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Eclipse: A Night of Broken Faith

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The sun was nearing the horizon when Konro excused himself from his companions and walked outside.

Vionora was waiting for him, around the corner and up the hill, just like he knew she would be. No one moving around Warspear paid them any attention. Although some rumors of the curse had started to spread through the Horde, there were plenty of other threats to occupy the public’s attention, and no one would have known what to look for even if they did know about the curse. Vionora was just a slightly strange-looking elf that people instinctively shied away from. Except Konro.

They regarded each other in the fading light of day. Finally, Vionora said, “You haven’t found the blind seer.”

“He’s a difficult one to find,” Konro grunted.

“He is a threat,” Vionora stated. She didn’t sound perturbed, but her gray-glowing gaze was intense.

Konro shrugged. “Perhaps I’d be more effective if you eliminated the brute’s part of the brain,” he said, almost sarcastically.

“That can be arranged,” she responded. He looked at her quizzically, and she said, “Give me your hand.”

He knew which hand she meant. The tauren removed his right glove and showed his hand to her. The mark was a faded scar on its back, which thus far had given Konro nothing but the ability to be found and summoned by Vionora.

Today, that would change.

She held out her own right hand over his, the amber mark on its back glowing rightly. As the sun lowered, the mark seemed to be slowly but steadily getting brighter, and for a long moment, than seemed to be all that was happening. Then, Konro experienced a strange, sinking sensation.

It felt like his soul was draining away.

But... it was replaced, in part, by something else. A cunning, feral, lupine spirit. It seemed to sniff around its new home of his body, then settle in, looking out through his eyes and seeing what he saw.

A new strength invigorated Konro, causing wounds to knit, muscles to strengthen. His senses sharpened; he could see further, hear further, smell more. He felt faster and stronger and more alive than ever before in his life.

And... hungry.

The mark on his hand was glowing steadily now, no longer just a scar. Konro snarled and examined his new surroundings, getting used to the difference in perception. “About time,” he said, and replaced his glove. He flexed his hands, feeling like he could crush a skull with his fingers alone. It was a good feeling.

“I’m not an unkind mistress,” Vionora said. “I’ll give you a chance to prove yourself worthy of me.”

She pointed toward the ocean. Konro glanced that way, then looked back at her.

“Something you want lies that way. Seize it. Scatter the herd.”

“Thank you, Vionora,” he said. He knelt before her, instinctively.

“Serve me well, hunter,” she said, and watched him get up and walk toward the water.

The sun was just touching the horizon.

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“I even held a keepsake, until recently,” Breygrah was saying to Kex’ti. “Back then, druid used a piece.....”

She stopped when she saw Konro trudging through the shallow waters up to the rocks on which she and Kex’ti were perched. She and Kex’ti had been enjoying a nice conversation as the sun began to set. Now, her brow knit in a frown. Kex’ti raised an eyebrow at the tauren as he came to nearly loom over them.

“What do you want?” Breygrah said crossly.

“What do you think?” he responded, looking down at her.

“You know, Konro, for someone who doesn’t think people like me, you sure come to me often when I’m with my friends,” Kex’ti commented. He smirked.

Breygrah sighed and rose to her feet to face Konro. Kex’ti got up as well with the aid of his staff. Konro was smirking back at him, which he thought was a little strange for someone whose ass he’d handed to him not long ago.

“What do you want?” Breygrah repeated.

Konro’s response this time was to suddenly rush Kex’ti, his fist swinging for the elf’s face. Kex’ti was not entirely unprepared for such an act, but the speed at which the massive warrior tauren moved was unexpected. The elf started to dodge but wasn’t fast enough, and the force of the punch launched him backward, off the rocks and into the surf.

“Konro!” Breygrah exclaimed. “What is your problem?” She lowered her shoulder and rushed into him from the side. Konro stumbled, but turned and grabbed her by the shoulders, lifting her bodily off her feet to look at him.

“You’re coming with me,” he told her.

Breygrah glared at him, and kicked him, hard. “I am not!”

The kick just made him laugh. Then, her threw Brey over her shoulder, keeping her pinned with one arm. “Oh, yes you are,” he said.

She struggled, finding herself unable to wrench herself free. He hadn’t been this strong before! “Stop it!” she cried.

Just then, Kex’ti had made it back. He launched himself up the incline with a kick aimed for Konro’s spine. It landed, but Konro was able to turn the momentum into a controlled fall to one knee, keeping Brey held.

“Put me down, you idiot!” Brey yelled. She pulled out her knife and started hacking at Konro's arm, but his grip only tightened. And his other hand was going for his axe, which he wielded one-handed to swing at Kex’ti.

Kex’ti tried to dodge, but again, the tauren was too fast. He did manage to avoid taking the axe to his head, but it imbedded itself in his spaulder instead. The immense weight of the blow drove the monk elf to his knees as his bad leg failed him, and Konro pulled the axe back as he rose to his feet.

“Konro! Stop it!” Brey kicked and kneed at him. “What is wrong with you? Put me down now!” She reared back and spit in his face.

But Konro was laughing, not caring, as he brought his axe down on Kex’ti again. This time, it cut into Kex’ti’s side as he tried to twist away. The elf cried out in pain and rage.

“Stop it! Leave him alone!” Brey cried.

“I’ve never been better, Brey. Never felt this good.” Animalistic adrenaline sped through his veins. He raised his axe again.

“Hey Konro....?” Kex’ti said.

Konro stopped, enjoying himself enough to take the time and bend down near the elf’s face. “What?” he said.

“I told you. Your right guard is low.”

Kex’ti cannoned a flat palm up under the tauren’s right armpit, aimed right for his ribs. It was a powerful monk strike that would have felled anyone, even a strong, bulky orc or tauren. And it certainly had put Konro down only a few days ago. But now, Konro just grunted through gritted teeth, rocked back on his feet, and stayed very much standing. Kex’ti’s eyes widened in shock. Brey twisted to look between Kex’ti and Konro, beginning to feel true fear.

“Bad fucking move,” Konro said.

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“Kex’ti, get out of here,” Breygrah said.

Konro stomped on the ground in fury, making the entire rock formation on which they stood shudder. Kex’ti drew his sword just in time to block the tauren’s next axe swing, but it took all the strength he had just to turn aside the other weapon.

“Let her go, Konro,” Kex’ti said through gritted teeth, focusing on the immense, unholy strength of the attack.

Konro easily pushed the elf’s blade down, bending the monk’s defense back on himself. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do this,” he said. A laugh erupted from him.

“Gods below,” Kex’ti said, as he began to grasp what had changed. Konro’s aura... It was still him, but it was different. “You haven’t...?”

“Konro! Let him go!” Breygrah said. She grabbed for the stone hanging around her neck, and spoke into it. “Naheal! We need you!” Konro turned his head toward her, then moved the arm holding her to punch her in the head. She cried out and tried to shield her head with her arm, still clutching the communication stone in her fist.

“I have,” Konro replied to Kex’ti. Then, he pulled back, and aimed a kick for the elf’s head. Kex’ti threw up his guard, but the blow was so strong it didn’t matter. The elf went sprawling on the rocks.

“He won’t stop!” Brey cried into the stone.

Kex’ti’s consciousness was rapidly fading. He had lost blood, suffered too many grueling blows. “Good to know... your soul is just as worthless as I thought it was,” he managed before passing out.

“Now then,” Konro said. He hefted Brey on his shoulder. “Off we go, Brey.”

“No we do not!” Brey yelled, and started cursing at him in Taurahe.

The sound of gunfire alerted Konro before the realization he’d been shot occurred. Brey screamed, and Konro dropped her down in front of him, locking an arm around her to keep her in place as his shield. Naheal knelt on the other end of the outcropping, his rifle leveled at Konro. Cerunan glowed at his side. The hunter elf had been less than a hundred yards away in the inn when Brey's call had come, and the stone had let him find her instantly.

“Naheal!” Konro said. “Unless you want to kill her I’d suggest leaving now!”

Naheal was grimly focused. He didn't speak; he fired again. Konro jerked Breygrah into place in time to take the shot, and she screamed in pain. Naheal went to reload, but suddenly, all three became aware of something else. Konro looked past his new opponent, and Naheal whipped around instinctively, as did Cerunan.

“Hello, Naheal,” Vionora said.

The sun was halfway sunk into the horizon behind her.

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Several others had followed Naheal, but they hung back, waiting to see what was happening before getting involved. They were Khorvis and Lilliana of the Grim, and Jinsai – who was technically still of Sanctuary.

Vionora and Naheal stared at each other, everything else disregarded. The history of seven years ago was as fresh as yesterday.

He had her in his sights already. “I said I would give you one more chance and this is what you do with it?” he said from behind his rifle.

“No one has ever given me a true chance,” Vionora responded. Her gray-glowing gaze dropped down to the cerulean wolf at Naheal’s side. “One of Elune’s creatures?” she said.

Breygrah whimpered. At some point she had seized ahold of Konro’s beard, and she refused to let go. Konro’s grip around her was tight as he watched the confrontation with interest. He started moving them closer.

“I gave you a chance,” Naheal said. “Several. Every time you said you wanted to make up for what you did, but this?”

Vionora didn’t say anything, just raising her eyes back to him. He stared back at her, and was entirely taken by surprise when Konro dropped Brey on top of him.

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Naheal said something, but it was too muffled by female tauren to make out.

Cerunan went for Konro. The tauren growled and swung his axe, keeping the spirit beast at bay. “Fucking wolf,” he said. He put a hoof down on Brey to pin her and Naheal in place. Brey slid her hand toward where she’d dropped the knife, as slowly and unobtrusively as she could manage.

Vionora spoke. “Take your prize and go. I’ll take care of him, and the other one.” Kex’ti remained in an unconscious heap not far away.

“All right then,” Konro said. Cerunan backed off, and the tauren slung his axe over his shoulder. “I hope to see you soon, my lady,” he said to Vionora.

Naheal had pulled himself out partly from under Brey. “You’ll ‘take care’ of me?” he demanded of Vionora. “Like how you ‘took care’ of Sinaku?”

“I did nothing to Sinaku,” Vionora said. “I believe it was you who carved his eye out of his head.”

She didn't move, but the shadows cast all around them by the setting sun suddenly wrenched themselves free, forming into shadow worgs that began to circle and stalk around them.

“Naheal... Just get away,” Brey said urgently, her tone rising in panic. “Take Kex’ti.”

“No,” Naheal said. “She dies.”

Konro leaned down and took Brey by her legs and arms to hoist her over his shoulders. She stabbed the knife into him, but he just winced slightly. “Bad fucking move, Brey,” he said. “You’re going to regret that.” She chuckled desperately in between gasps for breath as he started to move away.

Naheal rolled away to a crouch. Still Vionora didn’t move; only watched him. He rose to his feet, switching on several things at his belt. Cerunan turned to the worgs, keeping them back.

“Elune won't save you now,” Vionora said. “No one can be saved in the end.”

“Brey?” Kex’ti mumbled, struggling to rise.

“Cerunan, get Kex’ti up and out of here,” Naheal said.

The spirit beast obeyed, leaping over the snapping shadow worgs and crossing to the downed monk. Taking Kex’ti by the collar, Cerunan pulled him over his back and dragged him away. The shadow worgs immediately went for Naheal.

Just before they reached him, he set off the explosives.

Vionora threw up an arm to ward her eyes, an instinctive reflex she was surprised she even had. Several of the shadow worgs leapt between her and the explosion anyway, absorbing the force and shrapnel and disintegrating, but leaving her almost completely unharmed. As she lowered her arm, the shadows under the rocks and plants were growing back again, fed by the sun dipping over further below the horizon.

But Naheal was already bolting toward her with a massive sapper charge in hand.

When he would have tackled her, she seized him by the throat, stopping his rush full in his tracks.

She was ten times as strong as Konro, ten times as fast. The amber mark on her hand blazed as it came in contact with Naheal, and an answering mark burst into life on his right hand. Finally, Accalia marked the prey that had evaded her for so long. Somewhere, the ancient worg god laughed and howled in glee.

With her other hand, she touched the sapper charge he was thrusting at her. A black hole of shadow enveloped it, forcing the hunter to jerk back his hand lest it be swallowed as well. There was no sign of the charge when the shadow vanished.

“You’re prey, now,” she said.

He didn’t say anything. He just put the grenade launcher in his other hand against her and fired.

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The sun dropped below the horizon. It seemed to go faster now, the day fading quickly into that place between day and night.

The unfolding drama had captured the attention of the onlookers so well that Konro had gotten away with Breygrah. In fact, Khorvis had been coming forward when Vionora had seized Naheal, and was caught on the edge of the resultant explosion. He dropped down to avoid the brunt of it. When the dust settled, Naheal was lying there, bleeding and battered, and there was no sign of Vionora. Lilliana and Jinsai hurried up to them.

“Bloody piss and ashes,” Khorvis said.

“Oh shitballs..... that’s not what’s supposed to happen!!” Lilliana exclaimed. She started checking on Naheal, but stopped herself just before touching him when she saw the mark glowing on his hand.

“Is there any chance you could just toss him in the water?” Jinsai inquired. “For earlier’s grief?” Lilliana turned a glare on him, and he shrugged. “Just a minor request.”

Lilliana started casting healing on Naheal, which made Khorvis cast a seething glare at the hunter. Naheal wore the banner of Sanctuary on his cloak and there was no mistaking his affiliation. “Those under the phoenix are anathema, Harbinger Lilliana,” Khorvis said. “The Commander would have our spines if we did aid their cause.”

Just then, Kex’ti arrived, having turned around when Cerunan let him. He scooped up his staff that was floating on the waters and looked around. “Where... Where’d they go?” he said.

Jinsai eyed him, taking in his battered, bewildered condition. “Who? Was some she-elf over here.”

“No... Who?” Kex’ti said. His gaze landed on Naheal. “Naheal!”

He dropped down, summoning the healing mists and pouring them into Naheal recklessly. Lilliana, only having glanced briefly at Khorvis at his comment, aided him.

“Don’t you die on me,” Kex’ti muttered fiercely. Blood streamed from the wound on his side as he exerted himself. Naheal’s wounds were closing, the burns fading. Naheal let out a hacking cough and opened his eyes, frowning, just as Kex’ti hit the ground on his knees.

“Get yourself to safety, Kex’ti,” Naheal said, pushing himself up. “I’d carry but, you... but marked,” he added.

“Marked for what?” Jinsai said.

“Lilly,” Kex’ti said, wavering in place, “I think...”

“What?” Lilliana said.

Kex’ti collapsed to the dirt. Khorvis looked at him and Naheal speculatively, then glanced up at the ramparts of Voljin’s Spear. He unsheathed his blade.

“What... what.. the... hell...” Lilliana said.

Naheal, on his feet now, backed away from Khorvis slowly. Lilliana looked from the three Sanctuary members, especially Kex’ti on the ground, then to Khorvis.

“What is wrong with these elves?” Khorvis said. “Speak now, or I will not stay my blade.”

“Breygrah was taken by Konro, who was being aided by Vionora,” Naheal said flatly. Cerunan moved over to Kex’ti, licking the unconscious elf’s wounds. Lilliana gave Khorvis another long look, then turned to Kex’ti, and began healing him.

“Taken? Vionora? You are spitting out riddles, elf,” Khorvis said.

“Seriously,” Jinsai agreed. “Explain.”

“While you were jailed, Jinsai,” Naheal said, “some idiot decided that they were going to perform some form of experiments on an elf for whatever reason. The result was that he reawoke an old god of the hunt.”

“Aaaah,” Jinsai said. “Fiddling with powers they don't understand.” That was something he certainly understood. “And the elf that fled is involved?”

Naheal looked groggy. He shook his head and used his race’s ability to tap into the magic of the world around them. It restored him for a little while, but the mark on his hand still burned brightly. He said, “Yeah. The elf that fled is the current host of said god.”

Khorvis crossed his arms and gave both a foul look. “This god... does it bear the name Accalia?”

Lilliana continued healing Kex’ti, though his wounds were slow to heal. He had poured all of his essence into Naheal. It didn’t look as though he’d be regaining consciousness soon. She was sure not to look at Khorvis as the others all spoke.

Naheal nodded. “It’s the same Accalia that I fought seven years ago.”

Khorvis moved over to the unconscious Kex’ti, lowering his blade to the elf’s neck. “Speak quickly, for if it the same curse that the Grim have known, I will not hold my aim. Is this elf now cursed?”

Naheal looked at him. “Kex’ti isn’t. But I am. Such is the risk when you hunt the cursed.”

“Khorvis,” Lilliana said calmly, which in itself was a rather odd thing for her, “Kex’ti isn’t cursed, that I can tell.” She looked up at Naheal, still transferring healing energies to Kex’ti despite Khorvis’ blade at his neck.

But Khorvis withdrew his sword, backing away from Naheal and raising his guard. “Harbinger Lilliana. Step away from this hunter.”

“You’re in no danger from me,” Naheal said. Lilliana obeyed nonetheless.

Jinsai sighed. “Let me see if I can’t give Kex’ti some of my chi and sort him out.” He moved over to Kex’ti’s prone form.

“Tell us why we are not in danger from you, Naheal,” Khorvis said.

“Because I have every intention on hunting down Vionora and ending her and any she counts as an ally,” Naheal said. “Unless you are one of her allies, then you are no enemy of mine. Is that the case?”

Jinsai was trying to transfer chi to Kex’ti, but it didn’t seem to be helping much. He shrugged and sat back. “I’m not that kind of monk. Best I got.”

Lilliana turned a threatening look on him. “Don’t stop that,” she snapped.

“Don’t stop what? Healing him badly?” Jinsai said. Lilliana started tossing some more healing energies Kex’ti’s way, intending to do so unless she was explicitly ordered to stop.

Khorvis spat on the ground in response to Naheal’s question. “Whatever beast this Accalia might be, the Grim do not count her an ally. I did rip her curse from my own skull one week past.”

“He did, Naheal, like a badass,” Lilliana confirmed.

“Then you will not have a more dedicated or experienced ally in fighting Accalia than me,” Naheal said.

“What are you proposing, Naheal?” Lilliana asked.

“What’s this business with a curse?” Jinsai asked. “You keep talking about it.”

“A moment, Jinsai,” Naheal said. He turned his attention back to Khorvis, intent. “Your arguments with Sanctuary as a whole mean little to me.”

Khorvis, stoic, approached Naheal and extended an armored gauntlet. Naheal looked at it, then back at the orc.

“Given the recent development, I’m going to have to decline shaking your hand, Khorvis,” Naheal said. His gaze strayed to Lilliana briefly, unintentionally, and Lilliana moved slightly behind Khorvis, wary of the curse she could feel emanating from Naheal. Naheal’s eyes took on a more serious look as he controlled himself. All told, this wasn’t harder than battling a demon in your head.

Khorvis kept his hand of alliance extended. “Do you think me so weak, hunter? I am no stranger to this fel madness.”

“Fine,” Naheal said. He took the extended hand and shook it.

“I will set aside my case with Sanctuary for the time it takes for Accalia to burn,” Khorvis stated. “Are we agreed?”

“Agreed,” Naheal said.

Jinsai was trying some other things on Kex’ti, but they weren’t helping either. “Still no,” he commented. “That’s all I got. Can’t punch out injuries.”

Cerunan, standing at Naheal’s side, seemed to dim somewhat. It was noticeable in the fading twilight.

“After this is done, will you agree to a one-week truce to regroup for both Grim and Sanctuary?” Naheal asked.

“I cannot speak for the Commander,” Khorvis said. “But I can speak for my Supplicants. And for the Inquisition.” He paused. “I will bring this before the council tomorrow night.”

“Very well then,” Naheal said. “I will bring this to our commander. Regardless of her response, I will stay my weapon against the Grim, myself.”

Khorvis grabbed Naheal’s hand again and pulled him in close to whisper into his ear. “Mark me, hunter. I give not a kodo shit for any of your ranks. But if I find that Commander Julilee on the field after a week, I will have her heart.”

Lilliana’s eyes narrowed though it was unclear if she heard the whisper. Naheal responded in a low tone.

“If she cannot defend herself, she's no commander of mine.”

Khorvis grinned darkly at Naheal, released him, and moved back to Lilliana’s side. Kex’ti moaned and stirred weakly.

“Should we move him somewhere less... wet?” Jinsai asked.

“Let us get the wounded to shelter, aye?” Khorvis said.

“First,” Naheal said, “Jinsai, you need to know about the Curse.” He paused. “Unless you don't give a shit, of course.”

“Just what I need to know to avoid it,” Jinsai replied.

The group sorted themselves out as Naheal gave Jinsai a quick run-down of the curse’s mechanics. Kex’ti was loaded into transportation. Lilliana spotted the monk elf’s signature jug floating in the surf, and picked it out.

The group headed for Sanctuary Garrison together. Only Jinsai decided to turn away before they got to the gates. Naheal let Julilee know he was coming with an injured Kex’ti and some Grim, and that he would explain in person when they had arrived. She said she would meet them at the field hospital.

She didn’t sound happy.

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Juli was waiting in the field hospital when they arrived.

Lilliana, of all people, was carrying Kex'ti, but it was Kex'ti's condition that concerned Juli the most. The elf was unconscious, his side bandaged, battered, and bruised. "Kex'ti..." Juli said, coming forward as Lilliana laid him down on the furs. The trolless did so none too gently, but that seemed to be more because she wasn't really built for carrying people than anything else, and looked up at Juli as she examined Kex'ti. There was evidence of healing, but its effects had been muted.

Juli was vaguely aware that Naheal, a Sin'dorei priestess, Darrethy, and one other had entered as well, but didn't pay much attention until Naheal spoke. "You've met Lilliana. Khorvis is here too."

Juli's gaze snapped to Naheal, and those accompanying him. Including the heavily armored, one-eyed orc looking back at her with evident disdain. "Khorvis?" she said incredulously.

Naheal had warned her he was bringing Grim, and Lilliana she hadn't been surprised to see... but Khorvis was another matter. The only one worse would have been Syreena. The orc had unhesitatingly sought her life at Aerie Peak when she stood between him and innocents, and since then had made no secret of his desire to finish what he'd started. At her tone, Darrethy moved closer to Khorvis. "I have your and Lilly's back, brother," the warlock said to him.

Naheal said, through gritted teeth, "We've agreed to a ceasefire between the Grim under his command and Sanctuary. For the duration of the conflict against Accalia."

Juli stared at him. "You agreed to what." Her tone was flat with disbelief.

It wasn't even the nature of the agreement that upset her. She'd offered Konro a truce of the same terms. But if Naheal thought that meant the Grim were welcome to come into Sanctuary Garrison, observe their support systems and them at their weakest, that was another matter entirely.

The Sin'dorei priestess went over to Kex'ti. She didn't appear to be Grim, so Juli did not object. Lilliana was looking at Khorvis, ready to take his cue from the rising hostility. Juli looked back at Naheal, whose eyes had narrowed. The events of the evening had taken their toll on him, and he was ready for another fight. He was going to get one.

"I faced Vionora," he nearly shouted.

"Hey! Hush! I'm workin' here!" the Sin'dorei priestess said.

"First things first," Juli said, maintaining her grasp of her wits. "Why do they need to be here?" She indicated Khorvis. The Grim warrior crossed his bulky arms and spit on the oaken timbers of the field hospital floor. Darrethy was watching her intently, his hand on his blade, and his armor dripping blood and demonic energy.

"Because if it wasn't for them, I would be dead right now instead of just cursed by the queen bitch herself," Naheal responded furiously.

"Fine. Sending them a thank you note. Don't invite them into our garrison," Juli said.

"Them?" Lilliana said. "Julilee, I thought..."

"Would you prefer to fight a war on two fronts?" Naheal demanded.

"Bah! I did know this to be a fool's crusade, Lilliana," Khorvis growled.

Kex'ti stirred. "Whoa now!" the Sin'dorei priestess said in alarm. "Careful!"

Juli made a curt silencing gesture. She was a slight elf, not tall, slender, with well-fitted armor that might take one a second glance to realize was plate, but Kex'ti was at her back, wounded, and enemies stood before her. In that moment, she commanded the room. "I will protect my people first," she said, her voice steel. "I cannot do it with them here."

Darrethy was nearly trembling with rage. "Now of all times, we're going to start squabbling?"

"Where am I?" Kex'ti said. He sounded disoriented.

"This... place?" The Sin'dorei priestess apparently didn't know. "They brought you here," she said with an almost audible shrug. "Now, let's see what's wrong with you."

Naheal was speaking. "You know what? No." He was pushed too far, already. "I'm through with this. I did what it needs to handle Accalia and this is how you react?"

"Naheal is right," Darrethy said. "You're acting childish. Now is the not the time for space to fucking matter."

Juli didn't need this. Not now. Not with Khorvis breathing down her neck, Kex'ti hurt, not with the curse and Saphiara and all of their warfronts to worry about. She did not need Naheal and Darrethy and whoever else assuming the worst of her to top it all off. "Shut the fuck up," she snapped. "I am perfectly willing to open a dialogue with the Grim. Just NOT HERE, NOT NOW. How difficult is that to understand?!"

She pointed at the door.

"The guards will escort you out," she said coldly to Khorvis.

He stared back at her, a flicker of the old orcish fel in his remaining eye. Then he moved forward until they were standing face to face. Lilliana looked around nervously as Juli narrowed her eyes at the Grim warrior. Juli did not reach for her sword or shield. But then he reached for her, and she raised her arm to block him.

"Konro," Kex'ti said, still disoriented. When he slammed his fist into the floor, that gave the room pause. Everyone looked at him. "I couldn't stop him," the monk elf said. "This is all my fault." His voice broke.

"What happened?!" Lilliana said, suddenly panicked. "Breygrah?"

Kex'ti had struggled to an upright position. The Sin'dorei priestess reached forward and placed both hands on his shoulders, her hands glowing with the Light. "Relax, start from the beginning," she said.

Khorvis lowered his hand, listening intently to Kex'ti. Juli didn't move.

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Kex'ti looked into his lap. Juli had never seen him like this. It worried her, though her skin still prickled to have Khorvis so near.

"I was talking with Brey... Konro came out of Warspear. I don't remember what I said to him. But suddenly he just..." Kex'ti looked into his hands. "Moved. I'd fought him less than two days before... and he just became unbelievably strong."

Juli spoke to Khorvis in a low tone. "You need to leave. Now. Or I will show you out myself."

"Julilee," Lilliana said softly. Juli didn't look at her, though she heard her.

Naheal spoke as well, less softly. "Commander. You're starting to sound like Visca."

She knew that from him that was an insult. He had no fondness for his former commander. But she wasn't going to be provoked. Instead, she stared at Khorvis.

The Grim warrior only stared back. The empty socket of his face echoed her breath, a reminder of wounds past. He'd lost that eye when the Wildhammer returned to Aerie Peak on the time Sanctuary had bought them.

Lilliana wouldn't be ignored. "Shut the heck up. I want to listen, and I'm going to listen. I'll give you snowballs later, or something. But now, SHUT UP."

"Now then," the Sin'dorei priestess, whose name Juli still didn't know, announced. "What happened to my little cow friend, then?"

"His aura," Kex'ti said. "Oh, gods below. His aura. He's given himself over to the old god."

Darrethy moved closer to Khorvis. The positioning was unmistakably on his side. Juli looked at him. She was still highly aware of Kex'ti behind her, but she couldn’t ignore the enemy in front of her. "You'd stand against me defending my own garrison?" she said to the warlock.

"You're defending idiocy," Darrethy said. "You're letting your pride overwhelm your judgment. This is so far beyond Horde infighting now. This is the fate of countless other lives."

"Pride?" Juli said. "You think this is about pride? This orc seeks my death, and the death of all of Sanctuary, and the death of every man, woman, and child of the Alliance. I know; I defended the children of the Alliance from him. We are not safe with him here."

"Get over yourselves for a second?" the Sin'dorei priestess said querulously. "Sheesh."

"We defended two of your own, Julilee," Lilliana said. Juli had seen her angry once, but this was different. The Grim priestess' patience was worn thin, her blue eyes cold as ice. Everyone was out of patience, including Juli, but she hung onto what little she had left.

"Julilee?" Kex'ti reached out and touched Juli's hand. She turned slightly, and saw tears were forming in his eyes. "Lilliana saved me."

She paused, but Darrethy was clearly fed up and had words for her. "The orc thinks you're a traitor to the Horde, that orc thinks you'll bring the ruination of us all, and you know what? If you kick him out right now? You'll prove him right."

Juli let go of Kex'ti's hand. She turned a disbelieving stare onto Darrethy. She'd thought he was a reasonable sort, even after they'd gotten off on the wrong foot. Maybe that had been the correct foot all along.

"Really? I'll prove him right if I don't trust him not to kill me when he has tried to?" she said. She couldn't even right now. She just couldn't.

"I don't know who the orc is," Kex'ti began.

"Khorvis of the Grim," Naheal said. Violence lurked at the edge of his tone, and rage in his eyes.

"Naheal..." Lilliana said with concern.

"...But I think, right now, we have bigger things to worry about," Kex'ti said.

"Aye, I will see your head on a stake, Liene," Khorvis rumbled. "I will see you dead. Now listen to your fel sucking minion and what he has to say."

"I will," Juli said evenly, "as soon as I have guaranteed the safety of my people. Which will not happen with you breathing down our necks."

"Yes, he's surrounded," Darrethy said. "Unless you don't trust yourself to hold your own for a little while to subdue him."

She ignored the feeble provocation and addressed Khorvis again. "If you stood over Lilliana, fallen, Khorvis... would you let me stand by? If I were as ruthless as you?"

Lilliana glared at her. "Julilee, you have freaking Khorvis to thank for this truce!" she said. "What the hell is wrong with you... and for that ma—"

"Will EVERYONE who wasn't involved in that STUPID SHIT with that FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT Konro OR Tassha – or Vionora or whatever the FUCK IT IS SHE WANTS TO CALL HERSELF – kindly shut the fuck up so we can solve this!?"

Everyone but Khorvis and Julilee looked at Naheal when he started shouting, but he wasn't done.

"Grim. Sanctuary. Doesn't matter. Horde. Alliance. DOESN'T FUCKING MATTER. This NEEDS TO BE HANDLED. Konro has given himself to Accalia. He has taken Breygrah – a strong member of the Horde – hostage. He severely injured Kex'ti."

Juli stared Khorvis down, waiting for an answer. Waiting for him to claim trusting him was the sensible choice here. Khorvis stared back at her, but the heat of the moment died for him with Naheal's words. She watched his ruined face change. The Grim warrior's age showed, the armor sagging at his shoulders. "Inquisitor Lilliana, stay here and report," he said. "This little she-wolf is only guarding her den."

Juli nodded slightly at him, but with that, he was already turning away, walking out of the field hospital with great effort. The grunts standing by took Juli's nod to escort him to the gates. She watched him go. But the tension in the room had done anything but dissipate.

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"When I showed up, Vionora did as well," Naheal said, his voice beyond tight. "We fought. I did everything I could to keep people alive. "Were it not for Khorvis' intervention, you'd be dealing with a casualty and a severe injury."

There was simply no getting through to him. He was not the next on her list of priorities, anyway. Juli turned her back on him and knelt down next to Kex'ti, who was holding his head in his hands. The healing the Sin'dorei priestess had been trying to lay on him hadn't seemed to do much to restore him.

"It's okay," the Sin'dorei priestess said to Kex'ti, reassuringly. "What happened?"

"I fought him a few days ago in Warspear," Kex'ti said. "Konro. He challenged me. I opted to shame him instead of killing him. I thought... I guess I thought some humility would be all he needed. I was... very harsh with his defeat." He looked up at Juli, then. "I've been looking for you, and thinking of what I had to say. I didn't act in accordance with my oaths."

"Kex'ti..." Juli said.

"But... Today, he attacked me and Breygrah. I couldn't stop him."

The Sin'dorei priestess was frowning. She obviously wasn't following most of the conversation, though she had a tendency to smile and nod along like she was. Lilliana was eyeing Naheal, who was fiddling with some engineering contraption on his glove.

"The degree of improvement was... unreal," Kex'ti said. "I saw into his aura, and he's given himself over to the old god. I didn't think even he'd be so crazy as to do that. But if I had killed him, this wouldn't have happened. If I'd have been stronger, I could've stopped it."

"Kex'ti..." Juli said again.

"Shhh, no, don't think about that," the Sin'dorei priestess said. "That ain't the point here."

Kex'ti coughed a little, and reached for where his jug should have been. Finding it gone, he started to flail around for it. "Oh no," he said. "Where...?"

Juli realized what was missing. "The yao medicine, where is it?" she said. If he'd lost it... "I'll go back to the temple and get more for you."

Lilliana stepped forward, the jug in her hands. She'd found it at the scene on the beach and thought to pick it up. Kex'ti grabbed it from her with a nod of gratitude, popped the cork, and drank deeply. It visibly calmed him.

"It was in the water... I picked it up after everyone else ran off. I had Kex'ti swallow some of it," Lilliana added.

"Thanks Lilly..." Kex'ti said. He smiled weakly at her, and she had maybe a hint of a smile in return before she moved away, to the others by the door.

There, Darrethy was whispering to Naheal. The ghost wolf who had been by Naheal's side this entire time, Cerunan, looked more translucent than Juli remembered. She looked back at Kex'ti, and reached out to touch his arm. He looked at her.

"It'll be all right, Kex'ti," she said quietly.

"Commander, I've failed," he said.

The Sin'dorei priestess frowned and placed her fingertips on his forehead. "Relax, you. Everything will be okay, you gotta relax."

"There are worse things than failure, Kex'ti," Juli said.

"Don' worry, we'll get her back," the priestess chirruped. "You can't help if you don't get better though."

Juli rose to her feet and offered a hand down to the monk elf. "Come on. You need to get to a cot."

Stubbornly, he got himself to his feet without taking her hand, but she didn't mind. However, after that, she didn't give him a choice in her help, sliding an arm behind him to take his weight and help him over to one of the cots. He nodded in thanks and sat down on it wearily. "Lilly..." he said. "Did you see my staff?"

Lilliana seemed somewhat preoccupied with watching Naheal, who was fiddling with his glove again. There was something that looked like an injector system there. The Grim priestess said, "No, it must have fallen in the water, with the jug. I only saw your jug there."

"Ah," he said, too tired to be upset by its loss.

"Rest now, Kex'ti," Juli said. "That's an order."

He frowned and laid down, facing the wall childishly. It was good enough.

The Sin'dorei priestess stood nearby, head tilted and hands folded in front of herself. "I don't believe we've met," Juli said to her.

"I'm Aaren," she said.

"Julilee Liene, Commander of Sanctuary. Thank you for your assistance."

"'Course," she responded. "I see a guy laying on the ground, I should probably do something."

Juli looked back at the others, Darrethy, Naheal, and Lilliana. The last was the next order of business. She walked over to her.

"Pretty unfortunate, with these rowdy types here," Aaren added, in Thalassian. Juli chose to not acknowledge that, looking at Lilliana, who was now eyeing the Sin'dorei priestess suspiciously.

"What did you just say in your language?" Lilliana said with a twinge of anger.

It was a good time to change the subject. Juli said, "Thank you for your help as well, Lilliana."

Lilly looked back at her sourly. That, too, was good enough. Juli turned to Darrethy next.

He regarded her through his mask, as unreadable as ever. She met his gaze for a few long moments before speaking. "Don't stand against me in my own garrison again, Darrethy."

"Is that a threat?" he asked. His tone was dangerous.

"It's a promise," she responded. She turned away.

"If you wind up jeopardizing lives for the sake of your ego, your suffering will be legendary even in hell," Darrethy snarled.

"The only lives in jeopardy here were because of the ones you stood by," Juli replied, calmly.

"Whaaaaaaaaa..." Lilly objected. She ended up just snorting in disgust.

Juli looked last to Naheal. He'd gone over to the table in the center of the room and taken a seat. In his eyes, the strain was showing already. He'd said Vionora had cursed him, and that had not gone unheard by Juli. But the time was long past for sympathy. He'd take none of it from her now, if he ever would have.

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"You don't have the resources to take this on by yourself," Juli said to him.

"Interesting," Aaren said. She'd followed Juli over to Naheal, and was now holding a hand out towards him, sensing his condition. "I've never sensed something like this, before."

"You know not to touch him," Juli said. She looked back at Naheal.

"Is that an offer of assistance or are you trying to keep me under your thumb?" Naheal asked tightly.

Aaren rolled her eyes. "Hush, I'm lookin' at you, ranger. This is pretty... dark."

"I was talking to her," Naheal said.

She made a small, rude gesture at him. Juli said, "He's like this pretty often. Don't take it personally."

"I saw an opportunity to cut off the head," Naheal said. "Didn't work. It was that or stand back and watch Breygrah be taken."

"At least you didn't get cursed for no reason, then," Juli said, remembering the idea he'd had. It seemed like forever ago, now.

"Oh, and Lupinum, Khorvis and Ninorra and Darrethy got cursed for no reason?" Lilliana said. Juli elected to not bother trying to clarify.

Aaren moved in between Juli and Naheal as she inspected the marked elf with her command of the Light. "I don't even know where to start with this," she groaned.

"He's under a lot of strain... you should step back," Juli said, seeing Naheal grit his teeth as Aaren waved her hands over him.

"Nah, I got this," Aaren said dismissively.

Juli didn't have the patience. She took the Sin'dorei priestess by the shoulder and firmly pulled her back, setting her on her feet away from Naheal.

"Hey! What's that for?" Aaren objected.

"Not now," Juli said. Aaren watched her for a moment, hearing the authority in her voice, and nodded. Juli looked back at Naheal.

"I... don't think the mana potions are working that well," Naheal said, almost distractedly. "Keep your distance."

Juli looked down at Cerunan. The spirit beast was definitely more translucent than he'd been before. He almost seemed to be fading in and out. "Can he help?" she asked.

"He is," Naheal said. "Darrethy, you got a spare healthstone or something?"

Darrethy gave him one, and Aaren offered a mana potion. Naheal consumed both greedily, like a starving beast, but the strain didn't leave him.

"It's strong..." Juli said.

Lilliana had moved to the furthest place in the room from Naheal. Aaren turned to Juli. "I really don't know what to do about this." she said, sadly.

"Yes... we're all still trying to figure that out," Juli said. She turned her attention back toward Darrethy. "Can he go to your sanctum?"

She had expected him to not be a hypocrite, and to be at least as neutral as he thought she should be. For once tonight, she was not disappointed; Darrethy nodded. "He can."

"Thank you," she said.

"I'd like to study him!" Aaren said, adding belatedly, "If I may."

"That wouldn't be wise," Naheal said.

"He'll be the best judge of that," Juli agreed.

"And I need to be out," Naheal said. "If I can find like a ley line or something to tap..."

"The Sanctum is a ley line," Darrethy said. "It's rewired with a Sacren Stone."

"Good," Naheal said. "That's one good thing." He looked at Juli. "Do you understand now?"

His eyes were wider than they should have been. The effects of the mark on him were stronger than Juli had seen on anyone else. None of the others were possessed of a weak will by any stretch of the imagination, but Naheal brought his stubbornness to full bear on this thing. Beneath that, his rage still simmered. And it was about to come back to the surface.

"I always understood," Juli said, quietly, but with surety. "I just have my priorities in a certain order."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" he demanded.

"We'll talk later," Juli said.

Aaren pulled out a second bottle of mana potion. "Hey!" she said to Naheal, waving it at him. "Catch!" Naheal caught it, and downed the whole thing in one go. "Good boy!" Aaren said. "See, I got ya."

He slammed the empty bottle down on the table. "More."

"I have more, you gotta be nice! These things ain't cheap, ya know!"

Lilliana seemed to find the Sin'dorei priestess' actions funny, but Naheal did not. He almost growled. "You're within arm's reach and I can barely restrain myself. More."

"Give him what he wants," Lilliana advised.

"Do not taunt him," Juli said.

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Vionora never left the beach.

She stepped into the shadows, true, or they swallowed her; one or the other. But though she was gone, she went nowhere. The twilight realm was between worlds, a by-space, there and yet not there. Within it, everything looked the same, but for the light that illuminated it all. It was a shivery, desaturated illumination that left no shadows, or left everything in shadows. No sun or moon hung overhead, just a vast churning void.

Lying on her back on the rock outcropping, she looked up at the swirling sky above her, and raised a hand to touch her chest. She was burned by the heat of the explosion, her internal organs crushed by the force of it. Yet she still lived.

Slowly, she rose to her feet. In the twilight realm, the marks on her hands were shocking patches of color, glowing and leaving trails as she moved. Figures like ghosts flitted around nearby, but she paid them no mind. The pain was immense, but she ignored that as well. From the marks, the amber and the purple started moving up her arms, encompassing the injuries and mending her back together.

She laughed a little, unheard by those whose space she she unknowingly shared. It was the nightmare all over again, where she could not die; but this time, she would make it hers.

She turned and walked away.

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