Liam Stephenson rubbed his chin where skin used to be. Bony fingers. Pieces of skin missing. When he was alive, the idea would’ve made him think of a fate not much worse. But dead, or undead, he actually was used to it and didn’t mind in the slightest. Neither did Drake. Then again, as he lay on his back with his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, well…the dog didn’t look like a thing in the world would bother him.
Liam remembered his conversation with Robert. Drake had never left the side of his grave. For at least seven months, and Robert himself couldn’t understand it. Liam figured most people couldn’t. When it comes to that kind of bond, you either get it or you don’t. There’s no middle ground and there’s no way in all of the Eastern Kingdoms that you’ll ever be able to explain it. There are no words. He looked down at the dog again, chuckled slightly, and then gave him a good solid rub of the chest. Liam might not know how he died, or why he was back, but he was more than happy to have his best friend there with him.
To be undead, or as he had learned “Forsaken,” was to be introduced to something one could never truly prepare for. As Robert had informed him during one of their early talks, it’s also complicated by the fact no two individuals return in the same state. Sure, there are similiarities but everyone is different. Some can taste food, some taste dust or ash. Some are sharper of mind and body than when they were alive, while others are completely off their rocker. Aside from how he died, Liam felt that in many ways he was the same now as when alive, more or less. He couldn’t feel temperatures, which took a bit of getting used to. Not having nerve endings in his fingers made touching things a bit of an adjustment as well. But fortunately, his archery was as true as ever.
When he couldn’t pick up a quill to write with, and then a match for a candle, Liam had actually felt a touch of fear in his post-death existence. The only thing that came even close in his life to Drake was his bow. Not the weapon itself, just what he could do with it. He loved the feeling. Drawing the bow, pulling the arrow until the line is taut. The moment he would separate his fingers and the arrow would break the air and tear off into its intended target. When he found that hadn’t left him, he was relieved.
Reliving that moment, Liam decided to use the night air to let loose a few arrows into a makeshift target someone had built outside the inn long before the Forsaken had stepped foot in town. Tonight wouldn’t be his usual work out. A few 30-35 yard shots would suffice. A half dozen or so just to relax him and to experience that feeling. Unfortunately, on this night, only two arrows would release. As he drew the third arrow from his quiver, Executor Zygang came riding into town. He was riding with urgency, and Liam met him as he dismounted in front of the inn.
“We’ve got trouble. Grab a horse and head to the shore. I’ll get the rest and bring them.”
Liam was a bit surprised by this. “The whole platoon? What could possibly need that much force?” He paused a moment before realizing the possibility. “Are we being attacked?”
The Executor looked at him briefly. “Son, you have no idea the kind of evil that’s upon us. Now get your ass up there.” With that he went inside the inn. Liam looked at Drake and headed to the stables. Mounting up, he rode the path north out of town, Drake following hard behind. If there was one good thing from this, the dog finally got the chance for a good run. Then again, Zygang wasn’t exactly excited about what he had sent them towards. It couldn’t have been a military attack, or the alarm would’ve sounded in town. Liam came upon Abe Winters who was on a hill, looking down at the water.
“Abe, what’s going on?” Liam dismounted and came up beside him.
“Nastiest critters the sea can offer. That’s what.” Abe spat and pointed downward.
Liam followed the bony finger and saw nothing at first. But then he saw it. Them. Hideous creatures he could not have brought to life in his worst nightmares. They were human. No, not quite. Humanoid. But they had no head or face, not even undead. This was something entirely different. The grotesque form where the head would be was hideous. And then came a collectively vile cry that made Liam’s ears ring, even in death.
“What are they?
Abe squinted and looked back as the sound of horses began to grow louder behind them. “…Murlocs.”
The cry from the monsters ceased and Liam, drawing his bow, nodded to Drake. The dog tore off as Liam let loose the first arrow, dropping one of the creatures. Then another. Then another. However, before too long he and Abe were knee deep in these “Murlocs.” Some of the faster riders from town had arrived at this point and were taking up flanks, but the number of these creatures seemed to keep growing. Drake was back by Liam’s side now, snapping pieces of the fishbeasts in his jaws.
Liam was defending himself with his bow, and trying to fight with an arrow in his hand when it happened. One of the Murlocs had gotten behind Liam but he hadn’t noticed until he felt the piercing in his spine and the spear then push forward before gushing out his chest. Just like that it was over. Liam’s after life was going to last all but a week.
Or was it?
Liam fully expected, well, something. But nothing was there. There was hardly any pain and he was uninhibited in any way. Taking advantage of his confused attacker, Liam swung around. As the spear snapped in the creature’s hands Liam drove an arrow into one of its eyes. When it was buried deep, he scraped the shaft against the orbital bone, trying to do as much harm as possible before it recoiled in agony. It freed him long enough to draw another arrow and actually use his bow to take down another. He then reached down and pulled out what was remaining of the spear in his chest.
All of the others from town had arrived at this point and yet it still didn’t seem to be enough. They were simply outnumbered. Just like Liam, they stood their ground. It was ground they were losing, and losing fast. One man Liam had recognized but not known had been killed by two spears, one in the chest and one through the skull. Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do. He, Drake, and the others were overwhelmed.
He never heard a sound, and afterwards could not even recall what direction he came from, but came he did. A beast of a creature that Liam had only heard stories of when he was a young lad in Southshore, and all he could do was give thanks that it came to help them. A Tauren. It was as though Liam had blinked and he saw this horned gladiator suddenly in the fray, axe in hand.
The Murlocs hardly stood a chance. Compared to the Tauren, they were hardly standing at all. The experienced warrior tore through the line to side up with Liam and his brethren. There was an almost grace to the movement, something Liam was surprised to see. Over the combat, it was the Executor who thanked the Tauren for his help.
“Do not thank met yet,” came a deep and resonating reply. “Let us win this battle first.” His axe swung hard and met two more creatures in the swing. Liam managed to free himself to step back and get another arrow off, dropping one more of his own. Drake had one by its throat and was rolling it in the sand until the life was expelled. They were finally starting to turn the tide.
Liam could not say for certain how much longer the fight had lasted, but their side was successful in repelling the creatures. They owed the Tauren, that much was certain. Not only for victory, but no further casualties. He was cleaning the blade of his axe when Liam asked him where he had come from.
There was that deep voice again, but Liam noticed how calm and paced the words came. “I was over the hill taking in some night fishing when I heard the Murloc battle cry. While it has been some time since I heard that sound, I did not forget what it meant.”
Abe Winters nodded. “Yeah, ye don’t forget that damn sound. Ever.” He gave the Tauren’s armor a look over. The town blacksmith was looking down at a few good dents. “Dunno how many o’them you just got, but I’d clean it all up for you just the same as thanks.”
The Tauren looked down and smiled. “I cannot refuse your generosity.” He looked over his shoulder at the carnage they’d left behind. “As it stands, I think my fishing efforts would be for not for the rest of this night. Pardon me a moment as I dropped my pack and pole when I saw your situation.”
The Tauren was heading off towards a hill to the northwest. Liam was intrigued by him and offered to tag along. The Tauren didn’t seem bothered by it as he and Drake took in step beside him.
“Thank you again. Without your efforts I don’t think we would have fought them off.” It was all Liam could produce as a means to start conversation.
“I am merely happy of the overall success.” He grunted slightly before continuing, “the Earthmother tells us everything in Azeroth has its place and purpose. Unfortunately my people have yet to understand where those fit in with that wisdom.” He looked over at Liam, and down at Drake,”Your companion hasn’t seen much of my people before, has he?”
Liam looked over at Drake as well. “Drake? No, not really. Still, he seems to trust you.”
The Tauren stopped and picked up his pack and fishing rod. As he turned to head back, he placed a heavy arm on Liam’s shoulder and smiled. “I agree. But I was also talking to him.”