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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 6th, 2015, 5:08 pm

Something was bothering me. It felt urgent, yet, at the same time, distant. There was something I needed to do, but it was maddeningly hard to remember that it even mattered. When I did remember there was something I needed to do, I tried to figure out what it was, but it eluded me until I forgot again in frustration.

Finally, I awakened.

I didn’t know where I was. Disoriented, I focused on the one who sat beside me. It was Kex’ti, looking at me with an expression of shock. “Juli?” he said, disbelief in his voice.

“Kex…?” I tried to say, but my throat was so dry and sore it came out as a rasp.

He broke into the biggest smile I’d ever seen on him. He clasped my hand in his, his touch gentle. I couldn’t make any sense of what was going on.

“What…?” I tried to ask. I raised my other hand to his arm. It took a great effort, and it trembled as I did so. I was so weak.

“Easy,” he said. “You’ve been out of it for a while.” He leaned down and planted a kiss on my forehead, one of his exuberant displays of affection he indulged in when it was only the two of us. I closed my eyes.

My mouth was so dry; I licked my lips, concentrating on formulating the words to speak. I tried again. “No… what…”

He moved, kicking off his shoes and sliding under the blankets with me. When he gathered me in his arms, I could acutely feel how weak I was in comparison to his strength. I’d never been so weak in my life. It made me shudder, and he lifted a hand to tuck my hair behind my ear. “It’s okay,” he told me.

He reached out with his other arm and pulled the end table by the bed closer. I thought I was beginning to recognize the area; one of the private rooms in the field hospital Kenjin had built in the garrison. From the table he took a small carafe of water, its sides gleaming with condensation. He helped me sit up and gave it to me; I nearly dropped it, my grip faltering, but his hand closed around mine, and he helped me sip. That water was the most refreshing thing I’d ever tasted.

“You’ve been out for… Gods… Two weeks?” Kex’ti said. “I heard that you were in Nagrand... but by the time I heard anything, you had already gotten hurt. And you were back here.”

Nagrand. I remembered the road, the overpass I’d gone under. A haunting, whistled tune. Plate, fire, and fur. “The worgen…” I said. Kex’ti nodded, encouraging me. I tried to remember more. “He had a…”

I lapsed into silence. I could picture the weapon he’d had. A great blade, one that required two hands, double-edged and flared. My father could have named the culture it came from and wielded it like an expert. But at that moment, I couldn’t even remember its name.

“What is it called…?” I murmured, confused.

Kex’ti kissed the top of my head, not interjecting. I shook my head and lifted the carafe again, drinking thirstily. Confusion was draining away, but my thoughts were still sluggish. I was tired.

“Is everyone safe?” I asked.

“Relatively,” Kex’ti said. He would not sugarcoat the truth for me, even in this moment. “Before you woke up... we suffered an attack. It was repelled. Taozhu was injured, but he’s recovering now. Just a scrape. He was protecting you, actually.”

I had protected Taozhu the last time Sanctuary Garrison had come under attack. This time, I had lain helpless. “I couldn’t even get out of bed right now,” I murmured.

“Hey,” Kex’ti said. He hugged me, his arms wrapped around me from where he was sitting behind me, supporting me. Just sitting up was too tiring for me to do on my own at this moment. “You made it,” he said. “I knew you would.”

He called on the mists. Their cool rush ran through me, as refreshing as the water. It helped, though my body’s energies had little to build on. I closed my eyes again.

“Sssh,” Kex’ti said. “I’ve got you. You’re all right.”

I shook my head. I didn’t want to be gotten. I wanted to be strong, to stand on my own. Kex’ti knew what I was feeling without me having to say the words.

“You are strong,” he said. “If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be alive.”

I leaned my head back against him, feeling his body supporting mine, his arms encircling me. I was grateful he was there. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. But instead of thinking about that, I tried to think of what I could do. I needed to know what was going on. “The attack… what was it? Morinth?” I asked.

“I think so,” Kex’ti said. “Two of her minions. One of which broke Tes’s spine... the draenei.”

His anger was tightly wound; held under strict control. Mine sparked into life. An attack on my people, while I lay helpless, and Tes seriously injured. I was angrier about that than what had been done to me. “What does she want…?” I said.

He took the water and put it back on the table. His hand sought mine, enveloping it. “If I had to guess,” he said, “it’s for people to hurt.”

There were plenty of people in the world who shared that motivation. But it didn’t explain everything to my satisfaction. I concentrated on expressing myself. “Why us?” I asked.

“We are not like her.”

His voice cracked slightly as the anger started to come loose. He was thinking about Tes, and me. I squeezed his hand back as it began to shake.

“We are a force for good and justice,” he said. “We are what she is not, and she hates us for being that symbol of hope.”

He didn’t have to explain any further. This, I already knew, and understood well. “That is what we will face,” I murmured.

He quieted. “What is?” he asked.

I grew confused by the question. “…When… people don’t…”

I couldn’t articulate my thoughts. I understood what was around me, but I couldn’t think clearly. I fell into silence.

Kex’ti filled it by taking a covered plate off the table and helping me eat. My throat hurt with every swallow, but the more I ate, the more an appetite I discovered I had. Even so, the flavorful food Kex’ti always enjoyed preparing was almost too rich for me. I set it aside before the plate was cleaned.

He could barely sit still. He ran his fingers through my hair. It just made me think of how much a mess I had to be. But more than that, I was trying to focus on thinking clearly, finding that some things were easier to think about that others.

“My mind is… fuzzy,” I said.

“It takes a bit to recover,” Kex’ti responded. “The… way you were attacked cut off a lot of circulation to your head. That kind of damage can... take a bit to recover from. But you’re awake. It’ll get better.”

I remembered the explosion. Getting thrown back, hitting the water. Then the ice that formed over my head. I lifted a hand to my bare throat, remembering in a sudden flash how I had struggled to break through. The water had been too deep; I’d had no leverage. My shield, my fist, connecting, but not hard enough. My lungs, filling.

“The water…” I said faintly. He reached over to pick up the carafe again, but I shook my head. “I was… under water. It burned, in my lungs…”

He listened, his ears drooping. I took a deep breath. Now it was air that was blessed to me, the ability to inhale as deeply as I could crave.

“Probably not going to want to go swimming for awhile,” I said after a moment.

Kex’ti had to smile. I just leaned against him, resting. The world could go on without me for a little while longer.
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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 6th, 2015, 7:24 pm

I returned to the business of running a guild and a garrison. Kex’ti had done an excellent job while I was down, but he had the Tanaan Offensive to start organizing as the Horde began its push into the Iron Horde’s bastion. Sanctuary Garrison was heavily fortified by the Horde, a stronghold for other advancing the Horde’s other interests in Draenor, and there was plenty for me to do on a day-to-day basis in its upkeep alone.

All of it was tiring, though. I was re-reading a missive for the third time, trying to decide if it merited a response, when a tap came on my office’s doorframe. Naheal stood there, smiling faintly as he looked upon me. “Strange to see you out of armor,” he said.

I set the pen down and leaned back the chair, roping an arm over its back as I looked up at him. It was strange being out of armor, but I didn’t need its weight while I was still recovering. “I’ve been known to wear…” I began.

It happened again. The word wasn’t there when I got to that part of the sentence. I meant the garment that women could wear, with the open bottom, no legs. But the word was nowhere to be found in my brain. By this time, I’d learned how to compensate, and did so relatively smoothly.

“…Other things, from time to time,” I said.

“I haven’t seen you outside your armor in decades,” he said. “Not since…” He looked away. “I saw your cot empty the other night and thought you may have awoken.”

I said, “It’s good to see you.”

It was. Having discovered that my childhood best friend was still alive, I was glad to have him back in my life. Being around him felt more comfortable than anyone else, other than Kex’ti, but that was different.

“How are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m well,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

I looked down at the stack of papers on my desk. If anyone could discern there was something wrong, it would be Naheal. He didn’t need to know about my vocabulary issue. He wouldn’t leave it alone if he did. “A little weak, but I’ll recover,” was all I said.

“Do you know what I’m about to say?” he inquired. “I believe I was adamant about it before.”

I looked back up at him. He’d walked up to the desk, and stood looking at me with his arms loosely folded. I knew that look. “No,” I said.

“You need to have a guard with you now more than ever,” he told me.

He’d said this before. The circumstances hadn’t changed, in my opinion. I looked back down at the papers and started shuffling them. “Sanctuary doesn’t exactly have soldiers to spare,” I said.

“That may be true, but…” he began. His hand come down on the papers. I tilted my head, looking up at him sideways. “Jules,” he said. “This guy that did this to you isn’t going to stop until one of you are dead.”

“There’s a line,” I said flatly.

He took his hand back, closing his eyes and bowing his head. “There are some lines I won’t cross,” he said.

I’d meant that there was a line of people wanting to kill me, but the warning he’d interpreted from my statement wasn’t unwarranted. He would admonish me as much as I let him, and some days it wasn’t very much. I propped my chin on my hand, elbow on the desk, as I regarded him.

“I won’t say that I'm not concerned with your safety, but I won’t impose on your freedom,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow. “You say that like you could.”

I saw him bite his lip, but he chose to change the subject. I let him. For the rest of his visit, we discussed Morinth and the current situation instead. An assault on Grim Batol was being planned, with Sanctuary, Borrowed Time, and Grim forces. I wouldn’t be recovered enough by the time it took place, but I trusted Kex’ti would do what Sanctuary knew was needful.

Kex’ti, however, had issues of his own.
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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 7th, 2015, 5:47 pm

It was after the War Council. Kex’ti had made some statements during the meeting that were needlessly provocative, but after Taozhu departed and he and I were left alone in the main hall, I realized that it didn’t much matter in the greater scheme of things.

“I’m only a little mad,” I said.

He was sitting on one of the wooden benches, drinking from his medicine jug. Capping it, he tapped his staff against his spaulder and looked up at me. “Could we speak in your office?” he asked.

We went in and shut the door. I turned, leaning against the desk and looking at him. He looked tired. While I was regaining strength every day, his seemed to be sapping.

“Juli, I am sorry for my outburst,” he began. “It just frustrates and pains me to see him speak so freely. The Grim have good people in their ranks… to see one such as he…”

He spoke of Khorvis, who had been taunting Sanctuary. I sighed and reached for the clasps on my armor. Removing my shield and sword belt, I let them fall to the rug, then shoved them under my desk with my foot. “Provoking the Grim accomplishes nothing. They cannot be shown the error of their ways through rhetoric. Whatever satisfaction you get from voicing your frustrations only amplifies the cause of them,” I said. I’d found it was easier to speak straight when concentrating on another task at the same time.

Kex’ti look another long pull from his jug before responding, his voice remaining level with an effort. “Then maybe they deserve to answer for their words. Bravado only stands as long as it remains unquelled.”

My shoulderguards and gloves came off next. It had been a long day, made longer by the events of the council meeting. It had taken everything I had to hold it together and present a strong face to those present. When Kaelan had questioned Sanctuary’s purpose in front of all assembled, it had been effectively the thing I had dreaded most happening, but I had handled it. I had to, so I did. And I would continue to do, or not do, whatever was needful. “We cannot challenge them,” I replied to Kex’ti, simply. “They would answer our challenge, and win.”

“I could take them in a fight,” Kex’ti snapped. “Where would their confidence lie if their lasher were so easily defeated by a weak, cowardly…” He was going red with anger. “Juli, we can beat them. They brought four times our number to a simple discussion! How afraid they must be! That is fear acting, not confidence!”

“Fear and confidence don’t change the math,” I said. It was getting more difficult to argue with him. I shook my head.

“I would not endanger Sanctuary,” he said. “But, a simple duel would resolve…”

This was enough. I walked up to him. He looked at me, and his anger collapsed. Tears of frustration welled in his eyes. I put my hand on his chest. “Lay your pride on the altar of peace,” I murmured.

“What good am I if I can’t fight for what I believe in?” he asked. “How effective am I at keeping the peace if I can’t protect those close to me? Tes had her spine broken, and is alive by the grace of Aaren’s magic. You… you are stronger. But watching you like that. I knew you were going to wake up. But to be afraid, to doubt like that?”

My hand closed into a fist. I hated hearing this. I didn’t know what I could do or say.

Then he said, “I had to kill Remiaan. Draenor’s Remiaan, Julilee.”

Remiaan had been the woman he had loved and already lost once. The version that would have existed in this Draenor would never have met him, never have known what she could have meant to him, and would have joined with the Alliance. I couldn’t conceive of why Kex’ti would have had to kill her, but I knew Kex’ti often participated in the sanctioned battleground of Ashran. If he had met her there… “Kex’ti…” I said.

“And you know what I got for that?” he went on, bitterly. He gripped his staff. “I got rewarded. I am a Warlord of Draenor. I am Sanctuary’s Warlord of Draenor.”

Kex’ti was strong and gifted in combat. I knew he enjoyed battle. And I knew it was a constant conflict with him when it was peace he fought for. But the depths of his struggle were beyond me, especially now with the right words so impossible to find. I raised my hand from his chest to wipe his tears away with my thumb.

“I just… I can’t do anything but fight,” he said. “That’s all I am. It’s all I’m good for.”

I wanted to tell him it wasn’t true. I wanted to tell him all the other things he was good for. But I couldn’t. So instead I just went up on my toes and kissed him.

But that wasn’t what he wanted. He took me by the arms and moved me back. “No,” he said. “Juli, I believe in Sanctuary. I believe in everything we stand for, and I know, I know–”

“I believe in you,” I tried to say.

“That we are the light in the darkness,” he continued. Then he said, “I love you, but I can’t be weak around you. It’s holding myself to a standard I can’t bear. You have that resolve. I can’t just bear that burden.”

“I don’t see you as weak,” I said. “Ever.” How could I? He was stronger than I was in combat. He was an unstoppable force. If anyone respected Sanctuary, it was because of him.

“I’m mortal, Juli,” he said. “We’re all weak. That’s what Morinth is counting on. It’s what Gul’dan is relying on. It’s what the Grim functions on.”

“You’re not weak, but you are annoying when you contradict me,” I said.

“I am not Jinsai,” he said. “Or Naheal.”

That gave me pause. I didn’t know why he felt the need to compare himself to either of them. “I… know you’re not,” I said.

“I told you, when I joined, how I was. How I can use my mists. You trusted me to keep my Temperance oath, and I have done that. We’ve talked about why we do what we do.” He reached for my hand. “There is a brighter tomorrow in our works.”

“Gods, Kex’ti, I’m sick of talking,” I said. It was truly miserable, not being able to respond adequately. He raised his other hand to cup my face, and I sighed a little.

He said, “We’re partners, Juli. That means we can both be weak around each other, so we can be strong for everyone else. I’m just…” He frowned. “I have cried in front of you. You’ve seen my confidence flee, you’ve watched me cough up blood. Then, you get drowned, and we never talk about that? We just go on as usual? I assume you’re indomitable?”

I felt somewhat blindsided. I’d been working on recovering my strength, on doing what needed to be done for Sanctuary. I was dealing with my speech problems and the slowness in my left side. What more was I supposed to be doing? “Is that what you want from me?” I said. “To cry in front of you?”

“I trust you,” he said, looking at me. “I have shown you that.”

“Do you think I don’t trust you?” I asked, in disbelief.

He rubbed his eyes. “I love you,” he said quietly.

He had never said that before. “Kex’ti…” I said, and hesitated.
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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 7th, 2015, 5:50 pm

“Oh,” he said. He sank visibly.

“No – it’s not—” I said. It was too late. I had hesitated.

He moved his hand to my shoulder. “No, it’s… It’s okay,” he said.

“Don’t,” I said. “Please don’t. I can’t… It’s so hard for me right now.”

“I know that,” he said. “But I know you.”

“You don’t if you think me not crying in front of you means I don’t trust you,” I said in frustration.

“I just… sometimes, I’d feel less afraid if I knew that you’d talk to me if you were upset. It’s hard to be weak when the person you feel so strongly about always seems so, so, so strong.”

His words hurt. It hurt to know that the way I coped hurt him. It hurt that I couldn’t just heal in my own way; that I had to add his needs on top of mine.

“I’m a monk, Juli, not a priest,” he said. “I can infer. I can’t be certain if you never speak it.”

I took a breath. “There is no one I’d rather have by my side.”

He looked uncertain. It wasn’t what he wanted to hear, like the kiss hadn’t been what he wanted either. He waited, and I tried to find something else to say, but slowly, as the moments crept by, I came to the realization: I had nothing.

“I can’t… give you anything more right now,” I said quietly.

He looked away. “Okay,” he said.

“Kex’ti,” I said, for the millionth time.

“Okay,” he said again, not listening.

“When I’m weak, it’s… It’s the times I can’t give you anything.”

His gaze returned to mine. Then he took me into his arms. I stood still as he ran his fingers through my hair.

“Do you understand…?” I asked.

He nodded, his scratchy beard against my forehead.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

He moved back to look at me. “I can’t take back what I'm going to say,” he said. “But I am going to be honest when I say it, and my trust is in you that you’ll be able to see what I mean when I say it.”

I was afraid, but I nodded.

“I am not a smart person. I’ve known that for a long time. So my words get messed up a lot. I read when I was a boy. Because I couldn’t really do much else, so sometimes I use a word I think sounds right, even if I don’t know what it really means. You know what those words mean, even if I don’t some, or most, of the time I say them. You are going to get better, as far as the words and things go. I know, that right now, that is something that scares you, and that’s something I wish you'd just talk to me about.” He looked hesitant for a moment. “But character means more than word choice. As long as your intent is clear, it’ll shine through even the simplest of words.”

He put his hand on my face again. I turned my face into his hand, breathing in the scent of his skin as I listened patiently. He smelled like leather and dust and the pungent aroma of his medicine.

“And it’s not the people that can understand, or be impressed by those words, that the speeches matter to,” he said. “Because they’ll understand no matter what, if you’re being honest, or you're just using rhetoric. Your actions have a loudness to them. Speak in the same way that you fight. Speak with the same talent, the same basics honed to perfection, and you will never, ever, ever, have to worry about what you say.”

I sighed again. He sought to reassure me, but I had never sought his reassurance, not in this. The only thing I was afraid of was that I was going to hurt him. But he was looking for something else, some way to prove I needed him.

“I just… hope that what I’ve said isn’t something that's going to hurt you, or piss you off,” he said. “I know we’re, uh…” He chuckled. “A little bit on edge.”

“You could never hurt me, Kex’ti,” I told him.

He hugged me. There was nothing left to say. I stood in the strong circle of his arms and wondered if I could ever give him what he wanted.

“I’m really tired,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Me too.” We separated, and he said, “Juli… I have some things I want to get off my chest.” I looked at him, but he seemed to make a swift decision. “It can wait until morning. Let’s get some rest.”

He kissed me on the forehead. I didn’t question him, not tonight.
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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 7th, 2015, 5:50 pm

Things appeared good on the outside, but it was still difficult. Kex’ti and I were tentative with each other. Threats against Sanctuary and the innocent still loomed. And I still struggled to get over my disabilities. I practiced hard, every day, to eradicate the slowness in my left side, but it lingered. And I got good at compensating for my speech issues, but they just became more and more frustrating.

It was then that Naheal visited again. He found me in my office. I spent more time in there than I had before the attack; trying to catch up on things, I told myself.

I looked up when I realized he was in the doorway. “Oh, Naheal,” I said. “I didn’t realize you were there.”

“I wear plate and have all kinds of mechanical components to my gear and you didn’t hear me come in?” He grinned.

I rubbed my head, pushing the ever-present papers away from me. “Guess I was distracted. It’s… Nevermind. How are you?”

“Aside from a.... client touching a nerve yesterday, I’m doing well. I’m actually here to check on you,” he said.

I twisted my lips, not really surprised, but still. “You don’t need to do that. Kex’ti has half of Sanctuary keeping an eye on me.” Dredaega was outside, in the main hall, on Kex’ti’s orders. I’d found it easier to not argue. Dredaega spent most of his time in the field hospital anyway.

Naheal responded quietly. “You know how I feel about family, Jules. If you’d prefer I keep my distance, then I will, but…”

“That’s not what I was saying,” I said. It was frustrating that I couldn’t clarify better. I sighed and got up. “Just between you and Kex’ti…”

“No, I understand,” Naheal said. “I’ve had plenty of people dote over me in the campaigns I’ve been in. It’s irritating.”

“Are you going to be upset if I tell you not to dote?” I asked.

“No, but I'll ignore you for the most part.”

I sighed again. This was why I often didn’t bother trying to argue with Naheal. I couldn’t control him, and it didn’t matter if he thought he could me, either, because I was going to continue right along the path I chose.

“You said that this is your first campaign, right?” he asked. He leaned against the wall by the door.

“Yes.”

“I just want to make sure that it isn’t your last, from either death or crippling injury.”

I looked at him. The quasi-fight I’d had with Kex’ti rose unbidden to mind. “Kex’ti said he can’t feel comfortable being weak around me sometimes if I’m always strong,” I said.

He thought about that for a moment. “Which would you prefer? A soldier that hides their pain or a soldier that asks for help?”

“That’s a false… choice,” I said. “It doesn’t have to be one or the other.” That wasn’t exactly what I’d meant. Words weren’t cooperating.

“Is it?” he said. “By asking for help, you show pain and weakness. You can’t conceal both and ask for someone to help with either.”

I knew he was wrong, but I couldn’t articulate why. But again, it didn’t matter. I just looked at him, and it was his turn to sigh.

“I’m just worried, Jules. You’re at a point I was at not too long ago and I don’t want you to make the same mistakes that I did.” When I still didn’t respond, he said, “There isn’t a way that I can put it without being presumptuous, but… Your people follow your example. You’re as much a pillar of strength in strength as you are a role model when you’re injured. When your people are injured, they’ll follow the example you put out before them.”

The way I saw it, everyone couldn’t turn to someone else for help. “There has to be someone holding the line,” I said.

“Yes, but that someone doesn’t always have to be you,” he said.

I hated a little bit that he was right. I said, “I can’t rely on anyone else.” I couldn’t, because I had to be the one who was strong. I had to take care of myself. But I wouldn’t explain that even if I could. That flat statement was the best I could do.

“Can’t you?” he said. “Kex’ti. Taozhu. Cerryan. Just to name three in Sanctuary right now. If you were to simply ask some of Borrowed Time, I’m sure that they’d help.”

“For a fee?” I said, sarcastically.

“That depends on the individual,” he said, pragmatic and undeterred. “If you were to ask me, personally, for some assistance, I’d provide it without charge.”

I shook my head. This wasn’t going anywhere constructive. “I know. Look, I can’t talk about this right now.”

“Do you know why I died over the Dead Scar?” he asked suddenly.

I looked at him, at his glowing blue eyes. They hadn’t been when we’d first met, but that hadn’t been the true him. The true him had chosen to make a sacrifice, and in time he had finally accepted its price. But I wasn’t in the mood to listen. “Just say what you want to say,” I replied, crossly.

“Because I couldn’t trust others to get Brutallus taken down. You’re treading a dangerous path, Jules, and starting to make the same mistakes that I did, albeit with guild backing rather than independently.”

I made an irritated gesture. “I don’t see any other way,” I said. It was not even close to everything I wanted to convey, annoying me further.

“There is,” he said emphatically. “There’s always another way. I didn’t see it until I was at the helm of Borrowed Time, but you will always have the support of the people around you. You don’t have to go it alone.”

“I’m not alone,” I said. “I’m just – in front.”

“You’re used to being at the head. Maybe try being the heart for a while?”

“I’m not – I was never good at—”

I was failing. Naheal came over to me and lifted his hand to pat me on the head. It was something he’d done when we were children to comfort me, before I outgrew comfort. I didn’t know why I still let him do it sometimes, but right now, I just closed my eyes. “Would you let me have a look?” he asked.

“What?” I said, opening my eyes.
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Julilee
Julilee
Posts: 124
Joined: August 24th, 2014, 2:13 pm
Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 8th, 2015, 7:23 pm

“Shh,” Naheal said, and began channeling the Light.

I tensed, but didn’t protest as he used it to check me for injuries. He had figured it out already before the healing energies told him, but he asked anyway.

“Hmm,” he said. “Have you had trouble thinking lately?”

“It’s… words, I have a hard time finding words. And…” I lifted my left hand, flexing it. “I’m slow on this side. My shield arm.”

“Are the concepts still there?” he asked, lowering his hand.

“Yes, I know exactly what I mean, just the word escapes me.” It didn’t come close to describing how frustrating it was. “The healers say it will just take time.”

“Head injuries can be permanent if they’re not treated properly,” he told me.

“Kex’ti knows what he’s doing,” I said. Kex’ti had ensured I received the best care, and no less.

Naheal folded his arms. “He does, but his tools are generally limited to the mists.” He added under his breath, “If I had Rathas, she’d probably help easy, but…”

“Kenjin and others have helped too,” I told him. “They’ve done everything that can be done.”

He was like a dog with a bone. “Does Sanctuary have a shadow priest in their ranks?”

It took me a moment to remember that there was one. “Yes, Sildei,” I said. He’d been one of the first to join after Sanctuary’s rebirth. He was on assignment working for the Horde in Azeroth.

“I highly recommend having him have a look at you,” Naheal said.

“If you say so,” I said dubiously.

“Shadow priests specialize in mental magic. It’s possible he’d catch something the others miss.”

He was right again. I hate it when he did that. “When he comes back, if I’m not better by then, I’ll ask him. Okay?”

“Fine, fine. As close to a compromise as I’ll ever get from you.” He smirked at me, and I smiled back for a moment.

I hadn’t seen Sildei, however, by the next time I saw Naheal. I was out in the practice field, getting a good workout in versus one of the dummies. I knew when Naheal arrived, but he didn’t interrupt me right away, watching me practice for a while.

“Hole in your defenses, bottom weapon side,” he said eventually.

I took one last swing, then stepped back, lowering sword and shield. I wanted to keep practicing, but there was only so much I could do alone. “I’m overcompensating for the left side,” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“I need to rebuild my endurance.” It was still tiring, or at least, I thought it was. Maybe it was the stress wearing me down.

“How about a live opponent?” he inquired.

I turned around to look at him. “If you’d ever committed to a discipline, then maybe you’d be a challenge.”

“Then I should be easy to beat.”

I’d dueled Naheal before, once when he still wielded a bow, and again when he’d still used undead powers. He’d been excellent with both sets of skills, a match for my own, but I knew he hadn’t taken to the Light so smoothly. Nonetheless, I quickly realized that he was holding back. He could have beat me handily, but instead was handicapping himself. Angered, I drove my sword into the snow and glared at him. “Don’t insult me,” I said.

“This isn’t my first campaign as vanguard,” he said. “I believe I said that before.”

He didn’t get it. He was so dense sometimes, and thought other people didn’t know what he was doing. “You’re not even trying,” I said. “I don’t need you to go easy on me.”

“I’m actually not,” he said. “You got me close there.” The look I gave him was clearly not one of belief, so he walked forward. “Let me show you something,” he said, and removed his gauntlets.

Underneath, his hands were reddened and chapped. I looked at them, then back up at him. I’d known wielding the Light was difficult for him, but I hadn’t realized it hadn’t gotten any better.

“I’m hardly at my peak, either,” he said. “But I’ll never see that again. Instead, I compensate. I learn to fight with this. But my slowness can be mistaken for a lack of trying.”

“I’m sorry,” I said after a moment.

He put his gauntlets back on. “You’re stronger than you know, Jules,” he said.

I simply couldn’t take any more of all this reassurance, comfort, patronization, and other crap I never asked for and didn’t want. “Gag me,” I said, grabbed my sword, and walked away.
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Julilee
Julilee
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Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 8th, 2015, 7:25 pm

He followed me to the inn, of course. This being midday, the only other person there besides us was the bartender. I eyed Naheal over the rim of the cup of water I’d retrieved as I leaned against the bar.

“I don’t need coddled with words either,” I said to him.

“When have I ever coddled you?” he said.

“I’m sure you don’t see it that way,” I said. “But gods, between you and Kex’ti, sometimes I can’t stand another word."

I could never say that to Kex’ti, but Naheal was a safe target. “You want to get back out in the field?” he returned.

“Of course,” I said.

He considered his words briefly. The jerk. “As you are now,” he said, “I’m not sure I can rely upon you and, for once, it isn’t your skill that I’m questioning. It’s your confidence.”

I pressed my lips together for a moment before responding. “My confidence is just fine.”

“Is it?” he asked, searching.

“Yes!” I snapped.

“Who can you defend now?”

That hurt, but I refused to show it, chugging the rest of the water before answering. “Everyone I could before.”

“Then why are you not out there?”

There were a hundred reasons. The top ninety were that there was nothing I could do to make a difference. Almost everyone in Sanctuary was out on assignment. I wasn’t needed in Tanaan; it had already been taken. I could do nothing to impede the Grim that wouldn’t have dire consequences for Sanctuary. And Morinth was untouchable. All I could do was tread water, and try not to drown again. “I don’t need to be out there yet,” I said.

“The Alliance attacked us at the Iron Docks. They continue to attack us in Tanaan. We’re fighting a war on two fronts and you’re telling me that we don’t need capable commanders? People who can put an end to this war before we waste what few resources we have on each other? Wake up. We need Sanctuary now more than ever.”

I hadn’t realized the fighting between the factions had gotten so bad. “What—” I began, but stopped. Something made me reconsider why he was saying all this. “You didn’t need me before,” I said. “Why now?”

Naheal had quit Sanctuary when he realized he didn’t believe in its purpose. Now he directed Borrowed Time, a loosely knit band of mercenaries. What he wanted from me, and by extension Sanctuary, was left up to question.

“Because I’d rather see the bloodshed end where it can,” he said calmly. “I have more blood on my hands than I’d ever care to admit. Someone like you is the best to handle the diplomatic angle.”

Of course; ever plotting, ever assembling people like pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of his master plan for redemption. “Ah,” I said. “Sanctuary is your backup plan.”

“No,” he said. “Sanctuary is the primary plan.”

“Funny way of showing it,” I said, looking at his tabard.

“What, would you prefer to let the Alliance and Horde butcher each other while Gul’dan continues to do his thing?” Naheal pressed.

I scowled at him. “Don’t be an ass.”

“No. You want the truth? That’s what it is. That’s what it’s like out there.”

“That’s always what it’s like.”

“No,” he said again. I was deathly tired of hearing that word out of his mouth. “It’s getting worse,” he said.

I was over this conversation an hour ago. I turned to refill my cup from the water barrel. He was silent for a while.

“You’re afraid, aren’t you,” he said eventually.

“No,” I responded, curtly. I wasn’t even going to dignify that with being insulted.

“Then why do you cower within your walls? Have you given up?”

“I hear that from the Grim,” I said. “I don’t need to hear it from you.”

“I want to know why it is that you’re still here.”

I looked at him. He simply was not going to leave me alone. I summoned up the very last of my patience. “I’m here for Sanctuary.”

“What do you do for Sanctuary while you’re here?” He gestured to indicate the garrison around us. “Paperwork?”

“I organize missions. Yes, write letters. Plan for the garrison. Check on how things are going.” I could have made it sound better if it weren’t so damn difficult to organize the words. I was starting to feel defeated at this point, but it only made me angrier. I set down the cup and started to walk out of the inn.

“And that’s the path you’re choosing to take to lead?” Naheal asked. He came up beside me, and I looked at him.

“There’s no one left to lead,” I said. It was impossible. It was just impossible.

“Then rally people.”

I stared at him. I couldn’t believe he’d said that. Like Sanctuary was something people could be enticed to join. People came to Sanctuary, not the other way around. And more than that… As though I were in any condition right now for diplomacy, or any kind of talking to people. He utterly dismissed all the very real challenges I was facing. At that moment, I couldn’t stand him.

“Just… go away,” I said.

I saw his expression change. That had hurt him. But it changed again just as swiftly, to something resigned, as I turned and walked out.

“…Goodbye, Jules,” I heard him say.
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Julilee
Julilee
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Julilee

Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 8th, 2015, 7:27 pm

We didn’t speak for a full week after that. At first I was annoyed that he was going to make me come to him to apologize; even if I knew he was sensitive about losing people, I wasn’t the one who had done anything wrong. By the time he and I met up on a mission together, though, my anger had faded.

I was trying to get out more, not because of what Naheal had said, but because I was going to eventually anyway, and he and I ended up on the same team clearing the Blackrock Foundry. We didn’t speak, but we worked smoothly together as a team. In the end, after the mission was finished and the rest of the team had departed, we did speak briefly, and he agreed to come by the garrison.

Once more in my office, I set aside my armaments and started to rummage up some drinks, then noticed the fresh burns up his arms, going under his tabard. They were red and looked painful. “Gods, Naheal,” I said.

He glanced down. “Consequences of using holy weapons when you’re dead,” he said.

I reached for the first aid kit instead. “Come here,” I said.

“Come now, they barely hurt,” he said.

“I can’t look at them without cringing,” I said.

“Then I’ll go put something over them,” he said. I gave him a look. “I’m fine, Jules, really,” he told me, but his tone was flat, like it was whenever he threw himself at his work to avoid thinking about anything.

I sighed and set the first aid kit down. “Okay.”

“So what’s wrong?” he asked.

“I hate it when we fight,” I said, turning to him. He across the table from me, keeping a barrier between us. “You always act like that’s the end, forever. Of everything we…” I gestured helplessly with my lack of words.

“…I didn’t build this, Jules,” he said after a moment.

“Build what?” I said, nonplussed.

“Any of this.” His gaze moved around my office. “Sanctuary’s your group.” He let out a breath. “And it’s not a place I belong in anymore.”

I laid my hand on the table and looked down at it, trying to master the words I wanted to say. I didn’t want to screw this up. “I wasn’t… I’m not asking you to,” I said.

He looked up at me. “I just keep pushing people away, don’t I?” he said presently.

I thought of Kex’ti, and how he thought I didn’t trust him. For once, the words came out like they were supposed to. “We’re a great pair, then, because I don’t know how to let anyone close, apparently.”

Naheal gave me a grim smile, and I smiled back, wryly.

“Can I say something?” I asked. “Assuming the words come out.”

“Sure,” he said.

“I want you – to be my friend,” I said slowly. “Not to be my mentor, or follower, or cheerleader, or taskmaster. I appreciate that you care about me, and want to help me. But I’m going to always follow my own path. My heart. Even if I make mistakes sometimes, I want to make my own choices. You have to respect that.”

Naheal gazed at me with a frown. “Seems like I’ve… gone against one of my core beliefs if that’s what I’ve been doing.”

I nodded a little, not meaning to agree with him per se, but acknowledging his words. His acknowledgment.

“I don’t believe in justice like you do, Jules. I don’t have that kind of faith. Freedom is the ideal that I hold close to my heart. I’m sorry I've been imposing my will on you. That was never my intention.”

I nodded again, losing some of the tension I’d been holding. It was good to hear him apologize.

“But I’m a terrible person to have as a friend,” he said quietly. “Most of the people that have been my friends have been hurt… or killed.”

“I apparently can get killed regardless of your – help,” I said. It wasn’t the best response, but I didn’t know how to deflect his self-reprobation.

He looked away. “She left, Jules.”

“What? Who?”

“Brey. Our relationship is done. She’s still in Borrowed Time, but…”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.

I’d rarely seen them together, but she’d seemed to make him happy, and he her. He put his hand on the table as well. He was shaking. I moved closer and put my hand on his arm.

“Naheal…” I said.

He looked down at my hand, then up to me. “Xara’s captured. Half my company’s being mind-controlled by a psycho, and the woman I love…” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

I was acutely aware that I still had Kex’ti in this trying time for me. Naheal had lost the support of the person he cared about. “I’m sorry,” I said again, and put my other hand over his on the table.

“I can’t protect anyone, it seems,” he said.

“We all do the best we can,” I said.

“Doesn’t seem like enough most days.”

I was quiet for a moment, mulling that over. That there was always more to be done was a fact I was well-acquainted with as the leader of Sanctuary. “No, it doesn’t, does it,” I said.

He spoke, almost as though talking to himself. “It’s not hard to see where the Grim’s coming from some days. If there are no enemies left to fight, who do we need to protect our people from? They’re too extreme, but I see the perspective.” I sighed, and he looked at me, realizing I wasn’t interested in hearing these thoughts. “Sorry,” he said.

I waited for a few moments, then moved away from him. “No, it’s fine.” I picked up a decanter and two glasses. It seemed like we could both use the drink.

“Sometimes… I think that neither side wants peace, you know?” he said. “Like they’ve been fighting each other for so many years that the idea of not fighting is foreign…”

I grasped that he spoke of the Horde and Alliance and not Grim and Sanctuary. I handed him the drink and listened.

“You know what I’ve always wanted?” he said. He paused. “Something I’ll never really have now, I guess. A family of my own. Borrowed Time’s like my family, but… it doesn’t quite feel right.”

“It’s not really the time or world for children, now,” I said.

He looked down at his hands. “Wouldn’t matter if it was,” he said.

I winced and bit my tongue. It was hard to remember, sometimes, that Naheal was forever separated from the world of the living. He would never father children. “Sorry,” I said. “I always forget…”

He shook his head. “I’ve accepted what I am. It’s hard, but…”

I moved over and put my hand on his arm again, setting down my drink. “Don’t ever say goodbye to me again,” I said quietly.

He looked at me.

“Ever,” I said.

“I thought… you didn’t want to see me again, either,” he said.

I spoke in a low, emphatic voice, holding his gaze. “That will never be the case. There might be times I can’t stand you, but I’ll never want you gone forever.”

He trembled, but didn’t say anything. He didn’t know how to respond. I remembered when I’d told him I respected him, and how he’d had much the same reaction then. Deep down, I knew the things Naheal feared the most.

“I lost you once, so I know for sure I don’t want that again. Okay?” I said to him.

He moved past me. “I… think I need to sit down. Mind if I borrow your chair?”
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Julilee
Julilee
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Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 8th, 2015, 7:27 pm

I nodded as my hand fell away from him. As it did, I remembered the burns on his arms that I’d unthinkingly been touching, and winced again. “I should get a healer for those burns,” I said as he sat down.

“They’ll just be back later,” he said. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll let you treat them yourself, though.”

“I’ll take it,” I said. I set down my own drink and went to take down the first aid kit, removing salve and bandages from it. Naheal stripped off his gauntlets and unbuckled his armor. The burns were worse than I’d realized, reaching from fingertip to shoulder.

“Tes thought I was nuts for taking this path,” he said.

“You are nuts,” I agreed as I removed my own gauntlets and uncapped the salve, perching on the edge of the table next to him. “Not just because of that, but it’s one indicator.”

I caught him lofting a brow at me. “Gonna criticize my choice in hobbies?” he said.

I scooped up some of the salve and gave him a smile. “I’m not telling you to change. Your shield strap is in the way, take it off.”

He clicked a small mechanism, which released the strap, and the shield fell to the ground behind him. I gently took his arm, then started spreading the salve on the burns. I couldn’t help but let out a slow breath, knowing it must hurt, although the salve would be almost immediately numbing and cooling.

We spoke briefly about armor. Naheal had a tendency to go through shields. When I moved up to his upper arm, however, he took a sharp breath. I glanced at him. “Hurts?” I asked.

“Uhh… kinda,” he said. “Jus—just make it quick.”

After finishing with the salve, I wound the most burned parts of his arms in gauze. We spoke more, about Borrowed Time’s contributions to the Tanaan Offensive, and other things; the nature of the Light, purity, and conviction. Apparently in another timeline I had found a way with the Light, but in this one, it was not for me. In the end, the discussion was nothing significant; but it was pleasant enough just to have his company again, and the words were even mostly cooperative. Eventually I sat back and said, “It would be too easy to stay up all night talking to you.”

“Tired?” he asked.

I shook my head and slipped off the table to start packing up the first aid kit, only to look up when he offered something to me. It was a small, jeweled dagger. I knew what it was; what it meant. I’d thrown it over a cliff once, but he’d retrieved it. I looked back at him, slowly reaching out to take it. I wouldn’t reject it again.

“The style is very different, but if you do find the light inside, I’ll walk the path beside you,” he said.

“I’m not looking for it,” I said. “My conviction lies with justice.”

“Then maybe, one day, it’ll find you.” He watched as I set the dagger on my shelf and put the first aid kit away. “I know I can't fight without magic,” he said. “Couldn’t ever. But you’re a lot stronger than I am. Physically, I mean.”

“I have to be,” I said, not meaning specifically stronger than him; I just had to be strong. It was a simple statement, but something I felt was deeply true.

I leaned against the table and watched as he started putting his armor back on. His movements were easier now. I was glad he’d let me help him, and it dawned on me that others would probably feel the same if I let them help me more. Still, it wasn’t easy.

He looked up at me and smirked, interrupting my thoughts. “What?” I said.

“Nothing.” He shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.”

“All right.”

He walked up to me and lifted his hand to pat me on my head, like he did. I caught it with my own and pulled it down behind my neck, not letting him pull away for a moment. Things were better between us now, but I knew he still needed to feel some sort of living connection.

“Apparently I’m a godfather now,” he said, off-handedly. I smiled to think of someone asking Naheal to be their child’s godfather. I hoped they knew what they were asking.

“Seems like you have plenty family,” I said, and I didn’t just mean that. He’d called me family before. I wanted him to remember that.

“Maybe… maybe I’m just trying to fool myself into being alive,” he said.

“Naheal,” I said, and I hesitated. It felt like standing on a precipice at that moment. Naheal wouldn’t be Naheal if he wasn’t fighting to protect the ones he cared about. But I knew, instinctively, that there was danger somewhere in that. Somewhere I had made the choice to never go.

“Yeah?” he said, smiling softly.

I stepped back. He slowly, hesitantly, let his hand fall away. “I’ll see you in Tanaan,” I said.

His smile changed to a more regular one. “It’s nasty out there. Bring the good stuff.”

“I know,” I said.

He patted my shoulder. “Take care of yourself. I’ve got a shadow mender I’m talking to that may be able to help with your head.”

“Ah… we’ll see,” I said. “Thanks.”

He took his leave.

I would never look at him the same way again.
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Julilee
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Re: The Price of Strength

Postby Julilee » July 19th, 2015, 5:24 am

First, Grim Batol was taken. Several things followed that. One was an incident involving Cerryan, Lilliana, and Syreena. It would lead to another.

As you can probably imagine with those three names being together, it was less than good. I was still angry about it when Lilliana showed up at the gates, but to a certain degree I was prepared to deal with it, and that was why I agreed to speak to her.

It was the first time I’d allowed her into Sanctuary Garrison since the acts for which I’d briefly jailed her and her friend. The priestess was changed. She wore red robes of a different style, and a hood covered her head, which appeared to be lacking its former red mane. I knew she had been held captive by Morinth since before Kallavan’s attack on me. It showed in her eyes, which were more brittle even though she successfully put on most of her old unconcerned airs.

She noticed I was studying her as we entered the inn. “Like my new hood?” she asked with a grin.

“I’m sorry for what happened to you,” I told her, and I meant it, not having wished any harm on her despite our differences. Inside, I took a spot by the fire. Even though it was summer, it remained cold in Frostfire. Snow still covered the ground here, and the bonfires were next to never allowed to go out.

“It’s cool, but thanks.” She eyed me, weighing my sincerity, but didn’t question it. “I’m just happy to be here. I shouldn’t be. And…” She trailed off.

“And?”

“Thank you for what help your guild offered.” She sounded sincere. “It was not unappreciated, you know. And stuff.”

The bartender brought us mulled cider. I nodded in thanks as I accepted mine, taking the opportunity to reconsider the urge I’d had to respond to Lilliana that of course Sanctuary was going to do the right thing. I didn’t need to rub her face in our virtues right now. Well… I didn’t ever, but sometimes I couldn’t resist. Luckily, this wasn’t one of those times. Instead I simply asked, “Why did you let Syreena maul Cerryan?”

Lilliana stared at me for a few moments, gauging how to reply. “Cerryan wouldn’t lay off, Julilee. You know I don’t insult Sanctuary.”

“So, to teach him a lesson,” I said flatly.

“No,” Lilliana said. “I lost my patience.”

I considered that. “I have only one question for you, then,” I said. “Do you feel any regret for losing your patience and allowing that to happen? Any small sliver?

Lilliana nodded her head. “Yes, and I’m sorry for it. But… I’m only another mortal… I can only take so many insults before I’m going to crack too.”

She looked down at the ground, repentant. I didn’t really buy the act; Lilliana would never truly apologize for anything the Grim did. We commanded no respect from her, or any of her guildmates. I knew that. But I had expressed my position, and that was all I’d hoped to do. I cupped my hands around the warm mug of cider and nodded, mostly to myself. “I assume Syreena won’t face any consequences from within the Grim. She is telling a version of the story where Cerryan struck first.”

“Don’t blame Syreena for any of that,” Lilliana said. “She was only protecting me throughout our argument, you know?”

I looked at her. “I have plenty to blame Syreena for.”

“Julilee.” Abandoning pretense, Lilliana stepped forward. I narrowed my eyes, but she was undeterred. “Your officer… continued to slander the Grim. He slandered my higher officers… he called me a monster in so many words, called me a bad person, repeatedly. There was no way to have a civil discussion with him. It was like he had a brain injury or something… or was a broken record, I don’t know. Then he stood aside while Syreena and I had to fight a rogue that hurt the fuck out of her… and even then, he wouldn’t stop!” She was growing angrier and angrier, and getting right up in my face. “Not one word of civility… not one! Ten minutes of that… to like, freaking excess… I lost it… shoved him… he drew for his weapons… and then it just got ridiculous after that.”

I raised my free hand and firmly moved her back, not spilling my cider. Lilliana snorted.

“He is supposed to be a soldier of Sanctuary,” she said to me. “He has no pride in himself, or in representing you.”

“I have spoken to him about maintaining his patience,” I said evenly. “He understands I view his provocation as a failure to Sanctuary’s virtues.”

“He failed more than that. He failed himself. What happened, although I’m sorry for it, and I apologize that I didn’t have more of a control of the situation… but what happened was his fault.”

Cold anger washed through me. “No one is responsible for someone else’s actions, Lilliana. Ever. Cerryan is responsible for provoking Syreena, but Syreena is responsible for being a monster. And if you dare imply again that it’s Sanctuary’s responsibility to ensure the Grim do not perform terrible acts, I will always disagree.”

Lilliana shook her head. “That’s not what I’m saying.”

“That’s exactly what you said,” I said. “You were blaming Cerryan for what happened. You can be very manipulative, Lilliana.” I was glad that the words were cooperating today. Lilliana deserved to be called on her twisted logic.

“I do blame Cerryan. Although yeah, he isn’t responsible for my actions, he is responsible for putting himself into a situation like that.” She eyed me, distaste that she normally kept better concealed showing for a moment before she covered it with a faint smile and provocation. “You’re smarter than that, you get it, don’t pretend you don’t.”

It was useless to try to pin down her hypocrisy. If this was going to be a productive meeting, I had to take what I could get, without submitting. “I will agree he is responsible for putting himself in that position. But you veer close to assigning blame to him entirely, and that’s where I disagree,” I said.

She held up her hands. “I know. I’m to blame. And I’m sorry,” she stated. “I let the insults get to me, there were too many and allowing Syreena to fall was the last straw. But yes, I am sorry.”

Her apology was too glib, now. If she had truly cared what anyone else thought or felt at any point during this conversation, the sentiment was long gone. “I don’t need an apology,” I told her. “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss?”

I heard her sigh as I turned to set down my mug on a nearby table. “I just want our guilds to fight side by side, not with one another,” she said. “You know I’ve only ever helped with Sanctuary.”

Memory of Lilliana weaving magic to support Khorvis as his blade clashed with mine in Aerie Peak sprang to mind. The look I gave her was beyond skeptical. “Only ever? That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“Well, you know… we gotta be malleable.” She grinned, unrepentant.

The gulf between us was immense, and it spanned so much more than arguments or scuffles. I saw the full scope of it, even though others didn’t, or did but thought I couldn’t. “Sanctuary and Grim will never be at peace,” I told her. “They will never trust each other.”

“I trust you,” she said, unhesitatingly. It was true; she stood at ease, despite being in the center of Sanctuary’s garrison. I would not have expected to live much longer were our positions reversed and I stood in the Grim’s. “I know what you will do, and what you won’t,” she said.

“You can trust me,” I said. “But I can’t trust you.”

Lilliana chuckled. “You can trust me to fight for the Grim. So you can trust me.”

The former actually meant the opposite of the latter, but there was no arguing with her. There was nothing left for us to discuss. “If you enter our garrison in the future, it will continue to be at my permission. I have business I need to return to, so I’ll see you out.”

She lingered for a few moments, just to prove she could, before moving to the door. “Hey, I may steal something if you don’t watch my like, every move, Julilee,” she said as we walked out.
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