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Hope in Shadows

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A wonder that the Nightborne joined the Horde, Kex'ti Dalendala thought to himself. Telemancy has certainly made getting around easier. 

He hated portal magic. It always left him nauseated for hours, and for a man of his size, it was a deeply unpleasant experience. The elf monk hobbled through the moor, his boots slick with grime. He could sense the chi of nothing living. But in Tirisfal Glades, dead rarely meant gone. Rarer still did it mean non-hostile. He'd run off the drink from the morning while he rode his raptor from Ratchet to the Crossroads. From there, a wyvern flew him to Orgrimmar, and from there, a portal to the Undercity had brought him to Lordaeron. 

The sky here always felt low to the ground. Nowhere else on Azeroth, even Northrend, had ever felt so oppressive. The way that fog and cobwebs mixed in the sparse pines did little to relieve the feeling of slow suffocation. He shuddered, and pulled his coat closer. He'd left his armor, or most of it, in the bank of Ratchet. Now, part of him wished he'd brought something, anything besides his stubbornness as protection along on the journey. He carried his staff and limped along with it in one hand, and cradled a small box in the crook of the other. 

He put his foot on a stone, and heard a voice rasp from the mist. "Not many quick out here, sin'dorei." 

With a smirk and a chuckle, Kex'ti locked eyes with the glowing yellows of the Forsaken. "Do not worry, friend. I promise that I will keep moving for some time to come."

He'd expected a laugh, and received a grunt. Kex'ti took a deep breath of the rot that surrounded him. I suppose I am a slower learner than I would like in lowering my expectations, he thought. "I am here to visit a grave."

"Why?" asked the graveguard. Now that he'd arrived, he found he'd never really considered that. This just felt like the right thing to do. 

"It felt like the right thing to do," he said. 

The guard lit a lantern. The graveyard flickered in the wan light as the oil spattered against the glass and iron cage. It wasn't nightfall yet, but that made little difference. The lantern was for his benefit, and it sufficed as permission. Kex'ti nodded to the guard, a Forsaken man in dark leathers, a deep hood, and with two wicked scimitars that hung on hooks from his belt. 

"Augustus Krowne?" The elf asked the undead. The guard moved. The soles of his boots whispered against the peaty soil. 

The grave was covered in growth. Kex'ti raised an eyebrow to the guard. The Forsaken responded by setting the lantern by the tombstone. "I'm a guard," he answered, "not a groundskeeper." 

Kex'ti nodded, and knelt. He had worn gloves, and buckled the magewoven coat closer. The wool in the coat would keep him warm, at least. His stomach growled. He knew he wouldn't be eating for a while, given the... Strong flavors preferred by the residents of Tirisfal. 

The monk removed his gloves, and laid them on the chest he'd carried along. He gripped the moss and branches wrapping the grave, and began to tear them loose. The guard stayed close, and offered no help. A blade would've made the process simple, but Kex'ti wanted to do this manually. He wanted to pull the roots loose, he wanted to work his skin raw, he wanted to feel the mists tingle and itch as he knit and tore and reknit the skin and blood on his hands as the thorns of the vine gnashed into his hands. 

Hands that had gripped reins of cloud serpents and nether rays. That reached out for people falling away. That had choked the life from a sin'dorei scout in the wrong place. That had maimed, crippled, and killed for sport, for justice, and in madness. Hands which had healed the wounded, that had caressed the skins of the few people he'd loved, and had gripped hands with his closest friends. 

He didn't want to feel that. He wanted to feel his hands hurt, he wanted to remember the pain of his pinky being bitten loose. He wanted to hurt. He just didn't want to be left alone with it. And who could listen like the dead? 

He wove the mists into his raw and sliced fingers and palms, channeling chi to the wounds, mending them, and feeling the burn as he stole the life from the bacteria that would try to thrive at his expense. A touch of gray leaked into the spiritual matter from the surrounding mist. 

The monk rolled his hands, feeling the joints crack. He coughed, but couldn't taste blood. That was good, at least. He reached over to the box, undid the latch, and pulled out a wineskin. He poured it over the grave, the firewater washing off his own blood, the dust of the years since the Wrathgate. 

"I am sorry, Aug. I know you were more of a wine or a beer guy," Kex'ti whispered in Thalassian. "I can, at least, try to speak your own tongue," Kex'ti said, in halting gutterspeak. 

He smiled. "Yeah, I know. You always used to say you were a poet before you were an alchemist, and that just happened to be the tongue they put in your mouth." Kex'ti sat into the dirt. The coat would be dirty. So what? He clipped his words, flowing between whatever he knew, whether Krowne would speak it or not. "I wonder if that was the excuse you used: someone put words in your mouth. Aug, I've had a bit of a trip since I dragged you out of that quagmire."  

"You were right there, but it was like you couldn't decide if you wanted to throw that vial at me, or Putress' defectors. I still don't know why you did that. I would've thought that our time together would've been enough to help you make your choice. Maybe I should've given you the chance. But I didn't want you to go on like that. I didn't want to die like that, and I didn't want your memory to just get...stained like that." 

"But I wonder, if you just let something go on, does that actually make it better? Did I save you a lot of suffering? Or did I deny you the chance to fix it?" 

"I think about that a lot. I did up until recently, anyway."

"There's a woman. Not... That kind. A Forsaken. Her name is Syreena. She's one of those I can never figure out. For a long time, I'd hoped that patience, a stern hand, might lead her to a nobler path. I mean, I think that's how my life worked. Or how I thought it did. You pulled me out of Silvermoon. Remi helped me see a bigger picture. But... Without the two of you..."

Kex'ti looked at his hands, the crisscrossed scars of years of fighting, and the scratches he'd tried to erase with mistweaving. "Have I ever really been my own person? Is that really what I've wanted? Before you, I always listened to mother and father, and they never really gave me much hope. You gave me a chance to do something different, but when I left to go out on my own, I wasn't even alone then. I was doing it for someone else."

"Maybe I just make bad decisions when it involves myself." 

He glanced down to the firewater. "I had my last drink this morning. Or, at least last one for a while. I know what happens when I try and distract myself, whether it's with drugs, or a cause, or just combat. I make bad choices. I hurt people. And... I can't keep doing that. Nobody else deserves to live with that but me." 

Kex'ti looked up at the sky, or Krowne's presence above, or just to avoid looking at the tombstone. He turned back to find the guard gone, or lurking. What did it matter? The guard could attack him, report the story, or do nothing. Making a mess to be cleaned up later, Kex'ti went on with his monologue. 

"I ran away, again." 

"After the Wrathgate, I went to go be with Remiaan, at the Argent Tournament. She died, so I ran away. I went and found a place in the Twilight's Hammer. I can spare you those stories. It was... I may have been selfish in the Arena. I may have been heartbroken when I lost you. When I lost Rem. But what I did to dull that pain... That's what haunts me. That's what makes me wish I just wasn't... Alive, or aware, or whatever oblivion means."

He smirked. 

"That's kind of the sick bit of it. I got exactly what I wanted, there. I didn't have to think about what I was doing. I didn't have to look behind the curtain. I was behind the curtain, and in the dark, you don't really care about it. When someone pulls the curtain aside, it's not what's hidden that you look in on that scars you. It's not what's lurking in the dark. It's that when someone lets the light in, you can see what you've actually been doing, when you've been just doing it blindly, or doing it without much fear." 

"The horrible thing is that the ignorance is what I miss most. It's not that the truths the Twilight's Hammer and Old Gods preach that burn the mind, or make you hopeless. It's just that when you're following along, they don't matter. You don't matter. You're just matter." 

He coughed and took a sip from his jug, unknotting a piece of twine he'd tied around it. Without Zhanhao's yao grass, he'd need to go back to Pandaria for it. The twine would remind him when he needed to restock. 

"That's what scares me most about the Void, I think. Is that knowledge that it's exactly what I wanted: to be nothing. To think nothing. To feel nothing. From nothing, you can be anything. Instead of a cripple. Instead of sick. Instead of a murderer. Instead of a coward."

He rested a hand on the tombstone. 

"I'm sorry you're dead, August. I'm sorry I didn't make good on the life you gave me," he said. "I'm sorry I killed you. I'm sorry.... I didn't make good on either of our lives." 

Kex'ti rubbed his face. 

"After that... I just went back to Ratchet. That's where life got good for me, I think. Where we started winning fights. Where I stopped being just a sick kid in Silvermoon. I think that's why I'll always go back there, because it's where I can start over. I've gotten really good at starting over. It's not a fun skill to have."

He told the grave about how he met Wei Xo. How he traveled to Pandaria, and made his medicine with the help of Yu-Ting. How he came down the mountain reborn as a mistweaver, and he met Baern Grimtotem, Tauranor, Billamong, and Rabbic Ohen in the Thunder-Pan company. How being an actual mercenary taught him to think as a member of a group, rather than just a small group. 

How he'd gone to Draenor in hopes of a second chance with Remiaan. How he'd ended up in Sanctuary instead. He smiled, and recounted stories of Vilmah, Cerryan, Nojinbu, and Baern, now Baern Ashtotem. 

"Those were the best years of my life, August. The time with you, then with Rem, those were great. But Sanctuary... I felt happy. Like I had purpose."

He smiled, but his eyes clenched bittersweet. "I knew an orc woman. I saw a lot of myself in her. I hoped that I could help her, that I could push her off the path I'd walked, and spare her the suffering. But..."

He coughed. "Sometimes I wonder if me being sick was a sign from the universe. That I'm so poisonous that I can't even live with myself. Sanctuary went to... I guess you'd call it a war. Against a corrupted ancient named Accalia. Twice, in fact. The first time, I had a nightmare. A long, long nightmare. And the thing that I remember is that it was drawn out from myself: It was my fears. My worries, my anxieties, put on display to torment me. I... I remember bits of it, now and then. But what I always remember is that, somewhere in it, I told myself that 'I'm poison.'" 

"I couldn't keep Shokkra from making the choices she makes. That are so close to the ones I've made, and are going to be just as destructive." 

"I fought against the Legion, the last year. I helped the victims of a place called Suramar. The elves there were similar to the Sin'dorei, but descended more directly from the kaldorei. I spent a little time on Argus, too, believe it or not." 

He gripped his hands together. 

"I met a woman. I fell in love. And, she gave me part of her life, to save me from my illness. There's a lot to love about her. But part of that love is... I destroyed Remi. I destroyed you, and I've destroyed myself and countless others. She made a choice, recently, that she would give trust to those who needed it. I think they're far from deserving it. I think they'll fail. I think they'll fall to madness and worse. But trust? They need that. I know I did. I failed to go where I wanted. But everyone gave me a chance to try."

"She trusted them. But I never could. I... Never can. They associated with the Void, and that association was too tempting to ignore. And after everything, I can't make the same choices I've made. When she made that choice, I was angry. I still am, and I'm still hurt that... It felt like my pain was ignored. But pain passes. Pain can heal. It just won't heal in time to make a difference. But part of me has always known what her choices meant for me."

"I never stopped loving her. I don't think I can, and I think it would be wrong to try. But that love means I'm not going to destroy her. I'm not going to poison anything else." 

"Once you acquire a taste for poison, it's a part of you. I might destroy myself, over, and over, and over again. But, this time, I won't drag anyone else into the Void with me." 

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