My mother accompanied me to the Gryphon Master on horseback. It was seventy-five degrees in Silithus, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – red linen; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. When I got to where I was going, I would be handed a Twilight Cultist’s Robe.
In the northern climes of the Eastern Kingdoms, there was a dominance labeled on all the maps as Twilight Highlands. It was from the gloomy dungeon of Grim Batol that my mother had escaped with me when I was only a few years old. My father still resided there, studying the teachings of Cho’gall and campaigning against the forces of Mount Hyjal.
My time growing up had been spent with my mother, who had never been fond of the chill dank of the caves and fortresses that most of the Cult called home. She was a creature of the sun and had removed to the desert of Sithilus in order to escape the gloomy environs that most of the Cult lived in.
The gryphon ride to the seaport was a long one and the crossing over from Kalimdor to the Eastern Kingdoms even longer. Upon arrival, I made passage in the air via gryphon once more until I had at least arrived in the Twilight Highlands.
My father, Char’lee, met me at the flight point and we traded awkward smiles and nods of greeting. Members of the Twilight Cult weren’t affectionate much in private and certainly never were in public. We did, after all, have a certain standard to maintain and project.
He had brought his Mechano hog and sidecar and I looked dubiously at this travel arrangement. It wouldn’t be ideal to be forever folded up into the sidecar whenever I wanted to get anywhere. I would have to get something of my own, and as soon as possible.
Char’lee caught my glance and interpreted it correctly, for he gave me another awkward smile and cleared his throat. “Sorry about the sidecar, Mary Sue. I got something that I thought would do for you to get around in, but it’s still with the goblins, having a few repairs done for you.”
“Gee, thanks,” I mumbled, trying to force a smile onto my own face. “How much will it cost me?”
“Consider it a present,” he replied. “A sort of welcome home.”
“You didn’t need to do that,” I told him, secretly pleased that my small stash of gold would remain untouched for the time being. “I was going to buy myself a horse.”
He waved this off, and then we were getting situated in the chopper and travel made any further conversation impossible. I watched the landscape as it blurred past, my eyes taking in all the unfamiliar green of the terrain. Silithus was sunny, but it was also rather monotonous with its shades of brown and red. I wasn’t certain I would thrive any better surrounded by greens and greys and the foreboding shadows of Grim Batol, but it was my duty to walk the path of an initiate and so I must try to adjust.
We arrived at the fortress and stood awkwardly by for a moment until Char’lee’s face brightened. “Do you want to see your ride?”
“Sure,” I replied swiftly, grateful for the question and the distraction from what might come next. I was dubious about his use of the word ‘ride’ – it seemed to me that Char’lee was being somewhat dodgy about exactly what sort of transportation he had acquired for me. Still, it was free, and I wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
A it turned out, I was soon looking a gift mechanostrider in the beak.
“This is what I’m to get around on?” I asked, trying to keep tones of disbelief from my voice. The thing was a faded red and looked as though it had been wrecked more than once before. No wonder Char’lee hadn’t wanted to say what it was. I would look beyond ridiculous perched on top of it; though I wasn’t extraordinarily tall, I was at least taller than your average gnome or even dwarf.
“Yes,” Char’lee confirmed with a proud grin. He ran his hand over the head of the thing in a fond manner and I realized then that I should have guessed that he would see this strider as a rescued treasure. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but it has been modified to run quickly, and it’s small enough that you should be able to get just about anywhere on it easily.”
He looked at me then, a touch of anxiousness in his brown eyes.
I forced a grin, hoping it seemed genuine. “Thank you. I’m sure it will be great.”
The moment passed, fading into a silence that might have been awkward had Char’lee seemed even the least bit inclined to keep talking. Instead, he gave the Mechanostrider another gentle pat and then offered to show me to my quarters. I trailed willingly along behind him, neither of us saying anything as he led the way.
Once he was certain that I was settled and knew when and where I was next expected to be, he left me to unpack my few personal items and settle in for some rest. I was tired, feeling emotionally bruised from all the jarring changes life had brought me. As I settled into my cot, I allowed my tears to come at last, sobbing myself into a deep sleep.
The next morning, I got ready for my day and tried to ignore the curiously hollow feeling in my chest and stomach. The robes, when I slipped them on, had the feeling of a shroud. But I was grateful for them when I stepped outside and discovered it was raining. I pulled my cowl down closely over my dark brown hair and sloshed my way through the wet highlands.
Getting to the training grounds was easy enough. The Mechanostrider was indeed capable of a decent rate of speed, although I didn’t think it could outpace the horse I had left with my mother back in Silithus. The rain pelting against my hands and face was unwelcome, but it would have been the same even on horseback, so I didn’t grumble about that.
Once at the training grounds, I checked in with a florid woman whose name I didn’t care to catch and listened quietly as she rattled off the instructors I was to see and when I was to see them. Once she had finished, I made my escape only to find myself washed up in a sea of my fellow initiates. Here, I didn’t stand out at all; we were all clad in the same robes and cowls and the only thing to differentiate between anyone was their height or weight.
Still, several people seemed to be able to identify me as being new somehow. I was briefly accosted by a boy with oily hair and squinty eyes. He offered to help me get from place to place in case I should get lost, but I thanked him absently for his concern and insisted that I would fare perfectly well all on my own. He ignored this and fell into step beside me.
“So,” he ventured, “I hear you’re from Silithus.”
“I am,” I answered.
“What is that like?”
He wrinkled his nose at me. “You don’t look very tan.”
“My mother is part albino.”
He didn’t laugh.
The rest of the morning passed in a similar fashion. I felt very vague, as though the boundaries of my body were somehow not able to be defined through the curtains of pouring rain, and as if every one of my features had been already smoothed into blank nothingness by the constant wear.
It was at lunch that someone finally made an impression on me. There was a group of initiates who were huddled off together in a group. The other initiates seemed to be going to great pains to avoid them, not only giving them a buffer of several yards, but also pointedly not looking in their direction. I peered over in interest, wondering who in the Cult might be eschewed by the other members.
There were five of them, three males and two females. One of the males was large, imposing even from a distance. The other two were more average in size and weight, although one of them had the most striking purple hair I had ever seen. It was formed into a dozen or so spikes, protruding stiffly in every direction. His eyes glowed yellow in a smooth, green-tinged face.
All of their eyes glowed yellow, I realized. And their skin was all chalky white with some hint of color that spoke of morbid decay. They were strikingly beautiful and I found myself unable to look away from any of them.
“Who are they?” I found myself asking of no one in particular.
Me nearest neighbor caught the question however, and followed my gaze to the separate group. She smirked knowingly at me.
“That’s Deadward and Urdead Cutlet,” she informed me, indicating the beautiful purple-haired man and the giant hulking man in turn. The third man proved to be named Jester, while the tall woman was named Rosily and the shorter was named Allice. “They’re Forsaken,” she added on, as though this was of no consequence.
“Oh,” I breathed, still unable to tear my eyes away from their inhuman beauty. The knowledge made several things come sharply into focus for me. They were eating their lunch after all, crouched on the ground over some sort of corpse I couldn’t see. It wasn’t fare that many in this place would be interested in consuming, but it would make sense that these five would band together over the meal.
As I shamelessly ogled them, I could see now that the most beautiful one, Deadward, had paused mid-chew to stare back in my direction. I could only surmise that he had caught the sensation of my eyes on him, and I lowered my lashes in embarrassment at having been caught out, blushing red in mortification.
His jaw hung crookedly open, as though he were perhaps unable to close it. I peeked and peeked again, until
Oh, Deadward, you’re so DREAMY!
at last their lunch was over and they had gone, leaving behind a heap of bones and offal.
I didn’t have long to wait before I spotted one of them again, though. And it seemed that all the Old Gods were smiling on me, for at my next training station – Vivisection of Sacrifices – I found myself standing right next to Deadward.
Since I seemed helpless to do anything other than stare at him, I noticed when he gave me a cold look out of those brilliantly glowing yellow eyes and turned deliberately away from me as though offended.
Stupid Mary Sue, I chastised myself. He probably thinks you’re staring at him in disgust!
And since I could think of no way to tell him that I found him strangely wonderful, I trained my eyes forward for the rest of the training session and tried not to let it bother me when we were dismissed and he darted away as quickly as he possibly could.
So the whole day was not as bad as I had feared, I considered as I made my way back to my Mechanostrider later that day. As I left the training grounds to head back towards Grim Batol, I sensed more than saw the shadow of something large pass by me overhead. Looking up reflexively, I saw the outline of a flying mount dart swiftly away and although I couldn’t be completely certain, I thought I saw the glow of yellow eyes flash from where the rider perched on its back.