The Murloc is Lonely
Book One: The Frozen Tomb
And then… we were on a boat. A big black bird, a familiar-looking raven, was staring at me with its amber eyes, its head tilted sideways. Fang, the murloc, the Tooth of Storm City, was breathing shallowly and muttering under his breath, and Katy M said, “He’s all yours.” I struggled for a moment, full of fury and grief, and then the Tooth was inside my mind and I breathed easy. I sat up. It was freezing, so cold, and I walked stiffly off the boat and onto a frozen tundra. The sun sat at the horizon to my right, lighting up the wispy clouds above and the snowy sea-shore, hills and mountains, and behind me, the small, rickety wooden ship bobbed gently in the ocean waves.
Out of the glowing west came a squadron of humanoid spiders, of thick, man-sized, glittering black arachnids, and they hissed and skittered.
“Go,” hissed my voice, in a language which I didn’t understand. “Tell your queen that it’s too late: the Scourge Lord will rise again tonight. You have to evacuate, or you will all be slaves again – flee to Lordaeron, and find your old ally Sylvanas. Good luck, friends. We’ll need you in the dark days ahead.”
The spiders turned and skittered back into the west, the waning sunlight glittering orange and red off their shiny, hard carapaces. I turned and walked inland.
Ahead of me, towards the night, a great stiletto rose dark against the darkening sky. It was the tower I’d seen in the Silver Sanctum’s frieze – Varimathras’s tower, his tomb at its peak. I stared up at its impossibly high apex, and at that moment, it began glittering, reflecting a bright white light. The beautiful light descended the tower, and as it reached the bottom, the white, round moon rose above the eastern horizon.
My legs carried me to the tower’s glittering base. A thin stairway curled up its height, and I stepped onto it and began ascending.
The whole of the continent spread out below me as I climbed: dark-stone mountains, crowned with ice; deep, shadowy ravines; and, to the west, black, ice-covered spires rose over the mouth of an enormous black cavern, out of which issued a stream of tiny, distant black specks: Nerubians, I thought, evacuating a Nerubian city. Their capital, replied Fang in my mind. They ritually tear it down and rebuild it every hundred years: its imminent destruction will simply serve to remind them of the ritual’s meaning. Renewal from rubble.
The wind picked up as I climbed. It blew with me, then against me, biting into my eyes, then with me again as I spiraled up the frozen spike. My legs ached, then throbbed, then burned with exertion, but the willpower that drove them was not my own. The moon lifted off the horizon, rising slowly into the sky as I ascended.
At last, I approached the tower’s cold peak: the stairs became shallow, carved out of black stone, flanked by ice or crystal horns, ascending to the spike’s sharp and jagged tip. It was made of dark translucent crystal here, and a shape like a seat was carved into its bottom. A dozen or more feet up, encased within it and dimly outlined in the pale moonlight, was a dark figure, bent double, with what looked like a pair of jagged horns growing from its back.
Between me and the crystal tomb, facing it, floated Hannathras on a cushion of frozen mist. Fear and hatred and revulsion flowed through me, from myself and from Fang, but in a moment it was quelled.
“Hello again,” hissed the banshee wizard without turning around. There was a vague tickle at the outside of my mind, but this time it stayed there.
My mouth curled into a smile, and my arm reached up and tapped the side of my head. “That space is occupied,” said my voice.
“So I see,” hissed the other. “Tell your friend that her help was invaluable.”
“She knows,” replied Fang.
Hannathras turned and fixed his hard, black eyes on me. “You, too,” he said coldly. “You led me right to it, just like she said you would.” He raised his hand, and in it was the black leather-bound book. I struggled against Fang’s puppet strings with sudden rage and guilt. A flicker of it must have leaked onto my face, because Hannathras hissed and smiled. Eeeeasy, cow boy, Fang whispered in my mind.
“You sure tonight’s the night?” said my voice.
Hannathras held up the book and nodded. “So is he,” and he nodded up to the crystal cask. He stared into it, an inscrutable expression on his pale face.
“You sure you know what you’re doing?” said my voice.
Hannathras turned and hissed, and inside my mind, I quivered. His face softened into a thin smile after a moment, though. “There are notes,” he said, holding up the book again, “on how it was resealed, six long centuries ago. The spells it speak of require the power of a goddess. I don’t have that, but there are other powers that will come if I call.” He glanced up at the stars.
“Well,” he hissed after a moment, “since you’re not here to stop me, kindly stay out of my way.” I stepped backwards, a step back down the long stairway, between the sharp crystal teeth which flanked it. Behind me yawned cold, empty space.
The book floated out of his hand and flapped open, pages turning, whipping in the wind. Hannathras stared down at them, motionless, reading. He looked up at the moon. It had risen by degrees, well off the horizon. Hannathras scanned the sky, and then, his black eyes locking onto a star or a blank space between stars, began muttering. He lifted his arms up, palms open and facing the dark sky to the west. He froze. Out of his mouth came a single, quiet, haunting, strangely beautiful note.
I stared, taut, straining against my immobile body. There’s still time, I thought, still time to stop him! What fun would that be? replied the murloc in my head. No fun, I replied angrily, just the right thing to do. The edges of my mouth curled into the whisper of a smile. What do you mean by that word, ‘right’? Do you even know?
Hours passed. My hooves began to ache from the cold and the wind. Fang closed my eyes against it, and I drifted, with nothing in my head but the sound of the wind, and the voice of the wizard, and the bite of the cold, and the murloc.
I opened my eyes, and the moon was high in the sky. Hannathras hadn’t moved. I looked up, to the west, following his stony gaze. The stars shown brightly against the black of the great dark Beyond, flickering white and blue.
Then one stood out, orange, just a bit brighter, right where Hannathras was staring. Then another. Then a small cluster. I squinted at them: each one had a flickering tail.
The orange specks grew in the sky. The muscles along Hannathras’s arms were suddenly taut, as though he were holding up a great weight, and he began to shake with exertion.
I looked back up at the sky: the flecks had become balls of celestial flame. What’s going on, I thought, what are those? A rain of chaos, replied Fang. Demon rock and fire. They’re coming right for us! I thought. Not quite.
Hannathras began chanting under his breath. The balls of fire, arcing slowly across the sky, grew large and bright as the moon neared its apex: the crystalline world below dimly reflected their orange light.
And one of the flames, the largest, flared suddenly, and then went out. Where it had been, a dark, glowing point of shadow-light pulsed, streaming silently upward across the sky, warping the starry background as though drawing its force from the fabric of space itself. It constricted and leapt forward, directly at—
The moon. It struck the bright white orb silently, and a great plume of white dust rose from it, slowly. Another waxing fireball flamed out brightly and winked into nothingness. It pulsed and leapt forward, followed by others. They fell at the moon, striking it at its leading edge, as though trying to push it back. Plumes of dust rose from it, obscuring the nearby stars.
I stared, utterly confused. What’s going on? I thought. We’re undoing a six hundred year old mistake, said Fang’s voice in my thoughts. Mistake?
Hannathras’s hands, outstretched, continued guiding the demonic fireballs across the sky. I noticed a new crop of them descending from the east. These flamed out as well, and leapt at the moon – but they didn’t impact it, disappearing instead behind the moon.
As the banshee wizard pushed and pulled and the night sky lit up with orange fire, the moon ceased its eternal orbit’s ascent and stopped, motionless, at the top of the sky. Hannathras’s face was strained as though his will was moving worlds.
The last of the flames winked out, striking at the great white moon. The night sky was black again, and the moon, scarred along its western edge, hung brilliantly among the stars perfectly motionless above us.
Then, at its western edge, a tiny sliver of blue emerged. I stared at it as it grew, from a sliver, to a great, glowing blue disc, born out of the white moon, smaller than it but as bright. My god, I thought. Imagine how the rest of the world feels tonight, said Fang. I’ve missed it, he added wistfully.
As the blue moon fully emerged from her white mother, a sudden, terrible thunderclap, like mortar fire, struck the night, echoing off the frozen wastelands below.
I look to the sound’s source, and saw to my horror that the top of the crystal tomb had cracked open. A cold mist tendril snaked out of the crack. It caught the blue light of the new moon and seemed to hold it like a sponge. The dark form inside the frozen tomb, which had been bent double, now stood erect. I watched, terrified and entranced.
Hannathras, weakened by his tidal effort, began singing his ethereal hymn again, and the tomb’s mist, and its captive blue light, began to gather about his hands. As it intensified, he gritted in pain, and the skin of his hands boiled and peeled. He squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to keep singing, pulling in more of the moonlight, until his hands were surrounded by whirring, pulsing orbs of light too bright to look at. He inhaled sharply, his eyes flying wide, and then, in response to some unheard question, he cried, “Yes, knowingly!”
The blue light disappeared for a moment – his hands were now nothing but charred stumps – and the world was silent. Then Hannathras’s whole body began shaking, then glowing, and burning and boiling, his mist evaporating beneath him, and the blue light leapt from him in a bolt, striking the frozen tomb.
Shards of crystal flew above us, off into the abyss. I ducked away from them, and when I’d stood up, Hannathras’s charred body had fallen to the stairs. The black book fell from the air and landed open atop his wilted robes.
The tip of the crystal spike was gone. Atop its remnants stood a tall, hulking, naked humanoid figure, facing away, his head bowed. His skin was sickly, almost perfectly white, with darker lines and gashes running up his thick arms and down his back. What I thought had been horns standing upright from his back were a pair of black, scarred stumps – the remains of wings, I thought. In place of feet, he had – hooves. I glanced down at my own.
His hands were enormous, and each finger was tipped with a long, razor-sharp claw. He flexed them, raising them to his face and staring at them.
Then he turned slowly. Tendons stood out grotesquely on his neck, above his broad shoulders and chest, and his broad face was pallid, almost purple: the face of an old man, but twisted with age and hatred. From his dark eye sockets – the same black eyes of Hannathras – a pair of dark streaks slashed downward across his face, like black oil tears. In the depth of his pit eyes glowed a pinprick of sickly, blue-green light. His ears were tall and pointed, standing nearly straight up from his head. Between them, pointing forward from the very top of his bare, white scalp, stood a pair of serrated horns. They ended abruptly, jaggedly, as though they had been broken off eons ago.
Varimathras? I thought faintly. You need to ask? answered Fang.
The Dread Lord’s eyes narrowed, darting shrewdly about. He stepped down from the crystal chair and down the black stone stairs. He bent and plucked the Book of Arthas from atop the black robes of Hannathras, holding it easily in one enormous, clawed hand. Looking down, he spoke, his voice deep and resonant. “Thanks, son,” he said casually.
He looked up at me. “And who are you?” he snarled.
My mouth opened, and words emerged unbidden: “Your downfall,” growled my voice into the cold silence.
Are you crazy?! I thought, panicking. Thoughts flew through my mind at lightning speed, ideas, not words: Look at him. Remember him. Remember everything you can, because right now, knowing your enemy is the most important thing to you, and to the world. And try not to die, said the murloc. What?! I thought.
And then my mind was empty. I was myself, alone, at the tip of a frozen crystal spike, with the Dread Lord, with nothing but the moons and the stars above and a thousand feet of cold, ceaseless wind below.
“Don’t waste my time,” growled Varimathras. The hulking, naked Dread Lord flicked a finger at me, and a mental force, the merest shrug of his will, tossed me backwards like a rag doll, off the crystal spike and into empty space.
Through the night, a pair of enormous black birds, crows or ravens, rose to meet me, cushioning me, beating their wings against the darkness and slowing my descent, guiding me to a less-than-fatal landing in a field of snow. It knocked the wind out of me and I lost consciousness for a moment. When my vision returned, Katy M was standing over me, her hand gently glowing green, and she whispered, “Sleep.”
“No,” I said, weakly, raising a hand towards her, and then whatever magic she commanded crept over my mind and pressed me down, gently, back into sleep.