So here’s the thing. With my newly discovered hobby of collecting attempts on my life by strangers, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and start making Memory Orbs as well. I hate doing these, but… If something happens to me, I’d like… Well. I’d like someone to know the whole story.
A year ago…
In any other situation, he would have been proud of his scheme. It was complex, thought-out, and had so far gone off without issue. A far cry from his usual impulse snatches or the snatch-and-grab thug work, the goal only to get enough coin or food to fill his belly for another day. But this… This was important, and the residual ache in his core reminded him of the stakes.
Getting into the lavish Silvermoon apartment had been easy. While the front, windows, and ornately gilded balcony had been heavily warded, Jax had a familiarity with the red-tiled rooftops that he knew the Matriarch did not. It wasn’t difficult to get into the maintenance crawlspaces and down into the spacious areas below. White and red and glittering gold decorated the apartment, doorways draped in shimmering red cloth. None but two of the many rooms had actual doors – the heavy metal door leading down into the ritual chambers and the intricately carved wooden door that sectioned off the Matriarch’s personal chambers. Her children were not awarded the luxury of privacy.
He had picked his way through the apartment, his feet remembering the path to avoid the arcane traps, his eyes keen for the new additions he knew were placed. He moved with more patience than he’d ever known, the caution and grace of an expertise he didn’t have. His jaw clenched in determination.
Jax had spent weeks watching the apartment, studying the movements of the family. The Matriarch, her husband, and their five grown children, prided themselves on their rank and status among the Sin’dorei, and nothing gave Elyxria Shadowfel more pleasure than their weekly ‘errands’. It was an excuse to parade their nobility, flaunt their power, flex their claws as it were. He had learned years ago to avoid their path during these excursions, lest he catch the elder woman’s eye and ire. While most of the rats on the street were invisible to the Silvermoon elite, he stood out like a beacon to her.
He growled softly and concentrated, slipping down the hall, pausing in each curtained doorway. Each bedroom was pristine, reflecting all of the nobility but none of the personality of its owner, short from their chosen path from their limited options of mage or warlock, and subtle hints of the gender of the occupant. Jax lingered in one, a small library that broke the symmetry of the bedrooms. It threw off the balance with its ownerlessness, its void. Somehow it felt rushed and empty, even crammed with books and vials. He frowned harder and moved on.
The door to the Matriarch’s room was complex and ornate, with no handle nor lock, though it seemed to pulse with magic. At eye level was a circular carving with an intricate rune, the legs and tails of which ran down the length of the door in difficult twists and rivers. Enchanted with the dual purpose of opening in an appropriately awe-inspiring method for the Elyxria and baffle the common thief, there was also a hidden method of entry that ensured the Matron’s privacy in her own home, even from her children.
Jax reached into his pocket and withdrew a small knife, the tang rusty but the edge recently sharpened. Taking a moment to regard the thin scars on his palm, he ran the blade across and muttered the incantation in Thalassian. “The blood of the child powers the future,” he said, flexing his hand over and over until the blood dripped from his fingers, joining the stains on the floor below. Once there was enough, he pushed his hand against the circular seal and waited.
At first nothing happened. Then all at once a fel-green glow emanated from under his hand, the door hungrily pulling at his bleeding wound. He let it eat greedily, clenching his teeth as the fel magic ran agonizingly slowly down the grooves and rivers of the door. One by one the enchanted bolts opened, and as the door swung open, he pulled his hand back with considerable effort. He was in.
The room was dark. Deep violets and black, accented with the magical fel glow from the various artifacts proudly on display. The room itself was windowless, the only entry being that of the vampiric door. The intensity of the magic contained within overwhelmed him, and he took a moment in the open doorway to gather himself. Running his good hand through his spiked white hair, he pushed himself forward and began to search.
Ornate weapons of all kinds, blades, staves, maces lined the walls. Arcane tomes that seemed to have their own consciousness sat in glass cases and watched him as he moved quickly and quietly from one article to the next. A large closet held an extensive display of robes, mundane, resplendent and enchanted in order. In the center of the room, as if carved from molten rock and decorated in what seemed to be glittering purple gems from the black canopy was a huge bed. Pain ached in his chest, a deep, unignorable longing. He went to the bed.
With each step, the pain grew, mimicking a heartbeat, bringing pricks of tears into his eyes. He forced himself to move slowly, who knew what sort of traps the Matriarch had set up around her chambers to dissuade visitors. But as he stared up at the canopy, his pulse took on a rabbit’s pace. Dangling from spider-silk fine threads were dozens, if not hundreds of black-purple jewels. They seemed to suck the light out of the air around them, giving them a vibrancy in the depths of their darkness. Some were tiny, the size of his thumbnail. Others seemed massive in comparison, easily the length and width of his palm. Each one filled him with both longing and dread in unison. These were not simply gems, crafted lovingly into similar sleek shards. These were souls fragments, each ripped from their host and bound through dark magic in material form. And each one cried out to be reunited to its whole.
His body ached, his mind cried, being so close and yet still so far. Jax’s eyes darted here and there, lighting on each of the larger ones, despairing at the sheer volume. It was close. He could feel it. But he couldn’t hone in on which one belonged to him. Which one was the missing half of his own spirit. There were just too many! He knelt on the black velvet bedspread, pulling at his hair, tugging at his ears, trying desperately to concentrate, but he could feel the pain and the cries of the broken souls surrounding him. In the back of his mind he shuddered at the idea of the Elyxria lying beneath this canopy of pain and hate, reveling in the torment she created. He didn’t hear the soft jangling of the front door of the apartment swinging open and shut.
Jaelys wasn’t happy being the one to be sent back to the apartment on her Mother’s whim. Then again, being the youngest put her at a disadvantage, even if she was one of the prized daughters. But the Second Boy had ascended to the fel arts earlier this week, and with it, she had felt the tangible shift in the hierarchy. Mother had been proud and restless, and with that came destruction for those who did not step cautiously. She wasn’t sure if it was wiser to stand her ground and defend her status, or to simply obey the Matriarch. She hoped she had not made the wrong decision.
Lost in her own thoughts as she closed the door behind her, not bothering to re-ward it, she didn’t notice anything amiss until she had reached the door to her mother’s chambers. Her hand was already on the small razor she used to initiate the required ritual, but her blood froze in her veins when she recognized the fel glow lingering still in the grooves, runes still pulsing dimly.
Slowly, cautiously, she drew her blue crystal staff from her back. Suddenly every shadow seemed menacing. The door, while greedy, only accepted the blood of Shadowfel children, and it had been many years since she had seen more than a scurrying flash of her brother. She no longer knew what he was capable of.
Stepping inside the bedchambers, the intensity of the power struck her like a wave, forcing her to remain in place for a moment to acclimate. As far as she could tell, the room was empty, but the crease mark in the blanket was fresh, and the soul shards that hung above the bed still swayed from some disturbance. Clutching her staff, words of power on her tongue, she circled the room and came up with nothing. Pondering a moment, she dropped with terrifying quickness and launched a bolt of ice underneath the bed. The blast smashed into a thousand shards against the opposite wall, the area beneath was empty.
Both disappointed and satisfied, she went to the head of the bed, reaching under the overstuffed pillow and drawing out an intricately detailed box. “…I know this is what you’re after, Jaxkol.” She said calmly. The box itself wasn’t locked, and with a soft flick of the latch it swung open. Inside, resting on a dark cushion, was a fist-sized soul shard.
Cowering awkwardly in the shadows behind a wardrobe, Jax frowned and looked down at the shard in his own hand. He had grabbed the largest he could find, hoping that he would prevail on sheer luck alone, but now he was filling with dread. He didn’t move. Didn’t speak. He barely breathed. And he was terrified that she would hear his heart pounding in his ears.
Jaelys lifted the shard, running a finger over a smooth, glasslike side, smiling thoughtfully. Almost affectionately. “…I could make you come out.” She said, not bothering to glance around. “But I won’t. You know you can’t have this. It belongs to Mother.”
“It belongs to me,” Jax replied, though his voice sounded unsteady and unsure. His words bounced around the room, making it impossible to tell where he was.
“No. It doesn’t. You belong to her still. Even if you insist on being difficult. She will have the other half, Jaxkol. And you will make yourself useful in her eyes.”
The walls were closing in. His head felt like it was being crushed under his own fear. “…I don’t want to fight you, Jae…”
“Afraid of being beaten?” The mage asked with a superior smirk.
“No. Afraid of hurting my sister.”
She clutched the shard in her hand, he felt the grip even at a distance. She whirled this way and that, trying to find him, but the echo eluded her. “You are Last Boy! Worthless, lazy, useless wretch who couldn’t even paint a simple summoning circle! You didn’t deserve our Name, you don’t deserve this shard, and you definitely do not deserve to be making threats at me! You are nothing.”
There was silence for a moment, her venomous words hanging in the cool, cavernous air.
“You’re right. I am nothing. But I am also free… Jae…. You can come with me. I can help you get out of here.” There was a shimmer of movement to her right and she whirled in time to see the boy slowly step out of the shadows. He held out a hand to her that held no weapons. She didn’t remember him being so small. Or so thin. His once beautiful long hair, the same color as hers, as their father’s, was now chopped short and spiky. But his eyes were firm, if sad.
“Go with you?” She spat. “And be a rat on the street? Digging through garbage cans and begging for scraps?”
“You… would do better than me,” he admitted, his shoulders slumping, even as he continued to hold out his hand. “You would go far. You’d make something of yourself. And… And you’d be in control of your own life.” He stretched his fingers out towards her, she could see the weeping cut across his palm, the thin scars like so many of her own. “…Please… Come with me.”
They stood in silence, each staring at the other, her clutching her staff, him simply holding out a dirty hand. After what felt like an eternity, Jaelys let out a low rush of a sigh. “Leave, Jax. I cannot give you this. You know what she’s going to do.”
He cringed, despair flickering across his face, “I know. …Please just come with me.”
“I can’t,” she said, clenching her teeth. Her grip on the staff was tight, she refused to look in his direction. “Just. Go.” She didn’t look up as he slipped out the door, and when she was sure she had given him enough time to sneak out, she let out a low, tense breath. The soulstone in her hand felt suddenly heavy. She slipped it back into its velvet lined case and closed the lid with a gentle click. Jaelys knew his words were toxic – surely he would spread whatever lies he needed to to protect himself. But still…
“Free,” she scoffed at the ridiculousness. Slipping the box under her arm, she held her head high, and marched from the apartment.
Matron Elyxria Shadowfel didn’t like being kept waiting, and even less did she like the way her daughter arrived, out of breath with her hair disheveled from her quick pace. It was unsuited for a Lady of Silvermoon. But the story her youngest daughter brought as well, and the gilded box that was offered to her brought the faintest of frowns to her perfect face.
The family fell instantly silent. Cups of tea hovered halfway to their owner’s lips, forks suspended inches above the plate. The waiter froze mid-sentence. Even he knew the gravity of that frown. A dozen green eyes stared at her unblinking. Tense. Waiting.
The box settled onto the table with a delicate tak. Two inch nails, perfectly manicured and carefully decorated, manipulated the clasp and pushed open the lid. Elyxria lifted the stone, admiring how easily it rested in her palm. How the smooth edges caressed the muscle of her thumb. No one breathed. No one dared.
“My beautiful daughter,” Elyxria crooned, still staring into the violet void that was the shredded half of a soul. “You did very well to bring this to me.”
With her free hand, she reached up to caress Jaelys’ cheek. The young mage stood frozen, tensing under the touch, afraid to look away from her mother’s face. There was threat in the tone. A promise of what could have happened if she had chosen to hide this event from the Matriarch. Or worse…
“So our little rat wants the stone back?” She clicked her tongue and began to laugh. Her husband slowly allowed himself to smile, hesitantly laughing with her. One by one the children followed suit, awkward, stiff chuckles along with their mother, darting eyes to one another, glances filled with anxious questions that neither could answer.
Suddenly her grasp on the soul stone shifted. Her grip tightened and her laughter stopped abruptly, her smile replaced with a vicious grin. The fel glow in her eyes flared and instantly her entire fist was engulfed in wicked green flame. The heat of it sucked the air from the room, and her five children took a step back. Only her husband remained where he was, following her stare into the evil fire. As she clutched the soul stone, it started to shiver in her hand, jerking and twitching as if trying to escape the flames, but she held it in an iron grasp.
The smell of demon blood, the stench of fel flame, the malicious odor of searing flesh and burnt hair forced the onlookers to cover their mouths and noses, push perfumed kerchiefs into their palms to drown out the stink. But none blinked. None dared to look away. The stone glowed white hot and her smile curled into a grimace into a snarl. It struggled in her hand like a small animal, a trapped bird desperate to be free but her fingers wrapped it like a cage. Fine cracks appeared in one of the facets, the intensity of the flame was blinding.
A heavy hand rested on her shoulder, the grip threatening to drag her from her ecstasy. “My love…” came a voice from beside her, but she bared her teeth against him.
“No,” she snarled.
“Darling…” He said, his voice even and unhurried. “You’ll kill him.” There was no urgency in his voice. Barely worried. He might as well be urging her to slow down on the fine vintage wine, lest she forget to enjoy it.
Her lip twitched in fury, but reluctantly, she let the fire in her fist die back to a smolder, and then to nothing. Her porcelain white flesh smoked with pale green, and the stone throbbed from the residual heat. Elyxria let out a low sigh through her nose and set it gently back on the velvet. Even through the enchanted cloth, they could hear the sizzle as it came to rest.
The sorceress gently folded her hands in her lap, frowning in contemplation. “He’s becoming bold,” she said at length, her husband nodding in agreement and leaning back in his chair with his wine. It actually was a fine vintage, from before the Scourge had marched their way across the Scar. Their children stared silently at the shard, watching the stone shiver as the temperature slowly cooled.
“That simply won’t do.” The Matriarch lifted the stone again, and it seemed to flinch at her touch. Running her thumb down one of the edges, it began to give like clay, wisps pulling apart from itself as it was coaxed apart. One large shard slowly became two smaller ones. “That won’t do at all…”
Jax stuck to the rooftops at first, then carefully made his way into the dark alleys below, hoping he was moving towards the Gate.
You know what she’s going to do …
He did. It would not be the first time, and he doubted there would ever be a last. He had to put as much distance between himself and the Matriarch as possible before she discovered what he had done. What he had tried to do.
He hesitated at a fork, made a decision on instinct and kept running. His boots were thin, the leather soles full of holes and ready to give out, the pavement scratching at the bottoms of his feet from the patches that had worn through. He had to find somewhere safe. Somewhere he could hide. For a moment he thought about breaking into an apartment and holing up in a closet, but if he was caught then he’d never hear the end of it from Vynlluthein.
The last time this had happened was four months ago. He’d made the mistake of trying to speak to his brother in the market, not realizing that her watchful eye was upon them. The punishment was swift and intense, but he knew that even that would pale in comparison to what she had in store for him this time. Vyn had found him during his patrol, slumped and weak against the fountain of the Bazaar. The Blood Knight found the thistle he had been trying to sell, along with his own limited responsiveness and quickly put two and two together to make six. He’d spent a week in jail while he ‘came down’ and endured countless stern lectures about the dangers of manathistle abuse from both Vyn and Davrius. He hadn’t corrected them, afraid of what they would say. Or what they wouldn’t. It was easier to just accept another mark on his record, another reason for them to click their tongues and shake their heads. It was easier not to have to explain. He’d rather be thought of as a failure than be revealed as only half of a person.
Jax looked up, startled, as he realized he’d missed his turn and was in an area of the city he didn’t immediately recognize. A stable had recently been built, stalls mostly empty save for an old, greying wolf and a kodo blowing bubbles in its water trough with a massive snout. A half-filled cart rested against the side of the structure. Looking upon it brought a surge of creeping dread. No. It wasn’t the cart. This was far more familiar.
He felt her rage only a second before the pain buckled his knees and sent him reeling to the ground. He was on fire, his guts boiling and the air in his lungs turning to plasma. He struggled, trying to break free, trying to fight something he couldn’t see. His nails clawed at his flesh, desperate to find a way to vent the flames that were licking at his blood. His body convulsed, his back arched, his spine straining and snapping, his fingers turned to claws as his skin bubbled, blackened and cracked. Smoke, then green flames erupted from his mouth as he tried to scream. The heat engulfed his hair, catching it aflame. His eyes swelled and burst, the jelly sizzling into nothingness on his charred cheeks. Still he screamed and writhed.
The dry straw caught beneath him, the green flames taking over the barn. The kodo bellowed and the wolf gnawed at its binds, the wood blackening around them, the smoke taking the air from their lungs. And still he burned. The streets of Silvermoon glowed yellow then green then black, the flame and heat melting the gold fixtures and turning red cloth to gossamer ash. All of Azeroth burned with an intensity that even the Legion could not replicate.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself twitching in the door of the stables, arms and legs trembling, but whole. His skin was flushed red and riddled in deep scratches from where he had clawed, but unburnt. His hair was still white and short, but uncharred. And though his breath was hot and ragged, there were no flames. Both animals stared at him with an intensity they could only possess if they were truly alive.
The strength was seared from his body, and it took everything in him to crawl trembling to the trough, plunging his entire head in and gulping greedily. Beside him he felt the huge leathery nose of the kodo press against his cheek, and the surge of bubbles to follow. He ignored it, too weak to do anything about the elephantine beast, concerned only with quenching the fire in his core.
Finally he rolled out of the trough, face slick with water and kodo snot, and lay on his back for what felt like hours, watching his breath for smoke that he knew would come. He had to go. He had to keep moving. He wasn’t safe yet and he didn’t know how long before she played her next trick.