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            It was an indulgence.

            Czene allowed himself the time, sitting at his desk, doing nothing.  A personal response, perhaps, but a minor one, and he felt that he could allow it.  After his work today, it would no longer be his desk, or his office.  The work was worth it, and the office only existed to assist with the work.  It would continue doing so.  He took only a few moments to appreciate that before turning to the letter.

            To: Drogar Truthhammer.

            I have been advised that a personal meeting between us would likely have unfortunate consequences for both of us, so this letter shall serve to say that which I would have preferred to express in person.  Enclosed is included a full and complete apology to you, your family, and your company for my actions, as well as a copy of my letter of resignation of position and forfeiture of all compensation and awards from my time here.

            I do apologize for any pain or harm my actions may have caused.  I never held any desire to cause harm, and deeply regret that my actions have done so.  My interference with your company’s operations were purely financially motivated, and not intended to cause any distress.  My commentary to the financial agencies regarding the solvency of your company was a lapse of judgment on my part, having perhaps reacted to your party in a more personal manner than my station requires.  As for the dark iron prisoner, all I can say is that I only intended him to be apprehended sooner.  I never wished any injury to Darlain, and that my actions allowed it to happen is my failing.  I am sorry, and it is my personal responsibility.

            Both the fact of these failings and the harm caused by them provide cause to my resignation.  I am voluntarily stepping down from any position of authority or seniority within the Cathedral.  My accommodations will be that of a Novice only, and my duties will be restricted to those assigned to me by the acolyte masters and the house staff.  All my current and past financial plans and investments are being turned over to be administered by Lirriel F'Sharri Meterein, a member of the Church who I understand you will accept as being of upstanding character.

            While I hope that this is sufficient to settle matters for you, I understand that such an easy resolution is unlikely.  The acolyte masters are already taking my conduct into account in determining my new duties, but should you feel the need, you may bring any personal grievances to them directly.  Greater insight into the results of my actions may give them further inspiration.  As it stands, I can only assume that I shall spend the next several years scrubbing floors and bleaching linens as penance.



            He set the quill down, and gave the letter a frown.  Everything was correct.  Form and implication, every stroke was properly placed and every line properly worded.  Still, the letter displeased him.

            It was not ideal, but Czene rarely dealt in ideals.  The loss of his work for a few years was preferable to the loss of his work forever, and he had done much to strengthen the Cathedral during his time in this office.  He was sure he could continue to outmaneuver the dwarf, and could certainly turn a direct attack in his favor, but the death knight was right.  He, himself, was valuable enough to preserve for future use.  His work was important.  There needed to be no reason more than that.

            First the quill was placed down on the desk, then the letter sealed.  Then he placed his keys on the desk alongside the quill, and left the office.  He let the door stand open, and handed the letter to a page as he left.

            There was no time now.  He had delayed as long as he could, to buy the inquisitors the days they needed to soften her up.  He had checked on their progress, and while slow, it was satisfactory.  But the trial had ended.  Even with the disaster it had finished with, the adventurers would not remain distracted and scattered for long.  Brewfest was an excellent at keeping the dwarves occupied, but even that wouldn’t last indefinitely.  They had kept out of his way thus far, caught up in booze and celestial buffoonery, but soon enough they would come back around and demand her release.

            If he was going to vacate his office, he would at least finish this last task.

            The inquisitors stood sharply as he swept into the chamber.  Czene gave them a dark look.  This would be difficult enough already without them going easy.  Still, he was sure he could manage.  She had never stood up to him.

            “Let me know when she’s ready.”  He couldn’t direct their policy, anymore.  Now he had to wait for them to decide to use him.  He was still the best one to break her pride, and the inquisitors knew it.  They would ask him to put an end to this.

            He didn’t need to wait long.


            Firie huddled in the back of her cell, staying to the center wall instead of a corner, keeping her rough blanket pulled tight across her shoulders.  Nobody had come to see her since Aerie had been called away, and she had to struggle to fight down the relief and focus on the disappointment.  She’d almost expected Vasily, but he had his hands full, and probably couldn’t leave the Exodar.  Nira’s care was more important, she had to keep telling herself that.  Xillia might have come, but she had a personal vested interest in Garrosh’s trial after her injury in the Vale.  The other mage would need to get her closure for that or it would never really settle for her.  That was important.  Arkav… would be supporting Xillia.  Kaewynn had enough of her own issues.

            Some of the Dragoons had checked in, but nobody she knew.  So nobody had seen.  Her hair shaved off, her gown replaced with something that resembled a used bag of horse feed, her last bath had been a bucket of water thrown at her.  She hoped this could be over before they needed to see her.  It wouldn’t.  She couldn’t keep herself hidden for this to work.

            When she heard Czene outside and the guards came to open her cell, she didn’t struggle.  She was hungry, and tired, and she would have lost, but for once that didn’t mean that she would just fight anyway.  That would come later.  Right now, she needed to save her strength.

            The insanity of it all was really her only hope, and just thinking that helped her quash it.  She’d foolishly told Xillia and Kaewynn both how to stop it all, just in case anything like this ever happened, because she’d been so sure it never would.  It had been safe to tell back then because she hadn’t thought it would matter.  She had been wrong, it wasn’t safe, and if either of them ever told Czene what they knew it would save her life.  And damn her for the rest of it.

            She was glad they hadn’t come, and as soon as she had the thought she reminded herself that they had more vital things to do, things more important to them.  She just wasn’t that important.

            This would never work.  That was all she had to hold on to, and it was the only thing that mattered.  She had never beaten Czene.  She couldn’t.  He couldn’t be beaten.  If it came between the Legion and Czene, she wouldn’t expect his robes to get mussed.

            The sand of the practice ring was hot between her toes as the guards pushed her out into the center, and she stood there shakily.  Bleachers and walls hid the ring from most of its surroundings, a feeling of empty isolation that left her with nothing but the guards behind her, and Czene, neat and clean as always, standing across from her.

            He would win.  He had to.  If he failed to rip this Pride out of her, she would live, remaining a ward of the Church, a dangerous infected creature, and as her closest living relative he would have stewardship over her affairs.  Her deal with Drogar would be nullified, invalid due to the mind-corrupting influence.  He would get everything.

            If he won, if the Sha keeping her alive was removed, he would get nothing.

            It was absurd.  The only way she could possibly win was if she lost.  The closer she was to losing, the closer she was to winning, and any thought that her plan was working meant that it wasn’t.  Thinking like this was insane.  It couldn’t work.

            That had never stopped her from trying.


            Czene glared at Firie across the ring.  She wobbled slightly, taking a moment too long for her eyes to focus on him, and for a moment he suspected she was suppressing a giggle.  Good.  If she was that unsettled, it would be that much easier.

            He tightened his grip on his hammer, smooth gold haft under his glove.  “Well, Firie.  We either see if that thing has weakened its hold on you, or we give you another lesson in humility.”  It would take her a moment to pull herself together.  He gave her the time.  If she wasn’t really trying, the defeat wouldn’t be humiliating enough to rattle the monster loose.

            When she struck, she struck hard.  He had never known her to pull her punches, and now certainly wasn’t the time.  She still telegraphed her spells with those ridiculous incantations, calling out what any competent mage could do in their head.  There was no denying that her spells landed with unusual force and ferocity, but he was more than ready, and the purple shock shattered into fragments against the gold glow surrounding him.  The effects weren’t even worth the effort to brush dust off his robe.  He walked around the side of the ring while she drew up another spell, and as she started her incantation he sent a sharp little flick of pain at her, a tiny lance of gold light.  She hadn’t bothered to shield herself yet, and it bit at her feet.

            “Garrosh’s trial is over.  Would you like to know how it ended?”

            Her next spell landed harder, but it only took a moment to reinforce his shield, and it did no worse than the first.  Czene ignited the gold spell halos around his hands.  For all her bad form and flailing, Firie was an experienced fighter.  He would win, but not without effort.

            “He walked away.  Escaped.  No punishment at all.  You’ve spent the past year, almost two, fighting him?  You’ve seen more time inside a cell than he did, and you’ve accomplished nothing.”

            Work her up.  The more emotionally invested she was, the less stable she would be.  He struck back then, a shock of golden fire that clung and continued to sear and burn.  Hot gold light dripped off her arms as she drew back for her next spell, and this one struck even harder.  Czene felt his shield buckle, and steeled himself.

            “The bronze dragons helped him escape.  They turned half the courtroom inside out freeing him.  Didn’t you have a bronze dragon scale?  Prized possession from your ‘first big adventure’, as I recall?  I wonder how much you helped them with that.”

            Her spell crashed into him like a rocket, and he nearly crumpled.  The next came without pause, a different incantation, streaming purple shards hammering him from all sides.  He let them land and stood, bleeding and staggered, for her to see.

            Then he lifted one hand, and the blood vanished and wounds closed.


            Czene struck now, unleashing the spell he had almost used on her a week previously.  Pulse after pulse of bright gold leapt from the ring at his palm, leaving streaks of burning white in the air before bursting against her.  She pulled magic around her, finally bringing up a shield – he spat and tore it away from her without slowing.  Her hand stretched toward his face, preparing another spell, and he batted it away harshly with his hammer.

            “What made you ever think you could be a mage?  You’ve lost every fight, failed every adventure.  Wounded by Malygos, ignored by the bronzes and blues fighting Deathwing, and now?  A puppet for a monster that’s already dead, and that monster was just a memory of a different monster that’s already dead!”

            He threw another lance of hot gold, saw it strike hard.  She was bleeding now, red flowing down her arms, black seeping out of the wounds and floating upward.  Smoke curled around her, hardening into the clawed armor the monsters were so fond of.  He burned it relentlessly, and every bit he blasted away added to the growing cloud over the ring.  She used mirror images, he ignored them and maintained focus on the one shedding Sha essence.  She tried turning invisible, he flooded the ring with a cascade of molten gold, forcing her to reveal herself.  She raised both hands toward him, and -

            “Usbin xuk!”

            The world lurched around him, and he flailed trying to regain his bearings.  He couldn’t reach his magic, and for a moment everything seemed to loom up around him, even Firie.

            A penguin.  She’d turned him into a penguin.  It took only a moment’s concentration to break the spell, returning to normal mid-stride bearing down at her, his lip curling as he drove a red-gold beam of holy rage directly into her gut in an instant.  Solace was a dangerous spell, but she would survive, even if he had to heal her for it.  Idiot, unrestrained girl was making this hurt much more than she needed to.


            In the halls of the Cathedral, whispers spread like the wind.  “Czene’s fighting, and he’s pissed!”  One by one, novices began to sneak away from chores, or came up with excuses to loiter outside, or simply happened to take too long passing near the practice ring.


            Firie threw herself into her magic with each spell.  She didn’t bother thinking about trying to beat him anymore.  Either she would or she wouldn’t.  Right now, here, all she wanted to do was hurt him.  She couldn’t keep up with his reactions, or rattle his control.  The one advantage she might have was power, reckless abandon, pouring more and more into him than even he could manage.

            Every time he brushed his own injuries off with just a wash of golden light, her heart sank a little further.  Every spell she threw, the smoky visage hanging in the air over her got a little thicker, and her vision got a little dimmer.  She almost giggled.  She was going to die here, and the only thing she’d be remembered for would be as the last known Sha, and that was if everything went well.  Her chest jolted pain with each breath, and Czene’s golden fire splashed across the side of her face.

            “Telling, isn’t it?  That none of your friends came for you, this entire time?  Not even this past Thursday?”

            She couldn’t see him talking anymore; his voice simply seemed to come from all around her.  She threw power out in all directions, scathing away smoke and sand all around her with an explosion of force.  Czene stepped through it, gold sparkles flaring all around him as injuries knitted back together immediately.  Thursday?  Why was Thursday any different from the rest?

            “No visitors on your birthday.  Either you didn’t think they’d care enough to ever tell them, or you thought they would and you were wrong.”

            Had it been the twenty-fifth?  Had she spent that long in the cell?  Had… had she ever told anyone?  It had been safe enough to tell people secrets that could kill her, but not something this simple?  She lost her wording mid-spell, the blaze of missiles flickering and fading out before they even reached Czene’s shield.

            “Nothing about you has ever mattered!”

            No.  It wasn’t that his voice was all around her.  It was above her.  The monstrous face floating in the smoke spoke with Czene’s voice, in time with Czene himself.  She blinked, trying to stare through the fading light.  It was too dim, and there was too much smoke, but… was it beginning to settle, moving away from her and toward him?

            She hoped other people could see it.  It wouldn’t be good for a Sha to run rampant in the church.  Maybe it would give Drogar a way out if he blew Czene up.

            There wasn’t any more magic she could think to use.  Czene had stripped the clarity spell from her again, and she couldn’t remember the transform to reapply it.

            “You have nothing to be proud of!  You have lost!

            She saw Czene preparing his spell, the ring of molten red-gold spiraling in front of his hand, flaring brighter as it prepared to launch forward.  The echo from above made the air shake around her, and twists of black began to catch in the spiraling gold, forming a smoky haze being pulled bodily into the spell and woven around it.  The apparition’s eyes, purple with her own magic, opened in the center of the ring, staring across at her, triumphant in its moment.  She couldn’t see color anywhere else.  Just gold, and purple, and grey, filling her entire vision.

            It was the sound that sent her sprawling to the sand.  Not the rubble-strewn wrench of devastation, not the high screaming pitch note she’d come to recognize as her brain translating pain into noise, but a solid, viscerally physical reverberation ringing through the air, loud and heavy enough to throw her to the ground, more saturating than the time she’d been on the Stormwind clock tower when the bells rang.

            There was nothing she could do but stare. Where she had been, better than a foot taller than her and wearing heavy plate armor, a figure now stood.  It glowed, translucent gold, whiter and brighter than Czene’s burning red-gold power.  Braced on one arm, the tip digging into the ground, it held a tall kite shield, the last flickers of Czene’s spell still scattering off the sides.

            Firie blinked, and registered that it was holding a hand out to her.  She automatically reached to take it, felt metal that was somehow soothingly cool and reassuringly warm at the same time.  Then it pulled, hauling her up off the ground.

            Her other hand closed reflexively, fingers sifting through the sand as she pushed, trying to help herself up.  Gravity caught and pulled back, and she registered something smooth and round in her palm.  Then the world whirled as the golden figure gave her a sudden spin.  Off balance, disoriented, too exhausted to react, she could barely keep one foot in front of the other as she felt herself hurled along, her hand still caught in the figure’s, her entire body being swung around at the end of its arm as if she were just something being wielded by it, her own arm flung further out, trailing the smooth golden haft and crystal-cored head of Czene’s own hammer that she had not let go of, the force of the spin sending it high but its own weight bringing it back down as she lost her balance and began to fall, and at the end of the whirling arc

            The hammer struck Czene at the brow, carried down across his face, and caught at the top of his ribcage.  She landed on her knees on top of him, her arm too numb to move but her hand refusing to let go.  Her other arm responded, and she used both hands to lift the hammer and bring it down again, and again, the front of Czene’s robes soaking red into the ground, and again, lost in just dragging the hammer into the air and hauling it back down again, until it felt like she was only striking cloth and sand.

            Firie had been wounded before.  She’d felt pain, been maimed, beaten, lost any number of fights.  She knew this was when she should pass out.  She only stared, not blinking, at the flattened form beneath her, wondering when it would go black.  Somewhere above her, she could swear she heard a disappointed groan as the smoke gradually faded away.  She was less sure if she heard someone murmur, in a friendly, reassuring voice, “Nice arm, pip.”

            Eventually, someone brought a blanket to her, wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and led her away.



Lirriel's picture

Aerie Reaction

They were already riding into the city. Aerie was antsy, a bad feeling deep in the pit of her stomach. "I shouldn't have left her so long, Light only knows..."

"It'll be fine, Mother," Lirriel assured her. "Czene can't afford to push too far even now--"

"Missus F'Sharri! Priestess!" A boy from the Cathedral rushed toward them, out of breath and sweaty. "Czene--f-fighting--ring--the sha--"

Lirriel made a very non-priestly curse. "You were saying?" Aerie snarked, grabbing the boy's arm and hauling him onto her chestnut. She called on her connection to her spirit companions, and both horses experienced a rush of speed that sent them through Stormwind's streets and scattered anyone in their way.

'We're too late,' Aerie thought, seeing the cloud of malignant energy, the physical manifestation of what little was left of the Sha of Pride, and she feared. Magic flared from the practice ring, but none of it arcane, not anymore. "Firie..."

She saw, then, Pride's new host, and how he didn't even realize what was happening. Or maybe he did, and didn't care. Who knew? She didn't have her gun, dammit, so tried to throw herself into the ring, but arms held her back.

Light flared--but not from Czene. "Guardian?" Lirriel gasped beside her (likewise restrained by well-meaning others).

They watched Firie's instinctive use of the Light--or it of her, was there much difference?--defeat the thing that had overcome her brother. The arena was silent in shock. The hands let Aerie's arms go.

"Well. I don't think any of us expected that," she said, snagging a blanket from a stunned nurse and striding toward her fellow Meddler.


((And if it is not appropriate, Fi, lemme know and I will alter or remove, but man. I was excited to see this one!))

Firie's picture

(( That works extremely well.

(( That works extremely well.  I somehow suspected one of the pages would run into Aerie along the way.


I'm particularly happy that you mentioned the 'or it of her'.  I was worried that that bit might not convey properly.  One doesn't get to choose this sort of thing. ))

Nirahsa's picture

((I rather enjoyed reading

((I rather enjoyed reading this one.))

Firie's picture

(( Thanks!  I put a lot of

(( Thanks!  I put a lot of planning and effort into this one.  Never felt like a piece of writing was such work before.  Very happy with it. ))

Anka's picture

((Great entry!))

((Great entry!))

Firie's picture

(( Thanks!  Been trying to

(( Thanks!  Been trying to build up to this one since 5.2. ))