The Murloc is Lonely
Book One: The Frozen Tomb
“That was pretty stupid of you,” said a gravely voice at the edge of my consciousness. I swam upwards towards it, until I found myself back in my body, just under awake, lying face-down and in a considerable amount of pain. There was a crackling noise, and I smelled wood burning.
I opened my eyes.
Katy M sat across a tiny fire from me, a few small branches burning bright and smokeless, nearly. My body ached, and I was lying face-down on cold stone. I tried to sit up, and failed. My muscles were really, really sore. “What did you hit me with back there?” I said.
“Fury,” she said simply. “It’s a druid thing,” she continued, staring into the fire, her face devoid of expression. “You wouldn’t know anything about it.”
I propped my head up on my arms, craning my neck from my prone position and looking around. Rough-cut dark stone rose behind M, curving overhead. It seemed like less of a room and more of a cave. “Where am I?” I said. “Is this some kind of prison?” I hadn’t quite woken all the way up yet.
“Not at all,” growled M, “although that’s where you belong.”
I furrowed my brow. “Where’s Fang?” I said, deciding to ignore her.
“He was attacked,” she growled. “Or weren’t you there?”
“Oh,” I said.
“He’s fine,” she continued. “As far as anyone outside the Dawn knows, we were attacked in our room by forces unknown, and I spirited you to safety. Having missed us, they left Fang unconscious and disappeared.” She sighed at me. “Quite a job you did, waking the whole place up. The Dawn isn’t the only organization that uses Underwood Manor, but it is the most secret.”
“Underwood Manor, the mansion?” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. “We’re now in the tunnels of the old Northshire mine, whose entrance is hidden on the Manor’s grounds, at the base of the cliffs. There are tunnels here leading deep into the mountains, to paths and passes. Many groups which curry favor with Andrew Underwood use it for their own purposes, and we will be using it for ours. We’re down a side-tunnel, to avoid travelers and smugglers and awkward questions,” and she pointed past me. I rolled over painfully and looked – it ran off into darkness. “So please keep quiet this time.”
I hauled myself painfully to a sitting position. “You didn’t heal me very well,” I said.
“What fun would that be?” growled M.
“Look,” I said, “I got angry, and for good reasons.”
“I know,” said M, her voice softening for once. “Did getting angry help anyone get their homes back, though,” she continued, “or come back to life? Or do anything useful for anybody?”
“No,” I growled, “but thanks for the civics lesson. It sure feels sincere, coming from the friend of the guy who casually turned Storm City into a war zone, and then casually laughed it off.”
M’s jaw hardened for a moment, but she relented. She sighed, looking into the flickering flames. I watched her.
“He doesn’t, you know,” she said finally.
“Doesn’t what?” I said.
“He doesn’t casually shrug the whole thing off, and neither do I. And stop blaming him for it.”
“Who’s to blame, then?” I said, forehead furrowed. “The Law? Whatever it is.”
M nodded. “If you need to place blame, place it there.”
I sighed. “Great,” I said. “I don’t even know what it is any more, if I ever did. If you want me to trust you, you can start by telling me what the Law is, so I can blame it properly.”
M pursed her lips. “As best I can, maybe,” she murmured.
I tilted my head at her. As best she can?
M stared intensely into the fire, as though reading distant memories in its flickering flames. She was silent for a time.
Finally, she nodded faintly, then looked up at me. “What is it to you?” she said.
I furrowed my brow in annoyance. “It’s the authority in Storm City, it’s the thing that Fang and you work for, that enforced his declarations.”
M shook her head. “It didn’t enforce Fang’s declarations: Fang declared its decisions.”
I looked piercingly at her. “That’s right,” I said, “Fang was just a spokesperson.”
M nodded. “Not just, but largely.”
“So the Law is everything, it’s like a king and his whole government,” I said, “except there’s no face, no sense of pride in our own king like in the old days. No face but Fang’s, of course, and we were always afraid of him.” I paused. “Which is funny, isn’t it,” I continued, “because all he ever did was keep things from breaking out in war.” I paused again. “Kept us all from becoming refugees,” I added slowly. “That didn’t really occur to any of us until he was gone.” I found it suddenly harder to hate him.
The other bull nodded slowly, but didn’t respond. “M?” I said, after a moment.
She shook herself out of some thought to which I wasn’t privy. “Do you remember your days in Orcmar?” she said.
“Sure,” I said. Not fondly.
M nodded again. “What do you remember about the Shadow Council?”
“The Council,” I replied, “is seven people, mostly orcs, who rule Orcmar. They live down in the Cleft, where no one else can go. They make their decrees and pass them up to us, and that’s… that’s the law,” I said, and faltered. “And no one ever sees them.” In ten years, I’d never put it together. “It’s the same people, isn’t it, in both places. The dwarves, too, I’ve heard! No one ever sees the Stone King, just his statue, and no one knows how he enforces….” I trailed off. A shadow government, ruling the world and pitting prideless city-states against each other in a never-ending bid to keep power. Amazing. “And you work for them!” I scrambled to my feet.
Then I sat back down, hard. My muscles still hurt.
“I’m not going to work for world domination,” I said, rubbing my rump dolefully. “I’m not going to be part of this.”
“Then it’s a good thing you’re almost completely wrong,” replied M lightly. There was a twinkle in her eyes, although her jaw was set hard.
“How?” I said.
She glanced back up at me from the fire. “The Law, the Shadow Council, the Stone King, they are all connected, but the Law isn’t people, it’s not a vast worldwide conspiracy. It’s…” she paused. “It’s a force, a will in the universe. The Law just is.”
“Oh,” I said. I paused. “Well, that explains everything.”
M shot me a look.
“Sorry,” I said. “Go on….”
M nodded. “The Law doesn’t care about power,” she continued, “not like a king who wants money and control and monuments and songs sung in his honor.”
“Then why?” I said. “Why is a force in the universe, one which has no interest in power, holding power in every major city in the world?”
“Some of the minor ones, too,” she replied. Then she paused.
“For thousands and thousands of years,” she began, “this world was at peace, because there was no one to fight. Then people were born and there were wars, some of them just and some of them absurd, and people died. There were wars over magic, and wars over power, and wars over land, and survival, and many other things besides. And the Law played a part in them, causing some and preventing others and tweaking the outcome of others.”
“Thousands of years?” I said, disbelievingly.
M nodded. “The Law has been moving and pushing events since the beginning, since before the beginning of everything.”
“The creators?” I said.
M furrowed her brow. “The titans?” she said. “I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Then, six hundred years ago,” she continued, “the Law started working towards peace, towards a breaking up of the old hatreds and allegiances. We worked painstakingly to seize power everywhere, until the cities of the world each stood disunited and alone. The Law started reaching into the world more directly, enforcing its rules harshly and secretly. Fang was in Storm City mostly as a figurehead.”
She was silent for a moment, but she wasn't finished, just collecting her thoughts. I stared at her, rapt.
“That’s how it has been for six centuries,” she said, “but now, all of a sudden, the Law is pulling out. Out of Storm City, out of Orcmar – out of everywhere. The agents of the Law are moving back out into the field again, adventuring again. Fang is thrilled.” She cracked a little smile.
Then she frowned and looked right at me. “And none of us know why, but it serves the purposes of the Law, it’s part of its plan. It wants chaos, lawlessness, something – and for a good reason, certainly,” she added.
I stared. “Fang pulled out of Storm City, started all that fighting and he doesn’t even know why.”
M nodded. “He isn’t thoughtless to the suffering of the refugees, to the chaos his departure caused. He simply believes that the Law knows best, that their suffering is a necessary precondition to the fulfillment of the Law’s plan. We all believe it – all of us, all our lives, have worked on blind faith that the Law has a plan.”
She went silent. She held my eyes for a moment, and for a moment I thought I saw a shadow of doubt in the depths of hers; but if it had been there, it disappeared quickly. She looked down into the fire, then up the column of thin grey smoke to the stone ceiling. One of the fire’s branches cracked loudly, and somewhere in the mine some small creature startled and splooshed into a subterranean pool of water. I watched her, waiting.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. “The Law, it’s not a law, and it’s not a faction. It’s a design. It’s got something to do with why we all exist, the reason for all this.” She gestured around, earnestly, at all of Az, I thought. She shrugged. “It’s a purpose.”
“A purpose,” I muttered. My life has a purpose, I thought, doesn’t it? But if it had one, what had I done about it lately? Or, ever? I sighed.
If it was true, if the Law wasn’t just another strange cult, then maybe there was something good there for me. Having a purpose, even one which I couldn’t yet understand, seemed better than the pointless wandering which had occupied me for the ten years since I’d run away from home. A purpose wasn’t a bad reward, plus eighty silver, for going to investigate a missing murloc. Not bad at all.