Author's Note: This short-story is part of a series detailing the background of Yulenia Deathsong and her life prior to becoming- and as- one of the Scourge. These stories are arranged chronologically within Yulenia's biography.
The summer breeze was soft on her tanned skin as her deep brown hair wafted back behind her, riding the waves of the wind. Out before her was stretched what seemed like an endless sea of green trees, the tide rising and falling here, there and occasionally breaking between the waves to reveal a small simple dirt road. The ranger stood rigid from her perch, her intense gaze focused and her mouth carved into a slight frown as she studied the far horizon to the distant south. After a few minutes, she stooped on the thick branch she stood upon, her hand dropping halfway down the trunk of the tree before she slipped off gracefully and plummeted down towards the earth. Her arrival on the ground was heralded only by the soft ruffle of her blue cloak caught in the wind and the jumble of her pack and equipment, but it was a practiced movement nevertheless. She was clothed in dirty cured leather armor from head to toe, made more for military use of enabling agility and protection rather than for show.
Rising up from her crouch on the ground, she stretched her legs with relief and looked around for someone or something. At her side, a road ran which went to the south and deeper into the thicket, while behind her stood one of the two enchanted gateways into Quel'thalas- the elfgates, as they were called. Beside the elfgate were a pair of arcane towers, constructed primarily to serve as initial defense against the trolls when they dared to attack. The fortifications themselves were simple, structured around the trees themselves where lookout roosts had been constructed high up in the foliage to serve as tactical places where the Farstrider rangers could rain arrows down upon those that threatened the nearby gate. While a few of the Magisters tended to the usual maintenance of the arcane towers, the rangers were broken up into small squads, some resting, while others kept a vigil on the forest for signs of trolls. Ever since the close of the Second War, however, the forests of Quel'thalas had been peaceful, giving the monotony of guard duty a very well-deserved boring reputation.
"Yulenia!" a man's voice cried out. On the other side of the dirt road, another ranger was running over to her, his outfit similar in many respects to her own.
Yulenia gave a small sigh and looked at the man disdainfully, the look on her face echoed in the tone of her voice. "What do you want, Saeth?"
"Why do you always think I want something from you?" he asked, displaying a mischievous smile. This only seemed to annoy Yulenia further, as she responded with a dismissive wave of her hand.
"Because you always do, and the answer is still no. I don't have time for you," she responded coldly.
Saeth gave a loud grunt and shook his head, still grinning like an idiot. "It's not as if we've got time for anything else. The last troll attack was weeks ago!"
"If you've got time to pester me, you've got time to get up there and take my post. If it's been two weeks, they'll be coming soon enough," she frowned as she pulled out an arcane telescope and tossed it at Saeth. "Here- get up there."
Saeth pouted faintly as Yulenia sauntered by him, but a moment later the man started to climb up the tree nimbly, taking up Yulenia's perch as his own to continue her vigil.
Yulenia remembered a time when she was as energetic and frolicsome as Saeth was now. Saeth had only enlisted into the Farstriders a couple of years ago in the aftermath of the Second War, so he was still new to the squad, relatively inexperienced and hadn't seen more than perhaps one or two battles so far. In a way, she envied the man's ignorance. When the Horde had allied itself with the Amani Trolls at the outbreak of the Second War and began to attack the borderlands around the outer elfgate, she had been an eyewitness to the horrors that war brought. She found herself crying uncontrollably when the first engagement had ended, and whether it was for relief it was over, or out of shock, she still wasn't quite sure. Her peers had provided some degree of comfort to her at first, but by the end of the Second War, her emotions had become buried deep down and replaced with an iron resolve to stand against the outside tides. The cheerful young woman who had joined the Farstriders to escape the hopes of her parents had become a casualty of the war.
It was a relief when the war finally did draw to an end, however, as all things inevitably did. She returned home a much different person than her friends remembered her, and not just for the promotions and commendations she had received in the field. At night, she was sometimes awoken in a cold sweat by the waking nightmare of experiencing that first battle all over again, which gave way to more than a fair number of sleepless nights. Her squad leader had once or twice found her in the kitchen of the barracks early in the morning, sitting alone at one of the many tables with a cup of cold tea clasped hard between her hands as she stared off into space. Ultimately, she had been moved to her current assignment guarding the outer elfgate into Quel'thalas. It was a relatively stress-free job with little in the way of battles to be fought beyond the occasional skirmish with the broken Amani trolls. The newer recruits seemed to take joy in the simple battles, but they were just that- simple and hardly noteworthy. More importantly, however, it was almost a vacation of sorts for Yulenia and a time to unwind. At the very least, the nightmares had come to an end, and she was afforded regular full-nights of sleep.
"Hey, Yulenia!" cried out a voice she had just heard moments earlier. She turned around and looked up, where Saeth was pointing out into the distance to the south.
"What is it!" she yelled back at him unceremoniously and with a clear hint of agitation.
The young elven ranger looked back to the horizon and then back down at Yulenia, as if trying to make sense of what he was seeing. "I don't know! It's as if a shadow is covering a section of the woods to the direct south, but there's not a cloud in the sky!"
Frowning, Yulenia looked up at the vibrant blue sky which was, true to the younger ranger's words, without a cloud to be seen. Her gaze narrowed as she looked down to Saeth once more and shook her head, uttering an annoyed curse in Thalassian. "Hold on, I'm coming up there!"
Yulenia only managed to take a few steps forward before her face was suddenly pelted with a torrent of wooden splinters. Yulenia hit the ground hard, covering her head with her hands in a reactive gesture to protect herself from the debris as branches and dust were suddenly kicked up where the forest border had once been.
"ANAR'ALAH BELORE! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"
The Magisters retreated into the towers as the arcane defenses sparked and came to life. Units began forming in haste as the different squads flew like panicked ants over a smashed nest to their assigned formations.
Yulenia lifted herself off the ground as the fortifications erupted into a scrambled flurry. Shaking off the daze, she looked down at the ground, only to realize that the grass had wilted and died in mere moments and was now emitting a smell that wasn't entirely unlike a rotting corpse left out in the sun for several days- a smell she was quite familiar with. Yulenia had only a moment to jump to her feet before the forest erupted and spewed forth all manner of putrid monster and alien machine.
They were everywhere in an instant, like a swarm of locusts. At the forefront were the blurred and twisted images of what must have once been human men and women, long since dead as they trailed their innards behind them and showed their half-decays bodies for all to see. Slobbering and ravenous, the ghouls hurled themselves in leaps and bounds toward the formations. Several of the rangers howled in terror, breaking formation to turn and run, but all in vain. Noxious fumes came rising up from the ground, choking the air itself as the forest crumbled down under the wheels of gigantic clawed war machines, covered in the flesh of their previous victims.
Yulenia forced down her urge to vomit as she grabbed her bow up off the ground, turned to knock an arrow in preparation for the first wave, and prepared to release it.
The chance never came. Her strength abruptly faltered as she dropped the arrow, her muscles sapped with fatigue that hadn't been there before. Her legs buckled, and her bow quickly left her other hand as she struggled to stand upright. The world became distant and surreal as she faced the tide of undead unarmed, and merely watched helplessly as they ran past her into the waiting rows of demoralized defenders. The vague elven screams and gurgles for mercy cut short echoed back to her slender ears, and Yulenia could almost recall seeing the gruesome war machines make quick work of the wall and arcane towers, turning them to smoldering cinders in moments. Blood and corpses littered the ground as the ghouls ate and gnawed at the dying victims, who begged but were never heard.
"This land now belongs to the Scourge!" came the voice of a man Yulenia hadn't noticed before, his hand reaching up and a glowing staff held high. He seemed to grin at Yulenia, and a moment later, all of her senses were suddenly ignited as if she was being burned alive by some fire that was beyond her ability to see. The world around her quickly fell away as she plummeted into a black oblivion of agony and pain. She felt herself being torn apart even then, ripped from the warm embrace of life like a unborn child from a womb. She heard a voice then in the back of her mind, the drone of some sort of introduction, and then a wave of terror gripped her heart as it beat for the last time.