Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Taking the Long View

"I am an abomination?"

"Well, no, I mean, that is, I don't think so, of course, but the church teaches-"

"The church? Roberte, let me tell you something about your church. It is false. It is corrupt. It is not a servant of your gods, but rather of petty, corrupt men."

Roberte Leguise, my financial manager, sat across the table from me, blinking in startled bewilderment. Like all good men of the Free Cities, he had been raised to believe in the wisdom and infallibility of the church and its bishops. It provided moral guidance, interpreted the will of the gods, and guided men how to choose good over evil. I, however, had shed such illusions centuries ago.

I sighed dramatically. "Roberte, I will tell you how little you should trust your church. Two hundred years ago, I, Alecksander Liyosh, served as the Bishop of Borleon for over a decade. If the church leaders truly thought I was an abomination, would they have allowed this?"

"What? How? I mean, how could you...?"

I waved my hand in a dismissive gesture. "I was bored, and the church elders needed money. So I bought the bishopric for a decade. It was slightly inconvenient, with the daylight issues and all, but it did provide me an opportunity to serve as a patron of the arts in some very different and exciting ways."

I was fucking with his head, of course. I would rather confine myself to a monastery and eat nothing but wretched old monks for the rest of my days than to serve as a middle manager in a giant religious bureaucracy. But Roberte held considerable power over my life, should he ever screw up the courage to exercise it, and I felt it was best to keep him slightly off-balance. Nothing too profound, just keep him slightly in awe of me for as long as I needed him. All part of taking the long view.

It was six months since our escape from the sack of Caylindra. We had established ourselves in the island city of Ventorri using what remained of my emergency cache of gold. I insisted that he keep two-thirds of it for himself, and only one-third for my investments and support. This made him rich beyond his wildest bourgeois dreams, and me practically a pauper. I had to live in a house so small it was practically a shack - only fifteen rooms. In place of Tibbens and his son who had lived with me and taken care of all my household needs, I now had to make do with an old shrew of a woman who came by to clean and launder four days a week. My wardrobe was a mockery of what it once was, shabby and plain and much of it cut in last year's fashion. But such sacrifices were necessary in these desperate times; three or four decades from now, Roberte's management would have built my funds into something more reasonable. During that time, I wanted him feeling very well taken care of. All part of taking the long view.

We returned to reviewing my investments. Roberte calmed down as he discussed that which he truly understood - assets and risks and dividends. There were shipping firms, and smithies, and houses of prostitution. Even some stage production called a "light opera", which as far as I could tell was as about as far from true opera as yodeling. But the details did not matter. To be honest, the details bored me. I was primarily interested in Roberte, watching his pulse, his capillaries in his cheeks, his pupils. I wanted to be sure he was working honestly with my money, that he was putting it into the same businesses that he put the money I had given him into. I knew he wanted to build a small fortune to improve his daughters' marriage prospects. As recently arrived foreigners, marrying some minor nobleman with a respected family name was of course out. A couple of enterprising young merchants or investors, much like a young Roberte, would be much likelier matches. And these young men would take take the girls' doweries and over time grow them into real fortunes. And most likely it would be Roberte's grandchildren or great-grandchildren who would marry into the Ventorri nobility. He understood that - it was all part of taking the long view.

And then, when the investments had born fruit, and the descendants were living on large, beautiful estates, everyone will have forgotten Alecksander Liyosh. That is when I will appear, and eat Roberte's descendants and take all they have. After all, it will in truth be my money. Waiting for such long-term investments to mature is a painful sacrifice, but ultimately well worth it. It is all part of taking the long view.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vyprania's Story: Grizzly Hills

The combined armies of the Alliance and the Horde were broken and defeated, destroyed on the fields in front of the Wrathgate by Forsaken treachery. Lord Fordragon was slain by the toxic poison clouds, and the young orc general had been struck down by Arthas himself. With them died not only the hope of a quick victory, but also the dream of a combined effort by the two great factions of Azeroth to work together to bring down the Lich King. New leaders emerged to rally the shattered armies. Ambitious, angry leaders. Scared leaders.

I wished to avoid this. Squabbles between the Horde and Alliance were a distraction from our true purpose, the defeat of our great enemy. It was a waste of time and manpower, neither of which were in great supply. With a frontal assault on Icecrown now impossible, I rode up into the Grizzly Hills to lend my support to the campaign against the Vrykul villages there, before they could marshal their forces and join the Lich King's main army. The local commanders were happy to have a seasoned veteran like myself, and seemed genuinely unconcerned with the fact that I was a Death Knight. Perhaps the prejudices of the living were beginning to fade as they became used to our presence among them, I thought, or perhaps things were just so desperate that they no longer cared. Whatever their reasons, I was put in charge of the assault on the village of Voldrune, and personally struck down Thane Eriksson. The Vrykul were fierce warriors, true, but undisciplined and poorly trained; they were no match for a knight of the Ebon Blade.

But I could not avoid the stupid conflict for long; the rich resources of the hills attracted scavengers. Soon orcs were crawling through the area, attacking the local woodsmen and stealing the lumber the Alliance needed to continue the war. I was hunting for trolls infected with scourge that had been moving south from Drak'theron Keep when I ran across a patrol of orcs preparing to assault the Blue Sky Lumbermill. They were simple grunts and I was able to stop them before they could start their attack; I killed three and put the rest to flight. As I was searching the bodies for anything useful, I saw her in the trees. A blood elf, skulking about, clearly looking to cause trouble. Damn the Horde bastards! How could they not understand that the war against Arthas had to be waged? We needed that lumber - taking it from us only made our real enemy stronger. The voices in my head screamed in outrage at the injustice. Well, I would not allow it. I would not!

Gripping my mace firmly, I motioned for Grubhunter to follow me. As we closed on the interloper, I was startled to see that she was also a death knight. With her helm on, I could not tell if it was someone I had known at Acherus. It did not matter though. This was war, and I needed to do whatever was necessary to bring Arthas down.

With a shout of pure anger, I hurled an Icy Touch blast at her. As I charged in, my mace ready to smash her skull in, Grubhunter leaped for her ghoul minion. She was startled, but not completely caught off guard. Her greatsword swept up and parried my attack, then her riposte crashed against my bone shield. For several minutes we went at each other, weapons striking each other, death and decay boiling the ground and killing the plantlife, the two ghouls shrieking and grappling and ripping each other. I was faster and had a longer reach, but as the fight went on her greater strength began to wear me down. I was forced onto the defensive, falling back, my parries coming slower, my mace growing heavier in my hands. Then I was too slow, and her sword struck my helm, just above the nasal guard. The armor absorbed most of the blow, but it was rent and I could feel the hot metal graze my forehead. Blood began to run into my eyes, and I realized it was only a matter of time before death came for me again, this time with no Dark Rebirth. Tears of frustration ran down my cheeks, mixing with sweat and blood, knowing that I would not get the opportunity to take my revenge against the one who made me. As her sword rose up before me, I wondered if this would be the final blow.

Suddenly, she cried out in pain and fell to her knees. Grubhunter had dispatched the thief's ghoul, and had leaped onto her back. His razor-sharp teeth had pierced the armor of her pauldron, and sunk deep into her shoulder. Struggling to see through the red haze, I swung my mace with all the strength I had left. There was a terrible crunch as it struck her her right arm just above the elbow. Her right hand fell from the hilt of the sword and hung, useless, at her side. Looking up at me, she struggled to hold her greatsword in front of her with her remaining functioning hand. The voices screamed for her death, demanding it, and I brought my mace around in a sweeping blow that caught her in the side of the head. Shattered, her helm flew off her head and into the trees, and she fell to the ground, my ghoul's weight driving her into the tortured ground. The side of her head was a bloody ruin.

I stood over her, gasping for breath. Grubhunter, even his few remaining brain cells realizing that the enemy was defeated let go of her shoulder and walked over to stand behind me. The thief struggled to push herself up with her left arm, but only managed to get up a foot before rolling over and falling onto her back. She stared up into the sky, breathing shallow, ragged breaths, the pulsing blood flowing from her wounds slowing. I considered smashing her damn skull and ending this, but the voices had quieted and my anger was fading. As I watched her face, the blue glow of her eyes faded, to be replaced with the demonic green of the blood elves. Then they turned blue again, but the blue of he high elves. I watched, fascinated, wondering who she had been before accepting Arthas' Dark Gift. Had she been one of the rangers who fought the Scourge invasion? Had she followed Kael'thas to Outland? Or had she been a recent recruit into the war, taking up the sword just in time to be struck down by the latest scourge outbreak? A year ago I would have called her sister. Ten minutes ago I had called her enemy. Was she both? Was she either? As I wondered, her eyes faded for the final time, her life force gone forever.

Quietly I shouldered my mace and began to walk toward the lumbermill.