This is not an uncertain future.
I wrote this story two years ago, when Day of the Dead first popped up as a WoW holiday. I didn't post it for a number of reasons; fewer than the number of reasons that have now arisen to keep this future from being at all possible. Still, I've always been pleased with how it turned out, and so I've brought it out of the closet, brushed it off and touched it up a bit, and am posting here in honor of the holiday. I invite the rest of you, if you wish, to consider whom your characters would most like to see at the hallowed flame, either now or much, much later.
It wasn't that Haemon didn't believe in ghosts. Such cynicism wasn't a luxury he had, really, after years of being attacked by them and their corporeal counterparts. That spirits walked the earth and could be communicated with under certain special circumstances was a given. Still, something struck him as unbelievable about the Day of the Dead. Did all the dead really feel like hanging about their own graves for a whole day, just hoping their friends and relatives would show up with some bread?
His suspicions had been proved correct when Laurus died. Only in one of the three years she outlived him did Fells claim to see him on the morbid holiday, and by that point it could well have been self delusion.. Even so, she'd been happy for those few minutes before the marigolds burned away, and thus her druid had painstakingly prepared for the holiday the following year for her sake.
The next year, he did so for himself.
Certainly, there was the hope of momentarily reuniting Heth and Felicia with their lost parents and, barring that, at least the motivation to honor their memories. But it was much harder to uphold his cool disaffection with the promise of even a scrap of conversation when he was the one whose heart was aching. So he gathered the materials; the skull-shaped candles, the flowers, the dough. In the morning he lit the hallowed fire by the matched pair of gravestones and set the macabre bread to bake. Everything had to be perfect, he reasoned, to draw them for the special visit.
Naturally, he blamed himself when they didn't appear. The bread had been a little burned, or the marigolds a bit wilted. Maybe the fire wasn't quite right, or he should have gone to Stormwind for the candles. He came up with a thousand little mistakes as he cleaned up the ashes that evening and spread them over the patches of carefully planted flowers that covered each resting place. Next year, he swore as he berated himself, next year he'd do better.
The hope that drove him to perfectionism had faded by the tenth year out, allowing the comfortable apathy to take its place. Oh, he continued to celebrate the occasion, if it could be called a celebration. But though the new head of the house continued to imagine that he might be able to introduce his father to the next generation of Drachmases, Shad's opinion aligned more closely with Felicia's. The ritual was a gesture of respect, nothing more.
Respect didn't require him to wear his dress clothes. At least, that's what he decided after sixteen years of stuffy, uncomfortable ceremonies that left grass stains on fancy black pants. Felicia frowned at his simple green robes and scolded that he should dress warmer, but he just smiled and offered a skull of warm, sweet-smelling bread. It was missing an eye socket. She accepted and chewed sulkily.
Heth was in charge of wrangling his personal descendants to the graveside, a task not made easier by the druid's new live-and-let-die philosophy. Several children wanted to be dressed in their comfy robes like Uncle Shad, and without the elf's stern instructions to back the event's seriousness, those several were to be seen running about in bathrobes covered over in cloaks. Not to be outdone, the older children (and one adult) came to celebrate dressed in their Hallow's End costumes. The head of the household stood surrounded by a pirate, a succubus, and two different Lich Kings.
Felicia frowned all the more. She made the miniature Arthases at least remove their helms before they could get their share of bread, which it was her task to distribute. Each respectful "thank you" she could hear over the joyful chatter, however, loosened her brow a bit more, and she was even considering a smile as she approached the end of the row of relatives. The acrid scent of burning marigold seeped into the air as she set a baked cranium in the hand of the woman next to her brother. Her head snapped up at the painfully familiar thanks.
Chatter stopped immediately.
Shad nearly overturned the holy flame when he whirled around to see the two translucent figures waiting with hands outstretched. The wizened wizard, hair still tinged with red, grinned cockily at his daughter's disbelief and took his own bread from the basket she held. His wife clasped her hands around those of her eldest child, and smiled with glimmering brown eyes. "Nice kinda party y'gots here," Fells remarked.
Any semblance of order to the event evaporated immediately as the line turned to a mob, a sea of smiling, sometimes teary faces. Hands reached for faint, whispy contact in greeting while questions and introductions flew like arrows. "Little, this's yer great-gramma Fells an' great-grampa Laz--" "--looks jest like Brody at that age, don' he, 's he--" "--didn' think we'd see ya, can't barely say how good--" "--ya been all this time, could y'see when--" "--member when you were just a tiny thing, and now--" "--gonna make y'proud, Father, surelike."
Time was a valuable commodity easily measured in marigolds. In order to give the family as much as they could bargain for, Shad sat away from the boisterous crew, gradually feeding bloom after bloom into the blue-tinted flames. With each, he would wait until the petals had gone entirely, until the stem curled up and broke apart and crumbled into ash. Only when the blackened flakes began to sink away would he add another. So intent was he on his task, eyes affixed to the fire, that he did not notice when the conversation diminished and the late Lady excused herself from her son with an unfelt hug and a kiss.
"Tryin' t'get 'way with ignorin' me, aintcha," she teased as she seated herself on the grass next to the druid, more nimbly than a woman of her apparent age should have been able to.
Haemon jumped slightly and flashed a brief grin her way. "Not ignoring you, Tara. Merely making sure you have sufficient leisure to greet your progeny." He waved a dew-touched flower at her before casting it into the crucible. "Someone has to arrange these things. Make sure it is all..." His voice trailed off into a swallow, and he blinked back another round of dewdrops. "I only have this last bunch left. You should make sure you have given all your greetings."
The spectre nodded, and scooted closer. "S'what m'doin'," she affirmed. "Yer not gonna pull that 'I ain' 'mportant's yer fam'ly' thing now, are ya?"
Despite his best efforts, the druid's chin trembled when he tried to reply, and the flowers got another salty cloudburst as a last drink. "Might have...felt like it," he admitted shakily. "Seventeen years, it has been...I never thought I would see--"
Her finger stopped his lips. "Figure we gots three minutes, Shad. Y'gonna blame on me fer not bein' able t'tell dates, or y'gonna say 'lo?"
With a weak chuckle, he turned to give what embrace he could manage. "Miss you more than I thought I did. I'm okay, I am, but..."
"Know it." She smiled, though her face reflected the same bittersweetness he felt. "Miss y'too. Somethin' awful." She leaned her head on his shoulder as he tossed another bloom in to burn. "M'here, y'know. Not always, but more'n y'think. We go in, try an' see the littles, but we can't usually. Can't see nothin' 'cept out here." She cast a glance around. "An' this ain't where I wanna be thought on, y'know? Wantcha all thinkin'a me livin'." For a moment, she stared off into the distance, then smiled again. "Bring pictures, next year? Least thattaway I can see ya 'thout tears."
He laughed at the wicked grin on her face, and nodded. "Pictures, all right. Any other requests?"
"More mar'golds?" She sighed ruefully as the last one caught in the heat. "Can't guarantee we'll pin the date, but we'll try damn hard. An' we's gonna want more'n twenny minutes."
"I shall have a field full, I promise," he whispered. "Until then, be well. O fulo osa."
Her eyes lit at the familiar scrap of Darnassian, and she planted a ghostly kiss on his cheek. "Fulosa too, Shad."
The elf grinned. "Do you know what that even means?"
"M'not dim," she protested gently even as she began to fade. "An' I always have."
What may come to pass, many years down the road. SPOILER: EVERYONE DIES.
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