So, I didn’t want to do another RP post so soon after the last, but the post I wrote up this morning is currently stuck on my laptop because I suck and have apparently lost my USB stick, which is the only means I currently have for transferring the file…. And this is the only back-written post I have. So…sucks to be you! ^^

There’s something unique about the smell of rotten flesh burning. It’s not really the smell that makes my stomach turn, though. It’s the realization that I’ve smelled it enough now to recognize it; to pick it out of the miasma of odour that pervades these once happy streets. I can smell the plague still. It’s been so long since it swept through the city, but it’s there – I know it because it smells like the Dead Scar back home. The creatures that have replaced the people and wagons and horses here have marinated in it for years. In this city that burns but never falls. Dies but is never dead.

Stratholme will burn and die forever. Nothing could put these fires out. Nothing can settle its dead.

Betrayal leaves a scar deeper than any blade.

At least, I think to myself, Arthas came to us as an enemy. Not as our friend. Not as our Prince. That makes it worse, somehow. It’s true. The corpses that wander the Dead Scar amble and meander. They’re violent, certainly, but not like here. The ghouls and abominations that wander here are angry like nowhere else in this world. There’s something more behind their attacks. Something deeper in their fighting. My group is no stranger to combat, no stranger to the walking dead, but here they give us a run for our money. Here…

They’re furious.

“We’ll stop here,” says the woman who is the equivalent of our Commander. She used to be a part of Loarderon’s military. She served under Prince Arthas in her career, and was slain by him for defending her city. This place was her home. She died here. She rose again here.

We’re not exactly a military, not by a long shot, but we’re loyal to her, and we’ll follow her anywhere. Even here. We wouldn’t let her go alone. Not one of us.

“Yes, oh Supreme Leader,” says one of the priests at the back, but his voice is gentle, the nick name a term of endearment – something he normally takes great pains to conceal. He knows what she’s going through. He didn’t die here, he fell in Tirisfal, but he’s been to his own grave and he knows probably better than the rest of us what she must be going through.

She doesn’t notice in either case, choosing instead to take a seat from which she can survey the path before us and stare blankly ahead. We’ll rest for a few hours. Some of us will sleep. Some of us won’t. The healers will need to deal with everyone, the mages will need to discuss their spells, the elves haven’t had a chance to deal with their addiction in almost a day, myself included. We need a break, and this is a tactically sound spot to do it. Hidden, defensible, with a good view of any approaching enemies.

But that’s not all it has a good view of. And our Supreme Leader has a bad habit of putting her own needs to the side sometimes.

Meditation can wait.

I move over to where she sits, shifting my weight awkwardly at what I know is likely to be interpreted as an intrusion and can’t quite find my voice.

“You may as well sit,” she says heavily, “until you decide how you want to put it.”

I wince, but take a seat beside her, following her gaze to the city beyond. A row of townhouses burns across the street from where we are. The second-one from the left I recognize from a description given to me by her daughter. It’s the house the little girl died in while her parents fought to secure the city elsewhere. It’s the house the Scourge took her in, the house in which they denied her peace in death. She’s the youngest Forsaken I know and my heart breaks every time I see her. I can’t imagine what her mother must feel…

“Why here?” I ask finally.

She mechanically runs down a list of tactical reasons; cool, precise, and accurate. I deny none of them. This really is the best spot for us to set up camp. But that’s not the issue.

“We could have gone somewhere else,” I say softly. “You don’t have to…we wouldn’t ask this of you. You don’t have to…to stare at…to look at it for the rest of the night. We can still pick up and go.” It’s true. The rest of the group, sensing the decision is not yet as final as it might otherwise have been, are delaying the set up of the camp. Finding excuses to do other things until they can tell whether we’re actually staying.

She says nothing for a long moment, unable to tear her eyes away from the second house from the left. “There comes a point,” she says slowly, and I’m not immediately sure she’s talking to me, “when you need to put things behind you. When other priorities have to take precedence. You are correct in your assumption. I have no desire to sit here and watch my old home burn. To imagine what happened in it while I was somewhere else. But to be honest, there hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t done exactly that. This,” and she gestures, taking in the fiery street, the shambling undead, the stench of rotten meat burning, “is a pantomime. He leaves it here as a symbol. He lets it burn to remind us of what he did, to us and to everyone else. What he’ll do again if we let him. It’s an illusion, you see? That’s not my house, and my daughter’s not in there dying. My house burned down long ago, and my daughter is dead, but safe with friends in Tarren Mill. I can’t give her life again, and I can’t restore my house, and I can’t save this city. It was damned ages ago and all we’re seeing now is its corpse. I can put it to rest, and I can deal a blow to the Lich King by taking down one of his lieutenants. I can finish what I died trying to do. And that’s more important than hiding from a memory I couldn’t escape even if I wasn’t staring it in the face.” Her face sets into an expression that tells me I lost whatever argument it was I hoped to win. “Tactically this is the best spot to rest. We rest.”

I nod smartly, unable to think of anything to say, and get to my feet again. The rest of the group stares enquiringly at me as I return. I shrug and grab a hammer to start helping with the building of temporary barricades. A few people throw concerned glances at our Supreme Leader, but a collective sigh is heaved and we all set about establishing camp.

She joins us after a time, gesturing for me and a few others to come to her. “Tomorrow,” she says, all business, “we’ll push through the market. Intel has Rivendare holed up at the back of the city, deep in. We need to get into him without—”

“You can’t be serious,” interrupts the young man who leads our small contingent of healers. “You’re discussing tactics? Here? With—” his voice dies immediately when she looks at him, angry at his interruption and his questioning.

I clear my throat to rescue him from her stare. “We don’t have enough people to leave a path open behind us,” I note. “The Scourge will close up around us. We’re going to have to find another way out once we drop Rivendare.”

“Half the city is held by the Crusade,” she says. “Once Rivendare’s down, we can make a break for their half. They won’t be happy to see us, but unlike the Scourge we might be able to reason with them. And if not, well, we’re no worse off. Plus, we know Crusade tactics. They’re an easier target than the scourge.”

“But,” says the young man, stubborn despite the icy glare from our Supreme Leader, “isn’t your husband Crusade? What if…what if he’s over there?”

“Then he’s over there,” she says flatly. “And if he chooses to fight us we kill him. He’s not my husband anymore. ‘Till death do us part, I believe was the vow.”

“Okay,” says the young man, taking a deep breath, shifting his weight awkwardly. “All right, as long as you’re okay with it.”

“I will be okay with it,” she responds, “when we are out of this city and on our way back to Undercity. Until then, we do what we have to.”

He nods – we all nod – and the conversation about tactics continues, uninterrupted.

When we finally break I move over to my bedroll and lay back on the cobblestone street, staring up at what I can see of the sky through the acrid smoke and the fire’s glow. I don’t sleep for a long time.

I don’t understand how she can put anything behind her, when the universe seems to conspire to keep throwing it in front of her again. The same goes for all of us, I suppose. Stratholme isn’t the only place destroyed by the Scourge. Quel’thelas and the Sun Well were violated as well, and we all still suffer the effects of that. It’s in our blood, in our memories, in our hunger. How do we put it behind us, when we have to live with the effects every day?

There’s no faction, no race, no person the Scourge hasn’t touched, hasn’t wounded. And in that, I think I can almost understand where our Supreme Leader is coming from. As long as the Scourge exists, there can be no person it doesn’t touch. As long as it ravages the world and our homes and our lives, there will be no putting it behind us, not in the usual sense.

But if we focus on the future – a future free of the scourge; a future where little girls aren’t turned into undead, and entire cities aren’t murdered and burned and denied any peace in death – it puts it in perspective. It puts it all behind us – even as we live it – because we have that image to hold on to, to fight for.

You can’t fight for what’s gone, because you’ll never bring it back.

You can only fight for what’s to come. You can fight to make sure it does come, that the future is brighter than the present. The past is immutable – like this city. Our past burns without falling, and dies without dying, forever and ever, amen.

But our future…

Our future is different. Our future is better. Because we believe to be so. Because it has to be so.

Because we’ll make it so.

The sky falls away, and I sleep peacefully at last.

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