"Please... get up... you'll... you'll freeze..." I croaked.
The snow was falling harder now, freezing my tear-soaked fur into a cold, brittle hardness.
But it wasn't as cold and hard as their body.
I had followed them this whole way. I didn't know their name. A charr, young, lovely, but...
Talking to someone, unable to hear my cries, or feel my claws in their fur. Just like they are now.
My voice had gone so hoarse.
"Jory, it's not real!"
"Cre, Rytlock, stop fighting!"
"Braham, it's not your fault!"
And now, this Vigil recruit, too.
But at least at those times, for my guild mates and friends, I forced them back into reality by defeating some Svanir scum, but...
There were no Svanir here to crack open and release this poor cub.
Sniffling, whimpering, I crouched beside them, nuzzling my nose under their chin.
"Get up..." I begged, rubbing them plaintively, like a cub to their mother.
And I stayed there, in the snow beside them, as the cold seeped into me, in the middle of this frozen... hellscape, thoughts and questions filling my head.
Why was it me? Why could only I ignore Jormag's dolyak shit? What made me so different?
I had dealt with voices my whole life. I argued with myself constantly, ignored myself constantly. It was a shock to me when my warband told me that they didn't have a constant noise, a stream of words, in their brains, and that it was I who was the odd one out. Was that the reason?
No, it seems impossible that, out of all these people, nobody else dealt with that. And it couldn't be the trauma, the experiences, because certainly I know that Braham, Rytlock, and Marjory have had their own personalized Trick or Treat bags of fun in that respect. Rytlock and Cre were far older than I was, on top of that. And it's not because I'm the Champion, considering Almorra and Jhavi could resist.
What was the difference? Why me? Why did I have to watch all these people suffer and be helpless to stop it?
Stay with them...
My fur bristled.
Life, so cruel... Dying alone, is even crueler...
My lips curled.
Doesn't the recruit deserve better...
I leapt up instantly, on all fours, flinging snow into the air, hackles raised and teeth bared.
"JORMAG! BASTARD! FIGHT ME!" I yowled into the howling of the wind, which was increasingly loud. Gnashing and shrieking, I danced around in the snow, arching my back and lashing my tail in defiance, leaping at the hail and snowflakes, swiping and clawing wildly at the air.
"SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!" I screamed, my voice raking in my throat. I roared and hissed and shrieked more, my aching vocal chords making me sound more like a stray cat than a charr. But I didn't care, I didn't want to care, or think.
The wind was deafening when I stopped, sitting on my haunches and gasping for breath. My head was bowed, and I found myself facing the recruit again, this time covered from my display and the encroaching blizzard.
I could hear Jormag still whispering sweetly to me, making my breaths shudder as I felt rage creeping back into my heart, but my body was too tired for more meltdowns. I had to use what strength I had left to return to the Keep, before the blizzard really took hold.
"I hate you..." I said bitterly, tears trying again to retake my facial fur.
But, I stood up, and made my way back. I had been halfway before I saw the recruit, I think, so it couldn't be much further now...
The fraenir fell, dead. The ice he had summoned shattered, and the cold ebbed away.
"It's... it's really over! The attacks, the disappearances...!" Jhavi said breathlessly, as we approached the body.
"You can start to rebuild," said Braham.
"I know the Sons of Svanir won't leave without a fight, but now we can–"
Her words were cut short as a chill settled again into the room, and I could hear a familiar whispering distortion.
"No..." she growled.
"You... You still hear it too, don't you?" asked Cre apprehensively.
Let me help you....
We looked around the room, but suddenly a voice sounded that wasn't a whisper at all.
We jolted backwards and reached for our weapons as the body behind us began to move again, unnaturally rising as if pulled by a string, and moving with jerking movements and crunching bone.
"It's time I treat you with the respect you deserve. Speak face-to-face."
"That... voice..." Rytlock started, as I felt the same sort of anxiety.
It was Almorra's, distorted and mixed with the whispers and the voice of the fraenir.
"The air is thick with change. I feel it, even as I dream beneath the ice."
The fraenir's body twitched and jolted, with his jaw slack and barely forming around the words, as if... as if his body was a costume being poorly worn by an alien creature. I felt my fur stand on end.
"Jormag..." snarled Braham, moving threateningly towards the puppet, but Jhavi stopped him.
"You fear me as you feared Kralkatorrik. That is natural. But ice fortifies. Ice protects."
The thing advanced, moving just as unnaturally as it rose, with less grace than a Risen.
"All this war, all this pain... Aurene wants to end it. And I can help her. I want to help her." A twitching, twisted... utterly... freakish smile briefly graced its face. I winced at the poor attempt at appearing sincere, but...
"Terrible things lurk just beyond the horizon. But you can bring eternal peace to our world."
Cre and Rytlock looked at each other with unease, while Braham still glowered murderously at it.
"In time, you'll realize you need me..." the voices were now becoming more distorted, but the fraenir's voice was starting to dominate. Briefly, his head seemed alive and natural again. "And when you do, I'll be waiting."
The body dropped like a doll.
"So... that comm from Almorra... Jormag was using..." stuttered Cre.
"Oh Spirits..." bemoaned Jhavi.
"We... We help the Vigil get back on their feet. For now, we stay in the Marches," I answered Cre.
"Stay? What about Bangar? It's clear that Jormag has already gotten to him! Who do you think convinced him he could have his own Elder Dragon?"
"Don't make excuses for him," snapped Rytlock.
"We still need a way through the mountains. You and Rytlock scout for a path."
"Feh! ...We can do that," he grumbled.
"I'll head back to the Keep. There may not be many of us left, but we'll rebuild. We owe it to them. To Almorra," said Jhavi, and the three of them departed, with Braham and I standing behind.
"Commander..." he began. "About what Jormag said... We're not going to take it seriously, right?"
I hesitated, then smiled, "Right..."
He followed the others, and I was left bringing up the rear, again with my head full of thoughts.
Aurene. Jormag. Peace. Of course it was a trick, after all if Jormag really wanted peace, it wouldn't be doing what it was doing. The boneskinner, the recruits wandering into the blizzards, the massacres, Almorra... none of this would be happening.
But... All around me are people who've fallen prey to Jormag, to its whispering. What was it saying to Aurene? I really wish I could control her, so I could ask her here to me. I needed her, and I was sure she needed me. All these whispers and deaths and helplessness... if she was now an Elder Dragon, a crystal dragon, why can't crystal fortify and protect?
I don't know. I don't know a lot about her at all, or dragons. In the end, I keep finding myself with fewer and fewer answers, and being less and less able to keep our ragtag gang together.