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Everything posted by Qabian

  1. Time Shattered

    I am acclimating to the new role, taking it slowly. Three events over the Hallow's End holiday. The first was not oriented around the holiday, simple entertainment, and went as expected. No one so much as noticed my presence, but I was able to gain impressions of the others in attendance. The second I expected to be horrible, seeing as it was by invitation only and my method of obtaining an invitation was less than straightforward. It was extremely sin'dorei, advertised as something I should have found awful, but it turned out surprisingly tasteful and thoroughly impressive. It was an experience I will seek to repeat, as long as it maintains at least a surface level of refinement. The third was traditional. I made an ass of myself, though not overly so, and it seemed appropriate at the time. I was, however, grateful that there wasn't greater attendance. If I'm going to intentionally be an idiot, best to keep it to a smaller audience. Finally met that orc that someone told me was dead, what, a year ago now? Curious which of the dead refuse to stay that way. Thankfully, the vast majority of mine have remained buried. And the bartender seemed so happy back then. No wonder he was clearly annoyed every time she opened her mouth. Offered to make her cry. I don't expect that will ever happen. To be fair, I'd prefer Khorvis came back and repeated the process. Curious to learn she's the sibling to that name I encountered months ago now. Still not sure anything can or will come of that, but it's an interesting thing to hold. I'm certainly disappointed in the bartender's lack of action on his statements, but if anyone understands that achieving what you really want can be more difficult than initially assumed, I certainly can at that. I found a troll. It is difficult to tell how that will end, but we shall see. Revenge is generally a strong motive, especially when those you are avenging are thoroughly gone and the ones who killed them can never truly be known, so the revenge is intended to be applied liberally and eternally. Cessation of hostilities, ha! Must keep the propaganda moving forward. Also disappointing yet somehow unsurprising that the girl has weaseled her way out from under us yet again. Hard to kill a target that's been reserved for torment, so escape is one of many paths she'll no doubt come across. Still, escape means the game continues. The longer she breathes, the more she will have to fear. She may be able to coax friendship out of her, but it would take eons. The only reason I considered the false pleasantry path for my own project was because there was one single person who seemed to want to believe the lie. With that as a base to build on, possibilities exist. Without that much, the problem may be insurmountable. I've been considering amassing tales to tell, but thus far have not collected any that seem sufficient. They have to be just the right style if I'm to ply them on a crowd of tauren, and while I have a lifetime of academia behind me, I am no storyteller. I will continue the search.
  2. Time Shattered

    Don't ask. Just... Don't. That... thing is to blame for this. That thing and the Infinite. Or the Bronze. They're the same, yes? I was trying... I was... We were...? What was it? I hate him. I have always hated him. I will always hate him. It's refreshing. This hate. Everything and all the rest of dulled fragments of reflection. Hate is what slices through. Sweet, small, slicing through shadows, tiny candleflame hate. Nothing else. The rest is gone. Not even darkness. No shadow. Only blank, empty nothing. The rest is scattered, irretrievable, swept into a delirium vortex, unreal in every sense, and yet all of what is gone, what is lost, what is missing is the only real there is, ever has been, or ever will be. Except the hate. The hate burns through. I've missed this. Haven't I? I hate that, too.
  3. Time Shattered

    It's not about the boy. Not anymore. It was at the beginning. It was supposed to be a harmless -- no, not at all harmless, but a simple, hilarious lesson about why children are a terrible idea. Now, though... Now, it's something else. At first, if he died, I gained something -- a laugh. Now if he dies, well, I’d still get the laugh, but I’d lose more than I’d gain. It’s not worth it. If his mother dies, it’s the same situation. She has more sins, more flaws to answer for than the boy does, but I would not gain much more than a laugh, and I’d lose the investment. It started as a prank, almost. Now, though... Now, it’s a game. Now, it’s politics. I missed politics. Kael’thas ruined them for me, at least when he finally met destruction. Toying with Pathaleon was incredibly entertaining. But those days are long over. Perhaps that’s the reason to keep going, to move through the discomfort, to keep playing, to keep the pieces on the board, to avoid flipping the table. Politics. To give just enough that I’m not entirely turned away. To give just enough that I’m given a little more in return, and a little more in return, and a little more in return, until I can smash all of it at once. There’s the reason. It’s not about pleasure. It’s not about enjoyment. It’s not about romance. It’s not about ownership. It’s not about belonging. It’s sure as the sun not about love. But it is about respect. If you only indulge with people you respect who respect you in turn, how does that possibly leave you open for exploitation? I suppose there’s the possibility for respectable exploitation, but that benefits everyone involved, hm? It takes a certain kind of person to find me respectable. The miniscule size of that population means my standards appear exceedingly high, and even, perhaps, inscrutable, when they are in fact simple, but rare. I admit I... moved more quickly than rational on a few encounters, but Suramar is unique, and now that I have carved my niche there, it is not the sort of experience that will ever be repeated.
  4. Spelling Trouble

    Qabian sat on the bed in his new Silvermoon apartment, leaning back on a high stack of pillows and reading, surrounded by scrolls, loose papers, and books, a black panther cub slept heavily over one leg, cutting off circulation to that foot. When he wasn't indulging in Suramar's "culture" or out with the Grim doing Grim work, Qabian spent time learning what he had missed. There was a lot of it between Pandaria, Garrosh, Khadgar's lunacy, as well as the interguild politics and drama that was not well documented. Since he found himself back in Quel'thalas after the debacle in Stormwind, Qabian decided to direct his focus on the minutiae in Silvermoon politics. It seemed that short of the Sunreaver debacle and Garrosh's general chaos, there had not been too much upheaval. Lor'themar and Rommath were still who they had always been. With Sylvanas as Warchief, Silvermoon seemed almost comfortable with their relationship to the Horde, so Qabian found himself delving into the smaller details of politics and scandals. He read one report of a child attending council meetings and shifted his position, causing the panther cub to mrr in its sleep. Stranger things happened in Silvermoon politics everyday, but with elven lifespans, it hardly seemed necessary. That's what interregnum was for, after all. He read further. The child, with his strange red eyes... Qabian frowned. "Oh no," he murmured. ...acted as the heir to the Bloodstone estate, sitting with the Council in preparation for his future role in the management of... "This must be some kind of joke," he said to himself. He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Qabian finished reading and tossed the offensive page to one side where it floated to the floor. The panther cub lifted its head, blinking up at him sleepily. "People are idiots. You know that, cat? Complete and utter morons. All of them," Qabian informed the creature. The mage tilted his head thoughtfully, staring at the cub, or more accurately, through the cub. "I think it's time to look up an old acquaintance." Qabian grinned wickedly as he gathered his papers and books together, ungently kicking the cub to one side. Qabian stumbled as he stood, his foot having fallen asleep. Loud Thalassian curses caused the cub to scramble under the bed.
  5. Spelling Trouble

    Qabian stepped into the large, hot bath, its waters imbued with arcane energy and herbal infusions. He rested his arms on the sides of the bath as he sank down into the water up to his chest. He closed his eyes and relaxed for what felt like the first time in weeks. After a few minutes, the small sounds of someone else approaching came distant through the steam, echoes off the tiled walls and floor, quiet splashing as they entered the water across from him. He didn't open his eyes, even when they spoke. A woman's voice asked, "How did you spend your day?" "An excursion on the other side of the tracks," he said, keeping his eyes closed. "Taunting the Duskwatch again?" she asked. "Yes. They need to realize they chose the losing side." "They know," she said. "So you say. And yet." "They keep dying at your hands." "Mmhm. I also told an eight-year-old I'd rather suck cock than eat sausage." She burst out laughing, long, raucous laughter. "You're joking," she said when she could finally breathe again. "No." He remained entirely neutral, calm. "How did that happen?" She giggled. "It's complicated." "No shit. An eight-year-old? Oh, that apprentice?" "Yes." "You took him to fight Duskwatch?" "Yes." "And he held his own?" "He did, but his mother was also there. Speaking of which, Reinna's probably gone." Her tone changed, darkened. "Gone? What did you do to her?" "Nothing. I told her I was going to kill her." "You do that all the time." "I know." "So why is she gone?" "The mother tortured her." There was a long pause before she said, "I see. Did she deserve it?" "Reinna? No. But she attacked the boy, so what did she expect?" "She attacked another child, but you don't think she deserved to be harmed?" the woman's voice asked, her tone critical. "Of course not. She did not hurt him. She never intended to hurt him. She knew she couldn't do any real damage. She was innocent. The mother jumped immediately to murder." "You have a curious amount of faith in Reinna, especially considering how often you threaten to kill her yourself." "She's not stupid," Qabian said. "I beg to differ," the woman countered. "I know you do." "It worked then?" she asked. "Hm?" "Reinna's game." "No. If I see her again, I'll have to kill her," Qabian said. "Don't do that," the woman insisted. "Then don't let me see her again." "Fine," she said. There was a long silence before Qabian finally asked, "Do you know any Nightborne who speak to outsiders with an affectation?" "An affectation?" was her response. "Yes, like archaic sentence structure, deliberately obtuse language," he explained. "No. Anyone who actually bothers to speak to outsiders quickly learns how to do it understandably. Anyone who might bother with an affectation simply doesn't bother to speak to outsiders." "That's what I thought," Qabian said, frowning, his eyes still closed. "You met one such Nightborne." "Mm." "Curious." "Indeed. Either she's too stupid to speak properly, or..." "So rude as to be malicious?" the woman asked. Qabian grinned. "Exactly. I do a similar thing when I have to speak Common. I hate the human language. I mangle it intentionally. Hearing a Nightborne do that after everything, all the times I lost all hope of ever finding you, made me want to burn her to ash." "What stopped you?" "Politics," he said. "What? Oh, the boy and his mother?" she asked. "Mm." "That doesn't sound like you." Qabian sunk lower into the water, up to his neck. He finally opened his eyes to look at the woman across from him. "It isn't." "And you hated every second of it," she said, her white grin shining against her dark slate-colored skin. "I actually enjoyed some of the conversation with his mother, but..." Qabian hesitated. "But what?" she asked. "Trying to be friendly was agony. I don't think I can keep doing this," Qabian said, sinking lower still, the water up to his chin. "You've been saying that since you started. What are you going to do about it?" she asked, still grinning. "I'm going to have to kill the boy," Qabian said, then let himself slip beneath the water entirely. "Sure you are," she said, though he could no longer hear her.
  6. Time Shattered

    I've never had to spend much time with Awatu. Not that I had to spend much time with previous leaders, either, but it was occasionally forced on me. What few impressions of him I have are gentle and soft-spoken, stereotypical Tauren qualities. I've also seen him stubborn enough to be immobile once he has a notion in his head, so I've never had a reason to question his fitness for the role. Now I know he's completely insane and fits here perfectly. In the past, they've preferred deference, demanded it even. If you won't lick my boots, I'll crush you into the dirt and force you. Metaphorically, usually, but certainly by demanding your pride, rather than by simply pummeling your face. But they were always human corpses, not Tauren. Yichimet once tried to teach me something. He ended up... giving up. To this day I have no idea what he was trying to convey. Perhaps I'm simply ill-equipped to understand them. Somehow bowing angers the Commander. I... What? Why? I wasn't kneeling. I wasn't prostrating. I wasn't grovelling. I wasn't going overboard. I wasn't doing anything untoward. It was a gesture of respect. And for that, I should be punished? All right then. Perhaps he actually took offense to me telling him he was wrong. Because he was. I have never had this position. I began interviewing potentials shortly after I completed my own interview, yes, but I was never in charge. I was never in charge of anything beyond mages. They tried to force me to take charge of other people, other things, yes, but this position is not one I had. Poor dear, he was incorrect. Better beat the person informing him of the truth, yes? He accused me of mocking him. That... I was not doing, but I was -- still am, to a degree -- extremely amused, not by his words or even the situation, but by the sheer lunacy of trust, so I can admit my tone may have sounded much like mockery indeed. How am I not supposed to find this funny? I acknowledge it might be difficult to separate the fact that I find anyone asking for my help hilarious from the possibility that I believe he's inferior. On the contrary, while everyone is inferior, he is certainly less inferior than most. However, I acknowledge true subservience to no one and nothing, shu'halo nor sin'dorei, and yet I'm very good at making the pretence whenever necessary. What's the difference between pretence and actual subservience? I suppose that's for them to decide. My very reliability is itself a falsehood, but if I exercise it long enough, does it matter? Perhaps all of my time will be spent biding, but that doesn't make me hate them any less. Syreena said I was being "elfy." Exactly how am I supposed to prevent that? Does that mean he prefers corpse-like stiffness in his communications? Perhaps he prefers acknowledgment in the form of salutes? I'm sure whatever he prefers, he prefers it without the smug, barely stifled laughter that I certainly had, and that I can certainly avoid in the future. Further elfiness, however, that's an inevitable part of the package. I'd rather not continue to be pummeled for it, but maybe that's just going to be part of the job. I'll certainly endeavor to avoid it as much as possible, but I'm not going to die to be rid of who I am, or sacrifice my remaining ear to play human, sew my eyes shut and go back to Stormwind. I'll take the bruises if I must. Syreena said she wasn't simply repaying my favor, but some part of me resists that. We'll see, I suppose. And I had my revenge by making her my second, which perhaps means I now owe her, not that I've ever cared about repaying debts. I owed Acherontia rather a lot. I don't believe I ever repaid her anything. I am rather glad to see the game with Syreena's girl is over, at least my part of it. Unfortunately, other games remain. I'm not sure that hers was a good payment, at any rate. Yes, I have a taste for power, and if this were nothing more than decisions on worthiness, it would be power, but to me this is less power and more control. I dislike controlling others. If that were the kind of thing that appealed to me, I would have been a warlock when we were still allied with the humans. However, there are significant positive aspects to this opportunity, especially in terms of position and influence, despite Awatu's insistence I not treat this as a game of lords and ladies, as though nobility are any different than anyone else. And the truth remains that my intentions toward the Grim are absolutely to further its strength. In that respect, perhaps I am what is needed. I am capable enough of coping with those who have already made it this far, that much is true, but I wonder if I am at all capable of making new connections. I went to one of the dozens of Hallow's End celebrations around this time of year and it took all my willpower not to roll my eyes and shout them all down as morons, nevermind actually striking up conversation of any sort. It will be a challenge, at any rate, and that can only make me better. I hope.
  7. Artist doing commissions

    Got this fun $20 portrait today and seems like the artist's gonna have commissions for 'em open for a little while if there's interest~ Shithowdy on the tumbls.
  8. This artist I've commissioned a few times is asking for signal boosts, so I thought I'd toss this out. Feel free to hop on the thread with other artists if anyone wants. TenNine deviantArt She does batches of cheap $10-$15 portrait sketches fairly regularly and currently has one on the go. TenNine tumblr These are some of the things I've gotten from her: $15 color sketch of Kiannis $15 color sketch of my emo Miqo'te assassin from FFXIV $30 color portrait of Q with his ear cut off
  9. Keeping Secrets

    Qabian stepped into Shattrath, his brow pre-emptively raised as he approached the girl's form, slumped awkwardly up against a wall not far from where he teleported in, as though she were simply drunk. He hadn't thought they would actually catch the girl. She had been so slippery up to this point, he just assumed she would get away again. Now that he had her, he wasn't entirely sure what to do with her. His mission was simply to torment, hurt, terrorize, not acquire, not dismember. He considered thoughtfully. Dismemberment would fill all of the above categories. Qabian shook his head entirely to himself, then nodded at the rough looking Pandaren. "Pack her up." "Sir?" The Pandaren seemed confused. "Don't you have a... crate or something? I need her shipped to Tirisfal." Qabian held up a hand as the Pandaren shrugged helplessly. "Nevermind. Just stand guard a few minutes. I'll set it up. Good work. I'll double the pay, as agreed." The Pandaren nodded and leaned back against the wall. ~~ Just inside the Grim guild hall, Qabian awkwardly shoves a decent-sized wooden crate off a floating disc onto the floor with a heavy thud. He stops the first person who passes and says, "Is Syreena around? Bring her here if she is. Now." Though the crate is perfectly still, it makes a soft shuffling sound. Some time later, Syreena arrives. Her steps are shuffling and staggered, and she's grinning as she plays tug-of-war with Ber and Rabble as she comes in. "No fair, Rabble. You have three heads to pull it with!" Qabian straightens up as she enters. "Syreena. Delivery for you. I could continue my campaign, but thought you might want to offer your opinion before I drop this into Brightwater and see how long it takes the bubbles to stop,” he says, knocking on the top of the crate with his knuckles. The little rogue leaves the tug toy to the undead worg and hydra and turns to the crate as a muffled noise comes in protest at Qabian's words. "What is it?" she asks, looking to the mage. Qabian lifts the top of the crate by one corner and bows with a ridiculous flourish. "Someone you know." Inside, a human girl is bound and gagged, conscious but groggy, and not particularly otherwise harmed, except perhaps slightly bruised due to no one particularly attempting to be careful with the crate at any point. "The opportunity presented itself." Syreena tilts her head curiously, stepping away from her pets to peer into the crate. After some initial surprise, a cruel grin twists her patchwork stitched features. She reaches into the box with a dagger, placing the tip of the blade under the girl's chin to make her lift her head. "Well, well, if it isn't the Professor's little pet," she croons wickedly. "And how are those sick and twisted friends of yours doing these days, hm?" Anee blinks slowly, still groggy, and makes weak muffled noises behind her gag. Syreena moves her blade to cut a lock of the human's red hair, and then bashes her in the side of the head with the hilt of her dagger in her fist. As the girls slumps further into her box, the Shadowblade looks back at Qabian. "Now what to do with her....." she says with a grin, twirling the lock of hair between her fingers. "I know this wasn't part of your... request. I can set her loose, chase her down again, if you like, keep the game going, although she did manage to go underground for quite some time and may do that again. I do wonder where she would go. She must be learning that nowhere is safe forever and that everyone she turns to for help is likely to be killed or worse. Setting her free, perhaps with one less limb, may be the worst thing we could do to her." Qabian smirks. "But given just how vulnerable she is at this precise moment, I considered you might have other ideas." Reaching down to pet the girl's hair, Syreena tilts her head as she considers. "Well, I do owe a gift to a particular someone who likes making....'projects'....out of people." Qabian raises an eyebrow. To be fair, that could probably describe several Grim, but he decides against inquiring about who she means. “As you wish,” he says. “Just let me know if she ends up finished with this world. Then I’ll shift my focus to murdering those friends of hers that I’ve left simply wishing they were dead.” "She won't be around long enough for you to worry about again." A pause, and then she grins. "Unless you want to play with her some more first. Or you can get her friends." Her golden eyes narrow as she traces a finger along the unconscious girl's ear. "If you find any of her friends from the Eternal Aegis, I'd consider it a personal favor if they suffer horribly before you murder them." Qabian laughs. "All I want is the fire, for her or any of them. I'll be sure to let them know any screaming they're granted the opportunity to do is a gift from a friend and they're oh so lucky to get the chance. Will you need help with the crate?" "Can you have it delivered to Andorhal?" she asks, withdrawing her hand and closing the lid again. "Absolutely." Qabian rolls the disc he'd used earlier off a nearby wall. He jams the edge of the disc under the crate and begins kicking it. It's all very crude for someone who's usually so pretentious. "I can take it myself. Will there be someone waiting? Though I doubt there are many in Andorhal who would give it much thought if I just leave it in a corner, even with the sounds." She tilts her head again, eyeing him closely before finally answering. "The alchemy lab there sometimes receives packages for me... Thank you. I owe you," she adds. He grins horribly as he kicks the edge of the disc and it begins to float, carrying the crate a foot or so off the ground. "Don't thank me. After all, helping you helps me. I'm hardly being that generous," he says in a tone that's less than serious. "But I will remember that you owe me." He flicks the floating crate lightly with one hand and he follows behind as the disc carries it away. The little rogue watches him leave. She's pleased that the girl can no longer cause any trouble for her, but at the same time, she's not thrilled about being in a debt to an elf. However, at the same time, in her experience, people she owed favors to rarely called them in. Turning away, she goes off to finish her business in the guild hall so she can soon head out to Andorhal.
  10. Server merge speculation

    I assumed merging 5 servers would be ridiculously unwieldy, but apparently they already did it a whole bunch and I just never bothered to notice before, so... bring it on. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out. I'd prefer to at least have two RP-PvP server options just for the sake of choice, and the logical consequence of that would be ED vs all the others. But suddenly becoming an actually large-sized server with the addition of ED as well could have some interesting effects. Although I don't know that ED's small enough that they'd honestly consider adding any amount to it at all, unless they're planning on very dramatically reducing the total number of separate servers. Based on realmpop, the 5 not-ED realms combined would have about 400k population. ED on its own has 672k. If they merged all 6 of us, we'd be bigger than the current highest pop server, not by too too much, but those guys do run into character creation restrictions at peak time, so I don't think they'd be up for that unless they're making other really big changes at the same time.
  11. Writing Contest: Race Bending

    Thank you for running this! Love prompts so much.
  12. Time Shattered

    Amusing how few Grim have any sense of irony. Peace through war? Makes complete sense to them. And the Horde? The Horde doesn't even know what it is one year to the next. How many of us were allies of the humans a mere decade ago? How many of us were simply humans a mere decade ago? How many of us are still allies of kaldorei? But that's what we're protecting? This amorphous mass of peoples without any real identity of its own? Of course, what we seek is an everlasting peace for the Horde. What else would it be? The removal of all enemies and obstacles so that we can finally sleep uninterrupted. That's what the Grim professes to want more than anything else the universe holds. Sweet, deep sleep. I hate sleep. Memory and dream slice like a fan of knives. It is only in the center of the hurricane that thoughts go quiet. Create, create destruction, create destruction without cease, and at its core, there is the only peace worth seeking. As the Pandaren translated for me, the only peace we ever find is in chasing the dragon. The peace of calm sleep is stasis. Stasis is death. If we ever actually won, we wouldn't even have the luxury of undeath. We would be the cold stone lords of a world of ice. You want peace through annihilation? Walk into the fire. You'll find it. For those who want something more than mere peace, there is an eternal supply of fuel for that fire. Burn it all down. When there's nothing left but ash? There's your peace. Overlooked seeds will grow, and we'll burn the new forest, too. Not sure what brought Aquizit to his senses, but he's far better off. He had multiple opportunities to make a new bad impression, but somehow avoided doing so. We'll see how long that lasts.
  13. Time Shattered

    I am no noble. Such an amusing criticism. I can understand the misconception, and I feel no need to correct it publicly. I carry myself as they do. I work alongside them. I was educated with them. I grew up around them. I idolized them when I was young enough not to understand where their power and prestige truly came from. I even murdered and schemed my way to a title that I no longer use, but which I suppose, theoretically, I still have claim to, so I suppose, on a technicality, the criticism is correct. But my family, whose name I have abandoned for one with no history, had no money, none whatsoever. Our money and our status were lost at least two if not three generations earlier. My family sold their children to the church, to the schools, to the military, always in desperate hope of regaining what their ancestors had squandered. Those children were handed nothing, were born to nothing, received nothing by inheritance. Whatever they have, their titles or status, their wealth, their power, they have earned through their work, their intellect, their determination. We are our own small meritocracy in a sea of displaced monarchy. My family lost everything. And now they're just gone. Because I am the only one who survived, and I abandoned them and their name entirely. If I have any claim to nobility, it is mine and mine alone.
  14. Time Shattered

    Now I have a decision to make. An opportunity arises. I don't remember the discussion well. Khorvis and Syreena, Lupinum, I think, commiserating about how Sanctuary gets away with great injustices and no punishment, how everyone seems to have forgotten what they did. I wasn't even there for whatever it is they did. Torture, I gather. Which is beyond hilarious. They always had such pretense for heroics. But yes, torture is fine. Torture away. Provide me with hours of laughter. But I knew from the first I heard of them that the violet and gold were a ridiculous farce, so bringing them to their knees was always somewhere on the to-do list. Unfortunately, that list was always full of other things, still is, and they were never important enough to be far from the bottom. Perhaps most of us have forgotten, or were not there to experience their sins, as I was not. Perhaps my comrades are correct. No one is going to do anything. No one is even considering doing anything. Except, curiously, me. I interject with my situation, my considerations, that I came to entirely without any prodding from the Mandate. Someone presents the idea of turning the child to my side, as if that weren't my intention from the moment I learned he'd somehow managed to survive this long. Well, other than the initial intention to have him blow himself up by teaching him magic he couldn't control. That didn't work. But turning someone to your side is not something that can be done overnight or through sheer force of will. You cannot simply force someone to agree with something that has been taught to them as fundamentally against their nature, at least not in a way that cannot be easily broken. Turning someone to my side is not something I ever do. Murder is so much simpler. I have, on occasion, reached out to those who have not yet chosen a side and made my case. But to try to take someone from the light into the darkness? That is so much effort for so little reward. It requires cajoling and convincing. It involves drawn out plots and schemes that cannot be accomplished efficiently or they fall apart simply by virtue of moving too quickly. One piece at a time. Slowly. Birds, small animals, larger animals, lesser beings, obvious villains, then the apparently innocent, until eventually, someday, everything becomes the target it should be. This drawing out is not in my nature. At all. I tried to skip steps, but this is a process that cannot be forced if there is any hope of success. I can easily cajole and convince those who are weak to certain wants and needs, money, murder, things that seem desperately out of reach but can in fact be acquired easily. But what do I have that a child wants? Apparently, knowledge. So I share that. Already, I've had more success than I ever expected. The boy is my apprentice, after all, not that I ever wanted an apprentice, ever, but his parents are... somehow accepting of this? I have not pressed them regarding why that is and I will not. I assume he simply has them more obedient to his desires than he is to theirs, as is the way of children who become too precious. I should know. He has already begun to break their rules at my request. It is a process that takes time, I tell the others. How do I get anyone who follows people like that to instead follow someone like me? And any time I spend engaging in that endeavor risks them trying to play the game in reverse against me. However entirely certain I am that such a thing is a losing proposition for them, even the idea of fair play is unpleasant. I present the situation. My companions give up easily. Just kill him. Just kill the kid. Why don't you just kill it? Well, yes, that's an option. It would not hurt Sanctuary, though. It would hurt only his mother. I'm not sure his father even has emotions. The pain would be brief and restricted. The rest of Sanctuary would comfort her in her mourning. I would become the villain I already am. Too easy. Insufficient reward. There were other plots, other people who needed to die in pain, other reasons to try to manipulate the child to manipulate his parents to manipulate their friends, but it has almost all fallen to the decay of complexity. The longer this debacle draws out, the more appealing the easiest option looks. However, through pure chance, through an unexpected occasion for honesty, I am also closer to gaining the child's trust than I have been thus far. If I continue to bide my time, to act in gentle ways they do not expect, occasionally, when it is natural to do so and not suspicious, perhaps the future will hold the key to using him to dismantle them entirely. The child has also given me an unexpected gift. Most of my memory has been mangled, but the moment his mother assaulted me, a brief point in time from before bronze interference, now stands out with a clarity I had believed impossible to achieve. Simply being able to see that moment so clearly has given me valuable insight into the self that was very nearly devoured by dragons. There are other memories crystallizing. The statues of Azshara. The blood I spilled before them in my search for answers. The endless horizon line. Are there ways to reveal other memories like this? Is that even something I want? No, it isn't. It is no gift. It is a curse. And yet, there's something brilliant in that particular memory, my hands at her throat, the anger in her song, the words we shouted at each other, such rage, such vitriol, the pain I suffered that day, the pain I caused that day. Its clarity is a gem once entirely lost, now found again. She was pregnant with him. I nearly killed him then, before he was even born. Amusing. Disappointing. There is something else that is concerning. I have a weakness. It arises so rarely that it is just as rarely a problem, but the boy has touched on it. When someone is genuinely interested in me and my words, and are not themselves entirely repugnant, I am easily convinced to share my thoughts, even to overshare to the point of considerable risk. That never ends well for me. Apparently simply knowing a weakness exists is not enough to prevent it. I should take more care. So here I am at this crossroads. I can kill him, or rather, have him kill himself, because he wants power so badly, he'll no doubt choose the most dangerous targets in range. Even better, I may have the chance to make it look like whatever accident befalls him is his mother's fault. Does no damage at all to their organization, but it would certainly be satisfying for me personally. Or I can take the gamble on another opportunity to do something far, far worse, far more entertaining, perhaps even far more useful down the road. If he does live through this venture, they will all have no choice but to trust me more than they do now. As I consider this crossroads, I cannot help but wonder how much time can you bide before you realize that you have spent all of it only working against yourself, that your scheme will never truly conclude? When is it time to stop scheming and simply drop the blade? Usually, my schemes have the blade worked in. Its fall is inevitable and it does not wait for long. Not this time. This plan has been different from the start. I don't convince people. I kill them, or I offer them the blade with which to kill themselves. This is not the first time I've considered ending this whole charade. I have a decision to make. This is not my style. It is making me extremely uncomfortable.
  15. Spelling Trouble

    A message arrived for Damian by the usual means by which Qabian arranged their lessons. Young Master Bloodstone, No doubt you have considered that your response to my last lesson has severely disappointed me, as it has indeed. However, I have also considered that perhaps my lack of experience as an instructor had me approach the lesson with a less than optimal methodology. Perhaps there are other ways I can impart the message with more success. We should meet, if not for further instruction, at least to discuss how or if we shall move forward. Your parents may accompany you if you wish, but I urge you to make that decision on your own, and not merely because one or the other may insist upon it, given the circumstances. ~Magister Qabian (there is a scratched out A here) Grimfire A day after the letter was sent, Damian arrived at the Ledgermain. He was once again wearing his apprentice clothes and the same satchel slung over one shoulder. He had a calm expression and stood opposite of Qabian to bow his head obediently. "Sir." Qabian smiled, and it was almost genuine. Almost. He motioned for the boy to sit in the nearest chair. "I wasn't certain you would be allowed," Qabian said, the smile twisting immediately into his usual unpleasant grin. "My mother said that I learned a lesson. The Commander didn't like that I was training with you, but since I have my parents' permission, it didn't really matter." He sat down opposite of the magister and folded both hands on the table. Qabian sat across from the boy and mirrored his folded hands. "The Commander? What Commander?" "Commander Julilee of Sanctuary," Damian answered easily. Qabian raised an eyebrow for a moment, then nodded. "Ah. You took the human to them and needed to give an explanation? How is the man, by the way?" "He's fine. He was really confused. I think he thought you chose him for some specific reason, but, I didn't know if that was true." He shrugged. "I just didn't think it would be very interesting or creative to pick the two choices you gave me, especially when you brought me down there to break rules in the first place." Qabian lifted one of his folded hands to his chin. "Is that what you thought I was doing? Have you considered other possibilities?" "Yes," Damian said quickly. "You may have just wanted me to kill someone. Or to see me fail. I think you're entertained by the idea of making me into a murderer." "Ah, it was the first of those," Qabian confirmed. "I never for a moment thought you would fail, but there are good reasons for a mage to be comfortable with murder. How many innocents do you think Khadgar has had to kill to get where he is, hm?" "I don't mind killing, sir," Damian said with a shrug. "I know I'll have to. My mother and father do, because it's an important need for the Horde. But it would have been too easy to just take one of your choices. If I'm going to kill someone, I want it to be for a better reason." Qabian nodded, seeming to calmly accept the boy's explanation. "You are correct that simply following my instruction would not have showed any creativity, and while I was not attempting to impart that, neither is the goal of any of... this," Qabian waved a hand, "to create a mindlessly obedient thrall. So be it. You made your decision, and you made it thoughtfully. You did what you believed was best and learned from it what you could. That certainly has its merits. "My original thought," the mage continued, "had been to start the process of becoming accustomed to murder with the easiest of targets, one that cannot move, cannot fight back, but is large enough and mindful enough to require at least a little effort on your part, and one that would mean you need to consider what you have done after the lesson is over. However, I did not consider how the source of the target might influence your actions. I did have a reason for selecting that man, but I doubt it is one he would have understood even if he knew it. You may want to avoid meeting him again in the future." Damian cocked his head to one side. He seemed rather curious, now. "Why?" Qabian smiled again, but there wasn't anything genuine about it this time. "I'm sure you will be fine. After all, you are his savior. But I'm quite certain his first priority will be to convince you to lead him to me." "What, for revenge?" The boy asked with a raised eyebrow. "Did you do something else to him?" "I have done nothing to him. Directly." Qabian grinned horribly. "Just as he has done nothing to me. Directly. An eye for an eye is always entertaining. But if you do bring him to me, I don't think he'll come out of it well, and better he lives for a long, long time, don't you think?" Again, Damian shrugged. "I guess. I don't really care either way. I was just trying to make things interesting." "You've certainly succeeded in doing that for the human, at least." Qabian mirrored the boy's shrug. "Back to the truly relevant, I believe I've already asked this, but it seems the time has come to ask you again before I charge ahead with more possibly misguided plans, is there anything particular you want me to teach you or teach you about?" "Yes," Damian answered quickly, sitting up straighter. "I want to know how to create larger and more powerful explosions. My fire making skills are limited. I wouldn't have been able to incinerate that human if I wanted to, and I'd like to fix that." Qabian looked the boy up and down, considering thoughtfully. "There are endless texts of ever increasing complexity that will help with this goal, and I will send you a few more, but of course, that will not be quick and understanding theory only goes so far without the reflexes honed beneath it. The most effective process will be practice, hundreds of hours of practice, under guidance to correct errors, of course. That can be done to a degree with target dummies, and you and I will spend some time doing that as well, but it is tedious at best. I am thinking we should start to travel. Your mother may accompany us, as she deems it necessary. What do you think?" Damian frowned a little. "..she would agree to that, but.. are you two going to have a problem getting along? I don't want there being any kind of.. issues," he said with a twist in his mouth. "I know you two don't see each other as friends." Qabian smirked. "Is that so? I was under the impression she did think I was a friend, or at least... an amiable acquaintance, enough not to interfere with her son's interaction with me." He shrugged. "For my own part, I have no friends, none whatsoever, and that is the best and perhaps only way to approach the world effectively, so in that sense, your mother is no different than anyone else. It's true that most of the people I work with regularly have not assaulted me the way your mother has, but some of them have." He lifted a hand to his cropped ear. "And we work together nonetheless, even quite well at times. I certainly have no intention of putting your mother in harm's way, and I expect she will not interfere with us unless she suspects you are in direct danger, which we will of course do our best to avoid. That being said, your mother and I have little in common, and a great deal in conflict, which is why I have been reticent to accept her rules. Do you believe overcoming that for the sake of your education will be too difficult?" "I don't," he answered calmly, then paused. " mother assaulted you?" Qabian nodded, resting his elbows on the table and steepling his fingers. "Mm. It was many years ago. Before you were born. Perhaps she was even pregnant with you at the time. I have no idea. I'm not sure that she ever had the intent to harm me. She was not a member of Sanctuary then, though your father was. She was... affected by something, and even if she hadn't been, it's unlikely she understood just how much damage her actions caused. In the end, what she did was severe enough that her intent was irrelevant. I cut off all contact with her at that time. Until quite recently, actually." Damian pursed his lips in thought, processing the information and carefully storing it away. "My mother can do things with the fel that are a lot more powerful than I've read about other warlocks doing, but it comes with a price. I didn't want to do what she did. My father doesn't like the limitations of the Light either, but he can fight better than anyone. I want to be able to use both disciplines. I want to be a battle mage." "Yes. Your mother was not the only warlock with horrifyingly unpleasant powers that decided to take them out on me for unfathomable reasons. But it was also ultimately warlocks that repaired the damage they did. That's how warlocks work, always fighting fire only with fire and never with ice, always so indirect in their tactics." Qabian shifted his position in his chair, leaning forward. "If you truly wish to be a battlemage, then you will need to kill and kill often. I'm sure you understand that, but you must also understand that many innocents will die at your hands, whether or not that is your intent. You can attempt to let some sort of morality guide your overall actions, but you will eventually need to overcome your status as a murderer before it breaks you. In this line of work, collateral damage is unavoidable. However, perhaps it can be avoided for today. If there's one thing you have available to you, it is time, hm?" "For now," Damian agreed, studying Qabian's face. "I have time to figure it out. Killing doesn't bother me. Both if my parents do it. Sanctuary does it. I just want to do it for a reason, because I know that every action has a reaction, and if I'm going to take action I want to reduce the amount of harmful reactions." "That's life. Life is nothing but harmful reactions. If you play it right, yours are stronger." Qabian grinned briefly, then put a hand to his chin, thoughtful again. "Do you have a reason now? Why do you want to fight? Why do you want to be a battlemage?" "I want to have the strength to defend myself in more ways than one," Damian explained carefully. "I want to use a sword like my father, but I want to be as skilled and knowledgeable of the arcane as possible, too. I want power, in both my mind and in my hands." "Self-improvement is the only goal worth having," Qabian said with a tone of agreement. "Minimizing backlash while seeking that goal is sensible, but sometimes the backlash is itself the greatest training you could ask for." The mage smirked. "Perhaps you will find, as I did, that once you have enough control over magic, the sword is useless to you. However, that doesn't stop me from practicing with the foil for simple relaxation and entertainment," he mused idly, looking off into the middle distance with a bemused smile for a moment before returning his attention to the boy before him. "Is there somewhere you would particularly like to go first?" Damian's red eyes drifted toward the ceiling as he considered the question. He seemed to have a strong grasp of how dangerous the situation could become if he chose poorly and took his time before selecting. "..yes," he said finally, turning his gaze back to Qabian. "I want to go to Suramar. I've heard of the Shal'dorei who let their city fall into the hands of the Legion, and terrorize those who don't agree. They should be punished." Qabian smoothly sat up straighter when the boy said the city's name. The mage's expression brightened with real interest, and he seemed significantly, if briefly, impressed by the boy's choice. But as Damian explained why he wanted to go there, Qabian couldn't help but slide back into his chair, chuckling and shaking his head. "The Shal'dorei. Oh, young master. It seems you have no idea what they are to us, to our people. I'm happy to take you there, and even to help you punish them if you so desire, but they are so much more than you apparently understand. Has someone told you stories of the present without the past?" "I read about them. I understand their significance, and their history. But," Damian frowned a little deeper. "To think that the Legion would actually make a deal with them that wouldn't backfire.. that's stupid. It not only backfired, but it cost them thousands of lives." "You are not wrong, especially in the knowledge that deals with the Legion never end well," Qabian responded, leaning back as he comfortably expanded on his own thoughts, giving the closest thing to a sermon someone like him is capable of doing. "But the Shal'dorei knew that very well. They have been unable to forget that for ten thousand years. In the case of the Shal'dorei, their deal was not one of lust for power, but one of meager survival, of anything being better than utter extinction. They lost thousands of lives, yes, but that was the price they were willing to pay for the continued existence, in any form at all, of thousands more. "We made a very similar deal once, our people. It's why most of our eyes are fel-touched, rather than arcane pure. And truly, they are us. They are those of us who never had to separate from idiots who refused to use magic. They would have lived alongside us under the sun, drawing on the Sunwell, had they not been trapped by the flow of tides and the splitting earth, had they not lost the skies entirely. They are those of us who were abandoned to the best protections they could devise, as we were once. Ten thousand years, doing the same things we did, studying the same magic we studied, drawing from the same ley lines we drew from, but while we could walk all of this world any time we wished to leave our protections, they were trapped forever in a single skyless city. "And it is important to note, neither the Legion nor the leadership of the Shal'dorei that were willing to make the deal to survive have succeeded, just as the Legion never succeeded in taking us, despite Kael'thas' errors. The Shal'dorei's eyes are not green, not yet. Thanks to the help of their brothers who have spent the last ten thousand years under the sun, their brothers who were decimated by the error of sharing magic with humans, thanks to our help, the Shal'dorei remain arcane pure. They are the version of us that did not make our mistakes. They are the version of us that we have rescued from following in our broken footsteps." Qabian gave the boy a very strange look. There was something serene in his usually arrogant expression. He followed the strange look with a strange question. "Have you ever prayed?" Damian blinked at the question. It seemed to come from nowhere, and he appeared to have trouble considering it fully. "I.. no," he answered honestly, shaking his head. "My father.. he isn't religious. He's not that sort of paladin, and I don't think he ever wanted to be. My mother.. well, no. No, I've never prayed. Why?" Qabian smiled and it was honest and real. That in itself was strange bordering on disturbing. Something about this subject matter shifted the mage's mental space entirely. "That's surprisingly refreshing about your parents. I'm sure you can gather that I'm rather similar. Piety has never mattered and never will matter to me. But there was a time, when Kael'thas was still alive but everything had gone wrong for our people, when almost everyone I knew was dead, a time when I was losing my grip on my self, that I became certain there were more answers out there. I would go to the horizon, and for lack of a better word for what I was doing, I would pray. I would pray to the horizon itself for answers about what had happened to us, what had really happened and where we were going. I was completely convinced the horizon was hiding something from me about who we really were, about who I really was. I did that almost every day for... years. In retrospect, it's only when I stopped looking to the horizon for answers that I truly lost myself. But when the Legion returned this time, something brought me back. I'm rather convinced it was the horizon, because the Shal'dorei? They are the answer to all those lost hours, to all the questions I once asked no one at all." Again, Damian's brow furrowed. He never heard Qabian speak so calmly about himself, least of all about something so personal. He considered the possibility that it could be a trick of some kind, a way to lure him into a false sense of security. Qabian knew, after all, that Damian did not want to be spoken to like a child. Displaying a willingness to speak to him so frankly would be a simple way to earn his faith. But Damian felt no urge to trust the magister just yet. "I've read about the Light, and people's faith. The Scarlet Crusade wielded the Light as easily as any paladin, and it wasn't because it was a force of good. It's because the Light is a force of will, and someone with a will powerful enough to wield it can. That's why my father does. He understands that faith in yourself is the most important kind of faith you have, and anything else is just a mask you wear. Why are the Shal'dorei the answer to your questions?" The boy's respectful listening and thoughtful responses left Qabian disinclined to put an end to the true confessions of a grown ass adult to a school-age boy. "That's the thing. I was mainly asking 'what happened to us?' We, our people, were going through hell, had passed through hell and come out the other side. While I was trying to convince myself that we were coming out of it stronger, the evidence repeatedly being thrust in my face was that we were degenerating. We were becoming worthless decadents, desperately dependent on others not just for repairing the damage but for surviving at all. Qabian traced symbols on the table top with one fingertip as he leaned back in the chair, continuing, "But any student of history knew this had all happened before. Our people had gone through hell before, ten thousand years ago. So I started asking what happened to us then? Maybe the answers to how to come out of all of this stronger lay in who had come out of adversity stronger ten thousand years ago. Yes, the true elves crossed the ocean and left the dirt grovellers to their dirt, but I knew the story, perhaps just a legend, that Azshara had sunk her city. That meant the truest of elves, the ones strongest in magic, the wisest and most intelligent, ended up beneath the waves. So what happened to us?" "You mean the Naga?" Damian asked with a flick of a long white eyebrow. "Even if they were the wisest and most intelligent once, the Naga are weak now. They're a shadow of what they used to be. We could be a shadow of ourselves too if we let ourselves get caught up in bad deals. Grand Magistrix Elisande saw a future for her people only if she worked with the Legion. Well, that probably would work for a time, but not forever. Bad deals come back at you in the end. Queen Azshara doomed those true elves. We were almost doomed too, but I think we have enough examples to know what a bad deal looks like, now." His red eyes turned to the table for a moment. "I think so, anyway." Qabian smiled genuinely, again. "You are correct. Azshara made her deal out of a combination of ignorance and lust. Elisande made her deal out of desperation. But neither deal could ever turn out well. The answer to my questions, back then, however, seemed to be the Naga. You are right. They are weak. They have degenerated. But nevertheless, they had survived. I became..." The mage stared off into the middle distance. "I became almost obsessed with the Naga and Azshara, with learning exactly how they had survived, not necessarily because I thought we needed to repeat the process. That would be ludicrous. But I thought, hoped, prayed perhaps, that there would at least be answers there that we could use, suggestions of where their path turned away that we could avoid, but also hidden secrets to survival in strength." He took a deep breath before continuing. "I knew there were... implications that Azshara and the Naga have the shape they have because they have been influenced by the Old Gods. At the time, that seemed like a mere theory, but something... something..." Qabian's expression darkened. "Something happened that proved it for me. Many if not most of my memories are broken, fragmented. The proof I found, I've since lost it, but I remember the feeling, the sensation of despair upon being presented with incontrovertible evidence that Azshara was the way she is, and the Naga are the way they are, because of Old God influence. I can't force that knowledge on anyone else, not remembering how I found it, but the strength of my conviction on it remains. And that was not the answer I wanted. The Old Gods, like the Legion, would never give us strength, hm? They would only bring us to ruin." "So then what is it you want to know from the Shal'dorei?" Damian asked, scooting forward in his chair a little. The boy seemed curious about Qabian's story, but still maintained his skepticism. "The Old Gods won't help us. Like you said, they would never give us strength. Whatever strength we need, we have to take. Like with the Light. It's in us, isn't it? We have the power, we just have to have the will?" The boy's reflective curiosity seemed to give Qabian a soft sort of joy, something he certainly hadn't experienced within recent memory, if ever in his life. "Mm, in a sense. Having the will and what's within are not always enough to keep a people from being destroyed. What's within could not help us against the Scourge, and we had a great deal of power then, a great deal more power than we have now. But I don't have any questions for the Shal'dorei. The Shal'dorei are themselves the answers. "You see," Qabian sat forward as he continued, "I turned away from the horizon then. Other things took my attention, other things far less deserving, but I held onto a hope, a small, unlikely, desperate hope that the Naga were not the only ones who survived the Sundering, and that somewhere out there, we could still find the answers to how to survive with power and grace, and without ever sacrificing ourselves or becoming subservient to someone or something else. I even travelled here, years ago, but it was far more dangerous then, and I did not get nearly as far as we've gotten with the full force of the Horde. "And then... we found them. And I was right all along. Some small community of us did survive. Ten thousand years ago, the most powerful and wisest and most intelligent of us found a way to protect themselves against everything, against the Legion, against Azshara, against the Sundering itself. The details lie, of course, in the Nightwell, but the details are unimportant. The proof is in the people themselves. We can survive anything, anything at all. We are impossible to kill. And we can survive with our magic fully intact. "The Shal'dorei are the ultimate evidence of elven self-sufficiency. Our world shattered. It shattered!" Qabian's voice took on an enthusiasm that he didn't let his posture otherwise betray. "And they lived, without any help from demons or any other bullshit. So can we. Ultimately, we don't need the Horde. We don't need anyone. We choose to work with who we choose to work with, but that is our choice, not our need, because we are survivors. No matter how desperate things get, we will always survive, and those of us who can will survive with our strength and our identities intact. The Shal'dorei did it. So can we. They are the proof." Again, Damian was careful not to allow himself to be caught up into Qabian's enthusiasm. This could easily have been a test, a way for him to gauge how gullible he was. It would have been a good trick, after all. Pretend to confide in him, tell him a story, create a false sense of security and then draw him into a situation he could not get out of. Qabian was not a good person, he knew this. He killed children. He killed innocent people, just to make a point. He would kill Damian if he thought it entertaining, that much the boy knew. However, here and now, he felt a certain kinship with the mage. Maybe it was his curious nature, or his need to find answers, but he felt that, at least now, Qabian was being truthful. That amount of trust was not something Damian wouldn't appreciate. "So they're proof that we can be self sufficient. But they're also different from us," he added. "We're not exactly the same, are we? The Sin'dorei have to do things our own way, but maybe we can learn from them." Qabian nodded. He was so caught up in having the opportunity to express himself and having a willing audience to hear the things he had dwelled on for so long that he was wilfully ignoring what he knew the future ultimately held for the individual listening. For the moment, it was enough for Qabian just to talk through the hope and the faith he had found, the things that formed and shaped the very core of himself and the world around him, things he had lost for a time but then found such intensity in their rediscovery. "They are different from us. Our two peoples, separated for so long, have lived through very different things, but we have lived. And at the core of us, within the magic that powers us, we are the same, so we can take lessons from each other. Our version of the Nightwell was destroyed, and we made do with whatever we could find, including the fel, and some of us gave in to the Legion. Our leadership gave in to the Legion, just as Elisande was about to do. Now our Sunwell is twisted, it is Arcane, but infused with the Light. The Shal'dorei, to survive, had to do the same to their Nightwell, twisted its Arcane purity, infused it with Nature. But who controls the Shal'dorei now? Not the Legion. Not the Dragons. Just themselves. We may have stolen the Legion's power for a time, but who controls us now? Not the Legion. Not the Naaru. Not the Light. Not even the Horde. Just ourselves. We are who we are, and that is valuable. That is important." "I guess we are similar, in that way," Damian said quietly, thoughtfully. "I've never met other elves, really. Other kinds. The Kaldorei or the Shal'dorei. I've seen Naga, but they were weak. Do you think.. I know half-elves exist. I know there are hybirds, people with a Kaldorei mother and Sin'dorei father.. do you think that sort of thing.. does it make those hybrids more powerful? Or weaker? Can they even breed?" Qabian frowned, his taste for the subject clearly and dramatically changing. "They can fuck. That much is certain." He certainly had no qualms about using that kind of language in front of a child in public. "Whether or not they can have viable offspring from such a union I would consider highly questionable. The child may be gifted a quirk that makes them more physically powerful, or perhaps even more magically powerful, but without fail they will be mentally degenerate or deranged, on account of their parents being complete idiots." He also had no qualms about letting his biases show. "There are other ways to combine the attributes of two creatures in attempts to make them stronger, methods like cultists and the RAS use. That would likely give you more success: no random chance, the opportunity to cut out the worst of both parents, the ability to incinerate failed results. I understand the human concept of staying too close to family lines producing rotten children, but there is no evidence that applies to elves. The Shal'dorei have been closed in for how long? Their magic is if anything greater than ours, their mental acuity is impeccable, and those of them who choose to engage physically are perfectly formidable. Our... half-breeds outside our race inevitably improve on the partner and corrupt us. Kaldorei unions are similar, given how long they have been without the arcane. Shal'dorei unions... I suppose we will see whether or not those are even possible. I expect they will be, but will not work out well. Neither of our people are particularly welcoming of such things, which, as I said, requires the parents to be idiots, but it will be interesting to see. Unless, of course, the Legion finally succeeds in destroying us all." Qabian grinned. Damian's face didn't react to the cursing. Despite his mother's efforts to curb his habits, Damian's father cursed like any other man tempered by the military. He heard every curseword available to the Sin'dorei by the time he was three. He heard new ones when he started school, adopted from other races of the Horde. "Do you have any children, sir?" He asked, despite assuming the answer was no. "There's a lot of pressure for our people to breed." Qabian scowled, definitely back to his usual self, and his ranting turned ugly. "Who told you that? Your mother? It's garbage. There is no pressure on us to breed. People have been putting sex as a priority out of desperate need for physical comfort after what happened, but it is no priority. We have no need of numbers. We have need of quality, and the survival of the fittest will provide that all on its own. Numbers will just dilute us. If blood elves could stop sticking their dick in crazy for half a second, maybe they could concentrate on issues of actual importance, like correcting the egregious error we made with the humans. The Shal'dorei are proof of that, too. We do not. Need. Numbers." Qabian clenched his fists on the tabletop. "No. I do not have children. And I never will." Qabian let his fists relax and laid his palms flat as he forced himself to breathe calmly. "At any rate, the Legion have no more abandoned their hold on Suramar than they have on the Tomb itself. And there was and always will be a contingent of any people who are happy to trade their freedom for power, so there are plenty down there to punish for their continued demonic support, if you're still so inclined," Qabian changed the subject. For the first time since Damian started working with Qabian, the boy smiled. At first it was just a smirk as he watched the magister's body language shift, from discomfort to anger, all within a few moments at the mere mention of children. By the time he got back to Suramar, he was holding back laughter. Certainly, he learned a lesson there. "I am," he said eagerly, dimples in his perfect round cheeks. Were it not for his red eyes, the wooly haired child would have appeared perfectly angelic. "I'm inclined to learn how to kill. I know my mother won't have any objection, either. I can let her know once I get back. We can all go together," he said before adding with an even more amused grin. While Qabian raged, he didn't notice the boy's change in expression, but as the mage calmed down, he raised an eyebrow curiously. The boy had absolutely hit a nerve, but Qabian was comfortable enough with others being aware of that particular sensitivity. He kept the real reasons for it close. For most of those Qabian interacted with, it meant they avoided bringing up the subject of children. He suspected for Damian, the boy would only be encouraged to needle, but Qabian considered it was unlikely he would be taken nearly as off-guard in the future. The time for openness and emotion was clearly over. Qabian returned the boy's amusement with calm, smirking sarcasm. "Wonderful. If you like, before we indulge in murder, we can use illusions to explore the city proper. Prepare a picnic. Visit the zoo. Pretend we're just an ordinary family enjoying a day. I'm sure your father will love that idea." Damian finally started laughing. Though well kept, a few of his baby teeth had recently gone missing, and it made his otherwise sweet smile into a somewhat disturbing collection of jagged white pebbles. "You think so?" He asked with that same terrible grin. "My father is very jealous. If you actually wanted to anger him, it wouldn't take much. He hates it when men pay my mother any kind of attention, but what he really hates is when she gives them attention back. I don't think that will happen, sir." The mirth was still in Damian's face, even as the grin faded. "I don't think it would amuse you to put that much effort into just making my father angry. I think it would be too much work, and besides. My mother doesn't like men like you," he stifled his laughter again. "And you certainly aren't interested in her. You two could wind up naked in a pond and it wouldn't make a difference to anyone involved. It's kind of funny, really. Like you said, you're not interested in 'sticking your dick in crazy'." Qabian grinned his unpleasant, completely normal-for-him grin. "You are absolutely correct yet again, of course. Far too much work for no reward whatsoever. To be honest, I assumed your father wouldn't care. He was never interesting enough, and he's spent just enough time around me to know I'm not that kind of threat." Qabian shrugged. "Better for us in the end, especially if you actually wanted a picnic." He chuckled, shaking his head at the absurdity of the idea. "While I'm being so very honest," Qabian continued. "I had initially thought we would start with simple tourism, or as far as combat was concerned, with something... smaller, more predictable, murlocs, maybe kobolds. Misguided Nightborne and city-controlling demons are far from easy targets. But if you're intent on destruction, I'm sure your mother and I can handle the greater dangers while you judge how to best get in your practicing, hm?" "I'd like to see the rest of the Broken Isles," Damian said honestly, lowering his eyes to the table. He considered his next question for a moment. "What is your favorite part of the broken isles? Is it Suramar? Or something else? I heard about the city of elves doomed to walk as ghosts because Prince Farondis wouldn't obey the Queen Azshara. I'd like to see them, I think. And the Naga who keep attacking them. I heard he was very brave, but very foolish. But I also heard he fought Azshara herself. To be dead and be able to do that, he must be very powerful or she must have been holding back. Maybe it was an illusion.. either way, to actually see Queen Azshara herself must have been incredible. I'd like to meet the Prince, and see Nar'thalas Academy." Qabian watched the boy carefully as he spoke. Qabian found himself suddenly conscious of his own vulnerability, shared interest leading to confessed secrets, a weakness that had been exploited before, but what power did a child have to actually take advantage of that? Even if he shared it with his mother, there was no risk. Still, Qabian decided to be more careful. He kept his tone and expression calm and measured. "There is nothing like Suramar anywhere. It is one of the few places on this world worth the stone it was carved from. At least it will be, once the demons are gone. Azsuna is... a history lesson, but it is not alive the way Suramar is. Given Suramar's continued existence, it's difficult to believe that Farondis' choice was correct. It seems there was a third option, hm? I'm also inclined to believe what he fought was an illusion, but the Prince's spirit did have ten thousand years to perfect the few spells he remembers." Qabian smirked. "If you really want to see Queen Azshara, you could ask the Bronze really nicely. They tend to leave convenient timeways in their wake. Worthless for accomplishing anything, but excellent for learning from the most immersive of textbooks." "Or dying," Damian suggested. That Qabian either wanted him dead or wouldn't mind if he died wasn't lost on him. The way he grinned always seemed to remind him of a predator. "Which I'm pretty sure you'd be entertained by. I'd rather live a long time, sir. There are a lot of things I want to see, and you can't do that when you're dead. Unless you're Forsaken or a Death Knight or something.. but those aren't exactly options. I think I'll be happy meeting Prince Farondis. I've never met someone ten thousand years old." "If I wanted you dead, young master, you'd be dead," Qabian said, quiet and serious. "You've stepped through portals I've made and come out perfectly safe. Down in the Underbelly, nothing was stopping me from killing that man, and nothing was stopping me from killing you. The Bronze, however... Mm, perhaps not. They've bested me before. But if you wish to meet Farondis, that can be arranged. Discuss it with your mother. As she'll have to accompany us no matter what, you're certainly free to choose wherever you wish to go without fear." "Sir, I have no illusions to the idea that you could kill me whenever you wanted," Damian said carefully. "And I appreciate you showing me as much as you have. I know you don't think much of me, or anyone else for that matter, but I'll be honest," he tried to look hopeful. "I hope I can surprise you. My mother thinks you're very dangerous. I do, too. So I think that if I can survive being the student of someone as dangerous as you are, who has no qualms about killing someone like me, maybe it will mean something. It would definitely mean something to me." Qabian placed his hands together, pressing his fingers to his lips as he stared at the child. The mage was fighting an urge for honesty. Honesty weaponized could be delicious, but it didn't seem right at that moment. It couldn't do enough damage. "Perhaps. I have my own reasons for continuing this," he said, when he finally spoke again, "and guaranteeing your survival is not among them, so that is up to you, and to your mother's interference, I suppose. What good you can take from succeeding in that is entirely yours. But my reasons to do this are continually countered by quite compelling reasons not to, so that can be a difficult balance to maintain. For now, I'm rather pleased that your so-called Commander dislikes this, and yet it continues. For now, we'll see how it goes, hm? If you want to go to Suramar and help your mother and I wreak havoc, we'll do that. If you want to start with something safer, we can do that instead." "I'm interested in havoc, sir," Damian said honestly, then gave an excited grin. "But the rest of it, too. My mother hasn't shown me the new things she's learned to do, recently. I'm curious to see that, too, and how it compares to the magic I'm learning. I can go to her now and tell her about the plan if that's alright with you, sir?" Qabian sat back, smirking slightly. "Mm, perhaps we should put in an hour or two at the target dummies before I send you back to her?" "Yes sir," Damian said enthusiastically, his ears perking. "I'd appreciate that." Qabian pushed his chair back and dusted off his pristine robes. "All right then."
  16. Spelling Trouble

    In the hours that followed, the nondescript human man's pregnant wife and infant daughter received a letter from their missing husband and father urging them to go stay with the wife's parents in Westfall for their own safety. All of them were found murdered shortly after their arrival and the house ransacked, apparently by bandits. The man's ailing mother was found floating face down in the Stormwind canals. She was getting on in years. Perhaps she simply lost her way in the dark. The man's small bakery in Dalaran that he'd painstakingly built over a decade suffered a fire that gutted the interior. An investigation pointed to the fire originating with the oven, but several failsafes, including two magical ones, had failed to activate. The man's twin brother and young nephew, knight and squire respectively, were ambushed in the field while they made camp with their regiment. No other soldiers were harmed and no one heard or saw anything untoward over the night, despite regular patrols, but their bodies were found charred in the ashes of their tent the next morning. ~~ Qabian stood outside the burnt husk of the bakery, his arms folded across his chest as he observed the scene. A disappointed patron came by and stood next to the mage. "So sad, isn't it? We're still not sure what happened to him," the stranger said, trying to find common ground in a time of tragedy. "Indeed," Qabian answered, as though he actually cared. "What a shame. Continuing to live when everything one once lived for is lost can be enough to make a man crave death, hm?" The stranger stared at the mage, eyes wide, clearly concerned by the blood elf's words. Qabian simply turned and walked away, laughing.
  17. ((I didn't originally post a description of the base character because of a failure of reading comprehension. But! For the sake of posterity, I'm editing it in now, long after contest closes~)) Qabian Grimfire is an arrogant, narcissist, criminal, murderer of a blood elf fire mage. He is a Magister of Silvermoon who works proudly alongside The Grim in their mission for Peace through Annihilation, though it's no secret he's in it for the Annihilation, not the Peace. Most importantly, he never, ever apologizes. This is not his story. ~~~~ When Caleb Goldwater woke up in the pillory, the first thing he felt was relief. The fight was finally over. He had lost, and yet, he lived. “You’ll be fine,” a voice behind him said. He barked a laugh. He couldn't turn to see who spoke, and he didn't recognize the slight foreign accent. “You think this is fine?” “Of course. You will learn to control it.” A night elf woman in green and brown robes stepped out in front of him. “Control?” he growled. “You speak as though you haven't seen what this does. There is no control.” She reached out a hand and lifted his chin. He turned away from her as best he could within his restraints. “You’ve seen too much,” she said. “That passes as insight where you’re from?” he snapped. “You do not need to be afraid,” she continued, unfazed. “I fear nothing. Least of all you,” he snarled. “Good.” She smiled at him, sweetly, pityingly. “Let me show you.” For some time after, all he felt was pain. === In the weeks before the Cataclysm, Caleb’s family had fallen prey to the violence, one by one. His older brother was killed in an organized skirmish. The entire patrol had been overwhelmed by the frenzy of a single beast. His younger brother was dragged off into the night. They met again much later, and Caleb did not hesitate to put down the boy with whom he had once spent every evening telling tall tales. When his father became ill, bitten on the way home from trying to scavenge rations, the old man begged his surviving son to kill him. Caleb’s mother fought to save the man she loved. Their son killed them both. Perhaps there was mercy in granting the father's request over the protests of the mother, but ultimately the actions were practical ones prioritizing survival, of his people, yes, but primarily of himself. === As a child, Caleb had been a bit cold, standoffish, standing to one side and watching while his brothers played. As he came to understand Gilnean class dynamics, he slowly believed his middle class birth was immensely unfair, a disservice to his clearly superior intellect. He learned to read at a small schoolhouse alongside three other children who weren’t related to him, and immediately developed a habit of stealing books. Caleb’s parents would find the ill-gotten goods in his room and demand he return them, but that didn’t deter him from continuing to steal. He simply treated the entire town as his personal library. The day he stole from a small tower in the woods, his life changed for what he believed to be the better. The tome he pocketed revealed secrets of basic magic, and when he returned it, as he parents forced him to do, the wizard who lived in the tower offered to take young Caleb as an apprentice. The wizard’s meager, wild residence hid the fact that the man was welcomed in the great homes of nobles and royalty. The portals within led to the places Caleb believed the world owed to him. While he was ordered to keep his new life a secret from his family and the village, he spent his days nearly on an even footing with princes, as his patron was beloved for his skill in combat, his eloquent speeches, and startlingly beautiful demonstrations of magic. The wizard was requested to attend or perform at scores of gatherings, and of course always welcome to bring his surprisingly precocious young apprentice. Caleb was content in his double life, pretending he was poor yet providing for his family each night, improving his knowledge and dancing with dilettantes all day. Magic opened the world for him. When the beasts came, Caleb fought them with the magic he had learned and he fought them well, but in the end, as they always do, they overwhelmed. === The next time Caleb woke, he found himself in a soft bed. The stretched flesh, the alien warmth of fur, the agony in his limbs, the fury that burned at his brain, it was all absent. Everything was as cold and smooth as it had always been. If he hadn't been living the nightmare for so long, he might have actually thought it was a dream. The night elf who had spoken to him earlier sat at his bedside. “I told you that you would be fine.” He said nothing and turned away from her. “Are you angry?” “No.” There was a long silence between them. “Come outside,” she said. “Wear the clothing here.” He felt her pat the foot of the bed, heard the motion of her chair on the floor, then the door closing behind her. He wasn't particularly prompt, but did as she asked. He emerged wearing the familiar plain robes of his apprenticeship to find her standing with her back to him outside the small house in the woods. If they were the woods he knew, it was a part of them he had never seen before. He said nothing. Suddenly, she turned and slapped him. He put his hand to his cheek as it began to redden, but maintained his silence, showing his lack of understanding solely by the curve of his brow. “Fight me,” she said. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “You're not one of them. I am.” “Yes,” she said, and stretched out an arm. Searing starlight wracked his body and he stumbled backward. “W-What--” “Fight or die!” she shouted, raising her arms again. Instinct took over. With a gesture of his own, he silenced her spell mid-cast and followed up with a wave of fire of his own. As he did, he dropped to his knees, screaming in pain as his body shifted back to the bestial form that had landed him in the pillory. “Good,” she said. Her body glittered green as the damage from his magic repaired itself. “Now change back.” He snarled. “No,” she instructed. “To return to your true form, you must harness the beast within. Leash him to your will. Find the calm that drives his fury.” He stared at her, but if he was attempting to do as she asked, it was difficult to tell. “You may find peace among the trees,” she said, putting a hand on his thick, curving back and directing him toward the woods. He moved with her as she guided him, and he did find the peace there. He stared down at his own body with analytical curiosity as the bestial aspects he had taken on slid away, revealing the human beneath. “This...” He held out a hand, a flickering flame travelling across his very human, pink fingertips. “This is no longer my true form,” he said. The night elf tilted her head. “It is the one you were born with.” “The man who was born was slain by the wolf.” She shook her head. “No. Now they are one. They are in balance.” He turned to face her with a slow smirk. He offered her his hand in a manner that would ordinarily be considered friendly, but was somehow off. She reached out to take his hand warily. He grabbed her forearm and pulled her toward him. “Now it is your turn to fight or die,” he whispered in her ear. He pressed a hand to her chest and a blast of flame slammed her backward, tearing her from his grip as she crashed against a tree trunk. The wolf took over, but the agony from the shifting was brief. As the night elf struggled to her feet, shimmering with healing magic, Caleb gestured with a dark claw, silencing her spell mid-cast. He brought his massive, gnarled, hairy hands together and fire descended from the sky over the woman’s head. He stepped towards her, throwing fire with each step. Her skin turned to bark, but whatever defenses she was trying to put in place were too late. She shrieked as her body succumbed to the flames. He leaned over her fallen form, snuffling at the ashes. “The man is dead,” he growled. “Thank you for the gift of allowing me to kill him myself. You are the first to underestimate me, and will not be the last.” He loped off into the woods. The howling that rose to the moon that night was accompanied by billowing smoke as the forest burned.
  18. Old RP Thread Restoration?

    Yeah, when I redid my bio, I had to search the title of each story and plug in the new URLs to get the correct links. Old links were all broken, but the actual content was all still there to be searched.
  19. Keeping Secrets

    Espionage is never simple. Whatever you are trying to get from your enemies, someone on your side is simply waiting for an opportunity to give to them. Back when Kael'thas was still a force to be reckoned with, Qabian played the double agent game consistently and not always smoothly, but he recognized early which side was going to win, and he refused to go down with the ship. With the current state of the Horde, there were many and more who would like to see Sylvanas knocked off her pedestal, but Qabian was not one of them. He had his issues with her, but compared to his issues with Thrall and Garrosh, they were minimal. His days of playing the Horde against itself were at least temporarily over. He did, however, have enough experience to realize that whatever was happening on his side would be mirrored on the other. For the moment, the easiest of his enemy to exploit were the Dark Irons. There would always be those who, while following their queen as faithfully as they could, wouldn't be able to resist sticking it to their old enemies whenever the opportunity arose. Now that there were some Dark Irons skulking around the Kirin Tor hoping to help fight demons, they were also relatively easy to contact. In exchange for whatever they needed that he had the ability to provide, usually murder easily traced to someone other than the person who ordered it, Qabian had a small number of Alliance mages willing to work for him. However, after the past several weeks, Qabian was getting seriously tired of seeing dwarves. Yes, they'd done everything he asked, even after he went to check their reports himself after the third false sighting, but every time he met with them and they gave their collective shrugs he had to resist the urge to just burn them all to ash. He was sure they could sense it in him, but they all seemed perfectly content to keep draining him of resources as long as he was willing to offer. Qabian began to wonder if he wasn't being played. Qabian burst into his room in Silvermoon and tossed his blade to one side with a clatter. Unrolled on top of his desk was a crude map of Azeroth, details unnecessary for its purpose. Red ink Xs were scattered across Alliance-controlled locations. Qabian snatched up a quill, dipped it in something, and slashed a new red X over what would have been Nethergarde Keep. He dropped the quill haphazardly and began to pace about the small room. His hunt for the girl had been concerned with covering as wide an area as shallow as possible, just scouting for sightings, not precise locations or hideouts. He was fairly certain she wouldn't be audacious enough to hide anywhere neutral or Horde controlled, which reduced the search area considerably. The Isles themselves were well covered. But all the while he pulled the puppet strings of another plot, his dwarves continued to turn up more and more nothing. He tapped the map as he passed by it in his pacing. "If I were trying to hide..." He muttered to himself, then amended his thought. "If I were a scared human girl trying to hide, and not in any of the places I've already looked. Hmm, Pandaria or Outland?" ~~ Allerian Stronghold was in flames behind Qabian when the goblin tracked him down with the message. The light from the fires lit the page as he read the jagged dwarvish words. "She's been spotted in the Shrine of Seven Stars. I'm confident it's her this time. She will be difficult to get to, though. She does not seem to leave. -K" A horrible grin stretched across Qabian's face. The location was more than enough. He opened a portal to Undercity. It was time to prepare Anee's next package.
  20. Keeping Secrets

    Qabian paced back and forth in his small apartment in Silvermoon. It was taking much too long to hear about the effects of his latest scheme. It must have gone awry. The human was more careful than Qabian had expected, more professional perhaps. Syreena had been asking about it, but he had nothing to tell her. He didn't mind telling her that he had done something and it hadn't gone as planned, but not having the details of why or how was frustrating. It was time to move on. He stopped at his desk and penned a quick letter. -- Several days later, as Daerek was moving through Dalaran in the early evening, three dark, burly figures suddenly leapt out of the alley between the Violet Citadel and the magic shop and grabbed the mage. One of them grabbed his arms. Another covered his mouth and nose with a big green hand. Another yanked a dark sack down over Daerek's head as they dragged him back down the alley. They didn't let him breathe again until he stopped struggling. When Daerek came to, he found himself on his knees with his hands tied behind his back. Beneath his knees, he could feel wood flooring, but it wobbled a little, as though floating on top of water. Someone removed the bag from his head and he blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light, which was mercifully dim, though the source was not apparent. He was in a room not unlike the Underbelly's black market, but devoid of any furnishings but a small table. A slim Forsaken woman in an out-of-place black satin pantsuit and high heels sat on the table, swinging crossed legs back and forth. "Good morning," she said, in a somewhat gravelly voice with a sing-song tone, stretching out the black cloth of the sack that had been over his head. Daerek craned his neck to look around. There was no noticeable exit, and an ominous looking orc dressed in black leather stood silently in the shadows. "We're going to ask you some questions today," the woman said, hopping off the table. Her metal lower jaw clacked slightly with each word she spoke. She turned and faced away from him, busying herself with something on the table. "Well, just one, really." She winked one of her glowing yellow eyes at him over her shoulder as she pulled on a pair of black rubber-looking gloves. Her bone fingertips tore right through them, so it seemed as though the only reason she put them on was to make the snapping sound against her wrists. She approached him with what looked like a pair of pliers in one hand, snapping them toward him. As she moved away from the table, he could just see the full set of ominous looking tools she had rolled out on its top. She crouched in front of him and placed the pliers against his face. "Where's Anee?" Daerek glared at her, but said nothing. "Oooh," she crooned. She may have been smiling, but it would have been impossible to tell with that much metal being part of her face. "I love when they fight it. Whenever they fight, I get to add to my collection." She snapped the pliers right in front of his nose. "I know who you work for," Daerek said, unimpressed by her threats. "Do you?" she said, crooking her head delightedly. "So do I. She's so shiny and useful. Her name is Gold and you can take her anywhere." She cackled, then stalked around behind him and leaned down over him as she placed the mouth of the pliers around his pinky finger. "Care to reconsider answering the question? Where is Anee?" Daerek kept his mouth firmly shut. The snap of the small bone reverberated up his arm to the base of his skull. He bit down on the inside of his lip to keep himself from screaming, but a grimace of pain crossed his face. She leaned further over him, two bone fingertips under his chin to tilt his face up to hers. "Lovely," she said. "But we're just getting started. Where's the girl?" When the second bone snapped, he couldn't hold back a reaction to the pain. ~~ The orc yanked Daerek's head from the water by his hair and the human gasped for air. "The girl?" the dead woman hissed. "I told you," Daerek grunted, his voice hoarse and as flat as it had been once the real pain had started. She hadn't broken him yet. He wouldn't let her. He'd survived worse. "I don't know. She just left." "Fine. We're done here." The woman made a gesture and the orc dropped Daerek to the wooden floor where the young man groaned quietly and rolled onto his back. The results of the past few hours were far from pleasant. Several of his fingers had been broken. One of his arms and a kneecap were massively swollen, shattered by the swung weights that had battered the bones. The other arm had pieces of skin sticking up from where they'd been tugged and peeled back. Both his shoulders had been torn from their sockets. There was a collar around his neck with inward facing spikes, hiding small round burn marks and a brand that looked like the Horde symbol on one side of his neck. His face was left curiously unmarred, but was slick with water after several threats of drowning, including one that required resuscitation. The woman stepped to one side of the small room and held a hand to her ear as she spoke. Her voice was quiet, but audible. "Nothing," she said. "I believe he may actually not know, but I'd need more time to be sure." A pause. "Three days. Starvation, loud noise, keep the lights on-- Yes, sir." She stepped back across the room to where Daerek lay, her stance and tone of voice betrayed her disappointment. She leaned down over him, peering into his face. He winced when she brushed a wet hair off his forehead. "Lucky you," she said. "He found her. You're not needed anymore." Suspicion crossed Daerek's face, his eyes narrowing. "I thought you worked for Gold," he muttered. She laughed lightly. "Someone has to hand her over." "You gonna kill me now?" "No, sweetie." She stood and gestured for the orc. "That's not my job." She tugged the black bag back over Daerek's head, then the orc slung the the young man roughly over his shoulder. "Dump him outside Findle's. Someone from the Uncrowned will trip over him," the dead woman's voice said. The orc grunted in response. There was a sharp pain at the back of Daerek's head, a single note in the symphony of pain he was feeling, and then everything went dark and, for a time, he felt nothing at all.
  21. Time Shattered

    If you want to be taken seriously, don't talk about dragons. Ever. It doesn't matter how real they are, how damaging they are to the world, how involved they are in your life, just don't. I try to mention them only in terms of deflection. Last week, they were an excuse for my staring at the doorway. In reality, I was staring at the doorway to make it look like I was waiting for someone with the idea that may leave me alone to listen. But then the so-called Messenger shows up (Of course he does. Discuss him too long and he is summoned?) and I have to bite my tongue. Do I wonder who else he rescued? No. I force myself not to wonder. It was only me, and only this me, otherwise everything I'm standing on starts to crumble. Where was he? Where do you think he was? Walking timeways? Discovering enlightenment in the line between what was and what might have been? No. He was in a pit, talking to rocks. And when the shadow of his former self takes over again, he'll go right back there. It's not reliving your life's worst moments that is the greatest torture of cyclical time. It's perpetually living new lives, making new errors, learning new lessons, and then stepping out the other side of all of them and not having the slightest idea which of them were real. Did you learn anything? Thankfully, most of them have faded. All of the time in between has faded, and a significant amount of the time before. I'm building my self on false, crumbled experiences, but I work with what I have, yes? I work with what I know. At least I don't wake up in strange bars. Who tells people they're supposed to work alongside that they're not actually people? There are certain people I'd say that to without hesitating. None of them were there. Best to keep the interrogator close enough to kill.
  22. Time Shattered

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. What a stupid platitude. And yet, the longer one lives, the more truth there seems to be in it. Also, there's nothing new under the sun. Illidan's gone out of his way to prove the first one true and the second false. Nice to see there was no redemption. Sacrificed everything, he says, and has all his little followers spouting the same. Sacrificed all the people on the world to save the rock they can no longer walk on. Hilarious. Sacrificed what? And for what exactly? Maiev and Khadgar are no doubt introducing bricks to their own faces about now, or they should be. The boy is going to be a thorn in my side. He's not that incapable, nor does he overly interfere with me, but his parents are unsurprisingly stymieing my capacity to convince him to get himself killed. I'm working on it, though. There weren't any implications. If there were, I'm the only one who made them, and I'm determined not to see them if they came from others. There's a difference between willingness to do something and actively seeking it out, hm? Sometimes there's simply no accounting for taste.
  23. Spelling Trouble

    Qabian arranged for the child to meet him by the statue of Antonidas again. The mage was wearing blue this time, no longer opting for the extremely plain robes and no longer wearing a mask about town, but still refraining from the level of ostentatious that was his usual preference. He also continued to keep his hired Kirin Tor watching the street. Punctual as usual, Damian arrived in what looked like well-crafted black pants and a white tunic cinched by a leather belt. He was dressed modestly, for someone from such a well off family, but it seemed as if there was an effort being made to ignore that. His curly white hair seened recently trimmed, but still wouldn't lie flat against his head. Slung over one shoulder was a leather satchel, where he stored his notebook, quill, several reference books and, at his mother's insistence, a first aid kit. "Sir," he said politely to the magister, bowing his head respectfully. Qabian smirked at the child's approach. Something about the white tunic and curls was bringing the innocence to slaughter metaphor into sharp relief. "Young master." Qabian offered a curt nod. "How have you been finding the city? Had the opportunity to visit any libraries yet?" "Yes sir," Damian answered with a nod. "I've been studying fire elementals and the War of the Three Hammers." Qabian tilted his head slightly. "What drew you to those subjects?" "My mother has a staff from the Firelands. It's very old and powerful," the boy explained. "She said that if you find things like that, it's important to know their origin so you can use it. If you don't, you might wind up using it incorrectly. I'd like to go to the Firelands, someday." There was a hint of a smile on his face as he said this. "She's not entirely wrong. We could go there right now, but... not today, I suppose." Qabian shrugged, smirking unpleasantly. "Do you know who this is?" The mage gestured to the statue beside him. Damian shook his head slowly. "No, sir." Qabian raised an eyebrow. "His name was Antonidas. He led the Kirin Tor for most of its recent history. Human. Of course." Qabian's tone was bitter. "A child prodigy. I suppose he's meant to be a testament to what such a child can become." He looked pointedly at Damian as he spoke. "Jaina was one of his apprentices. He was, amusingly, ultimately killed by Jaina's own pet Arthas when the Scourge ransacked this very city. There is one reason and one reason only why this man's spirit does not still haunt this place. Can you imagine what that might be?" "Was.. his spirit freed by Prince Kael'thas? I remember reading about that," Damian said quickly. "There were a few spirits left, and his was one of them. The Prince freed him." "Precisely. Kael'thas," Qabian hissed. "If it weren't for Kael'thas, if it weren't for us, if it weren't for me, Jaina's precious old man would still be fighting nightmares long since dead. And she had the audacity to try and erase us from this city?" Qabian spat on the small plaque in front of the statue. "They would have been devoured by the Legion before even learning how to light candles if it weren't for us. We should have let it happen." Qabian took a deep breath, stifling the more obvious edge to his anger. "But here we are. Again. Do you want to see what they're hiding in that tower?" He gestured towards the Violet Citadel. Damian looked toward the tower, his brow furrowed in thought. Throughout the rant, he took mental notes; both on Qabian's words, and his candor. " that allowed?" Qabian nodded. "If you're my apprentice. However, there are no stairs or doors. There's only one way in." He smiled, an oddly incongruous expression, and opened a portal. There was an obvious amount of thought that went into Damian's decision making. Staring at the portal, he seemed to be going over his options. Go through the portal and risk his emotionally unstable mentor throwing him off a cliff? Trust him not to murder him at the first opportunity. The boy put a hand against his bag and held it close to himself, then walked through the portal. Qabian's smirk stretched into a grin at the child's reticence. Smart kid, considering all that had been said in his presence. The question of why the portal didn't simply open over old Dalaran's crevasse went unanswered, though, as both mage and apprentice stepped from the portal into a open foyer. In front of them was a large fountain where two statues that looked not unlike the one they had just left stood holding glittering staves over an eternally overflowing vessel. The unblinking eye of the Kirin Tor featured prominently in the decor around the high-ceilinged hall, and the walls were covered with so many extravagantly framed paintings -- many of them portraits that seemed to move -- and stone busts of mages past that the stonework behind them was difficult to see. Books and scrolls lay about haphazardly on almost every surface. Mages of all races went about their business, some walking by casually while chatting in pairs, others alone but rushing quickly from one place to another, thoughtlessly interspersing their quick jogging pace with shimmering blinks across the space ahead of them. Conspicuously absent was any sign of children whatsoever. "This is the Hall of the Guardian. The books are up those stairs behind the fountain, but I doubt we'll get to those today. Follow me," Qabian explained, turning to his left towards a set of stairs curving slightly downward. Damian followed Qabian closely, careful not to let himself be distracted by all of the sights and sounds. He was curious, but understood the price of curiosity. Qabian led the boy through a hall where several mages were casting spells at large constructs of floating shields and weapons surrounding shimmering blue crystals. "These are for training. Again, we may get to them later." He moved to the back of the room where against every wall were desks and benches cluttered with books and scrolls. The space was surprisingly quiet, despite the chaos of the practical spellcasting training that flashed behind them. He smiled strangely as he gestured to the room and the mages working there. "Almost everyone here is an apprentice like you." Qabian approached an empty space at a bench and disdainfully moved a steaming mug of something someone had left behind to one side. "Now tell me," he said quietly to the boy. "How are your demons treating you since you arrived?" "They've been quiet. Mostly," he answered awkwardly, shifting from one foot to the other. It was clear that this was a subject Damian was not comfortable with. "Usually the demons that talked to me were my mother's, but sometimes I heard voices. Since I came here I haven't heard them unless I walked too close to that sewer that leads to the Dreadscar Rift. They don't really say much, unless I'm in trouble or they're trying to help me with something." Qabian tilted his head slightly as he listened to the boy's explanation. "Curious. I had thought perhaps because this place is far closer to a great deal more Legion activity than Quel'thalas that there would have been a significant increase in their demands on your mind, but it seems they only bother with you when they have reason?" Qabian shrugged. "Do you want to fix that, to stop them, or at least look into and experiment with stopping them? Or are you fine with the way things are?" "How would I stop them completely?" The boy asked cautiously, tilting his head. "Is that possible?" "It's difficult to know without looking further into the details and causes of why and how you hear them in the first place, but I'm sure you can imagine given magic's tendency to provoke the Legion that we have people who specialize in defending against just that sort of thing. It's not my specialty, but there are people I could ask. You might not like how such research turns out, though, as it would be... experimental at best," Qabian explained. The tone of his voice sounded sincere, but there was something not quite right about the offer. "Experimental?" Damian repeated. Qabian's tone wasn't lost on him. He knew better than to believe the magister had his best interest at heart, but if he was going to make good on his promise, he couldn't allow himself to be afraid of the outcome. "I don't mind. I'm not afraid. My mother is a warlock, but that's not what I want to do." Qabian smirked slyly. "Good. You know the line between mages and warlocks may not be as clear as some assume. Have you heard of the Empyrean Society?" Qabian glanced sideways as he dropped the name. Damian shook his head. "No. Never. Are they.. a hybrid class sort?" "They are mages, for now, but they believe that the study of magic should not be limited. They work with shadow and fel magic as well as elemental and arcane." Qabian looked upward thoughtfully. "I wonder if they bother with light. I doubt it. Too philosophical, not enough power in it for them," he mused. "The Kirin Tor disagrees entirely with that philosphy, however, and they are not on good terms. Mages opening themselves up to working with fel magic generally aren't approved of in the current climate." He kept his voice low. The boy eyed Qabian, then looked around them. They were surrounded by others, but those others seemed too distracted by their own work to pay much attention to the red haired magister and his apprentice. "..I didn't think we'd be breaking the rules on the very first day," he admitted, then smiled a little. "But if you can do it all, why wouldn't you?" Qabian finally bothered to sit down in one of the wooden chairs before the bench and leaned back, steepling his fingers. "Perhaps if I had ever felt that I reached my limit, I would consider expanding those particular horizons, but I don't need to do it all. I resist reaching into frost as it is. Moving beyond that... certainly isn't worth the risks. I have so much farther to go with the arcane. I'm a good, pure mage." He smirked horribly. "But if you ever start to feel limited? They're out there. You'll just have to, yes, break the rules, if that's something you want." "For now, I want to learn," Damian said with a determined frown. "I can ignore the demons. They're noisy, but I know what it is they're trying to do. They did the same thing to my mother and I know that eventually, she'll be corrupted by it. My uncle became an Illidari. He has to cover himself in tattoos just to control it. That's not what I want." Qabian nodded, a hand on his chin. "Hmm. Can you speak Common?" "Not fluently," Damian admitted a little shamefully. "But Steinburg taught me basic stuff. I can understand most of it." "That's good enough. Filthy language, but it will widen the options for who I can go to for help." He sat forward and straightened his robes. "Now what do you know about the Guardian this place is named after?" "I didn't know it was named after a particular guardian.. I know about the guardians Aegwynn, and Medivh." "You are correct. Although it could have been named after the first," Qabian said with a glance toward the stairwell, "I believe this Hall is simply named after the role rather than any individual, and seeing as there can only be one at any given time... The Guardian. But what do you know of the role, or of those two you mentioned?" "I know the Kirin Tor appointed a guardian," Damian began slowly, looking up as he recited. " He or she is supposed to protect the realm. They can't refuse the King if summoned. The King of Stormwind, that is.. Medivh was a guardian, but he was corrupted by the fel. He's responsible for the orcs coming here. His mother, Aegwynn, served for almost five hundred years before him." Qabian raised an eyebrow. "You've had some curious instruction. Have you heard of the Council of Tirisfal? Do you know why a Guardian was ever needed?" Damian smiled a little. "Steinburg told me. Since he's human, he knows stuff from both sides. The Council of Tirisfal is supposed to elect the Guardian. They selected a guardian to protect Azeroth against demons." Qabian steepled his fingers again. "I suspect he was wrong on many things. We made the Guardian, you and I, our people. It is only of the Kirin Tor in as much as it was Dalaran that caused a need for such a thing. A bunch of barbarians from Arathor thought they could toy with magic, and when the streets of their city inevitably filled with demons, they begged us for help. Silvermoon needed to step in and prevent them from setting their own hair on fire, prevent them from repeating the Highborne's mistakes that we already knew about and they blundered into like thoughtless morons. The Guardian was our attempt at helping them keep themselves from falling down the stairs like the infants they are." Qabian looked around the hall with an expression of disdain. "All these people, all these races, they've all forgotten that, of course. This would all have fallen apart at its inception, the world would have been eaten the moment humans touched magic, had it not been for us. They benefit from what is ours while never acknowledging who it actually belongs to." Damian cocked his head to one side at the explanation. "..but.. we're still a part of it all. They can't deny that, right? And why would they want to? We'll always be better at this than they are. It's what we're made of." Qabian grinned. "Exactly." His grin faded instantly. "But go down to the bottom of this tower and see who is watching the streets, see who owns this city. It would not exist without us, but they are trying to erase us. We are still a part of it, yes, for now, but we have been pushed to the side and all but forgotten by the arrogance of those who owe us everything. And every high elf who keeps their eyes blue, who refuses to touch the fel, who refuses to rename themselves after the blood of those we lost, is nothing but the worst kind of traitor." That sentence turned low and angry as the mage glared at the floor, but he suddenly straightened up in his chair and turned his focus back to the boy. "You're very young to inquire about this, but we've touched on the subject before. Have you killed?" The boy shook his head slowly. He turned to look back at Qabian, pushing the fear of what he might have had in mind deep into the pit of his stomach. There was no time for fear or apprehension, now. "No." Qabian tilted his head with a sly smirk. "Really now? I know, or at least have made the deduction that you haven't killed a person. That's perfectly reasonable at your age. I'd be somewhat suspicious if you had, to be honest. But have you ever killed anything? Small creatures? Insects? A plant?" "..a plant?" He repeated, blinking a few times. "I.. guess maybe a plant? No animals that I can think of, though.. we don't kill our own meat, and my mother only gardens flowers. I've never really had any pets." Qabian laughed. "While I might advocate having pets for the purpose of killing them, it does sound counterintuitive. But it does strike me as odd that you might have never swatted an insect. If I recall my youth correctly, which it's quite possible I do not, boys your age frequently pulled the wings off flies and set fire to anthills." He stood from his chair and moved toward the balcony behind the training constructs. "Perhaps creatures are where we should start then. I've seen you take on stationary objects with fire. How's your accuracy with moving targets?" "It's been getting better," Damian answered quickly, following the magister closely behind. "Steinburg taught me how to shoot projectiles at clay disks. He has this machine that shoots them. He said usually, humans and dwarves use them for shooting guns but taught me to shoot fire at them instead." Qabian pushed one of the tables around the balcony to one side and stood at the railing, looking out over the city of Dalaran far below. The Hall was a curious place. From the city, it couldn't be seen, but from inside, the city was clearly visible. "There aren't many birds up here, but a few find their way and think it's ideal for nesting." He glanced upwards. "Provided the fel bats aren't around. If you see one, kill it. In the meantime, do you have any questions?" Damian chewed on the inside of his cheek. "..I'm killing birds? For how long?" Qabian smirked. "Start with one." The boy turned toward the balcony, furrowing his brow as he considered his assignment. He wasn't happy with the idea of killing innocent birds, but if they were making nests where they didn't belong, there wasn't much else anyone could do besides waste time removing them. Focusing on a bird that flew in front of them both, Damian waited until it was close enough that he could see its eyes. Only then did he point a finger in its direction and send a small ball of fire zooming toward the creature, engulfing it with flames for a moment before it fell blackened to the ground. Qabian watched the charred bird fall. It was a long way down. "Good. How do you feel?" Damian shrugged, but took a moment to reply. "..I don't know. Bored?" Qabian chuckled. "That bird's eggs will grow cold and never hatch. Or perhaps they've already hatched and the babies will starve now. Or perhaps its mate will wait for a return that will never happen. Did you consider any of that?" There was a moment where it seemed as if Damian considered his actions a little deeper. Perhaps even felt remorse. That moment passed quickly. "..they're just birds, though. Someone would have killed them, anyway." Qabian smirked. "Doubtful. No one cares about them much. Except us. Today. They would have lived out their lives, enjoying each other's company and the breeze, until they grew old and died, just as we do. But your capacity to move past empathy is something that will help you a great deal. Best to practice it when you can." "Yes sir," Damian said quietly, looking toward the sky again. A few more birds flew past them, carefree. "That and hitting a small moving target is no easy feat for a mage who spends more time with books than on the field. Well done. Do it again." Qabian clasped his hands behind his back as he waited for another bird to pass. "You mentioned the Dreadscar Rift. I know... nothing of it, other than that it exists, but have you been into the city's Underbelly?" "Once, with my mother," he admitted, eyeing another bird. As it flew close enough for him to see the its eyes clearly, the boy fired another blast of fire and let its blackened corpse fall to the ground. "It smells bad. There's a black market, there, and people fight. Mother didn't take me down there for very long. She just wanted to show me where the portal was." "Good shot. You may stop now if you wish." Qabian smiled unpleasantly. "Why did she want to show you the portal?" "The Black Harvest," he explained nonchalantly. "She told me that if.. something ever happened to her, and then I decide later that I want to learn from them, I should go there." Qabian grimaced. "I wouldn't recommend it, but I suppose if something happens to her before you deal with your own demon issues, it's only practical. The Kirin Tor and Tirisfalen have plenty of experience separating magic users from demons that would suggest going instead towards further demonic interaction is thoroughly unnecessary, but perhaps there's more going on with you and your mother than the ordinary seduction of power." Qabian shrugged. "She left instructions that you're not to leave the city, but she doesn't mind you going into the sewers?" he inquired. "Only with her," Damian corrected. "But if something happens to her and father, then yes, I guess I'd have to go by myself." Qabian scowled as he looked out over the city. "They're certainly doing their best to make it so that teaching you would both far simpler and far more interesting for you if both of them were dead." He turned back towards the Hall. "Is there anything particular you wish to learn?" Damian nodded quickly. "I want to learn how to really feel the magic that we use. I know I don't feel it yet, it doesn't feel like anything. Just what I'm made of, and it comes to the surface, but when I read about the best mages they all talk about this sort of.. I guess knowledge. Of the universe. That they feel from the inside, and it gives them this sort of power and understanding that others don't have." Qabian grinned. "Just what you're made of." He looked down at the boy. "That is the universe. Everyone else in here," he motioned to the hall and the other mages in it, "is made of dirt. You are made of magic. They all have to work and work and work, study and study and study, toiling their whole lives just to be able to do what you can do without a second thought. It's possible you will never feel it because you are it. You can't know it's a gift if you had it the day you were born. How can you know how good it is to breathe when you have never known what it's like to drown? But... I think I understand. You want more than you've known thus far. You want to at least know where everything else is. You want to see where the door opens to everything you haven't seen yet. You want the books that rip away the veil between you and phenomenal cosmic powers. Am I right?" Damian shrugged, a little embarrassed. He understood that what he was asking for might have seemed ridiculous, or at least that's why he kept it to himself."...yes." "It would be so much easier to show you that, or at least an easily tasted facet of it, if we could leave this bubble of a city. Karazhan, Ulduar, the elemental planes, the Tomb under this very city..." Qabian sighed. "But you can find smaller steps, echoes, hiding here in the books. The tomes that would do it for you instantly are not so easy to get even my hands on. But you were on the right track with your study of the elementals and the dwarf wars. Keep going further. Find what you can on the Firelands themselves. I recommend adding anything you can find on the Council of Tirisfal to your search. Khadgar is who he is because of Medivh. All of them are who they are because of Silvermoon." The towheaded boy nodded obediently. That he was being assigned to read more books didn't seem to put him off. Rather, the subject itself seemed to invigorate him. "Yes sir. I'll do that." "Good. I have other places to be," Qabian said. "I'd just leave you up here to do what you like, but given that there's no exit, I think your mother would worry about you and we should head back down, hm?" Damian looked around them for a moment, then down from the balcony. "Yes sir. I'll study for the rest of the day." Qabian nodded and opened a portal back to the city below.
  24. Keeping Secrets

    Qabian was working at his desk when a small pale blue crystal he had set to one side dimmed. He sighed, watching as the light went out of it completely, then a crack formed through its center, then it dissolved into dust. "So much for that," he muttered, making a space to arrange agreed-upon hazard pay. Later, he made a trip to Dalaran. As much as he wanted to talk to the thief himself, he knew that couldn't happen. There was still too much heat in the city. However, he did manage to find one of the legitimate Kirin Tor guards involved in apprethending the thief, pull them to one side, and inquire into details. Back in Silvermoon, he sat down to write a letter. Syreena, I have succeeded in making her afraid. That took very little effort. Simply inquiring into her existence and a few small threats were enough to send her on the run. Unfortunately, finding information that would lead to easily causing further misery has been far more difficult than I expected. She does not fit into the predictable pattern most ordinary humans fit. I do not believe I have yet succeeded in causing her actual harm. I may need to back off long enough for her to think she is safe to come out of hiding if my resources prove insufficient to track her down. In the meantime, I will see about causing harm indirectly through those she is connected to. I've also been told to relay the message that you're a bully. These people are children. ~Q
  25. Keeping Secrets

    A blood elf dressed as a Kirin Tor guardian, complete with fancy mask and spiky shoulders, quietly made sure no one was home. He then quietly slipped the lock on a window. He also quietly went about searching the place for what he'd been sent to find, filling hidden bags strapped about his person with various items. However, part of his contract was to leave as much mess as possible, so when he was just about ready to leave, he started making noise, a lot of noise, smashing chairs, pushing all the dishes out of the cupboards onto the floor. No amount of stealth or trickery was a match for the resident busybody of the small apartment complex currently seeing one of its units looted. The plump, silver-haired human woman that served as landlady made a quiet little "oooo" of a growl under her breath from her position in the hallway when wood started cracking and ceramic started breaking. It had been some time since she'd had to sneak anywhere, but nonetheless Gracie McClintock found herself trying to nudge open the apartment door with a cast iron frying skillet in-hand. Admittedly, a true professional would have been paying more attention, but with his back to the door as he tore open cushions and scattered the stuffing, the burglar was oblivious to the sound of the door opening or anything else. He didn't turn around until it was too late, just in time to see the skillet before it collided with his head. "Hmph," Gracie huffed, thwacking the downed elf with the skillet one more time for good measure before searching out something to bind him with. "Break into one of my apartments, why don't you!" She returned with some rope, kneeling down to bind the elf's hands and feet with skill that simply did not match her appearance. "These poor kids. They'll be so upset. Hmph." Once he was secured, the woman scowled down at him and popped him with the skillet a final time. She stepped out into the hallway, just for a few minutes, and when she returned, it was to stand guard over the man's prone form with her skillet in hand. The thief groaned only once over the next hour or so, shifting against his bonds, but he didn't put any effort into fighting. Whether or not he fully regained consciousness or not was difficult to tell with his Kirin Tor mask in place. Once he did come to and realized the predicament he was in, he kept very still, listening and waiting to see if at any point he would be left on his own before even attempting escape. The landlady stayed on guard until two more people arrived. The woman, apparently a female sin'dorei of average height, was clothed head to toe in nondescript leather. Her face was hidden by a mask. The man who joined her was tall and slim, human by build, wearing dark clothing. He wasn't masked at first, and from behind his own mask, the thief recognized the man by description as Daerek Smythe, one of the tenants. Daerek took Gracie out into the hall. Their low voices could be heard but their words could not before he stepped back in, tugging a mask over his own face. He took up a place by the doorway while the woman stalked quietly around the room. She came to stand next to the thief's body at one point, staring down at him from behind his body. "You're not Kirin Tor," she commented lightly, speaking faintly-accented Thalassian. "What gives you that idea?" the thief responded sarcastically in the same language, his voice hoarse. His whole body flinched as if just trying to talk hurt. The woman laughed, the sound bright and delighted. "She got you good, didn't she? Cast iron is nothing to play around with." The thief groaned, rolling to face away from her. "Whatever. Ya caught me. I got it. Ya want the stuff back? Gonna lock me up? What?" The woman chuckled and allowed him to face away from her, but she crouched slightly and made to tug off his mask. "Not yet. I want to know who you work for, first." The removed mask revealed a scarred face, one side burned at some point years ago, but young. His hair was close-cropped and blond. A few red welts were threatening to turn into huge bruises on his forehead and cheek. "That's nice, but he didn' give a name. They rarely do." The woman made a sound like she was sucking her teeth, reaching out to grab his jaw. She turned his face this way and that. "Oof. That had to have hurt." The thief winced again, but otherwise let the woman manhandle his face. After a moment of inspection, she spoke again. "And no name? That's fine. I didn't expect one. What'd he look like?" "White hair. Blue eyes," he continued only after she lets him go. "One o' them traitor types. Gave me this get-up, but..." He shrugged, then regretted it. "Ow! By the sun," he muttered. "Don' think he was in charge." "What makes you say that?" She shifted to crouch in front of him, cocking her head to the side. So long as he kept talking, she seemed inclined to refrain from causing him further pain. The man, meanwhile, kept silent and stiff by the door. If not for the way his chest moved to indicate his breathing, one might think he was a statue. "Just not my first tournament, y'know. Something seemed off, stiff, seemed more scared than anything," he said by way of explanation, closing his eyes. "Anyway, doesn' matter. It's all over now. Least I got the advance half." "Sure it matters," she said cajolingly. "What's your name, kid? Maybe I'll get you some pain relief potion if you tell me all polite-like." "My name? Lady, whatever you think's going on here, I don' matter. This hurts, but I been through so much worse, sure you can tell." He smirked at her. "Y'can have my name, though. I don' care. It's Jun. I'd say look me up if you need my services, but I'm not selling myself so well today." He chuckled, then winced again. The woman moved to begin patting him down, making it obvious that this wasn't her first tournament, either. "You never know what you might need, Jun. You got family?" He let her do what she wanted. "Me? No. Jus' the usual story." She found various odds and ends in pockets of various depths sewn into his Kirin Tor uniform, mostly anything he thought he might be able to pawn off. "Everybody's dead. Got to steal to live. Nobody gets hurt. 'Cept with the occasional frying pan." The woman still seemed to be taking care to not hurt him unnecessarily. "I guess I don't have to see about making sure anyone's taken care of in the event that you don't return home then," she said lightly, seeming to peer at his face again. A single hand raised and she snapped her fingers expectantly; the man jerked somewhat and strode forward, handing her a vial of red liquid he fished out of a small bag. "So this traitor type. Elf? Human? Other? What'd he wear? What'd he hire you to do?" She uncorked the vial and gently dabbed little bits of the potion onto his skillet wounds. The thief frowned at the implication, but showed no signs of hesitating with giving information. "Eh? Elf-type traitor. Y'know, the ones who didn't take the fel help and got kicked out of Silvermoon. Dressed like a mage, same tabard." He glanced down at his own impostor's uniform. "Out of place in the Underbelly, but those types are always looking to hire. Said to look for any information on the people living in here. Mail, documents, journals, anything with names on it, awards, medals. And anything else I found, I could keep." "You think he was real Kirin Tor?" she asked, admiring her handiwork on his face before gently patting an uninjured spot and tossing the recorked vial over her shoulder. The man scrambled to catch it before returning to his place at the door. The woman made to roll the thief over, allowing him the opportunity to do it on his own steam with a gentle coaxing shove. He shifted willingly, but a twisted grin crossed his face, for the first time looking like he might actually be a bad guy and not just an unfortunate accomplice. She found his fist behind his back tightly closed around something. She cocked her head to the side. "Youuuu wanna tell me what this is, sugar?" He slowly opened his fingers revealing a small dark crystal with cracks running through it. As he opened his hand, the crystal crumbled into dust that ran through his fingers. "This is how he knows the whole thing went south and not to bother meeting up with me." "Huh. Neat." She didn't seem bothered. "I don't suppose I can trust anything that came out of those pretty lips of yours?" The thief's nasty grin shifted to a sheepish smile. "Eh, I haven't lied, but probably best not to trust anyone in my line of work, yeah? Not unless the pay is good, anyway." The woman laughed that delighted laugh again, shifting yet again to peer at his face. After a moment, she tapped his lips almost playfully. "Anything else you want to share with me, sweetheart?" He laid back and relaxed, seeming curiously reassured. "Nah. Whoever actually wanted this junk was either super careful or is running something bigger, cartel maybe. You find the guy who hired me, maybe he can tell you what you really want to know, but I won' be pointing him out. Good luck, lady." "Thanks, handsome. I think I've got just what I need." She patted his face one more time before extending her hand out behind her once again. "That scar is rather dashing," she confessed as she waited. "Maybe in another life." The man took a few jerky steps forward and put a different object in her hand, taking care to not poke her with what was soon revealed to be a syringe. She adjusted it deftly in her gloved hand then plunged the needle into Jun's exposed skin. The thief looked confused at the syringe, then looked alarmed as he was injected. He made a questioning sound but said no words before his eyes rolled back in his head and he slipped into unconsciousness, falling into a deep, long-lasting sleep. "Nighty-night, darling." The woman sighed and stood, handing the emptied syringe back to her companion as she did so. He remained silent as she nudged the unconscious elf with her foot, considering him for a few moments. Voices sounded from the hallway, Gracie's among them, and the woman turned her masked face to look at her companion. She jerked her head towards the window, and he started towards it while she tugged the mask back over Jun's face. When she rose to join the other man, he made a quick gesture with his hand; a faint light glowed around them for a moment before fading, and one after the other they jumped out of the window. Gracie hurried into the room followed by a handful of legitimate Kirin Tor guards. "He's the intruder!" she wailed. "I got him good with my skillet, but ooooh he made a mess!" The guards exchanged glances before assuring the landlady that they'd handle the situation and began dragging the unconscious blood elf off the premises.