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Ul-Rezaj

Putting Out Some Shade

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A humid room lit only by a shaft of light that shot straight through a dense jungle canopy darkened as the form of a lanky, mammoth-tusked troll stepped into it. The squeals of startled mice echoed throughout the black chamber as they knocked over relics, tablets, bowls, and candles that could only be heard as the calamity rose. A torch was lit, revealing Ul-Rezaj's disgruntled face as he casually swung it into cobwebs as they immediately burned out; spiders fled in panic as their home was set ablaze.

He went to the corners of the chamber, lifting the lampstands to stand up straight. In them, he poured powder and planted sticks upright, lighting it with his torch so that the fragrant smell of incense would cloud the room. As he moved towards the center, he dropped to his knees and left the torch at his side. Ul-Rezaj grabbed a silver bowl that the mice had knocked over and extended an open palm over it. He took a dagger from his pouch and sliced his hand. Blood dripped from it into the bowl for a few seconds, then he closed his palm and reached for a skin of water. The water he held over with his clean hand and dripped into the bowl, mixing the blood with the water. His cut hand returned to the bowl and, with two of his fingers, he swirled the contents until they appeared thick and indistinguishable. In many ways, the mixture of blood and water resembled that of mud as a final product, except a deep crimson color set in. He withdrew his fingers from the bowl and grabbed the torch at his side, dipping it into the mixture and extinguishing the flame.

Aside from the incense that emanated a faint whitish light, the room went completely dark. A slithering sound could be heard on all sides of the room. A hiss like a serpent stirred. Ul-Rezaj put his face to the ground, prostrating himself in front of the silver bowl out of respect. The hissing ceased and the movement in the room slowed down as it came to face the troll's head, raising itself up with a heavy and imposing feature. Two wings sprawled out from the creature, causing a whirlwind to disturb the dust on the artifacts in the room. Snake-like, beady red eyes opened and lit the face of the creature. A shade resembling Hakkar took shape. He hissed at the troll. "Insect," he groaned, "You pay homage as one pays homage to a god who is beyond your grasp; you would even pretend as though you were not in control over the situation; still, you hold on to me as a hunter holds a muzzle on a feral beast. What, then, do you expect to get from me?"

"De Shade o' Hakkar rightfully belongs to de Grim," Ul-Rezaj answered, raising his head slightly to view the face of the beast from his prostration.

The Shade of Hakkar hissed, "And you would steal from your own people, for what?"

"No," Ul-Rezaj continued, his facial features going flat at the accusation, "You cannot steal what belongs to you. If de Grim cannot trust me wit' der own sacred artifacts, den dey cannot trust anyone."

"You haven't answered my question."

"To serve," the troll replied, raising himself up to a kneeling position. "To what end have we fought?"

Hakkar furled his wings. "In desperate rage, full of sound and fury, leading to nothing."

"Worthless," muttered Ul-Rezaj, eyes drifting off to their lower right corners. "We fight, but it's worthless. Everything, all o' it, it's worthless. De Horde has nothing worth protecting, no good reason to know Peace." The beast remained silent, stretching its wings once more and bringing the feathers to its mouth to prune them. The Shade of Hakkar seemed not to care. "Dey came to dis place, dis temple, de Quorum. Dey took your essence and, some way or another, dey produced Wreave in droves from dis very form o' you."

Hakkar turned his head, pupils growing narrow as his forked tongue rapidly projected itself out and back into his mouth. "I know. You bore me with this lesson. Please, return me to my chains if you are done."

"Silence, ah've come to you in peace. You must respect dat while we have control over your reins." Hakkar groaned at this comment, then Ul-Rezaj proceeded. "All members, able-bodied peoples, o' de Horde be united in wartime. We fight to advance, to preserve, and to flourish, but what truly holds value? Are we to simply exist, amusing ourselves however we can under de obscure veil o' progress. Ah've not seen anything new, except dat wartime has provided me a fine distraction from such questions."

Hakkar embellished a hearty laugh as if what the troll said was amusing. "This," snorted Hakkar, "Was why I had your people sacrifice yourselves. You build, even alongside the people of the Horde, but it is all for nothing, isn't it? You honor your chieftains and hierarchy, giving a focus to your ways, but if that chain breaks, it becomes aimless. So if that happens, go ahead: eat your stomach's fill, drink yourself into a haze, and celebrate every day of your existence till you perish, for you shall live for yourself because you cannot avoid dying or see the full fruit of your labor."

The troll's eyes periodically went from the head of the serpent to the bowl, glancing back and forth. "No..."

"Ah, yes. But isn't that an irony in on itself? They used me, my Shade, to produce Wreave. They made people happy through the drug. The Quorum operatives cleaned them out in the Horde and the Alliance, making the addicts into something better, something new, the people had purpose then. And, what is more, when the process would be said and done, the mortals would become servants of the Legion forever, uniting the world and the cosmos under its glory. So, you see, your directive was already underway by a universal order that you actively fought against. How undiscerning! Hah, how disappointing, that you could not comprehend this in time to join along the operation."

Ul-Rezaj bit his lip in frustration. He could take no more of these accusations. "Dis be better, ah tell you, dis way be better."

"How?"

He had enough. Standing on his feet, he kicked the bowl over, spilling the contents of his own blood on the ground. The Shade of Hakkar roared and slithered towards Ul-Rezaj, yelling, "Go ahead, live out your tired and restless existence. It won't be easy for you, not in this life, not in the next. He jumped out of the serpent's way and ran towards the incense. The incense sticks he removed from their lampstands and blew them out quickly, returning them to his satchel. Hakkar grew furious and struck again. His tail swiped straight at Ul-Rezaj, but he couldn't avoid this one. The Shade's form brought a deathly chill through him and made his hair stand on end, but it did not push him back or touch him in any physical way. Blinking, Ul-Rezaj ran towards the doorway. Once he stood at the end, he looked back, seeing the form of Hakkar having already dissipated as the blood-filled bowl of water caused the Shade to lose its form by draining into the baked bricks of the lower temple structure. The troll sighed with relief, glad to be out of that nightmare, heading back towards Grom'gol Base Camp.

 

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Cautious of the effects the blood-magics infused with the Shade of Hakkar might have on one's mind, Ul-Rezaj returned back to Tanaan from Zul'Gurub on a few week's journey to the Dark Portal. It seemed right to him, just to keep in mind, that his primary opponents should be within the savage and chaotic domain of a jungle. Here Alliance lurked sparingly, though they'd largely decommissioned their attempt at gathering assault forces once the Grim had sufficiently swept through the fortress and stolen away the treasured Fel-Worgs within its walls. He smirked cheerily at the siege's triumph, knowing that the guild functioned healthily as a well-lubricated war machine. Meanwhile, old memories stirred about, like dust from a closed book, as a priest named Bishoph dug up the grave of a dead leader of the Grim, Maledictus, only to find him missing. This mysterious adventure on behalf of The Grim accrued to Ul-Rezaj no general interest. Humans and Undead alike both had their burials, but what use was it, really? He wondered. After all, if a body was not going to be mummified and reinstated as a temple or vault guard, it was worthless. Lordaeron was indeed a mysterious and backwards place. Though the grave itself emitted a void-like quality that piqued Ul-Rezaj's interests. He learned little more than that, but, here in Tanaan, the Iron Horde had dabbled in Fel and Shadow magics introduced from the Legion by Gul'dan. He knew that these magics were a specialty of his, that mastering them was akin to mastering chaos itself, but the source of Maledictus' grave's taint might reside no further than the Throne of Kil'Jaeden itself. 

Karnaim, Ul-Rezaj's Dread Raven, bathed in the river of fel near Hellfire Citadel. Ul-Rezaj told himself that the Fel magic's infusion was a worthwhile investment in exchange for speed and agility. The Legion's Doomguards were more than capable casters and their felhounds could inflict painstaking migraines during a spellcast from their plumelike tentacles. He watched his raven flock about in the steaming, green pools as it strengthened rapidly and with intensifying violence. Ul-Rezaj reminded himself that the tradeoff from its natural state in exchange for an edge was, in fact, worthy to take. Majestic and proud, the beast dove in and out. As it submerged itself in pain and power, the wings grew a sharp, Felblight green. Ul-Rezaj observed, kneeling by the river. He cupped a small amount for himself and drank it in. The bitterness ensued - it even seethed and burned - but it felt so good, so rewarding. The senses tingled and sharpened. The Dread Raven, now more aptly named a Dreadwing, stepped out of the river and shook off the excess of felblight acidly. Ul-Rezaj approached the bird and climbed up its feathers, setting himself atop the saddle. 

Together, the Dreadwing and its rider ascended from the river just above the canopy of Zeth'kur, the Bleeding Hollow grounds. The Dreadwing cried out in an ear-piercing screech. Ul-Rezaj panicked. Looking back, the beast had an open tear in the feathers from the back of the wing. Karnaim spiraled downwards into the thicket. Tangled in the branches, Ul-Rezaj hastily leaped from the saddle to escape. He landed feet first on the ground and darted through a small ravine with gnarly trees and phase stalkers. 

Karnaim screeched with sound and fury as Ul-Rezaj grew more distant. Idiot, thought Ul-Rezaj, Shoulda been more keen to de threats, dumb beast. Almost immediately, a clamp shut tight around Ul-Rezaj's leg. He buckled under his knees and fell face first on the ground. Ul-Rezaj stared at the gashing clamp. He uttered not a single curse, made no sound, but, rather, closed his eyes. He waited to imminently become a Bleeding Hollow pincushion. Nothing happened. Instead, a ferocious, hot-breath heaved at his face. Ul-Rezaj opened his eyes to see his adversary. Face-painted, the mongrel stared passively through an unsettling silence. Ul-Rezaj narrowed his eyes, thinking distastefully, Bleeding Hollow cur. Promptly, almost in reaction to Ul-Rezaj's self-contained insult, the orc slammed his palm up the troll's nose. Ul-Rezaj's head hit the ground and his body slid through mud. The trap scraped more of his leg. His nose began to bleed. The Bleeding Hollow clansman rushed up and hit him once more. This time, a curled fist landed a critical blow on his temple. The pain shot through again. His consciousness slipped away.

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Dark memories of the patrol in Tanaan haunted Kharthak. He had seen firsthand how Ul-Rezaj submitted to the Legion, initiating himself by abusing the natural world to the fel. Of course, as a Warlock, he would expect this behavior. Still, Kharthak continually reminded himself, the troll deliberately took flight north, to the Throne of Kil'Jaeden itself, by himself. No one with a grain of wisdom would dare do such a thing. 

He shook his head in dismay. Kharthak reached his hand for his axe and held it over a grinding wheel. Putting his foot to a pedal, an ear-splitting din pierced the air as the dull blade sparked along the spinning wheel. Most assuredly, it would come in handy. Kharthak knew the Legion; he knew how deception worked. Only in the hour of truth would everything be clear to him, but, as he revealed this information to the Inquisitors after the Inquisition, he doubted their willingness to do whatever it takes. Eyes closed, he remembered most disdainfully their reactions:  panicked and hate-filled, shocked and in disbelief. They had all been that way. For this reason, he felt a gut-wrenching divide between whether or not he wanted to be right or wrong. If he was right, his suspicions would be confirmed. His ability to weed out problems from their roots would surely earn him praise, but many would be full of grief and suspicion towards each other. If he was wrong, his credibility would be thoroughly sabotaged. 

Kharthak shrugged and silently cursed at himself for allowing a thought that would have rendered him idle if he had considered it before going to the Inquisitors. Raising himself from his grinding wheel, he withdrew his axe to his side and eyed the tip. Fingers clenched tight around the hilt, he arched his arm back and over his shoulder, throwing it straight forward as it spun flawlessly, neither straying from the right or to the left, into the chest of a Warspear target dummy. Right on target.

Edited by Kharthak

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The Bleeding Hollow held Ul-Rezaj bound in chains by his wrists. His chest heaved in pain; his tongue and throat longed for his thirst to be quenched by something more than the accumulation of dew or the occasional beady droplet that seeped down the walls; his eyes by now had adjusted to the cavern's cold, dark interior. The robes he wore had been torn and integrated into a bloodletter's garb. Ul-Rezaj had been flogged, from time to time, during periods of interrogation. In those moments of inquiry, he was promised food, which earned him morsels from a dead felboar, yet that spicy, bitter taste singed hotly as it went down, and, without supplementary water, made the tradeoff not as desirable as it originally sounded.

Ul-Rezaj considered from the start not telling his captors anything, as Skylah had chosen to do. He recalled her attitude towards interrogation. She had chosen the power of friendship over surrendering her friend's whereabouts to The Grim. Although Ul-Rezaj had experienced friendship personally, he felt no such conviction so as to protect them in the same way. The Grim, he told the Bleeding Hollow, were more than capable of defending themselves. He believed that, so he figured the exchange was a reasonable one. Even more, these savage orcs, in order to do The Grim some harm, he realized, would need to infiltrate Warspear itself and only then could they do whatever it was they would want with them. Unfortunately for Ul-Rezaj, they, too, had a similar realization. 

The Bleeding Hollow savages, instead of asking him questions till both moons turned blue, resorted to bleeding Ul-Rezaj dry. They cut his palms and had a shaman collect his blood in a vial. He cried out in pain. Instead of cringing with empathy, they laughed merrily. His blood dripped slowly from his hands, so they turned him to his back and sliced it horizontally along the upper portion of his spine. Slightly more blood oozed there, but it was not the natural blood of flesh, it was a dark, swirling violet which did not meld well with the regular crimson. 

"Void," spoke one from behind him, "It runs within him, separates the Fel from the Demon from the Troll in this Dark Shaman."

"So what does that mean," asked another, gruffer one from behind him.

"It means," spoke the voice, presumably the shaman. "That he has found a way to manipulate chaos without becoming it."

Ul-Rezaj did not hear the rest of the encounter. His body wracked with too much pain. He felt the fel within him touch his blood. It seethed, making him want to scream. But when he did not do that, his eyes began to throb, as if a vessel had suddenly grow over them, and he saw the before him a flashing of everything. Suddenly, he thought he saw a universe full of Felguards, Dreadlords, Pit Lords, Felhounds, Doomguards, and Infernals thrashing about the great vast expanse before him. He wondered what it meant as it related to him in this pit. The place they marched across was a gnarled field with browning trees and blackening blades of grass. In many ways, it looked like Azeroth, then his mind shifted to everywhere the Legion marched. They wreaked havoc in all places, establishing a universal kingdom that was intended to span ad-infinitum. 

Unity in darkness. Ul-Rezaj thought he heard a voice say. Peace and all things under the Legion. The voice's cooing came from a creature beyond his ability to pin exactly what it was. The sound was deep and riveting. A dreadlord, perhaps? Yet it could also be a Bleeding Hollow ancestor taunting him, a Night Elf male, or an Undead blathering about how much he wished everyone died along with him. The vocals did not give away enough to matter to him. You can free yourself, you know. Chaos is all around you, you can even inhale particles of fel even in the very air you breathe. Ul-Rezaj wanted to believe the speaker, but he had no idea how to do that. The orcs took their hands on Ul-Rezaj's back and smeared the purple ooze over it, making him appear violet. Dabbling their fingertips on his back, they began to rub the Void-bound sealant across each other's faces as though it were paint. They cackled with insane laughter as they did it. The shaman, tired of the musings of the abusive youths, demanded that they stop and give their prisoner a chance to rest. Dying enthusiasm radiated from their voices. The wound lit up with a bright green and sealed itself magically. 

The shaman and the grunts peered at Ul-Rezaj suspiciously. "What's that you've done," asked the shaman. 

"It's not about what ah've done," replied Ul-Rezaj, 

"Liar," accused the Bleeding Hollow angrily in unison. One hurled a balled fist right into Ul-Rezaj's cheek. Blood involuntarily flung out from the other corner of his mouth. 

Now, said the voice, do you see The Grim coming to rescue you from this? You have been here for three days! These orcs will kill you. At long last, you must embrace who you are, reach out and take hold of the annihilation that has been sown into this world by the Fel Iron Horde. You have sworn to it. Now, do it. Kill them, or they will kill you!

Ul-Rezaj's will gave way. Hot pain already thrived as though fusing from within his innards. The blow to the cheek was just an enraging effect. His skull thrummed with an excitement of ideas. His fingertips grew long, forming into claws. Snapping the sinewy cords that bound him, Ul-Rezaj summoned the fel energies lingering not-so-far from him and breathed with hot fury against his captors. 

Edited by Ul-Rezaj

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The world spun around Ul-Rezaj as he unleashed himself from his bonds. Fel energy pumped into him and projected outwards, as a light, towards the Bleeding Hollow captors. With fingers like claws, he slashed one in the chest. The shaman and the other orc stumbled backwards in fear as they watched their comrade fall. Ul-Rezaj no longer felt weary, tired, or hungry. The fel that pumped in place of regular adrenaline hummed with a pace far faster than anything known to his natural form. It took on a life of its own, blinding him and charging forwards chaotically. Ul-Rezaj made no effort to control the fel whatsoever. Rather, he enjoyed it. A pair of wings, wings that he used to use on the battlefields, grew in arched form out from his shoulders in a greenish tint. They stirred up a gust in the room that blinded the shaman from the stirring of dust in the air.

The shaman, in turn, called to his aid a hidden fury of earth that sent a boulder fragment from a nearby stalagmite toppling onto his left wing. Ul-Rezaj sneered and roared. The remaining guard beside him pulled a dagger from his belt and dove towards the warlock, he slid underneath Ul-Rezaj and leaping onto his back. The orc pried his knife into Ul-Rezaj’s wings and carved them from his back at dreadful pace. “It’s too late,” taunted the shaman. “Bleeding Hollow poisons now seep through your veins, augmented by Gul’dan’s Fel-Horde itself. Nothing can stop it from reaching your heart now. Even if we die here, the gift of the Legion flows through you. Embrace it.”

Panicked and frightened, Ul-Rezaj threw the orc off of his back and slammed a half-demon-spiked-shoulder into the guard’s chest. Pulling himself back up, Ul-Rezaj peered at the shaman and formed a shadowy, unavoidable Chaos Wave that toppled him over to his back. Heavy at breath, the troll keeled over on his palms. He raved in an insane, booming voice: “Peace through annihilation! Peace through annihilation! Peace through annihilation!” He halted for a moment, a tear dropping from his eye. He wiped sweat from his brow and pried the poisoned wings off with his hands.

“It’s no use,” warned a shady voice. “The venom has already entered your veins. It will grow in your limbs, mutilating them, and then the tainted procedure will regenerate itself at your heart. The cycle will continue. You will be transformed.”

This time, Ul-Rezaj knew for certain that it was from outside him, a Bleeding Hollow ancestor. He whined as the crackling of demonic bones snapped off his back one by one. Once both were off, leaving only stubs.

A voice, not unlike Syreena’s, echoed within the cave: “Peace through annihilation!”

Ul-Rezaj collapsed. He could take no more insane drivel produced from his mind. “P-peace… through…”

More voices thrummed down the cave. “Peace through annihilation,” they cried in mixed unison. “Hey, heeeey.” For a moment, Ul-Rezaj thought, it could be Lilliana. He dismissed the idea of reality affecting him here. The Grim would have no idea to come searching for him. His eyes grew heavy, a sleep-state catching up to him to dull his senses.

Ul-Rezaj awoke to a contingency of Grim gathered around him. Jurani stood tall above the cave’s fog. A mixed expression of glee and disappointment overtook her. She asked the group, “Him no dead ?” Ul-Rezaj did not know how his current state was going to be interpreted in Jurani’s mind.

A troll Shaman and Supplicant, Kazarak, casted a tall shadow over Ul-Rezaj. Ul-Rezaj shifted to view the lording spiritualist personally. “Heal or bind,” he inquired to the group.

“Bah, no kneecaps fer me,” replied Jurani with laughter, seeming to indicate an implied answer.

Kazarak summoned up the dew from the cave’s walls and dumped a regenerating wave into the fissures caused by the Bleeding Hollow. Pain seeped through Ul-Rezaj’s form, it stung like salt to a wound, he lashed out in agony, and then Kazarak bound his hands together with shackles. Lilliana broke down, weeping and dismissing herself for a moment. “Gah,” he blurted with a sting of empathy, genuinely regretting breaking himself out earlier, “If ah new you was coming, den ah would'a.” He paused, something seemed plainly wrong. What was going on here, Ul-Rezaj thought, disgruntled by the situation. No one was acting in a reasonable way; he concluded it had to be a dream. “You're not real,” he told his audience.

“We are real, Ully,” Syreena the Shadowblade said, speaking up as she progressed towards him.

 The irony met Ul-Rezaj with amusement. “Dis be what dey all say, you see,” he replied.

Syreena asked, “Do they all call you Ully too?” Ul-Rezaj stared and threw himself back, warning Kazarak about him polluting his own healing spells if he kept up the process. Evidently, that was the wrong thing to say. They all seemed uneasy.

“Ju sure him okay,” Jurani muttered with suspicion. Ul-Rezaj scowled at the priestess, who returned the grimace with more laughter.

 “Y-you, tried to help,” he told them, still having a difficult time recuperating, “But it was too little too late.”

Jurani seemed indifferent. “Me get ju kneecaps one o' dese days.”

Lilliana snapped, “Jurani shutup! Ulrezaj what the fuck...,” Lilliana asked from a few step’s distance. “So like, Kharthak said...”

“No sudden moves,” Kazarak warned while adding pressure to Ul-Rezaj’s shackled wrists. “You'll get yourself hurt.”

Ulrezaj had a bead of sweat trickle down his neck. "What did Khart'ak say?"

“You got caught up...,” she replied, “In something you shouldn't...” Ul-Rezaj broke out in crackling laughter. He couldn’t believe that they had suddenly turned to such scrutiny over such a small matter as inspecting the source of magic from Maledictus’ grave.

Lupinum revealed himself with calm, mellow certainty. “He said you became a servant of the Legion.”

Was this a joke, Ul-Rezaj wondered. He played along for a moment, as if he was a servant of the Legion, but it only made the tension thicker and more condemning. Eventually, he finished with sincerity, “Ain't me, just ain't me.”

“How can we be sure,” pried Lupinum cautiously.

Ulrezaj peered at the Irredeemable. “But,...” he muttered, considering the bizarre conditions of these circumstances, “It's strange dat'chu make dese accusations against me when...” He couldn’t pin exactly what had caused this fiasco against him. In a moment’s pause, he looked at his fellow Grim. "Someone set me up."

“Dis all smells like yesterday fish,” grumbled Jurani, “First one story, den another.”

Ul-Rezaj peered with confusion, “What?”

“Make up ju mind,” beckoned Jurani, “Ju demon lackey or no?”

Ulrezaj shrugged, “Yesterday's fish done burnt in de river. When would ah ever say dat?”

“An associate of yours claims you're working against us,” Lupinum informed him, “And we only have your word that you aren't.”

Ul-Rezaj could hardly believe it. “What proof did he have?”

“Only his word.”

Edited by Ul-Rezaj

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The Grim ascended the Descent of the Bleeding Hollow cave after agreeing to do an inspection. Kazarak pounded Ul-Rezaj on the head to demonstrate just how futile resisting would be. Ul-Rezaj scowled at him. Others scolded Kazarak for denying the peaceable transition, but Ul-Rezaj, taking on an instinctual defiance to his captors, thanked Kazarak for performing according to his duty. As they climbed back up and out of the hole, they noticed a few Alliance dangling like insects caught in a spider’s net from vines. Unlucky adventurers, it seemed, had either fallen into the cave, were brought there out of curiosity, or had been made captives themselves. Syreena dashed in front of them, scouting ahead in the event newcomers arrived. Kazarak withdrew his weapons, but did not strafe too far for good measure. He slammed some of the Alliance, regardless of whether they dangled from vines or had simply been caught off guard by the presence of other corporeal beings, into the bony plaster that lined the orc’s ancestral home.

When they reached the top of the cave, they paused. Moonlight beamed down on the crowd in a way that illuminated Ul-Rezaj to reveal fragments of a form he had been not long ago. Kazarak looked over the troll, noticing oozing blood on his back, and the spikes stuck in his shoulders. “Hmm,” he growled distastefully. Ul-Rezaj appears seemingly unfazed by the inspection, displaying no concern for what they might find. He had his reasons for doing what he did, and, if they judged him wanting anyway, he would shatter his bonds and respond to whatever they intended to do in kind.

Ul-Rezaj remarked, initiating his intent to treat his captors as he was to be treated. “Hmm,” he responded to Kazarak, raising his tone of voice with inquiry at the end. Lupinum placed his hands on Ul-Rezaj's bare arms, clearly untrusting of Ul-Rezaj’s calm demeanor. They had no reason to be. “Khart'ak be a madman,” he assured them, “You'll see it yourself.”

Syreena tilted her heat at the spikes jutting from Ul-Rezaj’s shoulders. They did not appear to her simply as backwards shoulder cleats. She looked at Kazarak.  “What is that?”

“He's got fel taint...,” Kazarak spoke with neutral certainty, “All over himself.”

“Well, yeah,” Syreena replied matter-of-factly, “He's a warlock.”

Ul-Rezaj sneered, at least someone had some sense around here. “O' course,” he interjected, “Ah've always used de fel-taint. Anything unclean, it will surely be washed out.”

Kazarak shook his head. “Tried that already, in the hole. That stuff's stuck.” He paused for a moment, “Gonna need...a deep cleansing...to have any hope. Hope of removing it.”

“Whatever dat means,” Ul-Rezaj remarked, seeing as shaman spiritualism produced the usual vague answer.

Lupinum closed his eyes, attempting a different method of inspection, and pushed his consciousness inwards toward Ul-Rezaj, despite the conversation around him. Twitching his neck, a faint pulse of light was seen beneath his hands on the Troll's arms. Ul-Rezaj shrugged, seeing it as a superficial event, “You won't find any'tin' outside o' me, nor any'tin inside o' me. De proof just ain't around you.”

“There is...,” Lupinum spoke in direct defiance, “Something...” A chill went down Ul-Rezaj’s spine. For the first time, the troll began to shift uncomfortably. The voice who had spoken to him earlier, the one like a Dreadlord, an undead man, or a night elf, could have been a subtler resident, like a parasite, feeding Lupinum’s suspicion. If the creature spoke on Ul-Rezaj’s behalf, without him knowing, he would undoubtedly run into certain problems.

“I've seen...corruption like this before,” Kazarak informed them, voice trailing off as he continued, “I know how to purge it...but...”

“It isn't corruption, I know that taste...,” Lupinum added, “I can't quite place this...” He coughed hard and released his grip on Ul-Rezaj. Most definitely, Lupinum had discovered what contacted Ul-Rezaj in the cave. However, Lupinum’s discovery was not his highest concern.

“Purge it?” Ul-Rezaj seemed uncertain as to what Kazrak was suggesting, “You can't purge de fel from my system, it would destroy any defense ah've got from de demons.” He winced and stared in shock at the whole crowd, his tone of voice deliberately turning to self-pity, “You must have mercy. You know nothing about what ah've gone through.” He thought that was true enough, because they had not even begun to inquire about what had gone on at the cave.

“We have nothing to suspect you of,” Lupinum responded, “Aside from Karthak's eye witness account, which I find to be far-fetched.”

Of course, Ul-Rezaj realized, they seemed far too caught up in the defaming accusations already made against him. “Den you need to know some'ting more,” he said, spoken with a sigh, “Which might really incriminate me, but ah be possessed by no demon ah can assure you.”

Lupinum nodded with certainty, “But something happened to you, Ul-Rezaj...”

“Yes,” Ul-Rezaj told the gathered honestly, “Some'ting has happened. Ah flew to de Throne o' Kil'jaeden myself, as Khart'ak says. It was in search o' de source o' de magic which plagued Maledictus' tomb, just to see if a connection existed. Ah was shot down by Bleeding Hollow savages, but... den ah was captured, inside de prison, ah think dey did some'tin to my system.” He hesitated for a moment. In that split second, the thought occurred to consider Kharthak’s intent. The orc had, apparently, seen him fly off. It had been without aid that the orc necessarily neglected the troll to find a better opportunity to engage in the fight. The orc must have made the connection between Ul-Rezaj putrefying the Dread Raven, and then flying to the Throne of Kil’Jaeden, the Legion’s most guarded outpost, as a red flag. Such a connection would have been false, but, at this particular moment, it emanated a spec of truth since the barrier controlling the more demonic fel-taint in his system had eroded. Ul-Rezaj knew the poison remained in him. He knew that he would need to seek help, but preferably not under these conditions. What he did not know, however, was whether or not to praise Kharthak for arousing The Grim into action so quickly through the connections he was able to make from the situation, or cursing the orc for defamation. The judgment of his mind, for now, at least, leaned more towards the latter.

Lupinum raised his eyebrow inquisitively, uncertain as to what Ul-Rezaj’s silence meant.

“Inside, ah heard a voice,” Ul-Rezaj assured Lupinum, not sure how much time he would have to explain, “As you say you thought you saw, Lupi.” Lupinum blinked. Maybe, Ul-Rezaj considered, Lupinum might be able to identify the source. “When you heard it, had it any resemblance o' some'ting you know?” Lupinum shook his head slowly, greasy hair falling across his face. Ul-Rezaj sighed wearily. “As ah heard it, it spoke some'ting mockingly, or in condemnation, or out o' wisdom, but it gave me advice,” he paused for a moment, making sure he had their full attention, “Since ah joined dis Horde, ah have found dat many o' my strengths requires separation through void magic, dis be how ahm not corrupted by de fel while de demons be.”

“Ju always be corrupted,” replied Jurani with a subtle melancholy in her tone, “Even just a little, ju never escape dat magic.”

“Aye, but de corruption be in control, Jurani,” Ul-Rezaj answered, “You know how it be, right?"

“Me mess wid da shadows,” she replied with condemnation, “Dat bad enough. Dat fel jus nasty.”

Ul-Rezaj spoke to Jurani, as if in reminder, “It be de shadows which protects us, de warlocks, demselves. It was bled outta me by de Bleeding Hollow.”

Lupinum asked, “So... now you're vulnerable?”

“Now ah fear de fel has given de Legion a voice to speak wit' me,” Ul-Rezaj confessed with a painstaking, almost choking sensation in his throat. Perhaps, he figured, when he saw the demon droves, he was peering into the mind of the Legion itself. They did not control his conscience; they simply shared their thoughts. It seethed and continued, but, if that was how the Legion functioned, he wanted to avoid it at all costs. “Threatening to proceed wit’ driving me mad,” he continued with honesty, remembering how he escaped, “By sharing wit’ me de powers dey possess. You would not know what to do.”

Lupinum stared. “That sounds mighty dangerous, ‘Zaj,” he spoke with contempt, “Mighty dangerous. In fact, I'm unclear what to do about it. All I know how to do is burn away Fel, not to... fix it.”

Ul-Rezaj shook the shackles on his wrists. His tone turned hopeless and dour. “Free me, Kazarak,” he pled to the troll, who appeared to have otherwise lost interest in discussing the situation. He already admitted to having a solution, but also appeared to be hesitant to mention specifically what it was. If it grieved The Grim to do it, Ul-Rezaj wanted to avoid knowing what the troll’s solution would be. “Leave me to my fate.”

Kazarak regarded Ul-Rezaj for a moment, as if weighing the possible outcomes, but his true expression remained hidden from behind his hood. "No," he said simply. Lupinum nodded with agreement at Kazarak.

“We will not abandon a Brother in need,” Lupinum told The Grim.

Kazarak snarled unpleasantly, “And I will not...leave a potential threat...out here unchecked.”

Ul-Rezaj turned to Syreena. “Know dat ah served de Mandate through and through, wit'out turning to de Legion or possession, only dat ah have been consumed by lust and passion.”

Ul-Rezaj looked back at Kazarak, annoyed. “Den what will you do, fix things right again?” Ul-Rezaj figured, if the troll would not unbind his shackles, he might as well know what the answer was.

“It could be done,” the shaman replied vaguely, referring to the purging ritual he knew to do, “You might...wish you were dead...by the end.”

Syreena chided Ul-Rezaj, a sense of bitter resentfulness coming from her. “You're not finished serving the Mandate yet.  Don't talk like that.”

“Ju never finish serving da Mandate,” Jurani added to Syreena’s words, sounding indifferent, “Even in death or possession.”

“Ah never turned,” Ul-Rezaj snapped, “Only had blood poisoning.”

Lupinum continued offering solutions, “Maybe you just need a blood transfer? Some Felmancer blood to righten things out?”

Ul-Rezaj considered the suggestion, “Mm, per'aps, dese Bleeding Hollow did have a lot o' blood.” However, on second thought, he figured if the poison putrefied his stream, contributing more blood would only slow the inevitable, not fix it.

“Lots of pink skin blood,” asked Jurani, suggesting an attack on an Alliance camp.

Ul-Rezaj mumbled, “Preferably not.” He opted not to explain himself. Besides, he figured, that might take too long.

“So,” Lupinum started, assessing the situation, “We gather some materials, infuse it with whatever Shadow magic you need, and boom.”

Kazarak grumbled impatiently, “What he needs...is a ritual. It would mean mutilation...and to cast his spirit...away for some time. It's no suggestion...it's a solution. One none of you...want to hear.”

Jurani tilted her head forward, eager to hear it.

Turning his head over his shoulder, Ul-Rezaj eyed Kazarak in horror. He brought his hands together, then attempted to pull them apart, trying to be free.

“Speak, Shaman,” Lupinum commanded.

Kazarak spoke slowly, “We would have to...cut out his heart. Purify it, and the body. Cast his spirit...into the spirit world.”

Jurani nodded in agreement.

“Ooooh,” beckoned Ul-Rezaj, panic and adrenaline flowing through him, “You don’t say?!”

Syreena and Lupinum peered at Kazarak searchingly, not entirely familiar or trusting of the procedure.

Kazarak continued, “It would be...gravely painful. Violating, even. I would not...raise a knife on one...I call comrade unless it were necessary.”

Ul-Rezaj, having enough of this talk, threw his head back and clapped his hands together. His eyes turned a fel-green and his shoulders grew a pair of broken wings, still damaged from his metamorphosis form he used not-so-long ago.

Syreena asked, “How's he supposed to stay alive with his heart cut out?” But, by that point, the scene had split between talk of rituals and captivating desperation. Lupinum stared Ul-Rezaj down.

“Dem demons will be waiting,” spoke Jurani, speculating on what she was observing, “Dere gonna take over him body. Unless dey done dat already, o' course.”

“No, no, no!” Ul-Rezaj blurted. “Ah might be Farraki, but my heart can only beat fo' so long once it's out.” He knew what Kazarak was suggesting took hold of the shadow-magics that slowed the blood of the Farraki, keeping them alive in the most hostile environments, but he was unsure if he trusted if that tradition had held since joining The Grim. “Ah've strength dis way,” he warned, threatening to break himself free and run, “Wit' o' wit'out you, ah have strength to live! But, no!” His thoughts raced to fast for him to organize them into coherence. His adrenaline thrummed with fel-infusion. In his head, the hundreds of voices from atop the Throne of Kil’jaeden cackled gleefully. It sickened him. 

“What is this, Felmancer,” barked Lupinum.

Ul-Rezaj turned his head and peered, like an animal backed into a corner, at all of the Grim around him.

“As I said...,” spoke Kazarak with a flat, honest-but-cold tone, “He'll wish himself dead.”

“Dat no Ul-Rezaj in dere,” judged Jurani.

 Lupinum agreed, “Then we must act swiftly. Ul-Rezaj, you're going to be purified or die trying.”

“Or both,” Jurani chimed.

Ul-Rezaj tugged wildly and stared at Kazarak, he pulled his hands free and his nails became clawed. “Enough sentiment,” Ul-Rezaj roared. A dreadful thought entered his mind that if The Grim could not take care of him here and now, if they attempted to do what he did not want them to do, he could kill them and prove them unworthy to fight the Legion. But, if they succeeded in their ritual, he would once again be free. The irony of the idea tasted like honey on his lips. So much of The Grim’s function was built around trials and tests, proving of worth and achieving knew heights, he saw no problem conflicting them in this moment of inevitable suffering. He cast off his fear, threatening, “Ah shall make dis easy fo' you, fo all o' you! You will cut out my heart, or ah will kill you!”

Syreena blinked, she looked like she was trying to understand the situation, but overall at a loss.

Ul-Rezaj rolled his up the sleeves on his tattered vest and sneered. “Serve our Mandate, lust be consuming my body, the Fel singes. I have to, you have to, so let's get dis over with. It's de only way to stop it.”

Kazarak regarded Ul-rezaj unfeelingly, “You make a move...and I'll kill you myself.” Kazarak understood. Being a Supplicant, he did not feel sentiment that might otherwise cause hesitation as with others. He could see the test before him, and accepted it.

“Very well,” Lupinum stated in acknowledgement. He stepped forward and attempted to trip Ul-Rezaj, but Ul-Rezaj slammed him in the face with his elbow. Lupinum was knocked in the jaw by Ul-Rezaj, he fell backwards while trying to bring the warlock with him. Other hand free, Ul-rezaj attempted to grab a hold of one of Kazarak’s axes.

Seeming to accept the possession, Jurani spoke with a detectable remorse, “Me tell ju, dat no troll buddy in dere.” For a moment, Ul-Rezaj thought Jurani was right. But, ultimately, he could feel the movements of his own mind and body, his own adrenaline and the cravings of the fel. He allowed himself to wonder if that’s what possession was, or if it was a pressure akin to duress.

Kazarak simply ducked back, avoiding the move for his axes. “Can I hurt him now?” he asked impatiently.

Ul-Rezaj roared, “HNGRAH! De Legion tests us! It only wants to fight us if we be worthy to take it. You will die here or against dem!” The fel pumped through him like an invasion. He spoke his words honestly still, but they were words of resent. A whole cosmos of destructive power and methods wreaked through his mind. They tore at him, making it all seem for nothing. He pondered how anyone could hope to fight that.

Ul-Rezaj fully dove after knocking Lupinum down to swing behind Kazarak, attempting to dig his claws into Kazarak’s side.

Keeling over, Lupinum cried, “Get him on his back!”

“Come here,” Jurani demanded, tugging Ul-Rezaj to her and holding him in place. She looked at Syreena. “Stab him.” Kazarak gritted his teeth, attempting to bide them some time, he pulled the wind around him and tossed a Lightning Surge Totem by the warlock's feet. Syreena moved towards Ul-Rezaj, then jumped back from the lightning. Ul-Rezaj flailed and jerked with shock, the totem causing him to hold his arm over his eyes to stop the blinding light. Kazarak lunged, tackling the stunned troll to the ground, this time using the element of earth to bind all his limbs to the dirt below. Lupinum gathered to his feet and approached.

Ul-Rezaj whimpered and begged helplessly. “Agh! You can't succeed in dis, please. You have to see de ritual will fail.”

“It's your only chance, Ul-Rezaj,” Lupinum reassured him.

Kazarak grunted as he struggled to keep his earthen arms intact on top of Ul-rezaj. He shouted to the priests behind him, "Someone...use mind magic...and put...him...to sleep!"

“We can use de Legions power,” Ul-Rezaj bargained, now seeming to speak wildly as hope fled from him. The more he spoke, the more out of control he became. “Wait, no we can't! It's too wild, too uncontrollable! You'll kill dem!” The internal debate raged a volatile conflict outwardly; he knew not what to do.

Jurani tried to pry, as Lupinum had, into his mind, except this time to subdue, not read. “Dere someting else in dere, me no control it.” Ul-Rezaj revealed a conflict of thoughts to Jurani. Some of them came through as emanations from the Throne of Kil’Jaeden; others, from his own accord; still, it proved to be all in vain.

“He's in dere,” spoke Jurani, now convinced of the Legion’s possession, “But der others, too. Him more crazy den me.” Jurani released him. Ul-Rezaj gasped as he hit the floor. It had all been a waste. She continued with a warning, “Ju gotta get dem out or him gonna change into one o' dem.”

Ul-Rezaj cried out, “No!” He swatted aimlessly, genuinely attempting to avoid having his heart cut out, but also trying to accept the solution.

Lupinum nodded, fully prepared, he announced: “We move forward. Pin him effectively.”

“Right here,” asked Syreena.

Lupinum responded, “I don't think we have a choice... can you perform the... uh... surgery, Shadowblade?”

Syreena blinked. She appeared unable to believe what he was actually suggesting, “What?”

“I have no skill with a knife, and Kaz is busy.”

Ul-Rezaj turned to Syreena. “You... know dat ... ah could never ... embrace either o' dese choices,” he did not sound reassuring, but he also knew they had to be strong when dealing with the Legion.

“I can cut him up, sure,” she told Lupinum, “But I usually don't worry about keeping my victims alive when I cut them.

Lupinum answered, “I'll keep Ul-Rezaj alive. We need his heart... Jurani and I can pump it full of Shadow magic.” Jurani grinned.

“All right...,” Syreena spoke, shifting uneasily. She knelt down by Ul-Rezaj. Jurani burst into laughter. Lupinum murmured a prayer. Everything, the whole world around him, began to spin uncontrollably. All he knew now was that, if the ritual was to succeed, it would have to be with someone who understood the slow, methodical bloodstream that kept Farraki trolls alive.

Ul-Rezaj reached towards Lupinum, making a request, “Give it to Lilliana, she will know what to do. She comes from my people."

Syreena drew a dagger and knelt next to Ul-Rezaj.  “If this kills him, I better not be the one getting my arms ripped off!”

Lupinum grasped the Troll's arm. Kazarak focused intently on his ward, peeling back a strip to reveal his heart, while bolstering the ward on the rest of the body. “It's on my head, Sy...,” Lupinum mentioned.

Ul-Rezaj took a deep breath as Lupinum grabbed his arm, barely conscious as he was. His chest muscles tensed and his breathing became thin. Syreena looked at Lupin, then turned back to Ul-Rezaj and inserted her dagger under the troll's ribcage, twisting it. Within a moment’s notice, Ul-Rezaj’s senses dulled in an exhausted way; a sense of disconnected peace carried him off as it was rebound and redirected by Kazarak’s ward to his heart.

Edited by Ul-Rezaj

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A duo of menders retrieved Ul-Rezaj’s body from Frostwall Garrison. They unbound the earthen wards, put in place by Kazarak that kept his body from stiffening or rotting, but only after becoming decidedly content that a great portion of the venom seeped out and had sufficiently been undone. When the body had been picked up, Ul-Rezaj sensed it. From the shadowlands, the aching reality of incapacitation beckoned a sense of emptiness. He kept his spirit form sharply peeled on reality, but, like a creature born with blurred vision, he could only depict what he knew were shapes moving his form. They stopped at the Throne of the Elements. There, Ul-Rezaj drew close, attempting to pry into their machinations.

A tauren shaman dropped Ul-Rezaj on the grassy plains and closed her eyes, calling for the ancestors to provide insight as to what steps needed to be taken. After a moment of deep meditation, she stated: “The spirits say this one should let go.”

Flinching from the shadow realm, Ul-Rezaj shifted with a sense of panic. His focus enhanced as he peered down on the two menders. He identified both forms more clearly: Nokokomah and Lilliana. Their proximity to the orcish sacred place of communing caused his senses to intensify as if he had been in his actual body, giving him an ear to hear.

Lilliana lingered a few feet behind the tauren shaman and Ul-Rezaj’s limp form.  She had something fairly precious in her possession.  The shadows that weaved through his detached heart seemed to intermix with her own, and it was difficult to tell from where the shadows originally came from her or the heart. Ul-Rezaj felt a sense of satisfaction, seeing as he had been correct in his final moments to recognize that the priestess might have some attenuation to the magic at play here. Still, after hearing Nokokomah’s words to let him go, he hoped desperately that Lilliana knew how to proceed. She had his heart, but he screamed, despite having realized he had no voice.

Nokokomah looked up, her gaze fixing on Ul-Rezaj as she was able to see him as though he stood beside her whole. Her eyes narrowed when he screamed. “Speak plainly, spirit,” she said. “I can hear you.”

Ul-Rezaj shifted from within the shadowlands, cautious about whether the spirits were really just tricking him into passing with ease. “Prove it,” he demanded, “Would you prefer that I pass, too?” Confidence surged through him; he knew that no Grim would attempt to throw his life away for a variety of reasons. But, in this particular moment, the expressions of Nokokomah were not clear in the slightest.

“You would serve the Mandate better in life, I believe,” she answered, appearing as if speaking to thin air around Lilliana.

With something equivalent to an eyeroll, Lilliana replied. “I don't want him to let go.  The spirits are being dumb.”

Nokokomah tilted her head. “But you must be the one to desire it, or this shall fail.” At once, Ul-Rezaj knew these were, in fact, Grim. No orcish spirit, especially on this world which detested the Horde, would be privy enough to invoke a trick through using the Mandate. They would only understand it as a doctrine, not as a practice, as a means, or as an end. It would be, to them, merely a phrase with a vague purpose. He grinned broadly. “Good. Now then, do you have a plan for this restoration process?”

Nokokomah exchanged glances with Lilliana. “Many parts of him are tainted,” the tauren informed her, “His heart, with poison and shadow, his mind with demons and fel. The fel, perhaps, we do not need to cleanse completely, as it is his nature. Tell me what befell his heart.”

Lilliana had been able to reach Ul-Rezaj through the dark shadow magic that emanated from his heart. From the moment Lupinum handed it to her, Ul-Rezaj knew she had handled it like a confusing puzzle box, attempting to solve it to reach his spirit. She had succeeded to an extent, learning certain aspects about the specific magic that might apply here. But she had only gone far enough to make Ul-Rezaj aware of her tampering, she had, after all, not been able to do that for years once she lost approval from the troll loas.  She neither saw nor heard Nokokomah talking to Ul-Rezaj, even as she subtly pricked into the heart’s tendril plumes for information. The outside discussion was clearly causing a disruption on her concentration. She gave up, having the procedure take too much out of her.

Lilliana's gentle blue eyes trailed down to the prone form of the warlock. “Well like, he got infected with the fel stuff, that was meant to...take over the control he had over it and stuff,” she explained.

Ul-Rezaj put his palm to his face. He laughed desperately at Nokokomah. “Maybe you can do better. Don't shaman bathe things clean by the waterfall or some such nonsense?”

Nokokomah glanced up at the spirit, unperturbed. “I will do my best, warlock. But the spirits help those who help themselves.”

Ul-Rezaj raised a curious brow. “And how do the spirits suggest I do that?”

Nokokomah did not answer right away. She looked down at the body, holding her hands over it. Green life-energy flowed from the earth around her, the grasses with the dirt, illuminating and outlining the body. Where there is still demonic taint, fel stands out against the pure green in a purple and reddish ichor. “The body will be easy to prepare. The heart will be more difficult,” she informed Lilliana.

In return, Lilliana held tight to Ul-Rezaj's heart as if it had been an infant within her arms, cradling it.  It was wrapped in a sturdy cloth.  “Don't be grumpy with Ul-Rezaj, this so wasn't his fault.”

Nokokomah tilted her head, listening to them both. While she does so, the vivid green earth energies wrap around Ul-Rezaj's body, working on purging away the taint that remains, and infusing the strength he will need to survive the shock of being brought back to life. “A sacrifice must be made,” she said, finishing the cleansing ritual.

Ul-Rezaj shrieked, "What, the ground is eating me! Tell me the sacrifice is not my physical form, then?"

Nodding, Nokokomah replied, “That would suffice, but then we would need to find you a new physical form, which would defeat the purpose.”

Lilliana was  hesitant to leave to hunt down a sacrifice, but noticing the nearby low-flying Windroc, she asked, "Are they enough...?"

Ul-Rezaj took a deep breath. Even though he did not need to, he still felt the custom as a mandatory urge. He doubted it. After all, all of the southern tribes, from Gurubashi to Farraki, rejected bird worship as feasible due to their weak souls. He held his doubts but kept his tongue to see how Nokokomah would answer.

She followed Lilliana's gaze to the birds nesting nearby, studying them for a long moment. Nokokomah shook her head. “They already belong to the element of air. For this, we need something that will appease both earth and water.”

Ul-Rezaj folded his arms. “And what is that?”

Again, she did not answer right away. Nokokomah sat back in her haunches. The green energies continued to creep over Ul-Rezaj like mindless tentacles finding energies to feed on. When they are done, they retract back into the earth, but for one that latches onto his wrist. “Blood,” she finished, “The blood of the earth.”

Ul-Rezaj winced, surprised at the response. Lilliana followed suit, demanding to know what that meant.

Nokokomah stood and slowly turned, taking in the vista of the lands before them. Ul-Rezaj let his arms unfold and fall to his sides, holding a finger to the plain. “I hear your words, Nokokomah, but how can the earth itself bleed?”

For the first time, Nokokomah answered at once. “We must go to Frostfire.”

Lilliana fidgeted from where she stood, heart cradled. Ul-Rezaj glanced at both menders. "For what?"

“To cleanse your heart, warlock.”

 

Blood of the earth, it did not mean anything to Ul-Rezaj. That could be clefthoof blood, orc blood, or even an antidote extracted from a plant for all he knew. Both menders gathered up his body and carried it to Frostfire Ridge. They surveyed the area. Finding a lava spring, Nokokomah’s expression broadened to a grin. “Here,” she stated, landing a wyvern on the side of a mountain with heavy snow accumulation. Lilliana seemed more than uncertain about the shaman’s plans. Ul-Rezaj himself, however, lost some of his attenuation as they gained distance from the rich, primal essences of the Throne of the Elements. His spirit lingered in the area, as if stranded, but the distance of the shadowlands created a narrow chasm, akin to a ravine, through which he thought he could shout. The power of the metaphysical realm thrummed and bridged, at least to some extent, the real gap between the two locations of Nagrand and Frostfire Ridge.

“Lilliana,” started Nokokomah, eyeing the lava pit with certainty. “How good are you at throwing?”

Lilliana stepped back with the heart. "I'm not throwing his heart into there!"  Her gaze turned to the lava.

“Of course not,” the shaman replied, as if her plan were obvious, “We need to throw it across.”

Ul-Rezaj bellowed, resounding across the vast distance, “How're you getting that back?”

Nokokomah paused. “At the proper time, of course.” Ul-Rezaj could barely make out the shaman’s voice, but he did not know how to receive the seemingly obscure concept. At least now he knew exactly what Nokokomah meant by blood of the earth. He wondered, for a moment, if these riddles were an enjoyable game to the shaman. Whatever the case, she was performing a useful role. He could at least appreciate that. He prayed that would be enough.

Nokokomah fixed her eyes at the faint outline of Ul-Rezaj's spirit. “You will have a part, as well.” He heard her directly, then forced himself to swallow his nerves.

Lilliana has had years of throwing snowballs, with rather incredible accuracy...as many unfortunate people had noticed.  However, the idea of putting Ul-Rezaj's heart at risk like that terrified her, "Um......."  She didn't seem inclined to argue with the shaman.

Nokokomah regarded Lilliana. “Perhaps catching, then. Do you not have the ability to grasp things and pull them to you?”

Lilliana frowned, “I can throw, and I can pull back what I've thrown, if that's what you're asking.”

“It needs only pass through once,” she answered.

Nokokomah looked up and studied the mountain, fully expecting an avalanche to fall again. Ul-Rezaj recoiled at the statement while watching her body language. He fidgeted uncomfortably in his spirit form, unable to tell how to interpret the cryptic behavior. Whatever it was, it must certainly have been objectionable to be impossible to say outright.

Lilliana glanced at Ul-Rezaj's heart, then down to his fairly lifeless body below her. “Alright,” she acknowledged, the tone of trust in her voice wavering.

Nokokomah proceeded in spite of the insurmountable tension. She began to explain, “We will have all four elements aiding us. At our feet, we have earth, touched by fire. Above, we have water, which will soon be touched by air.” She paused, eyeing Lilliana with direct seriousness. “When I call, Lilliana, you must grasp the heart out of the air and pull it to you.”

A seemingly distracted glance directed the priestess, her gaze seemed to follow where the elements lie...the earth, the lava, the snow that's threatening them up on the cliff, “Alright.” She said, repeating her acknowledgment as before, only with no sign of protest and no more or less certainty.

Nokokomah directed her attention to Ul-Rezaj's spirit. “The moment the heart is in contact with all four elements, it will be cleansed. You must then enter your body and begin willing your heart to beat again.” Lilliana stepped closer to Nokokomah, to try to sense where Ul-Rezaj's spirit resided that she was talking to. Ul-Rezaj had a degree of confidence that she had not gained the perception to see him yet, least of all from here.

In response to Nokokomah, he seemed to be yelling in response, as if from a distance. “But, it's very far away. I will channel what I can the moment it happens.”

“You will find your abilities very close the moment all four elements are called upon,” the shaman assured him.

Ul-Rezaj seemed to be waving to no use. “Do it! Do it! Do it!” The sooner the task was completed, he figured, the better they all could get on with their lives. Back in Nagrand, Nokokomah had readied his body by purifying the remnant demonic energies from him. It all seemed more hopeful in that moment, like a flick of the hand and all should be well. Now, the trio literally played with fire.

Nokokomah nodded and looked back at Lilliana again, making sure not to leave any room for error. “When you feel the heart's first beat, return it to his body.”

Staring down at Ul-Rezaj’s physical form, Lilliana mustered her will. “I'll be ready...,” she muttered.

Nokokomah held out her hands. “I will take the heart. Be prepared for my call. It is about to be very loud here.”

Lilliana, of course, didn't appear to want to let go of the heart.  She unwrapped it from the stiff cloth she was using to protect it, and handed it over delicately to Nokokomah.  Lilliana really did handle it as if the heart was a newborn infant, so careful was she that it almost looked as if she could have been tender with it.

Nokokomah silently acknowledged Lilliana’s gesture and accepted it with a similar reverence, then she moved over to the other side of the lava pool. As she reached the other side, she frowned and planted her hooves. Holding the heart before her, she began calling upon the elements. They started to manifest visibly, swirling up her legs and around her body, giving her normally very still appearance surprising animation. Then, she stomped a hoof. The air elements traveled dashing upwards, straight to the accumulated snow above. The snow creaked and groaned in protest, but soon started sliding down the slope. It picked up speed as it went, hurtling down at the three of them and the pool. The natural channel cut by the lava contained it at the last moment so that it did not overwhelm the three, though the lava surged violently, nearly swamping onto their positions.

Lilliana didn't predict that Nokokomah was going to do that! She quickly stepped towards Ul-Rezaj at the sight of the coming catastrophe, her first instinct to move him...but who was she kidding....she couldn't get the two of them out of there with just one leap of faith....  She was quite relieved when the channel diverted the snow, but then, of course, there was another problem with the lava!

Throughout, the roar of the avalanche all but drowned out sound, and when the snow met lava, the hiss of steam was ear-piercing. As lava splashed upwards in response, steam forming throughout, Nokokomah drew her arm back and hurled the heart through the midst of it all. She ignored the splatters of lava that hit her. “NOW!” she cried.

Lilliana leapt over Ul-Rezaj as she shot out her Leap of Faith to pull on the essence of Ul-Rezaj's heart as Nokokomah threw it into the air. She was a few moments delayed, however….amidst the roaring and the steam, and general confusion of it seeming like the world was coming down on them.  She watched the heart dip a bit too low...but she still pulled back, a determined, albeit desperate, little troll.

Ul-Rezaj fixed his gaze from his astral form and leapt for the heart. It seethed him as the elemental fury of fire repelled him. The journey across the chasm was exhaustive, but he traveled like an infernal ripping through the sky. When he made it to the other end, he seemed unable to move inside his heart with such fire pulsing from within him. Although he remained in the spirit world, he seemed at least close enough for both to be attenuated.

Nokokomah must have observed the chain reaction. She commanded: “You must will your heart to beat!”

Ul-Rezaj snarled and laughed in a chiding tone. “I am famished,” he told her truthfully. They had, with all this effort, very nearly accomplished nothing. It seemed ironic that he would have to go this far, only to fall so hard. He gnashed his teeth. No. This effort would only be a setback. His heart only needed time to cool, he figured, but in the meantime he must sustain his spirit’s close connection and find something to strengthen him. “Just look at me, I haven't eaten in days and my spirit form is shriveled. Your ritual has worked in its cleansing, but I have one more step to it. My soul must be fed.”

“There is not much time to waste,” warned Nokokomah impatiently, “The purified heart will begin to fade.”

Lilliana roughly pushed Ul-Rezaj back, and fits the heart into his open chest. She performed a temporary sew to keep it held within, but it was sloppy and done far too quickly. If it beats, she'll have to perform something more...permanent later.

“I can beseech the greater elements to keep his heart from fading too quickly, but matters of the soul as a warlock sees them are beyond me,” confessed Nokokomah. “He draws his energy differently than I do.”

Nokokomah nodded in thanks to Lilliana and gathered up Ul-Rezaj's body again. “Back to the Throne.”

Lilliana growled, Ul-Rezaj was not simply a warlock, he was also a souleater.  That thought lingered disturbingly in her mind.

Ul-Rezaj shook his head. “No, the Throne of the Elements can do no more for me. I am as strong here as I will be. You must take me to the Ancient City of Auchindoun.”

Nokokomah looked at the spirit. She paused, then nods. “To Auchindoun, then. Fly!”

“If I cannot draw from their pylons for strength, then my soul will be lost, but at least I will be in their company.”

 

The trio was brought to a mysterious cave. Inside, three Draenei statues faced each other. It formed outside of the border of one of Draenor’s seas. However, it neither remained within the confines of Auchindoun, nor did it remain as a post beneath the colossal mausoleum.

Nokokomah lead Lilliana into the cave, letting the body drop on a slab of stone. “His spirit was drawn here.” She eyed her surroundings; all throughout the cave were copious amounts of dried blood, several weeks old.

Ul-Rezaj was placed on the ground between the Draenei statues. “Of course,” he explained with mild irritation, “The city of Auchindoun is not attenuated for permitting outsiders in.”

“I see why,” remarked Nokokomah, expression seeming flat.

Nokokomah looked at Ul-Rezaj's spirit. “What do you require?”

Ul-Rezaj's heart began to beat, though Ul-Rezaj himself was still departed from it. His body grew sinews and regenerated muscles around it. “Lilliana, as warming as it is to hear my heart beating, can you put that on hold for me?” He shifted between Lilliana and Nokokomah. “This sight is strange. It has the visage of holiness, peace. But, look around you, something truly twisted has clearly happened here.”

Lilliana leapt up onto the slab of stone that Ul-Rezaj resided on, and without replying to him, she started pounding on the poor warlock's chest...including what she had sewn up, causing skin to tear and muscles to rip. It almost looked like she was attacking him, pressing down on him like that.

Ul-Rezaj's heart slowed down from the procedure; it began beats out of rhythm. He turned his head uncomfortably to keep from seeing Lilliana act to keep his body from living on without him. Eyeing a gentle waterfall at the end of the cave, he thought he saw... something. “Both of you,” he motioned, “Come here.”

“Do you have the power to put him into a sort of stasis,” Nokokomah asked, attention now divided.

Lilliana hesitated in her response, “I........  If his mind was working...but I can try to stop any further damage....suppress it all for a few minutes.” Nokokomah nodded at Lilliana.

Ul-Rezaj glanced over his shoulder at the two menders. “Then do it,” he pled whimsically, “I've found something worth our attention.”

Lilliana channeled one of her newer spells since all the radical changes had taken over the majority of the horde's magic.....a suppression spell....into Ul-Rezaj.  She used all of her concentration to make this one particularly powerful. It was not stasis; Lilliana would never be so good at such a thing.  Her talent rested to prevent causing damage, not repairing it or stalling it… Hesitantly, she got up and left the half dead troll's side to the spot the spirit Ul-Rezaj identified...at least, she thought it was the spot.

“Look,” Ul-Rezaj pointed out, “This is blood, blood of a Grim.” In truth, he only really knew that it was not Draenei blood. Whatever the case, such a claim would distract Nokokomah a moment from rushing to get his spirit back within him. Ul-Rezaj knew he was not quite ready. His body appeared exceedingly weak after the small handful of days and he now thought, for a few terrible moments, that he really only wanted to be free from the ailments of the world. He suppressed the temptation; recognizing then that giving up would be exceedingly counterproductive.

Ul-Rezaj shivered in his spirit form. “Something terrible happened here,” he told them, “Dark and menacing."

Nokokomah frowned and studied the blood. She scuffed at it with a hoof. “Arcane, fel, and the Light,” she described, analyzing the situation and forming a conclusion, “A blood elf priest or paladin?”

He watched Nokokomah curiously. “I'm not sure as to whether or not it's elven blood. Let's find out.” Ul-Rezaj began to channel a shadowy, necromantic spell that revealed certain restrained features that depicted the ectoplasmic figure of an elven woman.

Lilliana gasped, “Oh, oh.....oh.............. that's where she went...........!”  She pointed in shock at the figure of the woman.

Ul-Rezaj kept a studious gaze on both. “Can we confirm who it is?”

“I was not acquainted with this person,” Nokokomah replied, shaking her head.

Lilliana seemed to rather easily recognize the features, although she didn't say the elf's name. She just stared and pointed.

Ul-Rezaj noticed Lilliana’s seeming awareness about the situation. “Do you have something to say, Lilly,” he asked.

“That looks like Filora....,” she answered plainly, still staring and pointing.  Her voice radiated confidence.

Ul-Rezaj proceeded, “Strange. I hadn't seen her in a while, come to think of it. I hope she has not suffered a fate that could be avoided, not unlike my own recent experience.” His voice grew sad, expressing a bitter tone of empathy, perhaps.

“Is this why you were drawn here,” inquired Nokokomah, “Is she able to assist with reempowering your soul?”

Ul-Rezaj looks at her, considering the nature of the question. “I came here because I needed a dark, cavernness place that would keep my body from dehydrating. When I found the wards at Auchindoun to be too strong, I found residence till I could think of something better.” In reality, he thought he had been drawn to the havoc, yet it could have also just been his spectral imagination playing on him. Whatever the case, it had proven to be a positive lead. Ul-Rezaj turned back to Filora's incorporeal form. He placed his hands on her cheeks and amplified her features. “But, she could help; we'll see.” She glowed softly and revealed numerous, shadowy restraining marks, as if choked out by tendrils of darkness. Nokokomah watched silently. Ul-Rezaj was not able to read what to make of Nokokomah’s thoughts or emotions. He simply continued to find out what would come next.

Ul-Rezaj pulled himself back, no longer allowing the shaman to be a distraction, but now focusing on the riveting gashes of void energies that appeared to have torn Filora to shreds. “Who,” he muttered in shocked horror, “What could have done this?” Lilliana fidgeted with the chains which hang from her robes.  They served as an annoyance to have as part of her garb, but necessary for channeling her magic.  Like Nokokomah, she also watched silently, but the look on her face was disturbed.  She knew that Filora was apt to disappear for periods of time...she was a lazy, annoying elf that barely offered quality work at times....but the fact that she...and that the Grim had no knowledge that something had seriously messed her up....

Ul-Rezaj shook, eyeing the cave cautiously for traps. He approached Filora's body and placed his hands on her cheeks. “How unfortunate,” he whispered, more for his own benefit than anyone else’s. He turned to the two menders behind him. “Would either of you have a last word for her?”

Lilliana stepped back, her face paling as if perhaps....she may know what was coming next.  She didn't offer a last word, although that was a shame for Filora.....

Nokokomah studied the incorporeal form. “There is not enough personality left to hear it,” she stated finally, examining the figure moments before contributing her input. “She has let go of this world. In time, her shape will fade entirely into the twisting nether, to be reborn into the cycle of life once more. It is all the solace any one of us could hope for.”

Ul-Rezaj watched Lilliana step back in fascination. He turned to Nokokomah, nodding appropriately. He directed his full attention back to the fragment of Filora. “Then perhaps,” he said under his breath, “We shall hear her last word for us.” He snapped his fingers and animated her final statement.

Filora opened her mouth and spoke, gasping for air, "Feed...me...to...the..."

Nokokomah blinked.

Ul-Rezaj finished for her, “Soul Eater.” He stepped forward, placing a finger under her chin, and inhaled her spirit through both his mouth and his nostrils. His spirit dissipated and he traveled to be restored back inside his own body once again. The elemental ritual performed earlier resumed and the sinews of his heart began regenerating through Lilliana's damage.

Lilliana blanched at the very sight of Ul-Rezaj drawing out what remained of the elf's spirit and soul....and momentarily allowed herself to be incapacitated....an embarrassing moment of weakness for a Grim...and she turned to vomit up in the waterfall, fouling it.

Nokokomah closed her eyes and murmured a prayer to the Earthmother. She spoke a word of consolation, “One final sacrifice for the Mandate.”

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