A Price for Sight.
The air was thick as the mist lay heavy on the woods near Andorhal. It was early in the day, and the ever elusive sun had barely been seen in the cursed land that people referred to as the Western Plaguelands. Elizabetha had barely managed to sneak through the outskirts of the ruined city of Andorhal, as she had felt obliged to revisit the place to where Uther had met his doom at the hands of his own pupil. She shuddered at the thought, and for a moment pondered what illfated destiny had set the two against each other. Yet that was not her only cause to visit the former lands of Lordaeron. In her heart turmoil had raged as despair had so often threatened to overcome her time and again, and she needed to remind herself of her duty as a Scarlet Crusader, as a Paladin of the Holy Light. What more efficient way than to visit the land that she had stayed in, and behold the destruction wrought by the Scourge and its Lich King?
Elizabetha shivered, not only because of the cold, but also by the mere sight of the corruption that held this land in its iron grip. A corruption many of her people, as she saw it, failed to perceive. A loss that many appeared ignorant of. No, she couldn't understand how anyone could be in league with the shadow by choice. Surely the Plaguelands were evident of the horrible toll the shadow had on what was under its power. She cast a glance at the dying trees as she slowly rode, mounted on her warhorse Archi, named after her grandfather Archibald Romold, who had negotiated Elizabetha's access into the ranks of the Paladins of Stormwind - a path she had continually questioned. I should've become a Priestess, she thought once again. In an effort to shrug off her melancholic state of mind she patted Archi lovingly, whispering into his ear calming words, as she could sense his anxiety. Even the warhorse could feel the unnatural aura that engulfed them.
Glancing up to the leaf covered roof above her, Elizabetha thought she could vaguely glimpse flashes of the blue sky, which was all but visible. And for a moment she thought that it was perhaps a blue sky was so natural to her that she thought she could see it, and that it perhaps wasn't even there. Time to head back, she decided in her mind. She had seen enough, but her mind had still not been put at ease. Still the turmoil rolled within her mind, making her doubt what she was doing, and if she was even doing the will of the Light at all. Was she wrong to have chosen as she had done? Was there something else she should be doing instead? Was there really any hope for those who seemed lost to the Light? Could she even hope to save any of them? Elizabetha sighed deeply, covering her eyes for a moment, and Archi stopped his trotting, as though he could sense that she needed it.
She spent a minute gathering herself again, and finally whispered to her horse, "Let's head back, Archi... There's nothing here that will ease my mind, at all."
And as she finished that sentence Archi began his trotting again.
Moments passed slowly as they rode at walking pace through the darkened woods, heading towards Andorhal or at least Darrowmere Lake.
A scream echoed before them, and Elizabetha's senses came alert. Someone was in distress. Immediately her need to aid the helpless took over, putting aside any concern for herself, as she was prone to do. She delighted in the feeling as it swept away all despair in her heart, focussing entirely to do that which the Light stood for: To create happiness in others, so that a part of the world would become a better place, and her connection with the universe would open for the glory of the Light as it was cast through the connection, and mirrored back unto the universe.
"Archi, ho!" she yelled, directing her warhorse towards the screaming that continued. It sounded like a woman, horrified and in flight by what Elizabetha could determine. And it wasn't long before she encountered the source. Running in panic came a woman bearing a child in her arms, her expression was cleary horrified and Elizabetha had no difficulty to ascertain that it was most likely Undead that would be on her tail. And rightly so, as Elizabetha could pick out the bony silhouettes of the mindless slaves of the Scourge.
"Lady!" Elizabetha cried out to her. "This way!"
The woman stopped, and another scream escaped her lips as she beheld Elizabetha, clutching to her wailing child as though she thought death had come.
Elizabetha scowled inside, knowing that her armour and tabard had alarmed the woman, but wasted no time and jumped off Archi. "Quick, hurry, there's no time! Don't be afraid, I'm not going to harm you! Get up on my horse! Fly!"
The woman stood transfixed in fear, looking over her shoulder once until Elizabetha grabbed hold of her arm and forced her to mount Archi. "The camp, Archi! Bring them to safety! Ho!" And with that she slapped his side, prompting him to the gallop. The woman had stopped screaming and only managed to look back at Elizabetha once before acknowledging the need to hold tight so that she wouldn't fall off with her child.
With a prayer on her lips, Elizabetha unsheathed her two-handed sword and turned towards the lumbering Undead that she could see in the distance. Something had slowed them, and she guessed that others were in peril. Wasting no time she held her sword up and charged forward, oblivious to how many there would be and if she even had a chance.
As she closed in, five Undead stood before her, as were two horribly torn bodies of what appeared to have been men. The bits of clothing still visible suggested civilians, possibly farmers. Elizabetha grinded her teeth, righteous fury rising within her as her heart bled for the loss of innocent lives. "The Light is my strength!" she yelled, charging the nearest, and cleaving it in twain. The four others reacted immediately and stormed at Elizabetha.
One barely missed her and was subsequently dealt with, and the third was blasted by a surge of Light cast from her hand as she channelled the power of the Light, purging the rotten body of the unholy curse that had trapped the soul within. Only two remained, yet were now close enough to endanger her life. A slash ripped through the mail rings on her thigh, cutting the flesh beneath - she screamed in pain as the claws dealt damage to her body, yet managed to stand and thrust the Undead attacker to the ground, while the other saw its chance for a ripe moment. Unnatural claws battered her side, but failed to deal damage other than giving her a bruise and pain. Elizabetha backstepped, bringing up her sword in a deadly arc and shattered the decayed skull. Leaving nothing to chance she spun around herself, shattering the rib cage as the sword struck home again, and beheld the broken skeleton fall to the ground.
She had barely begun to turn as the remaining one had risen to a knee and lunged forward with its sharp claws, and having more luck than the former, penetrated the armour on her right side. Agonising pain flared through her body as a few of her ribs were broken and bruised by the impact. The Undead entity that had once been either man or woman raised its remaining clawed hand to strike another blow, but it was chopped off. It then tried to release its other hand, but it had become stuck in the mix of chain mail and ribs and was therefore open to Elizabetha's next attack. Elizabetha lunged her hand forward, shouting a short prayer and cast the Light's power into the skull of her attacker - it shattered before the holy power that engulfed it and fell to pieces before the wounded Paladin.
Elizabetha fell to a knee and coughed up some blood. Trying to ignore the pain she stood up and limped over to the mutilated corpses - the sight causing her to shut her eyes, and look away as she knew what had to be done. The bodies had to be burned.
She gathered the corpses of both Undead and former living as quickly as she could, trying to ignore the pain that burned in her side and thigh and managed to make a small pyre. As the flames slowly started to consume the remains, she took time to tend to her wounds, wrapping bandage on them. The lack of water meant that she was unable to cleanse them, however, and she knew that she had to make her way back on foot, hoping that the woman would send help or at least release Archi.
Elizabetha rose, watching the pyre as the flames licked the air, and whispered a prayer in hope that the souls had found rest at last before she turned towards where she knew Darrowmere Lake was, and started to limp away. Already sweat was pouring down her forehead as the agony wreaked her body, slowing her walk. She had hardly walked a few metres before holding a hand to a nearby tree, gathering the strength needed to move on. Having reached the nineth tree Elizabetha thought she would pass out and knelt down, trying to fight a possible collapse. The wounds burned.
"Light, give me strength..." she prayed.
A commotion behind her prompted her to turn her head, yet she was not quick enough as the shaft of a spear was thrust into her back, bereaving her of air. She fell forward, crying out in surprise and renewed pain, but had hardly landed before two pairs of strong arms lifted her up roughly, turning her as she gasped for breath so she stood face to face with what appeared to be a furious face of a man in somewhat rough leather armour.
"Where are they?!" the man demanded. "What have you done with them, Scarlet scum?!"
Elizabetha opened her mouth to speak, but was silenced with a hard slap across her face, almost knocking her out.
"Where is Jack and Thomas?!" he yelled in her face as she clumsily spat some blood, which barely left her mouth and trickled down her chin. "Where is Susan and her baby?!"
"Wh...?" she tried to say, but was silenced by yet another slap.
"Don't you dare lie to me, slut!" the man growled, gripping her firmly at the chin, forcing her to look at him. "Where are they?" he hissed.
"I...I f-found..." she stuttered, barely able to speak for the pain that threatened to rend her unconscious. "T-two...dead..."
The angry lines on the man's face only enlarged as he bared his teeth. "Where?" he demanded.
Elizabetha blinked, trying to make the spots that covered part of her eye sight to go away. "The fire..." she muttered.
The man roughly let go of her chin and turned around, trying to spot any fire. He quickly ascertained the whereabouts of the rising smoke, and snapped an order to his fellows to follow. They quickly obeyed, dragging the near-fainted Elizabetha along with them, paying no heed to her weakened state. Elizabetha moaned in pain, tasting the blood in her mouth and fighting hard to remain conscious. As they reached the small pyre she had ignited, the two men threw her onto the ground.
Very slowly Elizabetha managed to lift herself up a bit, resting her weight on her arms as she beheld the fire. The man who had questioned her stood still as a statue, yet his grip around a spear in his hand seemed to tighten as he beheld the fire. The bodies were barely visible.
"I was too late..." Elizabetha began. "But..."
The man snapped around and snarled in response. "Spare me your lies, Scarlet. I know what you did to them. I have eyes, don't I?"
Elizabetha shaked her head wearily. "No, you misunderst..."
Before she could finish the man stepped up to her and lunged down the aft of his spear onto her back. Ignoring her pained outcry he crouched and grabbed hold of her hair, raising her face up to his. "You lot sicken me... Don't give a second thought to who's plagued or not, do you? All who don't wear your rotten tabard are tainted, right? Ain't that so?"
Elizabetha grimaced in agony, trying to protest. "No...they were dead... I was too late..." She winced. "Stop...you're blinded by grief."
The man let go of her and she fell face down to the ground. "Grief? What do you know about grief, woman?" His tone changed, and in his voice Elizabetha could sense the deep sorrow. That only added more pain.
"Please..." she said, lifting herself up slightly. "Don't let it blind you to the truth, sir... The bodies are of two men and some Undead that I dispatched... Look at my wounds..."
The man stared at her, the angry lines growing once more. "Blind? If anything, Scarlet...you lot are all blind..." He rose up, gesturing to the two others to lift her up some. They immediately obeyed, bringing her up so that she was sitting on both her knees. They didn't do it gently, however, and Elizabetha groaned in pain.
Ignoring her reactions, the man looked her in the eye. "You're a disgrace to our people, Scarlet. I can only imagine the pleasure you took in killing them." He spat in her face. "I can only imagine how many innocents have died at your hands..."
"No...listen..." she began, only to feel the slap of his hand, silencing her again.
"You say I'm blind?" He shaked his head. "I'll show you blind." The man nodded at one of the men holding her arms - he responded by grabbing her hair, pulling her head back hard, causing Elizabetha to whimper.
"Please...listen... The Light..."
"Don't dare to speak about the Light with me, you petty murderer," the man replied, unsheathing a dagger as he dropped his spear. "You sure ain't worthy to even speak the word 'Light'. And you ain't ever gonna see it."
Elizabetha's eyes widened in terror, realising the man's intention. "No, please," she pleaded. "Don't!"
"I bet they all said the same, Scarlet. I bet they all said the same," he replied, holding her face firmly and moving the dagger towards its intended targets.
Elizabetha's screams filled the nearby area, where the dying trees adorn a corrupted land, cursed, tainted, marked by the hand of the Scourge. Where the sun is barely visible. Where the stars are ever veiled.
A land beset by conflict.
A land perhaps lost forever.