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Naheal

Eclipse: Ruthlessness

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Cursed.

Seven years ago, Naheal had managed to stay just out of her reach, but now, she had turned him into her prey. There were, however, words that Ninorra had said when she had gotten cursed, herself. I am no one's prey. So, he stood over the cliffside near the Shattrath harbor. Below him, the creatures he would consider prey. Eredar. Shadow Council. The very scum that he hunted in the Aldor. Now, their lives will be used to power something to save people... whether they liked it or not. He had manufactured a few new grenades for taking people in alive when he was with Sanctuary and, now, they'd come in handy now. He had a plan. It was risky, but he wouldn't let himself be prey to this creature. So, he'd find a way to strengthen himself. All so he wouldn't be helpless again. Breygrah's captured because you were weak. You vowed to not lose another because of your weakness seven years ago. You failed that oath. What was worse was that he had already started cursing people. Aaren. A priestess that... despite her annoyance... was actually trying to help him. She had already felt it sink in somewhat, but the worst of it? How invigorated he felt from it.

It was a simple thing, really. Trapping the Eredar. They were always so arrogant. So easy to exploit. So easy to trap. With each trap, he gave them a gentle caress across bare skin. Just enough to curse them and hold them still, but he didn't allow them to touch anyone else. In the end, he got six. Each a sargerei adherent. Each the sort that the world would be better without. Those were his targets, but he wasn't done.

Finally, he took them back to a place that Darethy had offered him to use. His Sanctum. Sure, Naheal could use it himself, but why? He'd be trapped there keeping himself alive while others were injured or killed. No. He couldn't allow that. He glanced at each of the Eredar as he came in. They were weakened, obviously, but they were slowly being sustained by the energies in the place. So, he went to work. He chained each to the walls and gave them each a collar wired with explosives. A rather ingenious setup--should they stray farther than the chains reached from the walls, which wasn't far, the collar would explode. Then he put what were essentially feed bags around their mouths - the sort you'd use for a beast of burden. "Now, each of you have enough food to live for a few days. If you want revenge, I suggest you continue eating." Then, he put a note on the wall nearby.

Darethy,

I refuse to remain here when there are other ways to feed. Consider these sargerei cattle while I continue to fight this thing.

Naheal

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Days passed. Though his mind had been slowly deteriorating, one thing was clear: this sort of thing couldn't ever happen again. Accalia, Hakkar... none of them should be able to return. After getting confirmation that Breygrah was alive and at least somewhat stable... and the rather long conversation that took a surprising turn, Naheal left to hunt. He needed something with mana, so he left. That said, he had at least one lead he could follow for another group.

Uldum.

One of the last leads that he had for a group that called themselves the Rangers of the Dark Sun. Though he wasn't sure which they were, it was irrelevant. Their colors and their name. That's what he needed. He had a plan and a means to draw Vionora out of hiding. Problem was that it would involve becoming bait himself and, given his most recent conversation with Breygrah, that would be counterproductive to him "keeping safe."

...that said, he couldn't pass up the irony.

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It had begun.

While finding old symbols of the Rangers of the Dark Sun had gotten the initial push that he wanted, that wasn't quite the direction he needed just as yet. He needed support. He had talked to Breygrah and Xaraphyne already about joining him, but there was more to it than that. Every trap had bait and was nested in itself. The trap to find and the trap to trip. Thus, he needed something to actually cause harm - lasting harm - to Vionora. While he could outright kill her and that should be the long-term goal, he had to remove her as a threat. So, he went to Darethy's sanctum with new subjects and a potential goal. A curse.

After days of work, they had something in the works. A means to isolate the curse in the blood of a subject, but no means to separate one from the other. They did, however, have a means to target it with a curse. And there was what they would do. Each victim of Accalia's curse was required to bring in foreign mana in order to feed themselves, but there was a way to turn the victim's immune system against that. The person's body would reject the incoming stream of mana and, thus, the curse would turn inward on the victim's own mana supply. And, then, when they were almost ready, Naheal left, letting Darethy know he was going to retrace the steps of Sinaku, Accalia's former host, to find what he called "The Black Book".

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"Nope." Naheal tossed the first of his journals into the bonfire in his garrison. Nothing. Next journal. Flipped through it. Jazziks being chained - and the confirmation that trapping the cursed was a waste of time - but little else. A few mentions on the wounds from the worgs. Still nothing. Into the fire.

Need more.

Next. Mentions of the fight with Sinaku. A detailed description of Sinaku's amber eye as well as an illustration... which Naheal tore out, folded up and put in one of his tool pouches, then threw the rest of the book into the bonfire. Still nothing.

They're not enough. If this works, you'll need more.

It was just him there, but even still. The urge to feed never truly disappeared. He had to find a way to break this curse... but how?

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"No one has ever broken the curse."

She was just there, in that way she had, slipping between the shadows from one moment to the next. Standing on the other side on the bonfire, Vionora, once known as Tassha, regarded Naheal over the rising embers of consumed parchment.

"Your plans with the Blackguard warlock wIll come to nothing."

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"Just because no one's done it before doesn't mean it's impossible." Naheal said. "I was told that no one had managed to break Accalia's control over someone, yet I managed it with Sinaku." He continued going through his notes, tossing yet another book onto the bonfire.

She doesn't deserve to be alpha.

He looked up to Vionora. He knew he couldn't kill her now, but the urge was still there. She'd only expose her throat if she knew she was in control, but why here? Why now? He narrowed his eyes at her. "Tell me, Tassha, did you feel betrayed when he and I fought side-by-side against her?"

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"It's surprising that out of everyone today, you perhaps know me the least."

She walked around the edge of the fire, coming closer. He'd seen how fast she could move now; she would need to keep little distance from him to ensure her own safety. Her gray eyes caught hints of the embers sent up by the new addition to the fire as she looked at him. Her robes were singed in places that they weren't before their last interaction.

"Sinaku never betrayed me because he never promised me anything. And I had learned well before joining the Rangers of the Dark Sun to not have any high expectations of the world."

Her gaze moved to his shoulders, and the insignia there.

"Do you delight in the irony?"

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"I knew little of you before and haven't cared to get to know you now," he said, closing the last book in his hand to give her his full attention. He followed her gaze to his cloak, then responded with a slight smirk. "If it wasn't for irony, what delight would there be in the world? But, no. This is the path I prefer, you see. Take those who refuse to assist the world or those who would do harm to it and repurpose them for something more helpful." He then met her gaze. "Unlike some that I've known, I do not take delight in watching the world burn."

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He really didn't understand at all. Her head tilted slightly away from him. "I take delight in nothing. How can you remain so idealistic after everything you've seen? Everything that's happened to you?" She paused. "Your soul has wandered and returned, but you don't even remember. I can see it, with the curse's illumination... You may as well be as much a pale imitation as the red-eyed warlock."

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"It isn't idealism. It's stubbornness." Naheal said. "I fully intend to make our world a better place, even if I have to kick it's ass to do it." He smiled. "Or have you missed the part where there's so much of this world that I actually hate? There's so much that has to change if it's ever going to be a decent world, but that can't happen while we're busy fighting each other." His smile faded. "I'm a lot of things, but I'm not this 'good man' or 'hero' that folks have called me." He paused for a moment. "Do you want to know why I shrinked away from you in Shattrath? Why I wouldn't let you even touch me then? Because I recognize that there are people that I can still help."

Rip out her throat.

"You've seen my past. What I've done. Who I've helped and who I've killed. Can you honestly say that it's been for nothing?"

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"It's for nothing." Her gaze stayed on his, watching his reaction to her challenging words, though she said them without spite; almost tonelessly. "No one can help anyone. Even what I seek to do will help no one... but at least it will be over."

Vionora took a step back. She knew well the predator's whispers in his head -- she had put them there -- but it wasn't that that made her draw away. The mark he bore meant she could make him bow to her will if she so chose, as she had demonstrated with Malhavik and Lupinum. With the black book, she could do even more. Videlle had torn out Risticus' heart at Sinaku's command... the heart of the man she loved.

"Your continued struggles will only amuse Accalia," she said.

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"You're not being honest with yourself," he said, meeting her challenge. He didn't even acknowledge her desire for an end. It was one he knew - and knew well - but wasn't one that he chose to give credence. At the end of the day, he was alive and that's the path he chose. Life, in all it's vigor, savagery and glory. He smirked at Vionora. Finally, she revealed something, though. "I see. That's why you don't have me watched." He chuckled. "Well, then. I suppose that you know what it is that I'm actually up to." He chuckled. "Oh, I like this game. Let's make a wager. The prize is willing, eternal service. The victory being one of the curse. If Accalia returns to this world and remains for longer than a week, you'll be the ultimate victor. If the curse is broken, then I will be. What say you?"

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"I have no interest in games." His amusement failed to either entertain or bother her. "If Accalia returns to this world, there will be no victor. I don't dream of taming her, unleashing her only on my enemies, like Sinaku did in his madness. She cannot drive me insane, Naheal. She has no purchase on me."

She held up her hands, their backs to him. On the right glowed the amber circles of the Eclipse; on the left, a purple demonic rune of sealing.

"I have been rendered unchanging," she said. "Once again, I cannot live, and I cannot die. Neither you nor Accalia can influence someone who does not care."

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Naheal cocked his head and examined the demonic seal on the back of her hand, approaching her to get a better look at it. "Arthas would like to have words with you if that's what you think," he said, his tone grim. That nightmare of his life he had thought was done, but even now, it was being revisited. During that nightmare, he had been shot, stabbed, frozen, burned "alive," had his soul ripped out and toyed with, but this? This seal was new. What had he done? He met her eyes, giving her a look of almost... pity as he did. "I'll find what I can, but I'll need time." He didn't need her approval, but the unspoken statement was still there. Whatever it was that she had done in the past, no one deserved that kind of fate.

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She dropped her hands. She hadn't stepped away as he neared her, and now they stood almost face-to-face. This close, he could see that the gray of her eyes was almost a mist, darkening and lightening like a pale moon being passed over by clouds. But no anger came to those eyes at his offer to help, and his evident pity; nor did relief. His pity was simply something else she could not change, and she had to endure.

"Do you remember being innocent, Naheal?" she asked. "When you had no concept of right and wrong, justice or injustice?" She paused. "I don't."

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"I do." He said. "Do you remember what our society was like before the Sunwell exploded? It wasn't kind, but it was what it was. I remember as a child being under the boot of some noble who thought I had crossed a street at the wrong time." He let that sink in. "And that was the kind part of my past. I wasn't born with a silver spoon. I scraped and clawed for what I had even when I was young. We did what we had to to survive. That's what was 'right.' Survival. That's it." He met her eyes finally. "Were you there when the Scourge hit Silvermoon? Everything that I cared about or worked for was ripped away right then. But the dirty truth? Part of me rejoiced. Finally, something hit us that would affect everyone."

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She looked at him, almost with surprise. "I did too," she said.

There was silence for a moment. Then she said, "I never had the spirit to fight back. It was beaten out of me before I could remember, if I was even born with it. I rebelled some, certainly... or I imagined I did. But eventually, I gave into it. And the world took everything I could give, then more, and more, and more. Until finally it took something I didn't even realize I had."

Her hands closed into fists. Even now, the fel churned inside of her, an unwelcome, horrible, sickening sensation. It was mirrored in her disheveled appearance; she hadn't done a thing to take care of herself in the weeks since Malhavik had first kidnapped her. Why should she, when she was disgusting on the inside?

"You don't know what you stand to lose, Naheal. No one does."

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"I chose the path that I took. When I saw people starting to fall sick from the lack of mana intake, Kael'thas' crystals were a gift of life for us. That was it - that was what was right. Survival. Above all else." His voice remained grim as he spoke. "That's where the deception came in. Survival wasn't what mattered. We were all deceived. Fel magic. Something that we'll never be rid of. We didn't think it was much at first, but..." He sighed. "You know the path I took. I did what I had to."

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"So you wish you hadn't survived?" she asked. She looked at him. "Regret serves no purpose. We all do what we have to do. Every single moment of every single day."

The bonfire crackled beside them. The last ashes of the journals glowed in its midst; the ones that hadn't been scattered to the winds. They glowed like the marks both of them bore.

"What are you waiting for?" she asked.

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"Part of me does, but I'll use what life I have to make the world better before I go." He said firmly. "You know who I hunt. I hunt the people who put the weak under their heels. A... predator that hunts other predators, I suppose, but that doesn't make me any better than them." He looked to the fire. "Life, to me, is still a precious thing, even if people take it for granted or turn it into hell for others. Even when I was considering... tossing mine aside like some garbage, the one thing I learned growing up stuck with me: get the best deal for it. It may be not be worth a whole lot in my eyes, but if I can swindle fate out of other lives for my own, it's well worth it." It was no use lying to her. Deception here served no purpose. Something did still bother him, though.

"Why curse me? You could've killed me right then and there. You knew that I would sooner die than serve Accalia and that, even now, I use the curse like someone would use a poison, so why?"

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She could, in fact, kill him right now. Her eyes narrowed as she studied him in the red-orange light of the bonfire. He asked the question, but she didn't think the answer would be worth anything to him.

"Maybe I want to prove a point," she said.

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Naheal cocked his head. "Your point escapes me." While partially true, he had ideas on what she was trying to prove. Maybe that they weren't so different? Unlikely, but still. Was it possible that she didn't even think of it at the time and was just going with it? Nice amusing thought, but unlikely. Most likely, she was just trying to be deliberately obtuse. Like most women, he thought with a slight amount of amusement. "You won't tell me it, though. Maybe I'll never know it."

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It was like this was a game to him; like she was a puzzle he could figure out. She regarded him bitterly, a hint of emotion where there was rarely any. A past self spoke again.

"I thought you were ruthless," she said, "yet here we are, having a civil conversation. I ask you again, Naheal... What are you waiting for?"

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"Because I know this game," he said flatly. "It's one that I've played before. You're here displaying some measure of power in front of me, yet there's something else going on here entirely. I put a grenade launcher to you chest and fired and yet here you are. Why, I wonder. You could kill me without a second thought and understand that I have no means to kill you right now. I could strike at you now, but what would that solve? Nothing. It would be little more than wasted energy. If I was lucky and you didn't just disable me here an now. You're here as a trap to try to bait that kind of reaction and you won't get it from me."

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Her hand moved to her chest, where the explosion had struck her. It was one grievous injury of many that would never truly leave her. But she was thinking about his words. If she wanted a reaction from him, what was it? It wasn't pity. And it wasn't groveling, which she could have forced out of him if she wanted. The truth may have been that she didn't know, and she couldn't find what she was looking for if she didn't know what it looked like. Or maybe the truth was she knew exactly what it was, and she was just ensuring it wasn't here.

"You'll have your time," she said. "Make use of it. Value it, if that's what you want to do. Maybe try to make peace with it. In the end, none of it will matter anyway."

She stepped back, and out of this realm.

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