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It was grim work. Within the depths of Westguard Keep, patrolmen carried the lifeless into a torch-lit morgue. Rotted flesh melted from bone and meshed into the joints of the soldiers' armored hands. The collected dead were of souls long departed but bodies reanimated, their remains now mangled, with clothing tattered and limbs weathered away. Jaws tumbled open as if in silent gasps and screams, unable to speak the tragic stories of the deceased. One was dressed as a traveler who likely met an unfortunate end, another a soldier from the Northrend campaign years ago — fallen, raised, and left to wander the fjord long after its grotesque shepard left. Yet no matter the state of decay, each body was treated with restraint and even reverence, each an unspoken, somber reminder that any patrolmen could share in such a fate should it be so unkind. Death, permanent or otherwise, was an undenied fact of Northrend.

 

Laid carefully out on wooden tables, each body was examined for belongings or even the barest hints of their previous lives. Jewelry, papers, even faded outlines of tattoos were collected, sketched, and documented. The collected belongings lead to searches, most fruitless, for any of the living to recognize and claim them. The bodies would briefly remain till finally cremated, their ashes waiting in urns that collected their own layers of dust. Occasionally a cleric would come to take the oldest ones, praying upon them one-by-one with a murmured blessing. The cleric would then sojourn to Stormwind or other places with tombs for unknown dead.

 

It was grim work, yet still one Arialynn would occasionally descend from the steps of the war room into the dark chambers below, shedding tabard and armor to join in cataloging the dead. To those who were identified, she'd take pen to paper and send it to kin. For the countless others, she counted the urns and committed the sight of the filled shelves to memory. Each time the wall filled, the cleric would come again and the cycle began anew.

 

The occasional trinket would come into the lady knight's hands, a query of origin or possible significance. It was rare for the lady knight to recognize them. Then the new bodies came, once-soldiers dressed in broken armor with tattered silver tabards. Found wandering the coast, the patrolmen would say. Each time one undead was slain and body retrieved, another silver straggler would take its place. It became a dark joke among patrollers that the dead watched the coast, guarding Northrend from the living or other enemies long gone. Again and again, a reanimated silver-tabard soldier was slain and brought to Westguard. And again and again, another would appear on the frozen coastline, shuffling on its silent rounds till the living took it or chilly elements swallowed it.

 

These silver soldiers bore a tabard Arialynn knew well, one she once wore in the same campaign that took their lives. The bodies were barely recognizable save what they wore, the armor lasting far longer than the flesh beneath. The lady knight knew she likely took in bodies of men and women she once knew. This thought was kept close at hand as her hands worked methodically to retrieve whatever trinkets were left and put the souls and their bitter ends to rest.

 

Weeks after the first silver soldier appeared, a breakthrough finally came: One bore a letter, part of its writing still legible, a miracle made possible by the careful way the soldier was presumed to wrap it dryly and snugly against his chest. The patrolmen were quick to deliver it into Arialynn's hands that day, for she stood in the war room the hour it was found. Unfolding it, the parchment stained with the browned oils of decomposed skin, with much of the ink towards the bottom blotted, it read:

 

If you are reading this, I fear it is already too late. We were the last line of defense against a terrible enemy. Now they are yours. I pray they are long dead after me, but if you have seen me and my soldiers, the danger outlived us.

 

(( Related: We Were Soldiers ))

Author Ari
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