((WR-November)) The Center Cannot Hold

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Kumai stood on a perch overlooking Mord'rethar: The Death Gate with a deep frown etched into her face. She was used to cultists. She had spent enough time with the Hammer to have a certain familiarity with the nihilism that might convince one to put their efforts into bringing about the end times.

The past echoed in her mind as she watched the agents of the Scourge going about their work. Add your Voice to our glorious chorus, for it is the song that will end the world.

But this cult was different. It had a fascination with bodies that she was not used to. The Hammer liked to play with dragons, dragons and chaos, and she herself had been sacrificed on an altar, so they certainly had their own attachment to death, inevitable when bent on destruction, but there were fewer, well, corpses. She had never seen the appeal in necromancy, even and possibly especially after meeting the few Forsaken she had the pleasure of interacting with.

The Damned were not her cult, nor were they her fight. They were not her story. They were a story told by others - the treason in the Scar that went through Eversong, the ruination of the Sunwell, the war that gave her things in common with people she had no right to have things in common with.

And here they were, the Damned insinuating themselves into her story. She wasn't sure how to deal with the mess they were making. She had her magic, and she plied it at the Argent's direction. Perhaps that was all she could do for now. Save the world. It was important. It was. Even if sometimes she felt like she had to convince herself of that. You can only spend so long destroying the world before saving it seems contradictory.

She leapt off her perch, blinked out of sight and reappeared on the landing, a few shambling horrors took notice and veered slowly in her direction. Her hands lit up with flames. However this ended, if she lived, she would have stories to tell, and that she looked forward to.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Kumai and Qabian sit across from each other at a small table. In front of her is a crude map of the Shadowlands, drawn by herself, as best a representation as she could manage for something that is at its essence metaphysical, some blobs, lines between them, marked with angel wings, a swirly tree, a skull, three other blobs unmarked. To her left are two piles of ash, one dark, one light. Her fingers play idly in the dark pile. To her right is a length of paper with a tiny quill on it. Magic shimmers over the quill now and then, but for the moment, it lies still on the page. Her face looks drawn, as though she hasn't slept in some time. On the floor beside her chair is a helm made of swoops of gold, thoroughly unlike anything she's worn before.

Qabian sits with his face in his hands, the heels of his palms pressed over his eyes, his fingers gripping handfuls of his own hair. In front of him is a steaming cup of coffee with a long leaf limp over its edge, stirred but not sipped.

Beside their table is a wide picture window looking out onto a bright Dalaran night. Kumai lets herself watch the couple of citizens walk the street below the apartment while Qabian tries to understand all the things she has just told him in all the ways she has of telling. Behind him, a large fire in a large fireplace burns merrily, but it somehow fails to chase the shadows or the chill from the room. The room is several times the size of his tiny Silvermoon lair, and tonight it feels like a wide empty stone hall full of echoes.

"The afterlife?" Qabian says incredulously, looking up at her. He's said the same word in the same incredulous tone a dozen times already.

She doesn't turn away from the window, while she makes two signs for him, 'stop' and 'area'.

"They still die."

She doesn't bother nodding.

"And they go nowhere. Or the Maw. So to die and yet fear death, it is no afterlife, merely another life, a life taking place beneath and beside us, merely a world that is reached by a spirit instead of a ship."

She continues to watch the evening street, her fingers making swirls in the ash on the table as she lets her friend think himself aloud to wherever it is he needs to be.

"But so many worlds. And Bolvar has people walking them now, walking between them, taking bodies to walk where spirits walk. Trying to... And Sylvanas... And Tyrande..." He drops his face into his hands again, pulling at his own hair. "I hate this. I hate this so much."

Kumai smiles at him then. 'I know,' she signs.

He looks up too late to see. "All right. You are going back?"

She nods, making a sign with her thumb for 'tomorrow'.

"I have no reason to go there, do I?" There's strange emotion skewing Qabian's voice -- concern, desperation. Fear.

She raises an eyebrow at him. She opens her palm over the map in front of her, and the piles of ash swirl threads into a vague representation of Azeroth floating over her hand.

A breath from Qabian's nose in place of a laugh. "The world can burn. I'd rather build up to doing that myself, but if someone else beats me to it? Fine."

Kumai smirks. The globe illusion drops to ash in her palm and reforms into a spinning book floating over her left hand, open flat with its pages smoothly flipping. In her other hand, she holds a bright yellow flame with white arcane sparks at its center.

Qabian scowls. "Knowledge and power."

Kumai smiles.

"You know me well." Qabian sighs and leans back in his chair, staring at the coffee which refuses to stop steaming.

Kumai nods. The Argent over Icecrown seems like a lifetime ago, even though it was closer to a matter of days. The Ebon Blade took over the Argent's work, to her dismay, but perhaps it was inevitable, with how interwoven everything was becoming with the very nature of death, that the death knights lead the charge. 'You going?' she signs at him.

"Maybe." Qabian frowns down at his drink. "The secrets are tempting, but the price for them may be more than I can afford to pay." He finally takes a sip.

Kumai lets the ash and magic in her hands dissolve, and reaches over to put her fingers on his arm. He doesn't flinch, but looks at her hand with confusion on his face, then frowns at her. Her touch is brief, and she turns her wrist to lift the ash once more into a slowly spinning symbol of the Grim, hooded skull and daggers.

Qabian sighs. "I don't know. I don't want to know. It will be hard enough to make such a journey without them. They would only make it harder."

Kumai frowns in turn. He knows the questions she's asking.

"With the Alliance, on this world, the Grim make sense. They don't make sense anywhere else," Qabian insists. "They never have. They never will. There are no steps beyond the first step for them."

Kumai holds out a palm, gesturing to the door on the far side of the room.

"No," Qabian says, lowering his voice. "They are still my people. For all we still have left to do in this world. If this world is torn apart by these new secrets, then yes, I will leave. Until that day, while any still walk under the lions' banner, the Grim have whatever serves for loyalty where I'm concerned."

Kumai shakes her head and stares at Qabian for a moment, then lets the symbol fall back to ash. She stands up and begins to pack away her things.

"You're leaving?" Qabian asks, blinking up at her in surprise.

She just nods and continues.

"Of course you are. You must. What fresh hell Sylvanas has unleashed. She saved us from the Scourge, and now she dooms us to something worse? And there are those among my people who will never believe her wrong. Even I have my doubts, despite everything you've told me," Qabian muses, his gaze drifting around the room as he speaks.

Kumai listens as she puts each thing in its place, paper rolled away, ash in its pouches, quill in its case.

"What does she think is right in this? Is it simply the ability to harness the Scourge to her will? There are so many secrets behind that shattered sky, and I fear most of them. I am not used to being afraid, not since the dragons lost their interest in me." The way the thoughts and feelings roil through Qabian's mind is audible in his words and his voice, but he stands up and walks her to the door despite how immensely he is distracted. "I don't know quite what to do with everything you've told me," he admits, "but thank you for all of it. With you, at least, I have some freedom to try and wrap my mind around the details."

Kumai smiles with a shallow nod of her head, carrying her gold cage of a helm under one arm. Her fingers stained dark with ash, she puts her palm over her heart and smiles at him. 'Safe secrets,' she signs to him. Before she closes the door behind her, she takes a small stone and a wine bottle from her bag and passes them to Qabian with a smile. He looks surprised, but the door closes on him before he can ask questions.

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