((A transcript with some minor edits for clarity and continuity, but mostly intact, between Theo, Zaanthe, and Jander. Leads up to the Hunting Theo event. Enjoy. All credit goes to Zaanthe and Jander for being awesome rp partners.))

 

 

Maldraxxus was, unfortunately, exactly as had been described.

Zaanthe had heard tales about a realm within the numerous planes of the Shadowlands where those who had an unending tenacity fought through the rest of eternity with a goal towards protecting the Shadowlands from those who meant it harm. It seemed precisely up his alley, and the sort of place that—he thought, at least—he would go in the event of his demise. He was certain he wouldn’t fit within Ardenweald, as it was far too in tune with natural aspects, he had no false credence that he had the necessary valor to join the Kyrian, and he was almost certain that he didn’t have the requisite atrocities to be banished to the Maw. Thus, his assumption.

He was saddened to see that it was home to no small amount of undead, necromancers, slimes, spiders, and lovers of the plague. It was an almighty shame.

That was a problem for another time, however. For now, he yet lived, and he had some work to do. Druum was due an update on what was was potentially coming his way, and Zaanthe was available to pass on the message. Given the Huntress’ considerable skill, the use of a messenger or some sort of signal seemed unsafe. A spoken word delivered by a trusted face struck the Templars and Repentant as the safest option. It was a simple message, and the vindicator wielded brevity with the same expertise he had with his maul. ‘Theo came for us, and struck at Nemalu. She will strike again, and it could well be you. Please be on your guard.’ That was the long-and-short of it.

In, delivered, out, back to Oribos, and perhaps back to visit his beggar-friend in Stormwind. He was already planning his days beyond this one. Before he traveled much further, however, Zaanthe elected on spending the night at an establishment held by the Maldraxxi residents. They had some sort of tournament upcoming, and he thought he might throw his name into the ring. For the evening, though, rest was the first thing on his list.

Sleep came easy after the preceding lengthy days. He had a tendency to sleep lightly, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings, but exhaustion robbed him of usually-sharpened senses. For now, he laid on his back in his bedroll, arms raised to lace the fingers of both hands together behind his head. His sleep was sound, his piled-up plate and crystalline maul set against a wall behind his spot, neatly set up in order of which he’d don first when he woke.

The big tents that housed those who wished to compete in the Theater of Pain lay scattered around the arena. Made of bone and odd swathes of tanned hide, they were sturdy constructions and though Maldraxxus didn’t have weather like the black rain or hot ashy winds of her home, Theo thought they’d be quite weatherproof in a storm.

They were also hilariously lightly guarded, likely because the contestants themselves were presumed to have some modicum of skill. And many did. But none of them saw a shadow slipping through the night, staying away from the green flame braziers and keeping to the darkness. It had been a surprise to see him here, apparently corporeal once more, no longer a spirit, but there was no doubt the mortal was the same as one of the two Nadana helped escape.

It was a lucky chance, though she’d hoped to find him here. She intended to use it. Theo’s eyes narrowed. After all, she had questions.

No darkhound dogged her heels today, left behind to guard her own, more secret campsite. It was just the hunter in the gloom, a glint of red eyes and the ruby swirl of her anima the only things betraying her as she disappeared and reappeared inside the tent. Theo froze, waiting, to be sure the motion hadn’t drawn attention.

When the bulky figure in the bedroll didn’t stir, she crept cat-quiet over to him. Up close she could study the features, and they confirmed what she suspected and saw from afar. The resemblance was uncanny- but there were also several distinct differences….

One hand drew a thinner dagger than the dirk she left behind with Nemalu, almost more like a stiletto, from her boot. With soundless steps she moved to the figure’s head and crouched above him, one blade a hair from the vulnerable skin of his throat, one in the hand she clamped suddenly and with disproportionate strength over his mouth.

“If you scream, you die,” she said, very softly; not a whisper, those carried too far for her liking, but quiet enough that it wouldn’t reach beyond the walls of the tent. “If you move, you die. I can put my knife through your neck faster than you can call on any powers or try to go for that big weapon of yours. But I’m not here to kill you…. unless you make me. Nod once, and nothing else, if you understand these terms.”

Her hand didn’t move from the hard grip on his mouth, and leaning over him in her dark clothes, she looked very much the part of a ghost or a wraith of some kind, all dark colors, red eyed, the black bow and those black fletched arrows in a quiver on her back, rapier sword at her belt.

Perhaps it was the promise of strength in numbers, or perhaps Zaanthe was getting complacent now that he was further away from Revendreth. Whatever it was, he slept soundly, assured of the fact that he’d stir long before anyone came close enough to be any threat. He wasn’t entirely unfamiliar with fighting bare-handed, after all, even if he was a little more than rusty.

The vindicators assailant was able to get shamefully close before he even flirted with the idea of consciousness. The cold edge of her dagger bit threateningly into the teal of his neck, and the press of her palm against his lips ceased any involuntary gasp that would’ve come to him. He might not have screamed for help right away, but he certainly would’ve made enough nose to rile folks nearby. As it stood, however, he woke without anything more than a subtle jerk forward and a deep drag of breath in through his nostrils, though they were partially obstructed by her touch.

He was still as the night that lingered around them. Bright eyes met hers, wide with shock, as he took stock of his situation. He swallowed, exhaled, and let his gaze measure her.

She was certainly familiar with this sort of work.

Her stance lent her stability and the weight sufficient to stop him from throwing her away without her plunging that edge into her neck, just as she threatened. He had nothing nearby to strike at her with, and his legs were still tucked away in his bedroll, robbing him of an opportunity to kick at her.

Much as he was loathe to do something he was told, he offered a single, deliberately slow nod. He made no other movements, arms pinned to his sides. Every instinct he possessed told him to jerk a leg upward to knock her off-balance, or make a wild grasp at the dagger to pry it away from his neck. His training, however, reminded him to stay calm and agreeable. If she wanted him dead, he would’ve taken her blow already. He slept on unfamiliar grounds without a set of eyes to watch over him. That was a lesson he, evidently, needed to re-learn.

As much as he wanted to make some manner of snide remark, he bit back his tongue. Luminous blue eyes flitted down to the hand at his mouth, to the peripheral view of the white-knuckled grasp that kept the dagger at his throat, and back to the looming visage of the figure above him. Wordless, he cocked a single brow.

Even in silence, he could still manage to be insufferable.

Mortals. Hmph. Definitely the sin of pride.

“Do not speak.”

The hand that held the dagger stayed rock steady. The other moved from his mouth to her belt, and drew a pair of shackles. She dangled them in front of his face.

“You’re going to put these on, and then I’m going to ask you some questions. You’re going to answer them. Then we are going back to Revendreth, where you will be questioned by the Master, and begin the process of your repentance. You’re going to do this because it would be unfair to involve others like you- like your friend the scarred one, or the younger woman with the purple hair, or the cold one- when you were the one that escaped Pride’s Prison. And because I do not think they will hold up to questioning as well,” she said bluntly. “Perhaps the cold one might, but she has not committed your sins.”

He was, after all, very much the fighter. It was written all over him, from his physique to his armor. It wasn’t the other three strange mortal’s fault this one was one of the two who possibly (hopefully, surely, surely) corrupted or blackmailed Nadana somehow. It was an odd sort of almost courtesy- almost a compliment, that she’d ambushed him in the dead of night at his most vulnerable.

But that didn’t make her words any less true, and she held his blue eyes steady with her crimson ones, letting him see it.

“If you resist in any way, I will kill you now, and go ask my questions elsewhere. Nod if you understand, put the cuffs on, and then you may speak. Quietly.”

Silent, purposeful breaths drew the vindicator’s chest upward as he made a deliberate attempt to slow his heart-rate. That fight-or-flight instinct was still shooting all sorts of signals all over his body, but he remained vigilant against both options. Neither would do. Yet.

His attention was wrested handily from Theo’s face to the shackles once they were hung in front of him. His eyes fixed on the cuffs, then Theo… and the cuffs again. He wanted desperately to snap at her for even presenting the idea that he should be shackled, but her terms were quite clear. He was required to be silent and complicit. At her demand, he chose to play that part, as the cooler part of his mind won over the sheer disdain he held in this moment.

The bedroll shuffled, and the draenei’s hands slowly unlinked from one-another behind his head, making more of a splayed mess of the silver hair that framed his head. Gently, he reached out for the shackles, took them in his hands, and clumsily shackled one on his left wrist, locking it into place moments before he turned his right towards his chest to brace them in place against his shoulder and secure himself, as per her request.

“I am flattered that you picked me of all your options,” he spoke in a hushed breath, just the slightest bit of amusement in the rumble of his tone, “but if you wanted an opportunity to get to know me, I would’ve been happy to meet somewhere a little more nicer.”

A demonstrating tug of his wrists away from one another demonstrated that he had indeed cuffed himself per her orders, as the chains quietly clattered against one another. “Ask away.”

Immediately, his mind went to escape. He wasn’t about to walk willingly back into the demesne of the Master. He had seen the attention Reed and the Marshal had gotten. He wasn’t much up for that.

She didn’t move the dagger until he was cuffed, and only then did it leave his throat. Theo didn’t relax at all, but she stopped looming over him and gave him space to sit up, if he wanted.

She herself crouched on her haunches, like a perched night owl, between him and the door. The dagger stayed in her hand, and he was well within striking distance, but she made no move toward violence (despite the memory of blood splattered starry foliage still fresh in both their minds).

At least he’s smart enough to know when he’s beaten. Killing him here would be highly inconvenient, in all respects. 

She tilted her head at him, a curious little motion. “Thank you for not being difficult. You’re wrong though. It’s not flattery. Just fair and practical,” Theo corrected. She chose to ignore the rest of his statement (it was patently ridiculous) instead watching him, silent, for a few long moments, gathering her thoughts.

It’s an uncanny stare, really. He’s the closest anyone has been and lived to tell since Nadana left her, and though her face is shadowed by her hood, there’s hints of her sharp features there, typical of the venthyr, red eyes, pointed canine teeth. There’s a glimpse of some injury to her forehead and an eyebrow, not old at all, the shadows of bruises on her ashy neck, stains of old blood on her boots and cloak though it doesn’t seem to phase her. Bandages peeked out from one leather gauntlet. The gear she wore was well traveled but of excellent make.

“…You were one of two escapees from Pride’s Prison. Who are you? Who were the others?”

“I’ll take it as a compliment, nonetheless,” Zaanthe mutters as he gathers his wits; it wasn’t only the sudden appearance of an assailant that left his head spinning, he still found himself shaking off sleep as he took inventory of the options he had. It seemed ‘answer questions’ was still leading the pack.

With that, he kept his eyes locked onto her features. He took note of those scars, curious about them, but not enough to ask about them in the moment. It didn’t seem like the time to do so. That lengthy silence earned a gradually more incredulous look from the vindicator, whose heavy brow knit into what was almost a judgmental frown.

The question of his identity surprised him, but he was happy to answer earnestly. “I am Vindicator Zaanthe, formerly of Argus. Now, of Azeroth.” That was perhaps a little more information than he needed to provide; if she knew of Nadana’s birthplace, she might know that she and Zaanthe shared that much.

“The others have names, but those are likely useless to you. I have difficulty with longer names in the common tongue. I call them Reed, the Marshal, and Sielic.”

Again, that was all true. He knew a good deal more about the three he’d been soul-snatched alongside, but he wasn’t willing to give out too much information pertaining to them.

“I do not keep track of them, for what it’s worth. They have their own lives. Families.”

“Vindicator Zaanthe,” she repeated, fixing name to face in her mind. Argus and Azeroth meant little to her; countries or planets, likely. “Which was the mage, and which the warrior? Big, like you. The mage was smaller, and more annoying.”

“Reed is the mage. The Marshal is the warrior. Big, like me,” he mimicked, enjoying himself a little more than he aught to. He had to stifle the desire to laugh at her description of him. “Yes. He is infinitely more annoying. But that’s his style.”

Theo nodded again; if he was mocking, she didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps care. Next time, I will shoot the mage before he can speak. He was definitely more annoying. I do not like his “style”.

“Which makes Sielic the other. You are all members of the same… organization. These Templars.” There’s a twist in her mouth at the word, eyes flat and grim for a moment. “Tell me of yourselves: your leader, your mission, why you are here.”

“Yes,” Zaanthe answered plainly, his breath starting to steady by now. His heart-rate came back to a pace that seemed more manageable, and he felt like he was less likely to meet his end due to an unfortunate move. If she truly intended to bring him back to this Master of hers, somewhere along the method of transit would be his opportunity to lose her. Precisely how he would execute that was something he was still working on.

“Templars,” he repeated in affirmation. He wasn’t terribly fond of the term either, in truth—but it was who he had cast his lot with, and there were a good few names he found himself happy to fight alongside. Those mentioned, currently, were among some of them. “We are a… paramilitary group, I suppose. We take on noble causes, sometimes for coin, and sometimes for a sense of righteousness. We rally under a woman named Arialynn. You’ve likely seen her. We are here because my soul, along with the souls of the three others I named for you, were taken from our world and ferried to yours. So, the Templars came for us, and it turned out they liked it here.”

The red eyes narrowed.

“Arialynn. The hammer woman at the crypt. She was giving orders. I will have to see what I can do to make you like it less,” she said, almost to herself. “Thank you for this information. Names are important. But the cycle of the Shadowlands is paramount- sacred. Your friends should have let you stay dead,” she said, a point blank judgement in a darker tone.

“Now, tell me.”

The dagger in her palm started doing slow, lazy circles over her fingers, a dexterous and dangerous move that she kept up regardless of the peril to her hands.

She met his eyes again.

“Where did you get the anima you stole from Revendreth? And where did Nadana put my sinstone?” she asked, soft with menace. For the message arrived not too long ago that Sire Denathrius regretted to inform her that there was no stone at the place she specified… and that meant there was only one option.

“Yes. That’s precisely the one. Giving orders is her hobby. She’s quite adept at it,” the draenei muttered, as though thinking back to that particular occasion at the crypt. Those stark red eyes were met with another thoughtful frown from the man below. “We didn’t die. Our physical bodies were quite fine. We rectified a situation that was knocked off the proverbial rails, but… I’m sure you see it differently.”

Slowly, Zaanthe shifted. He made no move to get up, but he felt his muscles start to grow stiff and pained in their sedentary position. His thin bedroll didn’t make for a particularly luxurious night’s sleep. “I stole no anima. I’m certain that I don’t know…”

The vindicator trailed off, then let out a little hum. “From the black-feathered Kyrian? We took that in Bastion when we were attacked. Nadana has not told me where she has kept your sinstone. Letting me in on that knowledge would put me at considerable risk, I think.”

The eyes narrowed, thinking. Not dead? …That has to be a mistake. Many souls refuse to accept their own demise. I did for a time, even. I’m not sure how they became corporeal again, granted, but I am no mage, and even with the recent influx of meddling mortal annoyances, none were a soul severed from a still living body. Black winged Kyrian… The Forsworn that they were fighting? No. When I saw them they had the vial already. And why would they have Revendreth’s anima? That makes no sense. Every drop is accounted for, and rationed carefully. He’s either lying, or he doesn’t know. I could make him tell me…

Part of her wanted to do just that, take the simmering, ever-present nowadays anger out of his hide, and there was an edge to the silence that hovered between them as Theo tilted her head again. The dagger didn’t stop moving, though she was quiet still.

….No. I have my strengths, and I could do it, but it would take more time and… finesse. The Master will wring the truth from him. Best leave such things for those who are more accomplished than I.

Her head tilted the other way, considering again in the growing quiet his words about her sinstone.

There was a small degree of guilt that Zaanthe felt in divulging as much information as he had, but as far as he could tell, most of it was harmless thus far. Names would perhaps help Theo track down her targets, but by how much? Combined with an opportunity to warn the Templars to move solely in packs from now on, it seemed like a fine trade for his continued living. She still had the upper hand on him. That would hopefully change before long.

“Reed is right. You’re off-putting. Would you mind if I stood, if you’re keen on taking me somewhere? Or do you have other questions?” His tone was almost as though he was being kept from important work by some sort of street merchant, rather than held at risk to his life. He paused a moment longer, then spoke again, quietly. “Or, if you’ll offer me a chance to ask one, why did you feel the need to ask a draenei? Myself, Mosur, Aunne, and the younger woman seem like an oddly specific batch to pick from.”

Her eyes snapped to his, sharpening away from the almost far away contemplative owl-like look. “If you stand, I will hamstring you and drag you back to Revendreth,” she says, a little sharp- a warning, definitely. He is to stay still half in his bedroll and sitting, or else.

Another moment is studying him passed. Then she spoke, also quiet.

“….We are not supposed to negotiate with the prisoners. It’s bad for them- makes them feel like they can bargain, or weasel out of their atonement, and that sets them back in the process. Deals. Threats. Denials. There is only the sin and the sinner, and pain cleansing the soul. That being said… I needed to know if your “kinship” had anything to do with what you said to Nadana to make her free you.”

Suddenly she moved, so fast it was just a black blur in the shadow of the tent, right in front of him, one hand grabbing his chin tendrils and the other pressing the blade against his skin again.

”How did you corrupt her? What did you say? Threaten?” she hissed, suddenly giving reign to her anger. The snarl in her throat has bared her fangs, inches from his face. “Did it have something to do with being a lesser eredar? How did you convince her to let you go? To kill a loyal stoneborn and cover your escape? What did you say?!”

All movement from the vindicator froze in an instant with her threat. He didn’t intend to give her any more of a reason to stick him, after all. He retained that stillness for a moment, until he relaxed the muscles in his abdomen that’d tensed earlier to help him shift. Quietly, he rested the back of his head against the floor once again, with a fleeting groan.

Her monologue about her duty to the souls of Revendreth soon had the vindicator’s eyes glazing over as he focused his attention briefly beyond her shoulder at nothing in particular. He listened more intently when she mentioned kinship, and he raised his chin in consideration of her question.

Before he could give any manner of answer, he felt that blade to his throat once again. The grasp on his tendril was hardly pleasant, and he swiftly became aware of his desire to not have two stumps for tendrils. Her anger was entertainment for the vindicator, for a while, even as she brought her face so uncomfortably close to his own. A habit that remained too difficult to shake, however, was the white-hot flash of fury that came with being called a ‘lesser eredar’. Zaanthe found no humor in this.

His eyes narrowed onto her own, and he set his jaw tight, rows of teeth grit firm against one another. He needed to swallow that foul taste in his mouth just a little longer. With the knife back at his throat, he had to bide his time. The pressing question in his mind was finding the answer that would most enrage this particular huntress.

“She needed no convincing,” he began, settling for the truth. “She chose her path. I was ready to count her as an enemy when we met. I’ve spent thousands of years fighting those who still called themselves ‘eredar’,” Zaanthe began to spit as he spoke, neck tensed against the blade that threatened him. “She saw something was wrong. She was ready to step out line from the blind march you still participate in. She saved us, and all I did was trust her, in that moment.”

Theo’s heart plummeted.

And for a second the anger cracked on her face, half-hidden in the hood, showing it’s true colors: grief.

Heartbreak, even.

No… Nadana, Nadana, no…

…After everything, it really is like the Master said. You really did betray us.

The naked pain is almost hard to watch. And then, it was gone, shuttered in flat fury, so potent the aching sadness might have been imagined. Her eyes were red chips of glass, as hard and cutting, as she roughly let him drop, almost a shove.

Theo crossed her arms.

Composure, composure. He will get his. The Master will ensure it.

“What she calls blindness I call loyalty, something she has forgotten,” Theo snapped bitterly. She inhaled, exhaled.

“Why enemies?” She asked, to buy herself some time. “You’re the same species. Almost. You lack her wings, and you have no horns, and you’re blue.”

Zaanthe wasn’t above deriving some manner of joy from Theo’s sudden shift towards sorrow. Unkind as it was, she did press a knife’s edge to his neck more times than he cared for. Once, he could excuse in the right circumstances.

… Maybe twice, if the right person held the knife.

The vindicator’s eyes didn’t shift from the huntress’ own. Long, steady breaths huffed through his nostrils as he continued to weigh his options. Her released grip caused him to fall back, though the descent was caught with his left elbow. The ground below wasn’t terribly forgiving, and so with a little delay, Zaanthe muttered beneath his breath as he raised that same elbow to observe the minor graze he’d earned.

He spoke with intonation that made no sense to those who spoke the language, instead speaking three words in quick succession. Draenei as a language had the added benefit of sounding like cursewords no matter how you spoke them.

“Mystery help theater.”

Fate willing, that would be enough of a breadcrumb for the mage. He was resourceful, if nothing else.

“I don’t think she sees it as anything other than loyalty, either, the way she speaks of you. It’s just misplaced.” Zaanthe spoke plainly; he appreciated that he had no need to lie in this encounter so far. As ever, he appreciated an opportunity to be direct. “We were the same species, millennia ago. She chose the wrong path, but it seems she has realized that in death. I suppose that counts for something. Now,” he paused, glancing about at his sleeping arrangement before he raised his shackled wrists in a gesture of request. “May I gather some of my things if you’re intent on hauling me away?”

They used to be the same, but Nadana did something? Theo thought, and then she scolded herself. Of course she did something. She went to Revendreth, and repented of her sins, like I did…

She tilted her head again at his request, considering. “You won’t need them. I’m not so foolish as to permit you weapons or armor, and in any case, whatever valuables you have are best left here. Greed is not your sin, I think, so they are no use to us, and you’ll have no need for them in Pride’s Prison,” she said, matter of fact. “Stand up. Any resistance incurs the same penalties mentioned before.”

She stood, now, and stretched- like a black cat, but one that was perhaps sore in some places. Theo wasn’t slow, but there was some care taken with her motions. She opened the tent flap.

“….What path do you speak of?”

Nadana never talked about her sins.

Deceit isn’t one officially, but if it was… she thought, and the anger smoldered a little again, despite her relatively civil tone.

Zaanthe opened his mouth as though to speak, but stopped short. “Suit yourself,” he spoke with a tone that belied his joy to do precisely as she asked. “You’ve got me figured out, certainly. Pride would have to be the one,” he grumbled to himself as he began to shift his weight. He sat upright at first, then tucked his legs beneath himself, and stood at the same time as he shuffled out of his bedroll. The movement, as a whole, was entirely ungraceful. Par for the course, for this particular draenei. He was slow, heavy, and deliberate in almost all things.

He shuffled himself out of the bedding, which fell about his hooves with no ceremony, leaving him bare as the day he was born, that same light blue from crest to ankle. He was, perhaps surprisingly, lacking in a large number of scars – evidently he had skilled healer-friends during most of his altercations. The ones that were to be found served as reminders for their worth; a gouge at his chest that lined up perfectly with his half-missing tendril being the most prominent.

If pride was to be the vindicator’s sin, he was going to get a great deal more in while he still drew breath. His lips pulled into a smile, raised his arms above his head, and stretched out the sleep from the interrupted night. If he was going to be dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, he was going to enjoy the walk of shame while it lasted.

“Path? Oh! Nadana. She followed Kil’jaeden, a member of our race who cast his lot in with demons instead of the light. It’s a long story. I could explain the whole thing while we walk, if you like.”

He stepped up toward his captor, but didn’t move onward without her guidance. If she was going to put a knife at his throat again, he would seriously have to reconsider how amiable he could be with her.

Theo… blinked.

First, that was a not lot of scars over quite a lot of muscle. Her estimation of his combat prowess was revised a notch, -or maybe he just had access to healers?- and she mentally gave herself a pat on the back for her dirty nighttime ambush. Not that I couldn’t have taken him, of course, she thought to herself, but it is so much more efficient and quiet this way. I’m also still quite sore.

Second, that was a lot of blue skin.

…He sleeps in the nude. Of course he does. And I did say stand. At least he’s following orders. ….Bastard. Well played.

Theo rubbed the bridge of her nose and sighed.

“You may explain, very quietly, while we walk. And you may get some pants,” she added, resigned to having to say it out loud. “If you reach for anything else, I will shoot you.”

If ever there had been a pause that Zaanthe was happy to perpetuate, this was it. He stood still, and maintained whatever eye contact she elected to give. He hadn’t expected to derive as much joy from her sigh as he did, and so that grin just seemed to encroach onto more of his features as he waited. “Just pants? I suppose we’re in a rush,” he muttered.

He took a few careful steps over towards his belongings, where he knelt down and grasped for his pants, as he was permitted. The motion was awkward if anything, and involved an awful lot of repositioning and shifting of his weight. It wasn’t entirely fabricated; the motion was difficult, but he was also stalling for time. If Janderius got his message, he was sure he’d figure out the meaning quickly enough.

When Theo made an impatient noise, he retorted, “You may dress me yourself, if you’d like,” which made the venthyr actually roll her eyes.

He didn’t bleed the delay for everything, however. He didn’t intend to rile the huntress up. He wanted her caught off-guard, if his cavalry was to show.

“Nadana and myself are both from the same planet. We were once called eredar. Two of our leaders, Velen and Kil’jaeden, joined by a young Auguri by the name of Archimonde…”

~

“… Their choice was to join the two in their pursuit for untold knowledge and magic, despite Velen’s prophesies of ruin. They were shown their mistake some twenty-thousand years later, after their leaders fell to the combined armies of the Light and the forces of Azeroth.”

Zaanthe was always keen to prattle on about the history of his people.

It was… quite the story. Theo listened, a quiet, uninterrupting, intent on the history.

Suddenly, she remembered, a lifetime ago, a walk in the forest.

“Do you think you are the only One That Walks in Blood? There are souls here responsible for the deaths of millions. For the collapse of entire planets. Imagine: not just one that walks in blood but an entire Legion, leaving behind them worlds in ruin, worlds shattered literally into shards. If those creatures can be redeemed, and some of them have been, there is hope for you yet, Samantha Montag.”

…That’s what she meant. She was one of them. One of these “Burning Legion”, and so was Nemalu, and all the Repentant. Destroyers of worlds, not just countries or cities. Uncounted atrocities. Roads paved in bones. All that, and she still- …What is this feeling?

Theo paused, looking around, wary. Something was in the air, something was-

Jander did not have very much time to prepare after hearing the seemingly nonsensical distress signal. The choice of language and the use of the name ‘Mystery’ had left no room for misinterpretation.

As wise as it would have been to gather additional reinforcements, he did not want to waste any precious seconds knowing the kind of time-sensitive danger Zaanthe was likely in. If his hunch about the situation was correct, the threats involved were beyond the scope of his confidence in most other Templars. And he liked them all too much to risk bringing any of them as potential arrow sponges.

And so, after a quick teleportation to Westguard, he broke into Zaanthe’s room at the barracks and stole his pillow case. He spent a very brief amount of time flying around the base looking for the likes of a Mosur, a Harple, an Ari, or a Jarrick, but had no such luck.

A quick teleportation to the Shadowlands came next, as did the hasty scrying spell he performed in a featureless, undisturbed corner of Oribos. The pillowcase was all he needed to pick up on Zaanthe’s distinct arcane trace, providing him a momentary glimpse of the two of them deep in conversation, their image clearly visible at the center of his scrying orb. He locked the vindicator’s signature onto a small, colorless crystal to help guide him the rest of the way. From there he booked passage to Maldraxxus, the place he’d heard so much about in the others’ reports, but never visited himself until now.

Finding their location was made slightly more challenging due to the size of the central structure, and how much it lacked in identifying features around its circumference. The crystal in his hand thrummed more steadily each time he got a little closer though, helping guide him the rest of the way.

Knowing where he’d find them, he used his disc to ascend to the height of the walls, and spent the time casting a spell upon himself to avoid detection. Arcane invisibility did not involve making one’s visible form actually transparent, it was an enchantment that coerced potential nearby witnesses into not taking any notice of him being there. And it didn’t always work perfectly either. The capabilities of the spell are more thoroughly tested when they’re used to try and mask a man flying through the air on a fiery metal circle too.

It took all of Jander’s concentration to maintain the spell while also maintaining control of the disc itself. It did the trick though, in this case. The sentries on the walls up above paid him no mind while he got himself into position, finally spotting the two of them down below.

Zaanthe’s big blue naked cheeks stood out against the dreary landscape like a lighthouse beacon. They were not to be missed.

A smirk pulled at the corners of Jander’s lips as he looked down at the two of them from above. He allowed his cloaking spell to subside, knowing he was out of the huntress’s line of sight for the time being. He’d also need his full concentration for the spell that would come next.

Suddenly, Theo choked, doubling over. Her perception suddenly became warped while weird tingling sensations took over her muscles. The world around her appeared to shift, as if everything else suddenly swelled to a much larger size. Her body suddenly became much heavier, drawing her onto all fours when it felt like her legs could no longer comfortably support her weight.

Words didn’t come. She could barely control her own limbs.

Looking down at herself, disoriented, she greeted with the revelation that she had been transformed into a little piglet.

“Get a load of this guy.” Having emerged from his hiding place, Jander coasted into view on the back of his flying disc, coming to a halt just beside the two whose conversation he’d just interrupted. He casually stepped down from it, seemingly quite confident in the potential duration of his spell. “Buck ass naked and cracking playful jokes as naturally as he breathes. Did I miss something? When did you get fun, Zaanthe?”

For a moment Theo was confused.

And then, the realization that she had been magicked by some godforsaken mortal mage, THAT mortal mage hit her like a punch.

The only thing stronger than her hate at the moment was her rage. Only in the prison cell, wracked with pain, the wounds of her past torn open to be examined and lanced like boils, had she ever felt anything like the sheer, sudden, all consuming need to kill him, and damn the consequences. It flooded her with power, and she focused, drawing on her own anima to fight the spell and hammer at his concentration.

It was inelegant, a brute force approach… but there was emphasis on the “force”.

The vindicator’s voice, while quiet, served a purpose. It was a dull drone in the background that, he hoped, Theo couldn’t completely remove her attention from. It was yet another layer in the plan of how he hoped to clamber out of this particular situation. The fulcrum in the whole project was a mage he hoped he’d see soon, and so he waited for the moment of triumph that would come. Would it be a an eruption of flame from somewhere that threw off her footing? A creative use of short-range portals that would cause her to trip? Only time would tell, as eager as Zaanthe was to see which it’d be.

There was no confusion drawn from the sight that the draenei beheld. As he heard Janderius’ voice from above, Zaanthe let out a short, sharp laugh. “I have always been fun, Reed. I just save the nudity for when you aren’t about.”

He wore a beaming smile for a moment afterward, then jerked his wrists away from one another. The shackles bit into the teal skin at his wrist, drawing a line of purple-tinted blood from the outside of the joint. He clicked his tongue against his teeth in displeasure, and took a quick few strides over towards the mage to wordlessly provide the chain for him to… Blast? Magic away? He wasn’t sure, he just wanted use of his arms.

“Quickly. I think she’s looking for a reason to murder us both, and I’d rather not give her the opportunity.”

“I hope she does.” Jander smirked, before fumbling in a pouch at his hip for something. “Polymorphing the azerothian way is a delicate and deliberate process. Getting her back to normal requires a very specific sequence that only a powerful mage can properly execute. Interrupting it prematurely will end up with her growing at an imbalanced rate, rupturing her internal organs and tearing her musculature apart.”

With his back to his precious little piglet, Jander gave Zaanthe a little wink to make sure he knew this was a bluff to try and deter her from trying too hard to break free. In reality, he was already having to struggle to keep her contained.

Two small vials were produced from the pouch, one purple and one orange. Jander downed the purple one for himself, and put the other one right into Zaanthe’s hand. With a refreshed gasp, he then took a deep breath and began using the foundations of another spell to super heat one of the metal links in the center of the chain, liquifying it in a matter of seconds.

There was, perhaps, a pause in the assault.

Then -astoundingly, recklessly, furiously– it renewed. Whether she was calculating enough to trade the risk for a gamble, had called his bluff, or was too angry to do anything other than rage against the constraints was unknown.

…It may even simply be that she didn’t care for her own well-being, in the scheme of things.

Typically, there would be no small amount of protestations that came with a nameless, unlabeled phial put in his hand. The pressing nature of the moment didn’t particularly allow for that, however, and so Zaanthe took the container in his grasp and knocked back the liquid without so much as a second thought. Light knew what it was set to do.

The vindicator kept relatively still for the spell that sundered the chain binding his wrists, and as soon as his hands were free, he shook them out with a relieved sigh. This lined up quite conveniently with Theo’s return to her true form. “Shame, I liked her better the other way,” he muttered, just as he beseeched the light to come to him as far out as the Shadowlands.

The flash of brilliance that erupted from Zaanthe’s splayed palm was as brief as a smile he’d give a stranger, but brilliant all the same, blinding and searing with the lifespan of a lightning bolt. It wasn’t so much an opportunity to harm as it was a tool to rob the huntress of her senses for a little longer.

“I hope you also came with a plan for exfiltration.”

Zaanthe felt a surge of energy immediately after drinking that vial. As if, were he were to pick up his hammer, he’d notice it feeling much lighter than usual. If he were to jump, he’d probably get a few more inches higher than otherwise. He felt focused.

“Yeah, my plan is to take this little piggy to market-”

His statement was interrupted by the bright flash, and he was glad his back was turned to it otherwise he would have been just as blinded by it.

“Rhonin’s dick, dude! Fucking paladins always breaking my polymorphs, I swear.” He knew that he preferred to be called a vindicator, but he also didn’t care in that moment.

With a blink, he created some distance between himself and their foe, before setting his stance to prepare his first attack spell.

It was a good thing too.

The roar of rage shook the camp, apparently not caring very much about subtlety anymore, and Theo appeared as a swirling red malevolent shadow. The at times odd, almost polite, meticulously cautious young woman Zaanthe met was entirely swept away by wrath, and in its place stood the monstrous hunter from the forest, seething with bloody crimson power. She seemed taller, more feral, and the snarl that showed white pointed teeth was guttural and ugly.

“You,” she hissed, glaring at Janderius.

Then she moved and drew and fired all at once, almost too fast to be counted- the incredibly smooth nockdrawrelease of a consummate archer with pinpoint accuracy. In the time it took to breathe twice she had six black fletched arrows in the air, streaking toward them like death itself -both Janderius and the unarmored, if freed, Vindicator- with thier pale steel heads flashing in the gloom of the Maldraxxus night.

”I’ll kill BOTH of you!”

“Thought it was about to break. I don’t know how your shit works, Reed!”

The vindicator watched as Janderius prepared himself for a fight, a look of disbelief on his features. “I had thought this would be a quick in-and-out sort of thing?!” he called out, just as his attention was wrested away wholly by the less pleasant Theo, who was already lacking some manners as far as Zaanthe had considered.

His armor, maul, and all of his possessions were far out of reach, a considerable walk back towards the camp. He couldn’t retrieve them without abandoning the same mage that’d veritably saved his skin. So, his fight was here.

In his underwear, with his fists. Light, he thought. If I go out like this, Mosur will die from the laughing fit he’d break into.

As sharp as his senses were, thanks to the mage’s potion, he couldn’t stop his share of arrows from reaching him entirely. One palm thrust forward in a thin, golden film to stop two arrows meant for him dead in their tracks. Normally, this sort of shielding could withstand an assault from the usual foe he found himself squared against. In this case, it was enough for two arrows, and not a hair more.

The third pierced the shimmering light, which scattered and dissipated into the cool air around him. He was far too slow to move out of the way by the time the shot was this close. The tip met the top of his outstretched forearm, gouging out a valley through teal-colored flesh before it punctured his side.

His breath hitched, his teeth grit, and Zaanthe barreled himself towards his foe, arms outstretched. His years learning to compete in Jed’hin would come in handy here, hopefully, as he dove his shoulder into her center mass, in hopes to engage her in an awkward brawl.

“You let me know when we’re free to leave! Please!” He called out in his native tongue, obviously ready to be done with this evening already.

The arrows meant for Jander appeared to pass straight through him, and he just carried on in that same stance. His casting gestures continued, until he let loose a single, lazy looking fireball that slowly drifted towards Theo. If it somehow managed to still hit her (or Zaanthe, potentially,) it would do no damage whatsoever, it wouldn’t even feel hot. He then just went ahead and started casting another one.

Except that wasn’t actually Jander, and he’d never blinked to begin with. It was a mirror image, and Theo bought it in her bloodlust.

The other Jander was in a spot behind where Theo had fired from, preparing a much bigger looking spell.

Theo…

…Dissolved into red mist, sending Zaanthe crashing through her with a whisper. It drew her attention from the mage’s illusion.

The snarl curved upwards in a savage tick, a horrible smile, and Theo drew power to her, feeding off her own rage. She reformed in in front of him as Zaanthe looked back to adjust his position and grab her again. It was unfortunate timing, to say the least.

It meant he didn’t quite see what happened next, as Theo delivered a uppercut to the chest that folded him in half, grabbed his arm, pivoted sharply, and with ruby power curling around her, pulled so hard on his shoulder there was a sudden popping sound as it dislocated and threw him. He crashed clean through one of the bone standard banners and into the ground at great speed, bouncing once before skidding to a halt.

“Very stupid, Vindicator Zaanthe. Do not presume to close quarters with me,” she snapped, and drew another arrow, looking for that damn mage.

Jander continued casting, drawing upon everything he’d learned during his tribulations of that initial capture. A lot of effort and experimentation had been needed in order to acclimate with the unusual ley energy of the Shadowlands.

Witnessing the brutal treatment of Zaanthe prompted a surge of spiteful energy that almost threatened to interrupt his concentration, but he somehow managed to stablize. Those precise gestures weaved together with an expert precision, gathering an emormous conflagration in his grasp.

The moment she tossed Zaanthe aside, he let it fly, slinging the enormous pyroblast with an audible grunt of exertion.

Inertia was a recurring foe for the vindicator, though this rivalry was especially pronounced when he faced off with folks who could simply vanish from in front him. He had a split second to reassess where his grip would be best suited, and —

CRACK

The breath was forced out of him in a wheeze that he had no vote on. The world spun for a moment, which the vindicator thought was a disorienting effect, until he realized that it actually had done just that. Or, rather, he had. Adrenaline softened the blow for the moment, but given the extent of the discomfort, the dull ache of injuries soon introduced itself.

He was dazed for that moment. He didn’t so much as register a word she’d said. He retained consciousness, for now, however. He willed his arm to press against the ground beneath him, but it barely twitched. He cursed (for real, this time) under his breath, and instead rolled onto his other arm with a groan. His vision cleared, and he caught sight of Janderius summoning an immense ball of flame in their assailant’s direction.

“So much for… Leaving,” he grumbled, above a string of expletives and exasperated turns of phrase, all while he forced himself slowly onto his knees, and slowly afterward, his hooves.

….Theo is gone.

No. Scratch that. She’s not- she’s thirty feet away from Jander at the top of a huge Maldraxxi banner, more arrows in the air.

“Much better than last time, Reed!” she yelled, and fired rapidly from her position.

…As the first of the contestants wondering what the fuck was going on stuck their head out of their tent, and lost it to one of her arrows, almost causally, for his trouble.

After all the grandstanding the Venthyr did for avoiding the spell, it wouldn’t have harmed a hair on her head anyway. That wasn’t a real pyroblast either, it was a second bamboozle.

And then those arrows of hers once again passed straight through his silhouette, embedding into the ruined soil behind him.

“That’s embaressing…” The mage’s voice seemed to echo throughout the whole area, its origins unclear.

At which point, Jander descended from high up above, flying through the air with his sword gripped with both hands, high above his head, seeking to bring it down on her with a devastating downward slash. He’d always preferred to get up close and personal while attacking anyway.

With his breath firmly back in his chest, Zaanthe grabbed his right arm’s bicep and yanked it once, twice… Three times… Nope. It was going to need someone with a finer touch. He winced, pursed his lips, and dragged the sensation that turned his stomach back into the depths of himself.

He didn’t approach the melee. He’d learned his lesson, and only had one arm this time. Instead, he surveyed the fight in front of him. Eyes caught sight of the mage descending from on high, and he found himself in a silent, internal prayer.

That was uncommon.

Another thrust of his left arm out towards Janderius offered him the same sort of shielding he’d given himself at the start of the fight. Perhaps he’d buy him some time.

Theo sneered at him, and red cloaked her again- did she have more power to spare than last time, or had she simply become more willing to use it? Either way, his strike fell where she simply wasn’t anymore. Even without the anima, she was so fast, and with it…

“The only embarrassing thing here is your swordwork,” she said, appearing behind him and back, floating in the air for long enough to fire again- at an angle.

The trajectory of the arrow was such that if this was an illusion, the shot would probably hit Zaanthe, trying to stand on the ground. I may not be able to tell which are real- but I can make you regret using them, she thought viciously.

Once again, Jander’s attack turned out to be an illusion. The sword slash missed completely, not that it would have done anything to begin with.

The arrow passed right through the illusion, heading unhindered right for Zaanthe.

Somewhere in the background, if Theodora turned her head, she’d see the fourth Jander illusion just standing out in the open doing a ridiculous dance that was very heavy on the pelvic thrusting.

The actual, real Jander was just out of sight, hiding behind a nearby stone outcropping. From the beginning, he’d been preparing the portal to Westguard, and their only possible means of escape.

Before leaving his cover spot, Jander reached out with one more spell, putting slow-fall on Zaanthe’s brutish form, making his body light enough for easy transport.

And then, all in an instant (but not before the arrow would have hit him,) the mage shot out from his hiding spot, propelled like a bullet on the back of his disc. In one seamless motion, he reached down and caught Zaanthe by the back of his boxer shorts and dragged him along with the world’s most intense wedgie, lifting him off the ground with the momentum of the disc’s flight.

Recovery from his short flight brought Zaanthe to his hooves just in time to see the two figures… Three figures? Whip about out of reach. The vindicator squared his shoulders and caught sight of the arrow just in time for it to bury itself in his chest.

Again, the breath was forced from him, but this time it was far… Sharper. Precise. He called a brief flicker of light onto his palm and pressed it against his chest to stay the wound, and soon found himself in a daze.

Oh, there’s the real Jander. He’s actually making a portal now.

Thank goodness.

It was a simple thing to haul his busted, mostly bare ass through the portal, as he groaned his discomfort.

“Glad you had your guild stone.” He huffed. “… Glad I started to carry mine.”

Utilizing impressive control of the disc, he initiated a hard hairpin turn and zipped around the back of some of the tents for cover, before racing the both of them in through that open portal.

At the very last second, he looked Theo in the eye and flipped her the bird.

A part of her removed from her current fury observed that it was relatively clever: neither could have matched her in combat, even together.

That didn’t make it any less infuriating when she saw him go for the stunned, shot vindicar. She was too far to stop them, even with a door of shadows, and only now did she see the hidden portal behind the rock.

Maldraxxi were beginning to filter out and grab thier weapons as well. This was swiftly becoming an untenable situation, and she knew that, she knew it, but she didn’t move, rooted and torn between the need to find and kill and the more logical thoughts urging her to run. Instead, she drew and fired. The arrow hit, but a glimmering crackle of golden light made it bounce off, leaving Reed unharmed. A second, a third-

The mage turned, and smiled at her, and wordless gave her the apparently universal invective of his middle finger.

I shouldn’t be wasting so much power. I can’t stop him, I can only hurt him, this is a mistake, it’s wasteful, Theo thought, even as she drew on her anima, throwing caution to the wind to do it. As they started to relax, she aimed the fourth arrow.

Bloody crimson began to wisp around it, like steam from a wet log.

“Fuck you too,” she snarled, and loosed. The arrow shot across the distance between them and hit the portal one crucial instant before it closed. The red punched through the golden shield with a cracking sound.

Then a bone-grinding scream from above forced her to move, as a bony crossbowman on an undead chimera swooped down. The arrow flashed through her cloak as he missed, swore, and started to reload.

Theo bolted, finally forced to give up her quarry, and half the Theater chased after her into the night. However, she was smiling as she ran. She saw where the arrow landed, and it would be a mortal blow. A punctured lung was a nasty way to die, drowning in your own blood, tricky even for healers, assuming he could get to one in time. That seemed unlikely, she thought, with profound satisfaction.

Finally. Some good news to tell the Master. It’s worth a trip, I think, once I lose these Maldraxxi. And I can ask about my sinstone, as well. 

She fled deeper into the Maldraxxi night.

Author Cael
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