The Heart of the Storm
THE HEART OF THE STORM
The dreams… they are always the same. It all starts with a tingling sensation in my lungs, rising like a tide… a boiling typhoon of nausea and anger. Helplessness. A feeling that had been foreign for so long, is now so dominant over me. In this chapter of my… life.
The voices of the wardens, ever watchful, ever vigilant, just outside this cursed, wretched cage, reach me even in my sleep. Even in this state of… restless slumber I am aware of my faith. Should I ever escape, should I somehow manage to get out, they would hunt me. They would never stop hunting me…
“He may be asleep now, sisters, but be on your guard. Do not underestimate him. The Betrayer is more cunning and dangerous than you could possibly know…”
In truth, it was I who was betrayed. My own brother, he… he did this to me.
The memories, they are so vivid, so fresh in my mind still, as if it all happened yesterday. Yesterday… rather than 10 000 years ago.
“TEN! THOUSAND! YEARS!”
The so familiar cling of the shackles, mixed with the buzzing sound of the arcane energies that keep them together, sting my mind, burn my flesh. The hushed voices of the wardens are abruptly silenced, and even in my sleep, I know.
Out there, my almost motionless, broken body twitches. And I know it.
I am smiling at them.
I can feel their fear. I can see the strained expressions painted all over their beautiful faces, as if they were right in front of my very eyes. My blind eyes that see what others cannot.
As the moments slowly pass, I savor this small victory over them. My existence has become a series of small victories. A most pathetic existence indeed.
And I had so much potential. Our whole race could have been so much more, rather than simply a shell of a once great civilization. If only the power, if only… the magic…
It was all taken from me that day.
“What do you have in your hand?”
“You are no brother of mine!”
“What have you done, Illidan?”
Exiled by my own people, banished from my own homeland. Why could they not see, why could they not understand my vision…? Their foolish, simple minds refused to fathom the greatness, the purity of my dream!
Dreams are all that’s left for me now.
I dream. I dream of the day I would leave this cursed place. And it WILL come to be. That one day. It will come soon. It must…
All my enemies, all those who have defied and hurt me… they will all… Know. My. Wrath.
Here I am, on the open road again, wandering the forests of Felwood, a land where the ancient trees and furbolg tribes live in peace and tranquility. My home… Why am I here…
“Friend or foe?”
The voice belongs to a small, hooded figure that is now standing before me, as if the person had just sprung up from the ground. It is a man, I realize. A very small, dark-skinned man in green clothing.
“Friend or foe?”, he mutters, louder this time, his arms crossed firmly in front of his chest. If there is a particular thought behind this strange stance, I do not understand it.
This man, this strange creature, I notice now, is not at all as harmless as it had originally seemed. His muscles, though seemingly relaxed, are firmly clenched, and his whole body is alert, like one of a nightsaber ready to pounce. My eyesight stops on the pair of thin, silvery sword handles that are resting on his hips. All these curious findings however… do not amuse me.
“Get out of my way, insect.”
He is frowning at me, the whelp is.
His eyes flash in an instant, and I almost indulge my instinct to lunge at him, before he could launch an attack of his own. To my surprise, however, the only move he makes is a step to the side, accompanied by a slow wave towards the road ahead.
He is motioning me to be on my way. The nerve…
“You are walking a dark path” he says just as I have passed him and quietly, but loud enough for me to hear him. I turn around to regard the curious man, I am not sure what to make of the remark, but my patience is running thin.
“And what do you know, stranger?”
“I know what it feels like to be an outcast.”
I suddenly despise this creature. Everything about him, starting with his demeanor, the hushed, even way his words weigh in, to the irritating and simple fact that he somehow seems to know of me. Of my life’s curse.
“You. Know. Nothing!”
I will tolerate this mongrel no more. Spring free, I do, a string of dark green light with me, the fury of Azzinoth and Stormrage combined and channeled into a single weapon.
And I slash at the darkskin’s face, a double strike that should cleave him in half.
I miss, I realize, as my right-hand blade hits nothing but air. No, that’s absurd. Had he dodged? But how could he evade this?
Only now am I aware of the perfectly executed cross parry maneuver, as his own pair of blades furiously trembles and shakes under the pressure of the twin glaive. His weapons were not even drawn when I attacked, I think to myself. Heh, then again, neither were mine. Unconsciously, I smile.
“You do not know who you’ve had the misfortune of crossing, fool.” I mutter with open delight, but he doesn’t let me enjoy it.
“I know enough.”
I execute a quick disengage, then launch myself sideways in a rapid series of spinning slashes, the oh-so-well-known fury building and rising inside me. I hear his heartbeat, it is one of determination, a sensation that every living being feels as they are fighting for their life. He lets out a yell, and more than once too.
My face cracks a smile: he’s been hit.
But no, behind the eye band my eyes are wide in shock, awe almost, as this tiny dark-skinned man is unharmed, and now it is me who is forced to defend himself. His strikes are like the attacks of an enraged serpent, the needle-like silver blades slashing and stabbing in a sea of blur, and more than once I am saved by my double-edged artifacts.
Fool. I am Illidan Stormrage, I have battled demons across the plains of existence, I have laid eyes on the titanic Destroyer of Worlds and I will not fall to the likes of you – an unknown highwayman. For, you see, stranger, I wield thousands of years of magical knowledge, the blade is not my only ally.
As I go into the spellcasting, almost tasting the image of the bloodied, smoking mush that is soon to be his body, he doesn’t even press on. The incantation is almost complete.
Darkness. Impenetrable darkness envelops me in its dark embrace, and never before, even when my eyesight was forever taken away from me, had I ever felt so out of balance. And his strike is coming, I know. I can hear it in the wind.
It is in moments like these when time seems to slow down, when all of the fabrics of the universe stop. It is in moments like these when you come to a fork in the road. And you have but a heartbeat of a heartbeat to decide which road you will take. Will you die or will you live?
I can hear the strike coming, I can almost imagine it, picture it in my mind. And that is my advantage, I know.
I spin around, leaving one blade above my head, while keeping the other one near and close to my torso. A moment later I feel the sting, as the small needle of my enemy pierces my flesh, but there is also the cherished cling of metal against metal – I’ve stopped the thrust. To an extent.
As the darkness finally lifts, I discover the results of the second part of my briefly concocted plan. My blade had also found its target, stopped by what appears to be some kind of magical armor that despite its curious potencies, it seems, has not left its owner completely unharmed. Bubbly, scarlet blood gashes from my opponent’s shoulder. I try to press on it, and hard, but feel the same coming from him. My breath is stolen from me as my ribs ache in protest.
“Whelp.” I hear myself curse, and a familiar metallic taste reappears in my mouth. “What are you…?”
“I am like you.”
“More riddles. I grow tired of you wasting my time.”
“You seem to have time.”
I will know this man’s name. I must know his name. After all one should at least know the name of the person who is taking their life. But I am taking him to the Hells with me. He is not walking away from this…
“I too was once…”
I focus on him again, shooting a puzzled expression his way. Say what you have to say, damn you! His face expresses shock, confusion and … fear?
The small blade dives into me with hunger, and I realize that I cannot move either of my arms. A strange sensation runs down my whole body. It must be the blood loss, I figure.
But the rage. The rage is building, it overtakes me. A suffocating curtain of red and black drops down before me. I cannot control it. This strange encounter in the shell of my past self, burdened by the thoughts and revelations of the present – it is all clouding my mind. Is this what death feels like…?
The strange dark-skinned person, now grasping his scimitar with both his hands looks at me as if slapped, and before I can even register what I am doing, I’ve swatted him away like a fly. My hand, twice as large than I remember it to be, a monstrous abomination of flesh and claw and lizard-like skin, slashes at the man, who despite just regained his footing, is on the ground again, a large wound now across his rapidly reddening chest.
I stare down at the pool of blood – his and mine – a large, smoking river of red and purple, and I abruptly freeze, finding nothing there. Nothing but my own reflection. And, although it looks far different from the one I am used to seeing, deep down I know.
That horrific, twisted creature – horned, with blazing fire-like eyes… it is I.
I scream, but no sound comes out. I lift my hands to my face, but painfully discover that they are burning, covered in an unusual, unwelcoming glow, with intensity that seems to be quickly increasing.
My fingertips reek of fel and demonic energy. Energy that seems to be completely out of my control.
Who… who am I? What am I? Have I finally lost my mind? I am a night elf, I do not possess powers of such magnitude. Is this how others see me, is this what I truly am? A demon?
“Be gone!” I hear myself say, as I hiss at the stranger, pointing hatefully at him.
As if triggered by my outburst, the fel energy gathering in my hands is suddenly released – a vicious fury of purple dark and pitched black – all heading for the dark man’s face. And finally… he is no more.
And yet… there he still stands, eyes wide, motionless, as if frozen in time.
A sudden burst of alarm and confusion overwhelms me, as if an invisible giant has gripped me in his firm embrace. The bandages that cover my hands and body scream in defiance, and I do not know if it is them or the skin itself that’s being torn apart. The shackles, the voices, they all come back to me. I return… Here I am – back in my wretched cell, back to my eternal prison.
Has it all been a dream? What did I just witness? A vision, fruit to my poisoned mind? The future? But how could that be…. it must have been a dream.
A dream. A dream and nothing more…
“Tyrande, I… Why did you not choose… me…? Brother, why have you… forsaken me…?”
* * *
Drizzt Do’Urden opened his eyes, his mouth dry, his white tunic soaked in sweat.
He was sitting up in bed. A bed? Where was he…?
“What is wrong?” Cattie-Brie’s blue eyes found his, the touch of her hand on his face slowly calming him down. She was with him. In Mithral Hall. Of course, where else would he be if not in the great dwarven kingdom. The place he had called his home. “You were screaming.”
The drow said nothing, just shaking his head, though he himself wasn’t sure if he was agreeing with the woman’s statement or not. Had he been screaming?
Still breathing heavily, he slowly stroked his face for what he could determine to be quite a few heartbeats, before finally again lying down on his back. His eyes however remained open, staring in puzzlement at the stone ceiling.
“Tell me.” he heard her whisper next to him, and the insistent tone of her voice resonated clearly. She was worried.
“It was nothing” he muttered, hopeful she will leave it at that. Drizzt himself wasn’t sure what IT really was. A bad dream, it must have been.
“You will feel better, you know you will”
She was right, of course. Cattie-Brie had always been there for him, always by his side, always in his heart. Even when she wasn’t. Was there ever a soul that better understood Drizzt Do’Urden? Drizzt himself doubted it.
His lavender eyes, his elven heritage, capable of piercing even the most bottomless depths of the Underdark could see with ease that the woman was now half sat up next to him. Waiting, staring in his direction.
Deciding to ignore it all, he simply closed his eyes. She couldn’t see his face, he believed. Not yet, not like he could see hers.
A gentle tingling mixed with the sound of the bedcovers indicated to him that she had placed her head on his chest – a silent plea for him to confess, he knew.
The moments dragged on and on, his keen elven hearing eventually telling him that Cattie-Brie was now fast asleep, her breathing calm and moderate. Knowing full well that she will not wake, that she will not hear him, Drizzt finally decided to slowly embrace her. His eyes opened, and he shook his head, before finally letting out a silent, almost shaken sigh. When he spoke, his voice was nothing more than a whisper.
“I dreamt of endless days filled with pain. Full of anger. I dreamt of a hurricane of suffering and turmoil. And I was in the heart of it all. In the heart the storm. ”
“Only a dream” he heard her say, and for some reason Drizzt was not at all surprised.
“I was dead.”