Chapter four - Where illusions end
Now the story had gone more towards what they were used to. Incredible numbers, feats of strength unheard of and more. Still, this wasn't quite right. Where was the hero of the story? Where was the one they could cheer for, or fear for? Little Jack was likable enough, but nowhere near heroic enough.
Still, the story held them tighter than most stories they heard in Southshore inn, so the mugs of Southshore's finest kept being passed towards the storyteller. No one but the maid sighingly noticed that he mostly let the contents pour to the floor when he distracted them with some gesture. No wonder really, she thought. That had to be the eleventh mug he'd been passed.
The traveler didn't quite seem to want to finish the story though. He kept his head down as the story kept playing itself in his mind. The other traveler leaned forwards as he started talking.
The tools were left behind as Big and Little Jack raced towards the cabin. Little Jack could barely keep up, as he'd exhausted himself on the run back to Big Jack. The cursing of Big Jack as he'd realized what Little Jack was saying still kept ringing through Little Jack's head. Hell, he could scarcely believe it himself. The undead woman was still alive. He'd walked around the field four times, trying to find her amongst the piles of dead Worgen.
The undead still lived... and what they'd done to her could hardly have made her any more well inclined towards them than she'd been before they saw her fall over. With luck, she'd mindlessly continue north to their city. If they weren't lucky, she knew how to track.
Well, that was the reason not all the tools were abandoned. Big Jack had his biggest axe held in a grip tight enough to whiten his knuckles, as he ran for all he was worth. For once, Little Jack's imagination failed to conjure up images of what might be ahead of them. The only things he saw as he pulled his last bits of strength and stuffed it all into his feet, was his Momma's face. His Momma doing all kinds of things around the house. Carrying water, cooking dinner, darning his socks... Always having a warm smile to bestow on her son, even though she didn't have much else to give.
He almost ran into the back of Big Jack. He had stopped as he broke the treeline around the cabin. Little Jack quickly looked around to see if he could spot Momma. He sighed with relief as he couldn't see any sign of struggle or Momma's corp... no, he wouldn't think of that. Then his breath stopped as he noticed what Big Jack had seen immediately.
The door - strong, heavy Silverpine wood with a sturdy lock - stood slightly ajar. The door was never allowed to be ajar, whether anyone was inside or not. Some of the animals of the forest were still sick by the plague. Then he noticed the shutters on the windows, they were closed. Momma always opened them during the day, saying she would not live like a bear in the winter.
Big Jack barely caught his shoulder as his son tried to storm towards the door. "Quiet, lad. I'll go first." Little Jack stared in confusion on his father. Never before had he heard him speak in such concerned tones. Was his father human after all? The shock, more than the words, kept Little Jack behind Big Jack as the broadshouldered man walked slowly towards the cabin, making a slight detour to get a look behind the wellhouse to make sure there were no one hiding behind it.
Sweat pored down Little Jack's face even though he felt chilled to the bone. He held his breath as Big Jack reached the door of the cabin. Any time now, a monster would come screaming out the door, only to be cut in half by the big axe. Any time now... Big Jack nudged the door with the axe, and Little Jack winced at the sound of the hinges creaking against the rust he'd never gotten around to oil.
He couldn't wait any longer. He ran to stand next to Big Jack and stared into the darkness behind the door. Of course, the shutters wouldn't let sunlight in. The few streams of light coming in the door didn't reveal anything in the shadows further in. They entered quietly.
Even Little Jack knew better than to speak. If Momma could answer, she would already have said something. They were both inside now, staring intently into the darkness, stretching all their senses to the limit. Later on, Little Jack would blush when he thought of the moment when he let out a little water, hearing the muffled whimper further in the cabin. Then they felt more than saw movement ahead of them. Sparks flew from their flintstone as a dagger was scraped across it, then the room got slightly better illuminated by the oil lamp on the table.
Little Jack let the rest of his water go when he saw Momma tied and gagged on Big Jack's chair, - the only one with a back and armrests - looking wildeyed at the two who had entered the cabin. The next thing he noticed was that the dagger that'd produced the sparks was now resting on her throat. His eyes following the blade, they came to a pale, fine hand. He winced as he noticed the wound piercing the wrist. Then he raised his eyes enough to look into the two wounds in the face of a grinning undead woman. Her voice seemed to hold two qualities at once. First, she sounded like crystalline chimes, but then she sounded harsh. Then the two blended together.
"Greetings, boys... Took you long enough." The undead's voice seemed to lengthen, and pause excessively long between sentences. She kept the dagger steady on Momma's throat as she grabbed her chin with her other hand. "We've been waiting for hours, haven't we, dearest little woman? I actually got hungry while waiting..."
Little Jack struggled not to scream as the undead licked Momma's cheek, and only then noticed that Momma's ear was missing and that the undead was licking the blood from the wound.
"Oh, where's my manners... I'm Mizhara. I would have introduced myself earlier, but I was... eheh... slightly incapacitated." She indicated the burns and frostbite from before, but the wounds seemed to have grown alot smaller since they'd seen her last. Not that she looked any better. She had wounds covering almost her entire body, differing in depth and length from scrapes to what would have been considered lethal on either of the humans in the cabin.
"Tsk tsk tsk" came the sound from the undead as Big Jack took a step forwards, then froze as the dagger's point suddenly slightly pierced the skin of Momma's throat. Another muffled whimper escaped from Momma's gagged mouth. "Careful, Big Jack... Ah yes, that's right. I know your names. Momma and I had a delightful little conversation while you were gone. I told her all about how we met, and how much fun we had." Now the undead's voice turned cold. Little Jack thought that was it, Momma was about to die. "Imagine her face as I told her of your little... eheh... fun. Imagine her face as I told her of the erection I felt pressing against me as you hung me on that tree. Of your... Hunger..."
Now the undead's grin had become that of a wolf, as she watched the pain in Big Jack's face as his guilty little secrets came out before his beloved woman. "Pluh... puhlease.. please don't hurt Momma!" Little Jack didn't recognize his own voice. Not even when Big Jack beat him out in the woods did he sound this whiny and scared. He knew the instant the words left his mouth that they'd never do any good. The undead shifted her eyeless gaze onto him, then grinned wider as she noticed the urine staining the left leg of his pants. "Puh.. Puh.. Puhlease?" Her voice was mocking him to the core. "Did you Puh puh please when your father hung me from the tree as a present to those worg men? Where was your compassion then? I could smell you, you know. You smelled just like your father... weaker, but it was there. I smelled the same hunger from you, as I did from your father."
The undead's words rocked Little Jack to his core. No... No, he was not like his father! It was all a lie! His mind jerked back from the truth in his head. He knew he'd had daydreams of hurting his father. Of watching him scream in pain. But that was only against his father! Not against anyone else... Okay, once in a while he thought of catching animals, but not humans! Little Jack heard a slight whimper come from himself as he fell back against the wall and slid down, sobbing as he stared into the eyes of Momma. Was that really disgust he saw in her eyes? No... It couldn't be.
The undead laughed wickedly as if she knew exactly what went through his mind. He let the tears flow as he saw the undead lean in to whisper in his Momma's remaining ear. He barely caught her words. "He'll become worse than his father... I smelled it on him." Then she looked up at Big Jack. "The leather straps, I know you have them. Give them to her." Big Jack stood rooted to the floor for a few seconds before he mechanically pulled the two leather straps out of his pocket and walked slowly towards Momma. She flinched and closed her eyes as he carefully put them in her right hand and gently closed her fingers on them. The inside stained by the blood from the undead's still open wounds.
Little Jack winced as she fast as lightning cut the bonds securing Momma to the chair, the returned her dagger to her throat before Big Jack could even blink. "Now, dearest... Put them on me..." The undead seemed enormously pleased by Momma's terrified look as she moved slowly, the dagger never leaving her throat. Her hands fumbling slightly as she crossed the leather straps across Mizhara's face, once more covering the wounds. "Tighter, lass..." A whimper came from both Momma and Little Jack as the dagger pressed harder against the throat.
Momma finished her task and then stood quivering, crying with closed eyes as Mizhara seemed to inhale the fear oozing from her. "Thank you, lass. You've been such a wonderful host. I think it's only fitting that I'll give you a gift in return. I'm going to let your son live..." The grin from the undead indicated this was not the gift she spoke of. Then she confirmed it as she turned Momma back around towards the two men at the entrance, and leaned in on Momma's good ear. "And you won't have to live to see him become his father..."
Little Jack screamed as the undead slit Momma's throat in one fluid motion. The blood sprayed almost through the entire room, hitting both Big and Little Jack. It must have been the tears in Little Jack's eyes, and the distraction from the undead's vicious laughter. The look in Momma's eyes, mingling with the pain, couldn't have been gratitude. It couldn't have been! Shock and pain froze Little Jack, and his muscles lost all tone. He couldn't have moved to save his life as he watched Momma slump to the ground, the blood quickly pooling around her as the life slowly drained out of her eyes.
Big Jack had no such problem. A roar of pain, hatred and fear shattered the air in the cabin as he stormed towards the undead, his axe already describing an arch over his head. The undead merely smiled as she sidestepped and with the speed of a striking snake hit Big Jack under his left arm, a mark of blood quickly spreading through the cloth of his shirt. She hadn't considered his sheer strength though, as the axe changed direction midair and hit her in the side with the flat of the blade. She went flying across the room and hit a stool in the corner, crushing it to pieces.
Little Jack silently looked on as she got to her feet as if nothing had happened. Why was she still smiling? She was fighting... No one smiles when they fight for their lives. He couldn't even manage to summon enough emotion to feel afraid when she blurred and reappeared on Big Jack's exposed right side. Her dagger dipped in quicker than before, this time making an identical mark under his right arm. She'd apparently learned quickly, as the axe whizzed underneath her leaping body. Little Jack couldn't help but notice the grace of movement as she turned in the air, landing lightly behind Big Jack. One single swipe was all it took to cut behind both his knees.
She rolled backwards, getting back out of the reach of the huge axe. Had this been a seasoned fighter, she might have failed, but a woodcutter's not used to his victims moving, after all. He turned to face her, and almost stumbled. The undead grinned as she spoke, her voice colder than winter's ice. "Can you feel it? The blood leaving your body, leaving you cold while your clothes get warm and sticky? I've learned alot about how the human body works, while finding out how my own body works. You'd be amazed how easy a human is to kill..." She laughed as Big Jack fell to one knee, fumbling his axe. Little Jack let out a hysteric little giggle as he realized his father was bleeding almost as much as his Momma had been, only from four wounds instead of one.
"I don't have to do anything more. Just watch, as your arms and legs lose their strength. The darkness should be pressing on you now, am I right? Can you feel it closing in? And the darkness within finally consuming you?" Mizhara laughed again, keeping her gaze on Big Jack's. "I could just let you die like that... But then, we were talking of hunger, weren't we. Well, I have one of my own..." Little Jack summoned enough strength for a scream as Mizhara once again leapt for his father... yes, he is my father... I know that now. Big Jack could hardly snarl before Mizhara had her teeth in his throat. A toss of her head, and blood once more sprayed across the room as she ripped it out.
Littl... no. Just Jack started crying again as his father fell onto his back, the undead monster on his chest. He could barely believe his eyes as she grinned and started ripping his gut open with her teeth and hands. Her nails seemed more like claws as they ripped through flesh. Jack vomited as he heard the sickening sound of the undead feeding on his father's flesh, and barely noticed that all her wounds seemed to heal before his eyes. Somehow, the flesh she ingested aided her own body in repairing the damage it had sustained from the Worgen.
He had no tears left as she finished feeding and stood up, blood covering her arms, face and most of her clothes. She picked up the dagger and put it in her sheathe, seemingly ignoring the limp boy near the door. He knew it wouldn't last. And as if he'd spoken aloud, she turned to face him, a terrible grin on her face. He didn't feel fear as she walked sinuously towards him, a predator if he'd ever seen one. All he felt was calm emptiness, even when she knelt before him. He did however, feel a slight twinge of surprise as she pulled him to him and gave him a hug. He felt the sticky blood of his father on her cheek as it was laid on his own. Underneat that, she still felt cold as ice. Not even his flesh could warm her, apparently. Her voice was amused as she whispered in his ear.
"Like I promised Momma, I will let you live. I have a task for you, though... You will travel south, and you will tell everyone you meet of what you've seen today. Tell the story of Mizhara and Little Jack. Tell the story of the hunger you've witnessed in yourself... your father... but most importantly, tell the story of Mizhara's hunger. I am going to be making a name for myself, and you will be part of that. You will be telling part of my story, the part you witnessed for yourself..."
She leaned backwards, letting her eyeless gaze penetrate his eyes as her grin widened slightly. "And while we're talking of hunger, never fear your own. Now you know how it looks like when monsters walk the earth... Your own can never match it. Now do as I say... Run, boy. Run south and live..."
Jack didn't even glance at the bodies of his parents. He ran south until he reached Dalaran, and fainted as soon as he saw the Wizards and Mages working in the ruins around the magical shield. All the way south, he heard the laughter of Mizhara running through his mind. His last thought before the darkness enveloped him seemed strange. Why was she smiling like that? What did she know that he didn't? Perhaps... Perhaps she had no more illusions left. He smiled as the mages approached him and he fainted.