WARNINGS: Abuse, torture, starvation, mindfuckery, conditioning, graphic gore and violence, cannibalism, slavery, wanting to die, dehumanization, mentions of PTSD.
The hour was late as Cael padded softly up cold stone steps to begin her shift on an even colder wall overlooking the bay in Westguard. Watch duty was a fact of life; everyone had to do it, rain or snow, cold or no. Northrend held darker terrors than mere vrykul in it’s icy heart, and with Seilic on the loose, a heightened state of watchfulness settled on the keep. Night fell early and stayed lat here in the winter. No aurora borealis lit the sky, a riot of writhing color, not tonight. Quiet, and cold, and deep lay the dark over Westguard.
In the distance, thick clouds blotted out the stars. The everpresent roar of the ocean below, pounding the cliffs sight unseen made a gentle undertone to the otherwise silent wee hours. The wind hadn’t been too bad today, but Cael still shivered a bit and tucked her cloak closer around herself as a particularly whippy gust from the icy sea threatened to blow her hood off her head. Nevertheless, it stayed, probably a function of whatever magic Kage imbued it with. It and and her armor the cup of hot cider warmed Cael on this night. The thick metal plate, with an underlayer of leather and inserts of fleece, made it tolerable, though all the bits sticking out of that set were chilled to the bone.
Not for the first time, Cael smiled, thinking of that particular gift.
Simple, practical, just like her- and yet, the metal was hammered with care, forged carefully in the hottest fires Koryander could stoke, and folded over and over for strength, beaten until all the impurities were removed. The leather fittings and inner lining were crafted from soft black kidskin, supple and luxurious. Buckles and fittings, precisely measured, fit her perfectly, snug enough to offer maximum protection yet maximum mobility as well. Removable inserts cut cold and wind, even here, in Northrend. And the color.
Red. Not bright, but still quite red, and quite noticeable, which was the point. The enemy would see her first, instead of smaller, squishier allies, such as Sage or Isoldei. Plus, red hid blood almost as good as black did, without being quite so hot. Red. Red… Red like a rose. How Koryander had guessed, she didn’t know. But her gaping expression of stunned awe, fading swiftly to eagerness, told the master smith what Cael already knew the instant she saw it.
It was perfect. It even matched the hooded cloak, made by Sage’s daughter Kage using her magical weaving (or whatever it was). Also red, but not quite as bright, trimmed in white thick fur to keep her warm, and spelled to shed water, stains, muck, gore, and anything else it might encounter, as well as for sturdiness- it was perfect for someone who made their living by the sword in a place such as Northrend. The last few days… They were- well, frankly, the best days of her entire life. And, also, the worst.
“At first, I thought you a rookie. But now I see you have the heart of a true warrior,” Arialynn’s voice said in her head- words she would never forget. It was validation and vindication all in one, an affirmation of her place in the world. And not just what I do but what I want to do. What I… chose. My choice. I wasn’t forced into this. I don’t have to fight. Memory, always unbidden: dust and blood, the cacophony of the crowd, the beat of blood in her own ears, and the pain. She breathed deep, trying to let it pass her by without affecting her. But I want to, for these people, for this cause, to protect them and to protect what we stand for. The lessons the Justicar taught her, and hopefully would keep teaching her, were not merely physical ones. As the leader of the Templars, Arialynn of course was on a whole other level from Cael. But Mosur’s words still itched at her, true, a nagging, creeping doubt, one she shoved aside. Even if Arialynn had been mistaken in the past, she wasn’t BAD. She was a paladin, and their leader, and she only ever looked out for everyone else first and herself last, and she only wanted to do the right thing.
Was it any wonder the young worgen admired her? Surely not. No. She wasn’t a bad person. She couldn’t be. Even if she’d been wrong before, Cael still had faith in her. Hot cider threatened to scald her tongue, despite the cold. Cael shoved the disturbing thought out of her mind for now, instead focusing on their sparring match in her memory. Really, all things considered, I didn’t do that badly. I guess I did better than I thought, since- since she said all that, anyways. And she agreed with me about the shields being the most important part!!
Said shield sat on her back, sword on her hip, both polished and oiled, gleaming in the flickering torchlight on the wall. It was all more borrowed gear, seeing as Koryander insisted on making her ‘something nice’ for more permanent use. In the meantime, Cael found the Templar armory to be perfectly fine. After all, it was the warrior that made the weapon, not vice versa.
Though nice weapons definitely helped.
A stronger gust sent her cloak whipping about her. The warrior blinked and then narrowed her eyes, golden and glinting in the night. Those clouds looked… angry, and perhaps a bit closer than they had been some minutes ago.
Cael wondered briefly if the child they’d rescues was scared of storms.
A gauntleted hand clenched despite herself. The orders were to bring him in, alive. I get that. I get why the Justicar wants to do it that way; he has to face what he’s done. Orders are orders. And I’ll follow them. Even if I kinda wanna stab him in the face.
They were KIDS. The dead child flashed before her eyes.
Mosur may have known the man. But all Cael knew was the monster. Perhaps, according to those who knew magic and demons far better than she, an actual monster, maybe possessed or something along those lines. How DID he survive that fight with the Marksman? He’s no slouch, but I can still see the wounds Seilic left on him… He’s missing an ear. How is he not dead by now?
Or maybe he IS dead, and has been for some time, something whispered in her, and Cael swallowed against her suddenly dry throat. Her stomach lurched. Undead…
It was as likely an explanation as any, really. And it would make sense, the whisper said. They never bring anything but pain and suffering with them.
Not all of them, Cael reminded herself, clenching her jaw. Not all. There were death knights in the Templars that did good work, just as she did, who wanted to help and make a difference. Aartemis helped fix my armor. That other death knight fought alongside me. They’re my allies. I should trust them.
So how come she couldn’t seem to look them in the eyes?
Nobody seems to have noticed my…. reactions to them, which is good, I guess. I mean, I’m better about not- not having those attacks where I can’t breathe and all I smell is decaying flesh. How do I even begin to explain? I wish I… that I could- could give them the benefit of the doubt but I look at them and all I see…
All I see is…
Fragments of a broken mirror lie scattered in her mind.
Valnov, with his mad rotting eyes and fetid breath, smiling like a doting parent as he beheld the sight of Emberstone in chains. Head down, don’t look, her brother is vibrating fury at her side but restrains himself. (Old Miss Wicker, widowed and fierce, takes a step on stick-boned legs that quiver. Cael’s watching, watching, sees the light face from her eyes like a candle snuffed out- simply dropping dead after a week in the mines. There’s nothing she can do to stop it.)
Chains clinked and echoed mining picks. (The way it hurt to swallow, so caked in dust was she, inside and out, coating her throat and turning it paper dry but she gave her brother the last of their water ration and Cael says nothing, looks down, keeps working, and hates.)
Passing the tree where they’d nailed Jonathan; his smart mouth got him killed terribly for it, skinned alive and hung by his wrists to slowly die. (And he’d screamed and screamed and screamed and screamed, a sound she isn’t think humans could make, until they gagged him because he was disturbing Valnov’s work and he’d still screamed through the night and well into the morning.)
Up before dawn. No rest until far after the sun set. All over again the next day, too much work on too little food taking thier toll. (So tired, so tired, lead boots on her feet and black circles around her eyes not from the beatings, so, so very tired, she would give anything to rest for just a few minutes, just a few.)
She screams, too, begs, pleads, thrashes wildly, and screams, helpless, furious, terrified as Valnov with inhuman strength drags her brother (now limp he’s so small so sick so weak) to where the feral worgen is chained, and has no screams left for what it does to him; has no screams left for the others or herself, when her time comes. And then everything is on fire, burning, burning, her skin bubbling and warping and cracking like the mask it was.
Fragments get smaller.
A broken table ripped restraints, almost free, almost, almost, almost-
Noxious something in her mouth, in her veins. Pain. A tender pat on the head between her ears, a needle’s jab in her arm.
Angry, angry, all the time when she wasn’t human, all suffusing terrifying RAGE coming from deep inside her. Guards betting on how long she lasts.
Can’t control the shifts, can’t remember what she does when she isn’t human, I’m losing my mind I’m going insane I’m becoming one of them they killed Remy oh gods why let me die let me die kill me let me die.
Shaking, naked, human, freezing in a cold rain, every drop a bullet on her skin. “I just need some samples, dear, now just hold still.”
Thin slop barely takes the edge off her more-than-just-hunger but she gets more than the rest, doesn’t know why.
Helpless, watching, as the undead systematically work her entire village to death and toss the bodies into the mass grave on top of her brother’s with less care than hauling a sack of meal.
Atrocities like photographs, freeze-framed horror.
Goblins, fast smiles flashing white teeth. Movement. Valnov waves cheerfully goodbye, a heavy sack of gold in his other hand, as two orcs lift her cage under direction of their goblin employers and load her onto a ship.
I mean, I hate goblins too, and I don’t trust them, but I’m not… I don’t get angry when I see one just standing there. I can’t figure out why. I need to be better about it, I should be, I have to be if I’m going to work with them in the future. I may not LIKE goblins much but… But it’s not like it IS with the undead to me. They make me want to either hide or- or I feel like I want to kill them. I dunno. I just… I dunno.
I wish I was better. I wish I could look at them like normal people. I’ve got to try harder to… to overcome this. What they did to me.
But the goblins didn’t kill Remy, that little voice whispered, and she swallowed, suddenly cold, despite her mug and layers. It’s not personal. Its business. Valnov enjoyed it. THEY enjoyed it. They enjoyed what they did to Emberstone, and Gilneas, and Remy, and me.
….HE enjoyed it.
Correction. I do hate one goblin.
She still doesn’t remember a lot. But she remembers getting seasick, even as a worgen. Who knew? An indeterminable hell of time spent vomiting through the bars, faces passing, ignoring her (does she even exist anymore, or is this a waking nightmare?). Arrival is clear in her memory, as is his face; she’s human when she meets him, filthy and ragged, glaring, trembling slightly. Greeblix Goldpinch waited, rocking back and forth eagerly on his heels. A patched suit and gold piercings, coupled with the avaristic, cunning gleam in his eye as he gave her the once over, reminded her rather of that shady horse-seller that came to market once trying to pass off old cart nags as thoroughbreds. And he reeked of alcohol. He scowled.
“What the fuck is this? WATERWHEEL! GET YOUR ASS OUT HERE! Where the fucking fuck is my fucking merchandise, you moron?” he shouted, irate. Heart pounding with fear, Cael shrank away to the opposite side of the bars. “I wanted a WORGEN, you stupid twitwizzle, not some freak of nature human female! Look at her! D-”
Then a small troll child, having approached from behind in the crowd, sees fit to stab at her through the bars with a pointy stick, and that’s all it takes for the beast in her to wake howling. Cael throws herself against the metal bars, human at the start of that jump and worgen by the end in one seamless, terrifyingly fast shift. The thick iron bars rattle dangerously and the cage threatens to tip over with the force, despite it’s all metal construction.
“…Oooh. LOOK at HER,” Greeblix murmured quietly to himself, a slow, spreading smile on his face showing teeth as sharp as hers were. The thing that used to be Cael howled defiance and pain as dockhands with oars beat her into unconsciousness and blessed silence.
“Eat, bitch, c’mon now, you got two fights today! Gotta keep that strength up, eh?” Greeblix tried, cajoling. “Look.” A haunch of something, roasted, mouthwatering, tempted her severely, and she almost broke, almost took it. But her head still wasn’t clear from yesterday- he’d given her food and after she felt strange, muzzy and hot and jittery and furious. Something about it wasn’t right. I’m so hungry, though. So hungry…. “Take the food, let’s go, I’m losing my patience here, bitch.” She refuses.
If she were smart, maybe she’d’ve played along with him. “I can be reasonable- this is all business, bitch, all about that money. You help me, I help you, yeah? Clothes. Food. Hell, maybe I’ll take you out for a walk sometime. All you gotta do is get in there and do your sliceydicey gig and presto bingo.” Cael won’t look at him, won’t respond. Stares at her bare, cracking, filthy feet, knees drawn up to her chest. Tries to remember. Remy, Gil… G- Where was she from? Something- something with a G. It had to be,. right? Or was it an… an E? Greeblix clenches his teeth. “Alright. Alright then, be that way,” he snapped, and motioned violently to two undead standing, cold and silent, by the cage. The two reached for great thick metal poles with loops of wire on the end, and then, they reach for her.
As it is, she is more stubborn than smart.
The food is poison. She knows that, they put something in it, she knows because it tastes less moldy and smells different to her sharpened nose. Greeblix had said “If you won’t fucking eat then I won’t waste my fucking time, you ungrateful bitch” and that was last week. The bowl of something lumpy and grey with congealed fat was delivered yesterday. But she was so hungry. It’s hard to remember if she was ever hungry before like this, with her bones aching fiercely, her stomach chewing it’s way through her spine, head dizzy and fuzzy when she wasn’t consuming herself with rage from the inside out. Cael couldn’t know that was part of the carefully calculated plan. After a more than a week, the body gets used to hunger, starts to burn other tissues instead of fat. But before that, hunger was hell. Every breath brought the smell of food from the sellers that plied their trade to the visiting crowds out in the stands, and the sweet coppery temptation that was the smell of blood thick on the hot, dry, dusty air. Cael groans, curls in on herself, tries to get her weary body to rest, doing her level best to ignore the bowl, sitting as innocent as honey laced with cyanide.
A fearsome ROAR echoed in the underbelly of Orgrimmar, followed shortly by curses. “I said HOLD the bitch dammit! What the fuck do I pay you for?” Cael’s owner stepped back nonetheless as she thrashed and struggled. Undead with catch poles, batons, chains, and shields struggled to hold the right foot tall, furiously writhing worgen. Still feral from the fight not ten minutes before, with red staining her muzzle and her eyes flashing wild eerie gold, she howled in pain as one of the goons hit her shoulder with a baton. It made a sound like a baseball bat hitting a slab of meat; the deep wound there spurted blood. Another undead in good cloth with a potion waited patiently beside Greeblix. He checked the time on a gold pocketwatch, looked at the raving worgen.
“I can see what you mean,” he said clinically. “The shoulder is quite damaged. Without the potion she would certainly unable to fight.”
“Yeah, that’s why you’re here. This bitch is a handful but she’s making me so much money. I need her in one piece,” Greeblix said bluntly. Finally, the handlers got their feet under them, and they stretched the worgen spread-eagle. She still snapped and snarled. Greeblix approached, his alchemist following behind. Working together, two more undead forced a metal bar like a bit in between her teeth to hold her mouth open. Another forced her to her knees so Greeblix could pour the noxious brew into her mouth as she choked and sputtered. “That should do it,” the goblin said. “Throw her back in.”
Cael shrieked in agony as they folded the still warm metal around her neck and hammered red hot edges together, sealing the heavy iron collar onto her neck permanently. Hair melted and laced the air with an acrid stench along with burned flesh. Greeblix smiled, cheerful. “THAT should teach you to try and escape, bitch.” And her scream went on and on and on until her voice cracked and became a dry, airless hiss and she passed out.
She took the potions now, when she could make that choice, when she was human instead of a red furred, seething monster; he’d just force them into her somehow if she didn’t. They did heal her, a bit anyways, though they hurt just as bad as the original injury most of the time- as if she could feel her body knitting back together. Hunger dulled her thoughts even as she wished, prayed for death before the next match came. (Didn’t dare try it herself, not after the last time. He’d beaten her till she she was forced into her worgen form, then thrown a child into her cage. Cael woke next to the mangled corpse the following day and threw up so violently she actually wasn’t hungry for a whole day.)
So hungry. So, so hungry. Had she ever been anything but hungry? It occurred to her, vaguely, that she could ask for food. Beg. But he would want things. He tried to get her to shift in front of a group yesterday and she wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it, refused until he- he did something painful she can’t remember, and then the rest is overwritten by killing rage. Her back, caked with blood from the whipping, prickled and burned as she chased that memory, the feeling spreading to the rest of her, a precursor of the change driven by the ghost of pain- Cael couldn’t help it, couldn’t fight it, and growled deep in her throat as the beast took her over once more.
It was almost a relief to feel something other than hunger and fear.
Blood hits rough stone, splatters, pooling in the dust. Cael writhes in her bonds, shaking and crying from the punishment, naked, human, and wretched. Matted hair is some nondescript shade of brown, now, not ruddy red; there is no part of her that remains unmarked by the fights or the beatings, and her ribs are skeletal. Her hands are chained above her head to a metal crossbar, she’s tied ankle to thigh, kneeling, the soles of her feet exposed. Greeblix’s undead lacky brought the whip to bare again on the sensitive bottoms, which resembled more hamburger meat these days than anything actually living. Her back dribbled still from it’s whipping the previous day. Up with the flogger again, and down it fell.
Delusion. Delerium. Fever. Throbbing, complete and total pain in her feet with every pulse of her heart. I’m so cold. How is it this cold? It’s- where am I? I knew this before, I know I knew this before, right? It’s always been hot, right? I don’t know. How long have I been here? I don’t feel good, I’m freezing, can’t stop shaking. And oh, her feet hurt. The rank odor of infection from her oozed from her lacerated soles.
“Alright. Here’s what’s gonna happen. We’re finally making bank, see, now, but the bitch is being difficult. When she’s all wolfy hey, it’s no problem, but it’s been almost a fucking year and she hasn’t gotten the fucking message.” Greeblix looked at the guards, a group of Forsaken mercs, armed and in armor. He held out… A pole, with prongs on the end, and a thick handle, and a switch. Standing there in front of her cell, her cage, they ignored her existence, as if she couldn’t understand what they were saying. In a way, Cael almost didn’t. Words seemed slow to process. And it was hard to remember why she should care. Nothing she did had any impact on it, anyways…. If they’re going to hurt me, I can’t stop them. Don’t cry. Don’t lose my temper. (Useless, she always did, always worged, enough gaps in her memory attested to that.)
“Take it, go on, good, there’s one for each of you.” The forsaken shared glances, and take one apiece. They’re long and painful looking. Greeblix smiled.
“We already got that food schedule going, feeding her only after her fights, making her like that shit. Good associations. What we are gonna do now is pretty simple. I’ll pay you extra for it, even, just so long as you do your fucking job. Whenever the bitch is human, just shock her with one of these bad boys. Won’t kill her…” And that grin widened. “…but she’ll feel like she’s dying. Don’t stop till she goes furry.” Cael shrank back in horror. No. Nono nonononono….!!
“Like now,” the goblin added, and then her entire body was one whole nerve radiating pain.
A cascade of noise from the crowd marked her successful strike, but what used to be Cael barely noticed. The blood elf, hamstrung now and limping, scrabbled for his axe. Copper on her tongue, in her mouth, everywhere, everywhere, red red redredred glorious hot delicious lifeblood, the hunt, the chase, the kill- animal instinct echoed in her mind, making her snarl. So hungry.
The monster circled her prey, entirely unimpressed with the axe, slowly, slowly, keeping her distance, that deep terrifying growl reverberating through the stands. His blood plipplopped onto the dirt; she could have counted them had she been so inclined, her ears twitching at every drop. Wide green eyes watched her in terror. Hands shook. The sick-sweet-salty overtone of fear laced his perspiration. Crippled, bleeding, weak, yes, yes, yessss…
He bolted for the fence to try and escape.
She was so, so hungry.
He never made it.
With unnatural speed, she crossed the distance between them in two great leaping bounds, tackled him from behind, threw him into the dirt and ripped his throat out with her bare teeth. Blood and flesh exploded on her tongue, nothing ever tasted so sweet, and everything, everything, everything was drenched in red and raving madness and endless, inarticulate hate and boundless rage.
Howling, savage, victorious, she ripped open his ribcage as he screamed and buried her face in his chest. Ripping flesh added a soprano note to the death knell scream, percussive snap-crack of bones playing their part as well.
The crowd exploded into cheers, jeers, and screaming.
She wasn’t hungry for a good week after that.
Greeblix crossed his arms, mere inches from the bars of Cael’s cage.
“Guess even you had to break sometime, huh bitch? Took you long enough,” the goblin muttered. Something shifted in the shadows. Glowing molten copper eyes glared at him from the dark.
“Yeah, well, whatcha gonna do from in there? Huh? Nothing. Guess eating that guy finally fucking did it for you. Wish I’d’ve known, I got a coupla goons I could have used to speed this process up a bit. Time is money, after all, and YOU are the reason my earrings these days are twenty four fucking carats of sweet, sweet gold.” Indeed, his suit now was tailored, his earrings replaced by jewels and intricately worked precious metals, and instead of smelling like piss poor beer, cognac wafted off him when the wind blew right. Rings glittered on fat fingers.
The growling intensified. (HatehatehatehateHATEHATEHATE KILL HIM RIP TEAR EAT BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD)
“You haven’t been human for a whole week. Which makes things easier, I guess. No more fucking crying, I mean, come the fuck on, how many tears can one person produce, right? And damn do you fight better now. Eating that guy, I gotta say, WOW, color me impressed. Our preshow ticket sales went through the fucking roof after that. Still… I kinda wonder if this is like, the edge, yknow, and you just swan dived the fuck off it. I bet you’re never even going back to being human. That happens, right? That’s a thing? I’m pretty sure that’s a thing,” he said, scratching his chin.
More growling, louder. He pursed his lips.
“Can it, bitch-”
Greeblix took one step too close.
With all her speed and strength, she nearly knocked the cage clean off it’s rolling platform. As it was, her fingers slipped past the thin bars and viciously raked the goblin right across the face, digging in deep as she went. Something popped. Sweet, sweet blood exploded in her nostrils, and she opened her mouth to taste the air as Greeblix screamed in horror, those beefy fingers now clapped over what ruinous mess remained of his eyeball. As he watched in stunned pain and fury, the thing that was Cael now lifted her bloody hand to her mouth, licked it clean, and ate the eyeball impaled on the claw of her index finger, all the while never breaking eye contact with him, her hateful gaze drilling into his the entire time.
Mad, mad molten copper eyes burned, fury like stars consuming her from the inside out and showing.
It was delicious. All of it. And she reveled in the fear it produced in him and her own strength and the fury that drove her.
But the torture that followed as payment for that little bit of revenge made everything she endured previously seem like child’s play.
A low, soft whine, lacking any kind of menace, filtered through the cell. Something twitched, chains creaked, a gasp cut short of pain. Rustles. Stillness. The beast learned, for all her savagery, and there was nothing to hate, here, except perhaps existing- but that required a higher level of thought processes than she was capable of. Moving hurt, so she tried not to. Breathing hurt. She tried not to. Neither worked very well. Chains swayed gently as moonlight filtered through the dirty windows above, turning motes of dust into tiny dancing silver stars.
In the moonlight, the pool of blood congealed beneath her looked like liquid quicksilver. The monster didn’t notice. All her efforts were focused on mere survival. There was room for little else but pain, and breathing, sharp and ragged and then as soft as she could manage. Paws shackled to the filthy iron collar around her neck clenched at the empty air. Her feet were shackled together as well, chain running to the back of her collar, ensuring her compliance and immobility. Slick and pointy, sticking out of her side, was a hook, like the kind used for stringing up meat. It entered just under her second rib at a surprisingly surgical incision, and came out several ribs up, much less so. Eight feet beneath her was the floor.
Chains creaked again as the beast hung with her entire body weight resting on that hook in her ribs with the chain attached to the ceiling.
(There was no way the monster could know he would come in two days time, no way to know he would bring a healer then and fix her back up and throw her into a fight not half an hour later. The monster could barely tell time. Agony merely stretched into infinity, indeterminable, and all she -it- could do…. was endure. Endure mindwarping pain and hunger and hate and fear, and seethe her rage.)
Something wet hit her nose, startling Cael out of the dark shards of her memory. A… snowflake. Cael looked up, ears twitching, sniffing deeply to smell the air better. It smelled like… ice and wind and rain. A storm. A storm is coming, she thought. Those clouds were a LOT closer now than they had been before. Cael clutched her mug tighter, willing the demons -both real and imagined, past and present- to leave her be on this cold, windy night. With a storm rolling in it was bound to be a miserable watch.
But she was a Templar, and it would take more than the oncoming storm, rumbling ominously, to make her flinch from her duty, her honor, or her word.