘s chest. He looked to the rock where the troll had stood, coughed once, and collapsed in a heap.
“Move!”, Beltar screamed, and dove for the excavated area around the statue, trying to find some cover. The others did the same, and even as they did, the hills around them—all around them—erupted in shouts and screams. A throwing spear clanked off the statue as the old dwarf landed awkwardly and rolled behind it. Booms from the guards’ guns mingled with battle cries as Beltar stuck his head up and tried to come to grips with what was going on.
Orcs, and the odd troll, were pouring down off the ledges overlooking the digsite. A couple dozen, maybe more, Beltar guessed, all wearing identical spiked brown shoulderguards and matching breastplates. Some were throwing spears, others were waving swords and axes. All of them had bloodlust in their eyes and curses on their lips.
Beltar felt no fear…there wasn’t time. Time slowed down and his actions became automatic, honed by decades of training and experience.
Find a target. He peeked up from cover and picked out a particularly large orc near the front of a group of five clambering down the western slope toward him.
Aim. Black Death’s unwieldy barrel and bayonet cleared the lip of the pit and the sight settled on the orc’s massive head.
Fire. One gentle squeeze of the trigger, a flash and crack, and the top of the orc’s head exploded as he turned to urge on the ones behind him. Bone and brains sprayed as the orc’s neck and shoulders snapped backward while his legs, improbably, carried forward another step. The net result was an almost laughable cartwheel, the orc’s bare feet flailing in mid-air for a split-second before his lifeless body, pitched parallel to the ground, crashed straight down into the rock. Beltar didn’t see it. He was already behind the top of the pit again, jacking another round into the chamber.
A scream from his right…the orcs had reached the column one of the two guards had been using for cover. He had thrown down his blunderbuss and drawn two hand axes to try and defend himself, but there were four of them and but one of him. One orc rolled on the ground in front of him clutching his stomach, but another smashed an axe through the young dwarf’s helmet and on into his skull even as a troll speared him through the gut so hard the guard’s feet left the ground.
Beltar aimed and fired again. The orc he’d picked out fell forward, dead before his face met rock, and the one behind him clutched his shoulder and spun backward—not dead but at least wounded. But still they kept coming, apparently not slowed by any fear of death.
A yelp, from his left this time. He saw Furball covered in blood—some his, some not, judging by the two motionless orcs in front of him. He leapt onto a third, driving him to the ground with fangs sunk into the orc’s huge neck. Then he disappeared under a wave of green skin, brown armor, and flashing blades.
No time to mourn. The fourth orc went down to a shot in the gut, and then the fifth was upon him with no time to reload. Beltar was no lover of close-quarters fighting, fair or unfair, but he wasn’t entirely unskilled at it. He couldn’t match the orc strength for strength, even in his younger days, and he was far from those. So he wasn’t even going to try.
The orc bellowed a war cry and brought his great two-handed axe down, trying for a single killing blow. Beltar side-rolled to one knee as best he could, using Black Death to parry the downstroke. Sparks flew and metal screeched as the parry pushed the axe aside just enough to send it sticking into the soft dirt at the edge of the pit. The orc, still carrying some forward momentum from his charge down the hill, couldn’t stop and went ass-over-elbows down the slope, crashing into the base of the statue leaving the axe stuck in the ground. Beltar staggered to his feet and bayoneted the orc in the throat before he had a chance to recover.
He dropped back to one knee and grabbed another round to reload. He faintly heard the noise of movement behind him, and turned around as he brought the rifle up to firing position.
He saw a huge orc with brown skin. He saw the flash of a hammer. And then he saw nothing.
A little over three years ago, in the build-up events to the release of Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard inflicted upon World of Warcraft the ultimate zombie plague. At the time, the Zombiepocalypse had a lot of bad things going on with it, as well as a lot of good–I covered that in a post on the one-year anniversary of the end of the event. But to me, the best thing it provided was some awesome roleplaying opportunity, more so on my dwarf hunter Beltar than on my main Linedan. Lin was a prot warrior, and, well, a melee class with no self-cleansing really didn’t do very well against things that could turn you into a ghoul in just a few hits. But Beltar, now he and his pet boar Squealer, they were a zombie-killing machine.
Our Alliance guild, the Wildfire Riders, did a collaborative writing project we called The Longest Night, based on the final night of the zombie event in Stormwind. This was my contribution to it. The events here, including finding the zombie in the room inside the Rose, actually happened. The zombie in question was a level 15 character who’d been turned, and who I one-shotted. (He whispered me to bitch me out about it later. My response is, dude, you were a freaking zombie. What was I supposed to do, invite you over for tea and crumpets?)
I repost my part of it here because (a) I like it, and (b) it provides some context to another piece I’ll post later. At the time, Beltar was running around with a Wolfslayer Sniper Rifle off the Big Bad Wolf in Karazhan. It’s always been one of my favorite gun models in the entire game. Well, now, with transmogrification in 4.3, his Wolfslayer–which he named “Black Death”–rides again. But that’s a little later. Here’s the story of Black Death’s busiest night.
Beltar Forgebreaker limped over to the edge of the plaza that overlooked Stormwind Harbor. It hadn’t been light for long, perhaps half an hour…it was hard to tell, with the unnatural overcast that covered the sky overhead. In the dimness, everything looked normal from this great height. The ships still rode at anchor, quietly creaking as gentle waves moved them in their berths. Gulls wheeled and screeched. Save for clouds that looked almost like a gathering summer thunderstorm, all looked as it should be.
Except no one moved.
Not a single shape moved except the seabirds. No porters moved packages, no crews readied or cleaned their ships, no merchants haggled deals, no prostitutes plied their trade. The docks were deserted of life, and of unlife.
He let his eyes travel to the hills above the harbor, outside the city walls. They were dotted with bright glows of fire. Five, six, seven…nope, there’s eight, Beltar counted to himself as the eighth one sprung into life. Each one of those, he knew, was a funeral pyre, and each one was burning dozens, if not hundreds, of bodies, undead and otherwise.
He’d climbed on Mountain at dawn and ridden out alone, Squealer obediently following, and picked his way through the streets to the Harbor, thankful for the surefootedness of a Khaz Modan ram on cobbles slicked by blood and ichor. No zombies showed themselves, no clash of arms rent the heavy, chill air on his journey. The Scourge, for the moment, had been beaten from Stormwind.
But it damn sure hadn’t been easy…
The Trade District. Just after sundown.
“They got the healer! THEY GOT THE HEALER! RUN! RUUAAAAAAAHHLIIIIIIGHT…”
The screams out of the Gilded Rose snapped Beltar out of thought as he finished loading his rifle. He looked over at Tarquin, who was leaning against the wall of the arms shop nearby, catching his breath after finishing off another zombie. The lanky Northman sighed and raised his hood, and bellowed, “There’s a Dawnsman by th’gryphon master, y’ken? Need healin’, go there!” The hood came back down, and he faded into the shadows cast by the overhanging roof.
None too soon. A wave of zombies poured out of the Rose like rats, falling on guardsmen and those too slow to run from the screams. Shouts and clangs sounded, and the Stormwind Guard fought yet another doomed battle as Beltar snapped his weapon shut. He issued the barest of whistles from one side of his mouth, and smoothly brought the rifle to his shoulder.
His boar launched himself forward from a dead stop, streaking across the plaza in a black, squealing blur and slamming into the pile of zombies like some bizarre game of bowls. As Squealer began tearing at one in a fury of black fur and white tusks, Beltar’s rifle roared again and again. Three feet of black wood and gray steel, with an extra foot of bayonet poking under the barrel, it was the most masterful boomstick Beltar had ever seen, much less ever owned. He’d found it in Medivh’s ruined castle. He named it–with feeling, if not with originality–Black Death.
This night, Black Death would earn that name many times over.
The first zombie crumpled to the cobbles headless. Squealer plunged tusks into another one and Beltar kept up his steady drumbeat of fire, killing the second zombie before it figured out that the black form goring it wasn’t the only thing causing it pain. But the third zombie must have retained some tiny modicum of its previous intelligence. It ignored Squealer and saw Beltar forty paces away, and started lurching toward him.
The dwarf stood his ground. He fanned the hammer, and Black Death ripped off three shots into three zombies. He fired again, and again, but the zombie kept coming, and then leapt.
Sheer reflex saved him; he thrust the rifle upward as the zombie lunged, and it slammed directly into the bayonet. It impaled itself, flailing long clawed hands at Beltar as he fought to stay upright with ten stone of zombie trying to push him over.
“I AIN’T DYIN’ T’NIGHT, Y’BASTARD!”, Beltar roared, and pulled the trigger. The zombie flew backward, a hole through most of its chest, and crashed to the stones to finally lie still.
The sound died down. Paladins and shamans in the square had finished off the rest, and for the moment, no zombies moved. Squealer returned to Beltar’s side, fur matted with Shapers-only-knew-what. Beltar tried to calm his breathing and concentrate. Aright, y’fuckers, he thought to himself. Lessee…any more’a’ya ’bout? Concentrate…yes, one more, at least. Inside the Rose. He started walking past the fountain toward the inn.
“Are you crazy?”, a guardsman tried to block him. “You can’t go in there!”
“There’s one more of ’em in there, lad,” Beltar snarled. “We don’t get it now, it comes out here when y’ain’t lookin’, infects other people, whole shitpile starts up ‘gin. Now, you wanna go kill it, ‘r y’stay out here an’ let me do it?”
The guard, wisely, backed up. Beltar just nodded at him once, and stumped forward into the Rose, Squealer trailing behind.
The common room was a charnel house. Bodies and parts of bodies–human, elf, and zombie–were everywhere. The floor, on the tables, even a zombie arm stuck in the overhead chandelier. The body of the Argent Healer lay in two pieces, torn apart at the waist, near the kitchen entrance. Nothing moved here. But he heard a faint scrabble from upstairs.
He crept up the stairs as quietly as he could, stopping at the top to listen. He heard it again…second door on the left. Black Death came out from over his shoulder and into his right hand as he walked toward the door. Taking a deep breath, he spun around the jamb into the doorway.
The door itself was gone, shattered inward into the room. It was a small room, one of the Rose’s cheaper ones, utterly demolished. Splintered furniture, pooled blood, and a zombie corpse on the floor made it obvious what had happened.
There was another zombie in the far corner, near the bed. It snapped its head up as it saw Beltar…but it didn’t attack. It looked at him, almost quizzically, as if saying, “Who are you and why are you in my room. And more importantly…who am I?”
For a few seconds, the two stood looking at each other. For a second, in the zombie’s face, Beltar swore he saw…fear? Sadness? Confusion, maybe?
Then Beltar sighed. “Sorry, lad.”
And Black Death roared yet again.
A single gunshot from back toward the Cathedral snapped Beltar out of his Harbor-side reverie. No more followed it. The only sounds were the creak of the ships and the scream of the gulls.
Beltar looked out over the ships, to the sea. Out there, somewhere, was the cause of all this. Arthas Menethil. The Lich King. Defender, and then damn-near destroyer, of the Alliance. And Beltar knew without seeing, sure as the sun had risen behind that thick blanket of cloud, that the Riders were going North, and he was going with them. Time to be heroes.
“Heroes,” he snorted. “Gods, I don’t feel like no hero.” He looked at the big black boar standing beside him, flecks of gray bristle appearing around its snout. “I feel old, boy. Leg’s botherin’ me worse’n’anytime since Anvilmar. I’m feelin’ ever’ one’a these hunnert’an’twenty-six years o’mine. Too old fer bein’ a hero, right now, anyways.”
Squealer just looked up at him with that calm, neutral look he always gave Beltar.
“An’ I’m standin’ in th’chill, in a city runnin’ wild w’zombies, talkin’ wi’a pig. Heroes do crazy shit like that, y’think?” He laughed without humor. “Aright, piss on it. Back t’Old Town w’us.”
Using Black Death’s stock as a makeshift walking stick, he began limping back toward the stairs, where Mountain waited at the top to take him back through the streets of a waking city of the dead, back to the Pig and Whistle, and life.
This is a very old story. In fact, it’s the first piece of fic that I wrote for Linedan, back in March of 2005 when he was still leveling through his 20s. It has an interesting story behind it, too. First off, I was, at the time I wrote this, doing the “gather 30 skulls for the Deathguard in Tarren Mill” Souvenirs of Death quest. Also, the meeting that takes place in the middle of the story actually happened in-game, at the lake outside Bloodhoof Village. This was a time when random walk-around roleplay was still prevalent on Feathermoon, but even so, the encounter–which took place exactly as I wrote it in this story–stands out. I don’t remember the shaman’s name. I surely wish I did. And finally, yes, I did drop the quest. (Although I admit to going back and doing it later when I was trying to get Loremaster.)
I like to think I’ve gotten a bit better at my writing and roleplay since I wrote this, but the themes in this story are the same ones that drive my roleplay on Linedan almost six years later. The struggle between the berserker and the protector, the toll that war takes on the warrior, and how far one is willing to go for their faction…they’re still as relevant to me now as they were back then.
The sky over Mulgore was its usual brilliant, deep blue, broken only by a few puffy white clouds drifting east toward the Barrens. A gentle breeze pushed those clouds, and ruffled the grass along the shore of Stonebull Lake.
A lone Tauren sat on the edge of the lake, staring out over its shimmering water. In one hand, he held a fishing pole, its line played out ten paces from shore where a small bobber bounced on the ripples. In the other hand, he held a small white object.
A human skull.
The boomstick shot hit the peasant in the right shoulder and spun him around. As he recovered, he saw me. His face twisted into a snarl, he raised his pitchfork and bravely charged as I set the blunderbuss aside, grabbed my shield from my back, and drew Truecleaver…
The bobber abruptly dipped. Linedan carefully set the skull down in the grass and reeled in a small brightfish, which joined several others on a stringer hooked to his belt. He rebaited the hook and cast the bobber back out into the lake, farther this time, then sat back and closed his eyes. He leaned back to face the bright sun, hoping that even though his closed eyelids, the light could fade the images from his view. But sunlight cannot block images from the mind.
…Truecleaver thudded into the farmer’s side. The human’s shirt began to stain red as he bellowed in pain and twisted away. That gave me an opening, and I took advantage by slashing low, the sabre tearing into his right leg and hobbling him…
Even in the quiet and peace of the lake, Linedan could hear the sounds of battle in his mind. It seemed that was all he ever heard, these days. The clash of swords, the screams of pain, the bellows of anger. It felt odd for his hand to be holding a fishing pole instead of the hilt of Truecleaver, his sabre. His left arm didn’t feel right unencumbered by a shield. He sat forward and closed his eyes again, his breathing coming a bit faster, the memories still raging.
…He hooked Truecleaver with the pitchfork. A quick flick of both his forearms, and my sword was wrenched from my hands and landed on the ground two paces away. He faced me, and smiled. Actually smiled. He was still smiling when I punched him full in the face, he never saw it coming. I felt the flesh part, felt the bones splinter under my mailed fist…
Linedan was agitated now. He stood up and dropped the fishing pole, paced three steps one way, turned, then three steps back the other. He saw the skull, still sitting in the grass. In one motion, he bent and snatched it into his massive hand. The front of the skull was malformed, crushed. The bone under one eyesocket was smashed in and partially missing, and the lower jaw was gone, just as it had been since he had first placed it in his backpack days earlier.
His head bowed, almost involuntarily, as if a ton of weight had landed hard on his shoulders. His empty fist clenched. He reared his arm back, as if to pitch the skull into the lake…and froze. He couldn’t do it. For long seconds, he stood there, locked in time, one arm back with the skull in his hand. Then, slowly, he brought his arm forward and looked again at the skull in his hand. At its smashed face, into its empty sockets.
And he remembered the eyes.
…He was hopping, then crawling away from me. I tripped him, and he landed on his back, looking up to where I loomed over him. And as I brought Truecleaver up to finish him, I saw his eyes. Full of fear, full of rage, maybe a bit of resignation, even relief, knowing that his life was over in a few seconds. Totally devoid of hope. They were blue.
They were still open after I killed him. They were still open after I cut his head off. And they were still open as I began to deflesh the skull to add to the collection that Deathguard Samsa in Tarren Mill asked me to provide.
A motion off to Linedan’s left started him. He dropped the skull behind him and whirled, his right hand falling to his sabre’s hilt. A fellow Tauren stood there, dappled black-and-white, wearing ragged leathers, a staff slung over his back and a small ball of lightning orbiting his chest. A shaman, and a young one at that. The shaman showed no fear, didn’t flinch a bit when Linedan spun on him with Truecleaver half out of its sheath. He just stood there, smiling.
Linedan let his hand fall back to his side. “My apologies, friend,” he muttered. “You startled me.”
The shaman spread his hands by way of apology, then raised a single finger as if to say, “Wait a moment.” As Linedan watched, the young Tauren pointed up to the sky, to one of the white clouds drifting over. Then he held out his left palm and used his right hand to mimic the motion of someone walking. Then he pointed to the east.
Linedan was puzzled. “What do you…can you speak, friend?”
The shaman shook his head, with no trace of embarassment or discomfort. He made the same motions again–pointed to a cloud, then made walking motions with his hand, then shrugged. He stood, looking at Linedan, still smiling faintly.
“I am confused, young one…you seek a windrider? Or Thunder Bluff? Walking in the sky, I don’t understand…”
Again, the young shaman held up a finger in the “wait” gesture. He reached into a pouch at his belt and showed Linedan a parchment. He couldn’t read most of it, but the heading was clear enough to him…”Venture Company.”
Of course! “Ah! You seek Morin Cloudstalker!”, Linedan exclaimed. The shaman nodded vigorously.
“Well, then, you can find him on the road east of Bloodhoof, friend,” he answered. “He wanders the path there on guard. I’m sure he’ll be quite happy to see that.”
The shaman nodded again and made a slight bow toward Linedan. Then he turned to leave, stopped, and turned back to face Linedan. The two of them locked eyes.
Linedan noticed that the young Tauren had the kindest, gentlest eyes he’d ever seen. There was no trace of fear in them, no anger, no rage. Only kindness, and friendship. And hope. They were blue.
The shaman patted Linedan’s shoulder gently, then turned and walked slowly back toward the road. Linedan watched him go, then called after him, “Earthmother protect you, brother.” He turned, bowed to Linedan, and continued walking to the road, turning east toward the Barrens.
Linedan stared after him for a long minute, watching his back recede into the distance, still feeling the touch of that gentle hand on his shoulder, still seeing those eyes, yet untouched by war and darkness. Eyes that must have somewhat resembled his own once, when he was much younger. Before the killing began.
He turned and saw the skull still sitting in the grass where he dropped it. Gently, he bent down, picked it up, and put it in his backpack. He looked up at the sky, and nodded. The sun was lowering in the west. If he hurried, he could be in Hillsbrad by nightfall.
Hillsbrad village was all but silent that night. The only movement was from two footmen who stayed together and looked nervously out into the darkness, hoping that yet more villagers would not disappear, would not be struck down by the Horde.
On the outskirts of the village, Linedan straightened up, panting. Digging the hole had not been easy in the wet, heavy clay, especially with a dull half-broken shovel that he had “borrowed” from a shed in Tarren Mill. Fortunately, he had not needed a large hole, but he knew he had to make it deep, to keep scavengers away from the contents.
He reached into a mageweave bag and pulled out first one skull, then another, then another. All told, he carefully, reverently placed eight skulls into the small trench. The last one was the skull with the smashed face. He placed it beside the other seven.
He said a quick prayer to the Earthmother to guide their spirits to whatever god or gods they worshipped, to give them a safe journey through the spirit world, and to watch over their families and friends in the village. Then he put shovel to dirtpile and began filling the hole back in.
In the village, the footmen heard the scraping. They dared not go into the dark to investigate.
At dawn, a weary Linedan walked back into the Tarren Mill inn and gathered up the last of his possessions to leave. As he walked out, he almost literally bumped into Deathguard Samsa.
“Ahhhh, Tauren,” he hissed. “I have tasssked you with obtaining my trophieessss. Thhhirty human sskullss. How goesss your collection in Hillssssbrad, fleshhhling?”
Linedan never paused. He just glanced over his shoulder at Samsa as he walked out of town.
“Get them yourself.”
Today’s question here on Achtung Panzercow comes from…well, me. More exactly, it’s something I’ve wondered about for years now, and some things I’ve seen since restarting the leveling grind for my characters on Feathermoon have brought it back to the front of my mind. The question is this:
Why would you roll on a roleplaying server if you have no intention at all of roleplaying?
I don’t mean for this question to be as accusatory or “get off my server” as it sounds at first listen. It is a genuine, sincere question that I have yet to be able to figure out an answer to. Let me give you a little background.
When I first rolled on Feathermoon back in March of 2005, roleplay was everywhere. It was the default mode of action, in fact. Yes, Barrens chat was still Barrens chat sometimes, but there were also people who actually talked on /1 in character. Even in the Barrens! If you ran across someone out and about, you had about a 50/50 chance of them actively being in character and being willing to RP with you. The Feathermoon realm forum on the WoW website was slap full of in-character stories and interactions. In response to the first people seen laughing at roleplayers, in fact, much of the Feathermoon RP community mobilized a large cross-faction “RP pride march” down across Stranglethorn Vale, with over 100 characters participating. It was meant to be a show to the RP griefers…something that said “this is our server and our rules, you are not welcome here if you continue to disrupt us.” It was an expectation that if you were playing on Feathermoon, you were a roleplayer, and if you weren’t, you respected those who did, were not disruptive, and would try it yourself at some point. If you rolled a character with a stupid non-RP name like “Chuknorriz” or “Baconbitz” or “Hurrpdurrp,” you’d get reported.
Over the years, for whatever reason, Feathermoon–and almost every other RP server in World of Warcraft–has slowly evolved from a place where in-character is the default mode of interaction, to a place where roleplay exists in here-and-there pockets surrounded by a vast ocean of players who are, at best, indifferent to RP and at worst actively trying to thwart it. Roleplay takes a back seat to raiding. (Don’t get me wrong, I love to raid too. But you can raid successfully and be a roleplayer, we prove that on Feathermoon all the time.) The realm forums descend into raid advertisements and non-RP out-of-character drama threads. Trade chat is no better than trade chat on any other PvE or PvP server. Most likely, speaking to a random someone in /say in-character gets either a blank stare or “lol wut.” And I’ve lost count of the number of times that in-character gatherings such as guild meetings or weddings or funerals or whatever have been griefed by idiots. You know, the kind of people who run around and dance naked on tables, or spam things to cause noise or graphics disruption, or spam /say or /yell with nonsense, or just run around saying “lol u rp nurdz suk.” And these aren’t usually level 1 “hey, my server’s down, I’ll go fuck with the RPers on Feathermoon” alts. They’re high level characters, with good gear…clearly a significant time investment.
Why? Why would people come to a server and not participate in that server’s ruleset? If I decided to level a character to 85 on a PvP server, I’d PvP. I wouldn’t whine about it when I got ganked, I’d learn and I’d get better and I’d participate in what the server is “about,” which is PvP in addition to everything else. So why would someone roll on, and spend significant time on, an RP server if they aren’t even curious about roleplay?
Please note that I’m not talking about the “RP-curious” or inexperienced roleplayer here. If you’ve never done it before and want to just watch and learn more about it, that’s fine. I don’t know any roleplayers on Feathermoon, for example, who have an issue with non-roleplayers being on the server…as long as they’re not disruptive to roleplay. I would take it a half-step further…my opinion is that if you are on an RP server, even if you don’t roleplay actively, you should be willing to try it. Why not? You created the toon on a server that clearly had “(RP)” behind the name. That’s the only thing that sets RP servers apart from the dozens and dozens of other PvE servers. Try it, you might like it! There are many excellent resources for beginning roleplayers…the two standbys that I always recommend are my fellow Feathermoonies over at WTT:RP, and the lovely and talented Anna at Too Many Annas.
I’m not going to get into what I think the reasons are why our RP servers have slowly degenerated over the years (I have a few opinions, but I’m saving them for later). I’m just looking for insight into why non-roleplayers–more precisely, people who have no interest in roleplaying and/or those that think RPers are “weird”–would come to a roleplay server and make a home there. Please, edumacate me, Gentle Readers. I are but a humble Panzercow who has taken one too many hits to the head.
With three weeks to go until Cataclysm drops, this is the time where people start looking back at the epic two-year ride that Blizzard’s given us with Wrath of the Lich King. And what a ride it was. Blizzard, in my opinion, did an excellent job with Wrath. Sure, there were some clunkers (hello, Icecrown County Fair and Trial of the Big Round Room!), but in general, Wrath was great. Even the quests were awesome. Well, mostly…
The poor bastard in the picture above is Crusader Bridenbrad. We first hear about Bridenbrad from Highlord Tirion Fordring of the Argent Crusade after we’ve helped the Crusade cleanse and secure Crusader’s Pinnacle in Icecrown. Apparently, during the fierce battle on the Broken Front, Bridenbrad distinguished himself by dragging “more than a dozen” Argents to safety after their column was scattered. Fordring wants you to go find Bridenbrad, up in the northeast of Icecrown, and bring him back so he can be honored for his bravery.
Thus begins one of the more interesting–and, for some of us, maddening–questlines in Wrath of the Lich King. First you find Bridenbrad alone in a small cul-de-sac in northeast Icecrown (the subzone is called “Silent Vigil”). Unfortunately, Bridenbrad was wounded by Scourge, and is dying of some sort of Scourge taint. He sends you back to Tirion with his best Jewish-grandmother impersation, something like, “no, you just go, you kids go and have your fun, I’ll be fine. Really. I’ll be OK, just go. I’ll stay here. Alone. In the snow. Turning into a ghoul that you’ll never call or come visit. But I’ll be fine, no, really, it’s OK, I’ll learn to like eating brains.” Tirion, upon your return to Crusader’s Pinnacle, says “fuck that noise” (not in so many words) and sends you on a world-spanning fly-and-fetch questline to bring back something to save the noble Crusader.
Your first stop will be Moonglade, where Keeper Remulos will have you enter the Nightmare to gather some acorns. He will then make the acorns into some sort of chicken soup that he thinks may be able to save Bridenbrad, although he doesn’t sound too optimistic. You go back to Icecrown, Fordring sends you back out to Silent Vigil, and you give Bridenbrad the chicken soup. It’s yummy, and it makes him feel a little better, but he’s still, unfortunately, on the express train to Ghoulville.
Fordring, upon your return to the Pinnacle, then decides to escalate the problem to higher management…that would be Alexstrasza, the Life-Binder, her own twelve-foot-tall bikini-clad self, who agrees to help you if you go to the Ruby Dragonshrine and pick up a Dahlia’s Tear for her. She takes the Tear and creates the Breath of Alexstrasza (which, by the way, Blizz, would be a great name for seriously hot hot sauce–Mr. Morhaime, you can pay me for that idea later), sends you back to Fordring, and he sends you back to Bridenbrad. He takes the hot sauce, which is so spicy that it actually melts the snow and makes flowers grow around him…but all the Scoville units in the world aren’t going to burn the Scourge taint out of him. So far the score is Cooties 2, Major Lore Figures 0.
Tirion, however, won’t give up. He pulls his trump card and sends you to speak to A’dal, the chief naaru in Shattrath. The naaru, after all, are literally personifications of the Light…if anyone would know how to remove the plague of impending undeath from a man, it would be A’dal. So you head to Shattrath and speak with A’dal. A’dal, being the somewhat annoying NPC that he is, says he knows why you’ve come (don’t they always?), and then says this:
I am pleased that you have come to me, Linedan. I know of Crusader Bridenbrad, and of your travels in hope of saving him. Bridenbrad’s valor has sparked remarkable selflessness in you, and this is a miracle unto itself.
The Light will take care of its own. I will extend my blessing to Bridenbrad and he shall not endure the corruption of undeath. I shall return you to Dalaran, and you shall return to him. Know that I remain with you.
This is great news. Sounds like Fordring’s persistence has paid off, right? You catch a portal back to Dalaran (empty-handed) and fly back out to Bridenbrad. By that time, the poor Crusader is very close to death. He thanks you for your Herculean efforts on his behalf, and then…
You have returned to me, warrior. I must admit… it is good to see you again… your face renews my hope that this land will be free of Arthas’s grasp one day soon. I’m proud to have met you…
Bridenbrad’s words trail off, a dim smile on his face. As life seems to slip from him, a gentle ringing fills your ears.
At that point, A’dal and his two sidekicks K’uri and M’ori appear floating over Bridenbrad’s dying body. Instead of the Crusader being healed and standing up, Bridenbrad’s spirit floats out of his body and ascends in a pillar of light as A’dal speaks:
- A’dal says: Fear not, young one, for this crusader shall not taste death.
- A’dal says: In life, Bridenbrad was the bearer of great deeds. Now, in passing, he shall taste only paradise.
- A’dal says: The light does not abandon its champions.
And that’s it. The naaru wink out. Bridenbrad’s dead body disappears. You’re left standing in a snowy wasteland with a dying campfire and a box of possessions that you then take back to Tirion, and receive one of them as a reward.
The first time I did this quest, on Linedan, I just stood there blinking for a minute. I was confused. Apparently A’dal, the most powerful of the naaru, the slightly creepy Shattrath windchimes that basically are the material representation of the vaunted Light, couldn’t be arsed to de-Scourgify Bridenbrad? Or perhaps the taint is so strong that not even A’dal could save him? OK, that makes more sense then. Can’t save the guy, A’dal figured, so why not just vacuum the spirit out of his body so he won’t have to experience being a mindless servant of Arthas?
That sound you heard was the top popping on a big ol’ fresh can of worms.
First of all, one of A’dal’s lines…“in passing, he shall taste only paradise.” I’ve been digging around all day when I could get time, and I can’t find anything on followers of the Light (be they mainline Church of the Holy Light or spin-offs like the Argents or Scarlets) holding a belief in an afterlife or paradise. Shamans talk about the “spirit world,” where there are departed spirits of all kinds running around; troll priests have their Loas, and there are references here and there to ghosts and spirits and such, that’s all well-known. But I can’t find a single thing talking about any sort of afterlife, especially a “paradise,” for Light-worshippers. Maybe I missed it, I don’t know. Maybe Bridenbrad is just so special that he gets into the VIP room in the back of Club Naaru, where the Dom Perignon flows like water and the playahs and ballahs chill with their groupies, while the garden-variety good people are waiting in line out front under the watchful eye of Aldor bouncers in black T-shirts. Something about the whole thing just does not seem to fit into Light lore, at least in my fairly limited view of it. I admit, my knowledge of Warcraftish lore is not all that great–I have access to the usual Internet sources, but don’t own any of the Warcraft d20 sourcebooks or anything like that.
But then, we get to the real kicker…when A’dal says, “The Light does not abandon its champions.”
Then please explain to the court, Mr. A’dal, why there are a metric asston of former Argent paladins walking around Scourgeholme as skeletons, bouncing Hammers of Injustice off my dome willy-nilly. Please explain what happened to the thousands of good, solid, Light-worshipping folk in Lordaeron and environs who did not get the Heavenly Elevator but instead got a few days’ rest in the clay of Tirisfal before rising back up as Arthas’ infantry. Please explain why you can’t swing a dead gnome in north central Icecrown without hitting a Converted Hero, doomed to wander in anguish until somebody on a daily quest to get Valiants’ Seals comes along and puts them out of their misery. Were they not “champions of the Light?” No one’s doubting that Crusader Bridenbrad is an exceptional hero. But haven’t a lot of heroes fallen before the Scourge and been doomed to serve it? Why didn’t they get to “taste only paradise?”
And on top of the potential lore-bending, and the issues caused by the “why him and not them” question, there’s an even more ridiculous element to it. When Bridenbrad was put into the game initially in Wrath, there was nothing up in his neck of the woods but Sindragosa’s Fall, meaning his nearest neighbors were vry’kul and creepy cultists. But with the subsequent 3.1 and 3.2 patches, Blizzard gave us the Argent Tournament (or, as I like to call it, the Icecrown County Fair). And they happened to put it right over the rise from Bridenbrad’s campfire.
So you can imagine…here’s this poor sod, dying out in the snow, leagues from nowhere…and now he sees this steady stream of gryphons and windriders flying north and south over him. He hears on the wind the sounds of hammering, the shouts of workers, the clang of arms…and then the sounds of cheering from the Tournament proper. Hey, maybe if there was an onshore northerly wind, he could even get a whiff of the concessions. A three-minute stagger north of him, hundreds of Argents and adventurers are gathered in what became for a while the focal point of the assault on the Lich King. And there was poor Bridenbrad, alone and forgotten (assuming you hadn’t already done the quests and phased him out).
Ridiculous? Yeah, maybe I’m being ridiculous, or picky, or whatever. But something about that questline has never completely sat right with me. I’ve had trouble articulating it, which is why I haven’t ranted about it until now. Maybe it weirds me out because of my own Christian beliefs, and I’m not comfortable with A’dal pretending to be God and Bridenbrad pretending to be Enoch. The whole thing seemed to bend lore in directions that I didn’t think it should be bent.
But it wasn’t until this morning, when doing some research for this post, that the Wowpedia entry for Bridenbrad snapped this whole thing into focus for me:
Bridenbrad is named for Bradford C. Bridenbecker, the brother of Robert Bridenbecker, Blizzard’s Vice President of Online Technologies. He was the city manager of La Habra, California, not far from Blizzard’s offices in Irvine, from 2002 until his death from cancer in 2007. He was also an avid player of World of Warcraft. In the Wrath of the Lich King manual, he is listed under “Special Thanks” as “Bradford C. Bridenbecker R.I.P. 6.18.2007”.
Robert Bridenbecker revealed in the World of Warcraft 5th anniversary interviews that shortly after his brother’s death, he sent an e-mail to Blizzard to request a character be created in his honor. Chris Metzen, who had attended Brad Bridenbecker’s funeral, heard of this and offered one of two ways: To add him as part of the main storyline for World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, or to give him his own epic quest chain. Under the direction of Metzen and Alex Afrasiabi, the Bridenbrad quest chain was created in tribute to Brad Bridenbecker’s battle against his illness.
I never knew that. Now it all makes sense. This isn’t some silly thing that was casually thrown in…it’s a real tribute, to a real man, who fought a real battle against a real disease, and lost. Knowing that, all my worries about lore and continuity and such things seem rather petty. I still have issues with the way the questline was put into the game, but honestly, they don’t really matter all that much now that I know the real story behind Crusader Bridenbrad.
I hope and pray that the real “Bridenbrad”–Bradford Bridenbecker–just like his fictional counterpart, was able, in the end, to “taste only paradise.” After all, in my own beliefs, the Light doesn’t abandon its fallen champions, either.
I talked in a post a while back about wanting to shake Linedan’s somewhat stony personality up a bit, and, honestly, what better time to do it than a world-shattering apocalypse, right? This is the first part of some RP that I hope to develop over the next few weeks leading up to whatever happens with the Cataclysm. It’s the story of a simple Tauren who’s been fighting on the front lines for five and a half long, hard, bloody years and has sacrificed everything to succeed there…his friends, his family, even his very heritage. What happens when the battles are won and the burden becomes too much?
He had suffered the dreams for so long that he thought little of them anymore.
They didn’t always come every night. Sometimes they would come for two, three, or four straight nights and then leave for just as many. He had once gone over a week without one. Most of the time there was only one a night, but not always; occasionally there were two. There had never been three. On the nights where a second one had caused him to wake up sweating, he either stayed awake until the dawn, or found a bottle of alcohol to send him into a dreamless “sleep.”
They followed the same pattern, all of them, but they were by no means identical. Sometimes he was alone, sometimes with a few of his friends, sometimes with a small army. Usually he was clad in his sturdiest armor with weapon and shield, geared for endurance and protection; but he had also had dreams where he was in his lighter armor, wielding two huge weapons, fighting in the berserk way that the troll spirit had taught him years ago.
The locations changed as well. The steaming jungles of Zul’Gurub, the fiery pits of the Molten Core, the frozen halls of Icecrown Citadel, even the scrub-covered plains of the Barrens. The antagonists changed, chosen seemingly at random from an endless list of those he’d faced in combat. And the location and antagonist didn’t always match; once he remembered a dream of fighting the Soulflayer, Hakkar, in Winterspring of all places. The dreams were totally accurate and vivid, drawn from memories that Linedan didn’t even know he retained. The sounds of clashing metal and breaking bones, the stench of blood and the dying voiding their bowels, the sweat, the shadows, the glare, the screams…all of them were reproduced with perfect precision.
There were, really, only two constants in the dreams’ plots, and for years, they were rules that were never broken. The first was that regardless of numbers or foes, Linedan and whoever he was allied with always lost. They always ended up dead or dying on the battlefield; no mercy was ever given. And the second was that, invariably, as the blow came down that would kill Linedan, he woke up, heart pounding, breath coming in gasps.
This night, Linedan found himself atop Icecrown Citadel, surrounded by his friends from The Anvil. He was staring up at the Frozen Throne, the black figure of the Lich King seated upon it, but Tirion Fordring was nowhere to be found.
There was no warning, no talking. Suddenly Arthas was right there in front of Linedan, and battle was joined. It became a whirling blur of shouts and clanging metal, the howl of the frozen wind and the cries of descending val’kyr. The Lich King was wounded again and again, but he fought on, and slowly, one by one, Linedan’s fellow adventurers began to collapse onto the icy stone. The Lich King laughed, and raised Frostmourne for the downstroke that would finish the bleeding Linedan and end the dream…
…the sword slammed into Linedan’s shield and skittered down it with a tortured skree-ee-ee of metal on metal and a shower of sparks, before ringing against the stone. Arthas stopped; it was quite possible to imagine him blinking in surprise behind the blue glow of his helmet.
Linedan swung his shield upward with all his might and slammed the edge into the Lich King’s side, then backhanded it up into Arthas’ chin. With his other hand, he slashed forward with his great Scourge axe–how did that get there? I normally use a mace–and felt the blade crunch through the thick saronite armor into the frozen, rotted flesh beneath. He stepped aside as the Lich King fell to his knees in front of him, blood pouring from his chest through the rent in the armor. Without a word, he raised the axe, and brought it down with a roar. The Lich King’s head parted cleanly and rolled away as the body collapsed, coming to a stop a few paces away face-up.
Linedan blinked, staring dumbly at the severed head as the blue glow faded from the eyes. I…I won? That’s…never happened before…
He looked up. No longer was he standing atop Icecrown. Instead, he saw around him the rolling plains of Mulgore atop Red Cloud Mesa, the plains of his childhood. But they weren’t as he remembered them. They were scorched and blackened. The grass was wilted, dying, even burning in a few spots. Ravens croaked and vultures called. Smoke hung in the air, and the scent of death hung thick. In the distance, he saw the tent where he grew up. Something compelled him to head for it.
All around him as he walked, there were bodies on the ground, hundreds of them. He recognized them…the bodies of his friends. Ghaar, his guildmaster. Gorebash, Keltyr, and Haicu, his fellow fighters on the front lines. Davien, Loremistress of Noxilite. Mirandella, the priestess that had driven him to the edge of insanity. Bricu, the human paladin whom he had nearly died trying to protect, along with Threnn, his lifemate. Corspilla, the mage he had very nearly had to kill when she was possessed. He recognized them all, and more…all those who he had ever fought beside, year after year. They all lay dead around him.
As he reached the tent, the flap opened. To his astonishment, his mother, Muatha, walked out of the tent and up to him.
“Mother,” Linedan gasped. “I…”
“Linedan,” she interrupted him, solemnly. “Last of the Granitehoof clan, until you forced me to make you of the Disowned.”
“I…forced?”, he sputtered, growing angry. “Mother, I did not…”
She ignored him and began to pace. “You have done well in the five turnings of seasons since you defied me, Linedan of the Disowned. Many say you are a hero. You have seen and done things that few ever have. You have fought the greatest foes, and emerged victorious.” She stopped in front of him and stared up, her eyes boring into his, her voice growing colder. “But you are Disowned. You are not Shu’halo. You are as much a foreigner as those you associate with.” She touched the armor he still wore. “Was it worth it, you who was once my son? Giving up your identity and your people, your birthright and your history? Was the gold worth it? Was the thrill of the fight, the killing, worth it?”
“What would you have had me do, Mother?”, he snapped. “Ignore that my destiny lay out there? Ignore my call to defend and protect the Horde, including the Tauren? Ignore my duty to my friends? If you would not have me, then this…” He plucked at the black-and-silver symbol of the Noxilite Eye he wore on his tabard. “…this is my clan. These are my people.”
Mautha stood silently for a moment, then nodded her wizened head. “I would expect nothing less from you, calf. You always were too stubborn for your own good.” She turned to face the corpse-littered field in front of her and raised her hands. “Your people, you say. Let us see what they think of your call and your duty.” She threw her head back. “Come to us, spirits! Rise up, and give your thanks to he who is not my son! RISE UP!!”
From the field in front of him, the corpses began to stir, to move, to stand. They still bore the means of their death…bloody from wounds, or charred with fire, or disfigured by shadow. They stood by their dozens, the lifeless, shambling bodies of those whom Linedan had known for years. And as they came toward him, backing him against the tent, he heard his mother’s cackling laughter rising behind a crescendo of voices that spoke, over and over again, as one:
“Was it worth it? Was it worth it?”
This time, Linedan did not wake up when the first blow fell. He only woke up after feeling himself be torn apart while alive, unable to block out the chanting, and his mother’s laugh, with his own screams.
Soon I’m going to start putting up some Cataclysm beta stuff on the blog, hopefully every few days, as I get time to play. I’ll keep the actual content spoilers in terms of plot, story, art, etc. to a minimum, and try to focus instead on the mechanics of playing a Prot warrior while leveling from 80 to 85 in the brave new sundered world we’ll all be facing.
In order to do that, I’ve re-copied Linedan over so instead of being level 82, he’s back to level 80. I was going to level him through Vashj’ir, but a couple of nasty quest bugs blocked progression there, so he’ll be grinding along in Hyjal. This also gives him the solid raid gear that he’s accumulated over the three months since I got in the alpha. So he’ll be leveling along with four-piece Sanctified T10, and most everything else ilevel 251 or higher. Nothing so far has given him any significant trouble, although not being able to run addons means that I can’t really determine if his damage is really down, or if it just feels down because everything has so much more health now.
What I’m also going to do is, as soon as she hits 80, copy Latisha, my other prot warrior, over. Latisha is the polar opposite of Lin. She is going to hit 80 (hopefully tonight!) in a mish-mash of blue and green quest and dungeon drops, barely scraping 20,000 health in her tank gear. And I’m going to keep her that way. I want to see how bad it might be for a character who hasn’t spent well over a year at level 80 accumulating raid goods…what will it be like for somebody who just hit 80 in their quest greens and didn’t stop, but immediately headed back from Northrend to EK or Kalimdor and started dealing with the new zones where mob health is 30k instead of 12.6k and stuff hits much harder. Their builds will probably be similar, but their items are worlds apart. It should be an interesting experiment.
I’ve got other stuff on my mind with Cataclysm, though, and it involves Linedan. I play on Feathermoon, a roleplay server, and I frequently admit that I should be doing a lot more roleplay than I do, especially with Lin. He’s my main, after all, my beloved Panzercow, but he doesn’t get the RP love that he should, and it’s my fault.
I had a defined idea in mind that slowly developed over Lin’s first year or two. He’s basically a decent cow–not particularly bright but not stupid, stoic, loyal, honorable as his culture sees it, dedicated to excelling in his chosen art of combat. When I decided I didn’t like the clan name I’d given him (“Granitehoof”), I ended up ditching it by inventing a little bit of Tauren culture and making him clanless, something of an outcast from Tauren society. He transferred his clan loyalty to his guild instead; he refers to the other people in Noxilite, regardless of race and without irony, as his “brothers and sisters.” Yes, even the blood elves, albeit reluctantly sometimes.
That loyalty and stoicism is layered over a lot of built-in rage…yes, he’s a Cow with Issues. He pushed harder and harder as he trained to earn the respect of those around him, and sometimes, he’s felt like he hasn’t when he should’ve. As a warrior, he’s constantly walked a tightrope between the protector of his people and the berserk reaver of his enemies. In fact, when I tried him out Fury for a bit, I wrote up a whole storyline about how he’d been possessed by what he thought was one of the troll spirits around Warlord Mandokir in Zul’gurub–remember the ones that would auto-rez you?–and it taught him the ways of how the trolls fought, furious, with total abandon.
My problem is, as the years have ground on, I’ve let the stoicism take over. I’ve painted myself into a corner with him. He’s gone from having a quiet personality to having no personality. He’s fossilized. That’s due to two problems not with him, but with me, the player. First, despite having this blog and vomiting forth too much information on a regular basis, I’m actually quite shy when it comes to real-time interactions in-game. I can roleplay within my friends, but around strangers, I lock up for fear of any sort of mockery that I’m convinced will come my way.
The second is the amount of mental energy it takes for me to stay in-character. The past three and a half years have been…well, let’s be polite and call them “demanding.” Moves, job changes, deaths in the family, mental health issues, financial stress, a high-energy daughter, so many other things…they all combine to leech my focus and energy, what my wife and I jokingly call “noodle,” right out of me. There are many who view RP as a refreshment, a rejuvenator. I don’t deny that, I know how fun it can be. But staying in-character for me takes a particular kind of concentration that I simply haven’t had. Paradoxically for somebody who claims to be a roleplayer and has been called an “RP nazi” more than once…it’s easier for me to focus on mashing buttons in the right order while tanking Arthas for three hours than it is for me to work out how Linedan would interact in a simple five-minute conversation with a guildmate.
This has left me with a main that I basically don’t RP anymore. And I don’t want that. I want to get my Hordeside RP back, with Linedan. The buildup to and release of Cataclysm seem like a perfect time for it. I’m just not sure what to bloody do at this point. I’m toying with the concept, once The Anvil finally kills Arthas (ohpleaseletitbesoon), of Lin simply deciding that he’s done with all the slaughter and death and retiring back to Mulgore, just in time for all Deathwing to break loose. Or maybe I can come up with something else to happen that will crack his shell a bit. Right now, though, I don’t know what’s under that shell yet. Is he stable? Is he unbalanced? Is he good? Is he bad? Will he stay loyal to the only home he’s known for the better part of five years? I don’t know, and that’s a bit frustrating, and I can only hope that it will come to me over time now that I’m thinking about it. Character changes like that, I’ve found, aren’t something that can be forced. At least for me, they tend to blindside me when I’m thinking about something else.
In the meantime, how are you planning for your characters’ roleplay to change come Cataclysm?
Everybody’s got pick-up group (“PUG”) horror stories. If you’ve played WoW for any length of time, and grouped with total strangers to try and get a quest or instance or raid completed, you’ll quickly start building a list of tales of woe. If nothing else, PUGs should make you feel much better about yourself, I think…after all, since you’re smart enough to be reading this fine blog, obviously you are a top-notch human being in general and WoW player in particular, and do not deserve to group with people so stupid that they have to put a sticky note on their monitor to remind themselves to breathe.
But even the best of us–and I–sometimes have to PUG. And last night, I ran across a doozy.
I was on my hunter alt, and wanted to run the daily heroic, which was Gundrak. Now Gundrak isn’t the easiest WotLK heroic out there, in my opinion. Slad’ran (the poison snake boss) has wiped me more times than I care to think about; even with excellent players and a top healer in T7/T8 raid gear, his Poison Nova can throw out more damage than we can power through. The Drakkari Colossus is a pain-in-the-ass pray-your-and-your-healer’s-latency-is-low movement fight. Even Gal’darah, who’s pretty straightforward, will gib a strong tank if the tank has a brain fart and doesn’t get out of whirlwinds. (Don’t ask me how I know this. Please.)
But, against my better judgement, I joined the LFG queue for it anyway. And a couple of minutes later, I got a whisper–“h gun?”
Let’s see. No complete words, all lowercase, and this on an RP server. I feel a winner of a run coming on. Eh, toujours de l’audace, dude, what the hell…”Sure!”, I replied. I immediately found myself in a group with the group leader (a boomchicken), a warlock, and a male human paladin–obviously the tank, since he had over 40,000 health–named…Hotbox.
Ohhhhh yeah. The stench of quality is overpowering with this one.
I flew for Gundrak while the leader druid rustled up a healer (another druid), and the five of us headed inside. I was immediately greeted with Blizzard’s lovely new feature…the “ZOMG are you sure you want to save to this instance??!?!?11?” dialog box. Hmm. That’s not supposed to happen. Well, we were all a bit confused by this, but all of us accepted and thus saved ourselves to that heroic Gundrak instance. And down the stairs we went toward Slad’ran’s area.
We got to the entrance, ate a Fish Feast, and the paladin “Hotbox” pulled. Without warning. Two groups. Hoo boy. A frenetic and confused fight ensued in which the warlock and tree died, but we got both the trash groups. The resto druid popped (yay soulstones) and started rezzing the warlock…as the paladin pulled more trash without saying anything. Ugh. We four-manned the trash, got the warlock back in…and then the tree said, “no boss.”
We looked. Slad’ran wasn’t in his alcove. We walked over to the alcove and saw that the alcove bridge gizmo had been activated. In fact, all the gizmos had been activated, the bridge to Gal’darah’s ramp was aligned, and had the trolls and rhinos in position. That meant that Slad’ran, the Colossus, and Moorabi were all dead.
Now people started getting pissed. The critchicken who had the “hat” denied vehemently that he’d been in Gundrak that day, as did the rest of us. And yet somehow, we were looking at an instance where the trash was up, but the bosses weren’t, the worst possible combination.
So the rest of the party started jumping off the ledge into the water. I was last because, of course, I had to dismiss my pet. In that period of time, people started getting eaten by the fish. A clusterfuck ensued, resulting eventually in us getting to the ramp with two more deaths, to which the group leader said, and I quote exactly, “lol.”
We formed back up, buffed, and fought our way up the ramp to Gal’darah’s area…
…and he wasn’t there. His bodyguards and their rhinos were. But he wasn’t.
The paladin pulled the rhinos (without saying anything) anyway, and nearly died because we were all too busy going “wtf?!?” in party chat, but we got them. A ferocious argument ensued where the boomkin protested his innocence and swore he hadn’t been in Gundrak for at least a week. Hotbox also said he hadn’t been in Gundrak for at least a week. The other two said it had been longer than that, and I hadn’t had my dwarf in there for literally a couple of months.
So there our tale ends. Hotbox (!) the male paladin, plus the other four of us, all hearthed our separate ways, probably to never see each other again except amidst the bustling crowds of Dalaran…or in the LFG tool someday, God forbid. I had a pittance of silver and a locked instance with no way to score the two Triumph badges I wanted. Either somebody was lying their ass off, or had gotten tricked, or we had a bugged instance. And it was 25 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.
I balmed my wounded soul by wandering off to the Pig and Whistle in Old Town Stormwind for four hours of the best RP I’ve had in many a month…culminating in a raid by the Stormwind Guard, two near-arrests, three strained marriages, a couple of damaged friendships, and one of the Wildfire Riders’ red-haired paladins telling another of the Wildfire Riders’ red-haired paladins to go fuck themselves, while the third of the Wildfire Riders’ red-haired paladins stood there and shook her head in disbelief.
What’s two Triumph badges in comparison to that?
Linedan is my main–he always has been and barring catastrophe, he always will be. But my “Alliance main,” the dwarf hunter Beltar Forgebreaker, is probably my most fun character to roleplay.
On the surface, he looks like your typical fantasy dwarf…irascible, sarcastic, a bit on the greedy side, inordinately in love with his guns. But dig deeper and you’ll find that Beltar’s not exactly a stout-hearted dwarven hero in the Gimli mode. For over a hundred years, he’s wandered the Eastern Kingdoms as a gun for hire, on both sides of the law (sometimes simultaneously), not settling in any one place for long. He’s been a mercenary, an assassin, a guard, a hitman, a bodyguard, and more. His idea of a fair fight has always been one where he shoots his opponent in the head without ever being seen. And now, late in his life, he’s found his calling as an adventurer and general ne’er-do-well with the Wildfire Riders.
But even anti-heroes have to start somewhere. And in a fashion typical of the accidental nature of his wanderings, Beltar’s first steps on his wandering path didn’t happen the way you’d envision they might.
“Redemption” was a story that I wrote in late 2005, a few months after Beltar’s creation in August. I don’t remember how this backstory came to me, really It just popped into my head and I had to take some time out and write it right now dammit…so I did. I always knew Beltar was oldish, and a wanderer, but until this story body-checked me out of nowhere, I had no clue as to what started him on his lifelong odyssey of the gun.
It’s below a cut, because it’s hella long–4400 words. In case you haven’t noticed, I do tend to run on a bit.
I hope you enjoy it.
This is a story that I wrote in August of 2005, back when Linedan had not quite reached level 60 yet and was still struggling along as an arms warrior. I had originally given him the last name “Granitehoof,” because the original Linedan, my warrior in Everquest, had taken the last name “Granite.” And, y’know, Lin’s a Tauren, so, yeah, “Granite…hoof.” Get it?
Yeah, I hated it too after a while. So I decided to ditch the last name…and this story was what I came up with to do it. The story of the “curse” and the slow decline of the Granitehoof clan had been part of Lin’s background since I created him, this was just the culmination of it. To this day, four years later, Linedan has no last name. I wanted to get Exalted with all of the other Horde factions before getting it with Thunder Bluff, but things didn’t work out that way; nevertheless, Lin doesn’t use his “of Thunder Bluff” title and I pretend like it doesn’t exist. He is, in my mind, still “one-named,” somewhat dishonored before Tauren society, and will remain so until something happens that would allow him to join another clan, or even (should he marry) found one.
I put the story below a cut because it’s long, about 2600 words. So without any further exposition, here it is…”Alone.” I hope you like it.