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  1. 2 points
    In that moment, the world was irreversibly changed for her. You can’t unsee the abyss. You can’t unknow the truth. No matter how hard you tried to repress it, no matter how much you tried to deny it, it would haunt you forever. Juli saw it and knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that nothing would ever be the same. Kex’ti’s fear, his unwillingness to slide so much as an inch closer to that edge, was so much clearer to her now. She had understood it, but she hadn’t known it. Every pretension she had, every self-delusion, no matter how innocuous, every coping mechanism she relied on, all were stripped away. She saw herself and indeed the whole world and uncaring universe laid bare, reduced to an absurd meaninglessness. Of course the world was uncaring; she had never labored under the belief that anyone would necessarily get what they deserved, be it good or bad. She knew evil could triumph anytime, any place, and that it would be forever and thankless a struggle for anyone trying to hold it back. But she had never realized it was also a pointless struggle. No matter how much suffering you tried to alleviate, more would take its place, because evil was endlessly inventive and adaptive. And in the end you died and whatever difference you had made would end up being less than negligible. But worse, somehow, was how all the things she had tried to accomplish, everything she had ever tried to be, was all shown to be utterly foolish, self-centered, and inadequate. Her own uncharitable thoughts, even what she had believed were her deepest fears, were nothing compared to the truth. She had never loved Kex’ti. She had only used him to placate her need for control, and he had allowed it until he couldn’t anymore. She had never treated Shokkra like a person. She had tried to turn Shokkra into what she had thought Shokkra should be, sacrificing everything Shokkra was along the way, until Shokkra broke. She had done more than simply been too cautious with Sanctuary. She had ruined a legacy, dragged it backward and done significant harm it would take long to recover from, if it ever fully did. She had been too hard on Cerryan; she had revoked her trust simply because he was imperfect. Cobrak, meanwhile, she had also expected too much of. She had expected him to place her needs above his own. The list went on and on. Even with Miwanza, she hadn’t come down here for the girl’s benefit, or any of the others’. She had come down here to selfishly prove herself. That was all there was to it. And with her father, for whom she’d never been good enough, the truth was she was just… Oh, fuck you. The reflex was so deeply ingrained, it was inseparable from who she was as a person. Her entire body jerked. No one was allowed to touch that nerve. It didn’t matter who. It didn’t matter why. It didn’t matter even if they were right. Nobody got to diminutize what she had gone through growing up. Nobody got to break her down like her father had always tried to. She was entitled to defend herself. And fuck anyone who suggested otherwise. Just fuck them right in the eye with a jagged sword. She reached out, and her hand closed around the wickedly curved hilt of Mercy. Golden light surged down the blade, purging the tentacles which shrieked as they were dispelled. It filled up the weapon and all of the eyes hovering around shrank back as she pulled it free. Maybe it was all pointless. Maybe she could never make a difference. Maybe she would never do more help than harm in the world. But fuck anyone and anything who tried to convince her to give up. She would die fighting, with her soul intact, because no one would ever convince her to hand it over. The righteousness, the strength, the self-belief, she seized it. ******* When Miwanza awakened, she had no idea where she was. It seemed to be the bottom of some caved-in ruin, stonework on one side and a huge mountain of rubble on the other. There was a torch lying nearby, barely an ember left on it, but she was able to coax it to life with the shreds of some purple fabric that was discarded next to it for some reason. She started climbing, trying to find an exit, guided by the faintest whisper of a breeze. If there were other whispers, she didn’t hear them. It took hours of squeezing through narrow gaps and crevices, but Miwanza eventually broke through to a ravine that was open to the sky. From there she was able to follow it until it became shallow enough that she was able to climb out, and from there she wandered until she came across a Horde camp. “Whoa, what happened to you?” the guard said in alarm, ushering her to a bench. “Alliance hit?” “No… I don’t think so…” Miwanza looked down at herself. She was covered in a layer of dirt and had a bandage wrapped around her leg, though she felt no pain. Later, she would discover there was no injury beneath. “...But I don’t remember what happened.” The guard took a closer look at her and frowned. “Are you glowing? You didn’t try that Azerite brew, did you?” “I don’t think so…” She looked down at herself again. She had thought the torch had been her only source of illumination, but she did seem to be giving off a faint golden glow. As she watched, it faded away, leaving just her dark blue complexion. “Some sort of blessing,” said another guard who had shown up to see what was happening. “You don’t remember anything?” the first guard asked. She shook her head. “The last thing I remember is arriving here in Silithus with my platoon.” No one was ever able to puzzle out what happened. The Alliance were named likely suspects when her squadmates were discovered missing. The incident was soon forgotten.
  2. 2 points
    Months ago... Julilee arrived in Silithus, alone. She had bruises under her jaw, above the collar of her armor. “Julilee Liene reporting for Sanctuary,” she said. The overseer she spoke to, a goblin, looked her up and down. They stood at the edges of a busy camp, the makeshift command yurt behind him strung with contraptions of unknown purpose. This had been where she’d been directed upon arrival. “Yer all they sent?” he said, tilting his hard hat back. “We asked for three, and apparently we’re gonna need a whole damn platoon, so you’re definitely not going to cut it, short stuff.” Juli didn’t comment on a goblin calling her short. She barely commented at all. “What’s the situation?” she asked. “Mining accident, with a special voidy bonus,” the goblin replied. “My team was mining up Azerite, and broke into some sort of underground chamber. Thought we’d find some good bug artifacts in there, but what we got was abominations.” He frowned, a hint of uneasiness in it. “I was actually plannin’ on increasin’ my request... A few Horde soldiers volunteered to go in this morning for a little extra grease, if you catch my drift. Clean things up. Shouldn’t’ve been too hard. But they never came out.” Julilee looked toward the mine. This particular operation was a distance away from the wound in the world, but the earth had heaved here enough to expose some underground caves the goblins had eagerly turned to exploiting to get deeper faster. The caves had probably been part of a buried Qiraji hive. The mine entrance was guarded by a couple of uneasy-looking Horde soldiers. At this hour, the shadow from the gigantic sword was fallen over where they stood, and the cavernous black hole of the entrance seemed to swallow far too much light in that shadow. “How many hours ago?” she asked. It was past noon. “Two and a half. You’re not going in there, are you?” he said, incredulously. “They could still be alive,” she said. “Not likely, shorty! And I’m not payin’ you to go in there either, if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s just throwing good gold after bad.” “I don’t want your Light-damned gold.” Juli continued looking toward the mine’s opening. Her cold, flat words confused the goblin to silence. She spoke again, after a moment. “How many people can you help if you don’t ever help anyone?” “What?” he said, baffled. “If I don’t come out, detonate explosives and collapse it.” She walked toward the mine.
  3. 2 points
    Juli didn’t have much of a choice. She raised Mercy and delivered a solid thwack with the side of the blade to the girl’s head. Miwanza crumpled and Juli scooped her up, throwing her over her shoulder and running for the far side of the dais. Probably should have done that in the first place. Except now she couldn’t hold up her shield, or fight effectively. And the fallen torch’s light didn’t reach far. No, this plan had far too many problems, but it was the only one she had now. You – can’t – flee – from – what – you – believe – She stumbled down the other side of the dais and fetched up against the wall, which she could barely make out. Ancient tapestries crumbled to dust under her touch. She started following the wall, feeling frantically for any exit. Slithering sounds surrounded her and she unintentionally stepped on another tentacle, quickly grinding it to pulpy sludge with her boot. A swipe around her with Mercy had several more barely-visible tentacles dodging back. Luckily, the golden light the blade gave off wasn’t bright enough to illuminate them. She wasn’t sure what they would do if they reached her even if they couldn’t hypnotize her, though. Her hand on the wall suddenly plunged into nothing. An exit! She threw herself toward it, only to bounce ringingly off a wall just inside. It wasn’t an exit. It was just an alcove. Juli stumbled back, and that was when a tentacle wrapped around one ankle. She was just starting to react when it gave a heave and pulled her feet out from under her entirely. She lost her grip on Miwanza as she fell, the girl’s limp body slamming Juli’s head into the stone floor and stunning her. When she regained her senses a few moments later, she had lost her shield but somehow retained her grip on Mercy, and was dangling upside-down in the air, being drawn away from the flickering torch and toward the corner of the room where the mass was. With a grunt she pulled herself up and sliced at the tentacle around her ankle by feel alone. It loosed her, and she braced herself for a rough landing, but instead landed in what felt like a nest of writhing, slimy tentacles. Light help me. As she struggled to right herself, throwing off tentacles and slashing out with her bright blade, it occurred to her in a wry corner of her mind not currently occupied with fighting for survival that this would undoubtedly make a retroactively hilarious story, someday down the line, to share over a cup of strong liquor with Kex’ti – no, Shokkra – no, Cobrak – no, who? Who would she laugh about this with someday, if she made it out of this? Who would care? Nobody would care. “Get out of my head!” she shouted as she struggled, infuriated her thoughts had once again been pushed in this unwanted direction. We – need – do – naught – your – own – battles – are – fought – In the very faint outlines provided by Mercy’s glow, a great stalk rose up in front of her, twice as wide as she was, thought admittedly she was rather small. At the end, a great orb turned towards her. Juli didn’t wait to see any more. She lunged forward and plunged her blade into the center of it. You – bring – us – power – it – we – will – devour – From the edges of the wound sprung more tentacles. No – they sprung from her sword. Juli jerked her hand back in horror as Mercy’s golden glow was replaced by a vivid purple that grew brighter and brighter as more and more tentacles swarmed out of the sides of the blade. Very clearly released. Her mind leapt to the battles against Karthok and his minions, where Mercy had seemed to harmlessly absorb several void attacks. It hadn’t been harmless at all. All this time, she had been carrying around a void-infused weapon. What have I done? How had she not known? Had it been manipulating her? Let – us – show – you – what – mercy – is – true – Too late, she realized that the illumination was too great. She should have closed her eyes immediately. But, still shocked, she didn’t. And she met the gaze of a hundred black eyes.
  4. 2 points
    Miwanza described it as, of course, an unfathomably hideous tentacle beast with far too many eyes. Juli didn’t know what she expected. All Miwanza could really offer other than that was that meeting the gaze of one of the eyes had spelled doom for her companions. Miwanza had only barely avoided doing so, since to gaze upon the mass was to almost assuredly ended up catching the gaze of one of the eyes; only her companions’ reactions, in front of her, had saved her, as they had commanded her attention and at the same time clued her in to what was happening. “All right, here’s what we’ll do.” Juli looked toward the shadows ahead in the antechamber. Apparently the thing lurked in the next room; they speculated it was immobile, relying on its prey to come to it. “You’ll hold the torch, and I’ll guide you – you’ll be blindfolded.” “Blindfolded? But wait, you won’t be?” Both options seemed dismaying in their own way to the girl. “Yes. I’m going to use my shield to block my vision where needed, and find us an exit. If I stop talking and guiding you at any point… try to smack me in the face, with the torch.” Juli inhaled slowly. “I’ll take being blind over insane.” Miwanza hesitated, then nodded, firming her grip on the torch. “All right. Let’s do this.” Juli had used up most of the roll of bandage, and wasn’t sure the gauze would be thick enough if not layered adequately, so had already decided what she was going to do for a blindfold. She sheathed her weapons and took hold of the hem of her purple and gold tabard. Tearing upward, she pulled off a long strip. One of the wings of the phoenix emblem came off with it. Now how is it supposed to fly? She ignored the nonsensical thought as she had Miwanza bend down so she could securely tie the improvised blindfold around the girl’s head. The whispers were getting louder; more eager. She redrew her weapons, and felt better with Mercy in her hand. They set off toward the end of the antechamber. A wall with a wide archway appeared, separating it from the next room. The stonework was still absent of the black chitinlike corruption, but the whispers were growing louder and louder, no longer in small degrees, but in leaps and bounds as they drew closer. Below it, Juli thought she might be hearing disturbing slurping sounds. There was no point in hesitating. Juli took the girl’s arm with her sword hand, lifted her shield and darted into the room. The torchlight danced madly, illuminating a space smaller than the antechamber – a throne room? There was a dais at the end with some objects atop it, but that wasn’t where the creature was. To their left, the light gleamed on hundreds of orbs and Juli threw her shield up between herself and it before she was sure what she was seeing. Backing away from that direction, she looked around, trying to see if there was another exit. Miwanza, making small sounds of fear, gripped Juli’s arm tightly and almost trod on her feet as she followed Juli’s lead. What – do – we – spy – with – our – countless – eyes – The voice was both inside and outside of her head. “Nothing to see here,” Juli said through gritted teeth. There was no exit on the right side of the room, but maybe there was behind the dais. Juli tugged Miwanza that way, angling her shield. She heard sickening slick noises and strained to determine if they meant the thing was moving. The acoustics of the chamber if not the echoing whispers made that impossible. As they reached the dais, something slid up to her foot, under her guard. She didn’t think; she stomped it to bits. The texture was wretched. “Up!” she urged Miwanza. “Five steps!” Miwanza stumbled as she went up, breaking from Juli’s grip but catching herself. Juli swept Mercy under her shield preventatively, and thought she felt the tip of the blade slide through something that gave almost no resistance. Like, maybe, an eyeball. “Juli?” Miwanza cried. You – saw – all – before – remember – so – much – more – “Keep going!” Juli backed up the steps, keeping her shield up and using every sense she could to try to catch any more tentacles that might encroach. Not being able to look went against every instinct she had. Look out, look out, look out. She bumped into Miwanza, who wasn’t moving. Juli whipped her head to look at the girl, suddenly fearing the girl had somehow become transfixed despite the blindfold, but there were no tentacle stalks near the girl. Nonetheless, she wasn’t moving. “Miwanza! Keep going!” Juli tried to give her a shove, but in response Miwanza simply dropped the torch. It continued to burn, but the light was dangerously dimmer. The – inner – eye – is – where – truth – lies – “I saw it,” Miwanza breathed. “I saw it, before. I ran away, but I remember now.” She reached up. “Miwanza, no!” The girl ripped off the blindfold and smiled beatifically past Julilee.
  5. 2 points
    “First, though, let’s see if I can bandage that wound better for you,” Juli said. Miwanza nodded and sank down against the pillar. Juli gave her the torch to hold and started unwrapping the bandage. “How come you came by yourself?” Miwanza said. She paused. “I mean, it’s very brave, but… didn’t it seem risky?” “Someone else was going to come with me originally,” Juli said as she worked. She didn’t know why she said what followed. “But she felt I was going to betray her, so she attacked me, disabled me, and took off.” “Why did she think that?” Miwanza said, somewhere between curious and alarmed. Juli was silent for a moment before answering, working on unbuckling the girl’s leg plate and setting it aside. “She thought she wouldn’t get a fair trial for something she’d done which others viewed as a crime. I thought she would, but… I guess I don’t blame her.” “Sounds like you two have a complicated relationship,” Miwanza offered. “You could say that.” “Is she the one who gave you those bruises?” Juli paused in the middle of getting out her water canteen, one hand rising reflexively toward the bruises under her jaw. It was a lucky guess. “Yes,” she said. “If, um, she was going to be put to trial, why were you two coming here…?” Juli considered what to say. She had already said all that, so why not the rest? “It was going to be our last assignment together. I resigned from my post as leader of my guild. I just… wanted one last chance to feel like I was carrying out Sanctuary’s mission, the way I’d always envisioned it, with someone I always hoped could see it the same way.” “I’ve heard of Sanctuary,” Miwanza said, perking up. “You want peace between the Horde and the Alliance, don’t you?” Juli sighed inwardly as she cleaned the wound. “We want peace for everyone, regardless of faction,” she said, the correction one she had given more times than she could count. Then she paused, realizing she was speaking as though she were still part of Sanctuary. “Or at least, that was my vision. I don’t know how good a job I did of getting anyone closer to that while I was in charge. But I’m not going to try anymore.” “You’re giving up?” “On some things,” Juli said. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a roll of bandage. “I’m not going to try to lead anymore. I could never really inspire anyone. Not their confidence, not their hope, not anything. So I’m just going to do whatever I can until I can’t anymore.” She started wrapping Miwanza’s leg tightly. “So you came down here on pretty much a suicide mission.” Miwanza gave a rueful laugh. “Do you even expect to get out of here alive?” Despair underlaid her words. Juli looked up at the girl. “I will die trying to get you out of here alive,” she said quietly, “but dying is the very last option, and not one I’ll be throwing myself at. You can’t help anyone if you’re dead.” “You sound like you’ve said that before,” Miwanza said, the words calming her somewhat. “Someone said it to me years ago,” Juli said. “And it stuck… maybe too much. I was too cautious, for too long. An entire guild’s lives were in my hands. One bad call and I could lose someone who trusted me, right?” She was silent for a moment as she worked, tying off the bandage. “But Sanctuary needed to take those risks. We weren’t Sanctuary unless we did.” “Like Aerie Peak,” Miwanza said. Juli stopped again, looking up at the girl. “People still talk about that?” she said. “I was at the Wyvern’s Tail once when some Grim came in, and they mentioned it,” Miwanza said. “I found the official Horde report later and read it. The Grim said you attacked them, but according to the report, you stated that you only stood in defense of Alliance civilians and noncombatants when the Grim attacked. People say a lot of things about Sanctuary, but… I’ve seen what the Grim have done… I wouldn’t put it past them to do that.” “Yes,” Juli said. “The town’s soldiers were mostly away, leaving only children, elderly, the infirm, and other noncombatants… There were only a handful of us Sanctuary, and a whole squad of Grim. But we chose to make a stand, even though we were outnumbered.” She remembered the clash of her and Khorvis’ blades. Lilliana’s twisted face as she flung dark magic. Cerryan’s bright cries. The surety that had rung in her heart, the utter lack of regret even when things were at their bleakest. “But things changed after that… No, I changed. I became unwilling to take any more risks. I was too afraid that someone else would pay the price if I was wrong.” “But you were just saying you can’t help anyone if you’re dead,” Miwanza pointed out. She helped with her free hand as Juli buckled the leg plate back on. “So being cautious isn’t unreasonable.” “Yes,” Juli agreed. “But you can’t help anyone if you never help anyone, either.” She rose to her feet and offered Miwanza her hand. Miwanza clasped it and Juli pulled the girl to her feet. With the new, tighter bandage, she seemed more stable. Miwanza tested her weight on it and seemed satisfied. She still wouldn’t be leaping across any chasms, but she could get around. “I’m not responsible for anyone else anymore,” Juli said. “Just myself. So I’m going to take those risks now that I always should have. I’m not going to run toward death, but I’m not going to always run away from it, either. That’s why I’m here. I won’t let you down.” “If you say so,” Miwanza said with a weak chuckle. “I’m not going to look a gift boar in the tusks. If we get out of here alive, I’m not gonna argue with whatever philosophy you used to do it.” The whispers had quieted while the two spoke. It had been a welcome break, but suddenly Juli had the feeling that they had been listening. Well, it wasn’t anything that hadn’t already been in her mind, on which the shadows had already played. And, as always, the only way to go was forward. No matter what lay behind, she had to keep moving forward, because giving up was never an option. “Keep the torch,” Juli said. “I’ll need both my arms to fight. What can you tell me about the thing ahead?” The whispers were growing loud again as she drew her sword and shield. The bright, jagged lines on Mercy gleamed golden in the darkness. “Oh, you’re a paladin!” Miwanza said, her voice rising with real hope for the first time. “Maybe you really can beat this thing!” “...” “What?” Miwanza blinked. “Just tell me what this thing looks like.”
  6. 2 points
    From there, the pathway didn’t fork anymore. It was a blessing because she didn’t have to worry about losing her way, but a curse because she didn’t have concentrating on not losing her way to keep her distracted from the whispers. She spent some time thinking about how to get back across the treacherous cavern on her way out. Once she had a few basic ideas about that, she didn’t have much else to try to anticipate or plan. She found herself wondering what the outside world do if she never came out. How many weeks would it be before someone went into her office to try to figure out what mission it was she’d mentioned to Vilmah? Would anyone try to follow her down into this damned place? Or would they assume she’d just run off with Shokkra? The whispers loved that train of thought, so she tried to think of a new one. A distraction came in the form of the walls and floors. The reddish, bulbous, silithid-made appearance of the surfaces was changing. It was becoming darker, and glossier. Her sabatons made a slightly different sound on them. They clicked more. She paused to inspect a particularly bulbous pustule once it had all become very shiny and black, bringing her torch nearer to it. Deep within, the blackness contracted as the torch neared. It was an eyeball. She flinched back instinctively, but nothing happened. After a few moments to calm her thoroughly unnerved heart, she continued on. Something loomed in the path ahead. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was for a moment, only able to perceive a strange shadow lying in the way, before it clicked. It was a chasm. The earth had been split here, this far beneath the surface, the rending wide enough that she had to get close to the edge before the circle of light her torch provided illuminated the opposite side. The bottom of the chasm, she couldn’t see at all. A breeze stirred the torch’s flame, ever so slightly, though she couldn’t feel it. Did the opening go all the way up to the surface, somewhere? Even if it were impassable to anything but a breeze, the fresh air was welcome. The whispers seemed quieter here. She considered her options. It was a noteworthy distance across, but she suspected that with a running start, she could make it. However... she wasn’t entirely sure. But other options did not seem promising. She had brought no rope, and an inspection of the walls and the edges showed that there would be no climbing sideways or down, the material too slick and sheer to promote a safe hold. If she wanted to continue, across was the other way to go. There were three more Horde soldiers unaccounted for. They could very well be at the bottom of this chasm, so far as she knew. Or, this chasm could have only opened up with the last earthquake in that cavern of impalement. Or, the chasm had been here, but they’d made it across. Or, they could have gone a completely different direction. Well, there was only one way to find any of that out, wasn’t there. She backed up a distance, then started for the edge. However, she didn’t run at full speed, and slid to a stop before the edge. She was half-expecting a tentacle to try to lash up at where she would have been mid-jump. But nothing happened. The whispers didn’t even change. Am I too paranoid? Or am I the only one prepared? You’re always the former until you’re the latter. She backed up again, and this time ran as hard as she could. Her footing at the edge almost gave out under her as she leapt, but she was still able to get enough of a launch to just barely make it across, her feet landing inches ahead of the gap. She pounded to a stop, looking back. The gap looked wider from this direction. She kept going. It suddenly changed. In a transition spanning only a few feet, the material surrounding her shifted from the black, organic (?) material to gray stonework, tendrils trailing into it then disappearing. It was an ancient, deeply buried ruin. She lifted her torch higher as she stepped into the area, looking around. It seemed like some sort of grand antechamber, wide, with dual rows of pillars reaching to the ceiling. The whispers echoed, here, like she was hearing them with her actual ears. Realizing that was also when she realized that she could hear again, and that she had been able to for some time. It was enough to give her pause, and wonder what else she’d missed. But all she could do was try to pay as close attention as she could to her surroundings, and she did as she moved forward, casting her gaze about, aware that there were many directions with much cover that something could appear from. Then a muffled sob came from one side. As much as she had every reason to believe it was a trap, she couldn’t not ensure it wasn’t. Hand on Mercy’s hilt, she moved toward the sound. Sheltering behind the pillar was a troll in Horde armor. She was bunched in on herself, holding a one-handed axe with both hands. She almost leapt at Juli as she appeared, but stopped in confusion at the last moment, stumbling and shrinking away. “What...?” Juli held up her hands, including the one still holding the torch, spreading the fingers a little bit to show it was all she held. “My name is Julilee. I came down here to find you. Are you all right?” she asked. “Are... are you real?” the trolless asked. “Are you?” Julilee replied dryly. “The shadows haven’t stooped to outright illusions yet, but I wouldn’t put it past them.” The trolless didn’t seem entirely reassured by that, but she looked like she wanted to be. She was young, with blue hair and darker blue skin. Her youth made Juli think of Mariz. Mariz could have easily ended up here, had she signed up with the Horde military instead of Sanctuary. But Juli had ended up here too, hadn’t she, because of Sanctuary. Juli wasn’t sure what lesson she was supposed to draw from that conclusion and didn’t have the time to ponder it further. “Look,” Juli said, “I want to get you out of here safely, and your companions if they’re still alive. Do you know where any of them are?” “We lost Mal’lul early in the tunnels,” the trolless said hesitantly, “and Orenzi to the spikes.” She swallowed, still gripping her axe. “Lomar and Kaishu, they convinced me to keep going once we got here... They said that there would be treasure in ruins like these and the goblins couldn’t complain about us helping ourselves down here while we cleaned up the voidspawn... and maybe we’d find something to help us get back through the spikes and the suffocating dark thing...” “What happened?” Juli prompted. “Where are they now?” “We went ahead, and... the voidspawn... it... there was... it was too big. It got Lomar and Kaishu... almost got me...” Julilee nodded. She didn’t press for details. “What’s your name?” “Miwanza.” Juli gave her a closer look. The girl looked scared out of her mind. She also had a bloodied bandage tied across her right thigh. The stumble hadn’t been entirely due to the pulled swing. “How fast can you move, Miwanza?” “Not very,” the girl admits. “I only got away because the... thing... it was occupied.. with...” Juli nodded again, letting the girl know she didn’t need to explain. “There’s a chasm in the tunnel on the way out. I made it across but I don’t think you can with your injury. We’ll need to find something to help us cross it, or another way out of here.” The sheer practicality Juli evinced seemed to be reassuring the trolless that Juli was real, though the situation as described clearly scared her. “What do we do?” she asked. Juli considered that herself. There was no guarantee that any other exit existed. Nor was there that there would be any items they could put to use in these ruins. And it was guaranteed that an enemy lay ahead. But there were literally no other options. “We get past it.”
  7. 2 points
    The path opened up into another large cavern. Juli could tell it was huge by how the small sounds she made, her footsteps and the rustling of her armor, got swallowed up by the dark that her torch couldn’t find the end of. She weighed her options: go through the middle or stick to a wall? In the end she decided to follow the whispers, which led out away from the walls. The soldiers, if they were fleeing in terror, would have taken much the same course anyway. An obstruction appeared – a stalagmite. She moved around it and encountered more, the ground growing thick with them. A natural cavern? She paused to look at one of them more closely. It didn’t appear to be made out of mineral. She hesitated to inspect further, and continued on. Her ears strained to pick out sounds in the dark surrounding her. Even her own movements seemed muffled, and to be growing more so. Only the whispers stayed at the same volume. At first she wasn’t sure if it was an acoustical trick, but eventually she stopped and tapped and her armor to check, and she heard nothing at all. She scanned her surroundings, wary of what this meant. Had she lost her hearing, or was this some new threat? Or both? Then she began to feel vibrations under her feet, rapidly growing stronger. Instinctively, she reached out to steady herself on one of the stalagmites. This proved to be a bad idea as it broke off at her touch, far more fragile than she had anticipated. The rumbling grew heavier, accompanied by a rushing of air, and she turned her head to see a stalactite crash down not far from her. She couldn’t hear it hit, which was disorienting, nor the fragments that she could feel bounce off her armor as she shielded her face. Managing to keep her feet, she started moving quickly, seeking the end of the cavern. With her right arm she drew her shield and held it up to protect herself as more stalactites came crashing down in utter silence. At least one bounced off her shield directly, but other than being jarring, it did no harm, its material far too fragile. While running for cover, Juli almost tripped over another body, this one a female orc. She also wore Horde armor and was impaled on a broken stalagmite, which appeared to have fallen over and shattered in the earthquake. How? Juli didn’t have time to puzzle it out and quickly passed by. Almost all of the spires along the ground had collapsed at that point, and fewer stalactites were falling now. In another few moments, it ceased entirely. Juli slowed to a stop, looking around. Fragments lay everywhere that the torch’s light could reach. The cavern was clear of obstructions now, save for the rubble. But she has a feeling that that wasn’t it. The rumbling started up again. Instinct made Juli break into a sprint. The ground grew strangely mushy under her feet. The debris was disappearing. Absorbed into the ground? Then, the ground grew hard again. She had the weird feeling that the ground was actually changing, and not from her passage of distance, but altogether. This place was all wrong and unnatural. Then a stalagmite erupted from the ground in front of her. She spun, barely avoiding running into it, though she still bounced off the side of it. The soundlessness of it all was as jarring as the impact. It didn’t break, much stronger than any of the ones that had collapsed. Fully capable of impaling someone. It was a new one. It had regrown. She didn’t know if her own wild imagination had supplied the thought or if the whispers did, but couldn’t do anything right then but dismiss it anyway. She kept running. Another one erupted just in front of her, but she saw it coming this time, and leapt over it. Her instincts told her there was going to be more than direction to this threat, and when a spike suddenly speared down down from the ceiling, she was not entirely surprised. She ducked, her short height once again coming in handy for something, and kept going. Several more close calls later, she fetched up against a wall. Quickly reconsidering that, she moved away from the potentially lethal surface and moved to follow the edge at a safer distance. No spikes did end up coming out of the wall, but several more erupted from the floor and ceiling, trying to get her. One scored along the side of her leg but her armor took the scratch. Eventually, she found an opening and ducked in. The spikes didn’t follow, and the rumbling ceased. The whispers flowed down this passage. If there had been more than one exit from the impalement cavern, it seemed she had found the right one. Juli slung her shield back on her back, put her hand on Mercy’s hilt, and continued on.
  8. 2 points
    The narrow entrance led to an even narrower corridor, one that looked like it was created by the earth’s rupturing rather than created by creatures, sentient or otherwise. The cavern it led into, however, was another matter. The torch’s light shone on bulbous walls signature of what one could expect in the zone. Juli moved out into the open, looking for other exits, and the light illuminated three other corridors out of the cavern. From one of them flowed the whispers. Eerily, they sounded like someone she knew, though she couldn’t say who. She put her other hand on the hilt of Mercy and followed them. The path forked; Juli took the one that the whispers were coming from. Then it forked again, and again, and again. She started building herself a mnemonic to remember the path she took: My really lousy rocks reach lower levels… It didn’t make any sense, but that was fine as long as she could remember it. Focusing on the dumb game kept the whispers from encroaching on her mind, too. It seemed odd that the path forked so much. As far as she knew, most silithid hives just spiraled deeper and deeper, without many branching paths at all. And this one just kept going. At one point, she realized she was going in a circle, and was forced to take some time to revise her mental map, figure out where she had started repeating herself, then go from there, finding a passage where the whispers were marginally louder than the one she had been taking. After that, the whispers started becoming a thrumming undertone of too many speaking at once to understand. She chose to not be disturbed by it, determined to get to the bottom of this and find what had happened to the missing soldiers. Her thoughts started wandering as she continued on. There was too much weighing on her mind. Losing Kex’ti, giving up Sanctuary, even Cobrak’s actions. And Shokkra. The more she thought about it all, the more depressed and discouraged she got, her thoughts darkening. Why was she even here? Why was she even trying, when she couldn’t help anyone? Then she realized that those thoughts weren’t her own; they were what the whispers were saying. Anger burned bright clarity back into her mind. She wasn’t going to give up, and she certainly wasn’t going to give up because manipulative entities were toying on her fears. It was at that same moment that she realized the shadows were encroaching on more than her mind. An amorphous blob hovered at the left side of her peripheral vision, and as soon as she realized it was there, she instinctively swiped at it with the torch in her hand. A shriek split the enclosed space and suddenly it was hard to breathe. It occurred to her she didn’t even know how far she was underground and if good air could still reach down there. She could suffocate. She was suffocating. No. More shadows. She drew her sword as the blob recoiled then lurched for her again, and the shining blade sliced right through it. It died with another shriek, and as soon as the sound dissipated, she could breathe again. She took a moment to do just that, as she shifted carefully, looking around for any other threats. She ended up finding a body instead. It was a male troll in Horde armor. His eyes bulged, his mouth agape, as though he had choked to death. His body was cool, but not yet stiff. His companions must have fled ahead and left him to die. Juli turned back toward the whispers and continued.
  9. 2 points
    Juli stood at the entrance to the mine. Besides being unnaturally dark, a chill breeze flowed gently from the cave’s mouth, yet it failed to stir the flames of the torches on either side. That wasn’t the worst part, though. The worst part was the impression of whispers carried on that breeze, like a hushed conversation you were overhearing while asleep and couldn’t make any sense out of. It was no surprise the two Horde grunts guarding the entrance seemed uneasy. They looked at her as she stood there, and as she did, their expressions slowly turned from dubious to bewildered as she did not move for some time. She ignored them, immersed in thought. Eventually, she took out her hearthstone and spoke. “Sanctuary, thank you for the chance to lead you as long as I did. It’s been the most important three and a half years of my life. If you haven’t already heard, I’ve passed the mantle of leadership to Vilmah Bloodborne. I had reached the end of what I could offer Sanctuary, and I know she’ll be able to guide you further than I could. It’s been an honor. Thank you.” When she was done, one of the guards asked with nervous gentleness, “Err, lady, you’re not going in there out of some deathwish, are you?” The juxtaposition of her words, which they could hear, and what she was staring into was rather clear. The other shifted awkwardly, and the first guard went on. “Just take a little time, find someplace to blow off some steam. Go fight in an arena, spend some gold somewhere – fel, go get laid. You’ll feel better and realize you don’t have to do anything drastic.” “How many are unaccounted for?” was all she asked. “Five of ‘em went in,” the other guard said. “Two trolls, two orcs, and a pandaren.” She grunted. “Haven’t heard a peep. Other than...” Her eyes shifted toward the dark of the cave mouth, where the unheard whispers were coming from, and she scratched at an ear nervously. No new information since the request that had come to her desk, then, about what Juli would actually be facing down below. The report had just mentioned voidspawn in a cave the miners had broken into, from which they’d quickly retreated with no casualties. Juli mentally reviewed what she knew and found it wasn’t much. She would have to figure out what was going on herself. “She sure stands around thinkin’ a lot,” the second guard commented to the first. “Someone has to,” Juli muttered, then walked into the cave. She grabbed a torch off the side as she passed by. The guards didn’t stop her.
  10. 1 point
    Eight pointy legs stabbed into raw nerves on his arm and Tahzani awoke with a wail of terror and pain. In a moment of pure, instinctual fear, he threw both arms up to hurl the invading creature clear of him and scrambled as far away from the clack as he could manage. He scooted along the ground until the back of his skull hit a wall and stars burst in his eyes. A light clacking sound told him that the creature had landed and that he had overstayed his welcome in its den. Seeing a hint of blue amidst the lights that still impeded his vision, Tahzani charged to the left towards what he hoped was an opening. He emerged into the chill of a late night and immediately lost his footing as his heel hit a steep incline. He curled up as he began to roll and earth and sky traded places again and again. His stomach threatened to trade places with his teeth. The motion was denied as his back hit solid stone and the wind was driven out of his lungs in a violent burst that left him unable to scream when fresh agony flared up his arm. Fearful or not, he refused to move until the stars in his eyes stopped flashing and spinning. Minutes later, it became obvious that his patience would only reward him in one way. A brilliant night sky came into focus as he drew in pained, ragged breaths. Befuddled by sleep, he wanted to scream out for answers but had yet to find his voice. Raising his head he saw the cracked, half-buried remains of an old stone road curving around a gulch and stretching towards worked stone further to the south. " Dock..." He rasped, trying to push himself off the ground to his feet and falling short on an arm that could no longer suppot his weight. When the cloth wrapped stump struck stone with his body weight behind it, he finally found the breath to scream. Alone in the desert, he screamed in pain, uncaring of who could hear him and ending with a series of shuddering gasps as he struggled to wrap his head around it. " Mah ahm. He took mah fuckin' AHM!" He wheezed in disbelief as he looked at the limb, wrapped in an old, dirty washcloth bound tightly with a strap of leather. The cut had been just above his elbow and with the return of his wits, made its pain known. " Dock..." He looked up, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pale troll. There was no way he slept through that racket. " Dock?" He called out, his guts squirmed as his doubt grew. A chilly breeze swept across the sands and a chill up his spine made him sick with realization. In his current state, he was nothing more than dead weight. He had been left behind. The road leading into the shadows beneath the bridge suddenly resembled an open grave. The pain did not fade with time. The constant sting only grew worse as the bound cloth rubbed it the wrong way with every movement subtle or otherwise. The fog he had been walking through was replaced with mounting frustration until he wanted to scream at his own nerves to stop. A waste of energy he could not afford. As it stood his teeth were chattering too much to form a sentence. Following the downhill slope he eventually reached the end and began stumbling. The road was half-buried by sand and the other half had been shattered or cracked at the very least. He staggered and fell, catching himself on a hand as he felt his way blindly through the increasing darkness as the bridge blocked out the moon. He came to a stop as his hand touched an object sticking ouf of the sand. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he made out a circular edge and several bent spokes. It was a wagon wheel and the wagon it belonged to sat nearby in an uneven slump. Worn down by the elements and missing most of its siding it was a sorry sight. Sizable gaps had been opened up all along it, the larges of which being front end which was missing its corners and had been buried in the sand. It was filled with more holes than a goblin insurance claim but it still offered more protection than the open air. Shivering and unsteady, Tahzani slipped inside of the musty, noxious sanctuary and rubbed at the gooseflesh of his exposed skin vigorously. The shattered front end had flooded half of the wagon with several inches of sand. As the moon slowly shifted, a beam of moonlight filtered in through a hole in the wall and fell upon a pathetic excuse of a firepit. A small ring of stones around a single, black and brittle skull atop a pile of ash and sand. "Who did jah piss off mon? Don' mean no disrespect but jah do well ta balance out a good flame... Forgive me." He mumbled as he shivered again and looked around. The wagon had been stripped by many things but it had been sturdily built. He staggered back out into the cold and set to work. One more plank opened another hole in the wagon's side. The wood was brittle enough that it nearly crumbled in his hand and was sprinkled around the skull before the more resilient shards were leaned against the side of the skull. The wheel he had found was beaten against the stone until the wooden wheel was shattered and its pieces were pulled from the inner ring and spokes. Satisfied with the amount he had to burn, he realized he was missing a critical component. "Matches...Why didn't ah pack matches." He muttered, patting down his pockets. "Because ah nevah NEEDED matches befoah, jackass!" He hissed. "Ey! Don' take dat tone wit me! Dey gave jah plenty of options fah what ta take an' jah took-" "Ah know! Ah know! Shit dat made me a tahget, how could ah forget? But we don' got matches. Mebbe dere be sometin' ah can scavenge from de road." " Mebbe jah can bang two rocks togethah." He sneered. "If jah done bein' an ASSHOLE, ah be all ears fah actual suggestions!" He did not like the look he wore then. He wore a condescending smirk as if he was explaining simple math to a moron. "Ain' much life left in de bone. But enough..." "No..." "Why? Because wit de final piece gone jah FINALLY be free of it? One sunbeam de size a jah dick don' make jah a druid. Errybody would rathah jah come back fel tainted den not come back at all." "Ah told mahself-" "Jah promised ME dat jah wouldn't. But jah also promised HER dat jah would stick around! Face it, jah nevah been much fah promises. De Centipedes, de Mossflayah, Lilly, Pai, Nauka... Name one person jah made a deal wit an' kept it straight!" He snapped before sucking in a shaky, weary breath and continuing. "Ah don' wanna die out heah... If it means we take a leap backwards aftah finally havin' our breakthrough, den so be it." When he mustered the nerve to look at himself again, he was alone. The burned skull stared at him imploringly but what it wanted eluded him. To use it to save himself? To resist the temptation? "Jah prolly wanna be reattached to jah spine." He muttered as he held out a hand towards the pit. He had used the fel to start fires so many times that he could cast the spell without conscious thought, even after so many months. But lighting it another way was painfully difficult. Enough to warrant a mantra as he plead for warmth. "Life comes from death...Life comes from death.... Life comes from death." He chanted again and again. The dead man in the firepit would help keep him alive so long as he had the will. There was a single moment of illumination as a golden, sunny flame licked out from his palm to strike the dried wood. In that moment he felt the thrill of success quickly followed by exhaustion. The bones of a dead man huddled in a corner, grinned proudly at him as they held onto the rusted blade in what had once been its guts. His vision blurred and his side hit the sand near the small, crackling flame. He looked into the hellish glow of the skull's eye sockets and promptly passed out.
  11. 1 point
    Nathandiel groaned as he set down the last of firewood by the hearth, kicking an errant log back onto the blanket he'd put down to catch the bits of bark that always fell from the lengths of tinder. He went back to the front door, leaning out into the street. Tarren Mill was bigger now, more boisterous than years before. Aside from the normal development of a healthy settlement that saw growth, Tarren Mill was now one of the nearer Horde outposts to the conflict in the Arathi Highlands to the East. With the Undercity gone, its also one of the more popular refugee towns. He frowned at this, eyeing a few of those said refugees by one of the water pumps, on their way to the cemetery. Towards the town's centre there would be more of them, crashed out under lean-to dwellings, filling the inn, and taking up space in any shoppe that would permit them. He pulled the door to the little flat closed, sure to turn the lock. It wasn't yet clear who had survived the attack, and while there were some who knew he had, he wasn't yet keen to make it apparent that he was still with the living--he had other things to attend to besides the Warcheif's ambitions. The small flat was old, dusty, and he had yet to properly clean it. What equipment he had bartered for dominated the kitchen, a place that had become more a laboratory than a place in which he made food. In the cupboards there were canned goods tucked snug next to stock solutions and chemical powders with handwritten labels. Before the Undercity had fallen, he had been deeply engrossed in work, finding the solace there that Howard Philip Glinn had promised he would. He had been set back by the assault, but had salvaged his journals--along with his family. Kieran cooed with delight in the single bedroom, a small space with a wooden stove, kept from view by dusty curtains Nathandiel had taken from the living room windows. He had replaced those coverings with linens. His new wife liked it dark in the bedroom, the light still too much for her. Kieran didn't mind, so long as he had her attention--and she was surprisingly good at giving it to him. He could hear her speaking softly to the child, encouraging him to eat more, to become stronger. That should have been a happy moment, to hear his new wife speak to the child in their charge with such hope. It is happy. I am happy--I am. We cannot always have things exactly as we want them. He went to the fireplace, stoking the coals to rouse them in anticipation for more fuel. He wiped sweat from his upper lip as the fire grew hotter with each addition, the glow leaning more yellow than orange as the flames licked up the sappy wood, popping when it hit sugar. He stood, content with his work, and pulled the fire gate closed. He couldn't have Kieran crawling into the fire, that would be most troublesome. The tiny tot had already put his hand on the stove in the bedroom, earning himself a red and inflamed palm that Nathandiel had salved and wrapped, feeling no need to admonish the child; it had learned enough of a lesson from the injury. In the kitchen he took off his shirt, wiping down his upper body and under his arms, removing at least the worst of the stink that enshrouded a man after a prolonged period of arduous labour; he would take a bath after supper. Without reclothing, he set to making the evening meal, pushing aside retort stands and moving glassware so that he could make enough space on the counter to chop vegetables. In the bedroom he heard mutual giggling; they were happy in there. I either need to go hunting, or suck it up and purchase some meat from one of the vendors here. We've been living on vegetables for nearly a week, he thought, while he cut the potatoes. Before moving onto the onions he put on his laboratory goggles. They didn't work entirely, but they did help keep the tearful miasma from his eyes, at least enough that he could finish the task. Once the pot was full, the water added, and the stock dispensed, he lugged the heavy iron receptacle to the fire and hung it. He took a moment to stoke the fire again before giving the soup a stir. It was thick this time, more like a stew. His mouth watered at the prospect of a hearty meal. It would be better with meat.... With supper attended to, he headed to the bedroom, pushing aside the curtains and slipping in before any light would enter. Inside the small room was dominated by a rickety bed, dark covers draped over a slender form who was propped up with pillows, an infant on her lap. The stove was cold, they wouldn't light it until evening. The box that served as Kieran's cradle was next to the bed, making it easy for his wife to reach the infant when she so wished. Affixed to the headboard were IV bags, several of them, some small and some large, some piggy-backing on others while some had direct lines to the woman in the bed. He went to the bed and took each bag in hand, turning them over to check their volumes, frowning at each meniscus that met a line he didn't like. "You need more blood," he sighed softly, biting his lip. While they had been in the bowels of the Undercity coming by blood had been no problem. Now though.... A cold hand closed on his forearm and he looked down. The veiled face was turned up to him, the child tucked against her covered breast with a bottle. "I feel much better," she said, her voice throaty and smooth like velvet. "You worry too much. This is where Melchisedech did his best work, and this is where you will do yours. The fall of Lordaeron is infuriating," her grip tightened. "But for us, this may have been best. Now...favour me before you busy yourself with my care taking?" It was a simple request and he smiled. He lifted her veil, placing it carefully on her crown and leaned down, tipping up her chin as he kissed her. She was still so cold. He let his forehead rest against hers and she held his cheek with one slender hand. "Be stronger than the fear and doubt that wrest your heart. I have seen worse times in life, as have you. This space between life and something else does not frighten me; do not let it frighten you." He kissed her again, eager for her even in her given state. He restrained himself, however, for despite her assurances, she was not well. His eyes met hers, the once-vibrant green gone, a pale violet looking back. Her cheeks were sunken and her lips were barely the colour of bleached roses. Her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, lank and really too long. Now, more than ever, she resembled the Queen she so adored, but she was not like Sylvanas or her kind, not entirely. "I can smell soup," Drinn said. "I think I would like to have some. Would that be alright?" He smiled, not sure that she really did wish to eat or if rather she wished to please him by appearing to wish to eat. "Of course," he said. "When its ready I'll bring you a bowl to go with Kieran's broth." Drinn nodded, smiling down at the infant she had become keen on. "Eat yours in here with us," she said. "Take just a little time away from the work and care giving and be with us." She looked up at him. "Do you think after supper you could read more to us?" Nathandiel nodded. "Of course." Drinn lowered her veil, hiding her meekness. "Good. We would like that very much. You may tend to me now." She did not like when he invited himself to administer her medicines and supplements, or to help himself to a bodily exam. Even in a nearly helpless state, she was not a submissive woman. He didn't mind this about his new wife. Her strength, even her arrogance, enamored him to her. When he'd finally found her, broken and drained, she'd still tried to kill him. With her permission, he changed her IVs, flushed her catheters, checked her lines, and drew his samples. By the time he had her settled, the soup was ready. They ate together, and when they were done, he read to Kieran and Drinn until they were both asleep. He watched them, the way the baby lifted and fell slowly on Drinn's struggling chest. As much as he wanted to stay there with them enjoying the peace they had created in that tiny room, he had work to do. [align=center]In Memory of Drinn[/align] [align=center]Happy Birthday Drinn[/align] [align=center]October 16, 1980 to June 21, 2016[/align]
  12. 1 point
    Two and a half weeks later, a group went looking for Sanctuary’s former commander. Cobrak, Cerryan, Amalyn, and Faelenor, who counted themselves friends of Julilee, found the missive on Juli’s desk and went to the camp in Silithus. Finding the overseer had gone ahead and collapsed the mine as Juli has suggested, if not specifically because Juli had suggested it, they sought the aid of a earth shaman, who directed them to an alternate entrance to the underground caverns – a chasm that delved into the earth they could follow. It was a perilous descent, marked by strange whispers and abominations, but they pressed on. Eventually, they found the antechamber, but it lay blocked, half of it entirely collapsed. It was beyond their means to continue. They were forced to turn back.
  13. 1 point
    The first rays of sunlight pierced through the gloom and stabbed straight into the weary eyes of the pale troll who had taken the lead. When he stopped short with a curse, Tahzani walked straight into his back. Even with a mixture that was more water than liquor, the alcohol had proven potent enough to provide them both with a sense of inebriation that followed them throughout the night. Sipping on the watered down slammer had warded away most of the chill, leaving them both uncomfortable, but it had succeeded in keeping them alive against the chill. After an hour of passing the bottle back and forth his companion's tongue had loosened and the time was spent listening to the man ramble from one story to the next with frequent distractions, rambling, and irrelevent tangents. Tahzani almost regretted not remembering a word of it. Fatigue that had nothing to do with sleep deprivation or exertion had become more and more prominent since he had left the city. Even as his companion talked for hours on end, Tahzani struggled to keep moving in a straight line. "We made good time, but we gotta stop." Dock stated, peering blearily at the stone wall before them. The mass of rock had only become visible when the sky had begun to lighten as if in invitation.The land sank into cayons and rose into terraces of stone, dark brown against the cold tan of the dunes surrounding it. In time, it would offer shade from the burning glare. "We ain't got enough watah ta mix left. We can drink it straight ta survive anuddah night but we'll be dyin' a thirst even quickah." Tahzani sighed, licking his lips and glancing towards the canyon. At the moment, he would have welcomed the warmth of a horrifically hot day with open arms. "A few hours of sun exposure is going to exhaust what little water we have left. I don't want to face whatever else rises with the sun without proper rest. It was your idea to push away from the others, now we gotta make this work or we are both dead. Pushing ourselves until we drop or run into a real threat is a sure way to achieve the latter." Dock stated, setting his lips into a grim line as he stared at the taciturn bartender. Tahzani spared the rocks a weary look as he considered their options. The darkened pathway between the rocks held little appeal when his mind had been set on trudging a few miles further. The sight of thin, green leaves poking out of the ground changed his mind. "Look... Grass." "...Aye Mon. I know what grass is." The exile said slowly. Perhaps the chill of the night had frozen his brain and it needed time to thaw. "Grass means watah. It might be deep but-" " It might also mean plants we can use." Dock said, catching on and flashing a grin filled with tobacco stained teeth. " Exactly, ah figure we got an hour befoah de sun be up. Dunno what be edible heah but we should look an' be quick about it." His words lacked the force required to inspire. But the next moment both trolls were striding with purpose into the winding stone canyons. ------- "What about-" "Do not drink the cactus." "But I seen-" "The after effects? The water in there is acidic. You gonna give yourself the shits drinking that by itself... Take the young pads though, there might be something we can do with them." Dock spared the bartender an annoyed look. Ever since the sun had risen, the troll had become even more sluggish and he was struggling with even basic tasks. "Just look for broad, green leafy plants." The other troll sighed, drawing the blade on his side as he spotted a healthy looking plant and began digging at its base. Tahzani watched the other troll work without comprehension or basic awareness. He should have kept looking but he could not draw himself away from the digging troll. The death of his drive had begun with the loss of momentum. He was dimly aware of what they needed here, yet when they stopped, all he could think about was lying down. Not even to sleep. "Ahahahahaaaa!" His partner's cackle roused some life into his dulled senses. The hole he had dug into the roots of the plant was beginning to fill with gritty water. It did not stop the other troll from leaning down to drink deeply from the puddle. "Quickly mon! Gimme the skin!" Dock gasped, holding out a hand towards him. Tahzani stared at the hand for several moments before he seemed to understand and handed off the deflated skin to his partner. It only took a few scoops from the shallow water to drain it too low. When the puddle was too shallow to effectively fill the skin, Dock stepped away to allow Tahzani to wet his swollen throat. With or without sand, the water was a welcome relief. "This should be enough for one more night. Let's find a place to get some shut-eye." Dock rumbled, his spirits notably higher as he strode past the stooped bartender with purpose. Tahzani tarried a few seconds longer before staggering after him. The optimistic attitude was short lived as the two wandered through the winding pathways carved through the stone. There was no shortage of cracks and small crevices to trip over and stub their toes on, but none that were large enough to slip into. An hour passed as the two staggered and cursed their way through the passes before they found an indent in the stone. It was deep enough to provide relief from the heavy heat that had begun to weigh them down. He missed the question when it was asked the first time, too focused on the relief of getting off of his feet. "What?" "I asked, what the hell is wrong with you?" "Ya want a fuckin' list?" "Last night you had one idea that seemed insane but it worked. Now? Ya head be on de moon." Tahzani twisted his lip and remained silent. It was an answer he had been curious about. The lethargy had been slow to start but spread quickly. "Ah don' know." "What do ya mean ya don't know?" "Just that. A few days outta de city an' errytin' got hardah. Thinkin' about escape turned inta strugglin' ta focus. Was able ta walk an' talk but even das gettin' hahd now." "Ya been huffing?" "Jah... But das not it." "Ya sure?" "Aye. Even de worst cravings not been like dis." "Snorting?" "What? No." "Shooting?" "How does dat-No!" "Licking?" "Licking?" "Toads." "NO! Ah'm not a junkie!" Tahzani snapped at his companion. The other troll had sunk down beside him with his eyes closed and a slight smile curling his lip at the bartender's outrage. " Could have fooled me. Fine, don't tell me." "Ah slung de Fel." Tahzani snapped without enthusiasm, resting his head against the wall after the proclamation. When his friend made a knowing sound in the back of his throat he lazily swiveled his head towards him to tiredly glare. "What?" "The Fel. I have heard enough stories about it." "Yeah well ah'm not messin' wit it. Not anymoah." "Maybe that might be the problem? Your greenskinned friends went through a similar struggle did they not?" "Withdrawals don' kick in months latah. If jah be hooked on it, it could be hours befoah jah want anudda hit. Even wit as little as ah used ah woulda felt sometin' before today." "Are you sure about that?" "Well, ah was a second ago." The bartender muttered. Apparently satisfied, Dock folded his arms across his stomach and settled down. "Ya good ta take de first watch?" "Aye. I'll wake jah in a few hours." Tahzani sighed, rubbing at his eyes before staring down the path they had come from. He had reached an odd point of fatigue where he lacked the energy to feel exhausted. Deigning not to point out the other troll's state. Dock closed his eyes. The sun was high in the sky and edging towards a descent when Tahzani's time for rest was cut short by urgent shaking. " Mon! We gotta move!" Dock hissed glancing down the path to their right as he roused the Revantusk. Tahzani muttered incoherently, his eyes gummy and his vision blurred. Befuddled by sleep, he offered no resistance as the troll grabbed him by the forearms and hauled him to his feet. "We gotta move!" " Ah heard jah! Fuck! Don' gotta be so loud mah ears are ringin'." He growled irritably before cocking his head and blinking his eyes clear. His ears were not ringing, they were buzzing with the heavy reverberations of rapidly moving wings. A bass, droning buzz. When a shadow flew by overhead, his exhaustion disappeared and both trolls took off running. The blood pounding through his veins gave him clarity and pushed away the exhaustion for the moment as he focused entirely on keeping up with the athletic troll in front of him. The droning buzz only grew louder and more agitated as they ran. He risked a glance over his shoulder and regretted it immediately. The shadow had been a scout, now the workers and the defenders had arisen to darken the skies. Dozens or hundreds of winged insects were behind them and moving forward. He barely avoided colliding with Dock when the other troll skidded to a halt. The narrow path had widened into a broad, circular area no longer than a hundred feet across before it turned narrow again. The walls were covered in the bulbous hives of the wasps. The defending wasps were the size of dogs while the drones were the size of his fingers. He could easily count the number of defenders but the little ones were too numerous to even guess at. His companion spat out an oath and glanced over his shoulder. They had drawn the attention of the swarm behind them. "We run through there an we'll be flayed alive." "An' if we stay put, we gonna get swarmed." Tahzani protested, earning a stressed look from the exile. The anger disappeared as he shoved a hand inside of Tahzani's pocket, earning an indignant squawk and an frightened jerk backwards by the bartender. "Ah ain't grabbin' YA bottle i'm grabbing THE bottle! Shut up!" Dock groused, pulling the obsidian glass bottle from his pocket. "Dock no!" Tahzani wailed, too late as the bottle had already been hurled towards one of the closer hives of alerted wasps. It would have been a solid plan, a short explosion to disrupt the wasps and a flaming hive to send them into a confused panic while the two ran for their lives. But the magical fire the man expected had always required other components to start. None of which would be found in broken glass. The heavy bottle shattered explosively, raining shards of thick, black glass onto the smaller wasps and even tearing the delicate wing of one of the defenders, sending it buzzing into the earth. The rain of glass was mixed with a rain of thick, black liquid that painted the hive and the wasps alike with what remained inside. Dock froze with a confused, fearful expression. Where was the flame? The buzzing grew louder as the insects became enraged. Dock ripped the blade from his waist with his free hand as he tugged Tahzani forward. The bartender had closed his eyes in a look of silent submission. As if he was awaiting his end. In truth, it was taking Tahzani everything he had to work out the spell. He had yet to succeed with anything Paiyuna had tried to teach him, and in the dreadful moment, he believed he knew why it had never worked. As the insects approached, he reached out a hand towards the glaring, fiery orb above him. The wasps had been eating far too well lately. There were too many exiles to feast upon and not enough of anything else to support the explosive population growth. Balance was needed. The beam was miniscule, only notable because of the shade that the drenched nest resided in. But the spark was enough. The insects scattered as flames roared up the wall and began to greedily devour the hive. The tongues of flame lashed at large and small insects alike, uncaring and all consuming. When every other creature scattered in a panic away from the flame, the trolls shot towards the exit. The exile arced the blade through the air at one of the more resilient defenders, slicing through the barbed stinger and out through the sternum to spill its insides out. Torn between panic and a surge of joy at the accomplishment, Tahzani barely managed to block a stringer with his arm rather than his skull. The knife sized stinger twisted just right to thread the needle between his bones of his forearm and pass clear through the meat of the limb He had not even registered the pain when another slash from Dock freed the stinger from the creature's body, leaving the confused bartender with a brand new piercing. "It went though." He informed his companion in a tone of disbelief as the sudden shock wore off and the delayed agony surged forward. "We'll get it out later! RUN!" Dock ordered, giving his unmaimed arm another tug. The next second he let go again to cleave through a curious wasp that had come to investigate the noise from further down the tunnel. Tahzani raised the wounded limb again as another wasp fell upon him. He greeted the next wound with a scream as the stinger buried itself into his arm an inch away from the first and released a burning venom into the meat of his limb. The creature pulled the stinger out with a sudden jerk, sawing through flesh with the barbs as it readied itself for another stab. Scrambling wildly with the other limb, Tahzani found a hefty stone to swing at the plunging blade, cracking the weapon and wrenching it free of the wasps's body to dangle by a string. Tahzani leapt back up to his feet and staggered away from the mess, hurling his newfound weapon at another attacking insect as he staggered after Dock. The other troll was shouting for him to hurry as he continued to slash and cleave with a flash of steel and a spray of ichor accompanying each motion. The swarm had caught him by then, showing particular interest in the already infected flesh as they focused on covering the limb.In the moment, all he could focus on was the simple task of running before the ones with the big stingers got there. The tiny stingers stabbing into his chest tickled by comparison. His heart was hammering into his ribs with every moment as panic seized him. His arm ached abysmally but not nearly as much as it should have. Even as he watched, he saw bits of his flesh being ripped off and chewed by tiny mandibles. Before his very eyes, he was being eaten by the swarm. He screamed incoherently as he slapped at the insects with his free hand, crushing some and backhanding others away. Casings cracked and stingers were ripped free in ways that should have hurt far more than they did. They shot out of the pathways out onto a descending dune of sand leading down to patches of an old, stone road. Bare feet slapped the stone loudly as they fled the swarm. It was unclear which one of them was shouting or if they were both adding to the already deafening racket. ------------ He was not sure when the creatures stopped pursuing them, but when he collapsed they were thankfully nowhere to be seen. His throat was as dry as a kiln and every breath he sucked into aching, burning lungs. He felt uneven and even rolling onto his back took more effort than it should have. Against his better judgement, he looked down to look at the damage the swarm had inflicted. From the edge of his bicep downward, his arm was a mess of chewed flesh and discolored, grotesquely swollen bumps. The limb had grown as thick as his thigh in places, resembling bunch of punctured grapes still on the stem. As horrible as it looked, he felt little more than a mild burning sensation. "It's... It's not dat bad right?" He asked in a quivering voice as Dock approached him with a guarded expression. "De venom, it isn't dat bad, right?" He quietly plead, hoping that the grim faced exile had some sort of reassurance. He began to shiver as the other exile removed his belt and cinched it down tightly above the damaged flesh. "I'll heal! Ah just need time!" His voice rose an octave as his companion drew the blade again with a sickened expression and forced a dirty cloth into Tahzani's mouth. His heart pounded in his chest and fear locked his limbs as he stared at the man with a naked blade. "Aye mon... It will all heal with time." Dock promised with a soft, kind tone reserved for calming frightened animals. " Close ya eyes. Ya won't want to watch this." He murmured, positioning his blade above the damaged limb. Dock was right.
  14. 1 point
    When the first bottle had been removed from an unnaturally deep pocket in his robes, the guards had whistled and laughed about their good fortune. By the twentieth, the amusement had turned into utter disbelief. They would never understand the sheer weight he suffered under to exceed expectations. Piece by piece they stripped him of everything he had. When he had nothing left, not even simple cloth to protect his dignity they made him choose what they would return. For the hoard of "evidence" they had collected from him, they were feeling generous. They told him it was the peak of generosity towards exiles when they made him choose. Water and rations that could be stretched out for a long weekend, the clothes on his back, and a handful of personal items were all that they allowed him. The weight of the punishment made up for the lack of material as he trudged along with a score of other trolls out of the city with his hands shackled tightly in front of him. Several days were spent in a forced ride and trudge. Every few hours the prisoners were rotated between the cramped, wheeled cage pulled by the great, horned lizard and the line of walking prisoners behind it. The fires of rebellion still burned among the prisoners as they muttered, hissed, and swore revenge. He felt subdued and tired, even as the others hissed and spat all he could manage was to put one foot in front of the other. When their path brushed the border to the misty swamp, all protest died in their throats. The prisoners became as silent as the stone-faced guards, mutually fearful of alerting what hid in the muck and vapor. One troll in the group only had just enough strength to make it to the land of their exile and no further. The old man had begun falling into coughing fits a few days out of the city and only grew worse when they passed through Nazmir. The hacking sounds only grew rougher and wetter with every day they spent on the journey. When his feet touched the sands of the outskirts, his debt to the empire was officially paid. The old man fell to the ground, hacking and gasping for air as he dragged the line to a halt. The guards watched him with a hint of annoyance at the delay but made no movement to help him back to his feet. When the coughing stopped, they removed the old man's limp body from the line and shouted for the rest of the prisoners to continue onward. Tahzani kept his eyes on the ground, terrified of staring into the empty eyes of the lucky man who had avoided the future hardship. ---------------------- His mind was a jumbled mess when a rough shake forced him into consciousness. HIs head ached horribly and only one eye could see the star-filled night sky. His irritant had stooped beside him in the darkness to rouse him for reasons he could not comprehend. He had no recollection of going to sleep on the sand. The memories slowly tumbled back to the forefront of his mind as the man's unintelligible words reached his ears. They had been released by the guards and given their final sentence. They were to remain in Vol'dun for the rest of their days. To be seen by soldiers of the Zandalari anywhere else was grounds for execution. Their choice of how to live the rest of their lives was the one mercy granted to them for their crimes against the King and his Empire. With their duty fulfilled, the guards turned and rode away. In their exhausted stupor, the first troll to begin moving was quietly declared the leader and the rest of the mob shuffled after him. The path of exile had been tread and obliterated by the shifting sands countless times but after so many years and prisoners, a semblance of permanence had been worn into the earth. They followed that line, silent save for a handful of murmured conversations. The sun had begun to set when they found the first camp established along the trail worn by the exiles. It was little more than a firepit ringed with sandstone in a shallow pit of land protected from the sun and wind by two shards of stone jutting out from the earth like crooked, crossed teeth. He greeted the sight with a sigh of relief. The troll behind him had greeted it by striking Tahzani in the back of the head. " Ya took something sentimental didn't ya?" The troll in his blindspot rumbled in cracked voice, roughened by thirst. " Didn't think it would make ya target, richmon?" Tahzani's response could not even make it past his swollen, dry tongue. " Musta been a thief...Or caught in bed wit de wrong mon's mate. These men, they be here for much worse. While ya took what ya needed to comfort yaself, they took what they needed to conquer. Ya keepsakes didn't protect ya much from a good cudgel, did they?" Tahzani finally turned enough to get a look at the troll speaking to him, realizing with relief that his eye had swollen shut from the blow. The Zandalari had pale, nearly white skin and short hair. The rags of a poor man covered his chest and legs, a rope had been tied around his waist as a makeshift holder for the dull saber on his hip. " Who... Be ya?" The bartender finally managed before coughing painfully through a closed throat. " Name best be forgotten, but ya can call me Dock." " Aight Dock... Why ya botherin' ta talk ta me about dis?" " Came ta check an' see if ya had died yet an' get first dibs on ya clothes. Found ya still breathing so I felt neighborly." Tahzani coughed and gasped through a dry throat several times before he was able to control himself. Dock continued to speak, undeterred by the conversation turning one sided again. " If I was you, I would wake up before the rest. If ya feeling brave, steal it all back while they sleep. Either way, get out before they decide that the noise ya make when they hit ya be funny. Or that the meat on ya bones be enough for them when they go hungry in a few days. Lotta people lose it out here." Tahzani pushed himself up out of the sand an released a breath. They had left him where he had fallen after the initial assault, outside the light of the fire and far away from its warmth. He wrapped his arms tightly around his chest and let out a shuddering curse. The night air was frigid and sucked the warmth from deep within. The harness had been enough for the heat of the port, here, he cursed his choices. The other exiles had formed into clusters, the largest and the most heavily armed were allowed the luxury of the fire while the others huddled together for warmth outside of the ring of bodies. The anger he should have felt at their arrogance found no space to build in his throbbing skull. There was no use waiting for morning. " Ain't nothin' fah me heah..." He choked out before looking towards the sky. The north star was enough to give him a sense of direction. He turned south. Dock did not rise from his seated position and followed the bartender's wobbly gait with his eyes. " Where ya goin' richmon?" " South. Ah know enough about dis place ta know dat be where de coast is." " And?" " An' i'm goin' there." " Ya not leavin' Vol'dun in a rowboat, mon." Tahzani bit back his first response and simply exhaled through his nose. " It be a slim chance. But if dey lettin' de Horde in heah, ah know dey gonna be expandin' operations ta all reaches a de island. Ah make it ta de watah, ah might be able ta find a way out. It be eithah dat or die in the sands." He began walking. Every step took him further and further away from the light and noise of the other exiles. " Won't be de sun dat kills ya at night, richmon." Dock warned him, falling in step with him a few moments later. " The sun will roast ya alive but the night sky will suck all feelin' out of you. Freezin' ta death is no better." " Ah didn't take keepsakes." Tahzani's hand shook from the cold as he reached into the abnormally deep pockets of his apron. The thieves had taken what they had felt on the surface, but they had not found where he had hidden the important items. He withdrew a heavy bottle made of obsidian glass from his pocket and twisted the cork until it popped out, releasing a smoky, pungent scent. The paler troll wrinkled his nose. " Liquor? Ya took -liquor-?" " Need watah... But you'd be surprised what even a sip a dis can do against a chill." Tahzani muttered before withdrawing one significantly smaller sewn waterskin, the remains of his water ration from the death march. He pursed his lips and took one last slug from it before he fit the mouths of the containers together. His hands were shaking badly enough to slop the liquor onto the sands as he mixed the two without precision. " Ya realize it does not actually warm ya up, right?" " ...Lemme tell ya about a fun place called Blackrock Mountain an' a drink named aftah a royal asshole." In the relative darkness of the dunes, a single spot of flame sprang to life. It burned just long enough and bright enough to illuminate the Zandalari's look of disbelief.
  15. 1 point
    “I'm not sure this is a fit place for the child,” Nathandiel said, holding Kieran protectively to his shoulder. “Particularly not with one of those here.” He nodded towards the wretched strapped into the chair before the incinerator. “There is no need to worry, I assure you,” Howard Philip Glenn spoke from the platform above, working at a complicated looking control panel. Jets of steam escaped and coloured liquids boiled in large, glass vats. The smell in the room was surprisingly clean, if a little reminiscent of a country fire. “He is quite tied down.” Howard Philip Glinn did not seem the least concerned with the quivering, babbling, soiled creature in the unwelcoming chair. It fought its restraints between bouts of distraction, eyes drawn to the releases of steam or the striking of iron. Whenever Glinn moved, the milky-white eyes followed and the babbling lowered in volume. “I'd be happy to come back. . . . When I've gotten a nurse for the infant.” Nathandiel offered his voice needlessly cheery. Glinn dismissed this with an absent and irritated wave of one skeletal hand. Sure, mana addict and monstrous machinery; quite the place for a child less than one. Nathandiel pressed his lips to the small boy's head, soft tendrils of fine black hair like feathers against his own flesh. “Alright right then, it's all okay.” The little boy was silent, not asleep but near to it. Nathandiel didn't think that many elves were born in the Undercity. and that if Kieran could count himself amongst peers they were few and had not stayed long. In a way their leaving the cabin had been a coming home for the child—back to the screams and the antiseptic and the dank dampness of life without the sun. But a sun child needed that great globe of warmth and as soon as he was old enough, as soon as the arrangements were made through Pascal in Stormwind, Kieran would go to the woman that embodied sunshine; He would go to Siané. There he would be cared for and watched over at the Bramblewaithe Grammar School for boys while Siané performed the duty of guardian. For this he would see her handsomely remunerated. That she had agreed had been a load of relief for him. Baalthemar had not come to see the child and Nathandiel had felt forced to resolve that the other man no longer held an interest in the baby, with that in mind arrangements had needed making. Until Kieran could go to school he would stay with Nathandiel. Unfortunately that meant staying in the Undercity--and being at the mercy of whatever insane studies the other occupants pursued. He turned his attention back to Glinn. “So what's this about then, what's really going on here?” He asked. “Finally, you ask.” Glinn lowered his wretched form down the ladder and joined Nathandiel on the same floor. Glinn’s dry, dead face, pulled into a hideous grin of pleasure as he approached, reaching out and laying one withered hand on Kieran’s back. “My my, he is warm. Elves and their sunshine, they are so warm to the touch. When they are wee are they hot like the flames of candles.” Glinn came close and, without invitation, took the baby from Nathandiel. There was a moment of alarm, a twisting of the intestines, in which Nathandiel warred between snatching his ward back and showing his superior unquestioning trust. Trust won out. “There is a good lad, yes.” Glinn held up Kieran for inspection. The child was cooperative, making no fuss as he was handled by the cold hands of the undead. “He’s not yours, I know that.” Glinn said, “unless you mean to tell me that Drinn Sel’Quar has born you a son. I do suppose he looks a little like her and she'd have made a very warm child.” Nathandiel said nothing. That would have been a good cover story, what with Drinn missing and the resemblance, the time between her disappearance the birth of Kieran. He had a single photograph of Drinn, perhaps he could lead Kieran to think her his mother. “But he isn't, because he isn't a halfling. His warmth is too great.” Glinn’s eyes twinkled as he set them on Nathandiel who remained very, very still. The two men stared at eshcother, the corpse absently rocking the pink child. Glinn did this with a familiarity that, to Nathandiel, indicated that Glinn had been well-acquainted with children in his life. “It's all right,” Glinn said finally. “I need your help.” Glinn turned his attention to Kieran, the tension disbursed. “Yes, yes I do. I need your new daddy to help me!” He held the child up and blew an awful, blasphemous raspberry in the babies tummy, making Kieran squeal with delight. As Glinn explained what he intended, using the withered as an example, he kept Kieran in his arms. The baby was delighted by this new friend, this decrepit grandfatherly figure who knew all the best ways to make something even as uncanny and cruel as the administration of violent serums to the captive soul in the chair something fun. Kieran trumpeted his joy along with Glinn when the spent withered went into the fire, echoing the beast's screams with his own laughter. How innocent children were before they learned of context and subtlety. “I'll need you to do the legwork of course, Silvermoon enjoys our resources as part of our partnership. You'll have all that you need.” Glinn gave Kieran back to Nathandiel and the child protested; he liked Glinn. “I'll arrange for larger quarters for you and your boy, I expect you'll be spending more time here, what with the loss of your dalliance--what was his name, the one with the single eye.” Nathandiel nodded, relieved to have the child back in his arms. “Thank you, my room is a bit too small for the two of us. One really shouldn't sleep with an infant in their bed.” “No, no they mustn't. That was one of the leading reasons for infant death in my village. I imagine you let him sleep in his basket though.” This was a question and not a statement, despite its positioning. “Yes, of course. The room is just too cold, he's warmer next to me.” “Then a bigger bed and rooms with a fireplace you shall have. Just don't tell your colleagues, they'll become dissatisfied with their single rooms and I don't care to explain housing rules to them.” Nathandiel nodded. “I won't say a word.” “Good. Go on then, Ill send on the data collected so far. That mathematical brain of yours should start chewing as soon as you receive it.” To this, Nathandiel consented and headed to the door, grateful to be excused. "Nathandiel . . . " He stopped at the door and turned back to Glinn. "Do you know why Horsley, during his attempts to cure homosexuality, ended up using oestrogen, the female hormone, instead of the male? He found that while oestrogren resulted in the abolishment of the sex drive, testosterone resulted in an increase--be it directed towards men or women--and that homosexual men being treated with testosterone not only pursue more sex, but neglected their other occupations in life. That was a side note of course, as a man's productivity was never the question for Hosley, but I have always thought back to that footnote when, in life, I have found myself torn between my laboratory and what lays between the thighs of a supple woman. Sex is a wonderful vice, a miraculous vice that can make babies like that little one you hold in your arms, but it takes you away from your work, and it is in our work that we are truly free, fed, and find ourselves fulfilled. While you are bound here to the Undercity without the comforts of sex, I would encourage you to heal your heart in your work. You might find that the most satisfyingly active organ you possess in between your ears." Nathandiel inhaled sharply, struck by the depth of Glinn's words, of his advice. At a loss for anything else to say that would prove an equal and fitting response he only nodded. He hurried from the laboratory with the boy, the smell no longer clean, but sweet with burning meat and the faint scent of his own anxious sweat.