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Persistence of Memory
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Chapter 2: Reborn  

The crunch of frost beneath the dwarf's boots was lost completely under the howl of the wind. Of course, she wouldn't have felt it even had she been barefoot; no steam of breath preceded her on her journey, and if she seemed at times to pull her coat tighter around her to ward against the cutting wind, it was simply an old habit, nothing more.

The coat, in fact, had a purpose beyond warding off those who would be suspicious at a lone dwarf woman hiking the frozen mountains of Dun Morogh without any concession to the weather. It also served to conceal her prize from prying eyes who might recognize it for what it was: a gift from her master.

Even now she could feel his presence, curled up in the back of her mind like a rock badger in its den. She feared that presence more than anything else in the world. Its awakening, she knew, would wring the will from her body like water from a cloth. It was the collar that kept her bound; she was completely helpless to resist it.

Against the will of the Lich King, there was no defense, and no escape.

The dwarf once known as Ilsa Marlsdottir shivered in spite of her undeath at the thought of that terrible power awakening in her mind and slipped a hand into her jacket, grasping the object hidden there like a touchstone for reassurance. He could not be with her all the time, she told herself, and she would know if he came into her thoughts. Decades spent in the temple prior to her death had given her that much mastery over her own mind, at least. And though he could obviously sift her entire mind for anything useful then simply discard the useless husk that would remain, that would still take time and he could not direct his attention everywhere at once. Thus, she was still useful.

That last part she repeated to herself with every step as the snow grew steadily deeper, rising quickly until she was wading through it, sweeping her arms in front of her to help clear a path. She continued on for days with only the slow march of the sun and her quiet mantra to mark the time, and only briefly paused when her goal finally came into view, a simple acknowledgement of the inner sense that led her to this point.

It was little more than a pipe jutting out from the ground, barely visible above the piled snow, from which issued a small burp of noxious gas at regular intervals. Aside from the simple incongruity of such a thing in the middle of the otherwise barren mountainscape, there was nothing remarkable about it. The dwarf, however, knew better.

She was standing atop the largest mass grave in Azeroth's history.

The Lich King wouldn't know. How could he? He was born a human, a human who cared for little beyond his pathetic little kingdom in the north. This was her knowledge, her power, the power that would make her stand out in the endless ranks of the Scourge.

She let her coat fall open, withdrawing the long, crystalline rod hidden there, taking a moment to stroke her fingertips over the smooth, hard surface. The materials used in its creation were completely foreign even to her dwarven eyes. The translucent blue stone, colder even than the snow around her, radiated malevolent power. After only a moment's more hesitation to admire the glittering facets, the dwarf knelt down in the snow and plunged the rod down into the ground beneath, burying the entire length in solid rock.

Immediately there was a wave of force, like thunder without sound, that blew back the hip-deep snow more than a half-mile in every direction and laid the dwarf flat on her back. She could feel the ground shaking beneath her, gently at first, then slowly building to peak intensity as thousands upon thousands of corpses, skeletons, and loose bones began clawing their way through hundreds of feet of rock and stone.

The gathered dead of an entire civilization were rising to her call.

The first bones broke the surface of the ground some hours later, pushing through the light coating of new-fallen snow to gather themselves in rough piles that roiled and spun as they slowly formed themselves into coherent shapes. The skeletons that shambled out of those piles were small, smaller than even she was, with over-large skulls balanced precariously on top, but they were entirely hers. Habits formed from temple life took over automatically as she began organizing her new army into functioning units, delegating tasks to each little knot. Some she assigned to dig at the frozen ground with bare, skeletal fingers to pull up those whole-bodied ghouls that had managed to make it to the surface intact. Others had been sent off in little groups to scout for any source of ore in the metal-rich mountains to be used later as weapons or armor. The rest were knotted around the pipe in the center of the camp, absorbing the deadly radiation of the gas that now billowed out in a steady stream.

The dwarf had just finished setting the latest batch of ghouls to collecting boulders large enough to be fashioned into a crude smelter when she noticed one of the digging crews milling about excitedly. Wondering what they had found, she pushed her way through the crowd, sending skeletons scattering in every direction as she brushed the digging crew aside with a simple whipcrack of her power to see the prize they'd discovered.

There, lying on the ground in the small depression created upon breaking the surface, was the perfectly-preserved body of a young gnome woman. The dwarf knelt in the snow, examining the corpse. The skin was pale and bloodless, but otherwise intact, matching the shock-white hair bound back in two long tails on either side of the head. The head was lying at an odd angle due to the neck being broken. That, along with a wide gash on the forehead, suggested that the gnome had been killed quickly by a falling object of some sort. Lack of radiation burns or any significant scarring indicated that it happened well before the city fell. The corpse was quite a prize indeed; she would have to work quickly to make the best use of it. The digging crew was set to descending below the treeline to gather wood while she prepared the body.

Clucking her tongue in annoyance at the forehead wound, the dwarf pulled a small carved box from its pouch at her belt and began laying the contents out on the ground. Sadly, no magic could properly heal flesh once the natural life had fled the body, but the dwarf had sewn worse wounds during her life. With a practiced hand, she threaded the small needle and pulled the cold, dead flesh back together. On a living creature, such an injury would have healed quickly with barely a scar for it. For an undead the tiny stitches would become a permanent feature.

The dwarf finished her work and repacked her kit just as the team of skeletons crested the hill behind her dragging a large log. The skeletons rapidly marked off an area in the clearing and began to hack and tear at the wood until the entire log had been broken down into manageable pieces. The gnome corpse was carefully laid out between two piles of wood set alight with a quick flicker of magic, close enough to warm but not so close as to char the dead flesh. The body had to be warmed to suppleness before being raised, else the cold and brittle tissues would shatter in the first few moments of animation, thus rendering the corpse useless.

Hours passed, but if there was one thing the dwarf had gained during her unlife, it was patience. Finally, once the body was judged to be ready, the fires were doused with snow and the fresh soot was used to draw a circle of runes around the corpse. The dwarf worked quickly so as to not allow the cold to set in once more, employing the ghouls in drawing the circle while she gathered her power.

Once the circle was completed and the dwarf had checked and double-checked each rune, making small corrections where necessary, she gathered the arcane energies inside her, compressing every scrap of power she could muster into a tight little ball. She held it there for a moment, letting the raw energy crackle between her fingers, before forcing it whole into the tiny form laid out on the ground in front of her. The gnome's body spasmed, as expected, lifting up off the ground as the spine tried to curl back in on itself. An unholy wail issued from the open mouth, a sound of agony that echoed off the mountain peaks surrounding them, and the head and neck slowly realigned as the spell uncoiled, taking root inside its new host.

The convulsions quickly subsided, and the gnome lay still on the cold ground a moment or two before the long-lashed eyelids fluttered, shaking away unmelted snowflakes, and opened to see the dwarf's stern face glaring down at her.

"Arise," the dwarf said in a voice like crumbling rust, "and serve."

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When a long-dead memory comes to life once again, one gnome must choose between a buried past and an uncertain future.

Ilsa Marlsdottir

Posted: 11.01.08

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