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Hollow: Vulnerabilities

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The monk was rather jocular as he approached. He’d been investigating Morinth and her band of trained minions when Taozhu had called him over the guild stone. He’d been in the process of discussing numerous facets of philosophy with Kerala, and had brought the druid come-supplicant along with him back to the garrison. The tauren had stowed her tabard away for this purpose, given tensions between the two guilds. As he entered the garrison, he watched an exchange between Adei and one of the numerous factotums. She appeared to be handing him a short book of some sort, and was quite flustered when he hailed her.

The Forsaken scrambled to find words, but he dismissed them. The day had been productive, and between his inquiries he’d managed to collect quite a few ingredients for a dinner he’d planned to cook the Commander. The though occurred, over the course of the day, that he wished his memory of the Shu’halo festival the pair had attended months prior had not stuck better.

Julilee had worn a dress to the ceremony. He’d admired her for a long time, ever since he joined the guild, and was tremendously excited and flattered when she showed him her affections. But, she always looked more at home in her armor. Yet she wore the gown gracefully, and it was one of the first moments with her his feelings had managed to transcend mere adoration into something greater, and more central.

The tauren, blood elf, and Forsaken approached the barracks. Taozhu nervously waited out front in the snow, his blind eyes staring outward. Adei bowed to the pandaren, who returned the gesture and squinted as he focused on the motley assembly.

The elf trailed his other companions, hobbling along the gravel paths with his staff.

“I came as quickly as I could,” said Adei.

“Lady Adei, thank you,” said Taozhu, as he rose from his bow.

“There is no need for thanks. I am at your service, sir.”

Taozhu forced a smile. Adei could tell his intent from his aura, but the effort in the expression was apparent to Kerala and Kex’ti.

“Is…there something the matter?” said Adei.

“Well, yes,” Taozhu said, hesitantly. The mage regarded Kex’ti as he approached. “Kex’ti…before you come in…”

“Hoi-“ Kex’ti halted his greeting. “Yes?”

“Please, promise not to do anything rash.”

The monk peered at the pandaren, a characteristic smirk rising to his face. The expression the elf affected had less to do with mockery, and more with self-assurance. It was a practiced gesture, one which had served him well over the many years. Obfuscating and infuriating, it quelled all but the most inquisitive of inquiries. The druid followed Kex’ti silently.

Adei frowned, and turned to look at Kex’ti over her shoulder.

“Rash? Surely you refer to another, Taozhu,” the elf chuckled.

“Kex’ti. Promise me.”

Paranoia began to sink in, chased shortly by worry.

“What’s wrong?” said the monk, even as he searched Taozhu’s aura for any expression that might guide him to a faster answer. “Yes. Yes. You have my word, Taozhu.”

The monk turned to regard Adei, even as Taozhu fretted with his tabard, nodded, and climbed the ramp up into the barracks. The mage guided the trio to the back of the barracks. The infirmary.

The click-clack of Kex’ti’s staff rattled along the floorboards, and echoed in the halls in contrast to the swish of the two mage’s robes and the click of Kerala’s hooves.

Taozhu opened the door, and extended a paw toward an elf, sprawled on a cot. The medics had seen fit to dress her in the white medical robes administered to patients in the garrison. Kex’ti recognized the way her ears curved, and the cut of her hair at this distance, to say nothing of her aura. He dashed across the room, his staff hanging limply in his grip.

He dropped the staff to the floor, clattering. His hands rose over the woman, not wanting to believe it her; wanting it to be someone else he could merely heal. The wounds were horrid. The burns lined from her forehead, down one side of her face, all the way to her ankle, where it licked across to the other calf.

In the background, Kerala regarded Adei with a nod, but slowly turned her eyes towards the frantic gesturing of the monk.

He was panicking. Fear, anger, anxiety. These were emotions he had learned to adapt to. This was entirely separate. Fear had transcended its boundary, and drove him onward, as he frantically wove the mists into the woman’s flesh. Faint traceries of aura extended along her chi bands, seeking nodes to spread and regenerate. The wounds were deep, the trauma severe. Kex’ti’s eyes widened. Julilee moved not an inch.

“No…no…no…we were going to go on vacation…you couldn’t have gotten hurt like this…you’re stronger…no…no…no,” the monk muttered under his breath in Thalassian, hoping the words would leak his worry from him, instead of drawing it further into his veins and breast.

“What…what happened?” murmured Adei, trying not to catch the monk’s attention.

“I do not know,” came Taozhu’s simple answer.

The monk frantically wove the mists, trying to set her into healing, trying to find the problem, oscillating between the two, simply trying to act effectively, and decisively. Injuries were foes like any other; fast, direct action could quell even the strongest among them…yet the burns refused to yield. Her mind was quiescent, the steel of her will present without the pulse of life behind it to keep it steady.

“There was a monk here earlier…an undead fellow mending her,” Taozhu began, “He said she was found in Nagrand.”

The blind pandaren paused.

“He said a Horde patrol found her.”

Kerala merely watched the two elves, failing to give voice to what was doubtlessly equal parts criticism and concern. Kex’ti’s knee gave out under him, and he collapsed towards the black-haired woman.

“Commander?” he said. His voice shook, and his syllables trailed off into a cough.

“She is wholly comatose…asphyxiation causing extensive brain damage,” said Taozhu.

Kex’ti snapped his head back to Taozhu. He took in the room in its entirety. The way Kerala had glanced towards the mage. Adei’s steady gaze forward. Taozhu’s own fears disciplined into concern; the way the mage relied upon his staff.

“Who found her?” each word a pain, the cadence of his voice cracking through the practiced calm of his face. The monk’s eyes widened, the line of his mouth souring downward. The glow of his eyes narrowing their attention entirely on Taozhu. “Who tended her injuries?”

All the while, the druid merely observed.

“A Frostwolf patrol,” said Taozhu, his voice quivering, unnoticeable to the women. Clear as a bell to Kex’ti’s scrutiny. Kex’ti listened as he turned his gaze again towards the Commander, his efforts on the mists only redoubling. The words, the explanations drowned out by his own blood thumping in his ears and chest. Pulsating, itching, biting, at his lungs. His anger flares at a loud inhalation and cyclical exhalation, only to realize it’s his own labored breath.

“Draedaga…I believe was his name,” spoke Taozhu, unsure how to act with Kex’ti staring forward. The relationship between the elves was an open secret, and one best not levied at either. Kex’ti for his dismissiveness and evasion. Julilee for the smirk she’d affect, and the silence that led to an inevitable return to the previous topic.

Adei, the Forsaken mage, closed the distance to Kerala. She was unsure how to act. More than anyway, she had neither the expertise to examine Julilee, nor the background to know what had happened.

“Bring him to me,” said Kex’ti, of the other monk.

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Kex’ti spoke softly, but firmly, he focus entirely on the mists and his Commander in front of him.

“Bring him to me. Now.

“Kex’ti-,” Taozhu interrupted.

Kerala made her way forward, even as Kex’ti continued to speak.

“Taozhu. That’s an order,” the monk said.

Kerala approached.

“Go find him,” the monk finished. The pandaren sighed.

“Very well.”

“Taozhu, if you wish to stay, I can aid you,” Adei said.

The monk began to cough, the efforts of his healing causing him immense pain as his blood rebelled against the stress he had put it through. The pain sharpened the edge of his rage, and he pressed onward, noticing the fractional disruption in Julilee’s aura as Kerala began to touch the Commander.

Bird-like swiftness cocked Kex’ti’s head to the side, his face expressionless, but the motion catching Kerala’s eye.

“Let me take care of this.”

The tauren woman’s expression shifted quickly. Kex’ti watched her aura. Disappointment, concern, disappointment, fear, disappointment, disappointment, sadness. The monk didn’t know how to deal with her. He had drawn her into a situation he expected to be trivial. And it was one he himself could not aid within.

“I’m sorry Kerala, but I will speak with you in a moment,” he said, his face remaining hard, and flat. He attempted to salvage an apology, an explanation. He trusted Kerala’s skill in combat. Even her natural inclination towards healing. But nobody, nobody existed he would trust more than himself to tend to Julilee’s injuries. Had this been Tesonii, Aaren, or even August, or Adei…or…perhaps…maybe…even Remiaan, he’d have appreciated the help. But his rationality had faltered. The Commander’s injuries were severe, and yet she lived. It was the type of wound that lingered on well past mere healing, and terror gripped his heart as well as helplessness. These thoughts flashed through his head in seconds, and he swiftly spoke again.

“I apologize, but I need to take care of…I need to tend…Commander,” the words thrown into the air even as he focused the mists inward, pressing her tissues to heal, purging infection, resisting with his own strength the pressure on her limbs that she could not.

“My....patience and ability to focus on other tasks is greatly diminished.”

The tauren recoils as if struck, and blinks. Adei watches the tauren, and beckons the woman backwards with open arms. Kerala’s pain and frustration is evident even as she approaches the two mages. Adei spoke, her words quiet, reassuring.

“Kerala, he is…he is truly worried. I am sure he meant no harm…to see him like this…”

Kerala looked at Adei, unable to understand. If Kex’ti truly cared for Julilee like she thought he did, he would welcome any and all help now, would he not?

“Taozhu,” said Kex’ti, “I sense your aura. Where is the healer?”

The elf’s limbs tremored visibly, any casual healing dismissed under the focused effort of his mistweaving.

“I have sent word for him to return,” said Taozhu.

Kerala frowned at the elf. The monk held Julilee in his arms, his voice echoing back towards the few assembled.

“Please…help…” he said. His language switched to Thalassian, as Kerala bounded forward to lay hands on the elf.

“Juli...please. Come on. I know you’re stronger than this.”

Conversation blurred in the background. Kerala’s presence was secondary to his concentration on the Commander. Kerala saw that his nose bled, and his coughing had grown thick, and wet. Crimson leaked down the corners of his mouth, the monk unnoticing, fixated. The druid ignored this, and attempted to assess Julilee’s wounds.

The monk’s eyes were wide, his breathing shallow. His worry expressed. This was lost on Kerala as she examined the Commander. She didn’t speak Thalassian, though she recognized the language. Kex’ti’s desperation was apparent, but her magic focused her on the injuries in front of her.

Kerala sensed the monk, and lingering evidence of his presence through his mists and contact with the elf she surveyed. She doesn’t notice as the monk coughs, and catches the blood from his lungs in his hands, even if the motion and injury doesn’t escape the mages.

“The burns…are magical, are they not?” Adei remarked.

Kerala notices the wounds, the internal bleeding about Julilee’s neck, more serious damage from a massive weapon.

Kex’ti coughs louder, and presses the back of his gauntlet to his mouth. Blood blossoms along the Magnaron hide from the edges of his lips.

“Kex’ti…be careful. Do not overextend yourself…” says Adei, keeping a safe distance.

“She would do the same for any of us,” he retorts, as he forces himself to weave further healing towards Julilee. The healing falters as the presence of another intrudes on his focus. The intruder was quite proficient in the mists himself.

“Oh, hello friends,” speaks the newcomer. Adei observes the new Forsaken, speaking out the side of her mouth towards Kex’ti.

“Yes. The Commander would,” she looked at Taozhu, who nodded, “but we—we cannot have you both incapacitated.” The mages turn to look at Dredaega, the undead monk. Taozhu nods.

Kex’ti helps himself to his feet, and limps/stumbles towards Dredaega, hacking blood across the floor with each step.

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“You treated her wounds?” asks the elf. The newcomer, an undead monk himself, begins to answer.

“Yes…as best I could. I wasn’t skilled enough to wake her, though.”

Adei peers at the new Undead. Kex’ti coughed, and hacked again, nearly doubling over. With a grimace, he fixed his gaze on Dredaega.

“Thank you, your triage work is good,” said Kex’ti. Taozhu began to advance towards the clearly overexerted healer. Kex’ti held up a hand to Taozhu as he approached, the effort nearly sending him to the floor. The Forsaken healer merely nods at Kex’ti.

“I’ll send you my notes for deep healing like this…I know you are doubtless capable, but I want to know she is being cared for in as capable of hands as my own. Do you understand?”

Kex’ti looked at Dredaega, ignoring the others.

“Do you understand? There are other healers here, but your priority is now watching her…Mssr…?” Kex’ti asked. The monk searched his brain for a name on Sanctuary’s roster to fit the new person, but came up short.

Taozhu rubbed his chin, and spoke to Adei. The two exchanged information over the intricacies of fire magic as Kerala studied Julilee’s wounds. The undead chimed in.

“Dredaega. Surely there are more skilled healers to tend to her injuries?” asked the Forsaken.

“Perhaps. But you were the initial healer. I need you on hand in case your own efforts need to be…updated,” said Kex’ti, between coughs. “I need…” he began, before his coughs drove him floorward, the wracking spasms forcing him to clutch at his sides. The undead attempted to answer, but decided it prudent to wait for the Janissary to cease his exertion. Adei and Taozhu rushed to the monk.

“I need…you…coughto make sure…hack…”

“You are driving yourself to your grave, friend,” spoke Taozhu.

“I need to be sure she’s okay,” the elf spoke, with a last volatile expulsion of sputum and blood alike.

“Kex’ti!” Adei exclaimed. The monk gripped Taozhu’s shirt, yanking him forward, yanking him off balance. Kex’ti stared into Taozhu’s blind eyes. His intent apparent in his aura. Kerala, who had been tending to the injured Commander, placed a small mushroom surreptitiously in the corner.

Dredaega looked at the Sanctuary officer with concern.

“What’s wrong with him?” he said. Kex’ti reeled. His grief and fear evident on his face.

“Better her than me…”

“Kex’ti,” said Taozhu, firmly. “Forgive me.”

The pandaren slapped Kex’ti across the face. Hard.

“You are an idiot,” followed Kerala. Adei recoiled. The criticism and concern seeped into the monk. Anger in his heart was roused, and a snarl crossed his face. He glared at Taozhu. The other mistweaver noted the shift in Kex’ti’s aura.

“Perhaps…” he began, “We should give him some breathing room…”

“It is no good for you, or her if you kill yourself,” spoke Taozhu. Kex’ti coughed again, and drew his jug. He drank deeply, staring at Taozhu as he chugged the entire contents of the vase down. “You are the closest thing Sanctuary has right now for a leader.”

The druid closed the distance, attempting to lay hands upon the monk. Kex’ti shook his head, pain curdling his expression, tears at the corner of his eyes.

“No. That is our leader,” he said, gesturing toward the injured Julilee. “She will be okay. She is strong.”

“And she is indisposed for now,” said Taozhu.

“She will heal,” said the monk.

“She will.”

Kex’ti breathed heavily, the medicine calming his lungs and relaxing his condition.

“Kex’ti, please. I am not saying this out of spite, or to hurt you. But in the meantime, we must have someone in charge.”

The pandaren kneeled before Kex’ti. Kerala lay her hands across Kex’ti’s neck.

“I know the commander is strong, and she will recover.”

“Please Kex’ti, he is right,” followed Adei.

“I am no leader,” said Kex’ti, staring at the ground. He quaked. With rage. With pain. With concern. Mostly the first two. “Where is Kargron?”

Kerala released him, thoughts playing across her visage.

“Where is Vilmah? Or Nojinbu?”

“I do not yet know these names...” Taozhu began.

“Cerryan? Grisch?” the monk looked at Taozhu, to Adei, to Kerala. To the Commander. To Dredaega. “Surely…They are the other officers. Surely, they have not been gone this long?”

“Few and far between, Sanctuary’s command,” said Dredaega.

“Kex’ti, you are the embodiment of Sanctuary’s ideals and vows. Just as Julilee was, if she could speak, I am sure she would agree to leave you in command.”

The monk coughed, and helped himself to his feet. First with his hands, then his legs, until he stood, erect. He coughed, and rubbed his beard. The monk stared across the room at Julilee, and stumbled his way towards the cot.


The others spoke, as he watched her slow breathing, and summoned the mists. The wounds were deep, and even with his efforts, intensive. He knew she’d heal. She’d have to heal. He thought back, to his first few days of Sanctuary. The calm at which she commanded, even as she fought aside Iron Horde orcs with her shield. The cut of her sword against the sallow flesh of ogrish tides. The self-affirmation she displayed in her actions. The solid, unwavering resolve behind each and every one of her combat actions.

How she’d flown with him to Kun-Lai, and patiently listened to his ramblings. That barest flicker of a smile when he’d cooked for expeditions. The barest restraint of her words as she rounded the table, the bottle between them half empty. The assurance, the questionless curiosity as she stood against him, suddenly so tall, so small, as her arms wrapped around him. As her breastplate pressed into him, his heart filling even as his lungs emptied and she reached, inch by inch, higher upto his lips.

Weeks of subterfuge, his own actions uncertain, glimpsing behind her armor fractions within fractions of concern, and elevated feeling for him. The way she was the fastest to his side, the easy trust of her shield before him, as his own mists channeled outward to the wounded soldier she had moved. He could heal. She would guard. The pair together would cut their way forward, Sanctuary in their wake, blade and spell merging into forward tides.

The monk shook. He moved the hair from her eyes, back behind her ear. The burns were severe. But they’d heal. She’d fight again. He knew. He had to know. That she’d recover. That he’d be able to endure while she did so.

“Heal well,” Kex’ti ordered. He leaned forward, and planted a slow kiss on her lips; her forehead; her nose; her left eye; her right.

He squeezed her hand. He gathered his staff, drawn from under her cot. He spoke, in Thalassian.

“Be strong,” he began, watching her breathing fall and rise. “My love.”

The monk stood with his staff, and moved towards the others in the room.

“…Kallavan,” he heard Adei say.

First of many, thought the monk, restraining his rage, even as he heard the metal of his staff squeeze, and splinter under his grip. The mists within him roiled. He felt no pain.

“A broadsword could make those wounds, absolutely,”/”Morinth’s top enforcer,”/”A skilled fire mage”

The words and their origins blended together. They blotted in their absence a course. The monk’s heart burned. He focused on his pain. He forced it into his knuckles. He let it ferment at the base of his stomach. He encouraged it to snake hateful tendrils from his navel outward.

“Sanctuary,” he began, as he stood before the assembly. Grunts had begun to trickle in from the hall, the door carelessly, or carefully, left open. “I am not your Commander.”

The group stopped, and turned to look at him, such were the weight of his words. He heard, his elf ears sharpened to points, that Julilee’s wounds may have been permanent. He buried his worries in the fire of his rage, letting it sear away any such immediate concerns.

“I am not your Commander,” he uttered, once more. “But as of this moment, we are hunting the one known as Morinth. This monster has proven herself, over, and over, and over, again as a threat to the peace we so tenuously grip and fight for.”

The monk’s expression was hollow and firm as he glanced across the room, an uncharacteristic elven mien crossing it as he gazed across the slowly gathering group.

“We coordinate all efforts through Initiate Taozhu regarding information on her whereabouts or activities. As of this moment, Justice does not sleep until this blight is remedied. Until the husk of this disease is entombed. Preparations for Tanaan will resume only after Morinth is destroyed.”

Taozhu sputtered, gathering his words. The Janissary stared.

“The last report I received was that Cobrak tracked a shipment of hers to Fuselight…”

Kex’ti’s eyebrows rose, and his pupils narrowed.

“This was…however, a week ago.”

The monk nodded.

“Follow up,” he ordered. He returned his careful assessment to the group. “Any information on this topic is to be sieved through Loremaster Taozhu.”

“Kex’ti, there is also the matter of the Deadshot’ plight.”

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The monk stared at Taozhu. His grip had shifted towards his sword. The blade remained still, pressed into the wood of the floor.

“All of them,” said Taozhu, “All of them are under Morinth’s control.”

The mage said his words carefully, even as his aura wavered. Kex’ti read fear, concern, compassion. That which he’d expect. The elf had begun to frown, but he broke the expression with a simple nod.

“Lady Aaren, she is still affected?”/”Wholly.”

Kerala’s observations shifted between the unconscious elf in the cot, and the figure standing before her.

“Sanctuary. The Deadshots have been compromised. As with all assailants but Morinth,” the monk, began, his mind flickering to the dossiers which had arrived a few dawns ago, “and her key enforcers, which shall be posted on the bulletins and central guild hall,”

Sufficient, he thought.

“You are to incapacitate, and isolate them. You are not to harm them or kill them unless your life, or those of innocent parties are at risk.”

Taozhu began to speak: “Please…they are my family…”

“I trust you to accomplish this task.” The monk accentuated his comments with a firm thrust of his blade into the wood. He nodded at Taozhu, and continued.

“These people are innocent of their actions. They are under the control of another, and valued members of the Horde. As I say, if they prove a threat, they are to be incapacitated. Isolated. Never, not killed.”

“I shall do my utmost,” said Adei, with a bow. The elf turned his gaze on the gathering throng.

“Thank you. I was spared this thanks to the actions of Naheal…” Taozhu began, before Kex’ti cut him off.

“You all understand our third tenant. Display mercy, and show temperance in your acts. In your deeds, be merciful; these are innocents, despite the actions they may take.”

Kex’ti thrust his blade skyward.

“The great work begins now,” he spoke. His voice rose, each word gathering conviction. “From ashes we rise! For Sanctuary! For the Horde! Stand tall against the darkness, and together we shall strike this monster from the earth!”

The monk smiled. No smirk graced his lips, even as thoughts churned in his head.

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