Syreena

Broken

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((Part of it is a repeat of another post, but it fits well here too!))

“Your…’punishment’ will be to hunt down these traitors,” Awatu’s voice still rang through her mind from the night she was demoted for failing to kill a Sanctuary elf. “Failure is not an option.”

She was the High Inquisitor, an Irredeemable, second in rank only to the Commander himself. Now she was just part of the Grim ranks like everyone else.

She’d failed to save Konro.

She’d failed, again, to kill Kex’ti, and had been mutilated and humiliated in the process. “The Commander will be pleased,” Khorvis had snickered at her afterwards. She had been thinking the same thing. She had failed again. Awatu would not take that lightly.

Several times, she crossed paths with Brey. And several times, people got in the way. Finally, she had had enough. She challenged Darethy, the one who had interfered the most, to a fight. And lost, horribly.

She had once been one of the most respected killers among The Grim. She’d won rank and titles among the Horde, and awards in the goblin run arenas. Now she couldn’t even beat a Sanctuary elf or an old Forsaken.

Then Cobrak, a Grim, stood protectively in front of Brey and informed Syreena that she was under his protection and threatened her. His words had hurt her just as much as the injuries she’d received in the fights she’d lost. His failure was hers; he had been granted his rank while she was High Inquisitor.

The idea that she would be facing yet another enemy was expected. That it would be a Grim, was not. That, on top of her recent failures, cause her mind to crack. A fissure opened, a welcoming blackness where none of this would matter. Still the little rogue resisted the temptation, drawn instead to Grim and duty.

Kerala, Brey’s Chieftain, threatened Syreena soon after that. The list of people wanting to kill her seemed to grow each day, and she found less and less support among The Grim.

And the blackness still reached for her with its promise of comfort and peace, and still she resisted.

She considered her options. Brey needed to pay for killing a Grim. But Syreena didn’t need at least three people – Kex’ti, Cobrak, and Kerala – coming for her head. So she thought of something else. She wrote Kerala a note, suggesting Brey sacrifice a horn, to be laid to rest with Konro.

The Horns’ Chieftain wrote back, agreeing it was a good idea. “Speak to Awatu,” she added, and if he agreed, Kerala would convince Brey. As if the Commander would agree to such. As if he wouldn’t rip her arms off when he learned of all her recent failures, or demote her to stablehand.

And still the comfortable dark place beckoned.

Brey was at the mailbox in Warspear. Syreena watched her from the shadows for a moment, considering. She could wait for an audience with Awatu, and hope he'd agree to what she'd asked for. Or she could take the horn herself.

Syreena lunged at Brey's back, swords slashing through the air to collide with the plate armor of the warrior. The little rogue was a flurry of vicious attacks, retreating to the shadows only to strike again and again and again.....

She may as well have been beating her blades against a boulder. Brey beat her back again and again, until Syreena was forced to retreat to the shadows for her own well being.

A few minutes later, unwilling to give up such a prize (and the chance to regain a shred of dignity), the rogue struck again. And again, the Tauren warrior beat her down. It almost felt like Brey was toying with her, taking her time to deliver as many blows as possible before Syreena fell to the ground, unable to move.

Syreena mustered just enough strength and will to crawl away into the shadows…..and into the welcoming darkness.

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One year before the plague…

Syreena Breen was serving drinks in a little tavern in Andorhal. She was too skinny, too dirty, and her hair hung limp and greasy. Even so, some men still found the poor, vulnerable-looking young girl attractive enough to tip well in exchange for some flirting they hoped was not meaningless, and promises they hoped would not remain unfulfilled.

The only pretty thing she wore, which was in sharp contrast to her gray threadbare dress, was a ruby ring.

“It was my dear departed mother’s,” she would explain with a fake tear in her eye when anyone asked. “I just can’t bear to sell it no matter how hard times are.”

The ruby was not real, and the ring was not Syreena’s mother’s. The only reason she was allowed to keep it was because of the other valuables it helped her bring home. With practice, the teenage girl had learned to supplement her regular wages and tips.

Locals were dangerous; they would catch on eventually. But travelers, when she was lucky enough to serve one, were usually a very productive target. They carried everything on their person, and nobody else knew how much liquor they could or couldn’t handle. A pass of the ring over the drink as she was serving it, a tiny snowfall of white powder from the ruby, nearly invisible in the dim light of the tavern, and the drink was drugged. All the while she flirted with the customer to keep his gaze away from her hands. Within an hour, the person would be asleep. To everyone else, it would appear he’d passed out from too much drink.

Syreena, playing the part of the conscientious waitress, would rush to the fallen patron, gently shaking him, as if to try to rouse him back to consciousness. Her fingers were quick and sly—the result of years of practice at thievery. During the rousing facade, those fingers would find their way through pockets and purses, snagging anything of value. She robbed her victims in plain sight, while everyone else laughed at the stranger’s presumed inability to hold their drink.

Of course, no matter how much she brought home, it was never enough to keep her from being punished. If it was a good night, she’d only get beaten, or chained under the stairs, or smothered with a pillow until she lost consciousness.

A few days ago…..

After crawling away from Brey in Warspear, Syreena somehow made it back to the Grim’s garrison. She didn’t remember walking through the garrison to her little hut near the herb garden. She didn’t remember falling on her cot, or Bernie the alchemist administering his restorative potions that never worked as well as he claimed they did.

As she finally gave herself over to that dark place of nothingness which had been calling to her for such a long time, she let other things slip away. She let go of the list of Horde traitors she was to kill, according to the Commander’s orders. She blocked from her mind the knowledge of Khorvis and Lilly helping Kex’ti regain his strength and security when he was weak and beaten. She didn’t think of her guilt in not doing enough to save Konro. She stopped thinking about Lilly being friends with so many enemies, and getting in the way when she tried to attack Brey. And she stripped away the betrayal she felt when Cobrak threatened her life if she pursued justice for a fallen Grim. Here in the blackness, there was no failure, no loneliness, no betrayal, and no grief. There was only nothing, and the nothing was peaceful.

A few hours later, after the restorative potions had a chance to do all they would do, Syreena sat up. She saw the dim light of evening outside her door.

The little rogue looked down at herself—the tabard, the armor, the swords and various daggers hidden on her person. The armor felt stiff and binding. The swords were too large and clumsy, and the daggers were little annoyances strapped all over her body. Useless, all of it. Piece by piece, she took it all off, stashing everything away in the large chest along the wall. She did not pack away her Grim tabard though. Even though she believed she didn’t deserve to wear it right now, she couldn’t bear the though of setting it aside. She put that back on, and then pulled a simple brown robe over it.

She returned to Warspear, and went to the Brokenspear Tavern. After putting on her best charm, and convincing Lina’gar that she wouldn’t drop rotten bits of Forsaken flesh into customers’ drinks, she was given a serving job on a trial basis.

She planned to dutifully serve drinks for a few days. Then once she’d gained Lina’gar’s trust, she would find a ring, and hide some powder, and collect gold and trinkets for the Grim vaults. It was not the traditional way to serve the Grim, but it was more than some people did. More importantly, it wasn’t likely to get her arms ripped off, or get her demoted again, maybe this time to something like stable hand or outhouse cleaner, or get her killed for attacking the wrong person.

Syreena thought nothing of being in Warspear with no armor or weapons, even in the very tavern near which she had contributed to so much violence and conflict. She was not Syreena-the-rogue anymore. She’d let that life slip away from her. In her mind, she was again Syreena-the-waitress, and people didn’t usually attack waitresses for no good reason.

Unfortunately for her, her mind was not reality, and other people did not see a simple bar wench. They still saw the rogue that had threatened and attacked them or their friends, and some still wanted to make her pay.

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She had no wounds or scars to show for it. The teeth marks on her neck, the claw-shredded flesh on her back, and her cracked skull, had all been expertly healed. Even her bruises, cuts, and cracked bones from her earlier fight with Brey were healed beyond what Bernie’s restorative potions had done. But the impact of the attack in the cellar* was real, even if there was no visible evidence of it, save the holes in the back of her dress.

For a moment, when she first felt the beast’s jaws close on the back of her neck, Syreena forgot she was no longer Syreena-the-rogue. For just an instant, she tried to climb out of the darkness and fight. But as she reached for a blade to defend herself, she found only the simple serving robe she wore, and she remembered that she was Syreena-the-waitress. She was helpless and terrified as her head was pinned to the floor under a giant bear paw. She was trapped and couldn’t get free, no matter how much she squirmed and wriggled. Soon full panic seized her when the bear bounced on her head one time, and she felt her skull crack open. She dove back down into the darkness of her mind, and her body soon went limp.

After it was all over, and Lilly had taken her back upstairs, Syreena clutched at the nothingness. She had no injuries to show for what she’d just been through—Kerala had healed them all--only the memory of the terror and Kerala’s threats. “Behave,” the druid had warned her. “Or I will be back.” It may have all been a dream or her imagination, except for the fear that still lingered.

Lina’gar was giving her dirty looks for sitting around on the job after goofing off so long downstairs. So Syreena was Syreena-the-waitress the rest of the night, tending bar, serving drinks, having that nice security man, Darethy, handle any troublemakers. People who knew Syreena-the-rogue questioned her, argued with her, and tried to make her quit her new job. She just smiled and offered them a drink in most cases. Only a couple of them—Brey and Kex’ti—made her feel anything other than a desire to sell drinks. When her shift ended, she simply left, and went to the beach where Alakroz found her. But she was soon lured back to the tavern by Leyu’jin’s sneaky message saying Lina’gar had gone home sick, and Syreena needed to work another shift.

When Syreena got back to the tavern (and found Lina’gar working and well), Lilly asked her to go to the Grim garrison with her. After being assured she’d get to keep her arms and she wouldn’t have to clean the stables, Syreena agreed to go “just as soon as my shift is over.” The priestess swore, and then Syreena felt Lilly pulling at her mind. She cringed at first, but being mentally overpowered was nothing new to her, and she knew it was something she’d never been able to fight even when she was in top condition. She soon surrendered control of her mind to Lilly, who “encouraged” her to use the hearthstone that would take her back to the garrison.

Lilly and Leyu’jin and a few others also went. Once they were all there in the command hall, the priestess released her hold on Syreena’s mind.

“See?” asked the Wordbearer reassuringly. “Still got all yo’ arms.”

Syreena tucked her arms against her sides and sat down on a bench. Lilly sat next to her.

“Miss Syreena. Wut be yo’ qualifications as a barkeep?” Leyu’jin asked.

“Um…well, I can mix potions and poisons,” Syreena stammered. She was not expecting such a question. She didn’t mention that she’d served as a waitress in life, not because she was trying to hide it from Leyu’jin, but just because the question took her by surprise, and her former life wasn’t something she automatically thought of often. “That’s sort of like mixing drinks.”

“Kin joo be discreet, courteous, an’ responsive ta customah demands?” Leyu’jin asked.

Syreena nodded, but she was distracted by an orc shaman in the room that she didn’t recognize. “Who’s that?”

“She’s just chilling,” Lilly explained. “Don’t worry about her.”

“Gud, gud,” Leyu’jin went on. “Final question den, an’ ah tink we kin wrap dis up.”

“But what’s she doing here?” Syreena asked about the shaman, still allowing herself to be distracted from Leyu’jin’s questions.

“She came to give her shamanistic blessing,” Lilly answered sarcastically.

“Ohh,” Syreena answered, as if that made sense.

Lilly patted Syreena on the head. It was a gentle pat, but Syreena cringed away from the nearness of a hand to her head. It was a habit she’d started after her ear was cut off. Now, with the memory of what it felt like to have her skull cracked open, she had even more reason to not want to be touched there. Lilly noticed her reaction, and quickly drew her hand away.

“Miss Syreena, kin joo stay outta sight?” Leyu’jin continued patiently once he had her attention again.

“Would you like me to leave?” the not-rogue answered, after thinking about it for a minute. Staying hidden in the shadows was not the first idea she had in mind when Leyu’jin asked his question.

“No,” the Wordbearer stated.

“Oh, you mean…out of sight…just in general,” she responded. Leyu’jin nodded.

“I would like you to be inconspicuous when da Commanda be around.”

“Ohhh. He’s going to rip off my arms….”

“No. E’ won’t.”

“He’ll know I’m there,” Syreena said, confident that nothing could be hidden from Awatu. She stood nervously, and took a step backwards. “He knows.”

“Not if ah’m involved,” Leyu’jin assured her. “An’ it be fo’ a gud cause. So ah will do it.”

Lilly put her hand on Syreena’s, “We got your back, you’re cool.”

“a lak ma ams” Syreena muttered.

“Yes, you like your arms,” Lilly interpreted the old wor sa fa chal language. “And you’re fine. Trust Leyu’jin, okay?”

But Syreena eyed the Wordbearer with some suspicion. “You helped hold the other one. His arm.”

“Ah ‘eld Konro befo’ e’ wuz Grim,” Leyu’jin explained. “Not aftah.”

Syreena shook her head, trying to remember. “Knithawk. You held his arm? And…Lasher?”

“Mmm. Dat be troo.”

Lilly grabbed Syreena’s hand and pulled her forward to sit down again. Syreena squealed at the yank on her hand during a conversation about arms being ripped off, but she did sit back down.

“Lissen, Syreena. Joo be Grim, an’ ah know dat. Knithawk uz Grim, but ‘e publicly caused trouble, an’ ‘ad ta be made inta an example. Ah will act ta deflect da Commandah’s gaze from joo, so long as joo do all da tings ah asked o’ ya in da interview.”

“Interview,” Syreena said dumbly. Knithawk publicly caused trouble. Leyu’jin said that as if Syreena didn’t do the same thing. She thought of all the scenes she’d caused lately. All the shame she’d publicly brought to The Grim with her failed challenges and attacks. But she was desperate to trust in someone, and Leyu’jin was the most likely candidate; she’d always respected him, and he never gave her cause to doubt him.

“Aye. Fo’ yo’ qualifications as a barkeep? Remember?” Leyu’jin waggled his eyebrows.

“Be quiet and hidden and polite.”

Leyu’jin nodded.

“And you won’t let the Commander rip my arms off?”

“Ah will make sho’ o’ it. On ma life.”

“If Leyu’jin lets that happen,” Lilly added, “I’ll rip HIS arms off.”

“In da meantime, tink o’ a way ta git back inta da Commandah’s gud graces,” Leyu’jin advised. “Figure out a plan, an’ act on it. If it be sumting ah agree wit, ah will lend ma assistance.”

Get back into the Commander’s good graces. Good luck with that, she thought to herself. She wondered if the garrison’s tavern needed a bartender.

* http://wow-tng.org/showthread.php?23259-Eclipse-Follow-Through

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The regular staff of the Grim garrison tavern didn’t say a word when the one they knew as the Shadowblade made herself at home behind the bar and started serving drinks. They just looked at each other in confusion.

After a short time, Syreena put aside the conversation with Lilly and Leyu’jin. It made her nervous, and so she wouldn’t think about it any more. She just served drinks, watching the patrons, deciding which ones would make likely targets to be drugged and robbed. Not that she would do such in the Grim’s garrison tavern, but just for practice when she went back to the Brokenspear.

At dawn, Syreena took some breakfast up to whoever might be sleeping upstairs. Carefully balancing a tray laden with meat, fruit, cheese, and a jug of a light wine, she made her way up the steps. As she bent down to set the tray on a low table beside one of the beds, she froze. From under the bed, a pair of distinctly feline eyes stared back at her. She screamed and jumped back, knocking over the table and spilling the tray of food.

One of the garrison guards, an orc, jumped up from the hammock. He was on his feet with axe in hand, looking wildly about the room for invaders. Syreena pointed under the bed. The orc tightened his grip on his axe and looked where she pointed, then he bent down for a closer look. Finally, he stood up and looked at Syreena in confusion.

“There’s no one there, miss,” he informed her.

“But, I saw….” Syreena shook her head, pointing again and bending down for a cautious look. There was nothing there. Frowning, she went back down the stairs.

The few people in the tavern at this hour, mostly garrison guards coming off the night shift, looked at her oddly. After a moment, they went back to their drinks and their own conversations. The giant bear in the middle of the room stood on its hind legs and roared, its gaping maw baring drool and very large teeth. The guards paid it no mind, as if they didn’t even see it.

Syreena stood, frozen in place, until the beast lowered itself and charged at her. Then she turned and ran as fast as she could through the garrison and back to her hut. She didn’t notice the strange looks from other garrison residents as she ran past. She didn’t look back. She just ran, hearing the lumbering footfalls of the beast behind her, and feeling its breath on the back of her head.

When she made it to her little hut, she dashed inside, and stood perfectly still. When she was sure she’d lost the bear, she peeked out cautiously. There was no bear. Garrison workers were calmly going about starting their day.

Confused and afraid, Syreena sat down on her cot. She held Mr. Huggles, the stuffed elekk Cen had given her. For the next few days, she did not leave. Even within the garrison walls, she saw large cats in every shadow and bears around every corner.

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Inside the mind of the waitress, the Shadowblade was still there. One night, while lying quietly in her cot at the Grim garrison, the waitress closed her eyes and dared to explore her own mind. She found the Shadowblade there, deep in the darkness.

At the edge of the darkness, there was a wrought iron fence, covered with thick sticky spider webs. The gate was guarded by giant versions of Crystal and Bonespur, and their millions of smaller spider babies. Shapes stuck in the web, webbed bodies of various Alliance, some still squirming. The waitress steered clear of the spider gate, but further down the fence, she found a hole that was just big enough for her to wriggle through.

Tirisfal Glades, she thought to herself inside her mind that was not wholly hers. She recognized instantly the greenish tint to the air, the tall pines, and the tattered windmills in the distance. Fog rolled across the thick, damp grass, blown over the landscape by a cool breeze. Soon she came to a narrow dirt road. The road was bordered on one side by a simple split rail fence. But the fence posts were not made of wood.

Various blood elves were on their knees along the fence line, with their hands tied behind their backs. Wooden rails impaled through their thighs and chests, though the elves still lived, moaning in pain. Each elf had bright red trickles of blood down their neck below where their pretty ears were once attached. A goblin stood nearby, in front of elf posts made by Saphiara, Julilee, and Naheal. The goblin had an apron and chef hat, and he was tending a large black pot of boiling oil. The smell of frying flesh filled the air.

The last elf fence post was knocked over. It was Kex’ti, also still alive and awake, on his back with the splintery wooden rails tearing through his body at an angle caused by his fall. One of his pretty elf ears was missing, only a jagged hole remained where it once was. On the other side of his head, Ber—no longer a runt, but fully sized as a large worg in the Shadowblade’s mind—was eating the other ear right off Kex’ti’s head. Grumpy, a little protodrake, was at Kex’ti’s bad leg, charring bits of flesh with his fire breath before ripping into the meat with his teeth.

Behind the fence was Breygrah. The Tauren was without armor, dressed as she was at the Mak’gora. She had no weapon this time, however. Her hands were tied behind her back. A pack of cursed darkhounds surrounded her, yipping and snarling. As one, they lunged at the warrior and began eating her alive.

Across the road, Vionora was running through the woods. A pack of shadow-worgs chased the Herald, and the waitress watched as the worgs took down the elf, their gaping maws ripping into her belly and throat once they got her on the ground. The scene disappeared, and then started again immediately.

The waitress could hear voices up ahead, so she continued down the dirt road along the elf fence. Here was a gathering of Grim, split into smaller groups.

In the distance, the waitress saw Anaie and her team battling a dragon, focusing so intently on their fight and oblivious to everything else around them.

Cobrak hung from a tree by chains around his wrists. His belly had been sliced open, and his guts were hanging out. Kain, his white corehound, ate the entrails as they fell to the ground, the two heads tugging them from each other’s mouth. When the supply slowed, the heads reached up and pulled more guts from their master.

Music caught the waitress’s attention, the scratchy music of a garrison jukebox. She turned in the direction of the sound to see Khorvis and Lilly dancing together. The troll glided gracefully, her gown flowing gently with the movements. The orc, though not quite as graceful, mirrored her steps. Both were smiling, but the expressions were fixed and insincere. Each had a long dagger in their hand, poised over the other’s shoulder. In perfect sync with each other and with the music, they stabbed each other in the back over and over. At their feet lay a staff with a medicine jug attached to the end of it.

And then, finally, the waitress saw her. The Shadowblade. She wore her Grim tabard proudly over her dark leather armor. Her head was uncovered, and in this image of herself, she still had two ears. She stood alone, in a field with enemies closing in on all sides—scourge, Alliance, Horde with tabards of purple and gold, demons, elementals, naga, blood elves, dragons. Every enemy Syreena had ever fought was represented here in never-ending waves of reinforcements.

The waitress watched in awe as the Shadowblade cut them all down. Swords, dripping with green poison, sliced silently through the air, leaving deadly cuts and severed body parts in their wake. Daggers were thrown with such precision as to land solidly in eyes and throats. The Shadowblade dodged or deflected every strike aimed at herself, and used shadows and smoke to shield herself from spells and ranged attacks. Nothing could touch her, and she knew it. The waitress envied the confidence that was evident on the Shadowblade’s face, along with the expression of pure joy as she slayed her foes.

None of the people here noticed the waitress. This was the Shadowblade’s world, created by her when her broken mind put up the spider fence to shield her from the world. But not everything here was in the Shadowblade’s favor. Her fears were here as well.

“You have failed the impossible task I assigned to you,” boomed Awatu’s voice as he towered over a small Grim Forsaken female who was wilting under the Commander’s hard stare. The Grim’s back was to the waitress, so she couldn’t see her face.

Gathered Grims looked on the girl with pity, chanting in unison, “You have failed The Grim. You have failed The Grim. You have failed The Grim.”

Then Awatu nodded to Leyu’jin and another version of Khorvis, who stood on either side of the Forsaken, each holding one of her wrists. “Rip her arms off.”

The Irredeemable warriors obeyed. Blood spurted, and the Forsaken girl screamed as her arms were torn from her body. The gathered Grims cheered, and then the scene began to replay itself.

From another direction came a loud thump, and the ground shook. The ground thumped and shook again. And again. Footsteps. Even the waitress, knowing this wasn’t real, and that she wasn’t really here, was suddenly and completely gripped with a cold fear.

An impossibly large Forsaken man, as tall as a Titan, stepped out of the woods. The Grims all ignored him. Anaie’s group still fought the dragon, others still watched the backstabbing dance, and the rest of the Grims still watched in morbid glee as the Commander dealt out bloody punishment for failure.

The giant Forsaken was an old man. His dirty, tattered clothes were of poor quality, and his gray hair was sparse and greasy. He carried a scratched black walking cane in his hand, and a pouch of potions on his belt. The waitress recognized that lewd and greedy look that was still in his eyes, even though they now glowed yellow like most Forsaken’s.

“Come here, my prize,” his voice rasped. “What have you brought me today, hm?”

Although the old alchemist was looking toward the Shadowblade, the waitress fled. As she started to run, however, the footsteps paused. Impossibly, they turned in her direction. She risked a look back and saw the giant Forsaken grinning at her, one huge clawed hand reaching for her.

“My little prize!” he called with gleeful anticipation.

The spider fence seemed impossibly far away, but the waitress ran with speed lent by raw terror. She didn’t look back again, but she knew the old man was right behind her. Finally, she reached the fence, where the hole was. For a moment, she fought panic, thinking the hole was gone when she couldn’t find it right away. But it was still there, and she slipped through, running a few more yards before stopping to look back.

She could see nothing through the fence. Shadows and spider webs blocked the view within.

The waitress opened her eyes, still shaking, and looked around her little hut in the Grim’s garrison.

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In the Brokenspear Inn, the waitress and Lomani were talking about Karthok and his hit list that Syreena knew about.

“Why does he want to get all those people?” Syreena asked the priestess.

Lomani looked around, checking to be sure there were no unwanted ears about before she answered. “I would assume he’s upset about the death of his commander. Those three were quite a force at fighting against Konro, from what I heard.”

“They were,” Syreena answered. “I…remember…”

Lomani leaned leaned on the bar, resting on her forearms. “Were you his best friend…in the Grim?”

“I was his friend, yes,” the waitress answered. “I think he liked Lupin and Mal best though.”

“Oh. I don’t know them very well,” Lomani explained. “Less than you, I mean. I don’t really know you either, I guess.”

“Nobody really knows me,” the waitress answered with a childish giggle.

“If that is the way you like, I am not one to judge,” the priestess assured her with a shrug.

“But I know me,” Syreena continued with a nod. “I found a way in.”

Syreena smiled to herself as she wiped the bar, and Lomani smiled at her—a happy sort of encouraging smile, inviting, in case Syreena would like to elaborate…because she really had no idea what the little rogue is talking about.

“I saw them all back there, behind the gate, in the mist,” the waitress continued with another giggle. “Kex’ti, and Brey, and Cobrak, and Julilee…and even Lilly and Khorvis. All in the back, getting what the Shadowblade thinks they deserve.”

“What do you think they deserve, Syreena?” Lomani asked softly.

Syreena shrugged, but went on to describe what she saw. “Kex’ti was missing an ear. Cobrak was swinging from a tree with his guts hanging out, and hiss two headed dog eating them. Lilly and Khorvis were dancing together…and stabbing each other in the back.”

Lomani kept her face carefully neutral. Inzema had given her some good practice at that recently. Syreena smiled at her.

“It’s not real,” the waitress assured her. “It’s just in the dark place.”

“There is such a place in all of us, I think,” Lomani said carefully. “We shu’halo call it a wolf. There are two in each of us.”

Syreena peered intently at the Tauren woman.

“Would you like to hear the story?” Lomani asked. Syreena said she would, and so the priestess began with the waitress listening intently.

“An old shaman was teaching his nephew about life. He said ‘A fight is going on inside of me. It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorry, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other,’ he says, ‘is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.’ The nephew thinks about that for a minute, and then he asks his uncle, ‘Which wolf will win?’ And the old shaman simply replies, ‘The one you feed.’”

Syreena thought about that for a little while, and then she asks, “What if the one who wins….doesn’t want to anymore?”

“The fight is not over until you cease to be, little undead,” the priestess answered. She had been about to say “die” but given the nature of Forsaken, she’d amended it. “Hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing someone else would die.”

“So the other wolf might come back again,” Syreena was thinking out loud, wondering how the story might apply to her. “They can…take turns being in control? The two fighting wolves? Can they ever get along?”

“It is always possible,” Lomani answered patiently. “There is light and dark, two wolves, a shifting balance, in all of us. It can always change, as long as a person exists, they can change.”

Syreena nodded, but another customer walked into the Brokenspear then, and so the conversation was ended. The story stuck with her in her thoughts though.

The waitress knew which wolf in her had been fed for so long. One wolf was strong and brave and loyal and deadly. Since The Grim had taken her in and started training her nearly a decade ago, they had fed the wolf who would become the Shadowblade. But that wolf had eventually broken, in part due to the actions of those who made her. The Shadowblade had gone into hiding within her own mind, leaving only the waitress—the wolf that was weak and timid and only sought to please people to keep her own hide safe.

The waitress knew that some people were disappointed with her. A few had even argued with her, trying to convince her that she was the Shadowblade. Some, however, had seen her handle a dagger since then. So far, aside from dropping it several times, she’d accidentally stabbed herself in the forearm, and another time, she sent the dagger flying through the air to land in Naheal’s arm, also by accident.

She thought about the Shadowblade, remembering the dark rogue in the midst of her enemies, with swords slashing and daggers flying with deadly aim. She was envious of that Syreena, skilled, confident, proud, deadly….and currently broken. The waitress wondered how long the Shadowblade would be content to not be the one in control. What would happen then? Would the iron fence come down and the waitress and Shadowblade merge again? Or would the waitress be locked behind that spider gate with the old man chasing her for eternity?

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Syreena and Malhavik were in a rundown farmhouse in Silverpine, talking about the invasion of Kex'ti's rescuers at the warlock's crypt.

“Aaren I had counted as an ally,” Malhavik said. “Seems I was quite wrong about her. She was to cut out Breygrah’s vocal chords. I must assume she faked the chords she gave me.”

“Why?” Syreena asked, dumbfounded, find it hard to believe that Mal, whom she was recently trying to convince someone was so nice, would request someone to do something to cruel. Then a thought crossed her mind as she recalled the state Kex’ti was in while the warlock had him in his custody—missing finger, rotting arm, bloodied, and cut up. “How did Kex’ti get so hurt? Did you…?”

“Put him in that state?” Malhavik finished the question for her. “Yes. I separated his soul and body. And now they have him back. My enemies grow and my allies shrink by the day.”

“Why?”

“Some people just don’t like having fun, my dear girl,” he explained with a long, drawn-out sigh. “They are all banding together to ruin my good time.”

The waitress was confused. “I meant, why did you do that to Kex’ti?”

“Oh. There were two reasons actually,” Mal started to explain. He pulled off his mask so he could look at Syreena without the veil. “You see, I used to have a good friend that liked having fun like me. Kex’ti made her go away!”

“What kind of fun?”

“The fun of enforcing the mandate.”

“So you were punishing him for making your friend go away,” she reiterated, trying to understand. She was so taken aback by the realization that her nice friend was capable of such cruelty, that she couldn’t even think about who he was referring to. “What was the other reason?”

“I was going to make him pay, but when I captured him, I learned he was uniquely immune to the curse that has been going around. I wanted to study him and learn why.”

“That’s why you cut him up?” Syreena asked. Malhavik nodded.

“I was hoping when you saw him, my friend would come back,” he admitted.

“Your friend…” she repeated, the identity of his friend finally dawning on her. “Oh… Her.”

Mal nodded again, his dead, sun bleached hair swaying. Syreena thought his hair was pretty, but it didn’t distract her from the uneasy feeling she was starting to get.

“Well,” she assured him, “she doesn’t want to come back. I saw her once.”

“I think I saw her too,” Mal added, “for the briefest of moments. Which makes me wonder, is she hiding within you willingly?”

Syreena nodded quickly. “Yes, she wants to stay hidden. She’s happy back there.”

“Oh. Well, that won’t do.” Malhavik reached into his robes and pulled out a dull purple stone. “I wonder…”

The waitress looked at the stone, the uneasy feeling turning to fear. She recognized it as a soulstone. Lomani had told her that her soul was unbalanced. Vionora had stated her soul was distorted. She had come to some understanding that although she and the Shadowblade shared a soul, it had somehow become separated or stretched into waitress and Shadowblade, causing it to seem like there were two souls within the same body. The waitress had often wondered what would happen if the Shadowblade gained control again of the body they shared. Now she looked nervously at the stone in Mal's hand, knowing his skill as a warlock could give him power over her stretched, distorted, unbalanced soul.

The room darkened, and shadows stretched and congealed into a tangible form. Syreena watched the shadows fearfully, backing up a few steps away.

“Daxiton, watch the door would you?” Mal ordered the demon.

Syreena stopped, looking from the demon back to the warlock. “Mal, what are you doing?”

“It’s time my friend comes out to play,” he answered ominously.

“She doesn’t want to. She won’t come out,” Syreena assured him, backing away from him. She didn’t know just what he intended to do, but she was certain that it wouldn’t end well for her. “I’ll be your friend!”

The warlock lurched at her, his eyes turning into bottomless holes. The waitress whimpered, pleading with him not to hurt her.

“Shh…” he soothed. “It will only take a moment.”

Malhavik reached a clawed hand to the waitress’s face, and then he sunk his talons into where her ear once was. Syreena screamed, reaching up to pull at his hand as she squirmed and struggled feebly to get away, begging and pleading. The thought crossed her mind that he was not so nice after all.

The warlock grinned widely, splitting the seams of his cheeks. With his free hand, he grabbed the waitress’s head and forced her to face him. His black bleeding mouth opened as he began to inhale, pulling on her soul, drawing it into his dripping maw. Halfway through the transfer, Malhavik snapped his jaw shut and severed the soul, the remaining portion leaping back into Syreena. He released his hold on her head, and she fell to the ground and remained still. Mal lifted the dull purple stone to his face, and he breathed the waitress’s soul fragment into it.

From within the darkness of her mind, in the field of enemies where the Shadowblade gleefully cut down all that came at her, she felt the pull. She resisted it at first, planting her feet firmly in the Tirisfal grass in her mind. Her enemies, however, began to vanish, along with the rest of the world she’d constructed in her mind, and her grip here faded with it all. Even the spider gate first became distorted and then disappeared as she was sucked forward, through the darkness.

No, she roared in the silence. Noooo!

But she was taken out of the darkness and pulled back into the body. The waitress was gone. There was only the Shadowblade now. The long grass, soaked with the blood of her slain enemies was replaced by a rough wooden floor. She kept her eyes closed, desperately trying to retreat again, to rebuild her ideal world. But it was all gone, and she couldn’t even find the comforting darkness again.

Finally, she slowly opened her eyes. She looked around at the room they were in, and then her eyes narrowed as her gaze came to rest on the warlock, who was watching her closely.

“Syreena?” he inquired.

“You bastard,” she snarled as she got to her feet. Malhavik cheered at his success. Syreena reached for her swords out of habit, only to realize she was wearing a dress and no blades. Unarmed, she stalked towards him, glaring.

“Come now,” he coaxed. “You can’t be that angry with me.”

Syreena was angry though, at herself for hiding, and at him for forcing her back out. Her anger needed a target, and she lunged at him. Her clawed hands wrapped around his throat and she glared at him. Malhavik choked on his words as he was throttled.

“Seh....Syreena…Erm…Plea…”

With a sound almost like a growl, she shoved away from him. She turned to the door, only to find a large demon guarding it. She glared back at Malhavik, who waved the demon away. Syreena eyed Mal a moment longer, her anger at him fading somewhat. She was more angry at herself for her failures before she went into hiding. Without another word, she walked out.

“Glad to have you back, Miss Syreena,” Malhavik whispered, mostly to himself as he rubbed his throat.

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