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Kexti

Quorum: Meridian

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“Hoi, Rylie,” said the monk.

Rylie looked up at Kex’ti and smiled. She had a book in her lap. "Hi! I was studying and it's nice out, so I thought I'd sit out here."

He returned the smile, and leaned against the balcony.

“I see. What are you studying today?”

Rylie rolled her eyes with a little smile. "Math homework. It's boring. I'm done with everything else for today, though."

Kex’ti nodded. The human girl stood to walk over and lean on the balcony, peering out.

“I was never much for sums myself...” he began, before Rylie chimed in.

“Are we still having a meeting, soon?”

He smirked in reply.

Rylie beamed at Kex'ti. "I'm getting a lot better with my orcish! I can understand most things, now."

***

The elf held Rylie close. She was sitting in her room on her bed, her forehead resting to her knees. She hadn't slept at all that night, and had cried through most of it.

“I am not going to let you get hurt. You are very strong, and now you need to be very brave, Rylie. I know you can do it. Okay?”

Rylie wrapped her arms around Kexti in a hug and buried her face in his shoulder, which immediately became damp with her tears. She mumbled something incoherently. He rubbed the back of her head. “I know...I know. I am sorry. But we will fix this.

“I promise.”

"It's not your fault." She managed. "But…I thought it was safe here..."

***

He smiled at Rylie. “Good. Your training is coming along well enough as well. I hope it is not too much of a distraction from your studies...I know Julilee thinks that it is important.”

Rylie shook her head.

"No, it's not too much. ‘Cause I have my tutor early in the day, then I do my monk training. Then homework at night."

“I suppose so,” he said with a smirk. He looked out over the balcony, at the snows below. He rubbed his beard.

“What are you thinking about?” she said, looking up at him, rocking on her heels.

“Just that I wonder what other challenges await in the near future.”

“So what kind of meeting is this going to be?”

“Just...to discuss recent events.”

Rylie nodded, blissfully ignorant of any 'events' beyond her studies and training in Dalaran. Again, he smiled.

***

“I am so sorry, Rylie. I...I should have been there. It should be safe here. You are right,” he said. He clenched his teeth, trying not to draw his gaze to the sigil floating before her. Trying to tell her to be brave. His mind raced through what he should have done differently. “That creature impersonated Taozhu. And...” The words were so many, that spoke so little.

“I am so sorry,” he mustered.

"I thought it was Breygrah. And before that I thought it was Taozhu but it was really that demon. So how do I ever know who's really who they look

like? How do I know you're really Kex’ti?"

Kex’ti held the girl at arm's length. He put a hand on each of her shoulders, twisting to face her head on, both of their legs over the edge of the bed.

“I am me. I promise. And I am not going to let you get hurt.”

The girl looked at Kex'ti then ducked her head again. The sigil hung just above her head, always in her peripheral vision and an ever present reminder of the clock that was ticking.

***

Kriga ambled his way out of the stairwell and onto the balcony. He tried a growl, but it emerged as a feline mew. The troll emerged from his shapeshifting, eliciting a giggle from Rylie.

“Are you sure you want to be here for this? You are within your rights, though it might be a bit disturbing.”

Faelenor flew up to the balcony. Breygrah came out behind Kriga, and planted her back firmly against the wall, her shield making an awkward bulge.

“Hoi, friends,” the monk said.

Rylie looked at him. "Disturbing? No. I want to be here. I can handle it, if it's disturbing. Plus, I should know, right? Maybe I can help…somehow."

***

“Someone who can help is coming,” said the monk. A guardsman rang a rune in the hallway. The monk tapped back in reply, a vague commotion like a cracking whip echoing through the stone.

"Come up,” he said, turning back to his apprentice. “But I need you to be brave. I know you can be.”

The woman had been recommended by Borrowed Time. And, in the light of recent events, he swallowed his pride to accept help. He wished Ninorra, or even Darrethy were around. Just…someone he knew. Or, knew in their magical capacity, rather than Ophnnia’s primary profession.

The aforementioned woman entered with her entourage, looking about the Sanctuary base, her succubi flank her as she traipses about. The monk’s arm around the girl was a barrier, what little protection he could give now.

Rylie knew she needed to be brave. In truth, she was miserable. But she rubbed her eyes hard and sat up a little straighter, looking at the woman who entered with a demon, trying to ignore the glowing sign above her.

“You can fix this?” he asked, then switched to Thalassian. “Please. Tell me you can fix this.”

Ophinnia snapped her fingers, the demons staying outside the room as she enters. There is a smile on her face as she leans down to Rylie, "Hello my dear...I hear you have a problem!" The Madame kneeled down to lean at eye-level to the girl.

Rylie looked between the two.

***

Kex’ti assessed the three who had arrived.

“Hoi, Brey, Kriga, Faelenor. How do you all fare?

Rylie looked at people gathering. "Should we go inside?"

Breygrah just nodded her head in response. Kex’ti returned the expression. He hadn’t spoken to her since the events in Thousand Needles. But, for

Konro to have returned, and vanished…The whiplash was something she would need time to work through.

“I think I like the air out here a bit better,” said the elf.

“Ay kex, ah be good mon you?” said Kriga.

“Well enough,” he replied, and turned to the newcomer, whose undead griffon departed as swiftly as it arrived. A snowy-skinned and haired blood elf long into her training as a death knight. “Dessim. Welcome.”

“Kex'ti Delilah?”

“Dalendala.”

Faelenor stepped off his floating carpet and snapped his fingers. Instantly the carpet folded itself up and fells. The Sin’dorei caught and put it in his satchel.

“Will Amalyn be attending?” asked the monk.

“I do hope she can make it...she had some business to attend to back home but hopefully...”

Dessim broke from the conversation and mimicked Breygrah, an easier position for her own lack of a shield. Rylie waived shyly to the gathering Sanctuary members and their guests.

“Has everyone met? I know Dessim is a new face...”

“I haven't met anyone here,” said Rylie.

***

Rylie looked at Ophinnia and then at Kex'ti. The monk gave the girl's shoulder a squeeze.

The normally intimidating mistress let down her dominatrix aura as she extended a hand, "My name is Ophinnia, I am a friend of Cobrak's...He asked me to help you."

Rylie’s eyes flickered at mention of the name. "Chief..?" She reached out, slowly shaking the woman's hand.

Ophinnia took it daintily and smirked at Kex'ti, but keeps her attention on Rylie, "Indeed, your Chief is very concerned for your well-being..." She titters, "Now then..."

A flare of rage boiled in Kex’ti’s stomach at the lightness at which this woman would come into his home and taunt him, even as his…even as Rylie was frightened, and defenseless, and he faced his inability to protect the girl when she needed him most, where she was supposed to be safest.

***

Kex’ti patted the girl on the back.

“This is Rylie Tattersail, friends. She is our ward.”

Rylie might have appeared a surprise to anyone who hadn't heard. The girl was actually a human child, about 12 years old. She spoke in Orcish, but haltingly, still learning the language. Despite Kex’ti’s best efforts to dress her like a young elf, her features too square and ears too rounded to really deliver on the lie.

Nonetheless, Faelenor smiled softly at Rylie. With a soft tone he addressed her. "I have a daughter that looks to be a bit younger then you. Perhaps I should bring her along next time."

Kex’ti smiled, relieved, and a bit hopeful to have another child in the garrison for her to play with.

Rylie smiled happily at Faelenor. "I'd like to meet her." She sat against the railing, drawing another book into her lap as she listened.

Dessim glanced around, her eyes lingered on Rylie before moving on to Kex'ti. “I've little to add beyond what I've found."

“I believe we are almost assembled,” said Kex’ti.

Faelenor looked back up at Kex'ti. "She is to be Sanctuary's ward then? Or is she staying with you?"

“Thank you all for coming,” said Kex’ti, “And yes, Rylie is living in quarters in the garrison.

“She is a member of Sanctuary,” he said, trying to sidestep the question.

***

Despite the offense he took, he kept his composure.

Ophinnia saw the fear in the girl's eye, and looked up at the floating sigil. "Hmm, my word...you must be quite the threat to the Legion if they did this to you! Hah! The coward was too afraid to face you in combat I wager!"

Ophinnia laughed at Rylie. Kex’ti appreciated the gesture, and he took a breath.

Rylie was quiet. She tried to smile, but it faltered. "Can you get rid of it?"

“She will indeed be very, very strong some day. And I know that she will reach that day,” said the monk.

Ophinnia’s smile still bears, "Unfortunately I cannot remove it entirely without risking your soul, child...but...I can tamper with it, so whoever did this may not hold this leash upon you..."

The monk looked at the human, and then the woman. He took a sharp breath.

“Anything. Please. Don't let my girl come to harm,” he said.

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Faelenor nodded to Julilee as she joined the assembly. Laxelle followed at waist height. The two women looked around at the gathering. The goblin fumbled with her glasses.

“Hoi, Commander.”

Julilee greeted Rylie and Kex’ti with an easily returned smile. Breygrah watched the exchange.

"Julilee..." Faelenor said. He turned to face the Commander and gave a half bow.

“Faelenor,” said Julilee.

“Laxelle,” said Kex’ti, before turning to the armored tauren. “Breygrah, is...Freah still in your care?”

Breygrah nodded slightly. "She has been with my father, since... I found out what happened. But yes."

“Eep! Sir Kex'ti, hello!” Laxelle said with a salute. Kex’ti saw that most of those who were going to come had arrived, cemented as Kanda too walked up the stairs.

“There are many faces here, new and old. I believe the Commander once said that Sanctuary is a place we can all return to. I think this gathering holds that to be evident.”

***

“Now then, let me have a good look at it...and I shall see what I can do,” Ophinnia tittered. She noted the looks of fear on the two other’s faces. “Oh, do not worry your pretty head, I have been subduing demons and their magic long before the both of you were born I imagine. Time is all I need, and I can grant that.”

Rylie nodded and turned her head away, hiding her face from them. It wasn't what she wanted to hear. Rylie kept a lot inside up until now, but this pushed her to her breaking point.

“Ap bup bup,” Ophinnia took her riding crop and lays it under Rylie's chin, forcing her to look at the Madame. Kex’ti had never displayed the restraint he did in not pummeling her, the expression callous and subjugating, even as the woman was here to help.

“Now then, my dear...Allow me to show you something...”

All the monk was capable of doing was giving her shoulder a squeeze, hoping to keep the two of them from breaking down now.

“Laszhere, Drusvina, come in here.”

Rylie allowed her head to be turned back, and she looked at the woman. But her head snaked over to find Kex'ti's, and held tightly to him.

Ophinnia’s two succubi enter as Ophi stands, "Allow me to share some advice with you child....Demons are weak, pathetic creatures."

Kex’ti grit his teeth at the creatures.

“It is okay to be scared, Rylie. Nobody is saying that you cannot be. But it is the determination to move past it that is the brave part,” he said. “I won't let you get hurt. I will do whatever I must to make sure this is made right.”

Rylie glanced up at Kex'ti and nodded to him…then she eyed the succubi.

***

Kex’ti leaned against his staff.

“Shokkra and Baern are currently on assignment, or they too would be here,” he said, noting the conspicuous absence of the two more recently active members of the guild. He took a breath, and began.

“So. The business at hand. As some of you may be aware, a ruthless group of conspirators in service to unknown masters seek to subjugate and disrupt the good order of mortals all across Azeroth.”

Breygrah frowned. Laxelle gulped. Julilee nodded. Dessim drummed her fingers along the files she held under her arm.

“They focus on infiltration, and subversion, and by sowing distrust among friends and allies. This group, to my knowledge, is called the Quorum. Whose interests, if any, they represent, is ambiguous.”

Rylie tried to be as quiet as possible as she flipped through the pages of her language book. She didn't know anyof these words!

“Though, here is what we have gathered, between Borrowed Time, Sanctuary, and Twilight Empire. They use fel magic and demonology, to corrupt those who feel alienated and alone. They seek mysterious devices to tear asunder the barriers between worlds.

“And, so it seems, they have developed a poison called Wreave. Dessim, our new friend, is here to discuss that particular matter.

Kex’ti continued briefly as Dessim drew out her files. Faelenor and Julilee began to study the death knight.

“The conspiracy connects to the Silver Sickness. Perhaps even Accalia.

“They know no faction divide.”

***

“They feed on weakness...so....one must be strong....Prove yourself their better...”

Ophinnia lashed and struck her succubus' back with her crop, letting it fade away to the Nether.

“Do not let this weaken you, draw strength from this ordeal,” said Madame Ophinnia. “Or they have already won.” She knelt down before the girl.

Rylie nodded at Ophinnia, knowing she was right. "Okay. I'll try."

Ophinnia smiled. "Good girl, smart and tough...oh a prize you have here," she said, turning to Kex’ti.

“The Light blessed us by bringing her into our lives. I...just wish I could have stopped this. I should have stopped this.”

Rylie looked at Kex'ti. "It isn't your fault! Julilee and Faelnor and Sinlanna were there…they couldn't stop it, either."

The woman’s hands hovered about the child's head, inspecting the sigil. She snapped a finger, "Drusvina...my components..." She says, before looking to Kex'ti, "Wishing and fairy dust, if only we all could survive on those...Help by finding who did this."

Rest assured,” he said.

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“Dessim, you have the floor,” Kex’ti said with a smirk. The woman nodded and took a quick breath.

"Wreave is a hot new narcotic that has gotten a foothold in Stormwind notably but they have moved on to Horde cities as well. The drug itself is not so much of a rush as a comfortable reminder. The feeling of warmth, being sated, being full... It's geared towards the undead but it effects all. Highly addictive with awful withdrawal symptoms, even a single dose can be enough to break the will of a user. With the loss of one of their production facilities, the number of addicts is becoming clear. This problem was much worse than we originally thought.”

Julilee frowned, and looked over to Kex’ti. He nodded as Faelenor began to jot down notes.

“The Grim and Twilight Empire were both...involved with the site's destruction,” added the monk.

“To top it all off, the addicts they make are being used for unknown purposes. I busted an operation in Booty Bay that was rounding them up to be shipped elsewhere.”

“Who is making this?” Breygrah asked from her position on the wall.

“As of right now... I do not know. But I suspect they have ties with the Legion.”

Sanctuary had faced down a Dreadlord who planned to corrupt a tribe of Grimtotem. The thought of the Legion’s hands reaching out to other hungry, desperate people came as no surprise, save for the time it took to come to the necessary conclusion.

Rylie frowned in concern, as she listened. Most of the conversation was above her head- her grasp of the Orcish language was not yet that advanced. But the tone was clear, and she was able to follow enough to get the gist of it. The elven monk placed a hand gently on Rylie’s head and smiled. It was small comfort. But it was comfort.

***

“Good man,” said Ophinnia.

“I think the demon said he wanted something…” Rylie began before turning her eyes to the succubus Drusvina. The creature offered several strange, demonic-looking tools and etching about Ophinnia, and she begins the process of rewriting the fel rune. It almost looked like picking a lock, the scriptings tumblers.

The Madame’s licked lips as she worked. Diligently, precisely, never once shifting from her task as every move is calculated. Her breath finally released itself, and she leaned back away from the rune.

"...I all can do for now."

The monk looked at the girl, fighting against the angry tears waiting to sluice forth. When he spoke, he spoke quietly.

"Thank you."

“Thank me by allowing me the chance to torment the demon who did this....perhaps an eternity within a soulshard,” Ophinnia laughed. “As it can be...the demon cannot remotey activate the sigil now.”

Kex’ti’s expression hardens, and he taps his staff against his shoulder.

“There is still a time limit upon it however,” Ophinnia continued. “Eredun is a strange language...the time set for two days translate as 'two moons', what I have done is rewrite it to 'two moon renewals.' meaning we have a month or so at the most.”

“I assure you it will not take nearly that time.”

“What if he finds me and puts on a new one?” asked Rylie. The monk looked into the girl’s eyes, and his hand wrenched tightly around his staff.

“He won't.”

***

“Have you been able to acquire any of this Wreave?” asked Faelenor.

Dessim held out a folder for Breygrah, and then another for Laxelle. Breygrah's was labeled "subject 001" while the other was labeled "Subject 002"

“I have.”

Breygrah wrinkled her nose a bit before taking the folder and opening it.

“So then you have started the process of reverse engineering the drug?” asked the ranger.

“Subject 001. Codnamed "Shepherd" A succubi in disguise was found attracting broken addicts to be shipped off to parts unknown. It had access to destructive magic similar to that of a warlock... What's worse is a subtle spell of mental assault.”

Laxelle looked over in the folder, mumbling as she looked through the autopsy jargon.

“The drug has been created from blindweed, kingsblood, bloodvine, and the blood of Hakkar,” added the monk. Faelenor nodded. “Based on notes from Twilight Empire, it is a powerful stimulant...”

Breygrah considered the contents of the drug, and blinked. Kex’ti coughed and took a sip from his jug. Julilee cast a look at him, and went to lean against the railing nearby. Faelenor jotting down notes again. He looks up as Kexti coughs and peers at him.

“Wow. This is no joke, look at those numbers...” said Laxelle.

Subject 001's folder contained several photos of a succubi undergoing an autopsy including the wound that ended it, the damage to its heart, and several photos of its intact corpse and opened cavity.

“The succubi, or "Shepherd" is capable of attracting people in a way that is not readily known,” said Dessim, forging onward.

“Are you...ill?” asked Faelenor, looking toward Kex’ti.

Kex’ti waved dismissively as the fit subsided. “To any with a background in alchemy, bloodvine is though to be an extinct Gurubashi herb. So...how and where the Quorum found it, is unknown.”

“It can be subsituted though...” said Faelenor.

“It produces a small feeling of euphoria... A fluttering stomach, bunching guts, and a heavy heartbeat not uncommon with a "first crush." Simply put, you don't know WHY you want to be near that thing, but you know that you DO.

She paused.

“It's strong... Strong enough to even draw someone like me”

“It has only recently come to my attention that it has arrived on Horde shores. Do you know how long it has been in circulation? I know that the Alliance is particularly hard hit,” said Kex’ti, drawing a few nods, a few shaken heads.

“I don't... It was already circulating before I was made aware of its presence.”

“Oh no, I hope this junk doesn't hit the Exodar anytime soon,” added Laxelle. “Taint a draenei enough and boom! Eredar!”

“Subject 002, The mutant, is the real problem I imagine,” the knight said.

“More importantly, do you know where it started and where it was spread to?” asserted Faelenor.

Brey couldn’t easily listen to the conversation and look over the contents of the folder. She closed it for now to just pay attention to what is being said.

The file showed a dissected human, a human that looks about halfway between mortal and demon. Horn nubs were sprouting from its forehead, tiny undersized wings were forming on its back and its toes were scrunching up and calcifying into what looked like hooves.

Julilee frowned at the picture.

***

The girl looked up at the monk.

Ophinnia smirked devilishly, "Well then, he is in for quite the shock!"

“Why?”

“Well, for you will not be there, I worked in a small summoning rune within it. Should he tamper with it, it will instead teleport you to my mansion...far from his grip.”

“Where is your mansion?”

“Quel'thalas, dear, have you ever been?”

Rylie shook her head.

“Would you like to?” Kex’ti asked. Kex’ti smiled, just a little.

“Well then! Now you can actually look forward to seeing that demon again! It will mean you get a free vacation,” Ophinnia laughed.

Rylie giggled. Just a little.

“There's a good girl,” said Ophinnia, and clapped her hands together.

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“Subject 002 is what we believe to be a Wreave addict after consuming too much,” Dessim said. “The corruption is obvious but what's more is the development it incurs.”

Thankfully Rylie wasn’t in position to see it.

“I'm not sure if the mutant I apprehended was a victim of an imperfect strain or merely arrested during a certain stage of its development... In any case, they appear to be changing some addicts into additional minions.”

Laxelle nibbled at a fingernail, "This is...absolutely terrifying! Look at the solidification of the demonic exoskin! It shouldn't be happening at that rate!"

Kex’ti gripped his staff and drew out a letter from his belt.

“Dis drug wreave make host blood inta sumtin' like wreave?” Kriga asked.

“I’ve no idea,” Dessim said, shaking her head. Julilee’s gaze passed between Kriga and Dessim.

“Are these subjects still in your lab, Ms. Dessim?” asked the goblin.

“From what I've been told. The substance used -in- wreave was a blend of herbs... As well as essence from varying spirits to act as a catalyst... No.”

“I'd like to offer a follow-up autopsy and experiment,” said Laxelle.

“As of yesterday Subject 001 was transferred to the care of the Grim while Subject 002 was given to Borrowed Time for further analysis.”

Kex’ti narrowed his eyes at the second mention. They had heard nothing of this.

“Katelle of Twilight Empire has found some...additional disturbing findings,” said Kex’ti, holding out the letter.

“Darn,” muttered the goblin.

“Apparently a group called White Hound Industries is responsible for shipping Wreave to numerous locations.”

“So we do know where the origination of horde distribution came from...good,” asked Faelenor.

“Yes, Booty Bay,” said the monk.

“Though there are currently dealers in Orgrimmar as well,” added Dessim.

“Apparently the group shipped out a shipment of the drugs, and was attacked en route by pirates I should mention that it was an act of...air piracy, with products heading to Razor Hill. The group enlisted a more practical shipping means, and packed the Wreave into bottles of rum.”

Julilee folded her arms, and leaned against the railing.

“When the sailboat was in the process of shipping, a creature that seemed demonic appeared out of a blue mist. The wounds it left behind were...very similar to those caused by the Silver Sickness. I know that is a bit of a strange name, but rest assured it was a curse conjured to prevent the use of mana.”

The monk coughed.

“Or, rather, to prevent it from being used without contagion or great suffering. It occurred a few months back,” he added. “There are some disturbing connections between Wreave, these demons, and the Silver Sickness.”

“So with ties to demonic forces, and potentially other mysterious forces at hand...what is our mission statement?” Faelenor said.

Kex’ti nodded.

“We are going to ally ourselves with Twilight Empire for a strike on the central distribution site. I believe a dreadlord is responsible.”

He looked down at the ground, as if considering his next words very carefully.

“Where will this be?” Breygrah interjected.

“Booty Bay. Or nearby.”

“I'd like permission to visit the Borrowed Time HQ to help them study this cadaver,” said Laxelle.

“The...A phrase occured frequently. Tin-Dalos. Does that mean anything to anyone?”

Breygrah shook her head. Julilee frowned, and Laxelle fumbled with her glasses. The others too, made gestures of denial.

“Afraid not,” Dessim said in her hollow tone.

“…And one of the documents Twilight Empire recovered was written in Shath'yar. A language of the Old Cults. The Legion and Twilight Cult are...unusual bedfellows. But it begs the question of why? And how?”

“Have we sent anyone to scout out what sort of horrors we could face?”

“Twilight Empire is on reconnaissance, as are Baern and Shokkra….Borrowed Time also has other information.”

Kex’ti looked around.

“But, more on the Wreave. The Grim have obtained a few samples of the poison. They wish for our aid to develop a cure, or at very least detoxification method. They are willing to distribute it to both factions.”

Julilee blinked, and Rylie frowned up at the elf.

“Oh that's good.” Laxelle said.

“Don't be surprised. This is a worldwide threat, if even one side is infected all it does is benefit this new cult,” Dessim said.

“I reserve the right to be surprised anytime the Grim put something above their Mandate.”

“It bears mentioning that the dreadlord, Borgorei, that impersonated Konro, was responsible for sending the Grim into combat with Twilight Empire. It may be that they believe they are serving the Mandate by punishing those who duped him,” Kex’ti said with a smirk.

“In any case, having some sort of contingency plan should that not be the case...” said Faelenor.

“And while the Grim are self-serving...I would never consider this option had I not given through to keeping copies of the research.”

***

“Thank you...” said the girl, not necessarily relieved.

“Oh nonsense, this was purely for my own amusement, I enjoyed foiling the plots of those fel-hoarding buffoons. Now then, remember, strength my dear,” said Ophinnia.

Rylie nodded as Ophinnia laughed.

Kex’ti gave Rylie’s shoulder a squeeze. Rylie smiled to him.

“Thank you, Ms. Ophinnia,” said Kex’ti.

“Madame, if you will,” she said, smiling.

Kex’ti eyes move between Rylie and the Madame.

“Rylie, I want to talk to you when Madame Ophinnia leaves.”

***

“And, for truth or lies, the Grim want to help the Horde,” said the monk.

Julilee nodded. She turned and spoke to Laxelle.

“Laxelle, you have permission to collaborate with borrowed Time. I'll speak to Cobrak.

“And if they don't... There are alternatives to their research,” said Dessim.

“And with that in mind, we can help Twilight Empire, as they need our alchemical expertise and knowledge.

“I have been working extensively with Katelle of Twilight Empire.”

“It is better to put three forces to work investigating,” Kex’ti said, rubbing his beard. “Now, I am certain there are many questions.”

Rylie bit her lip and looked down at her book.

Laxelle saluted.

“Of course...” Kex’ti began to say. “Please ask. We will continue our hunt for relics in the meanwhile. But for the present time, dismantling the Quorum is a demanding, central task.” He looked to Julilee.

“For all of us,” as he glanced down at the human child.

Rylie was looking down at her book.

***

“Okay,” she responded to Kex’ti’s request.

“Ah, I see, used my services and away I go,” smiled Ophinnia. The monk smirked, some semblance of levity returning to his expression. “Such a cad this man.”

“Well, Shokkra seems to be having fun,” he said, eliciting a laugh from Ophinnia and a questioning look from Rylie.

“Thank you. Truly. I am in your debt,” he nodded.

“Oh yes, you should come see her sometime. She works wonderfully.”

“What does Shokkra do?” asked the girl.

“Well then! I must store that favor away for later.”

Kex’ti rubbed his eyes. “No, no, I think not.”

Ophinnia giggled, "She entertains people, darling."

Kex’ti let the issue drop.

“Ta-ta for now, do take care.”

“We will be in touch, friend. Thank you,” he said, with all the humility he could muster. Rylie waved goodbye, and Kex’ti held out his hand.

“Let us make you something to eat.”

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“Relics?” asked Dessim.

“It is a bit of an open secret that Sanctuary is seeking dangerous items and creations to prevent their use, or at least catalogue their locations.”

Faelenor raised his eyebrow inquisitively at Kex’ti. “I have missed much then...” Kex’ti passed a nod towards the ranger.

“You have come here in good faith. I think knowing, at least, is a right you have earned,” said the monk to the knight. “I can give you more information later.” He turned towards Faelenor, who acknowledged the statement with a nod.

Dessim shrugged and settled back against the wall

“With that said, have any of these cataloged relics shown that they could perhaps be used to fight this...?” Faelenor stopped the question with a raise of his hand.

Sanctuary turned towards Kex’ti.

“We have defeated monsters and gods. Sanctuary will not let our world fall to those who hide behind others.”

A few nodded in agreement. Rylie looked up at Kex'ti. "Will The Grim come here..?"

Kex’ti shook his head. “No. The Grim will not be using Sanctuary facilities.” Rylie nodded somberly.

“Aw gee. Why not, you all have so much in common.” Dessim’s voice dripped sarcasm.

Kex’ti smirked. “So then, any questions, now that Rylie has broken the ice?”

“We be need preparin' fo' war?”

“Always,” said Julilee.

“Commander, any words or orders?” asked Kex’ti with a smile.

“Yes... This Silver Sickness...as it is tied closely with the Quorum...is it safe to assume th—“

Faelenor again stepped back and held his hand out to forgo the question. Julilee, however gestured for him to continue.

“Is it safe to assume that we will be facing it during our operation and...are we prepared for it?”

Kex’ti rubbed his beard. “I...do not have a certain answer for that. I do not know how the Silver Sickness is involved, but to my knowledge it was not weaponized. It was contagious through portal magic, primarily, rather than person to person.”

“Hm...Alright...” he said.

“And so far it seems as though all afflicted were cured when the source was found and destroyed.”

“Some sort of mage's experiment gone wrong...”

“Breather masks,” said Dessim.

“Wreave is airborne, correct?”

“That is not good...” Breygrah frowned.

“Once agitated it foams and releases some sort of vapor into the air. You snort that for the maximum effect. They get a tub of that and release the vapors in the middle of a battle there could be issues later.”

“For now...” began Julilee. “Everyone, please move with caution. Keep asn eye out for things that are strange....r than usual, anyway. And we will be meeting with Twilight Empire soon to coordinate a forceful response.”

“Chances are...those that are manufacturing it will be either immune or immunized to its effects,” said Faelenor.

“Just be aware of strangers you desperately want to know better and orcs offering a 'pick-me-up,’” said Dessim.

The assembled group looked down at their stones as a cry for help rang out.

In future years, in his private moments, Kex’ti would reflect that this would be the moment the fight against the Legion began to affect him on a very personal level.

***

Rylie turned and looked at Kex'ti. She didn't feel very hungry, but she nodded anyway.

They headed down to the kitchen. Kex’ti put together two trays of freshly cooked things. He added fish to make it seem like a meal, but it’s really about the donuts and milk. He carried the two trays up the stairs. Kex’ti walked out to the balcony of the tower and tooks a seat.

“Thank you, Kex'ti,” she said quietly. She nibbled the edge of her pastry and took a drink of milk.

“I want you to know something, Rylie.”

Rylied picked at her food, and looked at him.

“I promise you. You will be okay. Do you know how I know this?” He smiled to her.

“No, How?”

***

The stone crackled and rasped. “H...h...ha.lp...*hack.*”

“Taozhu?” said Rylie, looking between the stone and the monk.

“Taozhu? Where are you?” asked Julilee.

“D...”

She turned to look at Kex’ti.

“Can we locate him?” he asked.

“Taozhu!” cried Rylie. "What's wrong with him?"

Breygrah had not been watching her stone. “What is happening? ...Taozhu?”

Julilee spoke quickly. “Thank you Dessim. There’s an internal matter we have to take care of.” The human girl continued to look pleadingly at Kex’ti.

“We will find out,” he said.

Laxelle fumbled with her stone, "Oh my! Was that Mr. Tao?!"

“Spread out. He might be here in the city,” said the Commander.

They rushed to their mounts, and begin to spread out swiftly over the city.

***

“ I...have an illness. I have mentioned it to you rarely. It is why I drink my medicine,” He said, holding up his jug. “When I was your age, or perhaps a little older...Well. I know how it can feel, when you think...you are aware, that the worst is going to happen. Or that it even could. ”

Rylie listened to him, paying close attention. Her eyes met his, at that.

“If I made it through okay, I know you will too.”

“I'm just really scared.”

He smirked, just a bit.

“One of the first expressions I ever learned in Orcish is that ‘it is okay to be scared, it means you care, for it is the heart of the very word.’ It also means you can face, and overcome that fear. That is part of the training I am giving to you. Because Julilee and I are not perfect. We cannot ever prevent you from being afraid. But I hope we can give you the tools you need to face that fear.” He smiled to her.

“And, I promise you, I am going to teach you a defense against even this type of magic.

“But...that can wait until tomorrow. Right now, I just want to make sure you know that you *are* safe here. And that we care about you very much.”

He took a deep, staggering breath and rubbed at his eyes with the back of his gauntlet. Rylie looked at him gratefully. Her eyes communicated more than her words ever could.

“And I'm going to kill the thing that would dare threaten my family.”

Rylie grinned a little at his intensity, her lips forming a strangely familiar partial-smile.

“Come here, little monk,” he said. He gave her a great big hug and scooped her off the ground. She moved a foot out of the way to avoid spilling her milk.

Rylie giggled. She hugged him back, just as tightly. "Thanks, Kex’ti."

He just tried to keep calm. To keep this precious girl close to him. To keep his promise. It had scared him too.

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