A Dirty Paperback

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*The book lies weathered and beaten on a workshop table, leather curling at the edges. It’s cover, sun-baked to a light brown, looks littered with discoloration of suspicious origins. Chemical burns have eaten away at junctures along the spine, so that the entire thing looks on the point of collapse. Little pieces of parchment jut from various areas between pages*

*Inside is written notes from what looks like a dedicated but haphazard hand. Alongside sketches detailing the anatomy of various herbs are listings of properties in a tight scrawl. Further in are dated entries.*

The Grim: Still active. Still as blood-thirsty as ever. I’m simultaneously impressed by their durability and disappointed that their organization has not fallen into ruin like so many others.

Cobrak: Deadshot. Grim. Accountable. *Needs an entire entry. Obnoxious Orc.

Syreena: Grim. Quick to draw a blade. Twice now I’ve seen her make an attempt on a member of the Horde only to discover that the reasoning appears, at first glance, murky at best. She’s civil with me for now. Aware of Isadore.

Aaren: Borrowed Time. Hot-headed, will act on her own. Useful priestess in the right situations. *in smaller lettering* Delightful rear.

Julilee: Sanctuary. Unsure of her. Could be a powerful ally, but she seems consumed by her own demons.

Pythral: Deadshot. Trustworthy. Also delightful rear.

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Not days after Isadore almost becomes a black stain of ash against the ground of our garrison, Naheal has her making grenades. I couldn’t be more thankful that Hollowrot exists, as it makes an excellent distraction from thoughts on my daughter’s fragile mortality.

Cobrak’s wounds do nothing to limit his mobility. Aaren’s healing reminds me of a scene out of The Orc and his Mate - rough, raw, and painful. At least it serves its purpose.

I don’t have much time before pregnancy makes me useless. If I want samples of Hollowrot, I need to form my team and return to the site within the week.

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[[ deleted excerpt:

Julilee: I'd comment on her rear but that would just be narcissistic. ]]

((How did you know?! I thought she erased it!))

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Cobrak is proving to be a useful resource beyond what I could have predicted. I would have stormed the Black Maiden’s camp without his assistance, but to have him at my back with his experience and knowledge eases most of my worries concerning infiltration. The Blood Hollow’s religious holiday should, if nothing else, provide more of a distraction than I could have hoped to craft on my own. If Cobrak carries any residual feelings of familial love for the Maiden, I have yet to see evidence of it. I can trust him this far.

Some might take having an entire fleet of Drakonids at our door seconds after scheming to steal their Hollowrot as a bad omen. I choose to see it as a motivator, reminding me that we have precious little time before we’re potentially overrun. The sooner I can discover a way to render the Rot inert, the better our chances for survival. Besides, I needed the stress relief and they made excellent practice.

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Time Travelers! I suppose I should be thankful that I at least knew the likelihood of Isadore becoming Sworn before she traveled back to this era in need of aid. It’s just one disaster after another with this family. At least I’m never bored.

I could do without knowing that my daughter lumped herself together with an orc, but I might be warming to the boy. Anock (of this timeline, at any rate) pulled her into the safety of the tannery basement before the Drakonid attack without thought towards his own safety. My thankfulness towards him feels boundless and his loyalty earns some of my begrudging respect. I’ll turn a blind eye to their friendship for now.

Naheal seems unconcerned with their potential romance. Now that I know his last lover was a cow, I’m less surprised.

I think I’ll take dinner duty this week. Make some steaks. Ask him if they taste like an ex, since he’s into that sort of thing.

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The list of Absolute Nonsense:

- Cobrak saved my daughter from a time-traveling version of himself from alternate draenor whose father is Serinar. The dragon. Our Cobrak slowly mends in our infirmary. Isadore has a little cot beside him since she won’t leave his side for a moment.

- Isadore has had her first mission as a representative for the Bronze flight. She wants to go again. Flight family indeed.

- The Time Travelers and Borrowed Time have held their meeting, complete with special guest appearance by the alternate Draenor Naheal whom I will refer to as Torin. The mission as it stands now: find ‘The First Son’ and make him pay for what he did to Cobrak. No one hurts one of our own without consequences.

- Aunt Em is alive. She is also, unsurprisingly, still obnoxious. I hate being called Sunshine.

- I’ve got the Hollow Rot. It’s keeping in the stasis chamber. I’ve barely had time to begin testing- too busy monitoring Cobrak’s condition.

- I’ve met Phyruss. Who claims to be my son, though I don't know how that is possible. Temporal mechanics! I would curse the lot of the Bronze, but inviting more of their attention might actually kill what is left of my sanity.

- Is there anyone I can trust who knows anything about blood pacts? This should be my primary focus for now.

Edited by Sinlanna

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We've been asked to do the impossible. The stirrings of a civil war within the Horde come in drunken chants of 'peace through annihilation'. As members of Borrowed Time, we're requested to limit our involvement in the conflict as much as possible. But how can we resist when the gravity of the situation between Sanctuary and the Grim pulls us into its orbit, inescapable? We have Deadshots in both organizations. At this point, we're merely biding our time before the inevitable entanglement.

In hindsight, I might have waited to share my news about the unrest. It hardly mattered that Cobrak had only just woken from injuries that laid him flat for days; he attempted to heave himself out of his bed with shouts of concern over Taozhu Shi-hen, the Pandaren. It took 50 cc of my rain poppy solution to knock him out. Practically enough to quiet a kodo calf. Impressive. Need to collect more data on this later.

I still haven't thanked him for protecting Isadore. If not for him putting himself in (quite literally) the line of fire, my girl might not be here.

She tells me she took one look at the brute who chased them and threw an ice grenade at his face. Her father looked prouder than I've ever seen him.

Never before have I been more secure in my decision to bring her to the Borrowed Time, as she has learned more here to protect herself and fight than she would have ever learned in Silvermoon. And while I know that this was the right choice, I fight the instinct to sweep her back to the manor and lock her away. Hiding her in dusty rooms like my parents tried with me won't save her from the horrors of Hellfire Citadel, or the looming threat of the Black Flight. From the sounds of her explanation, it seems as if she's become a target of Serinar's spawn. Yes, I am afraid for my daughter's life. No, I do not let that fear control me. Instead, I let it drive me towards examining the Rot.

I can only hope that Pythral's meeting with Julilee pans out in our favor. If not, well. I have my orders.

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Faelenor not only lives, but he has a daughter Isadore's age! All pleasant surprises. I can only hope that our paths cross more often. So rarely do I look upon familiar faces and find myself joyous to behold them. He still retains his aura of mystery as well as his friendly disposition. Even better, he continues to deal in the business of information. Nothing could be more valuable to me now.

He overheard a discussion I'd been carrying on with one of the Time Travelers. Seems that I've lost my discretion over the years, out of practice as I am. While I've managed make myself useful to Borrowed Time as a scout and return with valuable intelligence, I've allowed myself to become too comfortable with my conversations. He's reminded me of the need for caution. I take the warning for what it is.

Something he mentioned in our exchange lingers in the back of my mind without invitation to do so. "Sinlanna Arath'dorei, settling down." The idea seemed remarkable to him. I've never considered myself to be 'settled' in any facet of my life, but he has given me questions to ask myself now that the world is not actively trying to fall apart around me.

There are so many who would criticize Naheal for his choices. I would never seek to justify his mistakes. His decisions haunt him; they color his relationships. It only took a glance between him and Julilee to see that his actions have cost him her considerations. Yet despite this, he commands the loyalty of the Deadshots effortlessly. When he speaks, like he did for Siane the night she was stabbed, people pay attention. The members of Borrowed Time all look to him as a leader, his authority unquestionable though so many of us will argue logistics with him until the debate is well into its grave. It almost seems like a curse, that so many of us should follow him and hope that he's learned from his experiences.

He's called us a fake merc group. Pythral made the excellent point that we're damned good at what we do, our stores filled to bursting with provisions and gold even if we suffer for larger purposes. I declared that we're a merc group with vision. His vision, really. He wants to see a peaceful world for future generations. Its the one force that drives him. "What interest do you have in Siane?" someone had asked as he defended her. "She's Horde," he'd answered.

I became a knight for him because I could not imagine dedicating my life to a better purpose. He so desperately reaches for the impossible, and I cannot help but be drawn into that passion. His methods to achieve them are irrelevant to me.

Aaren mentioned that he's excellent at pushing everyone who matters to him away. I have nightmares where I see him standing at the mouth of the Caverns, being swallowed whole, and the children are nestled in his arms.

I wonder on my capacity for trust. Of my actions? I would certainly follow him to my death. Of his? He's given me one of his runeblades as collateral once before. The significance of the gesture is not lost on me.

I can't remember the last time I've felt so gently happy in the way that I do these days when I'm not occupied with trying to keep the world from burning. There is a domesticity to our arrangement that I savor when the air goes quiet and the garrison falls into the hush of sleep. I let myself linger in the joy I feel when his arm naturally finds a home along my waist. He's taken to being a father so easily despite his earlier insistence that he'd make a terrible dad. We understand each other better than we could have years ago, and so much of what is important to us as individuals is shared between us without question. Even the little banter that flows between us feels effortless.

If not for the Bronze, I might never have known this happiness. I suppose I should find Kerri and thank her somehow.

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*Two lines are scratched onto the page amid calculations, the ink dark as if the author traced the sentences multiple times.*

"The Grim *will* destroy Sanctuary if you try to take them out on your own."

"Then watch us burn."

Julilee Liene. Lady Liene. Leader of Sanctuary. My empathy towards her sits uncomfortably in my thoughts beside the vows I have pledged to protect and defend her garrison as specified by the contract. To look at her among her people gives one the impression of controlled authority. To have her locked behind a closed door with the embodiment of her mistaken confidences reveals a raw edge that I recognize and feel echo in my own bones.

The difference is that my mistakes have yet to cost me my morality. I'm blessed to have very little in the way of a moral center. Ends typically justify the means with hardly a consideration for my integrity. My priorities are simple; this is what makes me an effective tool. Her demons find their way forward with the right provocation, nearly paralyzing her into ineffectiveness. That she can collect herself and organize her garrison within moments of reaching her breaking point earns a modicum of my respect, though I can't imagine she would find any value in my opinion.

She sees Naheal as a monster. But monsters don't shed tears over the lives they damn.

The only difference between me and the Grim lie in our priorities.

It may be a matter of time before Naheal regrets giving me this ring.

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I've holed myself up in my lab for so long that I've hardly noticed the new faces that make up our garrison. Sanctuary comes to us by invitation, but their presence here unsettles me.

How long until we find Sanctuary's knife in our back, Sin?

Begs the question of why we offered them free reign to walk through our home. The Grim threatened them, and we answered I suppose. Though our negotiations with Lady Liene started with such little promise and cutting words, we've yet to experience trouble from her ranks. To be witness to a conversation between Naheal and the Lady that approached civility still surprises me. I doubt the longevity of their peace, but then I know very little of their history. I know very little about Lady Liene, for that matter. I'm compelled to seek her out, but to what end?

The Grim lose another number of their ranks. Good. Cobrak never should have left his Deadshots. They need him. He's also one of the few living souls I trust to teach my daughter the skills she must acquire to survive in this cruel universe once my time here ends.

Malhavik Undercroft. With Siane's presence, I worry that we invite entirely too much of his attention. From our few brief associations my senses prickle to warn me of his particular danger. 'Charming' seems an ill-fitting word to describe him, but I can easily imagine that he used his wit and silk words during his living life to great success. Our kind easily find each other. I keep my blades sharp with him in mind.

Naheal chose to offer Siane safety. Why offer it, when it promises to bring nothing but trouble? She's hardly worth protecting outside of examining her as a novelty. Given the chance, I would cut her open and watch exactly how she reacts to the Light and Shade, organs laid out for my critical eye. My schedule remains markedly full, however, so I won't attempt to indulge my curiosities just yet.

I still haven't talked to Darethy about the blood pact that sings through my veins. I still haven't made any progress with the Hollow Rot. The man who tried to kill my daughter still runs free. I'm this close to joining Xaraphyne and finding him myself.

Funny- as I look over this entry, I can sense Naheal returning to our room and I find myself quite peaceful despite the numerous worries that plague me now. The contentment feels almost instant, always surprising me when it pulls me from whatever dark place I've found myself. The power of my affections would frighten me if I wasn't so blissfully happy.

Just when I've finally acclimated to new depths of love for him, he finds a way to charm me further. Every fall becomes a new adventure discovering how deeply these feelings can run! I'd no idea I was even capable of loving this way. Without him, I'm not sure I would have ever known. It feels a bit like looking on the surface of a pool, diving headfirst, and finding that what you had once thought to be shallow waters extends into an abyss with no visible end.

I've found a tailor to start work on my wedding dress. While we haven't discussed the wedding any further beyond the initial engagement, I've allowed myself this one indulgence.

I promise, right now, in these pages: I will never cause him to regret his decision to marry me. Never.

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Though our negotiations with Lady Liene started with such little promise and cutting words, Naheal has managed to find stability between them.

[[ I remember this a little differently... haha. ]]

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I’ve lost count of the number of times my garden has come under threat. The events of last night had the last of my more exotic hybrids destroyed. Not that I could blame Saelyx, not truly; saving Aaren took priority over care for where he happened to land the pair as they escaped from Serinar.

Naheal finally felt well enough to leave the infirmary. To wield the Light as he has costed him, to the point that he knows he cannot possibly continue the path he has chosen. He wants me to tutor him in the manipulation of Shadow.

I’m reminded again of his demonic lexicon. Of his history, of pacts made that guarantee his soul to Sargeras.

Preparations continue for the journey I must travel in order to resupply my conservatory. From my contacts, I’ve heard whispers of a market with promising specimens that might aid me in my endeavour to cure Aaren of her affliction.

I shouldn’t be more than a few days.

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The grummles have their uses. Their watercraft, nothing more than logs tied in vine, seemed to glide like a snake from the estuary of the Krasarang River and up one of it’s many tributaries without capturing the notice of any locals. The grummles called their landing point the teeth of the Deepwild.

I’m still unsure as to the identity of whoever manages the location and time of this marketplace. The most I was able to coax from one of my mouthier affiliates was a map, blank until activated by the Shade. The Deepwilds held no more challenge for me than a particularly lazy death adder whose belly extended with a recently devoured meal. His poison made for good bartering.

They’d had some powerful arcanists at work, in the market. Crossing the barrier from the jungle into the bazaar felt almost threatening- as if I’d have my blood spilling from my throat without the protection of my map. The jungle noise became overwhelmed by the shouting of peddlers, various vendors the likes of which I’d never seen before. A Vrykul inscribing runic tattoos, Murlocs selling bioluminescent sacs from bottom dwellers and delightfully rare weeds which only grow near magma vents in normally unreachable ocean depths. Wildhammers selling moonshine. What I suspect was a brothel for those with exotic taste- I didn’t have the time to sample the wares.

None of them could quite compare to the charm of a strange elf named Ves. They (for I could not possibly say whether Ves is male or female) scandalized with tawdry suggestions for their potions. Ves was, naturally, one of the more popular tents.

They were my first point of contact for a company called Aether Bloom Botanics and Pharmaceuticals. They’d read my paper on shade splicing, apparently. Ves mentioned the company currently scouted for new talent, that they’d provide facilities the likes of which could not be found anywhere else in the known universe.

Maybe, with a team, I could find the cure for Aaren. It was worth investigating.

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I’ve made something.

It isn’t a cure. The scales retract, but they don’t disappear. They’ll break the healing skin when they burst through at the right provocation. They never leave, they never leave. I’m sorry Aaren. I can’t undo what he’s done to you. I tried.

I lost my ring- it’s gone, somewhere. Naheal’s ring. I don’t know where to find it. I looked in all the beakers. Maybe it bubbled away. There were acids, on the table. Dissolved! What was the makeup of the metal? The stone? I’ll test all the beakers and find the fragments. Pour it in a mold to make something new.

Bubbling, boiling, bubbling.

No one trusts Naheal. Why would they come to me? Is Kex’ti mad?

Dora’s voice over the comm. Dora says the Commander choked her.

Commander Liene, dear Commander. I’ve seen you fall to your knees before. I’ve seen the wretched expressions you can make, when you’re cornered.

She won’t be getting my reports! I’ll burn them. The lot of them. Send her the ashes.

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The nice thing about working as a team lead and consultant to Aether has proven so far to be the amount of flexibility they allow me. So long as I provide them something profitable from my research, they don’t care how often I’m in the office. The bastards have butchered my shadow splicing research as it is; I hardly feel indebted to them.

I’m not prepared to admit I’ve stretched myself too thin. My work at Aether Bloom sits at the bottom of a list that flaps with loose ends.

The most I’ve done with my lab lately has been studying Wreave and passing that information onto Zanas. He and I are a mirror image, the gender switched (at least in the way in which we conduct our business). Which of course means that I think he’s a wretch with a pretty face, clever male. I’m quite fond of him, naturally.

Zakael’s lessons have been put on hold for now. He’d asked me, as a member of Borrowed Time and a friend, to teach him how to command the Shade as his education on the subject proved limited to the point of danger to himself and others.

What he knows kept us from dying to the hands of a crazed Worgen who’d been after that damn staff. I won’t abandon my teachings for much longer.

The staff. The artifacts. Wreave. How much have I let come to pass without documentation? It feels like I’ve lived a lifetime in the span of the past month.

Dr. Thonsoniel left a burden I spread like a plague across the members of Borrowed Time and Sanctuary. The symptoms manifest in bouts of paranoia amongst each other. Cultists claiming the blood of our own, in particular the Solsmite line. The circumstances around which I came to better know Zakael’s cousin Saralis Solsmite feature in the nightmares I cannot escape in the few hours that I sleep. I feel the residue of felfire from Caldrien’s office on my fingertips. Instead of the desk crumbling under my touch, it is Zakael and Saralis who burn away to ash.

They’d done a thorough job of destroying anything left in that room. The dedication to the ruination warned me of their desperation. The Solsmite vault would be compromised.

The staff Arrak’yelu’yun. It seemed the only choice that made sense, locking it in the vault of a Spellbreaker who’d once served the Prince.

I’ve wished many times that I’d never stepped into Dr. Thonsoniel’s office. If I hadn’t found the staff, Rylie might not have this mark above her head. Tao Zhu would be home, making tea while spending time with his daughter and not in the company of a Dreadlord.

I wish that Faelenor’s motivations to seek me out had come from a happier place, not from a need to interrogate me. Discussions of playdates for our daughters instead of telling me that (who we thought had been) Tao Zhu laid in recovery from dagger and bayonet wounds that he claimed came from me, Cobrak, and some unnamed goblin within the company.

The Dreadlord can take any shape, any form, any face. That he took not only the face of a Deadshot, but kidnapped him, and to know that I introduced the company to this misery...I carry this guilt with me as a motivator. I sharpen it, as with any tool at my disposal, ready to finish this ugly business.

The only happiness to come from any of this madness might be that I’ve been forced to reconsider my stance on the Commander. Faelenor promised to escort me to where they were healing Tao Zhu. We hadn’t learned of the dreadlord’s deception yet. When we arrived in Dalaran to one of Sanctuary’s halls, the fight had already been well underway with dancing demonic swords. The scar they’ve given me across my face looks like a silver thread painted from temple down, only visible with a catch of the light. The blood blinded me. The pain from the slice to my arm rendered me useless for the rest.

I was aware enough to hear the distress in Commander Liene’s voice as she shouted my name while I fell to the floor. She took hits meant for me without thought.

Resentment and thanks, they don’t play kindly together. Hatebreeds between them with the same hardiness as a weed. Respect, as well. I still recall the moment in her office, the naked emotion on her face that Naheal provoked from her. I thought then that we shared an unfortunate illness, forever to stay. We both love him- how else could he manage to shake a woman who is otherwise a pillar of composure? My lipstick is like her sword. My perfume, like her shield. We both have our weapons we utilize. We won’t compromise our ideals.

She took Rylie into her arms, once the dust settled. I saw myself, holding Isadore the same way Julilee clutched the girl to her. That brand on Rylie’s head could only be removed if I handed over the staff. We have time, somehow, to discuss what we shall do, but I already know the lengths Julilee will go to in order to protect Rylie.

Why does her husband know the names of the Unseen Hand? Kex’ti, how did you come to learn of Nala’quoreem?

When people talk to me of my husband, I don’t bother to correct them. Naheal gave me a ring, which I’ve lost. He’s been away to the Caverns for months.

In that moment, when I thought someone had used my face to hurt a Deadshot, my mind blanked so that all I could imagine was my revenge. It is my sole duty, to expand my influence. To make my own justice. Then I forced myself to consider what plan I propose to the Commander. I couldn’t damn the girl’s soul to a Dreadlord. I can’t give him a staff I know to be powerful. I couldn’t reach Tao. Cobrak, the interim chief and one of my few true friends, couldn’t be reached. I’d never felt more alone.

Where was Naheal?

Zakael helped me relocate my children to my Dalaran apartment. We’ve discussed plans for the staff, and suggested the help of a demon expert. I hope Madame Opphinia proves more useful than not.

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This page smells like rum.

The List of the Utterly Stupid Nonsense in my Life, revisited:

- Sun Blossom let the filthy magic man touch her and fix her face. If that isn't actually her and she's a dreadlord, I'll be so peeved.

- We're handing off the staff today. We're trying to negotiate with a creature who, while the Madame says is bound by their word, is still a demon.

- Dora was purchased at an auction. By Lord Vyel. Rarely associated with him during my time with the Order of Eversong. Apparently he committed some recent atrocities in relation to Serinar. He's also possibly twice my age. At least he's an elf.

- I'm out of my favorite lip color.

- Zanas and I are going to have an evening with Aaren/Possibly the Dreadlord. Maybe I'll make him build a new trellis for my climbers.

- Naheal has been declared KIA. Which is stupid. He's in the Caverns, but I can't prove it. But he's not come back. I hate this whole bloody time-travel business, I hate all of it. Either way, Cobrak is Chief. All hail the Green-skinned drunken boar.

- I didn't mean that. I adore Cobrak. I'm just a bit bitter.

- When was the last time I had sex? I can't remember. Depressing.

- I hate this bloody stupid staff.

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Several important matters of note resulted from our hand-off of the staff.

Rylie’s mark was removed; she survived.

Tao-zhu had the lower half of his legs removed. He too survived.

Commander Liene is a dreadlord named Sophie. Really, why was this a surprise to anyone?

For the sake of proper documentation, I should note that it was actually another Dreadlord disguised as the Commander during the fight and not actually the Commander herself. It does put a lot of what has occurred into question, however. I feel I owe her gratitude for what she’d done for me, and yet I can’t be sure that at any point in recent history I had meaningful interaction with the real Commander or simply a demon playing their part to keep their cover.

Poor Kex’ti. At least my almost-spouse merely faffed off to go play with some Bronze dragons in their caves and not actually turn into a monster right in front of me. There are some who would argue my point and say that Naheal is monster enough as it is without needing horns. Kex’ti would be one of them.

Maybe my compassion is misplaced.

Must to my dismay, Ophinnia proved to be a useful asset in this exchange. The eye she planted in the staff led us exactly to where we could find our Pandaren friend, knowing that the demon would deceive us somehow. Even better, she seemed to recognize the creature that rose from the remains of Caldrien’s body. Lazhio. She apparently has a long, ugly history with the thing which, lucky us, means that she’ll be ready to lend a hand, or possibly more succubus wenches.

They wanted the stupid bloody staff. There was a portal, threatening to collect our souls to feed some demonic machinations and usher in darkness.

I didn’t want to be demon food, so I broke their stupid staff.

That worked, somehow.

Then I got called a hero, and now I’m having a bit of an identity crisis about the whole thing.

Antagonizing Cerryan felt perfectly natural however, so it seems that my moral corruption has not suddenly reversed itself.

At least I can be satisfied knowing that Caldrien never willingly betrayed us. His body acted as a vehicle for darkness, but his soul had been housed inside the staff which, frankly, incites questions that I’m not willing to contemplate halfway down a bottle of Rumsey Black Label.

My vacation was muchly needed.

To return and successfully pry information from our next participant in this sick Legion-fueled game of ours has my spirits renewed!

Though the visions imply that soon the Emerald Nightmare will utilized as a doorway for swarms of Legion armies or, failing that, a means to drive every living soul that dreams into inescapable insanity. I’ll have to collaborate with Magister Vathelan to see by what means we might be able to halt the impending doom.

He’s quite young, an ailment cured with time. He mentioned Dora’s name, though she’s never once spoken of him to me. Of course, Dora never tells me anything. She’s a stubborn mule of a girl, but it doesn’t matter. His cheeks pinkened as we spoke of her.

Maybe now that she’s finished play with dragons and orcs, she might finally settle for a proper Sin’dorei male.

He’s a bit idealistic, but he seems clever enough. Entitled and self-important, but that is to be expected from a child whose first step into the reality of war occurred only hours ago. Nothing that some experience in the field can’t solve.

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Xelkorak is dead, may she rot in the eternal damnation from which she spawned.

At least her methods intrigued me more than the others. I’ve always believed that there is no agony greater than ones caused by our own nightmares, which she utilized to great effect. My one regret in all of this is that we failed to deliver the same suffering unto her. For every moment she forced me to contemplate the murder of my children, I would see that she watched her lover waste away beyond her reach for a matching lifetime. The opportunity is lost. I mourn it.

We spent the aftermath of the fight burning the bodies of our fallen. We reaffirmed why it is that we fight. Family. Honor. Pride.

My family, at one time and to my knowledge at that moment, consisted of me alone. I’d not known the value of my home until the convent became my place of refuge while the Fall stole everything from me. Before, the convent felt like a prison. Then, with the mercy a hunter can grant a wounded animal with a clean blade, they allowed me to return so that my idle life of passing seasons between the school and home lied severed at my feet in the form of shambling undeath. I never found their bodies. If Aunt Sherra or Emineera ever returned for the corpses of their siblings, I’d not known of it. I assumed they perished with the rest.

So I was alone. In that darkness, I tried to find peace in the Light. But even then, the Shadows that nested within me seeked out familiarity. They found it in a strange girl who lingered in the market place, quiet and mumbling. She often hid her plump face under a wide-brimmed hat and had very little to say at all unless I coaxed it from her. Never in my life did I care about fishing until she put a pole in my hands. Never before did I understand the pleasure of idle chatter until it earned me the shy smile on her face. When I learned we were bound in more than spirit, that we had always shared a tie in blood, I felt hope that I would never be alone again. I had my cousin, my Janith, who stood by me for the pain of learning myself.

I wear many masks, stake claim to many designations. Field Operative, chemist, mother. But I felt the weight of the title which the Magister Vathelan addressed me in that first experience of the Twilight realm, with the memories undammed in my mind. Veteran.

I stood at the edge of the pond, where Janith taught me how to fish, and felt Selash’s presence at my back. He said… “While time changes a lot of things, some things remain exactly the same as we remember them.” A false comfort, I told him. But a comfort nonetheless, he reiterated. No surprise that he would be there beside me. Veterans, especially those who fought together, seek each other out when something comes to stir the memories. He’s as much a relic as me. Time cannot wholly disguise the man I once knew, despite the eyepatch with the hardened countenance to compliment it.

It was painful, to be called priestess again. But a sweet ache. Proof, that the memories I cling to are more than dreams.

We talked about the Raven Cross, and of our failed romances- ones that we had with each other and others since. It is possible that the names we spoke that night hadn’t been uttered in years. Leoren, Isendur, Vaande, Xenaken. Svetlaena, Duroxas, Sowell. Janith.

He said he thought something happened to me. That when I showed up all those months ago, it was one of the biggest shocks in his life. He hoped I hadn’t wound up like the rest. Like his wife, who died after the birth of their child.

Janith. I found myself because of you. I stayed alive well past the time I lost you; forgive me, but my daughter needed me.

Borrowed Time grows, changes. Pieces slot into place, only to be discarded. Aaren left us, but that hardly stands as a shock. Others like Megeda make their marks on the cumulative history of the organization, one insubordinate slap at a time. Our children thrive in this shared space, despite the tumultuous times. Or perhaps because of it, as it forces them to create ties with each other that will only strengthen with time, become full-bodied with age.

There is no bond, however, quite like that of a shared culture.

When Faelenor spoke of his obligations to his house, the kinship I shared with him burned within me. My struggle with my own title, along with various duties to my people, felt lightened by his mere mentioning of his own difficulties.

I suddenly saw in him a source of relief for an ache I had not realized resided within me until he soothed it. My resistances crumbled under the weight of my need to find healing for the wound which the Fall inflicted upon me. Upon all of us.

We understood each other as victims. We recognize our responsibility as the last remaining of our people to revive a society whose existence depends on us to fight, to bleed, and to remember.

If Naheal had continued to cultivate the purpose he’d given me, the energy inspired by these sentiments might have been directed towards a grander cause. To his vision of a united Azeroth, similar in title alone to the ideals of Sanctuary.

The Grim seek peace through annihilation. Sanctuary seeks peace through discourse. Naheal had sought peace through conquest.

With Naheal gone, I seek a future for my people. The rest can burn.

Faelenor is, I believe, of a similar mind.

He offered me safe haven for my thoughts. I poured them into his ear like rain soaking into the earth.

I play your words again, in my thoughts, to soothe my pains. “You and I are one in the same...plagued by our own denial, intoxicated with our understanding of the world and how we interact with its denizens. We do not fall in line with the idea of the light as a justice and the shadows as the true evil of this world. We see it as a means to an end. How we choose to let it affect is is for us to deal with. But there must always be a balance..."

You struggled with that balance for so long, that it took on a life of it’s own.

The incarnation of your darkness, the one you call Arcturil. He sought me out. He felt so familiar to me, like a nursery rhyme long forgotten but whose tune taunts the mind into a fevered recollection.

Isendur’s ghost lurks in your shadow, Faelenor. You’ve given my nightmares a body to inhabit.

He was discontent to merely haunt my darkling thoughts, after all.

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Acrturil’s silence looms over my head like a cloud. The consequences of a sha creature with a piece of a man’s soul running loose on the main continents with a banquet of sorrow at every turn promises to be trouble at best.

At least I find sport in testing the techniques I intend to use for his capture.

The sphere I developed worked as intended. We’d picked out a field where the sickness had yet to be cleansed, with sha entities in enough numbers to be worth harvesting. With one brutal fight, enough to weaken them, the sphere would collect their essence into its hollow capsule to then be taken to the lab in the hopes that their reconstruction into solid bodies takes nothing more than some feeding and a bit of space in which to reform their shape.

But the Lord-Ranger let down his guard. Prior to that moment, the idea of him defenseless before a creature of shadow seemed inconceivable. He’d been only the crunch of a jaw away from becoming a meal if not for a dagger in the creature’s back.

I hadn’t been prepared for weakness from Faelenor. For so long, the picture of his memory in my mind depicted a calculated mind let loose into a warfield like a hound chasing after the scent of it’s intended mark. I mentioned to him before that I feared my skills languished with the lack of use. His carelessness gave me great cause for concern.

The near death experience, rather than dissuade him, served to invigorated him. Frankly, this behaviour at least harked back to that memory I carried of him with passable likeness. Faelenor requested that I accompany him to Undercity, to meet with a colleague after our hunt for sha. Instead of a greeting at the front door, we discovered the man’s rotted finger just outside his home. It invited our further exploration.

To think I’d be involved in another investigation so quickly after the business with Quorum.

Of course, nothing is simple.

Someone had left in a hurry. Their terror could be read in the evidence of their last, scrambling moments. A key left to sit in a doorway lock. Coins dropped on the floor in a meeting hall with dust covering the chairs, untouched for long months. We discovered chains of living steel in a dungeon room, along with a black stain on the floor that I collected for the sake of examining the sample. The chains bore Pandaren markings along the length of the links. The shackles themselves glowed in the aura of their infused harmonic spirits. I speculated with Faelenor over their intended use. The answers we derived suggested foul play from the very start.

In our world, trust is our most precious commodity. For him to have given it to Tarrixs and have it be repaid in betrayal felt bitterly cruel. But, at least I have new ideas for how to capture Arcturil because of the discovery of this dungeon. I’ll be putting the knowledge to use shortly.

There is a last detail to this day that I am compelled to examine. To commit these words to pages unburdens me as much as it causes great discomfort, but to simply ignore these next catalogued events could compromise our work. So here they are.

The first room we entered as we breached the interior of the house via a second-floor window hosted several magical spiders. The nature of their existence intrigues me, but what they can accomplish captivated my imagination. They whisper thoughts into people’s ears before they vanish entirely, with no evidence of their tampering left behind. Faelenor assured me that the stories they spun held grains of truth. Selected truths can create an incomplete, persuasive picture. The power suggested by their being intrigued me. And yet.

He’d been crouched down. I watched as little legs the color of violet scrambled up his leg, to perch on his shoulder. When the spider faded, he turned his eager grin towards me. He’d only said one word: curious?

Yes, I am.

Self-restraint and I, we’ve never tolerated each other for very long. But in this closeness we’ve developed between each other, I see the virtue as a necessity. The Rayfeather family represents everything I dream for the future of our people. Their happiness gives me the hope I need to believe in a salvaged society, where Sin’dorei prevail above the slaughter.

And yet.

We both carry the same darkness in us. His cleverness extends to the barbed wordplay that we engage in with ease. He understands the thrill of the unknown. He knows exactly why our hearts make homes in the Shadow of this world.

I wish I had never unearthed the secret of his past attraction for me. I’d thought it something simple, perhaps an unnecessary truth that ultimately meant very little in the face of our current reality. Something easily overshadowed by his love for his wife and his daughter.

Curious? Yes. I stepped towards him. He took his hand in mine, to craft a bridge so that the little spider could toddle towards me and whisper thoughts into my ear.

But I was the one to finally pull away.

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I’ve never been one to believe in Fate. To do so would remove agency from my choices; it’s a convenient way to explain away uncomfortable circumstances or to give meaning to events that would otherwise have none, often to the benefit of a person’s agenda. Evidence as of late has brought that time-old debate back into relevancy.

The facets of my life each bear a thread. My curiosity forced me to tug at the various lines I’ve laid out behind me. I begin to unravel them.

I’ve mentioned before that when I was younger, I attended a convent under the suggestion of my family. I lost them, and any desire to return to the convent well after that. My envy of the priestesses’ innate control over the Light faded once I discovered that I wore Shadow like a comfortable cloak. Isendur’s guidance allowed for my growth.

Isendur. He was more than a teacher. He became a void that took everything; from the focus of my thoughts to the years I spent raising his child.

Perhaps that meddling Bronze drake wanted Naheal’s continued service to this universe, but he’s disappeared. With it, Kerri’s influence. Perhaps her lies were more palatable than the truth. Regardless, I see Isendur’s height in Isadore as she grows. I see his cheekbones in her elongating face. Thankfully, his cruelty has yet to manifest in his offspring.

This does pose questions; if the Isadore of my womb is Isendur’s child, as is Dora from a timeline parallel to ours up until the past year, then who is Phyruss’ father? An investigation for later.

But while Isendur remains my most influential teacher, I was not his only student.

Those who became ensnared by the tendrils of his tutelage bear the same histories, to a point. To be his student is to know carnal pleasure with him. We all wear literal and figurative scars from from his sexual appetite. Faelenor Rayfeather was no exception.

The connection between Faelenor and myself tempted me to pull. We were alone, in the crumbling ruins of a tower in Lordareon, discussing plans to invade the Moshu’gun Vaults.

My interest diverted. I took the thread, and tugged.

He taught Faelenor in a similar fashion to me. With manipulation, seduction. He hunted us, to our great satisfaction. Yet to learn of Faelenor’s history is to delve deeper into Isendur’s savagery. With the methods Isendur employed on me, he applied restraint. With Faelenor...there was none. No gentleness. Just destruction. Faelenor had to create a part of himself to house all of the darkness that Isendur inspired. Every pleasure he took in ending a life, every sinful thought, every blood-stained memory; the coagulation of it all took the name Arcturil, meant to protect the untarnished pieces of Faelenor’s soul.

Faelenor and I...are so much more similar than we could have ever guessed. We both know the dark craft of creating masks to hide behind. We both know how to use cruelty to it’s most effective potential, and how to use sweetness. We both have an insatiable curiosity, have both taken on students of our own, in the same fashion as the old Wolf. Isendur is reflected in everything that we do, even in the way that we interacted with our students. I seduced, the way Isendur did with me. I toyed with my pupil. I kept him at a distance. Then I allowed our intimacy, when he’d been properly ripened.

My attraction to Faelenor isn’t something I completely understand. Watching him interact with his daughter stirs a yearning in me for a similar influence in Isadore’s life. A partner to involve himself in the quiet moments of life between the battles where exists times like tending to my garden or reading to Isadore until she falls asleep in her bed. But this isn’t the whole of it; if it was, then my requirements have already been met in another individual. So there must be more. I consider our little bouts of banter that entertain us. He provides that freely. There’s an element of familiarity to him that almost borders on narcissism. I see my streak of curiosity in him, I see the charm of my flattery in his words. There is also the matter of his inaccessibility to me, the allure of the unattainable. His wife creates an enticing barrier.Or, perhaps, we both see the lover we took on in our youth, the man that shaped who we are and would rather take the scraps that we toss to each other than to leave behind the memory.

But, as it often was with Isendur’s methods, we began a path towards destruction the longer we prowled around each other.

Desperation motivated so much of what occurred in that tower. We tore down every wall between us. Found a place in each other to bury the seed of our desires for the future.

We want so much. To teach Saturna and Isadore our skills. I raised the Rayfeathers on a pedestal, so that every Sin’dorei family who struggles to see a future needed only to look at them and know what it is that they can hope to achieve. A loving mother. A happy child. A dedicated, faithful husband.

He kissed me. My dreams tasted like ash in my mouth.

I whispered his wife’s name against his lips. He was a man destroyed by his own proclivity to gratification. He left.

It made the job of diving into the Vaults that much more difficult. I stayed in the shadow, never wanting to reveal myself for long. I felt an obligation to care for Amalyn without dwelling long on the impulse. Looking deeper into it now, I suppose that my obsession with the perfection I’d seen in the Rayfeathers made each member of the family precious to me. I intimately felt the loss of my opportunity to better know Amalyn.

She’s a beautiful woman, Amalyn Rayfeather. She cares for every member of Borrowed Time as if they were her own, adopting them all into the generosity of her heart. Isadore runs to her without hesitation whenever she sees her, treating her no differently than she would me. It’s painful to share my child with another woman, to see that she embodies Isadore’s idea of a mother and unaware of how I might feel about this shared title. But even in that insecurity that it raises, I still appreciate what Amalyn does for me.

Arcturil’s reemergence became a day marked with panic. We grabbed our children like he’d come to collect them, almost suffocating them in our collective hold. She leaned against me, wholly trusting. Unexpectedly, she sparked the desire to care for her, to protect. It’s never quite left me.

But now I’m relegated to do so from the shadows.

I won’t escape what I am. The threads, from my daughter to my closest friend, all lead to Isendur's influence. If Fate exists, then I am near convinced that I am doomed to forever live in the Wolf's shadow.

Sometimes I try to assure myself that if I am capable of guilt, perhaps I’m not as miserable of a wretch as I’ve assumed. Truthfully, I can’t be sure why I feel any at all beyond perhaps something second hand from Faelenor’s actions. Could I have warned Amalyn of what I knew? Was it my place to tell her that her husband lusted for me? To lust for him return, well. My thoughts are my own. It is in action that we derive culpability.

So then, do I condemn myself for engaging in our wordplay? For meeting him in private to discuss our plans? Time and time again, I take a catalog of my interaction with him. I was the one that pulled away when he offered me his hand. I firmly reminded him of his place as a father and husband to someone else. I warned him that desire made fools of us all. Then what shall I make of this compulsion to mend her broken heart, to ask her to forgive me for crimes of the mind?

She and Faelenor came to some agreement, if his apology implies anything. He saw the way I trailed after Amalyn in the Vaults, how I intercepted any danger that might have befallen her. Told me that he asked her not to blame me for what had occurred, but I had little hope.

All I can do now is offer myself as bait to Arcturil, now that we have a means of capturing him. Maybe that will be penance enough.

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I described Amalyn Rayfeather as a beautiful woman. I’m about to spend the next several lines rectifying this mistake.

I allowed myself to ruminate over that guilt whose source I cannot define. It followed me well into the early hours of the morning, until I realized that the night had passed without rest. Just thoughts of how I could make amends, or simply to speak to Amalyn again without shame curdling in my chest. I came up a plan, and set out to Dalaran to acquire the materials.

When I returned to the base with the sun still hiding below the horizon line, I spied Zakael with the mother of his child. He held the baby in his arms. They looked like a family, even if the mother’s unique features might seem strange to behold at first glance. I couldn’t stop seeing the potential for happiness between the three of them. I left.

I found Amalyn later that morning, looking over post. When I asked to speak with her privately, I hadn’t any expectation for how she would regard me beyond contempt. But while the ill will was plain between us, she only mentioned that she’d anticipated this moment and asked that I lead her to a more secluded location.

She’s a lady of surprises, certainly.

I’d imagine the various possibilities for this particular conversation, with each outcome a varying degree of bleak. But I also considered what I wanted to accomplish by speaking with her. I decided that, as deception ranked highest among my crimes, I would open myself to her questions. I implored her to ask anything of me. I would lay out for her the entire truth to the best of my ability. Allow her the opportunity to flay me if that would satisfy her.

But she didn’t want my pain. She said she’d already reflected over what occurred between her husband and myself. She offered the opportunity of confession instead, if it helped to assuage my guilt. Even when I voiced my doubt, she said she’d accept whatever I wished to tell her and that if she had questions, she’d ask me.

I was blindsided by her kindness. She approached me, and I recall warm radiance from the Light of her aura. So I told her everything. About how losing Naheal’s guidance meant I lost my sense of direction. About how, even in the welcoming atmosphere of Borrowed Time, I felt alone, more alone than I had after the Fall. It was only now that I’d come to appreciate how much we’d lost. In the death of our countrymen, we also lost our traditions, our society. Broken, yes- as the daughter of a mouldering family name, I’m intimately familiar with our own skewed ideologies. Still, it was ours. And there are so few families left. Broken individual Sin’dorei make up our contribution to the Horde ranks. Blood kin is far rarer, and often rife with unhappiness. But in the Rayfeathers, I saw the example I wanted for the future of my people.

She’d asked if I wanted their happiness for myself. She continued to answer her own question, saying she already knew I wouldn’t do that to them. She trusted me. She said it pained her more than if it had been someone she hated. I wished then that she hated me as much as I hated myself. I explained to her that I didn’t know what I could have done differently. Should I have told her about that lust, I asked her? Would it have been worth the pain when it might not have amounted to anything at all?

She said she understood. Truly, she understood. She even offered me the assurance that we would both regain her trust. As if I’d somehow earned it then. She’s a woman of compassion like I’ve never seen before. And certainly it is a compassion that I’ve never experienced in my own life.

Dalaran’s activities provided me a gift that I was able to pass to her then. I told her that trust takes time and effort to rebuild, and that I hoped she would consider my offering effort towards that end. In the box were bottles, the self-labeling kind with the analytical spell cast over the vessel to determine the brew. Useful thing, especially to chemists. And as she is a practitioner of the trade, I thought she might appreciate it.

I had hoped that, at best, she would accept the present with a thank you. That her arms locked around my waist to pull me into a hug seemed like a far-removed daydream too impossible to even entertain with any gratification. I can still feel her in my arms. I can smell the unique mouldering of books from her robes. The inadequacy of my whispered thanks made me small, like I was a pebble’s shadow in the enormity of her generous heart’s resplendence.

I fell in love with her then. When I consider the mirroring of my life and Faelenor’s, I realize I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

I told her that I understood why he loves her. She hugged me tighter in the middle of that abandoned meeting room.

“And I understand why he loves you.”

It was a capsule of time filled with impossible possibilities. That she said those words- what had it all meant? My mind fractured then. How was she capable of holding the woman who was one half of her husband’s affair and tell her that she understood why he could love me? Wouldn’t the obvious conclusion be that she could see something in me worth loving? But how?

I pulled away before I could reveal how very lost I’d become and let her know I was happy she liked her gift. We spoke further about estates, and children. Conversations I haven’t had with anyone else who could truly understand what it’s like to love a home like it were a member of the family. But we shared sympathies on topics I hold close to my heart. She became air the way Faelenor felt before, when I spoke to him on the beach.

She called my daughter lovely. “Lovely, smart...Just like her mother.”

I don’t know that I will ever forget the way she looked. She’d been sitting in the only chair. I’d found a space on the only desk. She was slouched over, her chin in her palm, and her smile hiding behind the curve of her fingers. Everything about her radiated warmth, and I felt again that Faelenor and I live parallel lives, that it would have been impossible for me to keep from falling in love with the woman he married.

“There is a lovely woman here,” I had said. “But it isn’t me.”

She blushed, and straightened in her chair to turn away from me. She kept on with compliments. Called me intelligent, fleet-footed and quick witted. On and on, as if I were worth praising. She’s impossible. A series of impossible kindnesses dressed in crimson and framed in auburn hair. And she was shy. Blushing. Beautiful.

I wanted to carve into her then. To slash my name across her beating heart and claim her as mine, because the Beast demanded it. But I promised her I would never let another thing hurt her if it was within my capability to protect, which included saving her from myself.

I don’t think she ever realized the danger she put herself in when she took my hand. She asked me why she mattered. I asked her to look at the world in which we lived. A barren wasteland with war upon us in endless waves. Inhospitable to love, to tenderness. And yet despite the tragedy of her life, her heart remained open. She has the strength to love deeply without reservation. It’s beautiful, I told her, and worth keeping safe at any cost.

"But that is precisely why everyone deserves love. Because so many have lost it or lost how to give it. Every living being should know a loving touch, a loving ear, a loving home. Even our enemies have the capacity of love for their own families and friends, we just see the world differently. Even you deserve love, despite what wrongs you believe you've committed."

I turned my back to her then, claiming that she couldn’t possibly know enough about me to judge if I am worthy of anything, let alone love. Then her arms anchored me against her. My neck prickles as I recall how she breathed three simple words into my ear. You. Deserve. Love.

If she had left it at that, I could have found the strength to push her away. But then she kissed me on my cheek. Something long-pressed and filled with meaning.

I kissed her on the lips, to deduce that meaning for myself. I tasted her fear. I felt her trembling in my arms. But she clung to me like reality would shatter if she didn’t. Then it ended just as quickly.

I thought she was exquisite when she blushed. But she was devastating when she was debauched, with the mixing of our lipstick smeared along a cheek and her red hair wildly framed around her pale face.

Forgive me, she begged. She spoke the name of her husband, and it was then that I knew not even her absolution could save me from the destruction that I’d caused.

Amalyn Rayfeather is not merely beautiful. She’s a pillar of benevolence wrapped in crimson. She’s playful, coy. She has weight from motherhood that is soft to touch and rolls over the edge of her skirt. And for her, I will pay my penance because even if I can’t stop myself from hurting her, I can at least kill the creature that’s tortured her and her family.

I’ll find Arcturil and kill him myself.

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