“Mrrrph-” grunting “-son of a- motherless-” grunt, breathless curse “-Lightforsaken-” the Westguard dwarf swore, then, as the half-burned timber, still smoking in the chilly arctic air, fell from her fingers. It hit the muddy ground with a sullen, wet splop. 

A shadow loomed over both dwarf and timber. The cook looked up just in time to see Cael reach down and lift the entire thing with a quiet noise of effort, balancing it over her shoulder. She blinked. Cael looked down at her. 

“W-Where?” she asked, simply, and the dwarf directed her. 

Cael carried it to where she pointed, the pile of unsalvageable miscellany from various buildings around Westguard. Her feet made squelchy noises in the wet, cold, grey morning. Fog mixed with smoke, thickening in the air, and ashes turned mud into a dishwater grey morass, thin and watery in some places, knee deep in others; frozen ground thawed with the heat of the fire. Over it all lay the heavy smell of burned things, wood and metal, mixed with rank burned hair and intestinal stink and coppery-sweet blood. Everything was muffled, numb. Somewhere in the distance, broken wailing of a survivor filtered through. 

She had her orders from Koryander. Patrol, secure the perimeter- check. Then rest. She had. 

For fifteen minutes, sitting on the steps of the keep, staring out blankly at the ruin, feeling all at once far too much and…. Nothing. Nothing at all. 

And then, she got to work. There was much to be done. 

‘Caked in gore’ would be an appropriate phrase in describing her now, but there was no time to stop and change, no time at all. Blood and a strange black ooze painted her fur a deeper shade of dark, ruddy red, dried now to brown that caked and pulled and fell off in little flakes as she moved. That beautiful red armor was unrecognizable. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she ought to clean it, the longer she let it sit the worse it would be, and yet… Yet. No. There were things to do. She had to work. The young worgen warrior turned and trodded back to the inn. The dwarf was strong, her muscled built from years of hammering bread into shape and chopping meats, but Cael had enough height on her to perhaps be useful, or so she vaguely hoped. 

In the street, a line of white covered bodies lay in perfectly straight lines, distinguished only by the patterns of crimson that had dried to brownish on the linen. Cael didn’t look at them. She went to go help with the ruins of the inn, instead. Saving the keep was, by far, the most strategically sound decision. But that meant the inn burned almost to the ground, all remaining now a charred skeletal outline of the thickest logs used for support beams. The fire had spread from there; most of the buildings suffered some kind of damage, varying in degree. 

But the havoc wrought by flame was nothing compared to the deeper wounds carved into the backs of the Templars by their own fellows. 

Fire, confusion, the smell of death on the wind making her cough as she turned the corner- Templars! Thank Goldrinn, she thought, and lowered her sword, stepping forward. Three, three she knew, close friends, though not to her. Still, they were kind, if nothing else, most of the time. Garin, a scout, his sister Lysa, and her friend Ward, in the cavalry, all armed, all bloodsplattered, all serious-faced. The brother and sister were obviously so, both blonde blue eyed, fair, freckled, with Ward a dark haired, olive-skinned, burly shadow like he always was. What was going on? Where was this attack coming from? 

“L-L-Lysa!” she called out, her long-legged loping stride closing the distance between them quickly. “W-W-What, that, w-what’s h-h-happening-?” Cael froze dead. Beyond them, Templars, dead Templars, and the three had weapons dripping blood. They all turned to look at her fully.

“Betrayers,” Lysa said tersely, eyes flashing in her anger. “We need to find the officers and tell them what’s going on.” 

Cael made a choking noise, eyes wide, staring at the bodies. What? Who? How? WHY? 

“Cael,” Ward snapped impatiently. “We need you. Let’s go already!” She shook herself with difficulty. Of course they did, yes; Lysa used two swords with a boiled hide jerkin, her brother daggers and a bow more suitable for scouting, and Ward wore mail and leather, not heavy plate like she did, though he had a two handed axe. 

“R-… I, I, s-s-sorry, r-right, sorry, I d-didn’t- they, they, they’ll probably be, be at the k-k-keep.” She turned, taking a deep shuddering breath as she did to steady herself. “I t-think-” 

It was her wolf, her inner beast, that saved her then, keen hearing granted to her by her worgen form. Or maybe it was the years in the pits, utterly feral, an instinct of danger honed beyond a razor’s edge. Or maybe it was both, combined, that raised the hair on the back of her neck as she heard a quiet creaking noise, almost innocent, almost commonplace, almost could have been anything. 

Except it wasn’t, and she did hear it, and only that and her shield and reflexes born from a life of battle saved her. 

She turned, shield up, just in time for three arrows toTHUNKTHUNKTHUNK into it from Garin’s bow, all clustered together in the area about the size of a palm. For half a heartbeat, it didn’t compute. 

Horrible reality dawned soon after as Garin cursed and drew his daggers. 

She knew them, KNEW these people, had trained with them, ate with them, trusted them, when she could barely trust herself. Shock slowed her reactions enough for Lysa to leap at her. But then, she also knew these people, trained with them, at with them, trusted them- they would have to fight together someday after all. And Cael, well, she knew she was built for the frontlines, for protesting those behind her. And for that, she had long since taken note of thier weaknesses, so she could compensate for them if she needed to. Cael knew Lysa was weak on her right side where she broke her arm twice, just a hair slower with her strikes there. 

It was enough. Automatic, Cael raised her shield to intercept her left sword and then twisted slippery as an eel for all her size, throwing Lysa off balance enough for her strike to deviate a few inches. It was just like sparring, except, of course, it wasn’t. Cael saw the hole in her guard just as easily as the sun on a cloudless winter day and her own sword snaked in to lop off Lysa’s arm, some inches below the shoulder. Lysa screamed, blood spurted, arterial spray, (gloriousgloriousyesmoregivememorehissed the wolf) and Garin roared in fury as Ward attacked her from the other side. Molten copper eyes flashed, unhallowed, uncanny, the monster in her rearing its ugly head. She pirouetted, cutting Lysa’s throat as she did and turning the strike into an upward cleave. Ward, who favored that overhand heavy two handed strike of his to start a battle, walked right into it, his momentum too great to stop himself even as his eyes widened realizing his own mistake. Cael cleaved him from crotch to crop, cutting deep, deep, deep into his flesh, her sheer strength and his own force from the charge sending her weapon through his mail and leather like a hot knife through cheese. Putrid bowel smell flooded the area and her nose; he went down to twitch and bleed next to Lysa. Garin, hate and murder on his pretty face, quick and light on his feet and cunning, danced into her guard. His blades SHINKED off her breastplate, leaving scratches above her heart there. She parried, kept that shield up, defensive, deep in the place she went when she fights, calm and quiet and cool, though her beast raged just beyond feeling. A standoff, a moment of circling. Garin was tough, she knew, one of the best enlisted. He had to step over Lysa, though, to keep out of her sword range, and made the mistake of glancing down at his sister’s sightless eyes. 

Cael slammed into him at that moment, ruthlessly taking advantage of the weakness, the whole world boiling down as it always did to action and reaction, opening and opportunity. He staggered, recovered, tried to sidestep her and stab her in the back, but Cael brought her sheild up under his chin. Blood sprayed her face as he bit through his own tongue, close as they were to each other. Seamlessly she brought her sword from the side. He blocked desperately, the entire lower half of his face red with the waterfall of blood gurgling from his mouth. It didn’t help him at all. Cael brought her leg up, kneeing him savagely in his danglies. Garin hated cups, rarely wore them except for when he knew he’d need them. It was a risk to take, but it paid off, as he tried to scream and choked on his own blood and she cut his legs out from under him and then, helped him to the ground by impaling him in the chest and driving home hard enough to embed her blade in the dirt. He writhed in agony for several seconds as Cael stood, panting, looking at five -no, six, now- dead Templars. 

Killed… by other Templars. Brother and sister, next to each other, lifeblood staining the ground, turning the white of thier tabards brightest crimson. Cael swayed, dizzy, sick. Why?  Who would want to….


The Justicar!!

Those words pulled her from her shock and galvanized her into action. The Keep. I have to get to the Keep, she thought, and swallowed swiftly rising bile at the six corpses behind her. 

Cael turned, and ran. 

Timbers are heavy, but they are merely wood. Stone was much the same. Her sword and shield she wore still, and her armor as well, though heavy manual labor would certainly be easier without it. The cook ordered her about, and Cael went, silently. Ashes added themselves as a layer of grey over the mess of her armor and fur. She did as she was told, didn’t look up, meet anyone’s eyes, nodded when she was spoken to, or maybe shook her head, but that was it. Speaking, somehow, was too- too much. If she opened that dam, everything would come out, everything, and there was no time for an emotional breakdown. She was a Templar, she had work to do. Cry later, she told herself, as ruthless then as she had been in a fight. Her knee protested every time she stooped to grab and lift. Cael ignored it, too. It was the stiffness and pain of a fresh healing. There were worse things. She’d had worse things. The place where the arrows lodged themselves just above her knee would scar, but then, what was another scar? 

Nothing. Nothing at all. 

There were other minor hurts, unhealed as of yet, unnoticed in the battlerush of adrenaline. Small burns that throbbed, cuts, soreness in her muscles- in a way they were a relief. This, she was used to, she could handle; pain grounded her, and she focused on it, on the physical exertion of carrying a very heavy object, of holding a section of roof so others could drag a body out from under it. 

Cael licks dry lips. She’s thirsty, but her mouth tastes like vomit, and she can’t rest right now. Later. She would do it later. They were down quite a few men, after all. 

One hundred percent of the casualties were Templars. 

Murdhoc, dark-eyed and terrible to match his words, the pain in Wei’s eyes, a type Cael didn’t understand, running deeper than simple betrayal. Warlocks. No wonder nobody trusted them. What did he mean, what was coming? It didn’t matter. The hurt on the pandaren’s face spoke louder than any words he could ever say. 

Blocking blows, her shield holding its own under the beating, as the mage behind her flung frost and ice to put out the fire; the strange contracts, chill wind ruffling her fur followed by searing heat that burned her eyeballs. She guarded, focusing even more singlemindedly than usual on that fact, because if he went the Keep went with it and the Justicar was inside, somewhere, they had to find her. 

A barrier, hastily erected blockade by the betrayers. Cael eyed it, back up several strides, and the charged forward with her shoulder behind her sehild, throwing all her weight and force behind the ramming blow. 

Darkness below, unnatural, man made. There’s nothing she can see. Blood seeps down her leg from the arrow wounds. Behind her, in a defensive square formation, the others fight on. She’s panting heavily, disoriented. There- a sound. Leather on stone floor, scraping. Cael brought up her sheild to block, successfully, the attack on her flank. Her ears flicked in the inky black, tracking. A smell, not-blood, human, man usk and sweat and excitement-fear, on her left. A second blow, also blocked, as Cael got to her feet, snarling. Something rose in her chest, thin control imposed on her monster weak, so weak, and it was seeping through, hot and heavy in her gut. A deep growl, the kind from nightmares, echoed in the room over the scuffling and clash of metal on metal. 

Bright eyes in the gloom, burning, twin unholy suns eating her from the inside out, glowing with inner fire. It gave away her position. 

It didn’t matter, in the end. 

This time, when she blocked a blow, she stepped forward, slashing down. Her sword struck home, blood on the stagnant air telling her so. Now, she could hear them better, hear their footsteps, she had her second wind- slight shifts of shadow on shadow marked their position, the rustle of clothing, the squeak of leather and clink of mail. A sword in the air hissed toward her. She dodged to the side and popped up to stab through something soft and and heavy. From the hot liquid suddenly on her face, it was a throat, and she hurled the body toward the clank of metal on metal on stone. Someone stumbled. 

Cael fought, viciously, without quarter given nor asked for, silent, except for that first terrifying rumble: the only warning of the storm that was her bladework. She faced the door, she knew, even if she couldn’t see it, and reinforcements were coming, she could hear it- but they would have to go through her first and frankly, that wasn’t going to happen. Every sense on high alert for the tiniest give, the slightest hint, she fought, and fought, and killed, moving from offense to defense and back with speed no one expected from an eight foot tall anything. Ferociously she held her ground. At one point, she lost her sword, disarmed, and instead of spending precious seconds to try and find it, she continued killing with her claws and shield. Eventually, she had to rely on sound alone, as the blood on the air was too thick to smell anything. Her footwork became precarious on slick red stones she couldn’t see, only feel, and corpses posed stumbling blocks, but still she fought, with every fiber of her being, until she stepped on the hilt of her sword. Then Cael picked it up, taking a graze along her arm as a tradeoff, and continued fighting, her arm wet to the elbows, her swordgrip sticky, blood on leather.  

Had there been light, perhaps someone would have stared at her, in awe, in terror. With those eyes and the blood that covered her, she looked a nightmare or a demon, and fought like the storm her thunderous growl had heralded. At the center, the eye, a calm, strange and thin and weak, lay over her and kept her from breaking, the place in her mind she went when she fought as much a defense to her now as her shield. Her reach was a circumference of death marked in perimeter by bodies, her sword the scythe of the reaper. There was almost poetry to it, but there could never be, not to this, this horrible necessary thing, this wholesale destruction of mortal life. 

In a way, the darkness was a mercy. 

Here, she didn’t have to know them. 

And if she was crying, there was no one to see her. 

Later, when they have done what they can with the inn, Cael went to see who else needed help. Someone erected a tent in the square, serving food and drink to weary, heartsick defenders. Many were clad as she was, in ashes and blood, on top of garments that ranged from pajamas to armor, thrown on in the moment. 

Someone touched her arm. 

Cael didn’t just jerk, she went for her sword so fast it sang as she whipped it from her scabbard. He had no chance to react; she took him down between one eyeblink and the next, sweeping his legs out from under him with her own, sending his weapon flying and him onto his back. Cael knelt on top of him, pinning the assailant. The dirty tip of her blade kissed his adam’s apple. 

But his weapon was a bowl of porridge, and her assailant was a boy, barely in his teens by the look of his newly come whiskers, terrified blue eyes staring into her own eerie gold. He wore a Templar tabard over what looked like stablehand’s clothes, and his shoes were threadbare around the edges. They looked at one another for a moment as Cael grappled with her panic. Silently, she got off him, and shook her head. 

He backed away, the kind you do around hungry predators, slow even movements and bolted when he had about fifteen feet of clearance from her. Cael looked at her shaking hand. Where once the sight of that tabard had filled her with hope and pride, now… She nearly killed a boy. A boy. For wearing a tabard and startling her. The tremors intensified, causing her to drop her sword. 

The lines in large, strong, callused hands of hers were overwritten in blood, settling in the wrinkles there, staining, the black ooze much the same, permanent ink. A flake of ash fell slowly from the sky to settle there in the middle of her palm. 

No one was bleeding, but all she could smell was blood, blood, blood on the wind, on her-

-blood on the floor, a large pool of it next to familiar weapons and her heart sank to her toes. The Keep, on fire. Westguard, embroiled in civil war. The Templars, in ruins. A demon, slain on the floor. Children, traumatized and crying. 

And the Justicar was gone, kidnapped by a madman who hadn’t hesitated to kill and torture kids for his own gain. 

Cael left her weapon where it lay and managed to make it to relative privacy, behind a copse of pines some distance away. Agony blossomed in her side, phantom pain much too real now, and her breathing hitched. Not this, not now, no, please, no, she begged, but the gods were cold and silent that day, and so was the Light. 

The pain from her side became all consuming, breathing hurt, short gasps for air. A second pain, less of a blossom and more a sweeping stab that engulfed her and Cael fell to her knees, holding her ribs desperately. The taste of blood intensified, her vision swam, darkened, and Cael shut her eyes tight to concentrate on breathing but it didn’t help- nothing helped- nothing she did helped at all- there was no way to help, nothing, useless, useless, left behind, killer, monster, she tried to help here and where had it gotten her? Six dead bodies in Templar tabards and more, bloody brother next to sightless sister. Dirt in her nose, eyes, mouth, choking –can’t breathe, I can’t breathe– ashes and blood and dirt in her mouth choking her- the feeling of her sword her claws through flesh through bone- she had to get out get out get out GET OUT- hilt sticking out of someone’s stomach and white turning red linen of the Templar tabard, she didn’t know his name but he always sat at the third table and told bawdy jokes to the serving girls- her muscles were locked and tense and wouldn’t respond, shaking, shaking, shaking. The world spun around her, and Cael’s clawed fingers dug furrows in the earth as she tried to hold on and keep from falling.Cold, so cold, I’m freezing- burning, burning up- feverchills of memory given substance once more- the pain in her side ate all rational thought-

She threw up, violently, not the retching of the sick to empty the stomach; everything tasted like blood and ash, everything, she hadn’t eaten since… since before the attack. It was the kind of gut-wrenching heaves that involved the whole body, back and abdomen muscles, burned her throat and left her choking more for breath and air as Cael broke and cried and heaved, her whole world caving in around her. 

I knew them I knew them and I killed them I killed them all I knew them I killed them all I tried to be good and I killed them all and the Justicar is gone and I couldn’t help I couldn’t stop it this is my fault

                                                                                         Wide blue eyes in terror
                                                                                                               Cloudy blue eyes in death 

I tried, I tried so hard to not be what I was made to be and it didn’t work we were supposed to be the good guy we were supposed to help

I knew them


I killed them


Sanctuary in ashes, along with so much else, as Cael bent double and touched her head to the ground and howled, silently, and choked for breath and cried for the lost.

And broke. 

Author Cael
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