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Julilee

The End-Times of Peace

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3 smiths (8 assistants)

6 quartermasters (11 assistants)

5 cooks (6 assistants)

2 stablemasters (3 assistants)

6 groundskeepers (12 assistants)

5 engineers/architects (21 assistants)

2 dockmasters (20 assistants)

7 command staff

103 guards, scouts, & field soldiers

Not all of them came to Borrowed Time's garrison. Sanctuary Garrison needed to maintain a minimum staff for upkeep of the post and support of the docks, as that certainly wasn't going anywhere. But that still meant over a hundred new bodies for defense of Borrowed Time. As a child ran by, one of many Naheal had taken in, Juli hoped it was enough when Serinar's forces struck again.

Of course, there were also all the sworn Sanctuary members, like herself.

But concerns about Serinar would have to wait. He sought to destroy them, but he would succeed just as well if the war for peace, as Juli had called it, was not brought to a decisive conclusion. There was no avoiding the conflict; the only answer was to end it. And in two days, it would be.

Juli nodded to the stablemaster as he brought out her zhevra. Two accompanied her when she rode out for Raven's Gate.

It was time to make the final plans.

[[ This thread begins the final conflict of the War for Peace storyline. ]]

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This war was wrong. Every fiber of his being screamed to find another solution, but what choice did he have now? Already, he had spoken with Cobrak - a feigned prisoner in his garrison, should the Grim ask now that Sanctuary stayed with his forces - and his friend had told him about some "warlocky shit" that was going on in the Grim, but wasn't sure what, exactly, was going on. "Defend Sanctuary," his contract with Darethy had said, but this? This was tangling with people that didn't need to be tangled with yet. The picture was incomplete.

What's going on within the Grim, Naheal thought to himself as he wandered through his garrison out of his armor, and is there anything we can do to stop this madness? We need time, but we lack that now. Serinar's forces were recovering - of that, he was certain. The Grim would attack Borrowed Time's garrison should they realize that Sanctuary was within it's walls, bujt they, at least, didn't fight with things like the plague last he checked. Even still, they needed to take precautions. Rekkit, Bigwrixx and Hugg, the three primary engineers of Borrowed Time, were already working on a solution. Vents down into the mines below the garrison, should something like the plague be unleashed upon their home. Not nearly a swift enough solution in the heat of battle, but what choice did they have?

Naheal sighed, then jumped as someone poked him in the back. He spun around quickly, blade in hand, only to stop it suddenly Kerri's throat. Kerradormi, his sworn "liege," so to speak, and near constant irritant. A bronze drake who preferred the form or a young, platinum blonde sin'dorei girl with the longest braid he had ever seen, he often described her as a "bronze that missed her life as a cat." Really, she was just a playful kitten in the skin of a dragon most days. "Hey, Naheal," she said with a smile. "What's on your mind?'

"This war."

"Which war?"

"The one we're in the middle of."

"Which one?" She poked his belly.

"The civil war."

"Which one?" She met his eyes and leaned in close. "You DOOOO realize that the one that you're part of constantly is a civil war, right?" He sighed. How could he forget? The Bronze and the Infinites were one and the same. A split flight who's very aspect had chosen both sides of the conflict. "Speaking of which," she narrowed her eyes and gave him an irritated look, "you're neglecting your duties to the Flight." She folded her arms.

"With Serinar, I need to fo--"

She placed a finger to her lips, which instantly quieted him. "I love how that always works!" He grumbled. "Fine, fine. Get yourself to the Caverns. You've got some work to do for us." He sighed. "And, for once, I don't mean 'at your convenience.' There's no time like the future."

"Don't you mean present?"

"Can't help but notice you're still here. What,do you need a written invitation? A note from your keeper?" He sighed at her. "Go on! You know the way. I'll catch up." She stuck her tongue out at him. "You're gonna need some backup and we need a very specific team today."

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The meeting with Darrethy went well. He had originally intended only to bring himself and some siege equipment, but by the end he had agreed to bring all of the Blackguard’s forces he could spare.

It was a piece of irony that Juli was able to persuade Borrowed Time and the Blackguard to fully commit themselves to the attack, yet she couldn’t convince half of her own people to support it. It had hurt more than Juli could have imagined when Kargron spoke those words. In the end, however, she meant what she told them: she expected nothing of them but to uphold their oaths.

She would do the same.

The knowledge she had shared only with Naheal and Cobrak weighed heavily on Juli. Its truth was evident to her; she’d needed no proof, though Zhên had offered it. In the eight months it had been since the conflict with the Grim had begun in earnest, every single act of aggression, every single snide remark, every single moment had pointed to the same result. Sanctuary could not win against the Grim. At best, they could fight them to a standstill, and only then if they dropped all of their other attention to other threats to the Horde. And got exceptionally lucky.

It wasn’t that she was supposedly going to be assassinated in two years’ time that motivated her. Juli had received death threats from the day she had raised Sanctuary’s banner again, not all of them anonymous, and some of them quite specific. She’d known before signing the new charter that even with Garrosh gone, there were still some who saw Sanctuary’s ideals as a threat to the Horde. It was the vision of the future Zhên had shown her alone that motivated Juli. Everything Sanctuary fought for would die if they continued on this same path, this path of avoiding the Grim, of ignoring every injury and slight and refusing to escalate.

“You can’t help anyone if you’re dead,” Jinsai had told her, long ago, and those words had shone a light on the central dilemma Sanctuary’s philosophy faced. Where did you draw the line? How did you know when to hold it, and when to fall back, in order to do the most good? She’d thought she knew. Zhên had showed her she did not.

War it was, then. A war for peace. She understood, now, what Vilmah and Nojinbu had been forced to do under Garrosh’s reign. While she had never judged them for their decision to pursue vigilante justice – they had only ever gone after those indisputably evil and guilty – Juli had never thought she would be in that position. Now, she realized, she was. They were being terrorized by the Grim, who were going unchallenged. Playing by the rules would only get them killed when the other party did what they pleased without consequence.

There was no point in telling any of the others about Zhên’s warning. They wouldn’t believe, or they would think they could follow the same path and somehow achieve a different result. Juli knew better; she had seen every moment of this conflict. She had once believed as they had, and knew there was nothing to convince them otherwise until it was too late.

It never occurred to her that there was something else motivating her fatalistic attitude.

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Kerri didn’t tell them what it was. She just said they needed help. Juli calculated the risk and decided it was worthwhile for Sanctuary to assist. While they couldn’t afford to lose anyone now, that included Naheal, and he was Sworn to help the Bronze.

Juli and as many as she could gather headed out to the Caverns of Time to meet him and Sinlanna, who Juli had gathered was his second-in-command. Unfortunately, Kerri decided to recruit, of all people, the Grim warlock Malhavik as well; but Juli was willing to use Grim resources to one last end if necessary.

It wasn’t until they stepped into the alternate timeline that Juli began to sense there was more to this than a simple defense operation – well, as simple as such a thing ever was when the Bronze Dragonflight was involved. The world they entered was blighted, utterly devastated, and controlled by the Infinite Dragonflight. It wasn’t long until they started finding insignia of groups they knew that had fought there, and lost.

It was undoubtedly the future of which Zhên had spoken.

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“That’s him,” Naheal said, pointing his sword. “Serinar!”

There was no one else it could be. A massive black dragon, stippled with time energy, had phased into existence above them, his massive wingbeats throwing the gritty sand into their eyes. They had just reached the remains of the Bronze Dragonshrine, where Kerri had indicated the source of power for which they were searching was located. And it appeared they had found it.

Juli narrowed her eyes against the grit as the others clustered around in formation. Kargron stood nearby, his great battle axe held in a battle-ready stance. “I await your command,” he said to her. She was more glad than ever that he still followed her, despite his disagreement over the attack. Kanda gripped her dual axes on his other side, the new Sanctuary member showing no doubt or hesitation in the face of their foe. Good. And behind them Atal’shi spat an oath and glared, more than ready to face a foe she could fight without reserve.

Sinlanna waited beside Naheal, calm; Malhavik appeared unbothered by the arrival. And Kerri stood by, watching with a curiously reserved expression.

Fine. Let them end this battle here. Let them ensure this future never came to pass. Juli raised her shield.

“Aren’t you dead?”

Serinar’s voice echoed around them, but his gaze was focused on Juli. He knew well about her future assassination, being the architect behind it. “Not yet,” Juli responded evenly. “And even when I do die… Justice will rise again.”

“Oh?” Serinar paused, his head swinging the take in the entirety of the group, including Naheal. A cackle escaped him. “Indeed! Indeed it does! Of course, the TRUE justice wins out in the end!”

“This timeline will never come to pass,” Juli said with certainty.

“Oh? And how is that? By starting the war yourself?”

Juli repressed a scowl at the mockery. She had heard the same argument already, that starting this war with the Grim herself was doing nothing but accelerating the future Serinar had planned. But there was no other option. Their only hope was to fight now, when they had the element of surprise and the greatest support and strength they could ever hope to muster. It was the only chance they had to win.

“By ending it,” she said, keeping her voice even.

“By yo’ word, Commanda. Ya have mah oat’,” Atal’shi said. Kargron was motionless, waiting and staring at the great creature; Kanda held herself poised and ready. All of them waited on their Commander’s lead. Naheal and the others were silent, listening to the exchange.

“Ending it? How!? By wiping out the Grim? Oh, ho! You think that Sanctuary alone could help the Sworn’s group?” Serinar was all but cackling with glee. His tail thrashed back and forth as he hovered, blocking out much of the wan light.

“Better than having none to help them at all, which is the other option. You won’t dissuade me. That you try is reason enough to continue this path.” The more he tried to argue with her, to change her mind, the more certain Juli grew that her path was right.

“Dissuade. Of course not. You fulfill my plans on your own. Had I known you would’ve gone to war with the Grim on your own, I would’ve just let you—” Serinar paused. “Ah. I see now.”

There were murmurs from the others. The scowl took over Juli’s face. She loathed mind games. This conversation was only giving him an excuse to try to pry at her conviction with them. And it was untouchable. It had to be.

“You lie,” she said coldly. “Everything you might say is a lie or deceit. And we have no more reason to listen.” She lifted her sword alongside her shield, shifting her feet as she prepared to charge. He was a ways off the ground, but with some momentum she could—

“Actually, he’s right,” Kerri said.

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Juli’s first instinct was to assume that she misunderstood, or that Kerri didn’t know what she was talking about, or really anything other than Kerri, who would have no reason to lie, had just agreed with Serinar’s assessment. It was a natural, self-preserving reaction against cognitive dissonance. Everyone did it. Everyone reflexively looked for reasons to continue believing as they did, to defend their position when it was challenged, even if it was grasping at straws until they could invent more support.

But Juli had always had a talent for seeing to the truth of things, including her own motivations. She would never believe something just because she wanted to believe it was true, or because she feared it was true, because it suited her agenda or would not make her question her assumptions or simply scared her too much to consider alternatives. She was always ready to question herself – something that many to whom she only ever showed sureness would not believe.

It was just that she’d never wanted to prove herself to anyone else… just to do the right thing.

Especially as Commander of Sanctuary, where her decisions could mean life or death for those who followed her, or who looked to her for protection. She owed it to not only herself, but all of them, to search herself, to ensure the decisions she made were made with the clearest eyes.

So Juli stopped. “What?” she said.

“The Grim and Sanctuary together are an incredibly formidable force, as you’ve seen in the Hellfire Citadel,” Kerri continued. “He’s right to want to force both groups into war.”

Juli knew that. She knew all that already. And it was beside the point. “It’s inevitable. War between us. The only option is to end it.” The words came out somehow mechanically. Serinar was silent, his gaze focused on Kerri now.

If Kerri agreed that even starting the war now would lead to this future, what was her goal here? What did she gain from making me confront Serinar…?

“Actually,” Naheal said, “There’s something interesting that I’ve been hearing about within the Grim.”

“And what could you possibly know?” Malhavik inquired.

“Dat dere a bunch o’ murderers?” Atal’shi said.

It was all suddenly inane. Juli couldn’t take it anymore. The endless bickering, the losing sight of the ultimate goal, the entirely missing the point. And fueling this sudden snap of patience, the realization she didn’t want to come to. “This... is not... the TIME!” she roared, and charged.

The black dragon suddenly vanished from sight, but the sense of his presence was still there. Juli flung herself at the space he had occupied, but the buffeting wind of his invisible wingbeats pushed her back. Atal’shi’s thrown daggers went wide. Kargron, at Juli’s side immediately, stopped and lowered his axe when it became apparent their quarry had escaped. None of the others had reacted fast enough to Juli’s charge, their caution greater than their bloodlust.

“It’s NOT TRUE!” Juli shouted at the empty air and retreating wingbeats, but then she sank to her knees, her sword and shield slipping out of fingers to find a bed in the sand. It was a last protest, the instinct to protect her conviction giving one last spasm before the resignation of truth took over.

Kerri knew the attack was going to be futile, and that it was in fact just going to start the same war early, ultimately leading to the same result. This result. Serinar’s vengeance wreaked on the world. All the Bronze could hope for was to delay it. That was all Kerri could have hoped to gain here, to show Juli with the most possible certainty what would happen, not only demonstrated around them but backed up by Serinar himself.

It was genius, really, to ensure Juli saw Serinar come to the realization that a little more time had just been bought, illustrated by the last thing he’d said. The subtlest of manipulations to adjust the timeline toward the most optimal path. Even when that path was a dead end. Juli found she did not have the same strength to keep going in the face of the same.

To fight now was to invite destruction. To fall and fight again was to invite the same. And to not fight at all would result in annihilation.

Atal’shi was speaking to her; she didn’t hear the words. Malhavik was commenting with disappointment about the lack of the fight, Kanda grunting in return. And Kargron knelt beside her. “Kargron... you were... right...” Juli said.

His eyes widened, but he didn’t respond to that, turning as Kerri approached. “Is it finished?” he asked her. “I would like to return the Commander to safety as soon as possible.”

“Kerri,” Juli said, gathering herself. “You’re sure…”

Kerri nodded. “This will be your future should you continue this path you’re on.”

“What am I supposed to DO?!” Juli cried, her voice nearly breaking.

Kerri thought for a moment. “When you treat a sick person, what do you do? Treat the symptoms or find the cure?”

Sinlanna and Malhavik were arguing over something by Naheal. Juli shook her head. “You ERADICATE the SICKNESS,” she responded, her voice shaking, but then suddenly froze.

Kex’ti.

Kex’ti was dying, and she couldn’t save him. She was going to lose him to his sickness, and there was nothing she could do. It was the same. In that moment she grasped how desperate she had been for anything resembling a chance, and why.

“You know,” the dragoness was continuing, “there are multiple ways to handle it. Sometimes, it is best to simply treat the symptoms and let the body heal. Sometimes, you can treat the disease itself.”

“You’ve shown me what not to do. Next time, save yourself the effort and just tell me what I should do. If you even know.” Juli certainly didn’t. She kept trying to find an alternate path, anything, and coming up blank. In the back of her mind churned a spiral.

“But you already know what to do,” Kerri said.

Juli couldn’t do this conversation anymore. She couldn’t think about this and let herself get pulled into that spiral. She went over to Naheal to find out what was going on. He’d gotten trapped in some sort of chronomancy spell, but it was shortly sorted out.

Juli said, “We’re done here,” and indicated to her Sanctuary members that it was time to go.

“ANYWAY, as I was going to say,” Naheal said, rubbing his face where Kerri had slapped him, “Juli, you need to call this thing off.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Malhavik said genteelly.

Juli stopped, but didn’t turn around. Kanda and Kargron stopped beside her.

“Something’s going on in the Grim,” Naheal went on. “I don’t know what, exactly, but it could easily be at the core of what started this mess. At least give me some time to figure out just what the fuck is actually going on so we don’t have to end up slaughtering each other.” He was pleading with her by the end.

Juli found herself looking at Kargron. He met her gaze, and nodded once.

Malhavik raised a finger. “I believe I can help with this.”

“Ah am’na speakin’ wit’ a murderer,” Atal’shi said. “Ya talk yaselves t’ deat’. Ah’m goin’ back t’ mah base.”

Something that was almost a shadow passed by, the telltale felfire eye illuminating a shadow as Cobrak walked onto the sands, gait still gimped but managing to walk proudly despite it. “We’s all murderers, troll,” he responded to Atal’shi. How he had gotten here, Juli didn’t know and didn’t care.

“Allow me to be your liaison,” Malhavik said. “You all have shown me that you can be quite the allies here today. Whenever today is.”

Juli was still looking at Kargron. “I didn’t tell you, Kargron,” she said softly. “I was convinced we had to attack because I was told what would happen if we didn’t. And it was this.” She raised her hand in a sweeping gesture, indicating the desolation that surrounded them. He blinked and nodded his head, but said nothing. “But now… Everyone is damned if I do, everyone is damned if I don’t... What do I do?” Her voice was a whisper by the end.

Naheal walked up and puts a hand on her shoulder. “For now, we bide our time. We make a hasty decision, everyone dies.”

Kargron cleared his throat. “This is a decision that is your own. You have time to think over the matter.”

“Fight tha one responsible for this,” Cobrak declared, looking around the ruined future. “I fer one ain’t lettin’ my kid grow in this waste.”

Juli lowered her head, and was silent for a moment. Then she spoke.

“Malhavik,” she said. The warlock obligingly approached her. She looked at him, level and bitter. “Tell Awatu. Tell everyone. I am revoking my plans to attack you and yours. You can see what good it would do.”

“Wonderful news!” he exclaimed. “I shall convey the message with the surest of joy.”

“Now get the fuck away from me,” Juli said.

The warlock hesitated, seemingly taken aback, then moved away. Naheal looked at her.

“Julilee, I’d like to make use of Sanctuary’s resources for a while longer. Would you mind keeping your guild in Borrowed Time’s garrison for the time being?”

“I’ll discuss it with you back at garrison.” She looked at those beside her. “Let’s go,” she said, and left to return to a world not yet destroyed.

Yet.

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