Assassin of Kings

In the shadow of the Gilneas wall, deep below the earth, prisoners of war are being forced to dig through the night, at the point of a crossbow. What they uncover will be their end...

A (very) short story by N.T. Blevins, set in the World of Warcraft universe, created by Blizzard Entertainment.

Thanks for reading!

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1. Blood and Stone

 

  A brilliant sliver hung in the darkness over Gilneas. It was an oppressive darkness, starless and without remorse. A trickle of light fell from the sliver and slid over the looming wall, sprinkling cut stone with a thin trim of white. It was full dark, long after dusk, and yet well before the coming dawn.  

  Fifty spans below the top of the wall, grass clung to the faces of rocks and rolling boulders. Amber pines grew thick, hunched close at the base of the wall,marching inward toward the city. A distant, flickering glow danced in the streets, the dwindling embers of defeat. Yet the city itself was dark, its streets empty. It was a night for chills, a night for digging.

  Seventy spans below the surface, blood slid down the shaft of a pickaxe. Alastar Grayfallow clung to the tool, his muscles cramped around the handle, hands fused to the wood by clotting blood. His shoulders ached, his back burned, but still he swung. It had been seven hours since a boot to his ribcage had woken him. He was no longer in his prime. His strength would give out, and soon, of that he was sure. When it did he would be dead, and the next would be kicked awake.

  The tunnel was low and narrow, carved by desperate hands, intent on progress, unfettered by safety or the need for joists. The light from a single torch splashed across the hewn surface like the waves of the sea, reminding him that should he falter, or pause, the sea is where they would find his body. A fetid stench filled the hollow passage, hanging in the air and overpowering his own sweat and the chipped bedrock. It rolled off the corpse standing behind him, the corpse holding the torch.

  When the wall had fallen, the great gates torn asunder by the movement of the earth itself, they had come spilling into the city- the Undead. Men long deceased, decomposing and fueled by hatred. It seemed as though most had forgotten that they were men, having succumbed to the witch Sylvanas and her scourge sorcery. The one in the tunnel with him called himself Darion Barker. How he could speak at all was a mystery to Alastar. Rot dug into both cheeks, exposing the teeth and parts of the skull, as well as a tongue half gone. There was little urge to turn and face him.  

  As Alastar swung, sparks and bits of granite spat from the end of his pick. What was so urgent? Why had they diverted the mine's resources to this veinless tunnel? They were looking for something, he knew, but what? He thought of escape. They all did. A hundred times since being dragged down here he had considered turning the pick on Barker, but the crossbow resting in the cadaver's arm stayed his hand. So he swung, and he swung, and he -   

  Without warning, his pick burst through the stone and fell into a hollow space behind it. He stumbled forward. Heaving his pick back out of the rock, he gazed at the hole. Perhaps it was a pocket of air left by an underground stream, or maybe he had hit upon an abandoned well? Not likely. The river provided more than enough fresh water for the city. There was no need for wells.  

  Barker had noticed it too. He swung the torch in closer, stared for a minute, and then slammed the butt end of it into Alastar's back.   

  "Dig!" He rasped.  

  Alastar dug. For forty minutes more he swung, breaking the hole into an opening, each strike from the pick revealing a larger space beyond. Once the hole was big enough to walk into, he stopped. Stinging pain exploded through his palm as he tore his hand away from the handle. He slid his arm across his forehead, mopping the sweat away.  

  "There's a room in there." He said to the undead behind him. "Gods be merciful, what have we found?"  

  The torchlight shifted, the crossbow clicked, and he knew. The bolt struck his upper back, bursting through his tunic and severing his spine. Mercifully, it punctured his heart and buried itself there, pumping in and out with his last few gasping breaths. He slid to his knees and then slumped to the floor of the tunnel.  

  Barker stepped over him and swung his torch into the room beyond, exposing smooth walls etched with runes.  

  "' We' haven't found anything." He said, and turning, he trundled back down the shaft toward the ladder. At the base, he shouted up to the man at the top.  

  "Go and get her! Tell her we've found it."      

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