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Kexti

Quorum: The Finest Hour

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They gathered in Orgrimmar, the air around them thick with tension. Kex’ti nods to Julilee, and waves T’suro over. Shokkra landed, and kept her wyvern at her side. Cerryan, Taozhu, Lohd, and others drew near. They came in all their armor, their magic and bravery, their expressions solemn and self-convicted.

The Quorum’s actions had led to this as much as Sanctuary’s. First, Borgorei had fallen. Then Hagriddan, and Tin-Dalos, and Sophistra after. It was believed that Twilight Empire had struck the blow against the fifth member, Mor’ghalas.

The conspiracy of dreadlords stretched far and wide, and there were no depths the creatures would not dredge to exploit the vulnerable, to profane the sacred, and to violate and obfuscate whatever alliances and peace that had begun to emerge in the wake of Garrosh’s defeat. The fallen Warchief’s saga had drawn Sanctuary to Draenor, and under leadership new and faces old, struck out against the forces of the Iron Horde and then the Burning Legion.

The Quorum’s actions were uncovered by a scholar of the Cataclysm, who in his madness made leaps in logic and conclusions that no sane mortal could grasp. Connections so mean and so sparse as to be no connection at all. This man, Anters, disappeared without a trace. In his passing, he left behind a series of notes collected and assembled so as to paint a broad conspiracy encompassing kingdoms and warlords, mages and paupers.

As far as Sanctuary knew, Anters had never been found. Borrowed Time shared a few notes with the guild, and from there Sanctuary engaged in its own investigations, which lead them across the world in search of foes.

The Quorum had developed poisons to turn desperate victims of war into degenerate demons, they had engineered proxy cults to bend the very geometry and politics of cities into their machinations. There was no target too lowly to corrupt, no order and no government immune to infiltration.

A group of dreadlords could be called a conspiracy in the same way that a group of crows might be called a murder. This conspiracy, in both sense, came to a head in the form of a female dreadlord named Xelkorak. Though certainly one of the Nathrezim, this creature bore the guise of an elf, albeit one stained by darkness far beyond what could be expected of a night elf, while possessing the sophistication and delicacy of the quel’dorei.

And she had played the other dreadlords, and perhaps the people of Azeroth, for fools. Adding to insult, she built her lair in a portal system beneath the sewers of Dalaran, hiding behind front after seedy front. It was Baern and Kriga’s investigations that eventually found the Beast in Repose, a horrific edifice dedicated to illicit and horrific vice.

Xelkorak’s demesne was a temple-sized structure floating in the void of the Twisting Nether. Cultists and demons of all varieties roamed the tome and art-lined halls. A trove of plundered relics and ancient fragments of yore surrounded her in the group’s final engagement.

As the dreadlord crumbled, she revealed the plan she had set in motion: from the very beginning, Xelkorak had seeded information that would inevitably guide the investigators and mad to her erstwhile allies.

The question, which remained vaguely unanswered, was why.

It was in the wake of this confusion that Sanctuary set to work in determining the ramifications of Xelkorak’s seemingly suicidal gestures. While sense remained distant, it was discovered that Xelkorak had used a bit of the other’s plans to construct a doomsday scenario. Not one that would end the world instantly, but that slowly, and surely, it would drive Azeroth’s inhabitants to bestial psychosis and doom.

Xelkorak had bound her soul to four “anchors” arranged at various points where the Emerald Dream’s border to the material plane was thin. And then, she used the Infernal Machine discovered by Borrowed Time to lash the anchors to several other domains, all to increase the range and potency of her dark, final rites.

Worse, each of the four anchors needed to be broken in unison, or the lingering presence of Xelkorak’s soul could simply reassert dominance over the demiplane.

The locations had been charted.

Their allies had been recruited.

And, in the dark woods, destiny awaited.

***

Julilee looked at the monk, and nodded in acknowledgement, studying those who had managed to arrive. Only a few would be crossing the barrier into the Twilight Realm where Xelkorak waited.

Shokkra saluted the officers as she arrived; Julilee, Kex’ti, and Cerryan. “Commander, Janissary.” She sniffed the air.

“I’m getting used to having you at my side, Shokkra,” said Julilee.

“Uh, thank you? Commander?” said Shokkra, cracking her neck.

Kex’ti smirked at the orc before turning to Baern and Kriga. “Likewise, we could not have come this far without your reconnaissance, friends.”

The stoic tauren nodded. A single greatsword hung over his back, his other weapon hung up. Baern had claimed that the experiences among the Grimtotem had taught him that he was growing too old to simply charge into battle without regard to his well-being. Too, he had a tribe he needed to guide, if not lead directly.

Kriga crouched to his haunches, catlike. He grabbed the red Orgrimmar soil between his fingers. “’Dere be a great darkness brewing ‘ere, mon. But we fight it back, ey mon?”

Kex’ti nodded, and turned to regard the other arrivals. “Hoi, T’suro, Shokkra. Taozhu”

Julilee too noticed the Pandaren. "Taozhu."

Taozhu hobbled along, stumbling. "H-hello! Salutations my friends!" He somehow had acquired a new set of legs. Kex’ti commented as such. As did Shokkra.

“Hey Lieutenant, nice legs,” said the orc.

Taozhu lifted his robe, revealing some form of constructed appendage. Living crystal made up legs of stone. Kex’ti grinned, and Julilee nodded. “Takes...some getting used to,” Taozhu said.

“Well, Taozhu, it is certainly brilliant,” Kex’ti said with a smirk.

“Should've used swords instead,” said Shokkra, “Sword legs.”

“Your determination is surely up to the task. Your optimism never seems to falter, Taozhu,” said Julilee, turning her attention to Lohd. “Lohd.”

Shokkra looked at, eyed, then waved to Lohd, in his roc form, nested on one of the pillars in the Valley of Honor. He preened, and a few mottled feathers fell to the ground.

“It always helps to stand up in the face of adversity,” said Taozhu, turning to regard the bird. Julilee shook her head, but there was a faint curve on her lips.

Julilee looked around. “I believe these are all our forces for tonight.”

Kex’ti nodded and the others gathered around. Only a small team would be going through the portal, while the others would stand watch on the outside, both to keep the gateway from collapsing and to avoid any ambushes.

“Should be able to manage,” said Shokkra. She popped the cork from a vial and chugged it. She snarled.

“Everyone, stick close together. We don’t know what we’ll find there,” said Julilee.

“We do not go alone. Sanctuary and our allies have positioned themselves across the world to end this threat,” said Kex’ti. “In this world, and whatever others that threaten us, we will persevere. I am honored to fight at your sides.”

“We'll hold up our end,” said Julilee.

“Let us walk together into the abyss, and return safely,” said Taozhu.

“Fight well, comrades. Aka'mogosh,” said Shokkra.

Lohd kept his hawk squak at a reasonable level of enthusiasm. He valued everyone's hearing.

“Anyone else? This is...likely going to be very dangerous,” said the monk.

Taozhu drew forth a piece of parchment for each present person. Julilee turned to look at Taozhu and Kex’ti took a pull from his jug. “What's this?” she asked.

“Lok-Regar Strigz,” said Shokkra with a sniff.

“I do not mean to sound grim, but...should anyone have words to a loved one....Say unto these papers along with their name, and they shall go to them.” He let loose one such paper, which folded into a small crane, then flew away.

“Everyone I care about is right here,” said Julilee, with a pause. Kex’ti smirked.

“I would rather say them in person when we emerge victorious.”

Taozhu closed his eyes, "My daughter and Jiying demand otherwise."

Shokkra looked at Lohd, then then the papers, then snatched one quickly and mumbles into it.

“Very well,” said Kex’ti with a nod, looking at the gathered forces of Sanctuary.

“ In any case, it matters not when we emerge victorious,” Taozhu laughed.

“Of course,” said Julilee. Kex’ti turned to her and smiled.

“But pragmatism always is a boon, Kex'ti? Commander? Lohd? Any others?” Taozhu asked.

“ I would rather not jinx it,” said Kex’ti.

“I would agree, Taozhu,” said Julilee. But she nonetheless declined. My arrangements are already made."

“Very well then,” said the pandaren.

Shokkra muttered prayers in guttural Orcish and cut her blades across her hands, snarling.

Lohd hopped over and took a parchment in his beak. He squirreled it away into a small pack on his breast before looking up at Taozhu with a solemn nod. Taozhu bowed. A few turned suspect glances to Shokkra’s gesture.

“Very well then,” said Kex’ti. “To Ashenvale.”

Shokkra roared and let forth a sharp whistle, calling her wyvern to her. Julilee mounted her cloud serpent, and Kex’ti his. Taozhu summoned a gliding cloud, while a series of rylaks, drakes, and other strange creatures rose from the Valley of Honor, and drifted over the spiked buildings, beyond the mountains, and onwards towards the woods.

“From Ashes We Rise! For Sanctuary!”

“For Azeroth!”

“Lok’tar ogar!”

“For the Horde!”

They came in all their armor, their magic and bravery, their expressions solemn and self-convicted.

Not all would be so fortunate to return.

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“For the Dragonmaw!” yelled a dark-skinned orc. A flickering rift stood in the center of the grove, casting an auric pall over the copse. She stood amidst several slain soldiers of similar complexion. Dragons—or creatures which seemed to be dragons—matched the corpses.

The beasts were stained red and black, and shimmered with a gauzy grey aura. Few remained, but the orc was still outnumbered. She pistoned her fist into one of the surviving drakes’ maw, scattering a few teeth. It recoiled, and unwound its tail in a might slap that echoed into the woods.

Kex’ti sighted the orc and dismounted his cloud serpent. Another vicious strike from the dragon sent the Dragonmaw sprawling. “Hoi, friend!” he called out.

He ran forward, wincing at the pain in his leg as he loosed healing mists into the woman’s injuries. He balanced her chi, and encouraged her body to align itself to its most proper state.

“Re....inforcements?” said the injured orc.

Baern, Kriga, and Cerryan began to dispatch the remaining drakes, weaving sword, claw, and spell together in well-practiced formation.

“What are you doing here?” asked Kex’ti, surveying the environment for any survivors. No such luck.

The Dragonmaw grabbed a nearby pike and hefted herself to her knees. “Dragon activity…came here…Nightmare drakes surged out of that,” the orc said, looking at the shimmering rift.

“Nightmare…drakes?”

Julilee made her way over to the conversation. “Who is this?”

The Dragonmaw leaned against her polearm, breathing heavily despite the healing. “Yeah, corrupted green drakes.”

Lohd landed nearby, studying a small woodland animal he had captured. Still a crow, he began to eat it.

“We’ll hold the portal,” said Baern. “Kriga will make sure nothing goes wrong on this side, and if they’re corrupting green dragons, I don’t think it’s such a good idea for him to go in. Maybe not Lohd either.”

Kex’ti frowned, and Shokkra sniffed the air around her. Lohd defiantly walked towards the rift.

“We got called in…” said the Dragonmaw. “Didn’t do much.”

“Shokkra,” said Julilee, continuing to scrutinize the orc. “Test her.”

Kex’ti rubbed his beard as Shokkra walked over. He readied his staff as he watched the portal.

“Gujah dobat. Tarmbam karmordi,” grunted Shokkra. “Commander?”

“I hate it here…it’s so green and purple and…Night Elven,” said T’suro. “…is that a Dragonmaw orc?”

“Test. Now,” said Shokkra, prodding the orc.

“I don’t have time for a test. I have a job to do.”

“So do we,” said Julilee.

Shokkra bared her teeth and snarled. Julilee moved to take the new orc’s arm. Kex’ti nodded to Baern and Kriga, and loosed a handful of mists. He watched to see where Shokkra would make a wound. “This may sting,” he suggested. “Please do it quickly.”

The orc sneered and seized Julilee’s arm. Kex’ti continued to glance back at the gateway.

“I have no quarrel with you,” said the Dragonmaw.

Shokkra hacked at the Dragonmaw’s unarmored arm.

“I would just like to determine if that is also reciprocal,” said Julilee.

She hissed as Drokognir drew blood. The Dragonmaw lashed out to kick at Shokkra.

Julilee looked at Shokkra. She glanced back at the portal briefly, then removed herself from Xerrai. "My apologies. We had to determine you weren't one of them. And what is your name?" She held up a hand to halt T'suro.

“Xerrai,” the orc said, perfunctory.

A nightmarish beast emerged from the portal. It dragged itself on two arms and had rust-like skin. It seemed to inhale and expunge an unctuous ooze from deep within itself.

Shokkra latched Drokognir back onto her back and drew out Korlash. “DROK EGUR!”

Julilee drew her shield and sword.

“What is that... thing?! I thought this was a Dream portal!” said T’suro.

Lohd spotted the ravenous beast and immediately charged forward, shaping into a great bear as the thing vomited.

Xerrai, the Dragonmaw, spun her pike and nodded. “That does not look friendly.”

“It’s a minion of the dreadlord! Prepare to attack!” ordered Julilee.

“It bears both twilight and natural magic…” muttered Taozhu.

Kex’ti was in the path of the slime, as was Julilee. She raised her shield, but the ooze managed to leak in past the plating, stinging and weighty. It brought great anxiety to the surface even as it burned. Julilee grimaced as Kex’ti attempted to remove the ooze. Lohd barreled into the slime, ignoring the pain even as the vomit showered around him. He focused on his rage, attempting to drive out the foreign emotions. Xerrai tore loose a pauldron with a curse.

Kex’ti immediately began to set wounds, soothing his allies with the healing mists of spirit. Shokkra set her weapons low and rushed the beast. Julilee flanked with Shokkra, and drove her shield into the thing’s limbs. The jelly-like substance that made up the creature’s flesh yielded easily, far too easily, to her assault.

Shokkra raked her own weapons into the creature’s arms, wildly chaining blows together. Xerrai dashed forward, and began to pummel the thing’s ribcage with a rabit series of fist strikes. Lohd roared and swept his claw at the abomination.

T’suro uttered a prayer and his weapon shone with the Light. He stabbed his spear into the beast, condemning it. Before it could even mount a response, Taozhu unleashed an arcane blast. Its form quavered and buckled, and gave way under the striking assault of Sanctuary.

It lashed out in rage, swinging its limbs in any direction it could. Lohd pressed himself to the earth, still sizzling with bile, and ducked under it. Julilee rolled with the blow, dispersing the force with her shield. Xerrai jumped along the thing’s arm and ran up its shoulder, delivering a heavy kick to the back of its head.

Despite the heavy force and corrosive nature of the creature’s attacks, it fell easily, overwhelmed by the attacks.

“Quickly. Into the portal!” yelled Kex’ti. He wove the mists as they ran towards the rift, and the gate Kriga had managed to stabilize. They passed through into a landscape of burnt gold.

“...Damn,” was all Julilee could say.

“...What in the Light...I thought this Emerald Dream was supposed to be... Emerald! Viridian! An eye sore!” said T’suro.

“Looks like a fucking clusterfuck,” Shokkra said, cracking her neck.

In the center of the landscape, suspended in midair by crackling wires of energy, was Xelkorak in her Nightborne guise. Julilee looked up to the dreadlord’s distracted gaze. The Kin of Tin-Dalos prowled from the disjoined tiles and edges of the place, materializing into being from blue mist.

“Demons?” said Xerrai.

Lohd glared in growing rage up toward the creature, claws digging into the false earth. He charged into the nearest pack, roaring to drawn their attention to himself. Julilee did the same, moving towards two small groups of the Kin.

“LOK'TAR SKRAEFA DAE'MON!” said Shokkra, leaping into battle.

“Alright you perverse creatures, fall to our might!" said T’suro, igniting his spear in holy power.

Taozhu began to mutter Titanic phrases as he scorched a rune into the false earth of the domain. “On my mark, I will unleash a beneficial spell!” he yelled.

The jaws, if they could be called as such, nictitated menacingly. The creatures loped and shifted through space to clash against Shokkra and Julilee. The Commander swept her shield aside, the movement backed with surprising strength for her small figure. She lanced her sword out to drive the creatures back, even as she found herself unable to fix their positions.

Shokkra, however, was torn into it, the strange, bloodless wounds the Kin left behind all she had gained from her attempt to strike. She roared and swung her weapon into the creature, causing it to give way and collapse into itself.

T’suro growled an oath and jumped to stand before Shokkra, slashing at the beast with his spear, scorching it with light. Other packs of Kin attacked Lohd from each and every possible angle of attack, deftly avoiding his swipes and mauls while scoring blows of their own.

“Lohd!” called Julilee.

“Love—I mean Lohd!” Shokkra yelled. “I’ll tear you apart from that drok skraefa!”

The druid roared, furious, to bolster his allies. Working in tandem, Kex’ti and Cerryan focused the Light and mists on Lohd, attempting to seal his wounds and restore his body to match his fighting spirit.

The offensive from Shokkra, Lohd, and the rest hacked back at the Kin. Mighty as they were, they were no match. Blood-spattered, Shokkra felt the Light infuse her being as T’suro cast a spell. “I’m no healer, so this is the best I can do for you,” he said.

Taozhu unleashed his spell, altering the flow of time for the rest of Sanctuary and their Dragonmaw ally. Julilee whirled, striking at any kin within range of her blade. Shokkra used the flat of her axe to drive a creature towards the warrior, who drove the point down into where she estimated its body would be.

Smelling the blood of their allies, the Kin snarled, and began to draw directly from the Nightmare. While they were always difficult to visualize before, those who gazed upon them were struck by intense fear and anxiety as their mind overlaid horrific shapes onto the demons.

One of the beasts launched itself at Shokkra, but Lohd interposed his bulk, forcing the monster to grab onto him with an appendage and begin raking at him with tentacle-claws. Julilee stumbled at the sight, her sword dipping low as she grimaced.

T’suro recoiled, and shook his head, while Shokkra lashed out at the illusory creatures in her mind, even as the Kin darted in and out among the combatants with savage haste. Shokkra was emboldened by her allies and recent successes, and continued her assault. Xerrai looked about, images of a soaring proto-drake overhead forcing her to cry out for a medic and assume a defensive position.

“Dammit…No…Not here…Not in this dreamscape!” T’suro gasped.

Lohd used his pain to rage further, memories of yore flooding his mind. He entered a frenzy, barreling into a group of Kin and slashing them with a swipe of his massive paw. But his rage blinds him, and the creatures danced just out of range.

Cerryan simply closed his eyes and placed a beacon of Light onto Julilee, while Kex’ti attempted to remain focused and calm down the nerves of the wounded and disoriented members of Sanctuary.

Julilee surged to her feet, lacking her typical control, and bellowed a furious shout. She struck vengefully at a nearby Kin.

T’suro placed his hands around his spear and lunged. “Not today!”

Shokkra gashed a rip in one of the Kin, its pale blood spraying downward onto the golden ground. Xelkorak spoke a single word, and the Kin ambled their way towards Cerryan and Kex’ti. The monk’s staff repelled the worst of the strikes, but his armor was rent under the blows. Cerryan used the Light to embolden his shield, and struck back, driving the creatures away.

Above, Xelkorak continued her rite, while Julilee continued to rage, fixating on the next target. Taozhu however, observed the dreadlord, and attempted to counterspell. Xerrai and Shokkra dashed and swept their weapons in a dance of death, striking down Kin even with their illusions.

“DROK STRIGZ, DOBAT DROK, DROK GUJAH!” yelled Shokkra. T’suro growled and jumped forward, releasing his divine energy in a sweeping storm of holy energy. The Kin bristled and burned as they lunged back into the melee.

Taozhu spoke the words of his spell. “Xili'uka meg'rand for shin jut tu.”

Xelkorak turned and scowled, her concentration momentarily disrupted. “It would seem you are lost, little pandaren,” said the Dreadlord. “You will find that this is a bad place to be lost.” She turned her attention from the arcana she had begun to weave, and sent a blast of countermagic at Taozhu.

The Kin, unable to escape Julilee’s sword, turned and counter attacked, while the Kin near Cerryan and Kex’ti focused on bringing the monk down. Cerryan readied a blessing of protection for Kex’ti, but followed his gaze to the Commander, and instead enshrouded her with a defensive aura.

The two damaged elves called out for each other, but were too separated to come close. Shokkra swore a bleak Orcish phrase, and charged into the wounded Kin by Julilee. She leapt upwards, and bounded down, hammering and shattering the Kin’s forms.

Lohd began to breathe deeply, and became more lucid as he turned and mauled what few Kin remained nearby. This time, they did not escape, and they collapsed under the combined strikes of Shokkra and Lohd, drawing attention to themselves. The Kin howled, and began to circle the orc and tauren. One of the beasts fastened its jaws around the back of her neck, and peeled it forward in a shoulder throw into another kin. Lohd growled in response to the Kin’s weakening attacks.

“I am the fury of the Warsong! Look upon my blades and accept your reckoning!” yelled Shokkra.

Julilee hurled her sword, Mercy, at one of the remaining Kin as Kex’ti rolled to the warrior to close the distance between them. He raised his leg and dropped a vicious axe kick into the creature who had struck his Commander. Xerrai noticed the monk and warrior were wounded. She wheeled, and rolled a potion towards the pair, before driving a chi-infused fist into one of the creatures nearby.

The potion seemed only a distraction, and Julilee, unfortunately, swatted it away.

T’suro called out to Julilee, and released his utmost convictions to lay hands upon her, and mend her wounds. She closed her eyes as the Light washed away her rage and pain. She reclaimed her sword by ripping it free of the impaled kin, and assumed a combat stance. The surety and ease of her movements was restored. She nodded to T’suro, and caught Kex’ti’s smirk as the monk swept his staff in a mist-infused arc.

Xelkorak and Taozhu continued to spar, sending blasts of magic back and forth, Xelkorak manipulating fel and nature alike to form her spells. The green flames burned with a deep green inner power as the dreadlord seemingly drew deeply from the Dream.

“Welcome to my Twilight Nightmare. You struggle in vain, as so many have already.”

As if to punctuate her point, the Kin latched onto T’suro and attempted to drag him downward. He struck one with the butt of his weapon and a burst of light disengaged the other. His back felt bruised, and the strike tore away his cloak and tabard. She dismissed the magic she used to duel Taozhu, and began a longer incantation. The essence of the place, the Twilight Nightmare, congealed around her in a thick miasma.

Shokkra and Julilee fought together against the packs. The orc slashed and hacked with Korlash and Kragor, a wild assault compared to Julilee’s weaving, controlled strikes. Shokkra’s blows killed one of the beasts, though it managed a final slash across her stomach armor. Underneath, it drew blood.

Shokkra snarled, stumbling back a few steps as her wound bled. "GNYJA URUK VRAS VRAS VRAS!"

His opponents were driven away. Lohd’s sense returned to him, and he grasped for the nebulous energies of the Emerald Dream present. The magic spun about his form, and he flew skyward as a hawk. He saw as Xerrai was lashed by one of the Kin, though the orc fought away several others in retribution. The druid spread his wings and attempted to attune what purity of the Dream remained into himself.

Then Xelkorak unleashed her spell.

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“Commander! Everyone!” called Kex’ti.

Julilee threw her weight and shoulder behind her shield as she drove some of the remaining Kin back. She turned to regard Kex’ti, and Lohd soared into the dark skies above. He spread his wings, and tried to focus the Dream. He continued to harness the power, and use it to augment his shapeshifting.

“I’m running out of steam here!” T’suro yelled. It was the last voice to meet the darkness before Xelkorak completed her invocation.

Xelkorak unleashed a torrent of grey magical energy, spraying the beam across the gathered combatants. Their flesh roiled and their heartbeats went on without control. Their minds raced, and their breath came in forced gasps.

Black, infected lines crisscrossed their exposed skin.

Xerrai snarled and clutched at her head as she collapsed to one knee. The orc struggled to fit a potion into her mouth. Kex’ti collapsed next, only barely managing to enshroud Julilee in a cocoon of healing chi. The Commander turned from the kin to look past the shell to the demon above. Lohd could only watch as the spell came crashing down.

T’suro whimpered and dropped his spear, clutching at his eyes. “N-no…we’re going to die…” He shuddered and lifted his head towards the dreadlord. “Not without a fight though!” He yelled, and released a ray of Light from his hand. “I’ll take you with me!”

Xelkorak opened her mouth to speak, but was seared by the holy assault, turning the comment into a snarl. She spent a few moments smoothing the illusion back into place.

Synesthesia overwhelmed the forces of Sanctuary. T’suro’s mouth filled with the taste of frothed, rich blood of a hundred stolen lives. Xerrai heard the smells of putrefying flesh, and other such horrors. Xerrai’s eyes became slits as she downed the potion. The orc hurled herself into battle with the kin, crushing them in a flurry of blows that came unexpected.

Taozhu wheezed, gathering what arcane energy he could to bind the dreadlord. The demon returned fire with her own spell, thick veins of twilight energy snapping their way through Taozhu’s magic.

“Your world ends with you. The others have failed already…and now…the fire grows ever more dim and distant…”

The curse sent another pulsating wave of sensation through those hit. “The fire and fury of the Warsong is unending drok skraefa!” yelled Shokkra.

Julilee set her steely gaze upon the demon and assumed a ready combat stance. “The fire of justice never dies.”

Xelkorak looked at the elf and watched the life cocoon chip away under the curse, and turned a dismissive look to Kex’ti, who struggled with his own affliction. A blink of recognition crossed the dreadlord’s face, and she almost seemed to sigh.

“Never? No?” she said, “Then how about him?”

The creature wove together a burst of power. She blasted the monk until her fingers singed. When the spell faded, and the monk’s body collapsed to the floor, unmoving, she repeated it. His staff scattered against Julilee’s boot.

“Kex’ti!”

“What were you saying…about justice?” huffed Xelkorak, trying to catch her breath.

Julilee leapt towards the dreadlord, sweeping her shield up to knock open the dreadlord’s guard, then bringing her sword around with the full momentum of her attack. The strike came close, but the demon swatted the warrior back to the ground, sweeping her nails across the woman’s face.

“In a way, I’ll know him better than you did,” said the demon. “When I consume his soul, and rifle through his memories.”

“Gol’kosh drok vadok!” yelled Shokkra. She followed Julilee’s attack, and swung her blades wildly. Xelkorak’s gloating distracted her from the attack, and Shokkra drew a massive gash across the elf’s back. “Our will is unbreakable, demon scum!”

Lohd surged with primal might, having watched the exchange. He dove downward at the demon, his claws outstretched, and added wounds to Shokkra’s attack across Xelkorak’s back. Cerryan took the moment to invoke a blessing of sacrifice, trying to use his own life to steady the monk’s.

Julilee was focused utterly on the creature, but managed to yell out to the paladin. “Cerryan! Help Kex’ti! Sanctuary, to me!”

Xelkorak was woken up by Lohd’s strike. She turned and snareds at the druid. "Ah, using the Dream? Time to wake you up. Just like that other one..." She passed a glance at Shokkra. "I care nothing for your unbreakable will. Breaking your soul will work just fine."

Shokkra grinned wickedly under her helmet. “My soul was broken by the Kor’kron, and shaped at the Siege. I’m nothing but death now.”

Cerryan called out. "I'm trying, Commander! It's going to be close-"

Xelkorak reflected on the bonds Cerryan was attempting to establish.

“How is it that people like you make your souls so easy to steal? We never have to even ask for a pact. We can just…take them,” Xelkorak said, as she released a wave of corruption at both healers. Cerryan cried out in pain as the magic enveloped his body, and the holy energy connecting him to Kex’ti’s injuries faltered.

The monk’s body collapsed into jade mist, leaving only his staff behind.

Julilee grew pale and her stance laxed. “No…”

Shokkra drew Drokognir from her back, and launched again into battle. “Kex’ti!”

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“Enough, demon! You defile that which is beyond you and your kin!” roared Lohd through the Dream. He allowed his instincts command as he dove into combat.

“Mourn later,” spat Xerrai. “This beast must fall or all of us fall.”

T’suro looked to his side, to watch Kex’ti vanish. Vainly, he reached forward. Cerryan kneeled in despair, but attempted to gather his courage.

“This is not your realm, demon! Begone from this…and all worlds!” yelled Taozhu, tapping into the Titanic energies of the Dream. He drew the ley essence into a massive orb about himself. Xelkorak hammered into the spell with her own dark magic, stripping it down to nothing. She focused a mote of the curse into Taozhu.

In his mind, he bore witness to each of his daughter’s tissues being flayed free from her skeleton, every layer of flesh and muscle sheared loose. He cried out, “No! You cannot…! Tsuyi!” The pandaren clutched at the sides of his head.

Julilee moved numbly. Her movements, fractionally slowing. She moved with instinct, her heart elsewhere. She almost winced as T’suro spoke.

“You attack us, you kill one of our own, your time ends now, demon!” he cried, shining wings of pure light extending behind him. “You killed one of my brothers, monster! Now you die!” He gripped his spear back and hurled it, blazing with Light at the creature. Xerrai followed the assault, downing an elixir as her fists burst into flame.

Xelkorak looked dismissively at the oncoming attack, when, with a sudden burst of speed, Xerrai hammered her blazing palm into Xelkorak’s waistline. She grimaced, and wove a shield of darkness about herself, snuffing out T’suro’s spear even as her robes charred.

The dreadlord sighed. “Did you know that his favorite color was orange? Or that he liked most to craft healing tonics…not that they did him any good…” she said to the Commander. She shrugged in the darkness as the dim light of the Twilight Nightmare began to fold about her.

“Your corruption holds naught upon a SON OF URSOC!” cried Lohd. He shaped himself into an enormous bear. Nature’s might seethed within his prodigious form as an avatar of the bear ancient enveloped his form. “You face a son of Ursoc! Prepare yourself, demon!”

Cerryan struggled against the curse, and fell unconscious. Shokkra glared at the dreadlord, hatred dripping from every movement. “Kex’ti,” she said.

Julilee spoke quietly, too quietly for any but Shokkra to hear. “Justice,” she said, and leapt for the dreadlord. Shokkra followed. The dreadlord grabbed the orc’s wrist with a snap of her arm.

“Ah, he thought you were his best friend…” She said, drifting past Julilee’s attack, watching the Commander finish her arc to the floor nearby. “And yet none of you could save him. A pity. He really thought you could.” She smirked at Julilee. “Remind you of someone you’ve lost? I know what it's like to have loved and lost. The alternative is much better, isn't it? If you fall on your sword, you can join him even sooner..."

She turned next to Lohd, Shokkra flailing in her grasp. The hate staining the orc’s expression faltered for a moment before returning, redoubled.

“In the Dream, in the waking world…” she said, then paused, as if distracted. “The Shal’dorei have forgotten more druidic arts than the tauren have ever learned.”

Taozhu grunted and maneuvered himself onto his back. He launched one of his crystal legs, maneuvering it with gestures of arcane energy. The baffling nature of the attack was enough to distract her from T’suro’s subsequent strike.

In the depths of this Twilight Nightmare, Xelkorak had stacked the cards against the heroes. To demonstrate this, she spent a moment altering the battlefield into tranquil, night-shrouded woods. Fog rolled in low hollows, and birds chirped. The feeling of being hunted pervaded their souls.

With a flick of her wrist, Xelkorak remedied the wounds she had so far suffered. She rose to the branches.

“These tricks will not work, demon!” roared Lohd.

Xelkorak sighed, and looked weary. “Tricks? No. Tricks are for animals. Like you.”

Lohd surged after the demon, the winds of the Dream guiding him upward. He donned the form of the great cat, and leapt between the branches, hacking and slashing at the demon. Shokkra focused on the demon, ignoring the prickling at the back of her neck.

Julilee can’t even seem to notice the predation in the air. She keeps her gaze shifted to near, but not on, the dreadlord. She dashed forward, and leveled a slash at one of the lines of energy that coursed through Xelkorak. The conduit seared Julilee, but the feedback also appeared to wound the dreadlord. “Aim for the wires,” the elf said.

“This is for Kex’ti, monster,” said Taozhu. He hurled the crystal at the demon, overloading it with arcane energy. The ensuing explosion burned away her illusion. Xelkorak struggled to bring her illusion back to its proper state. She dismissed the leylines suspending her, and dropped barefoot to the false soil.

T’suro huffed, knowing his energy was flagging, his life sapped by the curse. He lifted his spear into the air, and brought down a swirling hammer of Light down on Xelkorak’s head. Xerrai attempted to deliver a heavy kick at the demon’s face. “I am Dragonmaw, and you are prey,” said the orc.

Lohd descended, shifting back into his bear state afterward.

The dreadlord gathered the corruption of the realm around herself. She said nothing, but let loose a howl of rage and arcane power, scattering a wave of loose magic across the battlefield.

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The curse roiled in thick waves of essence across the domain. The heroes raised their shields, said their prayers, erected spells, and drank potions to defend themselves. In the Twilight Nightmare, Xelkorak’s spells were unshackled from the constraints of reason or resolve. The wounds were too great. The darkness too deep.

Hope itself began to die, in the depths.

Those still standing after the blast recalled Taozhu’s words. They felt the creeping fear of the realm seep into their minds, drawing on their darkest, most secret memories. Silent tears mixed with the blood on Julilee’s face, the Commander unaware of their presence.

“This is NOT. YOUR. WORLD!” roared Lohd, a burst of wind following his words.

Xelkorak started, as if something had changed. As if she were losing control. She grasped, her fury abated, for the threads of the spell she had been weaving and found them gone.

From somewhere within the Dream, a loud echo resounded. “Don’t give up,” it said. The looming darkness began to feel just a little lighter, the suffocating oppression of the plane alleviating incrementally.

The Twilight Realm's power began to ebb, then it surged. Courage and strength flooded the hearts and limbs of the Sanctuary heroes. The Realm’s darkness gave way to light, embodying the greatest virtues and highest hopes of those gathered, rather than their Nightmares.

“…W-what is this feeling?” said T’suro, stirring back to consciousness.

“Hope,” said Shokkra. Her righteous indignation swelled within her chest. “Lok’tar!”

Taozhu’s face glowed. “Jiying…Tsuyi…Kex’ti…Cobrak…Guan…” he said, with a clap of his hands. “Time is not on your side, Xelkorak.”

Xerrai found that small flights of illusory dragons surrounded her, and she exhaled a breath of flame.

Julilee, Bring Them Justice

Julilee raised her head. The tears kept coming, but her face showed a deep calm. She steadied her stance, and lunged forward. Hope and conviction rose, and she battered through the dreadlord’s defenses. The opening was made.

Lohd, Awaken From Sleep

Lohd dashed forward, his jaws and claws barreling into the dreadlord and savaging the demon’s flesh with the flourishing life of the Emerald Dream and living world of Azeroth, before hurling Xelkorak into Shokkra’s path.

Shokkra, Claim Your Song

Shouting a mighty battlecry, Shokkra’s axes carved and ravaged the dreadlord, bathing her in demon blood, inciting her allies to further heroics. The orc fought like a savage, cornered beast. Her attacks were vicious and relentless, hate and hope and rage lending their strength to her swings. Hope for the Warsong; for the Horde; for peace and for everyone’s dreams. And hope for Kex’ti.

Taozhu, See the Invisible

Taozhu’s fur bristled with violet energy as he tapped into the leylines crossing the domain, channeling the power of Norgannon Himself.

“You are Chaos, and you will be bound or crushed underneath our Law and Justice!” called the mage, buffeting the nightborne with raw arcane magic. The demon’s control slipped, and she snarled. Her illusion flickered and the immense powers she sought to contain began to leave her.

T’suro, Embody Your Faith

T’suro grasped his spear tightly. The divine wings of Light once more extended from his back, and a ring of holy energy surged about him. “You have failed, demon! For Quel’thalas! For the Horde!” called the Blood Knight, leaping into the air and crashing down into the dreadlord with a might thrust.

Xerrai, Awake the Drakes

Xerrai downed one last vial, her form surging with chi and dragon’s blood. “For Dragonmaw!” she called, a flying kick bringing her close to the dreadlord, and several heavy pike blows disorienting the demon. She ignited in flame, and scorched the trees bare around her.

Xelkorak cursed in Darnassian, and attempted to quickly ward her frail form.

Cerryan, Forgive Your Sins

Cerryan said nothing, and unleashed an onslaught of Holy Light from deep within himself, disrupting the spell, and driving Xelkorak further off balance.

Lohd continued to batter the creature’s defenses, tearing loose hunks of pallid flesh and spitting them into the distance. Ursoc’s blessing continued to find Lohd its focal point. Dream ravens descended to devour the carrion.

Taozhu released a flurry of arcane blasts, knocking Xelkorak’s consuming counter attack out of control.

Julilee moved in with a finality in her eyes. To bring an end to the senseless death and destruction the Quorum caused. Her bright sword flashed in the shining light of the redeemed Realm. The demon’s eyes went wide as the blade arced under her defenses.

The continued onslaught sapped the dreadlord’s strength, unable to compete with so much of her power spent and Sanctuary’s yet continuing to rise.

“You are but a fledgling struggling back toward the nest! Your plans fail and machinations falter before that of Azeroth. Entering the Dream has been your undoing, DEMON!” roared the bear. The dreadlord, refusing to drop her guise, dripped from her sweat and wounds. She glared, a combination of rage and irritation, at the group. She was on her last ounce of strength, and she knew it.

The Dream rippled.

Kex’ti, Face Your Demons

The monk screamed through the rift, and drove a fist into the dreadlord’s face. “Finish it! Now!” he yelled.

Julilee drove Mercy into the demon’s heart.

The realm quivered and faded. A portal opened, and Sanctuary gathered their wounded. Kex’ti took Julilee’s hand in his, while Shokkra exclaimed the monk’s name and began to cry in relief.

T’suro and Xerrai helped Taozhu between them, and carried the Pandaren towards the entrance. “We can talk about what happened when we're out of here!” said the paladin.

Lohd watched sluggishly as the avatar of Ursoc continued to mix with his soul. He moved towards the portal, the bear ancient slowly fading away. Lohd collapsed as he breached the portal. Cerryan took a final look into the Twilight Nightmare, and left as well.

***

Kriga, Baern, Breygrah, and others waited for the others outside, visible relief watching over them, a handful of slain demons at their feet. The portal puckered shut, and the spiritual pressure of the leaking Dream faded.

Julilee touched Kex’ti’s chest over his heart, and moved her fingertips to his face. She touched the beard, and hot flesh beneath. He leaned down and kissed her. Or attempted to, before Shokkra gripped the two elves in a mighty embrace.

“Kex’ti, you are alive!” called Taozhu, who doffed his helmet and collapsed to the floor. T’suro leaned against his spear as Cerryan went around mending wounds.

“We thought you were dead!” said T’suro, punching the monk lightly in the stomach.

“How…?” asked Julilee.

“That may remain…” said the monk, before coughing and slumping to the floor. “Thank…all of you,” he said, slumping into Julilee.

Xerrai ran to see her unit, still dead. She grimaced, looked back at the assembled purple tabards, and advanced to build funeral pyres. Kriga and Baern nodded to each other, suspecting they’d get an answer later rather than sooner, and moved to help the orc.

Cerryan ran over and began to tend to their wounds. "It's not as bad as it seems," said the elf.

Lohd remained injured by the gate.

Julilee nodded. “Check Lohd,” she said. “We…need to find out about the other teams.” Julilee tapped the communicator, and frowned at the answering static. “Our long campaign against the dreadlords of the Quorum…hopefully has come to a close,” she muttered, torn between Kex’ti and the communicator and T’suro’s ensuing questions.

The communicator eventually responded with Cobrak’s voice.

Sanctuary gathered their wounded, and returned back to the garrison.

It had never been a singular effort, Julilee knew. But Sanctuary had been there whenever they could. While it may not earn them respect, or recognition that she knew many in her guild felt they were due, she knew that they had lived up to Sanctuary’s ideals.

They had protected Azeroth. They had kept the peace.

And they always would.

Even in the face of the Legion.

They would always rise.

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