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Kelrythis yanked the helmet from her head and chucked it towards the main building of headquarters, sneering as it cracked loudly against the ancient stone, nearly shattering. She pulled her aching and battered body from the bike and jabbed a plated boot at the kickstand and propped the machine against the wall. She was in a helluva mood. None of the missions Maeorra sent her on panned out, nothing got done out in the field, and… she wrecked the bike again.

“Lena!” Kel bellowed in the general direction of the HQ offices. “Lena, the fuck did you do to this damn bike last time?” She pulled her flask out of a saddlebag and drained it, then reached for the spare flask in the other side.Damn, that’s empty, too. She tipped the flask on its end and frowned when it came up dry.

Lena, meanwhile, poked her head out the doorway of HQ and frowned disapprovingly at Kelrythis over the rims of her glasses. Kel frowned back, hating that look. Lena was a fairly attractive woman – maybe a little old for her tastes, but whatever – but those glasses had to go. Narrowing her own eyes, Kel looked again at the mage, who was clutching a book to her chest as she stepped out the doorway. Then again, she does kind of have a sexy librarian thing going on, Kel smirked to herself, suddenly jealous of Krastos.

Lena noticed the flask in Kel’s hand and marched over, ripping it from the warrior’s hand. “Hey!” Kel protested, too surprised to react well. “Dammit, Kelrythis. I told you I refuse to fix that motorcycle if you continue to drink and ride.” Lena stared hard at the younger woman, dropping the flask on the ground and crunching it under a hoof. “Aw, c’mon, Lena. I swear I wasn’t, this time.”

Lena simply shook her head, pushed her glasses up on her nose, and marched back into the offices. “Wait -” Kel cried, lurching after her, “I gotta report to Mae. Where is she?” Lena ignored her, and Kel followed doggedly into HQ.

Lena set the book down on the desk where she was working beside Maeorra, filing paperwork and getting things in the office organized. She spoke in Maeorra’s mind, quietly, Kel’s ripped again. What mission did you send her on this time?

Mae visibly jumped and looked up at the mage, “Lena, you know I hate when you do that.” She sighed and put down her pen. “At least, you know, ask, before you get in my head.” Lena smirked and shrugged, then jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the bloodied and dirty warrior making her way into HQ.

“Mission? She was only supposed to patrol. What the fel happened?” The Watcher rose and rubbed at her temples, waiting for Kelrythis to explain herself.

“Honest, I wasn’t even going that fast!” Kel exclaimed as she recounted the tale of technical difficulties and how her bike supposedly got away from her. This time. Mae was giving her a proper dressing down for a failed mission as she sat slouched on a particularly uncomfortable chair in the infirmary. Buran was giving her a once-over, supposedly making sure Kel didn’t hurt herself in the process of getting thrown around a bit by an opposing Horde patrol and crashing the bike. Kel scowled and grumbled, mostly because Buran was giving her a look that she interpreted to be pity.

“Ten days in the infirmary here,” Kel looked up as Mae’s words registered. “No booze.” Kel’s jaw dropped. It wasn’t like she was an alcoholic or anything. This is bullshit! ”Every day, you will come assist me in the office and around the barracks. We’ve got a lot of heavy lifting to do, and I want you in my line of sight. If I run out of things for you to do, Barthallis would be happy to be your personal trainer for a week.”

Lena hovered somewhere right inside the curtain of the infirmary, and crossed her arms over her chest, “I looked at the bike, Kel.” The warrior’s gaze cut to her, glaring, “And?” Lena fidgeted with her grease-laden hands and looked at Maeorra, “I’ve been ordered to impound it for the duration of your… stay here.”

Kel nearly knocked Buran to the floor as she clamored to her hooves, “You have got to be kidding me!” She shouted and started to take a swing at Maeorra, but the ebon merely dodged the ill-aimed punch and pushed the other woman back down into the chair, jabbing a finger into her plated chest, “I am not fucking around, Kelrythis. This is your last chance.” The Watcher looked over to Lena, who had rushed to assist Buran, before locking her furious gaze back on the warrior. “This shit you pull is beyond the pale. Any other order would have kicked you out on your ass a long time ago. Hell, if Arloth were here, he’d do it himself, and he’d beat you to a pulp doing it.” The death knight grabbed her by the tabard and pulled her up again, pulling Kel’s face close and glaring with her ethereally dead eyes. “Last. Chance. Take it or leave it.

Kel scowled, but let her arms fall limply to her sides. It really was her last chance. After a long moment, she looked up at Maeorra and nodded once.

Future XV

Acaidie pulled the hood of her robes tighter around her face. The wind from the seas whipped at her face, tugged at her hair. She looked down at the voidwalker and a smile touched her lips. Around it’s “wrist” was the trinket box that held the draenei’s magic. The men at the docks laughed at her for trusting a demon with such a precious gift, but she knew. The demon was bound, and therefore loyal, only to her. She summoned it, she controlled it. She was it’s Master. It wasn’t sentient, it didn’t have free will. It served her well and kindly through many years.

Feralas was ahead. She could see the greenish mists from the coast. The ship wouldn’t take her any further up the coast than that, and there were very, very few suitable ports or traversable passages north of Feralas anymore. Acaidie smiled. No bother. She, unlike much of Azeroth, could afford the cost of travel, both monetarily and in time.

Under her breath, she spoke in demonic to Naglasik. The crew of the ship visibly recoiled as the strange and verboten language passed her lips, but she barely noticed. The voidwalker seemed to nod it’s ethereal “head” as it recognized the words. With a wave of it’s arms, it disappeared from sight, into the Twisting Nether, where no one could find it but Acaidie.

When the band of thieves hired her to steal the draenei prisoner’s magic, they had underestimated Acaidie’s intent. Decades spent being mistrusted meant that Acaidie was not to be trusted – but most didn’t know that. She quoted them double her normal rate for use of her powers, and insisted on half up front before the ritual. After doing the deed, she was able to steal away in the middle of the night with the trinket box, with only her hired crew. And she paid them well for their discretion. Not a word would be leaked to her whereabouts.

The trinket box itself was an interesting find, and with a little modification, Acaidie was able to turn it into a reliquary of sorts. Inanimate objects were notoriously terrible at holding things ethereal, like magic, but this one was different. She had dug it up near the Exodar crash site many years ago, so it retained the traces of draenei technology and mysticism. She was nervous to test it on the prisoner, but was pleased, nevertheless. It was, it seemed, the perfect container for a draenei mage’s arcane magics. Even better, it seemed to have imprinted the draenei’s location. The box all but pointed an arrow north, and west, to the isles off the coast of Kalimdor. Rumor had it that the few draenei left on Azeroth controlled much of the gold, hoarding it from other races as they seemingly turned their relations inward on themselves.

As the ship anchored at the old Feathermoon Stronghold, Acaidie stepped lightly onto the decaying wooden dock, hiking up her robes as to not get caught. Her eyes glowed wickedly under her hood as she approached the man holding the reins to a horse. She cooed flirtatiously, even while grimacing internally at such banal negotiations, slipping a small pouch of gold into his pocket and smiled before securing her bags and mounting up.

She nudged the horse northward and started on her journey.

The Dance

“No, no no!” the elder magi exclaimed, clapping her hands together and chuckling at Lena’s clumsy movements. She stood from her place on the log and lurched toward a flushed and flustered Lena, who stomped a hoof in protest, huffing and jabbing her hands onto her rotund hips. The elder mage, Rhiaga, smiled kindly and placed her hands over Lena’s, “You must let go from here, girl.” She patted Lena’s behind, then pointed to her hips.

“Let your tail relax, loosen your hips. It’s just a dance.” Rhiaga’s eyes shone as she looked up at the taller draenei and patted the young woman’s lanky fingers. “Easy for you to say, Ga!” Lena exclaimed, nibbling on her lower lip. She had been working with Rhiaga for weeks, trying to perfect the Dance of Flames. It was a particularly challenging ritual for young mages, a mating ritual of sorts, and Lena felt completely out of her element. Sure, she could cast spells, but dancing… Dancing was out of the question.

Rhiaga smiled knowingly, laughing softly to herself and slowly stepping back to her place on the log, “Try it again!”

Lena had spent years with Krastos already, his attempts at a proper and lengthy courtship bashful and almost as clumsy as her dancing. But Naaru help her, she was head over heels for him.

It was said that if one could master this particular dance, one could easily charm a mate, and Lena was eager to try. Ga counted off again, “One, two, three, now!” And Lena’s hips began to sway. She kept the count in her head – barely – and her tongue stuck out of her mouth in a way that she hoped no one would ever see. Her flowing blue skirt whirled as she rolled her pelvis forward and back, trying to keep her hooves firmly on the ground as she stepped in small circles and her knees loose. Ga had taken her top, perfectly modest and covering her entire torso, and ripped it, leaving only the most private areas covered. Lena had huffed in frustration in the moment, but was glad now to have the sun and cool breeze on her bare skin. Ga clapped and sang in her raspy elder woman voice, a song the Naaru had inspired as the draenei made their escape.

Lena slowly turned, her body wiggling in all the right places, Ga singing loudly, a smile in her voice. As the final refrain began, Lena lifted her arms in the air and grinned, throwing back her head and feeling her long dark hair brush along her back. She was getting it. It made sense now! Ga finished the last chorus as Lena danced, finally, with enthusiasm. The younger woman collapsed in a fit of giggles on the ground next to Ga’s log, “Did you see! I did it! I can do it!” Ga beamed back and took Lena by the chin, leaning close, “I knew you could, dear.” She leaned back and assessed Lena, “Now let’s work on securing that handsome mate of yours, yes?”

Meanwhile, along the edge of the darkened forest, Krastos watched the two women in awe. His eyes were glued to Lena’s frame, mouth hanging open. He had no idea she could move like that! And he looked away for a moment, somewhat guiltily for thinking about how she would move with him.


It was supposed to be a simple ceremony.  A simple test.  Well, not so simple, but a ceremonial test – not a true vision of what was to come!

Lena shook her head and trembled on her side of the blankets on the ground, Krastos snoring beside her.  She slipped out from under the blanket and pulled on a light robe, then stepped quietly outside the tent.  Her pendant was still locked around her neck, still warm to the touch for all the magic she had poured through it that night.

She squatted out of range of the smoldering campfire, exhausted, nearly drained of magic.  Many millennia ago, she had learned not to completely drain herself on any given day.  There was always at least one more wave of enemies, one more spell, one more conjuring to do, and tonight was no different.

Vitaska confirmed his promotion through the ranks of the Shadows of Argus, achieving one of the highest possible ranks for a non-officer.  The vision Lena conjured for his trial tasked him with leading, without question, a battalion of Shadows troops into battle.  It pained her to even consider her friends and allies on a suicide mission, but she held her ground, held the vision, fretted for the potential for this vision to have shades of truth.  Vitaska performed admirably, unflinchingly leading, even if his eyes showed sadness and regret.  In the vision, all who accompanied the paladin fought honorably, barely succeeding, but by the Light, they prevailed.

Once brought out of the vision, Vitaska was rewarded justly, formally promoted, and celebrations ensued.  But Lena still worried.  Even illusions held shards of the truth, and the battle-torn Vale of Eternal Blossoms wrenched her heart.  Garrosh’s Horde had been steadily advanced, seeking something deep within the Vault of Y’saarj.  Casters focused in the background, summoning something, archers eagle-eyed the advancing party, and footsoldiers advanced.

She chanted softly and cast the small circle on the ground, going more in depth than her usual scrying.  Her vision clouded and expanded, wavering and shifting into the scene from earlier that night.  Lena pried at the bounds of the magic that held the scene, but found them secure.  This was not an illusion.  It was the truth.  The battles in the Vale of Eternal Blossoms were real.  She knew they had been coming, if she was honest with herself.  They all knew.  Horde forces had been steadily encroaching on the territory, and the destruction of the Vale was imminent.

Lena sadly traced the ground illuminated in blue with a lanky finger.  The battle would be terrible.  There would be massive losses on all sides, but most notably the loss of the Vale.  Garrosh Hellscream’s visage flooded the vision, terrible and red-eyed, crazed with the lust for power as he held the limp body of Taran Zhu and gleefully released the Sha into the Vale.

Lena hastily brushed tears from her eyes, bending to the ground and touching her forehead against the scrying circle.

Orgrimmar would fall for this.


Lena sat back in her chair, the tiny fire elemental Krastos had given to her in the palm of her hand, chattering away.  Ironforge remained cool, even through the heat of the summer, being built into the side of a mountain in the snowy peaks of Dun Morogh.  Lena was dressed in her more formal battle gear, once more getting used to the feel of the cloth armor on her body, the weight of her daggers.  Maeorra gave her an appraising, and disapproving, Look.

“Easy, Watcher.  You know that Vitaska would shit a talbuk if he thought I were back on duty,” Lena laughed a shade too brightly and gave her elemental a gentle pat on the area it’s head was deemed to be.  ”I’m aware that it will take quite a bit longer for me to be back up to fighting strength.”  Maeorra simply grunted in response and went back to her hookah.

In truth, Lena had been resuming training.  Krastos had, of course, set up training dummies for his own use at their country home in Wetlands.  While he was away dealing with “business” in Stormwind, Lena ventured outside and considered them.

At first, it was simple spells.  Conjuring, cloaking herself in invisibility, transforming the squirrels in the trees into baffled sheep for a few moments, the stuff of side-show magicians.  But as she stood in the grass just outside their front door, she sighed.  Her body was repairing itself, with so many healers within the order checking on her daily.  But her mind was still a little broken.  There were still pieces missing.  She was, though, cognizant of the fact that practicing magic without her full mental capacity was dangerous.

But she was, perhaps, a little addicted to it.

She frowned deeply at the thought, thinking of the Sin’dorei, the blood elves who were a constant threat due to their addiction to the arcane.  She would never lower herself to their level, siphoning magic and mana from other beings.  Lena straightened up, extending a palm and taking a deep breath.  The flicker of a flame sparked in her hand, but she startled herself and unintentionally extinguished it.  Stamping a hoof, she rubbed her moist palms on the front of her robes, hoping to allow for a more hospitable environment for a flame, until she thought of something else.  She was much more easily distracted now that she had returned, but she knew it, and tried to take steps to combat it, carrying her journal with her everywhere and making notes before her mind would shift tracks.

Lena closed her eyes and scrunched up her face, casting a bluish rune on the ground and studying it.  She squatted down to kneel in the dirt, her hand already outstretched as if to touch the magical lines.

For millennia, she had been casting runes as her form of scrying, seeing the future, reading current situations and making decisions based on what was seen.  She wasn’t the greatest seer, but she was the best, and most experienced, that Shadows had to offer.  Lena had more of an analytical mind, usually more concerned with formulas and battle strategy, but in deference and loyalty to her people, she still carried on as a seer.

Normally, the runes were perfect circles, inscribed upon the ground or whatever surface she could find, with markings only she could read and interpret inside.  Each seer was said to have their own rune language, and Lena had never really questioned this theory.  After all, she was so rarely around other mages, and as a rule, it was rarely spoken about publicly, save for public scryings.  This rune, like the others she had cast since being home, was strangely shaped, disordered, lopsided.  Lena sighed and sat back on her hooves, wrapping her arms around herself as she wished for the perfectly mathematical and orderly runes she was used to.  Magic was based in physics and mathematics, and the mage was merely revealing what was already there in nature.  But being able to manipulate the laws of both of those sciences was truly where the magic lie.

Lena frowned at the softly glowing blue lines.  The rune wouldn’t tell her anything today.  Nothing that would make any kind of sense, anyway.  Occasionally, she would be able to decipher a word, but for the most part, all she was given was the overwhelming feeling of confusion and doubt.

Lena picked up her new journal, copying the shape and contents of the rune as it flickered before it disappeared.

They were moving out to the Southern Barrens the next day.  Krastos, of course, protested, but she assured him that she would stay as far away from any incursion as she could.  Isadori had once taught her the basics of triage, so she would be able to assist in some way, even if she couldn’t lead on the battlefield.  He staunchly stuck to his opinion that she was in no shape to travel so far, but she calmed him and invited him along, to which he reluctantly agreed.

She shut her journal quickly and looked up, trying not to reveal her nerves or her still-illicit activities, as Krastos appeared along the path to their home.  Tucking the small book in her pocket, Lena rose and tripped through the grass to meet him with a warm embrace.  He gathered her up in his arms, crushing her against him and sighing heavily before swinging her across his arms and carrying her into the house and right up to the bedroom.  As he pulled her close and kissed her under the blankets, Lena let herself forget about the runes, the confusion they spoke to her, and the doubt that weighed on her.

There is no sharp distinction between the real and the unreal.

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Lena clenched her fists by her sides, trying to control her trembling as she stood in Arloth’s personal space, daring the warrior to make a move.

“It was a different kind of Sha, Lena!” the Field Marshal hissed.  She leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest protectively, eyes narrowed and glaring at Arloth, “So that’s supposed to make it less of a concern?”  They had both been possessed, minds twisted.  Arloth had lost his connection to the Light.  Lena’s long-term effects were yet to be seen, having only been back a short while.

Lena’s eyes darted over his shoulder at the small group of Shadows members, ostensibly fetching water on Arloth’s command, hopeful that they were out of earshot.   Satisfied that they were, Lena took a step closer to the imposing warrior, her face turned up to his, hissing back at him, “No matter what kinds of Sha they are, we cannot ignore the fact that Sha ARE infiltrating our ranks.  And going straight for our order’s leadership.  That cannot be disputed.  Who is next?  Nhadiya?  Would you risk your mate, your unborn child?  Something must be done!”  Lena stamped a hoof in frustration.  She’d had plenty of time to think about such things, write about such things, worry about such things.

Arloth blanched, the color draining from his stern face as he took a step back.  The plate helm he held in his hand crinkled in his fist, then made a dull thunk as he threw it to the ground.  His right hoof completed the flattening of the helmet as he glared at Lena, speechless for a moment, then growling, “I’m going to bed.  If anyone wakes me and is not Nhadiya, they should expect decapitation.”  With that, he turned abruptly and stalked off toward his tent, set away from the others.

Lena stood in shock for a moment, shrinking and shaking  uncertainly as she watched the Field Marshal’s retreating form.  Arloth was at risk.  He had always been a little wild, but losing his connection with the Light worried Lena.  The once-righteous Vindicator was gone, a wrathful warrior in his place.   What would replace Lena?  Would her magic be affected?  She stepped over to the well where the others waited nervously, putting on a warm smile and welcoming them back to the fire.  As she settled near its warmth again, she stared at the flames, lost in thought.  She clutched her mug of tea tightly, trying to appear normal, trying to listen to the conversations around her.

The Alliance and the Horde were still at odds.  There were rumors of a Horde civil war brewing.  Lena sighed to herself and stared down into her tea.

The Sha were still a risk.

One she wasn’t willing to take any longer.

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I am at home.  

What a relief it is to write those words with a clear mind.  Indeed, I am more than exhausted.  I am weary and aching down to my bones, leaning on my staff much more often than not, on the rare occasion that Krastos allows me on my feet.

I cannot fathom how it happened that I was gone for three months.

Lena leaned back in the bed with her brand new journal, the crisp pages urging her to write.  For a week now, she had been back, under the watchful eye of Shadows.  Krastos had been eager to bring her home right away, but Vitaska, one of the order’s oldest and most learned healers, insisted she stay in Ironforge at least for a few days.

Vitaska had cleared me to go home with Krastos a few nights ago.  He warned me, however, to take it easy while we tried to fit together what happened.  I know I am stubborn and eager to get back to work, but even I realize what shape I am in.  

Physically, I seem to be healing at a rate that appeases Taska, or he would not have sent me home.  I do not remember the trip to Ironforge, and in fact, my memory seems very garbled from my time in the mountains.  I was apparently quite dehydrated, very malnourished, and was unconscious, when they had found me.  There was a rift that lead into the Twisting Nether.  

No one knows how long I spent within it.  

The Nether is not meant for casual play.  It is merely a means for manipulating space and time in such a way to allow beings to traverse without lengthy travel or lingering effects.  I shall have to do research on the effects of a long term exposure to the Nether.  

Indeed, opening a portal that will lead a person or group of persons or even non-sentient objects to another location should be a simple operation.  One only needs concentration and a basic understanding of the laws of physics as we know them – and a healthy does of being willing to break those laws.  It is, truly, a magical intervention that does occasionally run the risk of backfiring.  

I cannot imagine what must have happened on the peak of Neverest for me to call open a portal – let alone one that would leave a rift.

Even so, I am overjoyed that it did – or Shadows may never have found me. 

She lowered her pen between the pages, closing the journal around it and rubbed at her face.  Her cheekbones were still seeming to poke out from her face.  She was shocked when Vitaska had finally handed her a mirror.  She was gaunt, with large dark circles under her eyes.  No wonder Krastos had looked so scared when she awoke in Ironforge.

A small crash followed by a stream of uncreative profanities emanated from direction of the kitchen of their Wetlands home, catching her attention.  ”Krastos?”  she called, lightly inquiring.  ”Everything alright down there?”  She sank back against the multitude of pillows he had brought home to ensure her comfort, unsure if intervening would be helpful.  Lena could hear him muttering, clanging around some more, and then a much louder, “NO!  I didn’t say that! NO!”  followed by another crash.

Lena sighed and chuckled to herself, shifting and trying to get comfortable.  He’d brought out the elementals to help with the housework while she was recovering.  They must be rebelling, she thought.

Just as she was preparing to curl up in the bed for yet another nap, a medium sized fire elemental glided into the room, holding a plate, piled high with food, keeping it quite warm.  She laughed, grinning up at Krastos, who followed closely behind, holding a tray to place across her lap.  ”I know you probably need more sleep, but you need to eat something, too,” he said gruffly.  She could see the smile in his eyes, though, knowing he was happy to have her home, safe, with him.

As he arranged her plate and tray, dismissing the elemental, she patted the bed beside her, offering a forkful of the no doubt partially edible food he’d prepared.  ”And you’ve surely had a long day keeping those creatures in order, haven’t you?”  Kras snorted and dug in to her food with his own fork, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and pulling her snug against him as they ate quietly.

Her head was drooping by the time they were finished, and he carefully extracted the tray and sharp objects from the bed, shifting so they could lay down.  She nestled in her favorite spot on his chest, and quickly dropped off while he stroked her hair.  There were still many questions to answer, but something she had said the night before had stuck with him.  “Are we supposed to feel this old?” she had queried, her voice still small and weak.  They were both nearly 25,000 years old.  It was unfathomable to most of the other races.  But the draenei still carried on, working and living at the same rate they had for millennia.    Krastos was struck with a discordant, terrible thought – that someday, their so-called eternal lives might end.  Worse than that, they might fall prey to the very aging and deterioration that other races gave in to so easily.  That she might not be able to wield the arcane, he unable to speak to the elements, neither of them able to lift a sword or staff to go to war to protect their people.

He pulled her hair up from her neck and slid a finger along the elementium collar with a sad smile.  Their time apart was a speck in their lifetime, but it was meaningful, for myriad reasons.


Lena’s mouth hung open, the Twisting Nether feeling as if it were pulling her body limb from limb and compressing it all at the same time. She struggled for breath, her heart beating sideways in her chest cavity, slicing through muscle and bone there as it continued to beat obligingly.

Something was wrong.

Usually her teleportation spells were a simple skip through the Twisting Nether, barely even a blink of an eye, but something was wrong. She was stuck.

Her eyes bulged from their sockets as she clawed at herself in jerking, spastic movements, unable to control her muscles in the same way, panic rising in the back of her throat. Her thoughts sawed at her mind, unable to travel in a straight line from one idea to the other. She groaned and ground her teeth impatiently while her brain tried to connect the dots.

The alter-time spell. She was working out the formulas for a way to give herself a way to loop time in short instances, and she spoke the incantation aloud at her campsite and then …. darkness.

No. No that wasn’t it. Something else happened.

She had been on the peak of Neverest. Her pants still showed a dusting of snow when she craned her neck to look at them. Why… She let out a soundless whimper. The slithering being crawling up her leg. The box. The voices.

She had panicked. She cast the spell, not even caring about the ramifications. She just wanted to get out of the grasp of the thing that was surely going to overtake her. And just as she shimmered from view on Azeroth, she saw Krastos, saw his eyes, saw him leap toward where she had been standing, hands outstretched.

Did she? Did she see him? They really were coming for her?

And now she was in the Twisting Nether. An apt name, she managed to squeeze the thought out. She’d never been stuck for so long. The rule was that if you were able to manipulate your mind, you could still open a portal, could change the state of the Nether, could escape it. It could, legend had it, even be pleasant, based on what the conjurer would bring to mind. Clearly, she was in no state of mind to attempt conjuring pleasant moments. She couldn’t even conjure a portal to get OUT of the Nether.

As she grasped desperately for that knowledge, she felt herself slipping, still being squeezed by what had taken hold of her on the mountain, still being ripped apart by the chaos of the Nether. Invisible tentacles still tightened around her legs and were working their way around her waist.

What was it that could be in both realms at once? That could exist and not exist at the same time?

Her eyes widened at the cackle both inside her mind and out. You resist. You attempt to cling to your life as if it actually matters. You’ll learn.

The Old Gods.

Kelrythis II

Kelrythis lowered her sword, her eyes narrowing as she tried to regain her normal breathing.  She was dusty, dirty, sweating like a pig, her plate armor starting to chafe her ashen skin.

Removing a gauntlet, she swiped a wrist across her brow and muttered a free flowing stream of curses as she stepped over and lightly kicked her opponent, who was laying in an unceremonious pile of dinged armor on the ground.  ”Get up,” she growled, offering her bare hand, “I didn’t even hit’cha that hard.”  She shook her head, stark white ponytail swinging behind her as she looked down with scorn.

Wrapping her fingers around her sparring partner’s wrist, she hauled the body upright.  After ensuring steadiness, she rapped her knuckles against the helmet, shaking her head with a snort, “You puss.  It’s a good thing you’re not out there in the world with moves like that.  You’d be a fel beasts’s dinner in no time.”

The other warrior windmilled arms, pushing Kel away and pulling off the helmet, face flushed and sweaty.  Her own pigtails bounced limply as she shook her head and glared at Kel.  ”Well sor-reeeee.  Some of us weren’t born with halberds in our hands,” her lilting voice accused and whined.

Kel shook her head, giving the other girl another smack upside her head and retreating to pick up her gauntlet.  She was young, the girl.  Kel tucked her glove under her arm and took a long swallow of water from the wineskin in her bags.  She had a long way to go, if she were to ever lead a group of fighters into the fray.  Putting her gauntlet back on, she picked up her swords, eyes glinting as she held them properly, smiling at their perfect balance.  She had made them quite well, and was thoroughly proud of her craft.

Whirling around to the younger warrior, she adopted an attack stance, glaring and sighing impatiently as she waited for her to affix her shield, pick up her sword.  ”Faster,” Kel growled, lunging forward and purposely bringing her left sword down hard against the shield.  ”If I wasn’t looking out for your well-being, you’d be dead right now.  And then your entire party would be trampled.  You are point.  You have to be more prepared than the others.”  She stepped back and lunged again, this time sweeping her right sword close to the girl’s hooves, making her leap backwards, her eyes wide.  ”You have to be better than that.  Fearless.  Angry.”  Kel’s eyes narrowed, remembering fights gone by.

The other warrior hadn’t put her helmet back on and watched Kel with shining eyes.  Was that admiration that Kel detected?  She swallowed hard and shook her head, trying to shake it away.  She didn’t need a complication now.  Training.  This girl needed training.

The girl’s sword lowered slowly, eyeing Kel tentatively.  Gently.  Interested.  Attractive.  She really was, despite her shit fighting skills, with her hair in those long black pigtails.  Kel’s hands worked hard, gripping and grinding the handles.  She set her jaw and growled again, whirling fast and throwing her right hand sword with a loud grunt, impaling a training dummy across the way.

Kelrythis stalked away, leaving her sword and bags where they were, eyes furious as she left the young warrior standing there, shield lowered, mouth agape, watching her go.  Her eyes were hurt.  Kel could feel them boring into her skull as she rounded a corner and started to sprint.