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Forward March
[Image: ikR9f1A.png]

"Promise me, lad. Promise me you'll . . . when the time comes, promise me you'll do your duty. For crown. For country. Do it . . . " A wet, bloody cough rattled up out of Hendel Richter's throat. "Do it better than I bloody did."

. . .

Executor Richter Wrote:My brothers and sisters, I am writing this letter to

No. No. That isn't going to work.

Executor Richter Wrote:To all Reapers of the Black Harvest.

It is with the deepest regret that I inform you of my intention to abdi

What the hell am I doing? 'Abdicate'? Am I a damn monarch all of a sudden?

It was so damnably hard to find the right words without Hapsburg to dictate to, without Hapsburg to sort through the stream of his consciousness and render his meaning into plain and perfectly understandable common. How had he ever functioned without a scrivener's aid? Then again, he didn't have much use for quill and ink before he met her and all the rest.

He crumpled this next abortive missive in his fist and tossed it away, scowl deepening across his half-flayed features. Mechanically, without looking up from the black feather pen in his hand, he reached out and retrieved another sheet of paper.

How could he explain it? How could he justify it? Coward, he told himself. Wretch. Cur. What business have you leading heroes such as these? He sighed slowly. Sometimes it didn't sound like his voice saying those things. It sounded painfully like his father's (what little he remembered of it), or Elias', or . . .

His grimace grew all the fouler at the thought. Worse still, as he noticed a sliver of light beginning to creep across his desk. Dawn was coming soon, a quick look to the murky window affirmed. He needed to be gone soon. He could not afford to be caught in his flight. If he had to face them, he . . . he couldn't. He couldn't bare it. No.

Executor Richter Wrote:To all Reapers of the Black Harvest, effective immediately.

Another look out the window was all he allowed himself. The world still wore its cloak of night, but it did not sleep. Even here, miles away, the noises reached him – the rattle and clank of pair after pair of their rickety all-terrain wheels, the shouts and bellows of their overseers and drivers, the hiss and spatter of their nefarious payloads.

Where had it all gone so wrong? How had the harvest they'd laboured so hard to bring in turned out to be so rancid? He should have seen it coming. They could have taken Southshore in a night if they'd committed the efforts, and yet they were holding back. Holding back and waiting – like cowards. Wretches. Curs. How could any man, any truly brave man, remain complicit in such things, wilfully and of his own choice? He realised now that there was little way.

Executor Richter Wrote:I, Jared Jonas Richter, hereby suspend myself from command indefinitely. If you so wish it, the bonds of your oath can be considered absolved.

You're abandoning them, he told himself. So why did it feel like he was doing them a favour?

This was not the Lordaeron his father knew. That much was for sure. But . . . it was the only Lordaeron there was, now, and ever would be, and he was not of the mind to abandon it.

Executor Richter Wrote:Adjutants Eva Somerley and Malachai are to assume the role of Joint Acting Executor in my stead until such a time that a suitable replacement may be found. At their discretion, and as they see fit, they may declare the Harvest fully disbanded.

The Harvest was here of its own choice and free will. His choice, really. He had chosen to be a part of this, and if he wished to keep promises made and vows sworn and still retain a hint of sanity in this ever-darkening world, he needed to remove that aspect of choice. Through High Executor Lakenstrad, he'd discovered how he could do that.

He needed orders to follow. It made everything so much . . . easier.

Executor Richter Wrote:I am sorry. Strength in Shadow.

Strength you don't have.

Executor Richter Wrote:Your brother,
Jared Jonas Richter

You're unfit to call yourself their brother.

He rode off into the dawn, hunched low over his saddle. It was strange, really. He'd been expecting to feel some great weight of burden being lifted off his shoulders, and yet he could not bring himself to do anything but slouch and hang his head.

. . .

Jared Jonas Richter Wrote:To His Eminence, the High Executor Hadrec,

I am writing this letter to announce my intention to seek formal reinstatement in Her Majesty's Deathguard. I believe such an act would be well within your power per wartime emergency measures.

You presided over my court-martial. You know the circumstances of my expulsion from duty. I believe that so long as I am kept away from command, I will be able to serve honourably and without incident.

I am not seeking a pardon. My charges were fair and well-deserved. Once these extreme circumstances have passed, I would gladly face a second tribunal to ensure justice fully enacted, but until then, I will serve and obey without question.

Your humble servant,
Jared Jonas Richter,
Former Trooper of Her Majesty's Fourth Deathguard Brigade

. . .

High Executor Hadrec Wrote:Trooper Richter,

Granted. Report to the Sepulcher immediately.

High Executor Hadrec
Fourth Deathguard Brigade
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"...I- We almost lost him."
"He provides you stability. Something to focus on. Tasks. Jobs. Diversions for your mind. You fear what would happen if you lost the direction he provided... but what would you do if he died, Lobelia? If he left?"
"Don't ask me that, Versich."
"I did. And I will again. It's a question that needs to be answered, Lobelia."
"No. It does not need to be answered, it is a pointless question."
"It is not."
"You know the answer."
"I fear that you'll find yourself lost should the Executor fall."
Lobelia blinks and looks down at the helmet. She sneers, at first, but finds she can't really keep that expression before her face just goes...neutral. She swallows unnecessarily before she murmurs, "He cannot fall."
"And I thought nothing could ever tear us apart from each other. Such delusion served me no good in the end. And it won't aid you either."
"I will follow him to whatever end. If I cannot then..." She seems unable to finish the thought.
"Do you love him?"

"I said read. it. again."

It wasn't Astor's fault that the stiff words on paper were so unsatisfactory, so revolting, so unbelievable. It wasn't Astor's fault that the Executor was nowhere to be found. The demure woman was afraid and it showed as the copy of the letter quivered in her claws. Leave it to the 'bookworm' to have already copied out the Executor's final words into several archival pieces.

She didn't seem to understand that her services were no longer necessary. That may have made Lobelia's fury worse, really, was that little detail. Astor, the heartfelt housewife, still planning to preserve and update the documents of the Harvest. At the armored woman's command, the scribe did read the letter again but Lobelia wasn't listening. Instead, she returned the snarling guard to her face and settled the axed helmet over her hair before marching with resounding thuds out of the library.

He was supposed to be better. He was not some sniveling man, some spineless creature that retreated to the shadows of obscurity when the weight of it all became too much. He was the Executor. He was Lordaeron.

She was wrong.

She wanted to drag him back by his hair. She wanted to kill him.

Lobelia didn't tell her feet where to go, but faithful as ironclads can be they brought her to the training grounds. Or, rather, what could be considered training grounds in Tarren Mill: A few scarecrows, a few wooden planks with straw-filled sack heads, musty hay bales with haphazard circles painted on their sides. At first she went through the motions of her shield. Bash. Bash. Duck from hypothetical sword swing. Crash of the shield from above. Bash. Soon it wasn't enough, and as she continued to use her shield as a bludgeon, she eventually dropped it against the cracked dirt before tearing at the remains of the scarecrow with her claws in long shreds. From her throat, a ghoul's shriek. His shriek. The shriek he taught her when he brought her into his Harvest.

When she stopped, it wasn't because she was tired. No, not the exhaustion of the body but the exhaustion of the mind. Ten years and not a moment's rest...and now this. Lobelia raised her claws to touch the partially-melted and banged-up Executor's pin fastened at her throat. He'd come to collect her from that lake house. He'd come to bring her back to the Harvest because he needed her. How dare you do this to me?

May my Dark Lady's justice find me swiftly should I falter.
[Image: 0f084241-4e8f-4ebc-9f46-e942e4c544a8_zps7e42bd8f.jpg]
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[Image: 9dxIwng.jpg]
Jared has mail. :)

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Atius read the message only once and the smile that was planted on his lips slowly deteriorated into a sad, solemn frown. It was disfigured by his artificial jaw and the cracked cheek bone. He leaned on his scythe for a moment, gathering his thoughts then looked to the very thing he put his weight on. This tool.. It held him up, supported him. It was with him through thick and thin, battle and hardship.. It provided him with a special purpose and guidance. He reached heights he could not have dreamed of through it.

A bony, clawed finger slid across the blade as his thoughts rushed through everything that had happened this past year. The memories of conquest and victory, pain and defeat. He took in a needless breath, lightly tapping the ground with the bottom of the haft.

"This year's harvest was a good one. One like no other." He said to himself, no louder than a whisper, and gave himself a firm nod.
Frogspawned: Frogspawned flips a table.
Frogspawned: (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻


Frogspawned: ┬─┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ)
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              Maeia di Silvio never got much mail. Mostly letters from her son, or the Hearthglen news every week, but never much beyond that. She certainly never received a letter from Jared Richter before, the executor of the Black Harvest. With a welling mixture of curiosity and anxiety in her hollow stomach, the frail bony hands of the undead cleric shakily tore open the professionally sealed envelope. She laid out the letter delicately into her hands, unfolding the parchment and reading it over carefully.


              She held the letter blankly in hand, reading it over and over again with her empty eye sockets. She could not believe what she was holding. In a panic, she scrambled to her desk, sliding open her drawers and pulling out her own writing materials. She hastily placed them on her table, not even bothering to sit herself down as she dabbed her quill pen in the inkwell. Quickly, she began to scrip down a reply.

Maeia di Silvio Wrote:Dear Sir Jared,

What is wrong?
What has burdened you?
Why do you leave?
Where are you going?
Will I ever see you again?

Please, Sir Jared, if there is trouble, then let me help. Let me lend you our strength, as you loaned me your own over a year ago. You pulled me out from the miry depths, you've done so much for me. I refuse to abandon you now.

I pray this letter finds you well. Shadows embrace you and keep you safe.

Maeia di Silvio
Your stories will always remain...
[Image: nIapRMV.png?1]
... as will your valiant hearts.
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Why did that scary lady have to tell me what the letter said...

Horizontal slash. Forward step. Vertical slash. Backward step.

This isn't the first time Jared and I separated...

Double vertical slash. Side step. Left thrust. Right thrust. Backward hop.

This isn't the first... family... I lost...

The moves began to get a little more feral in speed and ferocity.
Diagonal Left. Forward kick. Both horizontal right. Headbutt.

What should I do?

The clanking comes to a halt as the two greatswords were slammed into the ground.

What should I do...?

Thud. Thud. Thud. A lance is procured from the saddlebag.

I wouldn't even have a horsie if it weren't for...

A tremble runs through his limbs.

Why did he have to abandon us!?

A turn on his heels and a couple of long paces away from the horse and the planted swords and it is back to the training, even more ferocious than before.

We took our oaths!

Stab. Stab. Stab. Fanciful twirl into a downward vertical slash.

Another family lost...

The lance is raised into the air and is about to twirl into another pattern, yet halts.
The helmet thrashes about, a frantic gesture.

Why? Why? Why? Why? Why!?

A howl echos through the trees and the thrashing stops.

I wonder what that was...?

The weapons are retrieved and stowed.
An ear is tilted to the sky as another howl, from another direction, echos in.

An aroo-person!

The armored figure climbs into the saddle and kicks his mount into trot.

Looks like you need some Majyk.

Bregar Cimitero
Luscia Cimitero
Freya Grey
Blaudia Nihil
Roderick Giordano
Maxwell Pennington
Derin Taylor
Yeva Everbloom
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They sent another paladin to see me tonight.

Always the same. It never changes. Always burns. It never numbs.

Everything that I am trembles in pain. The Light rejects my blackened flesh.
My soul is tearing at the seams.
...but they will
But my answer is also the same.

I am the numbers and the numbers are me. The numbers are me and I am the numbers.
Nine months, six days, three hours, two minutes, eleven seconds.
The numbers are me and I am the numbers. I am the numbers and the numbers are me.
I am behind the numbers. I feel nothing behind the numbers.
There is nothing behind the numbers. I am nothing.
I feel nothing behind the numbers because there is nothing behind the numbers.
I am behind the numbers. I am nothing. Nothing is impenetrable.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Nine months, six days, three hours, two minutes, twelve seconds.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.
I will endure.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
I will defy.

I will protect my people.

I will find them.

This will never happen again.
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The doctor paced his office restlessly. The old credentials and the accompanying anatomical diagrams had long fallen down, leaving irregular rectangles of slightly less blackened wood on the grimy walls.

How had he gotten here? He couldn't remember.

Were things as he left them? He couldn't remember.

He looked about the room, soaking in every detail. The rotten floorboards in one corner, having given way into the basement. Had that been there? Probably not. The hole in the roof certainly hadn't. Or if it had, he'd been remarkably relaxed about getting the weather on his documentation. No doubt that would have infuriated his assistant no end. The girl would've given him such a tongue-lashing, though, so that was likely new as well. He smiled briefly at the fleeting memory, before the corners of his mouth sank downward into a frown. What was her name? He couldn't remember. Lucille? Leandra? Something beginning with L, he was certain.

One thing was certain, though. There was something new on his desk. A letter? It lay open, so no doubt he'd read it before, but confound it all.

He couldn't remember.

He made his unsteady way to the desk, its few lingering papers scattered carelessly around it.

No doubt that was the other doctor's work. The late Doctor Damien Moore would never be so inconsiderate with sheaves of paper that may prove important. He spared a moment to pick everything up in his shaking claws and place them back on the desk in neat piles. He looked up afterward and glanced around, brow furrowed with the effort of recollection.

What was he doing before that?

Oh yes. Admiring the office. Apart from the two corresponding holes in roof and floor, the old building was holding up remarkably well. It was untidy, of course, but that was only to be expected with the company being kept these days. The other doctor was the reason behind the deep scratches on the walls, the reason behind the heavy locks on the door, the papers scattered from the desk.

And in the centre of the desk, a letter. It looked a lot newer than everything else, and it lay open. Had he read it before?

What did it say?

He ambled over to it, adjusting his small, round, pince-nez glasses atop his nose. He took a seat in the ancient, creaking chair, and once again set to the business of reading. How many times had he repeated this process? He could only guess. He smoothed the parchment with careful, clawed hands, resting them on the table to minimise the effect of their infernal quivering.

I, Jared Jonas Richter, hereby suspend myself from command indefinitely. If you so wish it, the bonds of your oath can be considered absolved.

Ah, it was from the Richter lad. A fine young man, by all accounts, but it seemed recent events had rather caught up with him. And he'd ever distrusted his command, for all the devoted service and adoration his unit had lavished on him. Humility, that was it. It had ever added a certain something to the dynamic of the groups. Less of a military unit, and more of a family.

One could argue the merits of that particular decision, but the die was cast, really. And the results were not too bad.

Adjutants Eva Somerley and Malachai are to assume the role of Joint Acting Executor in my stead until such a time that a suitable replacement may be found. At their discretion, and as they see fit, they may declare the Harvest fully disbanded.

Ah, and here he was setting out clear structure in his absence. Good to know the executor was thinking of the men and women under him. Leaving without a word would be ungentlemanly.

The doctor spared himself a brief, self-depricating grin at that, remembering a time when he had done just that, abandoning the Executor and his harvest for some side project that seemed so unimportant, now... It couldn't be helped, but it was amusing that for all his posturing, the brash warrior was more of a gentleman than he was these days. It just goes to show.

I am sorry. Strength in Shadow.

A pointless apology and a religious tenet. Well; it wasn't his fault. If imagined culpability and spiritualism were his only flaws, then he still stands higher than most.

Your brother,
Jared Jonas Richter


The late doctor briefly wondered what he had done to deserve that honour, but eventually nodded to himself, remembering his own thoughts on family not a minute past.

So that was the letter, was it? Everything made a certain sense, then. His oath absolved, he was free to leave. And where to go but the past? To Andorhal. To his old practice. To wait for the rot to claim him where he was no longer a danger to his fellows.

His eyes flickered closed for a moment, and when they opened again the desk and chair were flung across the room, papers scattered here and there. The work of the other doctor. Foolish man. Didn't he see the use of a tidy office? Doctor Moore took in a useless breath before expelling the dead air as a pointless sigh.

He had planned to pen a reply, but all the ink in the building would surely have dried up long ago. He might have carried some of his own in another time, but apparently he had pressed his suit into service one final time to face infinity.

Still, a message for posterity appealed to his fading mind. He approached the nearest wall, experimentally drawing a claw down the wood. The results were pleasing enough, but what should he write? Words jumbled themselves in his tired mind, so eager was he to give in to sleep at last. He could barely form a sentence, let alone a meaningful paragraph.

In the end, all he wrote was three simple words, adding them to the pointless, angry scratchings of the other doctor.

I'm sorry too.
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The Iron Jawed man furrowed his brow and huffed a deep needless sound of his nose, which hummed and vibrated through his enormous metal mask. His empty eyes looked towards the wall, there stood his armor and the insignia of the Black Harvest. The place he called home for so many months. The piece of crumpled paper caught his attention once more. Such a simple thing, a scrap of sheet, some ink. And just like that, it was all over.

War. Fame. Family. Friends. Gone.

And for what? For a badge? For service? No. There was more. There had to be more. His anger welled up inside him, his frustration and fury clenching each muscle in his hulking body. He grabbed upon the edge of the table and with a furious metallic bellow of rage flipped its surface with a deafening loud thud.

It wasn't over! The Forsaken still exist! Jared Richter still exists. And with him, the Black Harvest.

He would not let it end. He refused to let it end. The metal boot of his treads smashed against the old rotten door of his temporary shelter as he stepped out into the pouring rain, looking about as one possessed and ravenous. While he still stood, while he still existed, his service did not end. He needed it, more than he would ever dare admit. He needed purpose. He needed to be kept.

And from Septif Gilderbane's throat bellowed out but one phrase unto the rain.

"Lordaeron! Never! Dies!"
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Malachai stood with his arms crossed, staring ahead at the wall. His face was drawn in a frown, only deepening at the sound of a horse approaching.

The charger nickered amiably at the sight of Malachai, a sound that echoed unnaturally through the courtyard. Somerley's armour had been repaired, reinforced here and there by cobalt plating, but her nose had not. Issuing a downwards tug to the reins, she brought the beast to a halt.

[Somerley]: What a sight. It's a ghost town.

Malachai turned and looked to the other Executor. "Executor Somerley," he said, by way of greeting. The way he spoke the title, it sounded as if he only said it grudgingly. "Abandoned," he agreed. "But I'd like to see the other side as bereft of those Gilnean mutts," he said with a scornful glance in the Wall's direction.

Somerley swung a leg over the saddle and dropped down with a 'clank'. Her mount bowed its head to graze; a habits it had. Fixing her fellow Adjutant with a bemused look, she gave him a slow nod. "Soon enough," she replied agreeably. "Executor, now? I might have been on my horse, but she's not all that high," she joked. The mare snorted.

Malachai gave a mirthless smirk. "You made it down safely, at least." He sniffed, and exhaled a sigh. "I received a letter from Jared. I presume you did, as well?"

Somerley slipped her clawed fingertips between the folded plates guarding her forearm, drawing out a leaf of parchment. "This?" she asked, glancing at it. "Aye. I was hoping we'd be receiving new orders soon. Been getting a little restless, if I'm honest." Her tone reflected a lack of concern. She sounded relieved. Jovial, even. "Wondered where he'd buggered off to this time. I knew he wouldn't keep us waiting long."

Malachai made a face at her light-hearted tone, and studied hers. "New orders?" He asked, bemusement creeping into his tone.

Somerley thumbed open the page and glanced at it, then raised her flickering gaze to Malachai. She made a sound as though to speak, but it caught in her throat as she faltered. "We don't hear from him for weeks, then suddenly, -this-. Well, I was going to go and find that one lass who's good with words to help me straighten out the details, but this is good, right? We're moving forward." The beginnings of doubt crept into her voice despite how hopeful the chord soared.

Malachai averted his gaze towards the Wall. "Jared's 'suspended himself from command indefinitely'," he quoted, bitterness seeping into his tone. "We are 'absolved of the bounds of our oaths'," he spat, and turned away. "We're not moving, we've stopped dead."

[Malachai]: . . . He has named us to joint Executors in his stead.

Somerley reeled back as though she'd been struck. In spite of herself, she uttered an incredulous, "-What?!-" and fastened Malachai with a critical stare. She seemed to be searching for some hint of a jest. When she found none, she resolved to stare at the letter in her hand. "R-Right," she stuttered. "I got that." As though it might yield some wisdom with a little coaxing, she began to squeeze the parchment.

[Somerley]: A-Aye, but... but... This isn't forever. 'Indefinitely'. It doesn't mean forever, does it?

Malachai shook his head. "It does," he said, frowning. "We command the Black Harvest until such a time a suitable replacement can be found," he added. "Those were his -orders-," he spat on the ground and turned on her again. His left hand clutched his tabard, fingering and twisting the design.

Somerley let her arm fall to her side and sank like a wilting flower. Try as she might to disguise the fact, her reaction revealed that this was the first she'd heard of it. "Wh-... Fine then," she said, swiping the air violently and straightening. "We'll get through this. We just need to keep everyone together until we can find that bastard, then drag him back. Kicking and screaming, if that's what it comes down to. Nothing's -stopped-. This isn't -the end-." she told Malachai, then added uncertainly...

[Somerley]: It's not the end, is it? You're with me, right?

Malachai watched her with a stony expression. "He made me wear this," he said, glancing down to his tabard, and the hand clutching it. He wrapped the cloth around his finger, pulling it, fidgeting with the hem in agitation. "We are absolved of our oaths," he growled, and tore it off - or at least a chunk of it.

Somerley glanced at the tabard. "Aye. The will of the--Wait!" she cried out, advancing a step towards him. Too late. "What are you -doing-, Malachai?" she hissed.

Malachai kept his gaze at his hand for a moment, then looked up to her. "I've had -enough- of this farce. I want no part of it anymore. Jared is gone. The Harvest is done . . ." He paused, considering her. "As far as I am concerned, at least," he added coldly.

Somerley squinted at him. The azure fires burning in the sockets where her eyes once were... flared. "Is that all this means to you?" she asked, gesturing at the ripped fabric. "Is that all the Harvest means? An oath? Some words you can swallow and forget that you ever said?" Her pitch escalated rapidly. "That bastard Richter walks, and everything's over, is it? Everything we -worked- for, together?" Her look turned slowly to one of disgust.

[Malachai]: -His- work, and he's abandoned it. I don't see how you can fault me for following his -example-.

Somerley drew nearer, her glare a roiling tempest of blue fire and every inch of her coiled, waiting for the slightest opportunity to strike. Fists formed and tightened. "This is more than Executor Jared fucking Richter, Malachai. It might have been his vision, his work, and his doing, but it's grown into so much more. It's not just a group of lost, lonely souls, come together for a sense of purpose. It's an idea. It's a dream. It's a fucking FUTURE!" The final word was roared into Malachai's face.

Malachai put a hand on her shoulder and shoved her aside, or at least tried to. "I never wanted a FUTURE!" The last word was shouted right back at her. "I never had a DREAM!" The Death Knight's face twisted and he looked away. "I -am- lost," he hissed.

Somerley staggered and stumbled away. Her balled fists... unfurled. Her fingers relaxed, and she lowered her head. She let the silence go on for an uncomfortably long stretch of time, then slowly lifted her gaze. It panned past Malachai, through him, as she turned around and looked at all of Pyrewood. "Go, then," she said coolly. "Get lost. Throw yourself off that damned wall for all I care. I'll do it on my own."

Malachai fell silent, staring at her back until he finally turned his gaze away from her, and left.

Somerley whirled like an angry tiger, directing a lunging kick for one of the stones neatly encircling the dreary garden. Their perfection pissed her off royally.
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