The moist stone floor slowly swirled into view as Dueg regained consciousness. Face down, he coughed and wretched from the sudden awakening from the deep darkness and began to move, mentally checking all parts of his body for pain or signs of distress. He placed a hand on his chest, confused at the lack of wound or dressing where the arrow had struck him. He did not think the Alliance so kind as to bring in a priest in order to remove all signs of damage for a prisoner.
Slowly he sat up, his head reeling, and feeling as though it were stuffed with a field medic’s dressings. As he looked around, he saw that he was sitting on a dimly lit stone floor, the shadows devouring any features beyond a few feet from where he sat. Weakly, he stood up, surprised at the lack of pain or stiffness from his forced unconsciousness, pondering where to go from here. As he continued to look around, he became aware of a gentle scratching from behind him, turning to confront the noise.
Where before there had only been blackness, there now stood what appeared to be a well stocked study, shelves and books lining one entire wall and a giant map of Northrend dominating another. In the center of the sudden addition stood a tall, ornately carved book holder with a small, bald headed gnome sitting behind it. Laid out on the holder was a book easily as wide across as it’s tiny owner, who sat hunched over with a long quill pen scratching words into it. Dueg raised an eyebrow and let out a gentle cough.
“A moment please…” came the slightly nasally response from the pre-occupied gnome.
Looking behind him and seeing only blackness, Dueg moved further into the study. He slowly approached the map of Northrend, noting that it was much more incrementally detailed than the cloth rag of a map that the Forsaken had given him as a resource. He also noted the small inserts that gave detailed layouts of the different Horde and Alliance encampments throughout the frozen continent and felt his brow furrow in consternation. If the Alliance had this much intel, then they might be able to press their advantage even further and push the Horde from the continent, claiming all glory for the Lich King’s demise and politically crippling the Horde in any further diplomatic arrangements. Light knew that’s what the Horde was attempting.
Dueg reached for his pack at his side, thinking perhaps to stealthily sketch some of the Alliance’s base camps when he heard a gentle sigh, “That will be quite enough of that.”
Dueg turned to confront the tiny author, “Then perhaps the time has come to speak of what you would have of me.”
The gnome’s brow furrowed, “What I would have of you? You’re the one who’s early, you’re not supposed to be here for…” he looked away, scanning back through some pages in his overgrown tome, “well, quite a while anyways. No matter though, we can begin the review process now if you’d like, or you can wait until I’m done with my work in, oh, say, a couple hundred years?” The gnome’s tone left no doubt that he would prefer the latter.
“Review process?” A cold chill ran through Dueg, “What do you mean by ‘review process’?”
“For your life, the one you just left. We can’t determine where you’re going unless we look at where you’ve been, but judging by your past devotion to the light, this will be a short one. Though I do regret taking time from my work.” he looked longingly at the book, “Nonetheless, I have a duty to discharge and I shall do so. Don’t want the process getting backed up, I suppose. So,” he hopped down off the large stool he had been occupying, “Duegathalas of House Bloodmourn, was it?” The gnome walked over to the shelf which suddenly seemed to shrink, or perhaps the gnome grew, Dueg was unsure which, and reached up, bringing down a book from the top shelf and returning to stand once more in front of Dueg, standard gnome height once more and flipping through the pages.
Dueg collapsed back against the map as his spine shuddered, “W-What madness is this? Where am I? Tell me know, you Alliance wretch!” Dueg stepped forward, reaching for the gnome’s robes.
The gnome looked up at Dueg and suddenly his momentum was arrested, forcing him remain locked in a grasping motion. “Well, you certainly won’t be making many new companions with that attitude, my friend. I would suggest you ask questions without tearing at me like that and perhaps you’ll get some of the answers you seek. I will grant you one, though, since you seem slightly distressed for some reason, you are Between.”
Dueg felt a force push him back to a standing position and release his frozen muscles, “Between? What does that mean? Where is ‘Between’?”
“It is here is where it is, don’t ask foolish questions, you’re only slowing down the review process and keeping me from my work.” Once more the gnome shot a longing glance at the laid open book, but returned to the smaller one in his hands, “Now let’s see, let’s see… hmm… interesting…” The gnome meandered away to the other side of the room where suddenly a gnome sized desk stood, placing the book there and reaching for a small set of scales that were not there before. “Stole a sour apple from your friend when you were a child, oh, that won’t do, no no no, hmm…” The gnome turned back, “This will take a while, you elves and your long lives, always keeping me from my work. Entertain yourself, but don’t touch anything!” With that, he turned back to the book and began placing tiny pebbles on either side of the scales while mumbling to himself.
Dueg reeled under the weight of the information he had just been given. I have failed… he thought. Though his heart did not lament for the loss this would represent to the Horde, he pondered how this would affect the campaign as a whole. He wondered if even this small setback could have dire circumstances or if it would be as a plucked grass on a plain, insignificant in the eyes of the whole. His eyes slowly scanned the room, looking to the blackness that swallowed the final wall of this room when an idea struck him. Perhaps there was a way back through there. After all, he had arrived at that point, perhaps it could return him to the material realm. Quickly he looked back at the muttering gnome and then once more to the shadow, slowly sliding towards it, tensing to make a break for it if the gnome turned
The darkness will not save you, came a voice to his mind, giving him reason to pause. As he stared, he began to see shapes, gentle and moving as if underwater, flowing along the surface of the inky blackness. One separated and flowed to his side of the room, the black morass revealing nothing of it’s features. But I can, dear Duegathalas. The voice became a familiar one, one which tugged at his mind, caressing long forgotten memories. I can show you the way back… I can give you that which you seek.
T-Tellassia? came his thought, as he stared at the darkened shape which began to resolve into a face… her face, the one he had once thought to marry and reproduce with until the wars tore them apart. Even though the features seemed to run and smear in the darkness, he could still recognize the gentle curve of her ears and that familiar twitch of her eyebrow when she was sharing a secret with him. His heart felt as if to burst. But… the prince, he thought, you hated me, des-
The prince ruined me, Duegathalas, came her thoughts to his mind, he ruined all of us under him. Our actions have cast all of us who died in his service into this vile purgatory and now you have come. You have given me a chance at redemption, at least a private one. I will gladly accept my fate knowing that in the end, you have forgiven me. Listen to me, dearest blood, for there is not much time, the gnome’s review draws close to an end and your judgement is nigh. Upon his tome, there is a chain he uses as a placeholder. Place that chain about your neck and it will return you to the mortal realm, it will give you a second chance. Please… her voice in his head began to fade as blackened hands suddenly came from the darkness, dragging her back down, please, Duegathalas, serve Silvermoon and destroy the vile Lich King, and forgive me my sins… she was gone.
Dueg looked back and saw the placeholder dangling from the tome, light winking from it’s silvery surface. A simple round medallion, it had what appeared to be a lightburst etched into it. Dueg moved as if to return to looking at the map, moving slowly until he stood in front of the book holder, pretending to take in the entirety of the illustrated continent. Gently he tugged at the small circular tag of metal along with it’s chain from between the open pages, his skin shuddering at the slight scraping of the metal across the vellum sheaves.
“It won’t be pleasant, you know. It never is.” Dueg turned to see that the gnome was now facing him, watching him intently. “Wouldn’t you rather go on to your final reward? You’ve earned it.” He nodded to the scales, which were now obviously tipped to one side.
“My mission is not over, my people still need me,” he said as he made to place the chain over his neck.
The gnome sighed gently and turned, closing the book he had been studying before turning back to Dueg, “This will count against you when you return for the final time,” he walked back to the bookshelves once more seeming to match their proportions without Dueg understanding how exactly, “Fate is not one who enjoys being cheated.”
“My faith in the light will sustain me, and when I return, I will answer for all that I have done.”
Dueg dropped the chain over his neck and for a split second, felt surprise as nothing happened. Then the medallion began to grow hot, very suddenly rising in temperature until his skin around it began to blacken and blister. Dueg howled and scratched at the burning piece of metal, but already it had begun to worm it’s way beneath his skin, the chain becoming as a smoking noose of heat about his neck. He crashed down onto his knees, the pain searing through his body and all the way to the very core of his being as he curled into a fetal position, tears streaming from his eyes as he prayed to the light to halt the pain. Suddenly, he felt his head jerk back and his whole body unfolded, causing him to grow rigid. A flash a light blinded him before the darkness once more crashed into his mind. Then there was nothingness.