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Julilee

Journeys of a Ghost

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She stepped off the boat and looked up, up, up, at the tiered and thickly floraed city. The air was heavy with humidity, enough that it had made her dizzy for a moment when she'd emerged from the ship cabin before she'd warded it off, and it carried the commingled foreign scents of rotting jungle and the unique culture of this city. Around her moved crowds almost as dense, made up of many Zandalari trolls, but also Sin'dorei, orcs, Nightborne, Forsaken, and others, including a race of turtle-like people she had never seen before, and everywhere she looked there were dinosaurs, used as beasts of burden and labor. Everything was different and exotic, and she barely spent a moment looking at it before turning to a dockworker.
 
"Excuse me," she said politely. "Where can I find taverns?"
 
The green-skinned troll had nearly two heads on her. Clearly taking a break, he stood leaning against a pallet of crates while smoking a foul-smelling herb, but responded with lucidity. "Ya be lookin' fo' de elf-like taverns, de sailormon taverns, o' de Horde soldier taverns?" He pointed in the direction of each as he spoke, three separate locations along the docks.
 
She considered the options, then asked, "Which one has the most fighting?"

The troll chuckled. "De second. Which loa do you bargain with?" He looked at her sword as he asked the question.
 
Julilee put her hand on the hilt of Mercy. "None," she said, then, still just politely, "Thank you for the advice. Good fortune to you." With that, she turned away to head in the direction he had indicated.
 
"Paku watch over ya, richmon," he said, regarding her with a wary respect as she left.
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She had gone to Ratchet, first. That was where he'd been the last time she'd seen him. She barely remembered the overland journey there, but remembered that the bartender had had to tell her twice that he had quit and gone off to join the war before it sank in.
 
"What war?" she asked. "The Legion was defeated."
 
The goblin gave her a look that said he was finding her more and more questionable in terms of sanity, intellect, or both. "With the Alliance? You know, after we burned down Teldrassil and they tried to take Undercity so we bombed it to plaguey smithereens?"
 
She stood there, digesting that. Once, those two hefty pieces of news would have sent her into a tailspin. It would have changed everything. Now, she found they didn't matter. It was just noise, just background. Her objective remained the same.
 
"Where should I look for him?"
 
"Uh, Zuldazar's where the Horde's operating out of, so start there, I guess?"
 
The goblin was nothing more than that same background now, and she almost turned and walked away without a further word. But something stopped her. With an effort, she focused on the hesitation and identified it. It was that the goblin was a person, and you were supposed to treat people with respect.
 
It had been so long since that had been relevant she'd forgotten it mattered.
 
"Thank you," she said politely before she departed.
 
 
Edited by Julilee
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She'd also forgotten what pork tasted like. After journeying north into Durotar, she'd killed a boar, then cooked it over a proper fire. While the meat sizzled and browned, she'd stared at it, struggling with a sense of unreality. Dissociation, she told herself. She'd heard the term somewhere, probably in a leadership course or other schooling her upbringing had provided, but like many other things, she hadn't understood it until she experienced it.
 
It didn't really taste special. It was just meat.
 
In the fading light of the evening, Juli inventoried her possessions. She carried very little. Her sword, Mercy; her armor, with the padding she wore underneath; and the contents of her pack, which was at this point only a short rope, a knife, a patched waterskin, a well-used sharpening stone, and five gold pieces.
 
If she went to Orgrimmar, she could access her accounts and purchase anything at all she needed. She could commandeer a mount, sleep in a bed, replace her shield. She thought about it, then laid back on the hard-packed dirt and stared up at the sky until stars began to twinkle into existence. The sight wasn't as reassuring as she had hoped. It wasn't really anything. It was just the night sky, which was to say, more an infinite void than anything else.
 
"I'm alive," she whispered.
 
The void did not answer.
 
That was a welcome change.
 
 
Edited by Julilee
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The next morning she had stopped in Echo Isles to start searching for more information, and that's where she discovered two things: one, that it had been six months she had been gone, and two, the pleasant coincidence that a boat sailed from the Isles to Zuldazar every day. Thus she had ended up in the Zandalari city that very afternoon for the price of only two gold, her journey more direct than it had any right to be, though at that point she was on her own to figure out where to go from there. She'd only had the one idea of where to start looking for him. As she stepped into the sailors' tavern, she gave herself a moment to adjust to the interior.
 
The tavern music was loud and heavy on the drums, but the addition of stringed instruments added a strangely elven vibe. Within, sailors threw knives at targets, quaffed drinks, and brawled. Most were Zandalari, but grizzled orcs staked their claim. In a corner, two goblins, a Farraki troll, and a single Forsaken were engaged in a game of cards, and laughed in unmistakable Orcish lilts. One of the goblins clutched her hair and bemoaned whatever she'd lost in the exchange.
 
Juli was standing there, pondering whom to approach, when the female goblin noticed her and seemed to brighten with hope. The goblin called over, "Hey! You! You're a paladin, aintcha? I just lost my staff. Really, really a shame. Can barely call down the Light on my allies here. Mind helping a fellow girl out?"
 
Not offering any corrections, Juli approached. "What do you need?" she inquired.
 
"Just uh, you mind spotting me some coin? Just three gold, enough to buy back my staff." The female smiled coyly, batting her eyelashes. "I'll do anything you might need. Y'know, 'cause we're fellow travelers on the path of the Light."
 
Juli reached into her satchel and pulled out her remaining three gold. "Just help me find someone. His name is Kex'ti. Sin'dorei, white hair, a little weathered, likes to punch and use the mists like a monk."
 
The goblin quickly grabbed the three gold, but didn't hesitate to turn to her companions. Her voice, known to the other regulars, elicited attention as she spoke loudly. "Hey, any'a youse know anything about an old blood elf monk guy?" She set down the coins and pulled back an ornate, gaudy staff.

"I've seen one or two," spoke up one of the orcs. "You might try checking up at the Great Seal." He addressed Juli. "Hell of a climb, 'specially in plate. Ask for one of the Paku'ai to send you up."
 
If Kex'ti had kept to bartending, or underground fighting, these people would have known him. This Great Seal seemed like her only remaining lead, weak though it was. "Thank you," she said, and once more left without a backwards glance.
 
"That's it?" Juli heard the goblin say, then, with a shrug in her voice, "All right, boys, buy me back in. I'm gonna win this one."
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Juli didn't know what the Paku'ai were and didn't bother asking when it didn't seem like it would make itself obvious. It was a climb indeed but it didn't bother her. She had learned long ago that it didn't matter how slow your forward progress was as long as you kept moving forward. Endurance would win you any battle, eventually.
 
At the Great Seal, a building characterized by an ancient device that hung broken overhead, soldiers more than any others came and went. Juli knew them by the way they carried themselves, by the purpose with which they moved. Sprinkled amongst them were emissaries from the new lands: diminutive, foxlike people, a few snake-like ones, and the slow, wizened turtle-esque ones. Juli barely spared the unusual sights a glance as her gaze moved over the crowd, looking for a familiar face that did not materialize.
 
She ended up wandering, and came to a field hospital. There, chants to the Loa, the Light, and other supernatural forces clamored for attention. A slight Sin'dorei woman, her ears evident through the cap she wore, tended to the wounded with pulses of mists. Her ministrations were gentle, hope blooming on the faces of those she tended. Juli thought of Kex'ti's less-than-tender healing as she watched and waited.
 
After the monk finished tending to her last patient, Juli approached her. "Excuse me," she said, "have you seen another Sin'dorei monk around here? His name is Kex'ti... White hair, slight limp?"
 
The woman nodded. "He was here right after landfall. Fell in with a division called the Warscar Reach. Black tabard, red Horde crest. Don't know where the Zandalari have garrisoned them, but should be somewhere near here, in the halls below the Seal." After a moment she added reflectively, "Proficient healer. Little sensitive about the quality of his work."
 
"Warscar Reach," Juli repeated. Luck she had no business with had befallen her again. "Thank you." She went to turn away just as she had every time over the past three days.
 
"Your spirit seems troubled," the woman spoke up.
 
"It's not," Juli said, both politely and honestly, and left.
 
 
 
Edited by Julilee
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Down, deep within the sprawl of the Seal's halls, she found the banner the woman had described. An eager-eyed orc stood beside it, dressed in black chainmail with red accents. He addressed her the moment she was in range, before it was even reasonable to assume that his hall was her destination.
 
"Throm-ka, paladin! The Reach could always use more of your kind. Have you come to enlist, following our recent victory?"
 
She continued until she stopped in front of him, her gaze briefly moving to the banner. It was not far removed from the Kor'kron banner Shokkra had kept in her room. To the orc she said, "No, I'm looking for one of your members. Kex'ti, Kex'ti Dalendala."
 
"Dalendala? Oh. Huh. Who're you to him?" the orc asked, hand on his pike.
 
Juli paused, distinctly. Wasn't that quite the question. The answer she finally came up with was, "Julilee Liene. He'll know who I am."
 
"Oh. Uh huh." The orc seemed to know what that meant. "Well, he's back about three torches on the left. Should be sparring with Tulip, Ochiga, Kaeeli, and Gorgath. I'll escort you." He added the very last sheepishly after Juli simply looked at him for a moment, since he stood blocking the doorway.
 
"Thank you."
 
The orc nodded. The thirst for drama was evident in his hurried pace as they entered the Warscar Reach barracks. Past the third torch, the hallway angled down to a veranda with overhanging vines. A sandy ring lay in the middle. A white-haired Sin'dorei stood in the center of the arena, a burly Blackrock orc and a lithe Nightborne strafing around him. He hadn't noticed the newcomers yet.

"Think fast, old man!" yelled the Nightborne then, rushing in to take a swing at the back of the elf's head. The orc growled and charged in at the same time, low, aiming to tackle the elf's waist. Outside of the arena, a goblin kicked her feet on a planter, and a pandaren monk sipped at a cup of tea, cross-legged, as they watched the sparring match. Juli stood in the archway and observed.

Kex'ti twisted lithely and leaned back to catch the Nightborne's fist, only to spy Julilee as he did so. A moment of confusion crossed his face. "Juli?" he muttered, then the orc's converted uppercut connected with his jaw. The phenomenal strike landed him in the Nightborne's arms, caught and hanging limply by the armpits.
 
"Whoa, hey, wait a second!" called the goblin. "Kex'ti, you alright?" She hopped off the decorative container and walked over, summoning a few drops of healing rain onto the sand.
 
"I wasn't expecting that to work!" boasted the orc. "But... are you okay?"
 
Kex'ti never took his eyes off Juli. He spat some blood into the muddy dirt. "I am fine, everyone. Excuse me a moment." He held a hand to his cheek and began to mend the damage as he regained his feet. Then he walked calmly over towards her, limping only slightly.
 
Juli stayed where she was, letting Kex'ti approach. Seeing him... It felt different. Everything was different now. It evoked feelings she wasn't allowed to have anymore. She found she didn't know what to say, and was silent.
 
He looked different. He was dressed in sparring leathers in red and black. The red on black of his tabard looked out of place compared to the purple and gold he'd worn for so many years. His beard was much better kept, very close to the sides of his angular face. He'd lost a lot of weight. He'd never been fat, exactly, but it was clear the traveling with a military branch left little time for him to bulk up to his usual size, or perhaps the lack of quality food... None of it mattered. He was there. She was looking upon him. And she could tell him what she'd spent every day these past six months hoping she'd have a chance to say.
 
"I see you have matched your hair to mine," he chuckled.
 
She'd forgotten how different she looked, too. Her armor was no longer muted purple and gold, but white, dark gray, and gold, and lacking tabard, pauldrons, or shield. And her hair, long now, had become as white as his. The last changes she hadn't known about until she came across the mirror in the ruins. Her eyes no longer glowed green. They glowed gold.
 
The differences were so striking that it was remarkable he had recognized her instantly. No one else would have.
 
"Yeah, I guess." She paused. The words wouldn't come out, hardly. "I just wanted you to know I'm alive. I thought... You would want to know."
 
"Should we go somewhere to talk?" he asked.
 
"Probably."
 
He raised a hand to his eyes and rubbed them. "Fine, let us head out to the general concourse." He walked past her, where the orc guard, who had been hovering, hastily started moving back toward his post.
 
The goblin in the arena called after Kex'ti. "Uh, you want your staff?"
 
"No, Tulip. I will not be long," he said, wearily.
 
He glanced to Julilee, and nodded out back towards the mid-day heat.
 
 
Edited by Julilee
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They emerged onto a large balcony. It jutted over the edge of the tier and had a view of a section of the city, as well as the jungle-covered inclines that lay beyond. Further out, the jungle appeared to melt into swamplands. Pterodons wheeled overhead, and the sounds of the city drifted upward.
 
Kex'ti stepped up to the railing and wrapped his grip around it. Juli looked at his hands, seeing the finger he was still missing, and the ring he still wore. "Are you happier here?" she asked, remaining behind and to the side of him.
 
He didn't answer the question, because since when did he answer any questions that made him slightly uncomfortable. Instead he tried to find the words to speak of what preoccupied him the most about her reappearance, in his meandering way. "Last I heard, you had been lost in Silithus. And it was not someone from Sanctuary that told me this, but... I am tremendously relieved that you are alive, and were not lost to that cursed place." He grimaced.
 
"I'm sorry if you were worried," Juli said. "It wasn't intentional."
 
"What do you want from me, Juli?" he asked simply then.
 
He turned and scrutinized her. She didn't know what he was looking for. Any sign of the taint of the Void? She knew he feared that above anything else. Any hint of the woman he had loved, and who had loved him? She knew it wasn't there in her eyes anymore, whatever he had once seen, though it could very well have as much to do with the knowledge in his gaze as the knowledge in hers. The time they had spent apart had been instructive to them both.
 
If you set someone free and they don't return, that means you were only holding them back.
 
"I wanted to say I'm sorry I never loved you as much as you loved me," she said.
 
He was flabbergasted. "What happened to you?"
 
She moved up to the railing beside him and folded her arms on it, looking out but not really seeing anything. Her mind went back to the moment everything changed. The six months that followed had changed her too, but not as much as that moment had. "I came face-to-face with the Void, and it... made me see things differently. I was almost lost to it, Kex'ti. I'm sorry I never really, fully understood your aversion to it before. In the end I had two choices: the Void or the Light. I chose the Light and survived."
 
At her hip, Mercy glowed softly with its jagged lines of gold energy that were no longer just energy. Now the purified weapon glowed with the Light, and so did she. It shone in her eyes and flowed through her constantly, an aura she couldn't turn off. The goblin hadn't been wrong. She was a paladin now.
 
Kex'ti's expression softened. He hadn't missed the difference in her, though he hadn't asked. "I am glad you made the right choice." He thought for a moment, then went on to say, "You do not need to apologize. Love is not a matter of magnitude... and I do not even think it is true. We both made errors in our relationship. Am I happier? No. I am not. But I am also less sad, and frustrated."
 
"You're kind to put it that way," she said. "But I think we both know it was my fault it didn't work. I just want you to know I don't blame you."
 
There it was. She had said it, most of it. She had walked straight out of hell and to him because nothing had mattered more than lifting whatever she could of the burden that she had so unfairly placed on him. If she had died down there, her ghost would have been haunted with the knowledge of the guilt and misery she had inflicted on him, unjust and undeserved. Looking at him, she wondered if it helped. He didn't look dumbstruck anymore, just calm. Maybe it would sink in over time.
 
"I appreciate that. I hope things have improved for you since Sanctuary. I do not imagine it has without you." He lifted a hand from the railing and put it back, watching the birds. "Are you happier?"
 
"I only just got back," she said. He didn't know how true that was. "This is the first thing I'm even doing. Next will be Rylie... if I can communicate with her safely."
 
He nodded. "That is a large part of why I am here, so obviously present in the military. So as not to paint a target on her back. Or draw question to my loyalties. It might be advisable you do the same."
 
"I just don't want her to think she's been abandoned," she said quietly.
 
He scowled. "I have tried to get mail to her. I do not know if it has arrived." Changing topics swiftly as he did when he was irked, he said, "What will you do next?"
 
"After trying to get word of my own to her... I'm not sure."
 
He coughed and reached for where he used to keep his medicinal jug at his waist. It was not there. "Ah. I left my medicine back inside. It was... good to see that you are alive. I am sorry for the troubles you have faced."
 
She listened as he prepared to end the visit, to separate himself from her. She watched as he stepped away from the railing, taking a couple steps back toward the hall. Every move he made was so familiar to her. Even with his lost weight, every plane of his face was embedded in her memory. Every twist of his mouth, every furrow of his brow, every pitch in his voice, she knew. But it was like watching him through a window. They couldn't reach each other. So it was just as well he didn't want to anymore.
 
He turned away, but then he stopped. Without looking at her, he spoke. "I never stopped loving you, or believing in you. I just couldn't stomach that one decision you made. I am sorry that choice led you to the path you had to walk, but I hope it brings you purpose and peace. For myself, I often wonder if those things exist. But at least for you, if they exist, I believe you'd be the one to find them."
 
And that was why she'd had to come tell him this. Because he would have kept putting up with her, with far more than he should have, if she had not pushed just a little too far. And then she had accused him of not loving her enough.
 
"You did always love me more than I deserved," she murmured.
 
"Maybe," he said. Before he began to move, he remarked, "Do not endanger Rylie because of a guilty conscience." Then he waved his hand, and headed inside.
 
Once, that would have been more than sufficient to offend her. It didn't. What he thought of her didn't matter. Whether he was right or wrong to think it didn't matter. She had done all she could here. The rest was out of her hands.
 
She looked once more over the view. It held nothing of interest.
 
She left Warscar Reach's hall.
 
 
[[ Written in conjunction with Kexti. ]]
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