.I.
Recognition

She was standing by a freezing trap, near the flag.  If Cian moved too close, he would be encased in a block of ice, unable to move while she thought of what to do with him.  He wondered if she would look on his rotting body and recognize him, if she would know his voice when he spoke.  His face was hidden by a red mask, but even if she could discern its features would she know him for who he was?  Doubtful.

Cian edged closer to the night elf.  His daggers dripped with poison designed to cripple his targets so that they could not escape him.

Eulalia would not escape him.

Still, he had to be careful.  Eulalia had set a sparking flare on top of her trap, and an enormous white tiger waited in the shadows by her side, prepared to strike.  If he approached the flare he would be revealed and he reckoned that the tiger wouldn’t mind a snack of his bone marrow.  Slowly he edged closer, glancing around the small room in search of anyone who might interfere.  Fortunately, Eula’s colleagues had left her alone, to pursue the rest of Cian’s team.  They were outside Silverwing Hold, fighting amongst each other.  He could hear them shrieking in indignation and triumph, but they had not yet broken the line to enter the hold.  Only he had slipped through.

Cian crept up near Eulalia.  Her expression was focused and calm, and even now when he looked at her he was seared by her luminous silver eyes.  Much of her pale, cherubic face was obscured by her helmet, which looked to Cian like the fossilized plumage of a rare bird.  Matching armor covered the rest of her body, including a set of maroon, formidably spiked pauldrons.  She had kept herself busy since they last met—but then, so had he.

Eulalia stirred.  She turned, moved forward, looked left and right and above.  Cian tensed.

She laid a fresh trap, and the air hissed as she sent up another flare.  Cian pressed against the wall behind her.  His sallow skin perspired.  It had been so long since his nerves tingled that he had forgotten they existed.

The great tiger was just beside him, cloaked in its own shadows.  In this power they were much alike, although he could likely kill it with two precise strokes of his dagger.  But that would alert her, that would ruin everything.

The din of fighting echoed in the hold’s entrance tunnel.

“What are ya doin’, mon?” An’jin, a troll mage, spoke worriedly into his mind. “Take it!”

An’jin hovered on the hold’s roof, staring at Eulalia.  His hands crackled with fire.  Cian restrained himself.  If he had learned anything in recent years, it was the discipline of patience.

Eula’s long, sharp ears picked up the sound, and her eyes flicked up to An’jin.  She drew an arrow from her bow, and as the fireball blasted down to consume her, her arrow whistled through it and struck An’jin in the chest.  The troll collapsed on the floor as his flames engulfed Eula.  Her armor absorbed the brunt of the force but she gritted her teeth nonetheless and blood seeped through the chinks in her breastplate and gloves.  Coughing, she began to bandage herself, and Cian seized the opportunity.

He raised the flat edge of his dagger and struck her on the back of the neck, so that she slumped over, aware but unable to move.  Alarm flashed in her eyes, but until he acted again he was still hidden.  Slowly, he traced one dagger’s point along her collarbone and the other beneath her chin, just deep enough so that the poison could steal into her veins, helped along by her open wounds.  With difficulty, she reached for her polearm to retaliate, but he jammed the first dagger’s pommel into her side, and she spat blood.

“Shh,” he murmured, and her struggle failed.

The cat, no longer aware of its master, had disappeared until it was again called.  Cian lifted Eulalia’s body and left the hold as a crowd of Alliance and Horde charged into the room.  He cared little for that conflict today, and did not mind the mark of desertion placed upon him as he dragged Eula away from the gulch and towards a secluded cave.

Cian propped Eulalia against the stone wall.  She was not dead, only incapacitated by her injuries and the poison still tainting her blood.

He was not sorry, and he was content to wait.

Her helmet was askew and her ponytail had come loose, so that her hair cascaded in waves down her back and chest, pallid and reflective as the moon.  He buried his clawed hands into the soft locks, fingering them idly.  The sensation calmed him, and he would consider himself satisfied if he could stay this way until his cursed heart finally released him into oblivion.

But it was not to be.

Eulalia moaned, and her eyelids began to open.  The silver light of her eyes washed over him, and he gripped a lock of her hair too tightly, so that she grimaced in pain.

“What’s going on?” she said mournfully, in Common.  It was a language he still recalled—most of his kind did, really.  They had just adopted Gutterspeak as a dialect, a way to distance themselves from their former lives. “Why am I in this cave?  There’s nothing in here but ghost mushrooms and I thought I already picked all of the fresh ones before I went into the gulch.”

Eulalia had not changed.  Cian had always marveled at her ability to know exactly where she was at any given time even though she could barely read a signpost without outside assistance.

She noticed him then, still clutching her hair.

“Zombie!” she yelped.  What a vulgar word, he thought. “You’re that zombie who was going all stabby stabby at me!  What do you want?”

Eula tried to move, but the poison was too powerful still, and she faltered, heaving.

“Ooh,” she sighed. “Just wait ‘til this wears off.  I will give you such a pinch.”

“I doubt that,” Cian said.  His voice was both gravelly and ethereal, reverberating of its own power.  It retained only traces of its original form, which had been deep and quiet and lacking any sort of stone element.

“Are you going to kill me?” Eula asked woozily.  “Because I can’t tolerate that sitting down.  I shan’t.”

She fumbled for her glowing polearm, which Cian had taken from her and set behind him.

“No,” he said.

“What do you want, then?  I really haven’t got a lot of money, arrows are awfully expensive,” Eula said.

“I don’t want your money, Eulalia,” Cian said.

She paused, and seemed to see him clearly for the first time since her abduction. “Who are you?”

He shrugged. “A ghost.”

It had not been so long since he met her; only five years.  An exhalation of breath in her people’s time.  He was only eighteen then.  She had told him that she was in her late nineties, but for night elves this was barely out of adolescence.  Although the race was no longer immortal, they boasted remarkable lifespans—especially compared to humans, who only managed to coax about fifty years from their bodies before things began to break down.

Eula had not aged at all since then, although the lines of her lips were firmer and her eyes clearer than he remembered from before.

Cian leaned over.  A facsimile of respiration passed through his shriveled organs, ragged and broken.  The edges of his leather mask stopped before the pouty jut of her mouth as she pursed her lips in consideration.  A bit of fleshy tongue poked out.  He wanted to seize it.  Cut it out with his dagger and pin it to a good frame.

He pushed his palms against her shoulders, and she gasped as the small rocks in the cave wall bit into her spine.

“Ow—look,” she said, trying to fight him off, “Crazy zombie—let me go, please.  I was guarding something.”

Cian pulled down his mask, and tried not to be offended when she balked at his face.  He hadn’t been too excited when he first saw it either.

His eyes gleamed yellow and were sunken into their sockets, his decomposed skin literally sagged on his jaundiced bones, and it was so devoid of sanguinity that he often killed rats through blinding them.  Cian’s dark hair was thick but matted together on his head, and it was hypothermia blue in color.  In places there was nothing but exposed bones—elbows, knees, feet—he lent new meaning to the phrase bony hips.  Cian hated whatever vile force animated this collection of tissues that he called a body.

When a sense of conscious will returned to him, Cian’s first act after understanding what had become of him was to end the crisis before it got any worse.  He hung himself, gut himself, drank the foulest poison he could find, and threw himself off of cliffs.  Each time his soul remained firmly stuck to what remained of his skin.  In despair, Cian had wandered until he found a settlement of like-minded creatures, who took him in and told him what he was—Forsaken.

Cian couldn’t argue with that.

“You look really different,” Eulalia announced. “Like, a lot.”

Cian blinked. “You recognize me?”

“Cian,” she said. “Please stop pushing me.  It hurts.”

Suddenly angry, he shoved against her harder, and she winced in confusion and pain.

“You recognize me?” he hissed. “How could you possibly?  Look at me.”

He took off his gloves, undid his vest.  He felt sluggish as he tossed pieces of his enchanted armor on the ground, but it was tempered by the energy of his rage.  Almost worse than forgetting him, Eulalia had known him instantly, as though he had looked this way forever, as though he had always been a dilapidated monster.

Cian crushed his mouth to hers, and she whimpered under the force.  He barely had a jaw left to support a kiss, but he achieved it through sheer will.  He wanted her to feel his contagion, his decay, to understand the nature of his affliction.

Eulalia tasted like grass and fresh water.  She was feminine in an iconoclastic way, combining a sensually curving figure with a mind that thought more about tracking animals through their fecal matter than the a newly mixed perfume.

Because of this, he thought, she did not spit or retch when he let her go, she only stared at him wide-eyed, as though their physical contact had told her his life’s story—and it was one she had not particularly enjoyed.

“Stop it,” he said, and began to redress hastily. “Stop it now.”

“But you told me to look at you,” Eula said, without a trace of rancor.

“Now I’m telling you to stop.”

“Okay,” she adjusted her gaze so that she was observing a blue-white mushroom growing out of a nearby crevice.  She reached to harvest it eagerly.  The poison had finished its course.

Cian’s rage deflated, unable to sustain itself as he watched her hum a high-pitched tune and stuff the herb into one of her bags.

“This ghost ‘shroom is really good,” Eulalia said. “I can make lots of neat stuff with it.  Like this—”

She delved into her one of her bags, fishing thoughtfully until she found another herb and an empty vial.  Another minute passed as she searched for the ghost mushroom again, which had immediately been swallowed by the various items protruding from her packs.

“Okay, check this out!” Eulalia said.  She crushed the two herbs together over the vial’s top and then dipped the result into a nearby pool of water.  Carefully she shook the ingredients together until she had produced a golden liquid.

“Drink it,” she urged, handing him the vial.

“Are you kidding?” Cian said. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“No …” Eulalia said, her tone surprisingly hurt.  None of the other abuse mattered in comparison to this potion, apparently.  “I’m just trying to show you something nifty.”

“Do you understand what just happened between us?” Cian said, frustrated by her relentless goodwill.

“Weeelll, you kissed me, but it was kind of in a mean way, cos I think I’m going to be bruised back there for a little while,” Eula replied slowly.  “But if you kissed me, you must think I’m pretty, and that’s nice.”

Cian sighed. “Yes.  Yes, I do think you’re pretty.”

Eulalia smiled.

“But what about the bit where I stabbed you, poisoned you, and kidnapped you?”

“Oh, people do that sort of thing to me all the time,” Eulalia waved her hand dismissively. “It doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends!  Although usually I do beat’em up a little bit for it.  Like that troll mage earlier, I hope he’s all right.”

“You killed him.”

“But he’ll be fine, the spirit guides are very helpful about that sort of thing.  Anyway, pyroblasts are so rude.”

Truthfully, Cian could not find this line of reasoning shocking.  Eulalia had always exhibited this kind of attitude.

“So how are you doing?” she asked.

Cian swished the potion’s contents in their vial and shrugged.

“You really should drink it,” Eula said. “It’s neeaat.”

“Fine,” he grumbled. “But if this makes things any worse for me, I’m coming after you, woman.”

He uncorked the vial and drained it into his throat.  The concoction was bitter and salty across his gummy, dry tongue.  He waited warily for an effect to manifest itself,  and he was so focused on what hideous change would overcome him that he didn’t notice Eulalia’s fist punching him square in the cheek.

Nor, to his confusion, did he feel it.

She punched him again, in the chest, upside the head, and so forth, and he knew no pain from the attacks.

“It’s for limited invul—invulng—um—makes it so people can’t hit you!” she said happily. “It doesn’t last that long though!”

She punctuated her statement with another slug to the stomach, which caused Cian to double over in agony.

He swore angrily and she just laughed. “Isn’t that fun?”

“Up until just then I guess,” Cian grumbled.

Eulalia behaved as if nothing had happened.

A sense of déjà vu overcame him.

“You still robbing people?” Eulalia asked.

This was how they had originally met.  He was a minor pickpocket in Stormwind while human, a disinterested thug for the Defias Brotherhood in essence.  Not the most honorable living, but it wasn’t like he ever hurt anybody.  Most of the time no one knew what had happened until they felt for their coin purse and found it gone.

Despite appearances, Eulalia was considerably more perceptive than the average Stormwind citizen.
 
 

She stood in the auction house, poring over a table of books, jewels, faded dragon scales and other baubles.  Later she had told him that she rarely bought anything there, but browsing the selection made her feel good about things (what things exactly she never specified).

Cian hooked a thumb around her beltloop, quiet as a falling leaf.  He pinched a sack of coins from her waist, but as he tried to slip into the throng she clamped a hand on his wrist.  Without turning from the table, she said, “Please give that back ‘cos I’m pretty sure it’s mine.”

Cian wrenched away and ran, but she was beside and ahead of him within seconds.

“Really, sir,” she said. “I’m almost out of arrows so please give that back now.  I don’t want to fight.”

She obstructed his path and frowned at him quizzically, as though she could not fathom why anyone would take things that didn’t belong to them.  Eulalia held out her hand expectantly, and Cian was so perturbed that he dropped the bag into her palm.

Then she asked, “Are you hungry?”

“Always,” he muttered.

She grabbed his wrist again and led him to the nearest tavern, where she forced him into a chair and ordered him a plate of food.

“What are you doing?” Cian said uncomfortably as she sat across from him and grinned, somewhat madly.  He had obviously chosen the wrong mark that day.

“If you’re stealing money it’s ‘cos you need it for stuff, right?  And food is pretty important as far as stuff goes,” she replied. “Soo we’re getting you some food.”

“You’re pretty friendly for a night elf,” he said.

“And you’re pretty meek for a thief,” she answered cheerfully.

“I don’t want to hurt anybody,” he said, more to the table than her.

“Are you sure?  ‘Cos you can make a lot of money in that business,” Eulalia said.

He peered at her with an eyebrow raised.  “No way are you an assassin.”

“That is a mean word and I don’t like it,” Eulalia said.  “I’m an adventurer.  I do all kind of things, some of them involving killing people, that is true, but always only bad people, and it is fine to kill a person if they are bad.”

“What makes you an arbiter of morality?”

“What?” Eulalia said.

“I didn’t stutter,” Cian said.

“No, really … I didn’t get any of that.”

With a heavy sigh, Cian tried again.  “What gives you the right to judge something like that?”

“What doesn’t?” Eulalia retorted.

Cian opened his mouth to argue but she went on, “Anyway, it doesn’t matter, ‘cos if I decide they are bad then they are bad and I kill them, and if it was wrong then it will sort itself out later somehow.  It’s pretty hard getting stuff to stay dead around here anyways.”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “What with the Scourge and all.”

“Now they are totally bad,” Eulalia said emphatically.  By this time their meals had been delivered, and she talked through eager bites of a leg of boar.

Cian couldn’t help but devour the food before him; it had been two days since he last ate anything that actually qualified as edible.

“Thanks for all this,” he muttered. “You didn’t have to.”

“Aww, don’t worry about it at all,” Eulalia said. “But don’t think I’m just letting you go, sir!”

He gulped nervously, almost choking on a mouthful of beer.  Night elves were known for their harsh treatment of criminals, particularly among the Sentinels.  Maybe this woman was a ruthless harbinger of justice who had lulled him into a comfortable state so she could more easily cut off his hands or other vital parts.

“Nope, I’m not lettin’ you go until you agree to some adventurer training,” Eulalia proclaimed, looking pleased with herself.

“Uh, I don’t know if I’m …”

“Don’t argue, you’re doin’ it!  For your own good,” she said.  “Now you can’t go a-huntering like me ‘cos humans aren’t so hot with animal talking, but we can run with the thief thing.”

“Look, miss—”

“Eulalia!”

“Okay, look, Eula—Eu—Eulalia,” he stammered, “I’m not really cut out for that type of work.”

But she wasn’t listening.

Eulalia paid the bill for their meal and seized Cian again, leading him to the rogue trainer next door.

“You’re not a rogue,” Osbourne said to Eulalia in irritation. “And I don’t know what he is.”

“Your newest apprentice!” Eulalia said. “He tried to take my money and he almost got away with it, too.  I had to call on cheetah powers and everything.”

Apparently this was enough to recommend Cian, because Osbourne said, “Let’s give him a tryout, then.  C’mere, kid.”

The training wasn’t difficult, but it was expensive, more and moreso as Cian learned advanced skills.  Eulalia handled all of the expenses—in fact, for the next six months, she haunted Cian like an excitable poltergeist.  When he asked her why she was wasting her time like this (which he did frequently), she only replied, “If I thought this was gonna be a waste I would have let you get away.”

And, as it turned out, he did have a knack for adventuring—or at least for creeping up behind people and burying knives into their spines.  However, the satisfaction he derived from a quick, brutal kill unnerved him, made him reluctant.  For most of his life, Cian had passed his days unnoticed by much of anyone.  He wasn’t sure how he felt about turning this to such a deadly advantage.

At first, Cian attempted to complete missions without harming anyone.  He would distract, blind, or simply sneak by enemies in order to reach his objectives.

But Eulalia often accompanied him, and she would end up killing everybody anyway.  He realized, eventually, that her way was the most efficient, particularly when certain creatures he had permitted to live began trying to kill him.  One morning he had woken to find himself surrounded by angry kobolds, all demanding the immediate return of their candles.  His pleas for diplomacy unheeded, Cian was forced to slaughter the entire tribe.

Following that incident, Eulalia had said to him, “Look, Cian, of course it is nicer to talk things out and try to collect your ancient relics and your missing necklaces that way, but you’re gonna find in the world that a lot of folks just don’t wanna hear it.  I mean, y’know, if most of the stuff you and me are hired to do could be fixed with a dinner party, don’t you think it’d all be solved already?”

“But it’s so callous,” he had mumbled weakly.

“It is a little bit, honey,” she said. “And it’s awfully nice of you to try the stealthy way.  But I’m afraid it’s just gonna get you killed.  And then I would be real sad.”

Those words had proven prophetic.
 

“Cian?” Eulalia said. “Allooo?”

He blinked.  “Er.  Yes.  I suppose I am … still robbing people.”

“Well, I … I’m glad you’re not dead,” she said softly. “Not entirely.”

He could taste bile in the back of his throat again, and he growled at her, “I’m not.”

He remembered why he had taken her in the first place, the question he wanted to ask.

“Why did you leave me, Eulalia?” Cian said. “Why did you disappear?”

She was affronted. “Because—because you didn’t need me anymore.  You finished your training.  You were great.  I was getting in the way.”

“That wasn’t for you to decide,” Cian said.

“What?”

The volume of his voice rose with every word, until the cave was ringing with Cian’s accusation.  “Whether or not I needed you.  That wasn’t your jurisdiction.”

Eulalia shrank from him.  “Cian, I …”

He was exposed and embarrassed.  He had never admitted any feeling for her during their time together, not in so many words.  He had done something foolish, had expected something when nothing was there.  Even after all he had suffered, Cian couldn’t shake that weakness.

He thrust Eulalia’s polearm at her. “Forget it.  Forget you met me.  I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Cian!” Eulalia took the polearm and smacked his skull with it, hard. “Would you stop it and just wait a second?!”

He lunged and tackled her, setting both of his daggers against her neck.  Cian bent low over her and spoke into her ear, “You don’t need to say anything more, Eulie.  I understand you perfectly.”

For the first time, aggravation broke out over Eulalia’s features.  She kicked him off of her without hesitation and then it was she who pinned him, using the long handle of her polearm to bar his movement.  “You’re beginning to upset me, Cian!  You haven’t even let me talk!  You’re just jumping around all crazy and not letting me form a thought!  You know that kind of thing takes me time.”

“Say what you want, then,” he spat.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know … I didn’t know that my leaving would matter to you.”

“I don’t understand how you could think that,” he said morosely.

“You were always so quiet,” Eulalia said. “So quiet and gentle … and I started … I started to feel bad.”

“Why?”

“I thought I was making you into someone you didn’t want to be.  But I just wanted to help you.  I wanted to protect you.  ‘Cos the world we live in, it’s … it’s mean, y’know?  It’s real mean.” Eulalia let the polearm drop and she sank to her knees. “I’m sorry.  I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Cian was quiet for a minute, and then said, “You were right, though.”

Eulalia looked up at him.

“If I had listened to you more carefully, this wouldn’t have happened to me,” Cian gestured across his chest.

“Cian …” Eulalia began.

But before she could ask the inevitable question, someone shouted outside.

“Ey, mon!  Cian!  Where you at, boy?”

“An’jin,” Cian said in surprise.

“I told you he’d be okay,” Eulalia said.

“Well I knew that, I just—”

“Are you over ‘ere?  Who you talkin’ to?”

“Damn it,” Cian said. “Eulalia, hide in that pool of water.  Slip into the shadows.  It wouldn’t be good for anyone if he saw us talking.”

Eulalia nodded and dove into the water just as An’jin blinked into the cave.

“Why’d you run out on us back dere?” An’jin said. “Not that the alliance had any kind of a chance regardless, but ya know, principles.”

“I had something to do,” Cian said.

“Dat so?” An’jin said shrewdly. “Have anythin’ to do with whoever you was just talkin’ wit?”

“I was talking to myself,” Cian said.  His only skill in the art of the lie was a perfect control over his tone, which was non-committal and firm. “Was looking for something in here.”

“Did ya find it?” An’jin wasn’t stupid, but maybe he was giving Cian a break—probably still in a good mood from their victory.

“Yes,” Cian said. “I did.”

“Dat night elf, though …”

Then again, maybe not.

“ … she really gave it to me,” An’jin said. “She get you, too?”

“I ran into her,” Cian said. “The encounter didn’t last long.”

The pool of water bubbled, and Cian added quickly, “She was tough, though.  Certainly very tough.”

An’jin clapped a hand on Cian’s shoulder. “Good work den, mon.  I’ll be seein’ ya again.”

Cian feared that this was more of a threat than a promise.  There was very little love lost between the Forsaken and the trolls.

As soon as the mage had teleported out, Cian kneeled beside Eulalia’s pool and called to her. “He’s gone, Eulie.”

When she did not immediately reply, Cian jumped into the water, worried that she had drowned.  But she was at the bottom of the pool, picking another mushroom from between the rocks.

“I’m fine,” she said when they surfaced. “See, I switched to my hydrocane thingy.”  She pointed to the blue staff that had temporarily replaced her polearm.  “Kinda weird how that mage was looking for you.”

“Yes,” Cian said. “It is a little odd.”

“I guess he was just concerned for you!  That’s nice.”

“Concerned about, maybe,” Cian said.  “You know, we’re not that close to the other races of the Horde …”

“How did you … I mean … what happened, anyway, Cian?” Eulalia said.

“I’m going to need a drink before I tell you that story.”

Eulalia offered him a bottle of water, and he said, “I meant a stiff drink.” He paused.  “No pun intended.  Come on.  Let’s get out of this cave.”

stay tuned for part II -- things to do in azeroth when you're dead