The Cleansing
By Dathen
Featuring Dathen Matthews

The deeper shadows of night crept slowly over the haunted and desolate land of Tirisfal. From the crumbling walls of the dread Lordaeron Citadel towering above to the frail, mouldering grass underfoot, all was a sadistic mockery of what once had been. Only the sliver of moon in the starless sky remained unchanged, whose faint but pristine light only made the land it fell on appear more despairing. A lone figure stood, face upturned, relishing the thin light and the small comfort it gave. He clenched his mail-clad fist and brought it to his chest, lowering his eyes.

“It shall be returned to as it was,” murmured the man. His hand on his chest opened to trace the insignia on his tabard: the flame of the purging Light, emblem of the Scarlet Crusade, that which would cleanse the land and set all to right.

No, not all.

His thoughts drifted to his wife and two children, slain by the brutal onslaught of the Scourge while he battled elsewhere. The man remembered a time when he was called “Father” and “Cerdan” by voices beloved rather than “Initiate Matthews” and nothing else.

A cloud wisped across the moon and stifled its precious gleam. Cerdan retreated into the shadows once again. Now was not the time to mourn over what had been lost, but to burn with righteous revenge. With each foul abomination he felled, he would do it in the name of his family.

Long hours passed in the haunted glades, but the soldier’s watch remained unwavering. His vigilance was soon rewarded. The faintest sound of footfalls drifted towards him. Peering through the thick gloom, Cerdan could just see a most wretched creature creeping alongside the road. It was his quarry: one of the wakeful dead. Letting the rage of hatred wash over him, Cerdan charged. His cry echoed in the darkness. As if to answer, the moon’s captive light tore free from its smothering cover and shone boldly upon him as he ran.

The undead could scarcely react before Cerdan was upon it. The moonlight glinted upon a sword and dagger as they were drawn from rotting sheaths; with startling speed one swept up to parry Cerdan’s wild swing while the other jabbed below his arm. It was a weak blow, made in the haste of the moment, and was repelled by the mail shirt the soldier wore.

“Light devour you, wretch! Your taint will be purged by all that is holy!”

Cerdan knew that the creature could not understand his words; rather, the shout was for his own encouragement. Yet it had a surprising effect. The undead froze, swaying as if from a mortal wound. The dagger slid from its hand and clattered on the road. Cerdan did not hesitate to wonder at this. With all the strength he could muster he thrust. The blade easily tore through the frail leather armor, pierced the creature’s chest, and ran through until the befouled tip protruded from its back. It was no mortal blow, however, striking more towards the shoulder than the heart. Cerdan rebuked his aim as he withdrew his sword and kicked the undead impaled on it.

The wound seemed to wake his opponent from his stupor. It reeled for a moment, then ducked swiftly beneath a swing aimed for its neck and snatched the fallen dagger from the ground. Darting away, it rasped a series of unintelligible sounds. It was perhaps some Light-forsaken excuse for language, but Cerdan heeded it not and attacked with renewed fervor. All was a whirl of clashing, dodging, stabbing; the confusion and frenzy redoubled as the clouds engulfed the moon once again. While Cerdan’s courage remained undaunted, the blindness of the dim night became his greatest foe. Meanwhile, the other seemed unaffected by the coming darkness. It wove to and fro, landing one attack after another.

Finally, as the world spun about him and life seemed to ebb away, Cerdan fell to one knee. His armor was rent, his wounds many; the end had come. With a wavering voice he committed his soul to the Light and closed his eyes. The ground seemed to rise to hit him as he fell heavily to the ground. The feel of a hand on his shoulder made him shudder with fear and revulsion as a hundred gruesome tales of the cruelties of the waking dead filled his thoughts. But was that sound…weeping?

Cerdan opened his eyes. The undead was kneeling beside him, shoulders heaving as it clawed through a pack and retrieved a handful of bandages. With fading sight Cerdan watched as it fumbled to vainly tend his wounds with its good arm. The dying man counted it merely as a deluded vision borne by the nearness of death until the creature’s hand closed around his own. Steeling himself, Cerdan raised his eyes to study its face.

It was in that horrible moment all became clear: the narrow, eyeless face, the blind, clumsy efforts to stay his bleeding, the trembling hand clutching his own.

“Dathen,” gasped Cerdan. He endeavored to raise his shaking hand and laid it weakly against the face of his son. A moment later the limp arm fell away. Dathen bowed to kiss the lifeless forehead. There he knelt, the body of his father in his arms, with none but the apathetic moon to witness his mourning.