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Asuryan awoke with a start. He was breathing heavily and his eyes were wide; pupils dilated. Sweat soaked his body and sheets. As he glanced around his privy chamber, the walls seemed to reflect the meagre light from the candles burning on his desk. And then the walls themselves were gone and he saw only burning Stratholme. One hand came on high; he rubbed his eyes and tried to blink away the vision. Obediently, the rabid hallucinations shifted; Stratholme was gone and now he saw the corridors of the Undercity. Shadows shifted along the eldritch marbling, reflecting the frenetic motions of a hundred soldiers charging into battle. Shadow-swords came on high and fell in short, hacking motions upon Forsaken wraiths.
He swallowed. Shook his head again and climbed out of bed. As Asuryan moved around the room to dress himself he traveled from The Undercity to the bleak spire of Purgation Isle. The Silver Company died a thousand times while he pulled on his hose and buttoned his cassock. While he lifted his livery collar and draped it over his shoulders, chilled crusaders toiled behind him in their frozen trenches and prepared for another sortie against the Death Gate.
He relived a dozen battles in the time it took to bind his hair back and fasten together the clasp of his white mantle. Men of Lordaeron marched forth beneath the dead sky and black sun of Silverpine forest; like a ghost, Asuryan moved amongst them as he crossed the room. He could not look upon them for to do so would yield terrible truth: the men had no faces. Beneath their open-faced spangenhelms was nothing but a gray cloud.
They're all dead, The Demon whispered and Asuryan strangled back the urge to growl his mounting anger. It as true. He could not remember their faces because they were all dead.
Azgevin Hopesfire was standing beside the door to the outer chamber. His features were there but every second Asuryan stared at him, his face faded further into gray.
"Don't forget us," he told Asuryan as the Lord Chancellor of the Kingdom of Lordaeron Restored pulled the heavy portal open and stepped into the room beyond.
The outer chamber of his apartments also served as the Offices of Her Majesty's Chancery. This early in the morning -- Asuryan stole a glance to the Gnomish cuckoo clock mounted on the wall; it was scarcely five -- the multitude of desks were all empty, save one. A slender, sable-haired woman sat in a high-backed oaken chair, her head listing to the left and shallow snores causing her nostrils to flare out with every exhalation. Propped against her desk was a large, golden-hilted sword sheathed in a baldric of sturdy leather.
Asuryan's left index finger flicked out and struck the bridge of her nose as he passed. His excessively saccharine croon bid her awaken as he sought the heavy curtains shrouding the windows and tugged the open. "Good morning, Miss Forisi." The horrors of the past were gone; left locked within his privy chamber. There were no ghosts here; no forlorn shades. The Lost of Lordaeron were left in dreams. To be ignored, for the day; but never forgotten.
Eventaria Forisi was stirring. She rubbed her eyes and leaned forwards, over the desk. In front of her lay an excessively high stack of papers and scrolls, which a jerking elbow sent over the side and left them floating to the foor. She seemed not to notice, for the Lady Forisi's mind was focused on something far more pressing. "What time is it?" she asked Asuryan, as the latter paused beside her to collect the fallen papers.
"Half a turn before dawn," he replied, evenly. "While I admire your devotion to our work here, Miss Forisi, it would do you well to occasionally find sleep in a bed. If for nothing but the sake of your back."
As if taken by wild surmise, Eventaria sat up. She glanced over her shoulder and grimaced. "As you say, sir." Her grimace deepened, and she set to sorting through the papers before her until her hand came free with a particular missive. "I'd wanted to finish writing this report before morning, but I must have dozed off."
"Indeed." Asuryan's eyebrows were arched high, and his voice calm and level. "You must have. But since you are still here, and I am nowhere else, perhaps you would be obliged to deliver your summation aloud?" Though phrased as a polite request, Eventaria Forisi was far from a fool; she was as lifelong a soldier as Asuryan and knew an order when she heard one, sheathed as it was in formality.
She quickly made to stand. "Of course, Lord Chancellor." A sharp crack came from her spine as she rose, and the grimace on her face quick caused Asuryan to wave a hand and indicate the chair. "Be seated, my lady," he said with a smile. "And do remember that you have a bed, somewhere." She nodded; repeated her earlier comment. "Of course, Lord Chancellor." Seated once more, she took a deep breath and began to speak. Asuryan stood at the corner of the desk, listening intently and with both of his hands clasped at the small of his back.
"Last night, Lord Chancellor, Sir Jeremaes Edrickton called Tenevus Stromheart to account. Blades were drawn an--"
The Lord Chancellor's amaranthine eyes bulged wide with sudden anger. "That fool," he snapped. "That is the last thing I need, right now. Her Majesty's champions brawling with the Bishop's upjumped, idiotic, blustering, braggodocious, foolish, int--"
Few in the world would have dared interrupt Asuryan as he engaged in the Kurnous family's most notable trait, pontificating soliloquiys, but Eventaria Forisi knew the value of calming Asuryan before his fury surged free of reason. "It was no brawl, My Lord," she said pointedly, "But a trial of honor undertaken free of the walls. My Lord Edrickton challenged Sir Stromheart, and he accepted. I am told the duel itself was a foregone conclusion."
"Of course it was," Asuryan snapped, his voice still hot. "Her Majesty's men are all seasoned veterans, who've seen enough action in their lives to kill a lesser man thrice over. Am I to be surprised that Mister Edrickton struck down some deskbound varlet who knows not the difference between a mamelon and a ravelin? That bristle-bearded jack--- could blunder the task of running down a host of rebellious serfs with a thousand knights."
"Just so, Lord Chancellor," Eventaria conceded evenly. Asuryan's contempt of the man was a scarcely-hidden fact. Somewhat more hidden were the rumors concerning the Lord Chancellor and Stromheart's former lady-wife, but Eventaria Forisi was not going to entertain such rumors as a source of disdain. Not when there were far more readily available excuses. She sat patiently for the next three minutes, over the course of which Asuryan painstakingly outlined his opinion of Tenevus Stromheart. He had boasted of his own martial prowess and sneered at that of the Clergyman. (Not forgetting to toss in numerous remarks concerning his cowardice and unmanliness.) He had dwelt lovingly on the full-bellied vultures which would ultimately serve as the man's casket—assuming, of course, that the carrion-eaters were hungry enough to feed on such foul meat. The finishing touch was Asuryan's comment that whatever lumbering Orcish peon struck the man down wouldn't even need to bathe himself to wash free the gore; for Tenevus Stromheart's blood was green, to match the Orc's skin, his guts were lacking, and of course, he had no brains.
"Just so, My Lord," she readily agreed when Asuryan was finally finished. "I had thought that perhaps it would be wise to compose a letter to Bishop Moorwhelp, explaining our views of the situation? Before his opinion is tainted by the biased testimony of his flock, that is."
Asuryan winced. Clearly, he was rebuking himself for not thinking of such an object before launching into his tirade. He crossed from her desk to the one adjacent, and sat down. A quill was in his hand and a blank parchment soon criss-crossed with numerous lines of elegant calligraphy. "My Lord Bishop," he dictated aloud, "I write to you concerning the events of yestereve, upon which an altercation took place between your emissary, Sir Tenevus Stromheart, and Her Majesty's champion Sir Jeremaes Edrickton. The cause of this disturbance stems..." He trailed off, tongue clasped between his front teeth.
"There is more, My Lord," Eventaria interrupted in a soft voice. "Our agent further reports--" She hefted a piece of paper high-- "That following the duel, Sir Jeremaes and Dame Catelynne Mallister were seen to, ah--well, Lord Chancellor, they--" She paused again, grasping for adequate words.
Asuryan looked up; his eyes narrowed. Clearly, the interruption was a less-than-pleasing one. "They what, Lady Forisi?"
"Are you familiar, Lord Chancellor, with the old Arathi saying in flagrante delicto?"
Sudden understanding dawned on the Lord Chancellor's face. "Oh." His voice was mild and he glanced away, index finger tapping repeatedly against his chin. "Have our man keep an eye on it. There's no shame or folly in companionship, so long as the relationship is kept professional and emotions tempered to reality." He turned his attentions back to Eventaria, eyes lingering on the raised piece of paper. "Which agent is that?"
"The black rook, Lord Chancellor."
A scowl lit the Lord Chancellor's face. "What idiot came up with these code-names," he muttered to himself. A deep breath, and then: "Tell him to continue to observe and report. Should folly raise its head, I wish to be informed." Fingers steepled beneath his chin, and Asuryan chanced a glance to his right.
Tyladrin Starfire was standing there. The kaldorei's tanned leather armor was ripped asunder; eviscerated innards hung free of his belly and blood dripped rhythmically upon the floor. "You're using such amateurs these days, Captain," he mused aloud, apparently unconcerned by his guts slowly falling free of his disemboweled belly.
Asuryan closed his eyes and looked away again. In silence, he returned to his writing. The missive did not take long to complete; a token statement of good-will. His side of the story, relayed with Eventaria's assistance and the report of the Chancery agent. When finished, he signed the letter with a flourish and sealed it in wax, imprinted with his signet ring and the Queen's Great Seal. As he worked, dawn crept through the opened window, casting rays of light across the room. Empty desks, too, filled in sequence; clerks and chamberlains to assist in the more mundane paperwork. That was the business of the Chancellor, afterall.
"See this delivered at once to the Bishop," Asuryan said to one of those clerks, passing over the newly-sealed letter. "Accept no relay. I want this place directly in Bishop Moorwhel's hands." The clerk nodded, bowed and turned to dash off. At Asuryan's side, Eventaria remarked evenly: "Do you think that will do any good, Lord Chancellor?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps, perhaps not. The Bishop is a good man, and true. It is no fault of his own that the men who are supposed to serve his interests, and those of the Holy Light, are more interested in posturing and gossip than any real devotion." Fingers came on high and pinched the bridge of his nose. "That does remind me. A Lady Sasheen wishes to undertake an expedition to the north; they seek a sample of the Forsaken plague."
"I know a way," Eventaria sneered. "Let the Forsaken drop the stuff all over them. Send in another party to bring back the bodies."
"Now, now," Asuryan chided her, gently. "Such candor is no way to run a bureaucracy. Nor to serve Her Majesty. This is a valuable opportunity to show the fence-sitters that The Queen wishes only good things, and would never deign to leave goodly men and women alone and without the aid of Lordaeron."
Eventaria turned and stared at him. "You said that with a straight face," she deadpanned. "Unbelievable."
"I am a servant of The Queen," Asuryan replied, just as deadpan. His expression betrayed no emotion; a mask of stone. "And so are you. We are to select three men for this expedition. Potentially two; I wish to oversee it in person if duty allows."
"Would it not be easiest to simply ask for volunteers?" Eventaria canted her head to one side. Asuryan snorted; shook his head. "It would. And those volunteers are surely the most eager men, perhaps the ones unsuited to a more surreptitious task. Do you know what concerns the men who don't volunteer, Dame Eventaria? Living. They're more concerned with staying alive than doing their duty. And such a sense of self-preservation is a very valuable thing to have, when operating in a small group, free of friendly support and in enemy territoy."
"You don't want anybody who's going to do something stupid," she concluded, and Asuryan nodded. "Just so, My lady. Just so." He turned to one of the nearest clerks and seized the man's attention with snapping fingers. "Mister Lyonel--" The clerk in question looked up. "If you please, fetch me a list of the latest rolls of Her Majesty's champions." At once, the clerk was on his feet and scampering away. "Thank you," Asuryan called after him, a pleasant smile on his face. He turned to Eventaria and a sharp cant of his head indicated the heavy door to his privy chamber. "Let us speak in private, Miss Forisi, if you do not mind."
She nodded curtly. "Of course, My Lord." The two crossed through the outer chamber, weaving between occupied desks. Asuryan pulled the door open and stepped inside, closing it once Eventaria stepped within. He turned to face her.
"Pandaria," he said simply. Eventaria sighed.
"Lord-Commander Ward and Lady Mallister have returned. They confirm the initial reports. It is Pandaria. Further, King Varian has dispatched the bulk of the Alliance fleet to counter Hellscream's want of conquest. The Skybreaker is providing escort. Estimates indicate the fleet will arrive within two months."
"All hell is going to break loose when that happens." Asuryan shook his head. "Ordinarily, I'd use this as an opportunity to venture Home again-- with the Horde's attentions focused elsewhere, the overwhelming forces of the Sin'dorei and other allies would not be present to bolster the ranks of the undead."
Eventaria arched a brow. "But?"
"But Her Majesty still grieves for Theramore," Asuryan confessed. "The loss of life that another crusade would bring -- victory or defeat -- is more than her heart could take, right now. It is best we focus upon this new land. The natives are said to be a naive people; easily pliable, perhaps. Some may be enlisted in our cause. More than that, a new land means new secrets. We may yet find objects beyond the mists that will bolster our forces more than simple manpower. And--" His head canted to the side and both hands came up, palms out. "We're still fighting the Horde. That, above all, is what Her Majesty desires. To inflict injury upon the enemy."
Behind Eventaria, Asuryan saw Remington Dalson. The flaxen-haired woman was leaning against the door, a sublime smirk on her face. "Eldanesh didn't care about orders," she taunted.
"I am not my cousin," Asuryan snapped and Eventaria startled. She fixed him with a dubious expression. "Your pardon, Lord Chancellor?"
Asuryan wanted to curse. "Nothing," he said, breezing forwards. "A moment of clarity, spoken aloud." One hand stroked at his goatee. "Have you secured new passage overseas?" Previously, Asuryan had desired to send the Lordaeronian contingent to Pandaria in the holds of an Alliance Navy supply convoy. Unfortunately, there had been no room to berth the men and horses and their departure had been postponed. Their own ships were too small of draft to brave the treacherous waters off Pandaria without skilled pilots, of which they had none.
"I've contacted a number of Kul Tiran bravos," Eventaria shrugged, "Each one claims, I might add, that he's more familiar with the waters off Pandaria than he is with what's between his wife's le--"
Asuryan's eyes widened and he held up an open palm. "Yes, Dame Forisi, I understand the metaphor. And I'm sure these men haven't seen sobriety since before the Dark Portal opened again."
Edited by Asuryån on 10/7/2012 11:40 AM PDT
Asuryan's eyes widened and he held up an open palm. "Yes, Dame Forisi, I understand the metaphor. And I'm sure these men haven't seen sobriety since before the Dark Portal opened again."
"That may be," Eventaria countered, "But we've no other options at the moment. The next Alliance convoy will not depart for some days, and we've no guarantee of being able to secure berthing."
She was, of course, correct. Asuryan scowled and shook his head. "Contact the two who seem, in your opinion, the most reliable. I will meet with them later today." He drew in a heavy sigh and shook his head. "Leave me, if you would. I must dictate a letter to Her Majesty."
Eventaria cocked her head to the side. "You've still not seen her?"
"She refuses to meet me," Asuryan said with a shrug. "Nor anyone else. Her heart is heavy with loss and she receives counsel solely from the Holy Light. It is not for me to judge the nature of such despair. She will find hope and solace however she will. The news from Blackmarsh surely affords her no comfort."
Nodding, Eventaria mumbled something to herself. Asuryan was not surely, entirely, of its content, but the tone had been clear. His own voice turned stern. "There is a saying amongst Kul Tirans, Miss Forisi. That even when the captain is indisposed, a good wheelman will still prevent a ship from running aground, even if he must sail in circles. You would do well to meditate upon that saying."
Eventaria nodded slowly, and turned to depart. Asuryan stopped her with a final comment. "Remember, Dame Eventaria," he said in measured tone, "You do not serve me. You serve Her Majesty, Madelynne I, by the Grace of the Light, Queen of Lordaeron."
"Light save The Queen," Eventaria said, as she opened the door and slipped outside.
Asuryan turned and saw Eldanesh standing there. The one-eyed paladin said nothing. Asuryan said nothing to the shade. He crossed to his private desk and began to dictate another letter. Eldanesh crossed the room and stood behind Asuryan, watching every move of the quill pen. At last, he said to the seated man:
"You cannot change what is. Only pretend."
Edited by Asuryån on 10/7/2012 11:48 AM PDT
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