A little Old Man Franks story from World of Warcraft. Enjoy!

There are three things you never say to a Forsaken.

The first one is the question “How do you still eat and drink?” You don’t want to know the answer, and they don’t really want to talk about it. On the one hand, it’s pretty disgusting to watch. You can actually, in some cases, watch the chewed food go down their ribcage and spill on the floor, depending on the state of decay of the Forsaken in question. On the other hand, they don’t like to admit that despite being undead, and thus ostensibly immortal, they still somehow require food and drink for nourishment. It’s a source of embarassment.

The second thing is to complain or even mention the smell. Yes, Forsaken sometimes smell like dead things. Because they are. And they can’t really smell either. They’re dead. It’s one of those things that doesn’t really work anymore. Most Forsaken who deal with the living take pains to insert  either a magical or mundane means of masking or eliminating the smell into their clothing, not as a courtesy to others, but more so they don’t have to deal with the annoying complaints.

The third, and most important, is to disparage their Queen. Ever. The Forsaken, as a rule, are fanatically loyal to Sylvanas. And why shouldn’t they be? If not for her, most of them would be slaves to the Lich King still. Or more likely, dead at some Crusader’s hands. Sylvanas gave them a chance at a second life, and most serve her dutifully for it, and react VERY badly to any insults or insinuations about her. Exceptions to this rule are very few, and are found either very far away from the Undercity or at least in the company of powerful companions.

Luckily, the Forsaken warlock known to most as Old Man Franks, or just OMF to the few friends he had, was eating alone. It was a late hour, when any living beings who came to the Undercity on business reasons had long departed for their homes, so there were no staring eyes or unspoken questions to annoy him. They distracted him from his thoughts, and the current occupation of his thoughts was not something he would want his attention turned from. It was one of the most remarkable accomplishments by the Forsaken in the few years the race had existed. If perfected, it could further ensure his race’s lasting place in the world. But he had no concern for any of it. His main concern was power. Power was something Franks had only recently acquired in becoming a warlock, and he was loath to give it up.

It had come to him a few days after word reached him of Deathwing’s final and true demise. The Worldbreaker was unmade. The Twilight and Black Dragonflights were all but extinct. The Twlight’s Hammer leadership were all dead, and the cult’s major power centers were broken. The rest had gone into hiding or launched suicidal attacks against whatever enemy was nearest to them. They had, of course, failed.

Azeroth was safe, yet again. It had been extremely costly, but the people of Azeroth still had their world and their lives…or whatever you call what the Forsaken had.

That had gotten Franks thinking. He’d participated in many of the battles of this war, and the War in Northrend before it, and the one in Outland before that. He had seen how powerful the various denizens of Azeroth had become. So many, from so many different races. And half of these races were at war with the other half. Despite all this, they somehow had still managed to kill many powerful threats to their world that by all rights should have easily destroyed them all. Deathwing. The Lich King. Malygos. Two Old Gods (though he wondered how permanent those were). Two Elemental Lords, one of them twice. Many powerful dragons. And many powerful Demon Lords.

That last one gave Franks pause. He was a warlock, a being who derived his power from the magics of the Burning Legion. Such power came at a cost. The Legion did not surrender its power to mortals lightly. A great demon Lord would do so only for the benefit of itself or the Legion as a whole. And they always demanded something in return. Common “wisdom” claimed that all warlocks surrendered their souls in this exchange, but that was utter foolishness. Sure, a complete madman or nihilist might not care what happened to their soul after death, but those were few and far between. If the Lords of the Legion were to always insist on a soul as the price for their power, almost no Warlocks would exist. No, the average demon Lord was usually more than happy to accept other offers, such as powerful magical items, destruction of relics considered holy to mortal races, or a sacrifice of prisioners, especially particularly virtuous ones or even children. They had no power over their souls, of course, but they always enjoy the idea of murder and destruction spreading that much further in Azeroth. Franks himself had stabbed a dwarf paladin in the heart as part of his final initiation.

If confronted with this knowledge, many would ask a warlock why the Legion bothered with mortals at all. It seemed such a paltry gain for allowing Warlocks access to their magic. Certainly many Warlocks had turned the Legion’s own power against them on many occasions. The reasons were twofold: One, while many Warlocks had certainly not turned into devoted slaves of the Legion like they would hope, their very presence was always a temptation to others, and those others could very well turn out to be the corrupt opportunistic sort the Legion was always looking for, the perfect slave, and Two: there was always the chance of the Warlock himself becoming addicted to the power, craving more and more, and falling more and more into the Legion’s grasp. Such warlocks inevitably became the sort who would work towards summoning the great demon Lords to Azeroth.

Franks himself did not consider these reasons to be worth dwelling on. If his use of warlock powers tempted others to do the same, there was little he could do about it. Other people made their own choices. And he knew his mind was still his own…at least, the parts that hadn’t rotted away before the necromanctic power had arrested the decay. He had no desire to help the Legion, and he never would. He was, after all, part of a secret organization working towards preparing Azeroth for that inevitable day when either the Legion would come in total force to Azeroth or the people of Azeroth would invade the Legion’s realm. Such a task was monumental. The Legion’s forces were almost too numerable to count. Their power was undeniable. And they were lead by one of the Gods of the universe, the fallen Titan Sargeras. It seemed folly to even comprehend of defeating them.

Yet Franks believed they could succeed. He had to. He knew, firsthand, the sort of threats the people of Azeroth could defeat now, and they weren’t even united against them. They fought each other as much as external threats, and yet they had endured. If they were to do so under the same banner…what could possibly stop them? And that was what his secret organization, headed by the troll Archmage Dahkar, worked towards: uniting Azeroth. Though it had a number of Azeroth’s most influential leaders either among its numbers or quietly supporting them…things were not going well. The leaders of the Horde and Alliance, Garrosh Hellscream and Varian Wrynn, were committed to the war. If that were to ever change, more moderate leaders would have to take their place, or something dire would have to happen to change their minds. Neither seemed likely anytime soon.

But Franks believed in their mission. He honestly believed they could succeed. One day the Legion would be defeated.

And that was the core of the issue. With the Legion gone…his power would be gone as well. And that, he feared more than anything.

Before he was a warlock….he was nothing. In life, a simple farmer. In undeath, aimless, a drifter with no purpose or reason for existence. Until he had made the decision to pursue the Warlock’s path. Now, he didn’t just have power. He WAS power. Or so he had thought. The realization that the Legion would, in his mind, one day be defeated had made him realize that his grasp of his power was far more tenuous than he had thought. When they succeeded….he would be nothing, again. And that, he could never return to.

So he needed to seek a new source, and thus had begun his research. He had heard, of course, of the “Council of Six Daggers” and their pursuit of alternate sources of power: those of the destroyed Firelord, or the chaotic Old God energies wielded by the Twilight’s Hammer cult, or even what remained of Illidan’s power. Other warlocks had claimed to steal the Legion’s power rather than being given it in trade. They were fools, deluded madmen who thought their mortal wills could claim the strength of beings beyond them. Such powers were beyond their means to sieze, and doing so would only lead to their destruction.

No, he wanted something that could never be taken from him. And that ruled out all sources of magic. Malygos had nearly deprived Azeroth of it’s inherent Arcane magic, the source that all Mages tapped into. Who was to say some other being would not one day do the same? The magics of the natural world, those of the druids and shaman, were not available to him. The Light, or other faiths, demanded adherence to their doctrines before they would grant him any power, and he would not be subject to any beings whims but his own.

However, he had then found himself contemplating the more martial paths to power. Their strength not quite as…ornate as the others he had considered, but it was also not external to them. They gained power via internal means, improving their own bodies and minds. Their power could not be taken away except by death. This appealed him greatly.

He discarded the Hunter almost immediately. They were required to spend a lot of time outdoors, in nature, bonding with animal companions, and taking from the natural world the various venoms and poisons they used as much as they did on the shooting range. He was never fond of animals and nature. That left the rogue and the warrior. Of the two, he had decided on the Warrior. The Rogue required subtlety, finesse, and deception, things Franks simply did not care for. He preferred simply overwhelming foes with brute force. It was easier and equally effective. And it was something the Warrior offered in spades. And so his path was decided. He would become a warrior, master of arms. His name would be feared, and his blades would rend anything that stood in his way.

There was just one…small…hurdle to conquer. Becoming a Warrior required years of training and experience. Their bodies had to be honed and conditioned to carry the weight of their arms and armor, as well as to take the crazy amount of punishment they experienced on a daily basis. Frankly, that all sounded very boring to him. Surely there had to be some way he could just absorb all of the information, the training, into his mind. He was an undead, after all, a creature of magic. That same magic made his body already quite formidable. There had to be a way he could get around it.

And so he had begun researching, starting with the vast libary in his hidden sanctum. The library, and the sanctum itself, had belonged to his former master, the Grand Warlock Evrae. He had inherited it after Evrae had disappeared after the Sunwell battle. No one had seem him since or discovered his fate. Franks was the only being Evrae had ever brought here, as part of his apprenticeship. It had seemed an ideal lair, so he took it for his own. The sheer amount of dark knowledge in the library was enormous, and it had taken Franks weeks of nonstop research, before he finally stumbled on a ritual that would serve his purpose. It was a transfer of the soul. Evrae had learned the secret of transferring his soul into another body. The notes had mentioned that while taking over another’s body was possible, it required an enormous strength of will to overcome the person’s entrenched soul already within, and to hold it at bay constantly. But if a body was relatively intact and undecayed, with a proper necromantic ritual, it could be animated but left an empty shell. Such a thing was difficult, but possible. Evrae had, helpfully, included the ritual itself, but his notes added warnings to do so with great care. Necromancy was a sore subject among the Forsaken, and most considered any of the sort to be a violation on par with what the Lich King had done to them. And Sylvanas, as powerful as she was, could very likely detect the power of the ritual if even the slightest error was made.

Franks wondered if Evrae had successfully performed the ritual. There seemed to be no evidence of it having taken place here, in his former sanctum, and if he was still alive, he had never revealed himself. Perhaps he was living quietly, hiden away somewhere? Or taken a new identity? Or maybe he had failed, and been executed for his crimes? There was no way to know. But Franks knew this was his best chance at escaping a return to the life, if you could call it that, he had lived before. He would do it. He had to.

His first step was assembling his new body. He would take parts of various fallen Forsaken Warriors and assemble them into a new gestalt body made in his own image, one perfectly suited to the rigors of melee combat and with muscle memory intact, he had hoped learning the ways of arms would be accelerated. He knew becoming a master of war immediately was likely impossble, but he wanted to give himself every advantage he could.

It had taken time and many journeys, but eventually his new body was ready. He had even managed to resculpt the face to look mostly like him. The ritual of animation had been tricky, but had gone off without a hitch. Even so, for a week, he stayed out of his hidden sanctum, watching the entrance for any signs of the Banshee Queen or her loyal servants having detected his use of necromancy. None had ever come.

And so he had returned and began the final step: The ritual of the essence transfer. As he continued studying it in preparation, he marveled at Evrae’s genius. The ritual created a soul link between the bodies, and the final step of the ritual was to sever it, making the transfer permanent unless the ritual was performed again. Franks considered that. Perhaps he need not sever the connection right away. With a bit of modification, he could stabilize the soul link between the bodies, allowing him to return to his original body. With this, he could take time to build up his new body’s strength and his own mental retraining, but return to his old body if it was needed elsewhere. Then, when it was ready, and when the time for the final attack on the Legion was at hand, he could sever the link and make the transfer permanent. And so he had modified the ritual, copying it to a new tome and changing the steps where needed. This plus the testing process had taken even more weeks, but finally, it was ready.

And it had been a great success. The first time he had performed it, he had awoken in the new body, his memories fully intact. The loss of the near constant companion of fel magic had been jarring at first, but he forced himself to move past it and pick up the weapons he had scavenged. He had to see if they felt familiar, if this body had retained any knowledge of combat. He had realized with a bit of dread, that this had been a fairly big assumption on his part. His new fingers grasped the two handed sword laying on the table, and his first though had been disappointment in it. It wasn’t balanced properly and would likely break with any regular use. He swung it around experimentally without even thinking, but soon realized what he was unconsciously doing. His body had retained the muscle memories of it’s previous hosts! And his mind was processing tactics and sequences of swings! He grabbed the other weapons in turn, letting the training take him through all it had learned from it’s previous lives. When he was done, he evaluated that while he wasn’t a legendary warrior, he was certainly no greenhorn. He would need more training and experience, for sure, but he was very happy with the first test run. It had worked.

The soul link had proved stable, and he was easily able to return to his orignal body. He discovered that returning to it seemed to have no requirement of distance; were he ever to fall in combat, his soul would easily return all the way to his body, even across the continent. And so, over a period of weeks, he would go into seclusion and take his new warrior form around the world, adventuring. Surely there was no better way to build his strength. He adopted the moniker of OMF, simply known by the initials of his “title” and name, and made quite a reputation for himself among the people of Stranglethorn and the Swamp of Sorrows, keeping as far away from Undercity as he could while remaining on the continent. He hadn’t tested to see how stable the soul link would stay across oceans yet.

Franks sat and pondered all that he had accomplished. If he still had lips, they would have curved upward in a smile. Soon, his strength and power would be solely his, owed to no one else, with no chains to bind him to anyone. His destiny would be his own. He planned to take OMF out on another journey back to the Swamp of Sorrows. Rumors of Alliance attacks against Stonard had reached him, and he could think of no better warriors to learn from next, and no better foe to test himself against. He finished his drink and headed towards his sanctum’s hidden entrance. Though he was eager, he made sure to double back several times in case he was being followed. Finally, confident of his secrecy, he entered his chambers and prepared to enter his new body. It was glad in gleaming plate, obsessively cleaned, with a powerfully enchanted two-handed mace lying next to it. Two swords were mounted on a weapons rack next to the table where the body lay, inert. He set himself on the table next to it, and muttered the incantations to reconnect the soul link and prepared himself for the brief blackness that marked the transition.

It seemed only a second later that he felt himself awakened in his new body, the now familiar extra weight of the plate armor around him, but he could see nothing. His eyes were shut. That should not be possible, he didn’t have eyelids. He attempted to sit up, but found he could not! His body would not respond to his commands! Something was wrong. He quickly prepared to return via the soul link when he heard a voice that chilled him down to his core.

“My dear Old Man Franks, what have you been up to down here?”

Sylvanas! The Banshee Queen had found him! How had she done this? Suddenly his eyes illuminated again. There she was, her skin unmarred and perfect still, even in the pale stage of death, she still looked alive. Behind her were two of her newest pets, the Val’kyr who served her after the Lich King’s destruction. They were responsible for creating new Forsaken from the corpses of fallen, thus swelling the numbers of the Forsaken again. Three had sacrificed themselves to revive her after her “death” in the Silverpine Forest, and one had been wiped out at Andorhal. The remaining four were never far from Sylvanas nowadays. He did not know the names of these two, but one of them held her hand out above his body, dark energy flowing from her into him. It was likely the cause of his immobilization

“A very impressive feat you have accomplished here. Transferred yourself into a new body? Made of parts of dead warriors? Is that what you wish to be now? A warrior? No longer beholden to the Burning Legion?”

She was walking around his table, watching, almost admiring him as though he were a piece of great artwork.

“I really have to thank you. I never did expect this. Do you know how long I’ve been looking for these rituals? Evrae never would give them to me. Ever since he died, I’ve been looking for his hidden lair, the one place I knew they had to be written down…but he was rather relentless in keeping that secret, even with the torture.”

Evrae had been developing this for Sylvanas? He had to have been, how else would she know about them? What were they for? Franks’ mind was racing, considering the implications of the Banshee Queen’s presence and her words, even as she continued speaking.

“He developed these at my request…it was my first attempt at solving the problem of the attrition of our people. If we could transfer our souls into new bodies…then the souls could continue living forever. But we would need new bodies. And so he began working on the second part…the animation ritual. Fuse the bodies together in a state of unlife, but without attracting the soul who once inhabited them or free of the mindless instincts of lesser undead. Perfect for transfer.”

She suddenly stopped at the right side of his torso, and bent slightly to glare into his eyes, all trace of feigned happiness gone.

“But do you know what that ungratelful filth did after he finished them? He refused to hand them over! The immortality of our people guaranteed and he refused to allow me to give that gift to them. At the time I thought ‘The utter selfishness of him!’ but then he told me why. He discovered something about this ritual he had created, something so horrific and so awful that he would never let it pass into my hands.”

She stood straight again, one hand on her hip and the other moving up to rest on her chin. She looked up into nothing, as if picturing the very moment her conversation with Evrae had taken place.

“I tortured him, of course. But he held strong throughout. After he died, I scoured the city, looking for the hidden lair I knew he had. But I never found it. Eventually, I assumed the whole thing lost…but then you found it. And you performed it!”

She leaned over him again, with what would have passed for joy in anyone else evident on her face. Franks, however, knew her better. Something bad was about to happen.

“Your warding spells were a clever idea, I must admit. Alone, I would never have sensed the magic you were performing. But I am not alone any longer. Ever.” As she said this, she gestured to the Val’kyr standing beside her. Franks had never seen one of them stand. They were always in the air, even if only slightly, hovering, their ghostly wings constantly in motion. “My dear Val’kyr detected your performance of the necromantic ritual. We’ve watched you for weeks now, evaluating your experiment. And now, it is time for their secrets to be mine, dear Franks.” She walked over to his desk and gathered the tome detailing the rituals, then turned, speaking to him again.

“Do you want to know the secret Evrae found? The one that caused him to secret this away from me?And the one that got you caught by my precious sisters here?”

She stepped back and smiled evily.

“Because the ritual that Evrae developed was not the first time it had been used. It was previously used by Scourge Necromancers….as the first part of the procedure to create Death Knights. That is how my sisters detected you. They could sense this magic. And they remembered.”

With a small flick of her wrist, she looked to the Val’kyr and said “Do it.”

Both Val’kyr began channeling more dark energy into his prone body. The pain was excruciating. Franks somehow found the will over his own jaw again, and he screamed in agony. He felt cold, colder than he ever imagined, slowly spreading from his torso to his limbs, and as it overtook his head, he felt himself pushed further back into the deep recesses of his own mind. When they were finished, he found only the basic parts of himself in control of his body. He could see out of his own eyes, which now glowed blue, and feel things touching him, but his will, his personality were subsumed in favor of a series of basic commands implanted by the Val’kyr. They held an ironclad grip on his body, and he knew there was no way he could break them. He evaluated the weapons in his grasp, and realized this basic personality had expanded his combat experience and knowledge a hundredfold. It was now on par with the greatest melee fighters he had ever seen. What’s more, he felt pools of frost and Necromantic energies within his body, similar to the fel power that resided in his old form. His new body had been turned into a Death Knight.

“Stand.” Sylvanas commanded him. He did so. He found he had no power to challenge her commands. As he faced her, she looked him over again with a dismissive eye.

“We’ll be studying this,” she said, holding the tome up, “but I think I can say ‘thank you’ because you have, however unwillingly, helped ensure the future of the Forsaken race. And I, in the meantime, have a powerful new Death Knight champion at my utter command. Whatever shall I do with you, hmm?” She put a finger to her lips, in mock thought, as she sauntered toward him. She then raised the finger to the air, and looked at him directly in his eyes.

“You will kill Archmage Dahkar.”

Franks would have reacted with surprise if he could. But he could not move, not even speak the words that formed in his mind. Why would she want him dead?

“Oh yes, I know all about your friend and his little group. He wants to unify Azeroth? Oh no. Not while I am around. Because in his world, there is no place for the Forsaken or me. The Horde needs us as long as there is war with the Alliance. But if that were to end? No, no, they would all turn on us…even the sin’dorei. We are nothing but abominations to them, but as long as the war rages, we are useful abominations. And I will ensure that we continue to be useful until we can rightfully take our place as the masters of this world. Your little friend is making far too much headway to be comfortable. So you…you will kill him. And anyone else who dares threaten our future. I name you Nihilus, the annihilator of my enemies. Now, go. Bring me his head and his staff when it is done.” She turned and walked out of his lair, the Val’kyr following her. Franks felt himself slowly shuffle after her, turning away and slowly making his way to the top of the city. He knew Dahkar would likely be in Orgrimmar, and his body was heading for the Zeppelin tower that regularly flew between the Horde’s major capitals.

His mind raced. Of course he had no desire to kill the Archmage, he was the closest thing to a friend Franks had, but he no longer had a choice. He mentally pushed and pushed, but found he could make no headway against the strength of the control the Val’kyr had put on him.

It was over, he thought. He would spend either an eternity in service to Sylvanas as her personal assassin, or Dahkar and his other allies would strike him down, and his soul would…what WOULD happen to his soul? He had no idea what else the Val’kyr had done to his new body…but then he felt it. The soul link with his old body! It was still intact! Somehow the Val’kyr hadn’t detected it, hadn’t severed it! It would take incredible timing and a lot of luck…but if they did destroy this body and the control the Val’kyr implanted, the Nihilus personality dissipated fast enough…he could reach the soul link and return to his original body! Assuming Sylvanas didn’t destroy it, but she hadn’t even seemed to care about it. With luck…he might survive this. It was a lot of luck he would need to rely on, and he wouldn’t be able to show himself in the Undercity again…but it was possible. He would endure. And then…well he would be back at square one again with his problem. But that could wait.

For now, he had to prepare himself to fight when he arrived in Orgrimmar.

 

Some time later….

Franks woke up again, in his original body, relieved, and very quickly performed the ritual to sever the Soul Link, breaking his connection to the now destroyed body he had created. It had been a vicious fight, but as he’d hoped, Dahkar had not been alone when he attacked him in Orgrimmar. Grothar and Shadothar had been there as well, and Nihilus had been built for ferocity, not tactics. Shadothar had keep him at bay, while Dahkar and Grothar had used their magic to overcome his defenses. Eventually Grothar had switched to using shadow magic to assault his mind, which disrupted the Nihilus personality’s control long enough for Franks to briefly regain control and warn them what Sylvanas had planned. Despite their shock, they had rallied and brought the Nihilus body down. Franks had lept at the chance, and the Soul Link held all the way back to his hidden lair.

He looked now around the lair he had occupied for a few years. He would have to destroy it, of course, and quickly, after salvaging whatever he could. Sylvanas would likely try to silence him as part of covering her tracks. Luckily she had not yet done the smart thing and destroyed his old body…perhaps she was too engrossed in the ritual she had taken.

He wasn’t sure what, if anything, he could do about that. She could do no more with it than she already could with the Val’kyr and their ability to reanimate the dead. But right now, he had to focus on finding a new home, far from her reach.

And perhaps he should contact the Council of Six Daggers and hope they had stumbled onto something after all.

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