Leyujin

Eclipse: Questions

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He alighted softly upon the waving grass, stirred by the soft breeze of Mulgore. Patting his imposing steed roughly on its scaly, heaving flank, he smiled genuinely as he looked around at the natural beauty around him. The grasslands of the Shu'halo weren't, exactly, his preferred environment, but he'd always had a soft spot for it. Perhaps moreso nowadays, for the people who dwelled within. Striding forward, he wound his way around the open fence partially girding the pleasant homestead, greeted by a piercing howl that subsided into grunts and sniffles as a ghostly wolf greeted him at the entrance to the property. Xaraphyne was lighting the fire, sparks sheeting off her knife as she struck it with her flint. She looked up briefly, a bright smile on her face. "Hiya Ley! Wait until I get this goin'."

That didn't take long. The dried grasses, serving as tinder, quickly burst into flames, and the trolless methodically lit several starter fires positioned around the large logs. Dusting off her hands, she stepped back in satisfaction. Leyu'jin trodded softly towards her, surprisingly light on his feet for a metal-laden giant, and as she turned around opened his arms to receive an enthusiastic embrace. He grinned, then held out a bag of raw burlap. Taking it from his grasp, with one eyebrow cocked questioningly, she released the drawstring and opened it. "Leyu'jin!" She exclaimed, taking in a deep, nasally breath. "It smells wonderful!" She took another long, ravenous sniff.

"Starfiyah espresso beans, grown from ma lil farmstead back in Pandaria." He chuckled. "Ah remembah joo served dat da las' time ah wuz around 'ere."

"I'll get a pot brewin' right away," she said, hefting the bag and heading back to the fire.

Leyu'jin padded after her. "Where be ma brotha?" He queried, taking a seat and placing his sword down at his side.

"Away on a mission," Xaraphyne called back, bringing a beat up tin pot from one of the huts. "You know how it is. I wish he hadn't gone, but he's so stubborn. He's still recovering from..." her voice trailed off, and the trolless's happy demeanor faded a bit. Speculatively, she put one hand on her hip, while from the other the pot swung gently from its metal handle. She eyed Leyu'jin with a trace of suspicion.

"Now, why *are* you here, Ley? Although I think I already be knowin' the answer to that."

The wind, always present on a great plain like Mulgore, ruffled the troll warrior's hair. As it did so, it seemed like the troll's gaze cooled with it.

"I be needin' ta know aboot Accalia, Xaraphyne."

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Xara grinned at him a little sheepishly. Sometimes she had a habit of picking up the way others around her spoke, and she hoped Ley wasn't offended by the uncharacteristic "be" that had slipped out of her. But it seemed he wasn't, as Xara knew he wouldn't be.

She looked back at the fire, and busied herself setting the coffee to brew. It gave her time to collect her thoughts.

"It was seven years ago when we faced her," she said eventually. "Before I met Fhen, even, that's how long ago it was. I was still in Citadel, and I wasn't a Captain – just a First Mate."

Her wry smile was directed at the fire, but Ley doubtlessly heard it in her voice. It was a lifetime ago that she spoke of.

"There were a few of us. Me, Elek, Rannoch, Naheal, Thoraggar, Toraneko, Videlle... Few others helped too, Risticus, Taeln, Skafloc, Chum, Stelson, Diomades..."

She paused. Many of those names she hadn't seen or heard from in too long. Some, she never would again. A dignified silence honored the missing, but never forgotten, in those moments, shared between the two trolls.

Settling to the packed earth before the fire, she turned back toward Leyu’jin. Her golden eyes were thoughtful.

"It was a pair of elves who started it, brother and sister. High elves – Quel'dorei – though they lived in Silvermoon. They weren't too popular, as you can imagine. In fact..."

Some parts of the story were not hers to tell. She chose her words with care.

"Because of the way they were treated, the brother developed a hate for blood elves. A powerful hate. And it was twisted... before or after he found the black book, I don't know."

Xara shook her head and looked away. Leyu’jin was listening in silence, but she knew he'd ask questions when he had them.

"He established a connection to Accalia, and started spreading the curse to the Rangers he commanded. The Rangers of the Dark Sun. They were his hunters, they went out and spread it further. But his sister and a friend, they rebelled. He tried to bring them in line... We intervened."

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The troll warrior gazed thoughtfully at the trolless. The gentle breezes of Mulgore continued to swirl the grass, and an errant current blew his sideburns into his face. He carefully reached up and brushed aside the offending strands, never breaking eye contact. As Xaraphyne concluded, he narrowed his eyes.

"Der be much ta ask aboot dis story, Xara, tho ah tink fo' our sakes we should stick ta da relevant details. Wut wuz dis black book, exactly? Do joo know 'ow e' acquired it? An' 'ow did yo'... 'intervention' proceed?"

He settled back on his wrists to listen to the Xaraphyne's tale.

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"I only saw it once, when..." Xara paused, remembering the sight of Sinaku standing on that beach, on sand stained red by the setting sun and soon by life's blood. The encroaching darkness had seemed hastened by the malignant tome. "When he used it to command one of the marked to kill someone she loved."

She looked away, thinking. A lot of Sinaku's power had come from the book; it had been how he'd established a link to Accalia to begin with. But by the sounds of it, something else had happened with Tassha. What, and how?

"I don't know where he got it, what it was, or what happened to it. After we defeated him, broke his link to Accalia, no one thought to ask. And he hasn't been seen in years. Him, or his sister."

Absently, she checked on the kettle. The water was heating nicely. The trolless got up to get a sieve and another kettle and returned.

"He'd magicked his own right eye into a talisman. When we cut it out of him, the curse died."

She could still remember the look on Naheal's face as he'd held the amber orb, before it slipped out of his bloody fingers and exploded into smithereens on the floor of the cavern. Xara looked down at Leyu’jin, who was watching her so closely.

"He was twisted, but he loved his sister. I'd've killed him if I had to, but I saved him instead, to save his sister."

Xara gave an expressive shrug that somehow said it all, the impossibility of the situation, the gravity of the choices. Those times had made her the person she was today.

"This girl now, Tassha, or Vionora if that's what she calls herself now... She's seen bad things, Ley. Had very bad things done to her. It might be a mercy to just end her life. And I'm the one saying that."

The kettle of water was steaming. Xara picked it up. Then she blinked, looking past Leyu’jin, at the front yard.

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The golden grasses of Mulgore brushed against blackened armor that stumbled through the plains. Mid-morning rays of An'she glittered on the quickly evaporating dew and scattered the wet scent of wild oats and peacebloom. The muted sound of Khorvis's approach was all the more loud for the suddenness of his appearance mounting the last hill before the small homestead of Xaraphyne and her guest.

Fresh claw wounds and the night's horrors sat on the orc's shoulders at odds with the domestic scents of Starfire espresso and burning grasses that wafted through his nostrils. Attracted by familiar voices, Khorvis trudged the last hundred yards to the front yard's gate. He stood between two wooden poles, carved with totemic devices, and wavered unsteadily on two unsure boots. A gaping hole yawned where his left eye once was, the eldritch socket now dim and unchanging. Slung over his shoulder was the warrior's saddlebags containing the still-glowing amber soul-shard.

"Brother ..." Khorvis choked out, catching sight of Leyu'jin's back on the porch. He collapsed facefirst in the dirt of the yard.

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Leyu'jin stared questioningly at Xaraphyne as she blinked. Then from behind was voiced one word, and a heavy thud. The white-haired troll started violently, and looked backward.

"BROTHA!" He roared. Pelting helter-skelter over dirt and grass towards the fallen Orc, he bent down and rolled Khorvis onto his back. He breathed a sigh of relief as he was greeted with the orc warrior's disgusting, but otherwise relatively unharmed, visage. Besides the bloody mess where Greebo's soul-shard had been, Khorvis was intact, simply exhausted. Besides the soul-shard...

"Da soul-shard! Bloody fool pulled it righ' out! Dam mon but joo got a huge set o' cajones..." the troll said admiringly. He looked up at Xaraphyne, who being no trolless of inaction had hurriedly followed Leyu'jin to see to the orc's aid.

"Ouch! Now that doesn't look too good," the huntress murmured. She was already unfurling bandages from a small pack. "Are all your friends in The Grim this reckless?"

The troll warrior snorted. "Ah be knowin' a friend o' two outside da Grim who do be. Remembah yo' scuffle wit' Konro?" He jerked his head back to the fire. "Ah need sum hot watah, Xara. Not scaldin', tho'. We gotta clean dis out, den we kin bind 'im."

The huntress nodded once, and ran back to the kettle to pour it into another container to cool. Meanwhile, Leyu'jin propped the orc up on his thigh, and uncorked a potion of his own concoction with his free hand. He put it to the orc's lips, who was already starting to come around.

"Drink, brotha!" He commanded. The troll tilted the receptacle and the orc warrior spluttered and gurgled as the violet liquid sloshed down his throat. Xaraphyne came trotting back with a tin pot full of water from the kettle mixed with well water. She knelt down and pulled out an old brown cloak, using it as a makeshift towel to clean the blood off. Khorvis instinctively reached up to grab the trolless's arm, and she smacked him firmly in the face.

"Easy, you silly brute," she cautioned. "I'm just tryin' to help." Recovering his senses, the orc warrior nodded groggily. Now that he was capable of comprehension, Leyu'jin clapped a gauntleted hand onto Khorvis's shoulder.

"Wut happened, brotha?"

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The healing tonic and friendly ministrations worked their methods with a noted quickness on the old orc. Coming round over the course of an hour, he began to make coherent sentences at the kitchen table. Khorvis hunched in the simple maple chair offered by Xaraphyne - a fine piece of a country craftsmanship if studied by the eye of a skilled woodworker - and grumbled into a piping hot mug of Starfire coffee with a zhevra-fur cloak around his shoulders.

"The Commander was right. We were bloody stupid to think this cursed business was any beast to tame." He stared into the reflection of his ruined face in the surface of his espresso and gave no indication of grief. Fate spun her web into which each soul was snatched, and there was not a worthy tear in all of Azeroth or Draenor for their end. "My only regret is that I did not put an axe through Malhavik's skull when I did have the chance."

Khorvis lifted his gaze to the Wordbearer's face and opened a brief window into his inner thoughts. Fear creased his deepening wrinkles and the long-wearied defense against the encroaching decadence was held to the critical light, revealing the transparency before the coming doom. The baying of wolves resounded from a crumbling, if stoic, bastion of order. There was little hope in the old warrior's eye, but flicker it still did, searching for a kindling spark in Leyu'jin's anchoring retort.

"Joo not be tellin' us da 'hole story, bruda. Aye, ah see dat joo got some spirit left in dat ol' armor!" The troll grinned and nudged Xaraphyne as if to ignite some false hope. The charade was not entirely ungrounded in reason, but all present felt the oppressive weight of despair. So many of their comrades were falling to this abhorrent curse, and despite their most earnest efforts, compatriots and enemies alike succumbed by the fist.

"Yes! Right!" The trolless voiced her assent. "What brings you to this place, Bloodstar? We were once comrades, but those years are long gone." She was guarding her words, unsure of this Grim who had so vocally renounced any measure of compromise. Furthermore, report of his instability must have been mentioned in conversation with Zeysoga. Best to get to the point and prepare for any outbursts. "There are foul things that stalk in the night, and you have the look as if you've seen 'em ..."

The orc gave Xaraphyne a long-suffering glare. His patience was thinner than a Scarlet wafer, having spent the night soaked, climbing the sheer face of a cliff, slogging through razorthorn and dustwallow, and the whole time fending off crazed worgs. It was a testament to the whims of Therazane that Kalimdor itself hadn't swallowed up the warrior in his midnight flight from the feral waters of the Thousand Needles. Fed up with questions, he overturned his leather saddlepack onto the table.

"Here! See for yourselves, bloody trolls!" The crimson and amber soul-shard tumbled onto the sanded wood. It pulsed with the intensity of a wild beast.

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Xara stared down at the amber-crimson shard. It pulsed with a sickening mix of feral and fel, and suddenly, Xara realized she knew what had happened to the worgs in Moonglade.

But in the bare moments that realization took, Cyelaena leapt up onto the table, scattering dishes everywhere, and snatched up the shard in her ghostly jaws. Xara was too startled to protest before Cyelaena leapt back down and ran out of the hut into the night.

"Uh--?" she said inarticulately, not moving. Her spilled coffee dripped off the table.

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"Wut?! WHY JOO LIL'!" The troll warrior bounded to his feet and took off in a full run. He might not know *what* that shard was, but it was part of the key to solving this whole trouble. Cursing under his breath to a myriad array of deities, some of which would be too esoteric for even the most devout Witch Doctor, the troll pounded through the grasslands after the ghostly canine. He knew how beloved the spirit animal was to his friend, but after the just-slightly traumatic affair of consoling his cohort, THE LASHER for Damballah's sake, and a temper stretched all too thin by the inability to have any meaningful impact on this roiling fiasco, Leyu'jin's reason was clouded and occupied by only one thought; get back the shard, by any means possible.

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Xara sighed and picked up her bow as Khorvis barreled after Leyu'jin, and was only a little behind them both.

Cyelaena bounded down the grassy hill, the shard glowing through her transparent muzzle to leave strands of fel-touched amber behind in the air, slowly fading. The creature ran for the cliffs, ducking into a cave. They followed, Xara somewhat uneasily... The last Mulgore cave she and Cye had gone into had collapsed. But even so, she didn't hesitate, despite her misgiving.

Ley and Khorvis had trapped the ghost wolf in the back of the cave when Xara arrived. Ley had started trying to coax her with evident frustration. "C'mon doggy, ya li'l runt," he growled, making ineffective gestures and advancing. Cye was not convinced, looking at him with what might have been suspicion. As always, it was hard to tell.

Khorvis paced a few steps. "What is it doing?" he demanded. He turned to Xara when he realized she had arrived. "What manner of nonsense is this? That shard could be useful to us!"

"Beats me," Xara said, looking at Cye. The ghost wolf bent her head, and Xara realized she was trying to bite into the thing. "HEY! NO! BAD–"

A crunch echoed through the cave as powerful spectral jaws cracked the shard. A flare of amber and red burnt the eyes of all three; Xara flinched, squinting to try to see what was happening. Cye had gone stiff and still. And the amber-red was spreading from her mouth through her once cyan-colored body. Ley backed up and Khorvis hefted his axe.

When the light faded, Cye was no longer a ghost wolf. She was a spectral worg, glowing red, like one of Accalia's fel-touched creatures. But her eyes – they remained clear cyan. Those eyes blinked at the three of them as though mystified by their behavior.

"Cye?" Xara said tentatively.

The worg looked at her. For a moment, its cyan eyes were washed in amber, and it bared its jaws in threat. But then it blinked, and she was friendly again. Her tail wagged.

"What be goin' on? She be corrupted now?" Leyu'jin said. His hand was on his weapon, ready to slay the thing outright. Khorvis would probably try and chop Cye in half if she moved, but he was taken by a confused curiosity at the moment.

"Maybe," Xara replied, easing forward past the two warriors. She reached out and put her hand on Cye's head. She could still feel her connection to the spirit beast... But a shudder ran through the lupine creature. Xara looked up at the other two. "She's still herself... but I think she's cursed now."

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Khorvis moved to bypass Xaraphyne's crouching form. His handaxe was already unharnessed and the orc had the cold look in his remaining eye that usually heralded harsh sentencing. "Bah. I have been fooled once by sparing the life of the cursed. The same mistake will not be made twice!" Raising the weapon overhead, he reached out to grab the worg's crimson fur.

"Not so fast, Bloodstar," Xaraphyne barked and punishingly kicked the side of Khorvis's knee, sending his already wounded and weary form howling to the cave floor. The handaxe fell from his grip and clattered on stone. "This beast is my charge ... my companion ... and I will be the judge of her fate. NOT you, orc." She returned to inspecting the afflicted animal's new detail and demeanor with a worry creasing her brow.

Crawling away on one elbow and cursing under his breath, Khorvis battled Leyu'jin's attempts to help the warrior stand. He stumbled to his feet and limped towards the cave's entrance, but his elbow was caught by the Wordbearer's firm grip. "Joo ain't stupid. Xaraphyne knows what be best for da beast, brudda." The troll turned his head and frowned at Cyelaena. Clearly this turn had come as a surprise, but there might still be a silver lining. He started Khorvis in the eye and grinned through his giant tusks. "Take a load off fo' da while. Rest ja bones back at da house. Sumthing gotta be done 'bout dat eye, dough."

The orc grunted and tugged away his elbow, stomping through the stone archway and into Mulgore's sunlit pastures. "We have all gone bloody mad. I must send word to the Commander."

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