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  1. 1 point
    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. 1 point
    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. 1 point
    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. 1 point
    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. 1 point
    “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. 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.
  7. 1 point
    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.”
  8. 1 point
    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.
  9. 1 point
    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.
  10. 1 point
    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.