The stories relate to Winter, and were written as an exercise for myself, to flesh out the character's backstory and thought processes. It is not IC information, except for the parts mentioned in the character profile - the cat's name, for example, is not. Text copyrighted to Auburn (lyrics to their respective authors), plagiarists will be keelhauled and fed to rabid weasels.
The order is not chronological.
The Lady and the Drunk Edit
- “There must be some kind of way out of here,”
- said the Joker to the Thief
- “There's too much confusion,
- I can't get no relief”
- Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower
The Kaldorei woman approaches me in the Mage’s District, shaky and wild-eyed. I know my business; before she speaks, I’ve observed her dilated pupils, the tremor of her hands, off-colour whites and half a dozen smaller tells of the substances she’s been abusing. She says she was sent to me: she demands something that will help her sleep, because the old stuff isn’t working anymore.
I take a while to make up my mind. “Come to me in an hour,” I tell her, ignoring Andruil’s claws digging into my shoulder in protest. “I will have what you need.”
She is early, as addicts are wont to be when desperate, and Andruil likes her no more for it. Truthfully I keep sedatives to match the horse tranquilizers she’s been using at hand for both protection and utility – but simply giving her what she wants would tell me nothing of her character. Instead I make her wait, while I go through the motions of preparing a draught to match her specifications.
She is impatient, but she attempts to sit, does not attempt to ransack my laboratory, and she asks nothing except what my services will cost her. When I tell her to worry about that later, she gives a bleak, humorless smile. “Sure,” she says. “You’re a drug dealer. First taste is always free.”
I let that pass, trade the real draught for the one I’ve made a show of preparing with a little sleight of hand, and watch her down it without a moment’s hesitation. I leave her to sleep in the corner of my laboratory, with Andruil watching over her, tail lashing and muscles bunched. He will alert me if the drug fails to keep her unconscious.
Over the next months, I test her. I’ve long had need of a bodyguard, for more risky expeditions – but such services tend to cost money, and come with a variety of inconvenient questions about exactly why I have need of the things I collect. I am cautious, with good reason. The Argent Dawn and the Church of the Holy Light support my studies – insofar as they are privy to them. Some details are best kept to myself, for their peace of mind and mine alike.
Sarama does not care, past the token explanations I sometimes offer her. I tell her I am an alchemist, which is true. I tell her I am engaged in research of the Plague, possibly a cure – this is also true. If I sometimes omit or obscure the precise usefulness of some reagent or scrap of intelligence I tell her we are to obtain, she does not care. Her interest in my business begins and ends with my willingness to supply her with the drugs that keep her nights quiet, and gold that keeps her drunk through the hours she spends awake. She complains what I give her is less narcotic than she’d like: I point out she’s less sober than I’d like, and we both must suffer such small disappointments gracefully.
But addled and congenitally amused as she is, I cannot fault her ability with the fine daggers that caught my eye that first day I met her. That she’d still have such weapons, when most addicts would have sold them long ago for another dose, told me she still had some control the moment we met. It makes me wonder just how capable she would be without the drugs numbing her. It makes me wonder why she needs them. She will not tell me: only that when she is sober, people die.
I have some experience with such claims; I will not defy hers on a whim. For now, it is enough that she is willing to serve as my guard when I need her. A drunk and an old woman; a fine figure we are.
Andruil does not warm to her, though I could not say if it is due to her species, her habits, or both. She is sharp enough to realize that, and makes a spectacle of herself regularly, threatening a dainty, staring Siamese with words or daggers. I dare no chances: I tell her it is simply a familiar’s concern for its master, a reflection of my own ambivalent feelings regarding her addictions and secrets. I do not know if she believes me. Andruil sulks for days either way, hurt in spite of himself at being shown off as some creature of mine, no more than a pet.
He forgives me eventually, once we settle into new quarters in Shattrath, and he can watch me return to my work again. I am an alchemist, that much is true. I am a drug dealer, insofar as Sarama is concerned. I am, in fact a great many things – a magus, an adventurer, a mother, an old woman, and other things far less flattering – I have no fear of labels. If life has taught me anything, it is to judge sparingly, for there is no telling where necessity may lead.
I have lived a good life. I have honoured my parents, healed the sick, raised four children, and seen a husband to his grave as content as can be expected. I have paid my dues by anyone’s reckoning. If, in these last years, I slip and fall into an old woman’s hubris, it is for the Light alone to judge me.
The Familiar Edit
- Came a last night of sadness
- And it was clear she couldn’t go on
- The door came open and a wind appeared
- Candles blew and then disappeared
- The curtain flew and then he appeared
- Saying don’t be afraid
- Blue Öyster Cult: Don’t Fear the Reaper
The smell is overpowering: iron and incense, things dead and decaying, smoke from fires and candles guttering out now that she is finished. There is blood, on my hands and on my face, and I could not for the life of me say which is mine, which is his, and how much has come from other things. The remains of the ritual lie abandoned on the far side of the room. A knife and silken sutures; drowning candles and a dead goat; entrails splayed and laid out at key points around the circle, among words written in languages best left unspoken. Most of the stench comes from the corpse at the center of the circle – male, desicated, and at least three days dead even before the carcass was slit neck to nethers and clawed hollow by a creature trapped inside it.
I do my best not to look at it. I've had three days to grow stiff and starved and numb to the smells and sights of the room, but the body I still can’t face without faltering. Now that I'm finished with it, I cower collapsed in the far corner of the room, as far away from it as possible. I'd pray, if I could bring myself to the hypocrisy of asking the Light's blessing on such an endeavour. No - it's down to this, now. The listless, gore-covered body of a small cat, cradled in my arms as gently as I ever held any of my children. It’s barely breathing, after what I've done to it. Occasionally it stops, only to start again, laboriously, after a painfully long silence. I breathe, or don’t, as if some spell had bound me to draw breath only as long as my poor victim does. I don't dare watch, and I don't dare not to. Everything hangs on this, now.
The little cat stops breathing.
Time stretches on, just the smoke and the stench and the silence and me.
The cat opens its eyes. A familiar glow floods them, clear and blue and pure as water, and then gutters out. The animal’s corpse shudders and spasms, as something used to operating a very different body tries to make its heart work, its lungs breathe. An unnatural rattle escapes its throat. The little body arcs, the slim paws start twitching and then flailing. It screams, or yowls, it twists and contorts with strength of an creature several times it's size, so hard I fear it will snap it's spine by muscle alone. I don’t dare let go, risk letting it damage this alien body struggling to discover what it is now. I just hold it, as tight as I dare, and pray it will not break its spine in terror, pray it won't bury a claw in my eye, pray that the hissing and rasping and heaving of near-dead parts is leading to something other than a second, painful death.
It takes a long time to settle … terrifyingly long. But settle it does, and then, after a few false starts, the narrow head inches around and fixes dull, exhausted eyes on me. My voice is a dry whisper, my lips chapped and dry from three days without even water, but I manage to say his name. The cat makes a strange noise in its throat, then a second louder and more complicated one … and then realises the futility of it. Awkwardly, weakly, it touches it's nose to my bloody fingers, and rests it's head there.
And that’s all it takes. I pull the little animal close, gently as a child, and finally let myself unravel into exhaustion and tears. When sleep takes me, neither the decay nor the darkness I've walked through can follow. He has come back, and he forgives me, and that is all that matters.
The Lover Edit
- The world was on fire
- No one could save me but you.
- Strange what desire will make foolish people do
- I never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you
- And I never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you
- Chris Isaac: Wicked Game
One hundred and eighty-five years is barely time at all, for my kind, but oh how I thought I knew it all after having lived that long. I never was one for the usual forms of ambition; I was a magus trained, but never had a taste for politics or pedantic research as could have been expected in a theurgocracy. What I wanted was adventure, the unexpected, life outside the serene eternal spring of Quel’thalas.
I learned quickly enough that the life of a roving adventurer was less romantic than it was cut out to be. The roads were long and the rain cold, and human wenches devoid of the grace and beauty even the plainest of Quel’dorei women possess. Still, I was determined to carve my niche here, rather than return to Quel’thalas, a humbled man now doomed to mediocrity. This is how I came to be house magus to lord Winterbourne, a minor nobleman of Lordaeron, and this is how I came to meet her.
I had been in the lord’s service the better part of a decade when his wife, a frail and ethereal creature he had married for nothing but the love of her, died giving birth to a stillborn child. Heartbroken and childless, the good lord might have spent the rest of his life a widower and left his lands to default back to the crown – but his advisors would not have it. It was they who brokered his marriage to the Vale girl; the daughter of an ambitious merchant family, but so modest in ambitions of her own that had the lord’s advisors not found another use for her, she would have taken the vows of a priestess only a few months later. As it was, she demurred to her family’s interests, and became to Lord Winterbourne’s bride instead. A healthy and sensible young woman, handpicked to provide an older man with sons and a smoothly running household.
She could not have been of less interest of me, if that had been the extent of what she was. She was beautiful by the standards of her race, but not mine; raven hair, a figure of solid curves rather than graceful lines, and a disposition as cool as her pale blue eyes. The servants quickly took to calling her Lady Winter for the coolly efficient way she managed them, but to me, her self possession never appeared as arrogance. Rather, I recognized it: the impatience of a creature capable of thinking much, much faster than the people they were accustomed to dealing with, and hopelessly tired of explaining herself. She adapted to her station with mannered grace, proving herself as good and loyal a wife as the councillors could have hoped to find. Before a year was out, she had given birth to the first of three sons – but though the child finally sparked some true affection between her and a husband still mourning her predecessor, lord Winterbourne’s young wife was not content.
She never had much use for the solar the lord’s previous wife and her ladies had sewn and done their needlework in. Over the next year, she begged permission from her lord husband to convert the place more to her liking: a library and laboratory, adjoining a patch of herb gardens that allowed her to continue with at least the medicinal parts of her priestly studies. Over the years she expanded her knowledge from medicines into general herbcraft, then hedgewitchery and alchemy. That was what forced me to take note of her. It was natural for her to come to me when alchemical questions breached into true arcane. It was natural for me to offer to teach her, with the lord’s approval. It became natural for us to spend much of the time that was not taken up by her family or household responsibilities in each other’s company, exploring magic.
I knew her intelligence, by then, and I had expected to enjoy teaching her. I had not expected to love her, though in retrospect it seems inevitable. I had become blasé to human company, accustomed to being admired and occasionally pursued by women who neither attracted nor interested me. Shani – Chantrelle, as her romantic but less than educated mother had named her, and as mortified by the name as any botanist would be – did neither, and in fact showed no signs of caring whether I was animal, vegetable or mineral, save that I was capable of thinking at her speed, and knowledgeable in topics that interested her. Anything I could teach, she learned; any question I couldn’t answer, she made a habit of solving or at least exploring in some other way. I couldn’t help being fascinated by such feral intelligence. I couldn’t help but admire how cleanly she reconciled razor wits to her allotted part as matron and caretaker to an older man who, for all the gratitude and affection he gave her, had buried his heart with his first wife. If she had railed against the injustice, I would have understood, and not looked twice. She did not, and that sheer restraint made her radiant.
War came to human lands. Lord Winterbourne rode south to fight the orcish hordes; his lady stayed home, to house refugees and tend wounded as well as her family and household. No supply general could have been more organized, more efficient. The servants’ cold nickname for her began to take on a different tone, less biting than simply familiar – and then her husband returned, mortally wounded and not expected to last the week.
I watched her do what she could to assist the priests and doctors fighting for her husband’s life, and I watched her turn paler and paler as she prepared herself for the inevitability of failure and widowhood. I think, though it shames me to admit it, that I contemplated simply letting nature take it's course, so that once she finished mourning her late husband and my master, we… but I did not have the stomach for killing, not even by inaction. It was that moral cowardice, as much as sympathy for her, that made me take the step that wrote our destinies. I drew her aside, one night, and I shared with her one of the darkest secrets of arcane lore I had ever chanced across, in the rambling vagabond days before I settled into her husband’s service.
She listened, very quiet. She thanked me, and left, and never mentioned it again. If the priests later suspected that the lord’s wife used necromancy to do what prayer and medicine could not – bind the lord’s fleeing spirit to his body, forcing it to stay until the flesh had been repaired enough to begin healing and living on it’s own again – they never rebuked her for it. I alone thought to wonder whether she dipped her fingers in dark magic to save him, or to spite the ghost of a dead woman and her phantom child. If she had ever doubted, she knew then: after seventeen years and five children, the dead still held more sway over her husband than she ever would.
Lord Winterbourne survived, and lived another decade before succumbing to old age and complications of his war wounds. By then, his wife and I had been lovers for almost as long.
If the lord knew, he never made an effort to end it. We were discreet – we met under pretence of her magic lessons, and never shared a night even after her husband’s death – but in the hours we did share, she overwhelmed and exhausted me with passion as relentless as her cool public restraint. She said she loved me; she said that all her life she had never expected to want a man to look at her with lust in his eyes, until she realised the father of her children never would. By then, I could look at her no other way. I did not care that she was human: I did not care that she aged almost as I watched her. It was her fierce spirit I loved, and I could not imagine her dying.
She was less heedless of her own mortality. She never spoke of it, but as her hair faded to steel and then snow, as her figure began to give way to time, her efforts to maintain youthful looks and vigour became more and more pronounced. That, and her care in keeping our affair secret even after she’d become a widow told me clearly enough that she feared I would tire of her, or that we would both be worn down by wagging tongues denigrating an aging woman for entertaining an overly pretty and youthful lover. How do you tell a woman her appearance and has never been interesting to you, and the things that are she cannot lose to time or venomous gossip? Would that I had been brave enough to try, then. Would that I could have convinced her that the sons and daughter she had raised would not judge her. Would that I had been as wise as my kind are supposed to be. But I was in love for the first time in all my centuries, and it took the ending of an era to shock me back to my senses.
If she had been fierce in the days of the second war, fought afar and only visited on her in the form of refugees and injured men, in the days of the Scourge of Lordaeron she was glorious. While it was still a war, her keep was a sanctuary and stronghold to any who needed it; when it became a rout, she stripped the keep of supplies as best she could and marched her people to her native Hillsbrad, where she took to the field hospitals to keep the injured from dying, and the infected from dying of the Plague that would raise them as abominations. The loss of her eldest two sons in battle only steeled her resolve. She was fifty-five, and I had feared for her, but she was tireless. When the ordeal ended, with both our lands and lives in ruin, for a while I imagined that with nothing to go back to, we could leave the devastation as new people and finally make an honest life for ourselves.
That was before I knew what the destruction of the Sunwell would bring. I had lived long outside its influence, I did not feel its loss as soon or as strongly as many of my kin – but the same impatience that led me to leave Quel’thalas left me unprepared to deal with the realization that without the Sunwell in it, the world had become bleak and dry, alive only where magic flowed strongly. Addiction was as much a shock to me as any of my species, and as desperately incapacitating. I resolved to overcome it. I resolved not to become a burden on my love, who had enough grief to contend with between the loss of home, friends and half her family. I ran, fled to Quel’thalas, certain that the magisters would have a solution. I was shocked to discover they had none. The very old and very young were already dying for want of magic, and of the rest, those without some substitute source to tap were already turning on their fellows instead, desperate for anything to strip magic from. Only the strongest were able to go without, and maintain their sanity by force of will alone.
I tried, tried desperately, but as the thirst sank deeper and my skin began to turn sallow and tight over withering flesh, I knew I’d lose the battle. Am I a coward, to have accepted I was not, had never been that strong?
I left my native land for the last time, headed to Southshore where I knew Shani was, with a cousin who had weathered the war with slimmer losses. I meant to say goodbye, and steal from her one of the deadly poisons she had brewed as a kinder death for Plague victims, or for herself if bad came to worst. I was a shaking wreck, by the time I reached the house, in the dead of night and skulking like a thief. I marshalled what little scraps of magic I had left to charm the locks and make my way to her room; I found the poison in minutes, but it took much longer to work up the courage to wake her. My love, this fierce woman who had wasted so much worry on being a mayfly in my life: now I was about to leave her, and I couldn’t decide if it would be kinder to wake her and leave her with the memory of my ruin as well as that of her sons, or to just vanish, and let her realize what must have happened later, as word of the downfall of the Quel’dorei spread.
She solved the question for me by stirring, catching me in the act of watching her. The shock on her face told me how wretched I must look, pale and wasted and drenched in shivering cold sweats. She picked herself up in seconds and came to me, torn between the questions of a lover and of a physician seeing something terribly amiss. I tried to explain, but words failed me, and so I kissed her – and in her breath, I tasted magic, sweet as fresh air after almost drowning. I did not think. I breathed in, deep and desperate. Magic ran through me, silver fire thick with the taste and scent of her, sweet as making love had ever been, and it took me seconds or minutes to realise she was struggling, crying and begging me to stop, and that I had lifted her off her feet, crushing her to keep her from pulling away.
I dropped her, horrified, and she collapsed, choking and covered in cold sweat, shaking as badly as I had been. My voice shook and cracked as I begged her to be alright and believe I hadn’t meant to hurt her – but as I reached out to pull her to me, my hands were steadier than they had been in weeks. My head was pounding with the rush of stolen power. I was drunk, I was godlike, I had tasted magic and it wanted to come to me. Whatever she said, pleaded or threatened, I could not hear. I pulled her close, wrapped her in my arms promising not to hurt her, and never realised that I did just that, losing myself in her skin and the rich, silver veins of magic running under it. I never heard her scream. I never felt her thrashing for her life as I drained her, until finally her fingers found the ritual dagger on my belt, and slammed it between my ribs.
She never meant to kill me.
She told me that, days later, in the dank cellar of an abandoned farm, thick with the reek of smoke and dead things. I taught her how to bind spirits, once; what could she do, when she realised what she’d done, but bind mine? But the magic would not take, my sick and addiction-ravaged body would not hold it. She did what she could, and she wept as she asked me to forgive her. I could not answer her then, for cats cannot speak, and she’d had no other body to bind me to. A sleek Siamese kitten, once the pet of one of her cousin’s children; this is what I became, and have been since.
If cats could cry, I might have wept for what I’ve done to us. One day I will repay her, for selling her soul to save mine. One day I will have a man’s body and voice again, and I will tell her how amazing she is, to forgive and risk so much, after what I tried to do to her. If she can do that for me, I can do it for her and her failing, mortal body. I will save her, like she has saved me, and we will go on, as immortal as we wish to be. Until then I will be this: the silent shadow on her shoulder, the familiar that will follow and guard her through frost, flood and dragonfire.
I love her still. I watch over her still - and try as I might, I regret nothing.