With a scream the man withdrew his hand as the red-hot metal of the doorknob seared his skin. But he was certain, certain that he had heard voices...
He ran into the door with his plated shoulder, throwing it off its hinges. A lot of the interior was still in place, but the thatched roof was already catching fire. Soon it would all be reduced to ruins and rubble.
He immediately knew he was too late. A trail of blood led to a corner, where two slumped figures lay. As he approached, one pulled itself upright. His heart rose for but a moment. Then he noticed the bloody wounds and the endless malice radiating from the sunken eyes.
He sought the inner pool of calm that would allow him to channel the Light, but to no avail. The pain was too much. As the shambling monstrosity that had been his wife lurched closer, he closed his eyes. »Forgive me, Alissa...« he muttered and struck with his full force, caving his wife's chest in. She hit a support beam hard, and a portion of the roof collapsed atop her.
As he sped for the door, he stopped to take one last glance of the corpse still lying in the corner. Fear flickered in his eyes.
Just as he threw himself out the door, the walls started crumbling. Thus he was found, a broken man sitting the smouldering ruins of what had once been his greatest joy.
The knights came, but he paid them no heed. He kept rubbing his eyes as though to cleanse them of the soot, even when well underway towards the capital. That day, the only words that escaped the paladin's lips were but a whisper, directed at noone. »It didn't... it couldn't have happened...«
The deathstalker could feel the hostility in the air. The Forsaken were treated differently after the Wrath Gate incident, deathstalkers even more so. Yet still, when the Horde needed their... special gifts, they wouldn't hesitate to call upon them.
Neither would the Crusade.
Thanata had been called by one of the officers, Leas Pickman. Behind the heavy white scarf her upper lip twisted into the closest she could come to a smile.
The burly man was alone in the tent as she approached. He was a veteran of two wars, and was now fighting the third and most gruesome one yet. His long, once midnight-black hair and full beard were streaked with silver. The stern visage spoke of someone who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. But what she noted most was his disgust.
»Let's skip the pleasantries, shall we? We're all here to fulfil our duties. And our allies in the Ebon Blade have been asking for help against the remnants of the Scarlet Onslaught.« He was slowly circling her. »While our soldiers are more than capable of taking care of the overzealous filth, there is still the matter of a... personal favour.« She chuckled. In a dry, sepulchral voice she said: »You mean revenge.« The crusader shot her a look. »The Argent Crusade is above petty vendettas. No, this mission is of great importance to our goals here in Icecrown.« He lowered his voice. »However, I will admit that the target holds a special meaning to me.« He pulled something out of a pocket. The golden locket gleamed in the candlelight. »One of their commanders is in possession of this amulet's twin. I wish for you to recover it.« He packed the locket away and sat down in his chair. »Those are your orders. Find the commander, terminate him, bring back the amulet. Now go.« Thanata didn't move. »I said, go!« She smiled again. She was enjoying this. »My lord,« she said with mock humility. »You have not given me a name. I still do not know who this target of yours is.« For but a moment the man's sternness wavered. He fumbled among the papers on his desk. »Errrr, yes, of course... the name...« He hesitantly produced a particular document and handed it over to the waiting deathstalker.
She didn't have to read the name. She knew exactly who the target was.
Iarann swore under his breath. This was the fifth gryphon in two days that had gone missing. By now the reduced numbers of the noble steeds were becoming obvious. Luckily, most soldiers never got to see what happened to the beasts captured by the damned Ebon Blade... Of course it was him who would be accounted responsible for the losses and would have to give word to the Grand Admiral.
The man shuddered beneath his scarlet cape. Barean Westwind was the de-facto leader of the Onslaught after the tragic defeat of Brigitte Abbendis. Iarann respected him as a leader, but there was something, a glint in the Grand Admiral's eye that he despised and feared. He is insane. He is leading us to ruin, just like Dathrohan had. He pushed the doubts aside. Regardless of whether Westwind truly was mad or not, they had work to do here and now. After all, I will not be here to witness his fall.
As Scarlet Commander Pickman turned to leave for his quarters, a figure in white pulled itself out of the murky waters. Unnoticed, Thanata followed her target.
»Disappointing. We outnumber those accursed death knights almost two to one, yet still they find ways to outsmart you, commander.« Barean's face contorted into a nasty grin. »My lord, there is...« The Grand Admiral held up his hand, silencing Iarann. »There can be no excuses. You have failed us, you have failed the Onslaught and the Light.« Westwind arched a brow. »I believe you know your punishment, commander.« Pickman nodded, his eyes downcast. »That will be all. Dismissed.«
Just as Iarann was about to leave the cathedral, the Grand Admiral seemed to remember something. »A Number Three should be adequate I believe.« The commander ground his teeth, but nodded silently.
Pickman took off his greaves. For several minutes he sat there, observing the Number Three silently. He had been punished before, as was evident by the puncture marks all around his leg. However, he had always used a Number One before. Again he looked at the cruel leather belt studded with spikes.
He wrapped it around his leg. The spikes fitted perfectly into the older puncture marks. He bit his lip as he tightened the belt. The spikes were designed to prevent the blood from flowing from the newly opened wounds. Light, what have we become?
He put on his greaves again and winced as the plate armour ground against the leather belt. Limping slightly he left the room, and Thanata drew back from the window.
The Grand Admiral tapped his chin and sighed. »Commander, I thought I had made it perfectly clear that the loss of mounts will not be tolerated anymore.« »My lord, with all due respect...« »SILENCE!«
The word echoed through the cathedral. In a soft yet dangerous voice Westwind continued. »You have disgraced us yet again. It pains me to do this, yet you leave me no other choice. Consider this a last warning: if I hear word of another gryphon being lost under your watch, you will be branded a traitor of the Light.« Iarann's heart skipped a beat. He knew all too well the torture used on supposed traitors. The victims were left begging for death in the end, and the Grand Admiral seemed to delight in 'showing them mercy'.
»Oh, and I believe a Number Four would be in order.« His eyes glinted terribly. »Actually, make it a Number Five.«
Iarann Pickman was certain now. He couldn't bear it anymore. The dawn would see his bed empty. After all, it's better if the vrykul get me than this... lunatic.
He removed his greaves and put on the terrible device. One last service to the Onslaught.
The pain was terrible. Some of the belts were imbued with magic as to hurt even more. Number Fives were among those.
He limped towards the table. An unopened bottle of wine awaited him. At least it will ease the pain a little... Without a word he grabbed the bottle by the neck and hurled it at the wall.
»Come out. I know you're there.« The doors of the wardrobe slid open slowly, and the would-be assassin stepped out. He eyed the apparition in white. »Such a daft choice of colour. You truly thought you were invisible, didn't you?« Thanata chuckled and the man's eyes narrowed. »Don't even try to assault me. I could burn you where you stand, the Light has such power.« »Oh I have no need to attack you, sir. We can always make a deal.« She chuckled again, the sound sending chills down Iarann's spine. »The Onslaught does not deal with flithy undead!« »The Onslaught? Oh my, and there I was thinking you were deserting them.« He looked shocked. »I... I did... I mean... Who are you? What do you want?« »There is a certain item I have been sent to recover. I have been led to understand you're in possession of a... locket?« »What? Who... Who sent you?« Once again the cold chuckle. »You know, he looks exactly like you. Older of course, but still...« »Enough of this! Who sent you?« Iarann thought for a moment he saw something sparkle in her empty eye-sockets. »I believe you know the man. Tall, burly, dark-haired... goes by the name of Leas Pickman.«
He felt light-headed. »Pickman... Father?« She nodded silently. »But how... I...« He tried to compose himself, but the throbbing pain of the Number Five belt made it impossible. »Please, I beg you... take me to him! I... the Onslaught...« She held out a bony hand. »The locket.« With a shaking hand he reached under his armour and tunic. He pulled out the golden amulet, but didn't make any attempt to remove it. »I would rather... give it to Father myself.« »You do know it was Leas that sent me to kill you, don't you?« His lip trembled. »Yes, I understand that, but I... I have seen now... the Onslaught, what we're doing is wrong, I...« A soft growl silenced him. Thanata's voice, previously soft, was now hard and unyielding. »And you think that makes it right? You think you can just redeem yourself for all the atrocities like that? Your Crusade tortured us, called us monsters. And not just us, but innocent farmers and peasants as well. Well my dear, think of who the real monsters are.« »But still, you must take me to Father. I can help, I know the harbour's weaknesses, I know...« »The harbour is all but broken. Your Onslaught is no more. There are just some minor things to take care of now. Minor things... like you.«
He felt a lump in his throat. His father had sent this... this demon? This horrible, Nether-spawned monster? »But I foiled you... I saw through your plan, through your disguise...« The cold chuckle made his hair stand on end. »You truly thought I'd let myself be seen? I am a deathstalker, my dear. As for the wine...« She indicated the smashed bottle. »It was merely a parting gift. I thought you liked Dalaran red.« She drew closer, and Pickman lifted a hand. »I... I can burn you where you stand...« He could see that light in the empty eye sockets flicker again. »Then do it.«
He called out to the Light... and couldn't. His eyes widened in terror. »I've still got my sword!« he cried. He tried to pull out the weapon, but found his fingers numb. His vision swam. »You see, my dear commander, you have been dead for a long time now. You just haven't found out yet.« Realisation dawned upon him. »The... the belt...« »Yes, the belt. Stupid Crusaders, you're so predictable.« »But how... how did you...« »How did I know which belt to poison? I didn't.« She was so near now that he could smell the rotting flesh. »I poisoned them all.«
Bony fingers tipped with steel claws caressed his neck. By now he couldn't move to stop her anymore. »Finish it then...« he barely muttered. »You know, I think I'll just leave you as you are. After all... my people owe you that much.« She undid the clasp of the necklace and took the amulet from the unmoving commander. Throwing back her hood she put it around her own neck.
She laughed at the grimace Iarann made, that mixture of horror and recognition.
»So, you return.« Thanata nodded. »Well, do you have what I requested?« Again she nodded, but kept still otherwise. Leas was growing annoyed. »Let me have the locket!« »My lord, there is something that you should know before I give you what is rightfully yours.« »Well, speak then.«
Thanata smiled dangerously behind the scarf. »Your son repented for his deeds, and wanted to return the amulet himself. He had grown to hate the Scarlet Crusade as much as you do.« Pickman was stunned. He stared at the entrance to the tent. »Is... can it be... Oh, Iarann...« Joy overtook him. »Did you bring him back? Is he with you?«
She pulled back the hood and put the amulet on the table. Then she turned and left the tent.
Leas just stood there, speechless. The expression he wore was nigh identical to that of his son as he took his last breaths. He knew the assassin's face. Her lower jaw had been stripped of all soft tissue, her eyes were gone, but still...
»Isabel!« he yelled as he stepped out of the tent. »ISABEL!« Only the keening wind answered his call.
Leas Pickman couldn't sleep. He dared not do so for fear of dreaming, because he knew exactly what he'd see. The torn body of his daughter, a thing that could not be alive... its fingers twitching ever so slightly...
»It didn't... it couldn't have happened...«
Forsaken name: Thanata
Real name: Isabel Pickman
Allignment: Hard to pinpoint, most often Lawful or Neutral Evil.
Race/Class: Forsaken Rogue
Physical appearance: While her face retains the beauty it had in life, all the flesh has been stripped off her lower jaw. After regaining her will, she tore out her eyes because she thought that would prevent her from seeing what she'd become, but to her great despair (at that time) she kept her vision. Her lower ribcage is exposed, and she always keeps a spare set of daggers hidden there. Her arms are completely skeletal from digging through burning rubble when she became undead. However, she had steel claws fastened onto the fingertips of her right hand.
Personality: Cruel and calculating. She hates the Scarlet Crusade with a passion, and sees them as irredeemable. Devoted to the Banshee Queen. Loves irony.
Skills: Nicknamed 'The Ghost' for her white attire, she is nonetheless great at stealth. Her weapons of choice are daggers. However, her greatest strength are poisons.