Bad things are happening in Stormwind – and beyond.
The Hand of Lothar, they call themselves.
Yva Darrows was their first target.
Tirith and Aely were their second and third.
They have since… expanded their reach and escalated their methods of enlightenment.
You can read all of the stories here, as well as read the Dossiers and other miscellany related to this ongoing story that is affecting all of Feathermoon. The website will be updated with more stories as they are posted over the next several weeks. (I’m told there will be over 40 players involved by the end).
Oh, and since I ought to warn you now – content warnings for torture, physical abuse, sadism, and high levels of gut-wrenching mindfuckery. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The cathedral bells stop ringing overnight, except for chiming the hours. Three bell strikes, and Angoleth padded softly around another corner of the Cathedral District, staying carefully in the shadows. Trained ears picked up Mogget’s soft breathing – nearly inaudible as he slunk along the other side of the street. They made their way past the Argent Dawn buildings, shuttered and dark, and into the main square, the only sounds the gentle splashing from the fountains. One of Officer Pomeroy’s boys stood in the square as well, unaware of his audience as he shifted idly from one foot to the other, and then moved on.
In the distance, someone’s hound took up braying, followed by two or three others. Mogget stretched, unphased by the Midnight Bark, and followed his elf around another corner.
A creaking shutter stopped both in their tracks. Overhead, against the light bricks, a dark shape hung down from the sill of a window, one arm flailing wildly at the offending shutter. Angoleth ducked back around the corner, notching an arrow. The shape dropped with a muffled thump into the street, and was immediately set upon by a giant cat. It yelped, Mogget growled, and there was the distinct sound of cloth ripping as Angoleth stepped out from the corner and confronted what appeared to be a 12 year old girl.
No answer. The girl shrank back, away from the elf, her leg firmly grasped in Mogget’s mouth. He eyed his elf, watching for cues for what to do. She dropped the arrow back into her quiver.
“What are you doing sneaking out at 3am?”
Long pause. “Nothing.”
“Suit yourself. Let’s go see who’s home.” Mogget let go of the girl’s leg in time for Angoleth to grab one of her arms and move toward the front door.
“No! This is my house; you can’t tell them. I swear I won’t go out again!”
“Oh? Why shouldn’t I turn you in? There’s dangerous things that happen on these streets at night. I’m far from the worst thing that could find you.”
“Please don’t tell anyone. Please?”
Angoleth paused a moment, watching the girl. She couldn’t seem to decide which was more threatening, the elf, the cat, or the specter of her parents. Her eyes darted between the two figures and the door, back and forth, her hands trembling slightly.
“Alright. I’ll give you a boost up to the window too, if you like. But I intend to keep you to that promise not to sneak out again. I patrol these streets at night, and if I find you again, we’re going in through the front door, no matter who your parents are.”
Two minutes later and the shutter above squeaked closed again, the girl safely inside the second floor bedroom.
Angoleth looked at Mogget and grinned. He stretched, lazily.
“What d’ you think, Mogs? We’re not THAT scary, are we?” The big cat chuffed in response, and the two turned around the next street, taking up familiar paths on either side.
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(Written by Jolly, Tarquin, and Annalea)
The highlands of Lordaeron were not for the faint of heart; be it the putrescence of the Scourge’s long-lingering remnant, or the rock-strewn hills and valleys that made farmers out of only the most hardy and stubborn of peoples, the very land itself was a fine depiction of the people that had long inhabited it. The clouds that had moved in threatened to wash the land in dread, with Thorim’s distant rumbling echoing the sentiment. Coniferous and deciduous trees alike fought branch-to-branch in tight knots dotted throughout the ups and downs of the horizon, nature’s own version of unlikely allies against a never-ceasing tide of earth. The only invaders able to easily take the place lacked the necessities of food or rest that the land demanded of a traveler.
Through this scarred home the party pushed, coming across the old dirt path that led up a hill, steep on both sides and knotted with trees. “Through ‘ere,” Aely said, leading ahead with more eagerness than the others. The sky had begun to let loose the faint pitter-patter of rain that was sure to thicken soon.
Before she could reach the top of the hill, one of the trees moved. Not a tree, but near as big around as the oak he moved out from behind. He remained in the shade, the blade of his greatsword held straight and steady before him, ready for grim business. His face, despite its youth, was as craggy and full of old tales as the very land they had traveled across.
“Aely,” the man said, dropping his guard and moving forward two steps, seeing only her and not registering the others initially. When he did see the others, his eyes widened angrily, blade coming up again fiercely. Runes along bare arm and blade flared a malevolent purple. Kaleigh’s blade was out and her body in front of the paladin in what was an inhuman feat of speed, a hairsbreadth from violence. “Who–so manah,” Jol said through gritted teeth. “Ap Danwyrith onleh, yeh said!”
Tarquin drifted out from behind the two armored women, scarecrow frame banded in dark leathers. “So she said, aye. But I am a cautious lad, an’ willna go in the deep dark woods alone.” He showed his teeth in a perfunctory smile. “Yeh shid recall that ay me, auld boy, if it’s Jolstraer ap Taborwynn yeh are.”
“Fear?” Jol asked, his eyes half looking inwardly. “Nae. Far pas’ that, me thinks. If I am ‘oo I am.” He frowned at that, the faraway look going further, deeper in. The blade never wavered; the violet hues thrown off by his runes danced to a dirge unheard.
“Souls carry mem’ries like scars ay tha bodeh. From fleshwounds tae tha bone, ‘ey remain. Wot manner ay fel can make ‘et? Arcanery? Dark necr’mancy?” The runes flickered in color, an unholy red. “Blood ay tha witch. Bite ay tha Scourge. Cold ay tha grave. Kynaugh magyath.”
Kynaugh magyath, mouthed Tarquin back at him, face carefully blank. The younger man stepped forward, and Jolstraer’s hands tightened on the hilt of his sword, hard enough to make knuckles crack. Chryste was between them then, in two quick steps, but Jolstraer looked right through them all. “Awright, big lad,” Tarquin began, “Let’s say that yeh–”
“I. Exist!” bellowed Jolstraer, his eyes regaining their focus and flaring with the impassioned cry. “Tha road ay tha otherwordly is full ay gits an’ charlatans! Lorn Daer Ronae, tha taint wos named. But tha blood ay Lordaeron is strongah. Believe as may be, but ap Taborwynn remains ‘ere wit’ tha living. Me will is me oan, me fury’s unquenched, an by tha blood ay our oldfathers ah’m nae done wit’ this worl’ yet! Seek yer proof, Tarquin!”
There was silence in the glade when the echoes of the death knight’s challenge faded, a true silence, as if beast and bird had fled. It came to Aelflaed, through the twin curtains of her hope and her dread, that this was familiar. The stillness and the quiet of decision, before blood was spilled. And what would she do then, if the choice was forced on her?
Then Tarquin gave some minute signal and stepped back, and Annalea slipped forward in his place. Hair pulled back, wearing a leather vest over shirt and breeches, she could have been a craftswoman hawking her wares in Trade Square. Jolstraer looked through her, then at her, his eyes softening. “Anna. Pret’y lil’ songbird. Darker now, yeh feel.”
“Still a flatterer, I see.” Anna stepped forward from the other three then, showing courage in the face of what might very well be a greatsword-wielding madman. “Jolly was always straight with us, so I’m just going to say it: I need a look inside your mind. To make sure these Aes’kyr didn’t leave any traps behind, or that they haven’t managed to thoroughly convince some other poor dead man that he’s our Jolstraer. It’ll hurt some, I won’t lie, but it’ll fade. Will you trust me?”
“Yeh ken tha dead can sing? Beau’iful, wordless, sadder an’ swee’er ‘an any livin’ mout’ ken try ta match. Drive ay soul mad, because yeh ken ne’er escape it.” Jolstraer straightened, slowly, lowering the sword and plunging the point into the earth. “Word ay tha colors, yeh ken ‘ave me trust. But pray, one errant tendril an’ ay’m liable tae die wit’ me han’s aroun’ yer pret’y lil’ t’roat.”
Perhaps she ought to have flinched from that thought, but Anna stood her ground and met the huge man’s eyes. “I’ve had rougher hands than yours around it and lived to sing the tale.” She held up her hands. “But I won’t go fucking with your mind. You have my word.”
She looked about for a sheltered part of the hill and pointed at a fallen log beneath a stand of thick pines. “There. It’ll keep the rain off of us if it starts coming down. I just need you to lie back and let me sing.”
The big man let out a long breath, as a man does before he lifts a heavy burden for a long travel. “Aye ‘en.” He trudged towards the log, thumping down with his back to the log like a sack of turnips. “Least ay git ay song out ay ‘et, aye?” he said to no one in particular as the four arranged themselves around him in various states; Anna was calm and collected, kneeling there beside him like they were settling for a picnic. Tarquin hovered just outside of arm’s reach, shifting and swaying, his eyes flickering between Jolstraer and Annalea with animal alertness. Aely was at Tarquin’s shoulder, her face impassive but her stance near radiating nervous energy. Kaleigh took up her post behind the big Northman, and he spared her a glance as they settled in.
“Keep yer blade out, Kaleigh,” Jol said with a resigned sigh. “Make ‘et quick if’n ‘et goes sour, ay?”
If Chryste said anything, Jol didn’t hear; Anna’s sweet voice filled the air with song.
At first it was only the stirred forest air, the rumble of thunder from the north and the tang of dampness in the air. Jol opened his mouth to speak, and that’s when the forest itself…came alive. As she sang, the memories came to life in his eyes. What the others could not see came to life in the forest around them.
The song had a Northern lilt to it, a melody they could almost (but not quite) put their fingers on. A few more bars, maybe, or the first bit of the chorus, and the name of it would come. Except the song changed. Here it was a ballad, here a marching song, a lullaby, a dirge. That melody remained, drawn out, sped up, but always there, hiding in the tune. And while she sang, Annalea sifted through the memories of the man claiming to be Jolstraer:
…Of five brothers, riding against the Orcs near Darrowmere…a broken drunk, stumbling into the Pig and Whistle…fire and brimstone in the depths of Blackrock, guarding backs coated in Black and Red…Aelflaed, and pride…
“Easy now,” Tarquin said, to nobody in particular. Chryste Kaleigh didn’t need the warning; she held her sword level and statue-still, a heartbeat’s action away from Jolstraer’s broad back. At the Boss’s elbow, Aelflaed knit her hands together and mouthed a prayer, whatever words were in it lost to the sound of Annalea’s song.
…Northrend, pain and uncertainty of Threnn’s slumber…Angra’thar, fighting side by side with his family, pride and glory…fear and worry – where was Aely!?…picking a fight with Bricu, going fist-to-fist despite the festering plague in his side…his family, trying to save him…
Annalea sang, until her voice was a hush, the notes in the lower part of her range. She drew a breath — not the end of the song, but a pause, a storyteller’s trick — and when the next notes poured forth, they were brighter, hopeful. The melody invoking home to those inclined to hear it. Invoking family. She guided the memories along, watching as Jolstraer thought–
…Of Aelflaed, so strong and so beautiful, the last sight he saw living…
He sat bolt upright then, his face a rictus of pain and an angry shout coming from deep within. The song stopped as abruptly as he moved, his fists all balled up like a child about to tantrum. “Enough!” he gasped, chest heaving and unshed tears in his voice. “No more, please,” he pleaded, leaning back against the log with a heavy thump. The rain began to fall, pattering against the forest in a sharp contrast to the five stalwart forms nestled in its midst.
Annalea stepped back calmly, but still got herself out of swinging range. When she spoke, her voice was hoarse. “It’s him,” she said. “It’s Jolly.”
September 13, 2013 – 7:11 pm
(With Tarquin and Annalea)
Once more, four people made their way through the thickets and hills of Lordaeron, this time in the crisp chill of late morning, seeking after the Rider. Aelflaed had snatched what sleep she could while Chryste winged her way to them on gryphon-back; the same jostled nerves and fearful hope that had kept her from any real rest also kept her moving and alert. Even she’d been well-rested, though, this would have been a hard party to read.
Chryste, of course, was as unreadable as she always was when armed and prepared for violence. Any fears or doubts, if she had them, slowed her no more than the monstrous sword across her back seemed to. She brought up the the rear, and Aelflaed led them herself; between them, Tarquin and Annalea were a matched pair. Bright-eyed, alert, their smiles stowed for once in favor of the steady wariness of hunting animals, and whatever worries they brought with them to the wood hidden behind it.
Aelflaed halted them at the same spot Orryl had on the night before. She was no tracker, but the night was carved in her memory like graven stone. “‘Tis off here,” she told them, “well back’n the forest.” She looked at Tarquin, too tired and heartsick to care if she was overstepping. “An’ I think ye maun like ta talk oan what wir goin’ ta be doin’ once we get there, boss.”
Tarquin looked at her strangely, then at Annalea with a species of chagrin floating across his face. Annie was the one who answered. “It would help, wouldn’t it? Sorry, Aely. We get used to…” she made a minute gesture that carried a world of explanation in it, with her clever bard’s fingers. Kaleigh, al’Cair, ap Danwyrith – hands and head and mouth – with no need to state the plans they’d gotten used to carrying out. Aelflaed had known them longer than to be offended.
“Anyro’,” Tarq offered, looking into the scrub and the shadows of the tree line, “Best we speak it, whatever, an’ be certain. Annie?” The priestess lifted an eyebrow, and Aelflaed surged into the gap before she could speak.
“Beg pardon – Annie, Tarq-” Chryste, peering off into the distance, didn’t seem to give a damn who was talking – “Want ta be clear oan’t. What it is wir lookin’ t’find. Jolstraer, e’en when he wis with us, ye ken how it went wi’ him, th’ stubborn auld mule. Do things jus’ t’piss ye oaf, remind he wisnae auld an’ bent’s all thit…” She mastered herself, fought the tide of memories, things she hadn’t mourned for years coming back up again.
Chryste’s soft voice surprised her, especially with the dark woman still looking out at the trees. “Yeah. Foul-tempered fucker, wasn’t he? If we’d tried crowning him King of Stormwind, he’d of said he didn’t need an ugly damn chair, he could stand on his own two feet.” She laughed and showed them a rare smile. “You think it’s him, Aelflaed?”
“Pretty well convinced, yeh. Sounds like him, feels like him. I’d think if it wis sommat tryin’ ta pretend ta be him, they’d be nicer, an’ less flummoxed by findin’ me. He’s… well, e’en if it is Jols, he’s dangerous. He attacked me fir tellin’ him I thought he wis full ay shite. Likely will do similarly if wir na careful about how we approach him – he may be defensive, air jus’ flat out hostile. An’ he’s … stronger than he used ta be. An’ bigger. ”
“Stronger and bigger,” said Anna, contemplating. “At least you didn’t add ‘meaner’ to the list. The Jolstraer I remember was, uh, cantankerous, but not mean. Not to anyone in the Colors, at least. If it comes to fighting, you three can hold your own. And, well. Not that I want to knock him down, if it’s really Jolly, but if he gets past Chryssy and yourself and Tarq…” She held out one hand and walked a coin made of shadow across her knuckles. “Let’s leave that as unlikely for now, and hope it’s him. And he’s in a good mood.”
“Think yeh that last twa’s a bit, uh, contradictory?” Tarquin smiled faintly. “We’ll be mindful, Aels. Wir here ta find a mate, no’ start a fight, so we’ll eat a few kettles ay shite if that’s what’s served. Awright?” Aelflaed nodded. There was nothing for it now but to trust them. “Now ta the first point – Annie?”
“Right.” The shadow coin grew and elongated, twining around her fingers in a thick tendril. From there it split into a hundred thinner threads which she gathered into a loop. “I’ll want a look at him. Jolstraer, that is, not the body he’s been shoved into. Whatever this… Aes’kyr? Is that it? Whatever she did, I ought to be able to see the traces of. But that’s only going to tell me that someone shoved a soul into a body. I can do that from a distance, but…” Annalea mmphed. “I doubt he’ll like the rest. I need a look inside, to make sure it’s not some poor sad git made to believe he’s Jolstraer ap Taborwynn. That’s twofold: looking for outside fuckery first. I doubt he’ll take too much issue with that.” The skein of shadow threads disappeared up her sleeve. “If I don’t find any, I’m going to want a stroll through his memories. To be absolutely certain.” She grinned at her companions, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “I doubt he’ll take well to that.”
Aely attempted to grin back. “Dinna think he will, but if ye explain it, he maun be muir obligin’ than jus’ outright goin’ siftin’ through his head. I canna actually prove it’s him oan my own anyway, an’ I’m na afraid ta say as much. I heard his last confessions, so I dinna ken there’s much ye’d find wha’ I dinna already ken anyway. He says he’s unfinished business, an’ things he needs ta say – best way fir him ta say it is fir folk ta actually believe it’s him. An’ ye can offer tha’ proof, Annie. Only hope he sees it tha’ way.”
“If it’s him, Aels, then he will. I expect yeh’ll make him.” Either Tarquin was dead certain, or bluffing like a champion. “Let’s be about it, then. Take us ta the man.” Aelflaed nodded and turned towards the treeline, and after a bare moment’s hesitation, led them off the road and into the forest’s edge.