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“So dis be Ionfarge..”

Ze’sar’Fon heard a snicker next to him. With tremendous effort, he tore his eyes away from the magnificent towering carvings of dwarves to look to his beloved. 

She was trying very hard to hold it in, but her cheeks were blue and giving her away.

“Ey?”

Vilri let out a tiny bit of a laugh, but sucked her breath back in. She looked so adorable when she was happy, but he had no idea what the joke was. She was obviously trying to contain herself so she could reply, but was failing. Not knowing what had caused it in the first place, he wasn't sure what to do or say to make it better.

“Erm.. What be I sayin’?”

She could contain it no longer and her loud laughter rang out. It would have echoed had the walls not been so far apart, he was sure of that. It was lovely to hear, but he had a feeling she was laughing at him.

“Forgive me,” she finally managed, wiping tears away from her eyes. She reached out to hold his hand. “It is your words.. I still love hearing your wonder, but I did not expect how you say-”

“What be the meanin’ o’ this?!!”

Their attention was diverted from each other to a very startled looking flight master and two heavily armed guards.

“A TROLL in our Beloved city?! Someone will pay for this traitorous act!!”

The startled looking flight master looked to have reported the sight of a troll, Ze’sar, to those guards.

 Ze’sar was now worried. Vilri had said she had taken care of everything to ensure there would be no issues with their temporary stay. She had been so sure he hadn't even thought of any possibility guards would detain them. He brought his hands up, ready to say he meant no harm when she stepped in front of him, arms out, all of her humor lost.

“Wait! There is no traitorous act here! We are to be welcomed by the king and to stay with family! It has been all arranged!” 

One of the guards scoffed. “So ye boldly claim t’ know this filth?”

“He is NOT filth! He is my husband and I will not have you say such awful things!”

There was a moment of silence before everyone within earshot either started laughing or whispering in hushed tones, having just noticed the aforementioned troll and the draenei defending him.

Vilri’s arms fell and she took a step back, taken aback. Ze’sar moved to place his hand on her shoulder for reassurance. The action seemed to be a bad one as the guards instantly raised their guns. He went to take his own step back but he felt her hand cover his own. Despite the guns still trained on them, he moved to place his other hand on her waist, giving them both some grounding.

Her free arm came out in exasperation.

“Look at you! You would attack innocent man, traveler, who means you and everyone else no harm… And you mock us!”

The lead dwarf laughed, releveling his weapon. “Innocent? Ye must be a young’un… leave it t’ the Draenei…  Ye don’t know what this filth and 'is kind are capable of. Step away from the troll, lassie. Times like these ye canne be too careful”

He felt her tense up and only just kept her in place thanks to his hand on her waist.  He moved his other hand down adjacent just in case she wanted to move again. That would not be wise.

“Please,” he said, “we don' mean ta cause no trouble, Mon. We be here-”

“Quiet you! Ye be in our city and that is  bein’ yer second mistake. Yer first was bein’ born a two tusked scum.”

Vilri was shaking under his hands, but it wasn't from fear. Ze’sar could feel her anger radiating off of her in waves. He was surprised the dwarves in front of them were holding their ground. Not even he was willing to suffer her wrath. The flight master seemed to have the right idea at least. He looked to be regretting his decision based on her expression alone. 

“Find the postmaster. He had, or has our right. Of. Passage. And. Sanctuary.”

She said it through her teeth, bared and menacing as they were.

Everyone within eyesight had stopped what they were doing to stare. It was making Ze’sar very uncomfortable, but he just didn't know what to say, let alone do. 

The guards didn't seem convinced, however out of the corner of his eye Ze’sar saw someone in the background move. He hoped it wasn't for worse. More guards would not be helpful to their cause.

“Please,” he tried once more, “we be askin’ fa no trouble.”

The lead snorted. “Step away from the filth, Lassie. I'd hate t’ have ye caught in the crossfire.”

She stomped her hoof, leaning forward with her fists balled at her sides.

“That is my HUSBAND, and I will not tolerate you calling him awful things!”

Her words were as heavily accented as his own, but they rang clear.

Still the dwarf guard did not seem convinced.

“Leave it t’ the Draenei.. too big o’ hearts and too closed-minded. Stickin’ their necks out fer just about anythin'. Probably under some spell too, no doubt. Alright, Lassie. Ye asked for it. Yer both under arrest.”

“No, wait.”

He let go of his wife's waist and stepped around her, putting himself in the line of fire with open arms. She was going to be angry with him for this, but he didn't want anything to escalate. Besides.. if Vilri was arrested too, there would be no one to post their bail. It was obvious friends were going to be hard to come by here.

“Take me if ya tink ya need ta, but leave my woman alone.”

The dwarves seemed to get very uncomfortable when he mentioned her as his wife and Ze’sar realized his phrasing, as traditional as it was in his Homeland, wasn't appropriate here.  He'd have to apologise for that later.

“Leave my wife alone,” he rectified. He felt his ears start to burn, but he kept his expression serious.

The lead scoffed again. “Layin’ claim to a lady o’ the light. Ye have no honor.”

He kept his hands outstretched, offering no reaction as the guards stepped closer. 

His wife was at his back, frantically hissing in his ear. “What are you doing?! We cannot just let them do this!”

“We be havin’ ta, love,” he said softly, “dey won't be leavin’ us alone till all da paperwork be done at de least.”

He knew they might not after that either, but he didn't have time to say more. The dwarves were near enough to manhandle him. 

Carefully, Ze’sar lowered his arms and placed them behind his back. His wife stepped away, but not before giving his shoulder a squeeze. He stepped forward to give the second dwarf space to bind his hands. The smaller removed his bracers, much to Ze’sar’s dismay, but he made no protest. The lead’s gun was still trained on him.

“Alright,” one of them said when his shackles were good and tight, “get movin.”

He felt a nudge to his back and stepped forward. The two other dwarves fell into line, one in front one behind. At least there was only the one gun trained on him, but eyes were staring even more now. He was extremely uncomfortable.. so much so he didn't dare look back, though it killed him not to. He hoped Vilri would be alright. 

The dwarves led him silently across the open hall towards carved tunnels much smaller in size. There were many twists and turns and he felt quite lost by the time they reached a cold, slightly musty part of their grand city. Looked to be a jail of sorts. Felt quite far underground too.

Escape would not be an easy feat for anyone looking for it. 

The lead dwarf ushered him into a small cell while the second followed behind. Blessedly he did so to remove the heavy iron cuffs from his wrists, but it wasn't a comfortable exchange. Ze'sar was grateful when they stepped out and the door was shut behind them. There was a resounding 'THUNK’ as the door was locked, and then he was alone with the magical light of the torches.

Ze’sar rubbed his wrists. The shackles hadn't been on for long, but they were quite thick and heavy compared to the lighter armor he was used to. They'd left slight indents where they'd rested. He wasn't looking forward to wearing them again. 

After making sure his wrists were alright, Ze’sar looked around the room. Frankly.. it was tiny. The entire room was probably just barely wider than he was tall (standing up straight). The bed was even smaller, located on the back wall and looked to be carved from the stone as was the rest of the cell- save the door. It was a good thing he was once used to sleeping curled up. And at least there was a threadbare mat placed on the stone. And a small, smooth stone ‘pillow’ if he wanted it. Luxury by some jail standards.. though the cell seemed particularly old and out of date. It would account for the musty smell if this particular area was abandoned for a while.  He didn't smell blood on the air at least. More of an earthy must, so it did not seem the sort for death and torture. 

With nothing else to do really, he moved to take a seat on the stone bed. It was slightly cold under the mat, strange, but still nothing terrible. Nothing compared to the frigid ice caves of Northrend, that was for sure.

He was tired from their journey too, so it was even less of a bother than it normally would be. He turned to lay on his side, pulling his legs close to his chest. His back was just on the edge of the bed and his forehead nearly touched to stone of the wall, but he was comfortable enough. He only hoped his beloved would be able to rest soon as well. She needed her strength.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ze’sar woke feeling about half as rested as he would have liked. He likely would have kept sleeping, but there were voices echoing quietly off the walls. Dwarves by the sounds of things. For as heavy as their boots were, he was surprised he could not hear their footfalls. Must have had something to do with this place. It was their home after all.

Their voices were coming closer and he started being able to hear what they were saying.

“-dinne want t’ wake 'im by meself! What if 'e’s viscous?”

“Yer a bloody coward. It's no wonder they never assign ye t’ guard duty. Always just cleanin’ the stockades after the fact.”

He wondered if he'd been snoring. It was pretty rare that it happened- his beloved had only reported it 3 times since they had become companions all that time ago- but one wasn't in control of such things normally. He wasn't sure how else they would have known he was sleeping.

Turning and sitting up, he stretched and yawned. Definitely not the worst nap. At least he'd gotten one.

The voices came closer, but the one was now ineligible. It sounded more like the Dwarf enlisted to help was grumbling under their breath than anything while the other was apologizing profusely.

Facing the door, he discovered just how the dwarf had known of his slumber without waking him. With not even the slightest squeak of the hinges, a little door opened up in the middle of the door. A set of eyes peeked through and widened before it was shut again, still not a whisper of sound from the hinges and whatever locking mechanism latched it closed. Dwarven engineering was impressive.

“What d’ ya mean tellin’ me ‘e’s sleepin’?!” the enlisted hissed at the other.

“B-but he was! I swear!”

“Well 'e ain't asleep now!”

“Sorry..”

The enlisted dwarf cleared their throat before opening the little door once more.

“G'morning! Ye sleep well?”

Their tone was less than friendly, but he didn't let it get to him. He'd actually expected worse.

“Well enough,” he said kindly.

“By the stones.. he sounds so strange.”

The eyes turned away for a moment. “Shut it!”

With them trained back on him, he blinked, waiting for what they wanted to say.

“I am required to tell ye, ye have a trial startin’ in a short while. We are gonna be bringing ye up should ye cooperate.”

“Aye,” he said back, “I be cooperatin’.”

“Good.”

The little door slammed shut before he heard the turning of the main lock. He didn't move, just in case it would be perceived as a threat.

The door opened to reveal two female dwarves- though by the one he could only tell thanks to her full chest. She had a beard magnificent enough to rival some of the men's he'd seen.

He nodded politely, but wasn't sure what else to do. He still didn't want to spook them.

“Well, get in there an’ cuff 'im!”

The larger woman shoved the smaller, and likely more easily spooked one into his cell. She was holding a pair of shackles, to his dismay.

“Can we be skippin’ de cuffs, Mon? Dey be heavy on da wrists.”

“No,” the woman at the door said. “We canne be leaving anythin’ t’ chance.”

“Fair enough,” he countered with a sigh.

He offered his wrists to the smaller one who still seemed reluctant to get any closer.

To try and ease her mind he softened his expression and his tone.

“I promise ya I don' bite.”

She paled, but moved forward. Blessedly she didn't seem to want to shackle his hands behind his back and the other one seemed content to have his hands forward as well. Neither made a protest when he stood to his stooped height, and the smaller one even placed her hand under his forearm to help. 

Without removing her hand, the smaller then led him out of the cell as the larger woman locked the cell again.

They waited a moment for her to join them and then they were moving. 

They went up twisting and winding tunnels which started to get warmer and warmer until they were near the main body of Ironforge. Then they took a sharp right and ended up in what looked to be a sort of courtroom.. at least from the descriptions in books he'd read. He'd never actually seen one. The horde did things a little different with their trials. It was usually in a throne room if one wasn't beheaded beforehand. 

The thought made him swallow, hard. Beheaded just for stepping into their territory. It happened in the horde.. it wouldn't be a stretch for it to happen here. The alliance wasn't so different as they liked to think. His treatment since arriving here proved that much.

“Aww, don’t be nervous,” the little one said. She seemed to have gotten more comfortable during their walk and was smiling at him.

The larger one scoffed and batted her on the back of the head. “Let 'im be. It's his trial.”

“Erm.. tank Ya.. but what exactly be me on trial for?”

Both of them blinked at him. The larger one looked as if she wanted to start laughing, but she held her composure.

“Quite a few things, least of which bein’ a troll.”

Ze’sar sighed and shook his head. “Wouldn't be bein’ one if I di’n’ have ta.”

They looked taken aback but more dwarves filed into the room and cut off any further conversation.

Ze’sar watched as guards and important looking dwarves filed in to take their designated places. He felt a bit of a lump in his throat seeing the axes the guards were carrying and tried to swallow it down. A small pat to his arm surprised him and he looked to see it had been the smaller dwarf, though her expression was grim and facing forward. He smiled slightly at the small display before footfalls were heard to the right of the room. He turned his head to look and saw his beloved and one of their acquaintances from Dalaran. Both looked to be thinking hard and uncomfortable with their own escort, though the Dwarf at the front looked quite friendly compared to the rest.

His beloved caught sight of him and looked relieved. She also looked to be tired, though her hair and tendrils were well groomed and her horns polished. He gave her a soft look before he felt a kick to his calf.

A bearded guard- male- had come up behind him and was pointing his axe forwards. 

Ze’sar broke into a cold sweat but took the cue and looked to the important looking dwarves now seated across the room on the raised platform in front of him. They were likely the ones who would be deciding his fate. He hoped they would be fair and just.. see that he had done nothing wrong intentionally.

Everyone settled before the most important looking dwarf raised her hands.

“We are gathered today tae discuss the crimes of whom?”

The dwarf who had been the lead in arresting him the day previous came to stand in the middle of the room, clicking his heels as he did so.

“On behalf of Ironforge, I, Barnabas Coldsteel, bring this troll scum tae trial today for crimes against our laws, our people, and our alliances.”

Ze'sar shifted uncomfortably to be addressed as such. He didn't recall doing any of that explicitly, but then he didn't exactly know all the laws Dwarves placed and followed. Perhaps walking barefoot was a crime…

“And what is the desired punishment should the court find the accused guilty.”

“At least banishment, yer honor, though it would be bett’r, an’ safer if he were to be removed from living so he could not return to give any information to his ruddy lot on our beloved city. If ‘t’were me own choice, I’d say off ‘im.”

The axes in the room seemed to get bigger and shinier as Coldsteel spoke and Ze’sar closed his eyes, swallowing hard. Now was not the time to have an episode.

“And the defense?”

“Right over there, yer honor.”

He opened his eyes to see Coldsteel pointing at his beloved and their acquaintance.

The leading lady turned her attention to the company. “What do you desire of this trial?”

Vilri steeled herself before she spoke.

“We wish to stay in peace. To be allowed the welcome and hospitality we were promised for our time here.”

The court shifted subtly.

“Promised by whom?”

“Lord Bronzebeard.”

The friendlier looking dwarf that had walked in with his beloved stood up on the balls of his feet for a moment with a smile.

“Ah,” said the Dwarf conducting the trial, “I see that is why ye are not in yer place on the council, eh Uncle?”

“Aye. I'm here t’ fix this misunderstandin’. Our ‘official messenger’ and meself arrived late.”

“The court will hear the accusations first. Then we will hear o’ yer late messenger and yer explanation for why ye want a troll tae be walking freely in our city. This is a matter that should 'ave been discussed ages ago and an agreement decided upon.”

“Aye,” said Bronzebeard as he backed down. His head hung slightly, but he still seemed fairly chipper.

“Please list the accusations.”

“With pleasure, yer honor.”

Coldsteel cleared his throat before clasping his hands behind his back.

“Tae Queen-Regent Moira Thaurissan an’ High Thane Falstad Wildhammer, I present the list o’ accusations for our unwanted guest.

Startin’ with the undeniable fact that ‘e is a troll an’ trolls are unwelcome in Ironforge fer reasons too obvious and heinous t’ speak of.”

The queen nodded. “Noted. Next.”

“Secondly, this brute did in fact sneak 'is way into our city, which is a crime in itself.”

“Noted.”

“Next 'e claims tae have some.. er claim over our guest lady o’ the light- the Draenei. Called 'er 'his woman.’”

“Elaborate.”

“Certainly. Brings me t’ me next point anyway. We believe he may have put her under some sorta spell because she kept referrin’ to 'im as 'er husband 'an she kept defendin’ and puttin’ 'er body in front o’ 'is.

Our final accusation is that 'e 'as cast a spell tae coerce an innocent lass inter being 'is bodyguard and way of infiltratin’ our city.”

“Noted. And the defense?”

Vilri went to speak up only for Bronzebeard to talk over her, with apology in his voice.

“I assure ye this is just a simple misunderstandin’. The story is a lil lengthy, but a good’un.

This 'ere Troll is not wishin’ us any harm. 'e is 'ere on honeymoon wit’ 'is wife tae whom he has just been married. They have family 'ere in Ironforge and wished t’ visit fer a while.”

The entire room silenced. It was as if everyone present was holding their breath in disbelief or apprehension.

Since no one interjected, Bronzebeard kept talking.

“I had given them me blessin’ a while back, but was waitin’ on some official paperwork t’ arrive so I could discuss it with the council properly. With needin’ t’ save the world an’ all.. it took a back seat. There's jus’ been no time, an’ the paperwork only just landed in me hands as I jus’ got back.”

Coldsteel scoffed. “How far does this troll’s mind control extend?! 'e’s gotten our King now with a letter no less fer all we know!”

“Silence! Though, Bronzebeard.. have you, in fact, met this troll before?”

“No, yer honor. I can't say tha’ I have.”

“Have you met this Draenei before?”

“Yes, o’ course,” he laughed. “ Her family was one o’ the first t’ move intae Ironforge. She was just a wee little thing when they first came.”

“And ye trust her judgement?”

“Aye.”

“Enough tae let a strange troll into our city and our homes, not knowin’ who ‘e is or where ‘e's from?”

“We've had correspondence, me lady. Many letters an’ stories-”

“Have ye had any directly from this troll?”

“Erm. No. Can't say that I have.”

“Are ye certain?”

“Aye. The handwriting is hers.”

“Can ye furnish these letters so our mages may have a careful look for any tamperin’?”

“Aye.”

“Do so. We canne be havin’ any shadows o’ doubt here.”

“Can we be havin’ a short recess tae go grab me letters? I'd be happy t’ be accompanied by yer mage o’ choice and yer guards t’ ensure there's no tamperin’ goin’ on.”

The queen and high thane both nodded.

“Granted. A ten minute recess. Everyone else remain here or return t’ yer rooms. Yer choice.”

The thwack of a very heavy gavel was heard and the council filed out of the room. Bronzebeard took his cue and bolted after them, presumably to be assigned his escorts.  Many of the guards stayed in place, however. Ze’sar didn't find he minded too much as they were now looking at him in curiosity rather than contempt- though there was still a little here and there.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

A familiar clop reached Ze’sar's ears and he turned his head in time to see his beloved just about barreling through the escorts between them, her hooves connecting loudly with the stone. His smaller escort protested as the larger one rolled her eyes at the sight.

“Is, is that allowed ?!”

“Who cares. Let 'er through says I.”

The smaller one moved before she was shoved aside, and Ze’sar found himself the recipient of a very tight hug. Vilri was, as always, impressively strong.

He wiggled a bit til she let go, but brought his bound arms up and over her head so he could pull her close instead.

She buried her face in his chest and he rested his chin on her head, careful to mind her horns. She was shaking again, but this time not out of anger. He soothed her quietly, humming and shushing.

The many dwarves present watched in bewilderment. He could see the confusion on their faces. A draenei and a troll. Not exactly a classic combination.

Still careful to mind her horns as well as minding his own tusks, he chanced a small kiss to the top of her head. He heard a small couple of noises off to the side, but he ignored them.

She pulled away slightly with a sniffle.

“I am so sorry, I was..”

He shushed her again, this time planting a careful kiss on her forehead. She giggled through her tears before looking up and bringing her hands to his face.

“I was so worried. So frustrated. I could not calm down knowing they had just taken you away. I had to do something. I did not think.. I did not think they would do that. I would not have.. I would not have brought-”

“Dear hart, is okay. Is okay now.”

He leaned down and pulled her close to where their foreheads were touching. “We both be here and we be unharmed, what more can we ask fa?”

“Certainly better hospitality, tha’s fer darn sure.”

The heavily bearded lady had spoken up, startling them both.  It surprised Ze’sar especially because her demeanor had completely shifted from when they'd first met not even an hour ago.

Instead of being a disinterested prison escort, she seemed to now be more than interested and felt more of a bodyguard to him. It was a little odd, but not unwelcome.

 He turned his attention back to his beloved. She was smiling softly now and relaxing, if she still seemed quite tired. That was a small weight off his shoulders. He did not enjoy seeing her overly stressed.

“What happened ta ya afta I was taken away?”

Vilri sniffled quietly before letting out a breath.

“I.. I panicked. Little. Everyone was staring.. but no one helped. I ran to try to find someone, anyone I recognized and could trust. The guards told me to stop, and to stop running.. I was wanted for questions.. and had knocked over small stand in the market in haste. Bronzebeard and the postmaster found me before they were going to arrest.. he helped me clean up the mess as I explained what happened. I did not know what to do.. but he suggested to go to the inn to rest and write letter whilst I was there. Urgent letter to Khadgar because he knows both of us.”

“Aye, dat he does. Bein’ at our weddin’ an’ all.”

She laughed at his joke, and he wished he could free his hand to wipe away one of the tears still lingering on her face.

“So I did. All our luggage was delivered and I got to writing right away. I sent it and with luck he was just checking mail. He sent word of his coming very soon after. Bronzebeard said we would need him because he was going to anonymously request trial for you. Being you are troll.. He said the council would want to act immediately.”

“What happened wit da messenger?”

She blinked, processing his changing train of thought.

“Oh him?”

Her expression turned to a scowl.

“Not entirely his fault… but he had forgotten to deliver paperwork. Tried to, but Bronzebeard's mail was all backed up from his being away.. so held onto it. And forgot about it.”

“Ah, dat makes sense..”

“Put us in such mess…”

She leaned to hug him close once again and he hugged her back as best he could.

A loud laugh rang out behind them and he looked over his shoulder to see it was Bronzebeard walking back through with his escorts.

“Aye, that is what I meant! Look at 'em! Happier couple canne be found through all o’ Ironforge.”

Realizing just how public their display was made Ze'sar ears and cheeks burn hot, but he didn't mind entirely when Vilri was safe in his arms. There were no guns trained on them today either. Just surrounded by axes, and axes he could deal with. Most of the time. Ze’sar hugged her tighter as Bronzebeard’s laughter passed them, wanting to remember this better time in place of past things.

“We be safe,” he said quietly. “We be safe..”

She hugged him tighter as well, grounding him, and he let out a breath.

After a few moments he smiled. “I'm glad ya brought me here, dear hart.”

“What,” she asked, slightly muffled by his robe, “why?”

He chuckled. “Because it be bringin’ us closer den eva!”

She laughed back, bumping her forehead to his chin in an affectionate gesture.

“But I be lookin’ forward ta when we be alone too.”

She used his robe to muffle her laughter and he smiled wider.

“We will get our chance.. Though we may have to sit through some festivities of my family, which can get most loud and crowded, first.”

“Anyting for you, Beloved.”

“Ooooh!”

Ze’sar glanced down to see the smaller lady dwarf holding her hands to her chin, eyes sparkling.

“You two are so precious!”

That earned her another smack to the back of her head from her larger companion, but she was smiling as well.

“Give ‘em some space why don’tcha?”

The male guard behind them seemed to be rather uncomfortable with it all, but he didn’t seem to want to interfere on account of what the larger lady’s opinion was. It let Ze’sar keep his smile and his beloved in his arms, so he wasn’t going to complain. At least not right now.

 

Looking around and assessing the situation with Vilri in his arms… Ze’sar let himself think more deeply. He wasn’t exactly sure how to feel right now. The shackles were uncomfortable, yes, and the attention was also uncomfortable, but he and she both had expected some negative attention, being the odd couple that they were. He knew he did not regret his decisions that led him here, to be with her because that was all he wanted, but he did worry for her worrying about him. She was definitely tired.. exhausted from the happenings of the previous day and today. He worried for his safety even more now because it was also tied to hers.

Despite as calm and fairly smooth as things were going here and now, it was still a scary reminder that he was not exactly the welcome sort for these people, and this painted a target on his wife’s back. He was also intelligent enough to know many of the guard had seen and been told of many atrocities committed by the horde- his people present and participating- and that many as such would not deign to trust him… at all it seemed. It wasn’t his fault. It certainly wasn’t his wife’s fault… but the mindset of many cannot be changed without their willingness to give an individual a chance. Ze’sar as such an individual truly wished no harm to anyone… and he wanted to be here because his wife deserved to be able to come home to see her family with her chosen by her side… but it was never going to be easy… and was proving even harder than expected.

He finally decided, though he was okay with it, he was stressed. As he had said to the dwarf ladies before, if he didn’t have to be a troll, if he hadn’t been born one, it would not have been his first choice… anything, even a tiny human would have been more acceptable… but he couldn't change it.. And his only chance for happiness because of that was to change the minds of many about him alone.. An equally daunting task.

Blessedly, the woman snuggling into his arms and the dwarf marching back into the courtroom with an armful of scrolls and letters reminded him that they were not alone in this fight. However impossible it might have been on thier own.. They’d gotten this far thanks to help and would further with those who did not judge so quickly as the rest. Ze’sar was grateful for that.

 

“What in the name o’ the great kings-?!”

Startled, Ze'sar turned his head towards the Queen’s reentrance and felt Vilri do the same. 

“What is the meanin’ o’ this?! Why is the accused no longer bound?”

“Erm-”

Ze’sar slowly lifted his forearms to reveal the shackles still firmly in place on his wrists. The queen paid them little, if any, mind.

“Do yeh not know the rules o’ the court? Our prisoners- especially one who is bein’ questioned as a sorcerer who has possibly coerced our very king- are not allowed fraternization until proven innocent and released from their trial!”

“I did not mean to-”

“Quiet! There is no excuse fer this! Who has allowed this?!”

“Technically,” Bronzebeard said as he sifted through his many scrolls and letters, “ye didn't forbid it.”

“It is a known rule! Common sense!”

“Aye, but who is goin’ t’ stop a determined Draenei from gettin’ t’ her beloved? I certainly like me feet havin’ all ten toes!”

Vilri squeezed Ze’sar rather tight and nearly knocked the wind out of him. It made him exhale involuntarily.

With the shackles it was awkward, but he still managed to give her shoulder a gentle squeeze as he smiled sheepishly at the queen. She did not seem amused.

Nobody had any words to say as she kept staring at them. Moria didn't seem to know how to proceed, being they had (accidentally) thrown the entire trial into turmoil breaking the rules.

Ze’sar would have said something, to put everyone at ease, but it seemed unwise. So they stared each other down- his soft and hers hard as stone.

The Queen eventually looked away to rub her temples.

“Bink, Dink, have ye found anythin’? Any tamperin’?”

Attention turned to the two tiny gnomes who were now sorting through Bronzebread’s letters with him.

“No, highness. All clear so far!”

“There be no magic written into the words or folded intae the paper?”

“No ma'am! Not so far.”

The queen huffed before taking her seat at the top of the raised platform once more.

“Proceed then.”

“Well, yer honor,” said King Bronzebeard, “I'm still sortin’ but I have the gist o’ their story 'ere. Started er…. Quite a few years ago... Blimey, has it been tha’ long?”

Ze’sar felt Vilri smile against him. It really had been that long.. though it seemed only yesterday they had just stumbled into one another.

 

~~~~~~

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The transfer had gone well. Well enough anyway. Here in Zangarmarsh he wasn't surrounded by axes and shouting at least. That was a bonus.

He still felt bad though. He was needed in Northrend. They had called for his skills specifically because the fighting got ugly, and when it got ugly, decent healers were needed- not the voodoo stuff.

Here he could only wait for someone's twisted ankle or nick from a paring knife to be useful. There was the occasional skirmish at the twin spires that called for more serious attention and skill.. but otherwise he was pretty useless. He was not a hunter like their previous healer- a druid. He nor his escort was an avid fisherman like their previous healer’s escort either. They were just a warrior and he was just a priest.. A priest with a strong aversion to sharp and blunt weapons. Even carrying his own staff made him nervous and he often found excuses to go without it, much to his escort’s dismay. But his escort was not the sort who was good at talking either, so their relationship wasn't well developed beyond that.

All in all, he felt terrible for being here. The only real upside is he was less in danger… and less of a hassle, if he wasn't the asset he wished to be. On the rare occasions he was allowed and felt confident enough to break away from the camp he did find the time to collect herbs, plant life, and artifacts, but that wasn't terribly often, nor was it difficult. Zangarmarsh was littered with all of the above and anyone with half a brain (ie- the entire camp) could pick up a random object and carry it back for someone to study. His specimens did happen to be of higher quality with the care he took, but it still didn't make him feel any better. But he tried anyway. There was nothing else to do.

On one such foray, he was examining one of the strongly glowing red-orange mushrooms that seemed to grow in random places all over the marsh, when he heard a shout.

Hurrying to stuff the mushroom into his pouch, he looked to his escort who was also startled. Both of them then stood to peek around a tree-like mushroom stalk to try and pinpoint the noise. 

There, across from them was a draenei fighting one of those viscous marshfangs. It had one of it's tendrils wrapped around her wrist and was hissing quite loudly. Ze'sar was surprised he hadn't heard the hissing before the draenei shouted. Normally they hissed well before being caught. 

He was stunned as he watched the draenei lift her ax with one hand and bring it down on the beast, cleaving it’s head in two. It died instantly, but it's tendrils did not let go of her wrist. Without being able to fly any longer, it's weight pulled her down with it, she was, after all, just a tiny little thing. She made no noise as she fell down, and sat there afterwards, panting, covered in it's green gore. It looked to have startled her or been more of a challenge than she expected.

 Ze'sar couldn't stop a strange blip of worry that popped up seeing her so out of sorts, though clearly she was more than capable of defending herself. 

A hand on his shoulder startled him and his shout was involuntary as his escort pulled him behind the mushroom stalk.

“C’mon. We're getting you back to camp!”

There as an odd edge to his escort’s voice and Ze'sar groaned softly. They only took that tone with him when he froze on the field- seeing a battle axe and having a flashback being the most common cause. The draenei had an axe so they must have assumed-

Said draenei burst from around the stalk, still covered in the gore of her last kill, axe raised and face fierce.

Ze'sar shrieked and shrunk involuntarily, covering his head with his arms. His escort's grip on him tightened, but they did not lunge.

Ze'sar chanced a peek through his arms to see the draenei frozen in place, but not from any spell.

Thankfully, Ze'sar and his escort wore the neutral markings saying they would not openly attack the alliance and so they were generally left alone.. if harrassed slightly- he had no memory of how that truce came about and usually most of the horde (his escort included) preferred to wear their factions insignia anyway. To their benefit, it appeared that this draenei was wearing the same neutral markings. They were safe.. hopefully. She did look rather fierce.

Ze'sar swallowed hard but didn't dare to do anything else. His escort seemed reluctant to make the first move either, and then the strangest thing happened; the Draenei dropped her stance, lowered her axe, and walked away. She did not say a thing and was fine turning her back on them.

Bewildered, Ze'sar watched her go. He actually almost smiled seeing her flick her arm to shake some of the gore off as she left. He knew what that was like.

“Come on,” his escort said suddenly, watching the Draenei leave too, “let's get back to camp.”

Ze'sar didn't protest.

It wasn’t a terribly long walk and he was able to convince his escort he didn’t need to be carried this time, though that confused them. It confused him too a little, but he supposed his attempts to get better being around weapons were paying off. He had been here for some weeks now. Well, actually, a few months now that he thought about it, though it still felt fresh and new and just as daunting as his first day.

Back at the camp, Ze'sar quietly sauntered to his hut while his escort went to report the reason they were back so early. The cheif wasn’t going to be very happy since Ze'sar had kicked up a fuss to go out for some herbs this time, but he’d hopefully see their reasoning was sound enough. Always better safe than sorry.

Unpacking his pouch, Ze'sar first singled out the strange red-orange glowing mushrooms. They grew so randomly, never achieved great heights, and continued to glow long after they were harvested. In fact, as he looked to his rack of pouches he saw that the very first he had picked  still glowed as if he had just plucked it yesterday. It was quite strange. They weren’t edible either; Hard as stone raw, just crumbled to ash over a cooking fire, and boiled to nothing in cooking pots. He, however, still felt that they were important somehow, even if no one had yet figured out any good use for them here.

Sighing, he put them off to one side and sorted through the other plant bits he had managed to collect. There were some ragveil, a leaf or two of Terocone, and a few unidentified bits he’d need to send to Lauranna Thar'well of the Cenarion Enclave, but that was it. 

“A sorry haul dis bein’ today, mon” he said to himself. 

At least he knew the others in the camp would find a use for them or would be able to set the herbs aside until they were able to gather more. He’d wrap them up nice and fine to apologise for the scarcity, but otherwise there was no apology to be made. They were used to it by now. He did wonder if they appreciated his efforts at all.. but honestly it really wasn't enough for himself to feel proud of. That's why he kept trying.. usually only to run into a physical obstacle they couldn't skirt around or to be somehow thrown into another nasty flashback to days much less pleasant than now. Today.. today was different though. Had that draenei not shown up he would have succeeded, perhaps.

Or, perhaps he had only been able to return safely thanks to her being there. He hadn't heard nor seen that marshfang on the other side of the stalk and nor had his escort, which was odd.. normally they were so astute. Normally he was also so paranoid he didn't get distracted so by shiny mushrooms.

Either way.. today was also odd in that he hadn't flinched. He did when she came at them, but he hadn't flinched at the sight of her axe or her killing of the attacking beast.

Today was a day he wasn't soon going to forget.

“Ze'sar.”

Ze'sar jumped, turning to look over his shoulder.

“Yes?”

“There's a champion here who wants to see you.”

“A what now?”

His escort rolled their eyes. “A champion.. you know someone who goes through and keeps the peace wherever needed?”

“What dey be wantin’ ta see me for”

“Your mushrooms.”

“My. What?”

His escort rolled their eyes again, crossing their arms. 

“You keep picking up those weird glowing mushrooms. The chief happened to have the champion in his counsel while I gave my report, and the champion mentioned they might know what they are for. Needs to see them though to be sure.”

“Oh! Oh yes, a’course. I be on my way real soon, don’cha worry, Mon.”

Ze'sar turned back to his table and sifted through the many number of glowing mushrooms he had. Finding what he believed to be the most intact and brightest specimen, he turned to follow his orders immediately. His escort had gone by the time he turned around and he paid it little mind. They had plenty to do while here.

Ze'sar found his way to the chief’s counsel room with care. He wasn't exactly fond of heights among his other numerous fears.

Upon arriving, he spotted the aforementioned champion and swallowed back a bit of apprehension at their appearance.

“Evenin’” he addressed the war chief, following with a nod to his guest champion. “I been told I be wanted?”

“Indeed,” said the chief. 

“Did you bring the mushrooms?” The champion interjected, quite excited.

“Erm.. I be bringin’ only da one. I didn't want ta be bringin’ all of dem just in case ya be needin’ somethin’ I don't be havin’. Sorry, Mon.”

The champion laughed. “A wise move! I quite like this priest.

May I see it?”

“Sure.”

Ze'sar produced the mushroom from his pouch and held it up for the champion's scrutiny. They seemed immediately delighted.

“You have a good eye,” they said. “These are glowcaps! They're a fairly common, but tricky to find variety that the Sporelings use as a form of currency!”

“Spore..lin's?”

The champion laughed again.

“They're a native race here in Zangarmarsh. Not too interesting, but enough so we've made strides to stay on their good side. Their village isn’t too far off.

How many of these mushrooms have you collected?”

Ze'sar hesitated. Of all the numbers of mushrooms he had collected in the marsh these past few months, these glowcaps trumped them all. He had a fair stash in his home now, but wasn't certain it would be wise to reveal that in front of the chief. It might put him in a bad spot for how little of the other Flora he had collected for the camp.

“A few,” he tried. “I not be collectin’ dem for long. I only be gettin’ curious about dem recently.”

Blessedly, they bought it.

“Would you be able to bring me those few? And any else you may find when you find them? You have a good eye. It would help my relations with the Sporelings greatly.”

Ze'sar nodded slowly. If he played his cards right, he would be able to deplete his stash slowly while also having an excuse to be let outside of the camp more. It wasn't that he really had a use for the mushrooms or anything outside of the camp himself, but that he was jumping at the chance to feel and be useful regularly.

“Excellent! Then I await your deliveries. I will be here for a short while longer and you can drop off what you have to me now. Future ones will be a little tricky, but I do check my mail as often as I can.”

“Okiedoki, mon. I be right back.”

With the chief's blessing, he hurried out and back to his hut.

Poking through his many pouches, he discovered he had about 24 of the Glowcaps. If he gave the Champion 5 to 6 of them now and then 8 to 10 every time after, that would give him a small leeway.

He thought for a minute before deciding he would give the champion 6 more. That way they would have 7 and it would make sense as to why Ze'sar didn’t know the number off the top of his head, yet still only had ‘a few’. Deception did not feel all that great, but neither did the idea he’d face the chief’s wrath for being unproductive otherwise. None of the other herbs had been collected in that number.

He carefully stuffed the remaining glowcaps into one of his more ragged pouches- one that vandals and curious eyes were likely to overlook, and set out back to the chief’s hut.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Hello! Ay? Are ya ready, mon?”

He and his escort were scheduled for an outing this morning and Ze'sar was excited to get going.

Over the past four months Ze'sar had collected many glowcaps. He sent in 8 or 9 or 10 a week as he promised himself, but his stores still seemed to be growing instead of depleting. He now had his own collection bordering on 85 stashed in that ragged little pouch. 

The little mushrooms grew fast and would be ready to harvest in the same area not but a week after the previous had been plucked, sometimes sooner. Despite that now he knew others were also looking for these glowing mushrooms in an attempt to get into the champion’s or the chief’s good graces, they never seemed to be missing when he returned week after week. He was still looking for new locations too, and more often than not found a glowcap or two growing among the larger shrooms which increased his daily finds from a typical 1-2 to 3-5 or more in a day. But though he could have relaxed and let his own stores dwindle, he still felt compelled to go out at least twice, if not three times a week- dragging his escort along to deal with any aggressive wildlife. It was perhaps now due to the fact that leaving the camp was becoming fun instead of daunting. If that was not the case, it was certainly in part due to his finding more of other herbs to bring back alongside his glowcaps. He was being treated more kindly by all, if only marginally, due to that, due to being useful. He reveled in it.

“Ay?”

It wasn’t like them to be a late riser.

Ze'sar knocked on a pole of their hut tentatively. Normally they roused quickly, if they were irritable.

There still was no answer.

Not being a snoop, Ze'sar turned from their door to awkwardly look into the camp. It was rather early still, with only the night watch and the lead cook milling about, or so he thought. After a moment of two of waiting, he caught the telltale red of his escort’s armor. They waved at him as they made their way towards their hut.

Ze'sar gingerly waved back. It wasn’t like them to be up so early- but judging from the dark circles under their eyes as they approached, he began to think perhaps it wasn’t ‘early’ to them at all.

“Where ya been, mon?” he asked as they came within earshot.

Despite being tired, they seemed oddly enthused.

“Got called out to the refuge. They needed some extra muscle.”

“Oh. When?”

“Eh, sometime yesterday. Been fighting back an invasion of Bog Lords. It’s been a wild night!”

“Oh dear- how did… how did it go? Are ya hurt?”

“Nah,” they waved their hand, “just scrapes and bruises and we stomped them! Ah it was thrilling! To finally be on a battlefield, of sorts, again! My sword cleaving through enemy after enemy, the thrill of those near misses and the weight of attacks moving the air as they swipe right by ya.”

They laughed loudly, unbothered they might wake their neighbors. Ze'sar cringed at the laughter and the story. He, for one, did not appreciate the ‘thrill’ of battle.

“Do ya mind of I give ya a quick once-ova?”

They stopped laughing and looked at him in confusion.

“Ya said ya had some scrapes and bruises, and I be guessin’ ya be needin’ some sleep insteada goin’ out wit me today.”

“Oh, was that today?”

Their expression was no longer enthused as it once had been. Ze'sar got the feeling, not for the first time, that they really hated being his escort. They had just said they missed ‘real’ battles and seemed much happier after that than any of his and their outings.

“Aye,” Ze'sar said, “But ya had somethin’ more important ta do. I don’t haveta be harvestin’ not’in’ today, mon. Ya need ya rest- it’d be the least I could do ta make it a little more comfortable for ya by givin’ ya a once-ova if ya want.”

“Oh. Sure. Alright then.”

As did much of their camp it seemed, his escort seemed to have forgotten Ze'sar was a healer. A Priest. He was never the boastful or vain sort like some others, and his abilities to smite were not all that refined, so it was easy for them to forget. He didn’t entirely mind though. It was always pleasant when he could help seemingly out of the blue.

Gently taking his escort’s arm, Ze'sar used his free hand to reach for his loa’s blessing and channel it into their skin. The little nicks and bruises visible there, some older than the previous night, faded under his touch. His escort’s face went from slightly uncomfortable to totally at peace as he worked. It didn’t take long and soon enough he let go of their arm. They opened their eyes and gave him a smirk.

“Thanks!”

“Anytime,” Ze'sar said back. “Ya be sleepin’ peacefully, now!”

They laughed before entering their hut and Ze'sar turned away to go back to his, uncertain now of what to do with his day.

His hut wasn’t terribly far from his escort’s, but he found that when he arrived, he didn’t much want to go inside. He did anyway, but couldn’t see anything that would occupy his time. His own herbs and such were already processed and made into their salves, his floor was already swept and clean, and his workbench was clean too. He had went to sleep early the night previous and wasn’t tired enough to warrant a nap either.

Ze'sar sighed. He’d been well and truly set on going out today, and now that he couldn’t-

Wait. Why couldn’t he?

Ze'sar looked over to the darkest spot inside of his hut. Resting there against the wall was his staff. Had there been much in the way of dust in Zangarmarsh, it would have been completely encrusted from lack of use, but it was otherwise still in pristine condition. Ze'sar sauntered over to it, reaching out to touch the wood in it’s center. It was a gnarly looking thing, full of spikes on both ends, and had been won from assisting in taking down a mechanical mad machine in the Borean Tundra before his transfer. He’d been encouraged to take this one because of its name, but he’d never been overly fond of it, even being a ‘spiritcaller’ himself. Still… if he wanted to go without an escort, it might scare away some of the more intelligent life he would come across, and would make easy work of the lesser intelligent creatures with it.

Ze'sar considered his options. He wasn’t required to have an escort to leave the camp. He had been assigned one because of his horrible habit of freezing on the battlefield and his faction’s lack of decent healers… but it wasn’t against the rules or any orders for him to.. Do his own thing.

His escort was sleeping. Needed their sleep. They couldn’t go out with him on his regular foray to gather herbs.. And he really wanted to go out and gather. On top of that, his orders were to supply a champion with a certain mushroom as often as possible.. He needed to go out in order to fulfil that. His only other orders were to heal as needed.. And no one was in need of healing at the moment.

Ze'sar made his decision. He gripped his staff firmly before slinging it over his back- carefully to avoid those spikes. After it was secure, he turned and poked his head out of this hut. It still being quite early there wasn’t going to be too many people seeing him leave. The thought didn’t bother him though. In fact, he decided he wanted as few people as possible to see him this morning. Most of the guards already knew this day of the week was his usual for gathering anyway, and with his escort sleeping away in their hut rather than milling around, it would be easy to assume everything was normal as usual.

Ze'sar squared his shoulders and carefully sauntered over to the wall nearest his hut. With a swift knock, he loosened the stake many of the guards used as a makeshift door to sneak out for breaks- it was no secret- and slipped out into the marsh.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Once outside the wall, Ze'sar made a quick break for one of the nearest glowcap locations he’d left alone since the previous week. He avoided the nearby marshfang patrolling its territory easily enough and dashed to the mushroom stalk feeling lighter than he had in a while. Only, when he got there, there was no mushroom. Puzzled, he turned to make sure his bearings were correct, and found that they were.

“Hmm.”

Ze'sar shrugged. It wasn’t like all his spots were going to remain a secret forever, so he carried on. There was another spot he could find his way to from there, and much quicker for being by himself.

With a small smile he got moving. He quickly realized that it was possible he would be able to collect more this day than many of his previous hunts thanks to being on his own. He would still be careful not to stray too far though. It was not in his nature to throw caution to the wind.

He was extremely careful to avoid the creatures patrolling their own niches of land, which took a little more time than he expected, but it paid off when he arrived at his second recalled location to find an intact glowcap. He plucked it quickly and efficiently. He knew where the weakest spot in the stalk was and so was already plotting his next escapade. There was one only about twenty feet away usually, but he couldn’t see its glow, so had to think of the next possible spot.

This went on for a while- perhaps an hour or two- of his finding a Glowcap and then coming up empty handed in his next attempts- before he finally stood and allowed himself a pause and a stretch near a large stalk. There was sweat on his brow from running around or through the wildlife’s many territories when there was an opening, but he was happy for it. Normally the only sweat that beaded there was from his escort’s violent tackling of an aggressive marshfang or marsh walker. This was much different and didn’t leave his stomach churning nearly as much. Ze'sar counted himself lucky to have managed to avoid that himself.

After his quick breather, he opened his pouch to count how many of the mushrooms he had collected. He’d managed 4. Not too bad. It would be just as well to return to camp, however, as he glanced back up, he saw the telltale glow of another mushroom. It surprised him as he had never seen one of the Glowcaps in that particular spot, but it also delighted him to have spotted it. The only trouble was… it was across one of the marsh’s ponds from him, and he did not know where all of the wildlife’s patrolled territories were on that side of it. It would be a risk… but, as he thought about it, it would be nice to be able to return to camp with 5 instead of 4. It always was.

Decided, Ze'sar carefully made his way around the pond. There didn’t seem to be a marshfang in sight, but he knew they could sneak up silently to surprise even the best. He kept checking all sides just in case, again and again, before he finally made it to the solitary mushroom. He plucked it with glee after one final look around. There, now he had five- five whole mushrooms to bring back! A good haul for a day. And if he played his cards right, on his way back he could nab the Ragveil and Dreamfoil he had seen whilst harvesting the Glowcaps exclusively.

Ze’sar was just about to start retracing his steps when suddenly he heard the distinct call of a hippogryph from somewhere in front of him.

Startled, he froze, an icy chill racing down his spine. He must have strayed close to one of the alliance bases or something. There was probably a reason his escort had usually called off the mushroom hunt after so many visited spots- the previous being the farthest and rarest for them to visit.

The call sounded again, but was slightly quieter, as if it was moving. Curious, Ze'sar cautiously peeked around the mushroom stalk nearest him, but he didn’t see a wall as he expected. In fact, the nearest thing to anything out of place was a fire a little ways off.

Despite his better judgement, he walked around the mushroom stalk to try and get a better look. Something walked in front of the firepit and he was taken aback. It was no alliance soldier.. But a… well a creature that looked to be.. A living fungus? It was dark, but had the same glowing protrusions as the many mushrooms that canopied all of the marsh all over its body. They seemed placed less randomly than the mushrooms though, and there were two that resembled eyes on what could only be its head.

Suddenly recalling what the champion had said about a sentient race living nearby in the marsh like no others, Ze'sar smiled. He had inadvertently found them and, apparently, their/a village.

Still remembering the sound of a hippogriff, he was very careful to make his way slowly towards the settlement. The champion had said they were friendly with the race of fungus people, and though he did not recall the name of the race at the moment, Ze'sar was confident that it still rang true.

He came upon the settlement more fully and saw many more of the fungal people milling about. A few had spears in their hands, but none seemed overly hostile. Not until he stepped closer, that is.

Two of the fungal people descended on him with fervor, spears pointed when they saw him.

Ze'sar shrieked and fell backwards, startled.

“Who are you and what do you want?!” one of them hissed.

Ze'sar stuttered and held up his hands. “I-I… Y-you-”

“Who are you and what do you want ?” the one repeated.

“ZE'SAR,” he burst out. “My, my name be Ze'sar!”

There was movement off to his left and Ze'sar saw a somewhat familiar draenei dismounting from a cenarion hippogryph and watching the happening. He felt extremely embarrassed to be seen like this, but luckily for him he felt compelled to speak and save his hide.

“I be, I just be a priest, mon. I, I be out, out harvestin’-”

He lowered one of his arms to attempt to grab a glowcap from his pouch, but the fungal people thrust their spears closer.

“Harvesting what ?”

“GLOWCAPS! I be harvesting glowcaps, mon! Please! I don’ be meanin’ no harm!”

The fungal guard who hadn’t spoken yet tilted their head. “Why?”

There was a pause before Ze'sar managed to swallow the lump rising in his throat.

“For our champion.. Dere be a person askin’ for these special mushrooms for ya.. Dey said dey be usin’ dem ta trade wit ya. Ta keep in ya good graces. Dey be ya currency, right, mon? ”

“We don’t trust many outsiders,” said the first to have spoken, “who exactly are you referring to?”

Ze'sar gave the name of their champion and a short description. Both of the guards looked surprised. “We know them,” said the quieter one, “But we haven’t seen them in a while.”

“Oh.. is dat bein’ a bad ting?”

The guards whispered to each other in a tongue Ze'sar couldn't even begin to comprehend before one of them lifted their spear away and ran to a nearby hut.

Ze'sar was relieved to have one of the weapons out of his face, but he dared not move for the other remaining there. He attempted to smile, but thought better of it. Most people weren’t fond of it when trolls smiled on account of their tusks, and he really did not want to make a worse impression than he already had. Most of the humanoids in the area were staring, save for a small few who either seemed too young or too concerned with their own posts to care. Whatever the outcome was going to be, none of them would forget anytime soon.

After a few tense moments of silence, the other guard returned to say something to the other one. They both nodded before the one not pointing their spear at him ran behind Ze'sar to do just that.

“Up,” they said.

Ze'sar wasn’t going to argue. He hauled himself to his feet as fast as he could manage, but brought his hands back up to show he meant no harm.

“This way!”

The two guards led him to the very hut the one had ran to and prodded him to go inside. He had to duck a bit, even as stooped as his posture already was, but made it in. There he saw what he assumed to be an elder of their race- judging by some very visible wrinkles and their lighter color.

“Erm..”

“You say you know a champion for our cause?”

“Yes,” Ze'sar replied nervously, “dey be keepin’ me employed so ta speak.”

“Can you furnish proof of this?”

“Erm.. I can’t be provin’ how I know dem other den what I be sayin,’ but I can prove what I be doin.’”

Very gently he reached down to open his pouch and produce the five glowcaps he had harvested.

“Dese be all I findin’ today. Most of de spots be empty of dem- harvested by someone else I be assumin.’ I usually be harvestin’ away from your village, mon. Didn’t mean ta be a botha.”

“Hmm.. What do you think of the fungal giants who have been eating our young?”

Ze'sar was thrown. “What?! Somethin’ be eatin ya young?! Dat be terrible, mon!”

The elder looked at Ze'sar speculatively. “It is common knowledge for all who find us here- sent by our only sporeling brave enough to ask for help at the spawning glen.”

That’s right, they were called sporelings! And oh dear.. Ze'sar wasn’t sure what to say to that.

“I.. I be findin’ ya on accident, mon,” He tried, “I be lookin’ for more glowcaps and be seein’ one just outside ya village. I don’t be meanin’ no harm… I be happy ta give dese to ya if ya want dem from me- and more I be savin’ at me hut.”

“Hmm.. it would be unorthodox… but if what you say is true, we can easily confirm your story once your champion and ours returns. They are due soon enough, knowing their habits.”

It was a relief for Ze'sar to hear the champion returned regularly. It was also a relief to hear the sprorelings wouldn’t be skewering him just yet.

“We will make you a deal,” the elder said suddenly. Ze'sar stood at attention, quite startled. “Bring us ten more after these and we will allow you the same rights as our shared champion, as you claim to be the supplier of those they have already shared with us.”

“I do ya one better, mon. I bring ya eighty or more wit’in a day. I be collectin’ dem for some time for da champion.”

If the sporeling elder was surprised, he hid it well.

“Very well. You will earn all rights within our village should you furnish this promised amount. However… should you bring anyone with you, tell anyone of our village’s location, or should you fail, it will mean outright war against you.”

Having nothing to lose, really, Ze'sar nodded.

“It’s a deal, mon.”

The elder held out his hand and Ze'sar deposited the five mushrooms he had collected into it. The elder nodded graciously before tilting his head in a dismissal. Ze'sar did not have to be told twice. He backed out of the hut and then down the few stairs before turning.

Everyone outside seemed to still be interested in what had just happened, but as he left the hut, many returned to whatever it was they were doing before he’d caused a fuss. He was safe.. For now, and he had a promise to fulfil.

With a curt nod to himself, he set off towards the same edge he had entered from, doing his best to keep his head low. He nearly ran into the same darn hippogryph in his haste, but swerved around it at the last second. The draenei back atop it seemed just as startled as he, but merely gave him a curious glance as he ducked and continued- this time with his head in a more reliable position.

 Yet another memory struck him and he realized, with much embarrassment, that draenei had in fact been the same one he had seen taking down that marshfang many months prior. Her armor was different, but her horns and face were unmistakable. He was extremely surprised to see her again, though relieved that she still wore the neutral insignia as he did. It could have been very bloody once again had she not been.. As was the way of the Alliance.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Zesar moved quickly as he could through the marsh, determined to make it back to camp as quickly as possible. It was frustrating work, being that he still needed to avoid the marshfangs, glowflies, and marsh walkers, but he made progress. Slow and steady. He sprinted through every place he could but did not chance his luck at any point, stopping entirely many, many times. It would take only one mistake to be in the middle of a territory battle with a wild creature, and he really didn’t need the extra stress. Not after what he’d accidentally put himself through.

It felt like lifetimes before he was finally back at the camp. He was out of breath and quite exhausted from the effort, but he was determined. Determined to make it to his hut. His only mistake was in going through the front gateway. Several guards spotted him immediately and went on alert. He was missing his escort, after all.. And running.. And.. damn it all he’d made some serious mistakes this day.

Knowing he’d be unable to avoid a confrontation, and not wanting it to be at his hut, Ze'sar stopped, stooping to put his hands on his knees and to try and catch his breath.

Several guards descended upon him.

“Ze'sar! Where have you been?”

“Yeah, we be thinkin’ ya be hidin’ in ya hut all day, but here ya be runnin’ in from da marsh!”

Ze'sar put one of his hands up as he took a few deep breaths.

“I be fine,” he said, “Just.. Just wanted ta go out.. out fa some herbs..”

“By yourself?!”

“Ya..?”

“ZE'SAR!”

Ze'sar flinched.

“WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ?!”

“Ah.. ‘ey..”

“Don’t you ‘hey’ me!”

Ze'sar felt his hand get smacked aside and he looked up. His escort still looked tired and was  now also seething.

“Here I thought you’d done the smart thing and stayed in camp, but no! What on earth were you thinking ?!”

“I.. eheh..”

“If you were really that eager to get your plants, the least you could have done was told me - another escort would have been found or, by thunder, I would have gone with you !!”

“Ya needed ya rest,” he said weakly.

“NOT MORE THAN YOU NEED-”

His escort stopped, pinching the bridge of their nose. They took a deep breath and let it out before trying again.

“What you did was incredibly risky.”

Gaining an idea, Ze'sar quickly rolled with it.

“Ya.. I know. Lost my herbs and a pack ta a marshfang rippa… I be lucky it didn’t take my innards too.”

“YOU LOST YOUR-”

His escort stopped again, trying and failing to keep themselves calm.

“He looks ta be alright, eh mon? Dat be somethin’ we can be happy fa.”

“Yes,” they said between breaths, “That is invariably a bonus, however…”

Ze'sar waited anxiously, nervous about the rest of what they had to say.

“Still. Damn. Stupid .” 

“Agreed,” he said, hanging his head. At least that wasn’t a lie. He wasn’t sure how he’d manage to uphold the story of his missing herbs- as a patrol might go out at any time to deal with the aggressive pests and could try and look for his ‘missing’ bag, but he knew he’d think of something. He did not like to lie for long.

“Did you at least try to defend yourself?”

“Erm..”

“You took your staff.”

“Ya.. but I forgot it was bein’ there.. Threw my pack at ‘em.. And ran, mon. Distracted dem long enough.”

His escort rubbed their face before shaking their head. “You really are hopeless, aren’t you?”

Ze'sar gave them a sheepish smile before they clapped him on the shoulder. It was fairly kind of them to do so, and a little out of character.

“Now,” they said gruffly, “get to your ass back to your hut. I don’t want to hear a peep from you for the rest of the day. You got that?”

That was more like it.

Ze'sar nodded eagerly. That was exactly where he wanted to be right now.

“And Muvdorn, go with him.”

Ze'sar’s heart sank a little. The nosiest guard they had. Muvdorn Wolftwist. Of course.

Ze'sar sighed, motioning for them to follow. They did as the rest of the watch parted for them, seeming to be quite curious as they usually were.

“So how’d you, and when’d you leave?”

Ze'sar sighed again. “Dis mornin.’ Da break route.”

“Wait, you went through the wall?”

“Aye. Dat be correct.”

“Why?”

“Ta avoid bot’erin’ people, mon.”

“Oh.. but your escort said they wanted someone with you.”

“Ya, I be knowin’ dat.. But sometimes ya gotta be tryin’ new stuff, ya know?”

“Well sure, but you’re the only healer we got. Didn’t you ever think of that?”

Ze'sar paused. “Erm.. Nah.. Nah, mon, I hadn’t been tinkin’ a dat.”

“Well you probably should have..”

“Ya.. I be gettin’ da message loud an’ clear.”

They came upon Ze'sar’s hut and he paused again.

“Erm.. Listen, mon,” he tried. “I be gratefal for da escort, but I be bein’ mighty tired. Can I be gettin’ some privacy?”

“Uh…”

“My escort said ta accompany me to my hut, not ta follow me inside, mon.”

“Oh.. Uh.. I guess so?”

“Tank ya kindly. I be takin’ a nap if anybody needin’ me okay?”

“Yeah! Sure! Rest well, uh, ‘mon.’”

Ze'sar nodded before he gingerly stepped into his hut. He didn’t make a show of it to try and give the air of nonchalance, but he didn’t relax either. Not until he heard Muvdorn move away. When they did, he was working quickly. He took one of his empty herb pouches and stuffed it inside of the one he was carrying and took the tattered one he had been storing the glowcaps in out from under his work bench. He took a moment before deciding the best course of action and pulled the previously stuffed herb pouch back out of the one he was wearing. He then dumped all of the Glowcaps into that pouch and shoved his tattered pouch into it’s previous place.

Fastening the herb pouch to his hip, he then snuck to the back of his hut and pressed his ear to the leather.

He could hear the regular patrol in the canopy on the bridges as well as some potentially outside of the wall on one of their ‘breaks.’ With a heavy sigh he realized he’d have to wait until all sounds died down before he could leave again. Luckily for him it was nearing what would be midday on Azeroth which would mean the changing of the guard, and an opening. For now, though, all he could do was sit and wait. And so he did.

Ze'sar sat himself down… and waited.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It was lucky for Ze'sar he had told his escort he would be sleeping. Through careful listening he heard them come by with another guard talking about it. And though it seemed they wanted to talk with him now they had calmed down, they had decided against it. They had quoted 'needs his rest’ from what Ze'sar had said earlier. 

Soon after, Ze'sar had heard the telltale signs of the guard changing and knew it was his chance.

Being as paranoid as he was, Ze'sar had made a sort of slip-stitched modification to the back of his hut for emergencies and was able to use it to sneak out without being seen. He then used the same 'break exit’ as before, slipping out to the marsh undetected.

He had been worried they would post guards after his story circulated, but at least for now that wasn't the case, and he was free.

Ze'sar made careful work of avoiding the wildlife once again, but to his surprise since his escapades earlier in the day, there was a small few here and there who had been killed.  There wasn't terribly much left of the creatures, but from what was left it was quite apparent they were no longer a threat. Unless he was to be encountered too, Ze'sar took it as a blessing no matter how the creatures had met their end.

He carefully harvested a few of the herbs he could on his careful way back to the Sporelings’ village, and about halfway there, he spotted the perfect target to throw it at.

Luckily for him, he knew he had terrible aim and would miss the creature, but hoped it would still get it’s attention. He threw it and then, without staying to watch where it landed, ran to his next safe spot.

He used the cover of the canopy to catch his breath, very aware of everything he had just done. All the rules and trust he was breaking.

His adrenalin was coursing strongly through his veins- something he didn’t much like- and he did what he could to center himself. It likely wouldn’t bode well if he showed up to the village all out of sorts. 

With nothing else to do for it, Ze'sar then kept making his way closer to the village and was quite relieved when he saw the particular cluster of mushrooms he knew surrounded it. He didn’t let himself get so relieved he stopped looking for territorial marshfangs, but he did have a smile on his face when he finally made it there without incident. The guards this time greeted him with a speculative nod before motioning to the hut of their elder. 

Ze'sar never had to be told twice.

Carefully entering the hut, Ze'sar inclined his head. This time the elder looked surprised to see him.

“Back so soon?”

“Aye,” Ze'sar said cheerfully. “I told ya I be back wit’in a day. My camp isn’t so fa away..”

“And the glowcaps?”

“Ah.”

Ze'sar held up a finger before reaching for his herb pouch. He uncoupled it before he opened the top to reveal all 80+ of his mushrooms to the elder.

“What I be collectin’ so fa. Dey be all yours, mon.”

“You are quite a person of your word,” they replied. “And so we shall be in return. You are welcome in our village anytime. You may buy and trade with our merchants and we would be happy to share all we have with you.”

“Tank ya kindly, mon. Be ya needin’ more o’ dese glowcaps?”

The elder shook his head, gently taking Ze'sar’s pouch from him before moving over to a little drawer worked into the material of the hut. He dumped the mushrooms out into that drawer before closing it and turning around to give Ze'sar his pouch back.

“The mushrooms I ask for upon a newcomer’s arrival usually number only ten. Any more brought to me is a voluntary service that keeps the village’s stores intact as we trade with others. Being that you bought us near ninety, we shall be well off for some time.”

“Near.. Oh!”

Ze'sar laughed. He had forgotten he’d furnished an extra 5 when he first arrived. The elder seemed quite adept at math and so immediately earned Ze'sar’s respect. Ze'sar was quite glad he had earned the elder’s just as quickly. It gave him an odd sense of relief and acceptance he hadn’t felt for some time.

“Use any else you may find to buy and trade if you wish to.”

“Tank ya, mon. I be doin’ dat.”



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Present Day :

 

“Ah, here’s the first letter! Vilri had written tae me askin’ what we could do about this annoyin’ problem with a certain troll,” Muaradin said with a fond smile.

Ze'sar and Vilri both smiled too. Ze'sar had heard all about that. Vilri had been young and naive, brash in thinking, but determined. She’d been outside of the elder’s hut once again, returning to deliver some tendrils to one of the other Sporelings and heard the exchange. She was so upset, having spent hours poking about in the marsh fighting bog lords, rescuing little sporeling pods, and trying to find glowcaps to try and get in the sporelings’ good graces, and then this cowardly troll- too scared to do anything but fall over both times she’d seen him confronted with a weapon- got the highest honors just because he showed up randomly with a TON of the annoyingly hard to find fungus. She’d been so angry, she’d written to her family and the Bronzebeard family, wanting something to be done for the injustice. 

“Problem was, there was no solution tae be had. Sporeling politics were, and remain tae this day, their own. Bein’ I knew this, I wrote back without tellin’ the counsel.”

“Hmph.”

The queen huffed in annoyance, but Ze'sar saw her nod afterwards. If Ze'sar was picking up on the way Ironforge was run correctly, he felt that, had she gotten the letter instead, she likely would have done the same thing. She could not protest Bronzebeard’s actions.

 

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Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar spent as much time as he could away from the camp nowadays. He'd always return around 'dusk’, but selected his outings almost at random.

It wasn't random to him, of course, as he was well aware of when he was needed in the camp, and generally knew the habits of it's inhabitants to planned accordingly, but he didn't feel the need to share that with anyone. 

At first many had questioned his lack of escort- especially during  such times he was with them and then snuck away. Inquiries were made and rumors flew, but through the many weeks Ze'sar never offered an explanation. It was finally brought to the chief directly, but so long as he was useful the chief simply didn't care. And Ze'sar had never been more useful. He'd started bringing back droves of herbs and useful mushrooms alongside being extra friendly and attentive to all who encountered him. No one had want for healing most times.

 It was driving his escort nuts that he was shirking them and somehow being better for it, and he knew it, but where he would have shared his reasons with them for his own safety in the past, now he didn't dare. He had made a deal with the Sporeling elder, and he intended to keep it.

 He was welcome so long as no one came with him, he told no one about their village, and he harbored no other ill will. He kept this as his matra and knew it was the key to his success. 

Keeping it that way was a bonus for all of them thanks to the Sporelings’ enjoyment of trade. Ze'sar had received many useful items, including herbs, from the Sporelings in exchange for the glowcaps he so studiously collected. He'd even received a gift of a drape that allowed him to pass more easily to their village for his visits. They'd given it to him in exchange for some of his most basic herbal and alchemy knowledge. There wasn't much he knew that was relevant to them, but they always listened carefully and applied what knowledge they did glean. Next to glowcaps and protection, knowledge was most precious to them, and Ze'sar did his best to provide all he could.

For a spell, everything was without incident. Things weren't absolutely perfect with the still present curiosity of his camp, but for him they were much better than they had been when he'd first arrived in Zangarmarsh. It was only when the champion showed up that things started to turn and an incident loomed on the horizon.

Ze'sar was sitting quietly with a few of the youngest Sporelings in the village when the sound of heavy armor became apparent.The littlest ones always liked to hover as he was working on salves from his freshy traded herbs, but all of them moved when they heard the sound, despite it being near a different edge of the village. Ze'sar wasn't quite sure why they ran away from it, but he carefully wrapped his work so he could investigate.

Ze'sar was delighted and surprised to see the champion who had commissioned him walking to the quartermaster. He immediately went to greet them, quite excited to see them again.

“Champion! Nice ta see ya, Mon!”

The champion turned, seeming quite surprised. They also seemed confused for a moment before recognition became apparent.

“Er, Priest? Aren’t you the priest from, uh-”

“Ya, Mon! I not be expectin’ ta catch ya here. Thought I'd be seein’ ya back dere instead o’ here sometime.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I.. what?”

“I said, what are you doing here?”

“Uh… I be.. tradin’?”

“No no,” they sounded exasperated and unhappy for some reason, “I mean… in order to be friends with the Sporelings, there are tasks you need to complete.. feats of strength. I was told you certainly aren't the type…”

“Oh,” Ze'sar laughed. “It be a long story, but I be findin’ dem on accident, Mon. Out collectin’ glowcaps an’ I be walkin’ right inta da camp one day.”

“Was your escort with you?” 

Ze'sar hesitated. “...Nah…?”

“I don't understand.”

“Erm.. how 'bout we talk ta de elda, Mon? Dey can be helpin’ sort it all out.”

“Which elder?”

“Oh Msshi'fn. He be right ova de-”

“I know where his hut is.”

Ze'sar lowered the arm he was going to point with. The champion was not nearly as happy as Ze'sar expected them to be with him for finding the Sporelings village. Ze'sar would have thought they would be delighted in having another ally helping with relations, but the champion was utterly cross. Ze'sar did his best to shrug it off though. He enjoyed spending time with his newest allies and couldn't see any harm in it at all.

“Are you coming or not?” the champion threw over their shoulder as they moved. Ze'sar jumped into action and jogged to catch up, an apology daring to escape.

They both entered the elder's hut, Ze'sar being as cautious as always not to knock his head.

Msshi'fn seemed surprised, yet was just as delighted as Ze'sar had been in first spotting the champion.

“Elder Msshi'fn.”

“Ah, champion! It has been a spell. We have been awaiting your arrival for some time.”

“Yo- What? Why?”

Whatever they had wanted to say got lost in their surprise.

“Ze'sar has been with us many months now, and has proven himself a worthy ally. He had mentioned your name upon his own arrival. The fact that you stand here together confirms his story and so rationalizes our initial decision to place our trust in him… but we do have some questions for you..”

The champion seemed quite nervous for some reason and Ze'sar looked at them sideways. He'd never known a champion to be nervous.

“What is it?”

The elder let out a sigh and his joy seemed to dissipate before he continued.

“Did we not stipulate we wanted our village to remain a secret?”

“I never told the location of-”

“That does not answer the question. Did we NOT stipulate we wanted our village to remain a secret?”

“You did.”

“How many did you tell?”

“Uh..”

The champion hesitated, though because they weren't sure or because the number was too great (or both) Ze'sar couldn't tell.

“Was it more than just him?”

Msshi'fn pointed gently towards Ze'sar and Ze'sar instinctively bowed his head.

“Yes. It was many more.”

“Just about our village?”

“Yes.”

“Not of our plight?”

“No.”

Msshi'fn took on a stern posture, and while he knew he had done nothing intentionally to cause it himself, Ze'sar ducked further.

“Ze'sar came to us not knowing of our plight, our laws, or our practices, but knew who we were and knew our village was somewhere near. “

“But I never told-”

“He, unlike you, also has upheld our wishes to remain a secret and has brought no one to us, thus keeping our village safe from curious, unfriendly, and untrustworthy eyes.. especially those who would or already have sided with our enemies, the dreaded fungal giants, or worse the bog lords. You endangered us all.”

“But I-”

“Ze'sar, however, has been our greatest and kindest ally these past few months of waiting for your arrival, and so I will overlook this mistake… but, tell me..”

Ze'sar heard the champion swallow at the sudden pause.

“What did you give him in exchange for his hard work?”

“What… ?”

The champion’s utter bewilderment prompted the elder to specify with a sigh.

“For many months previous to our meeting, Ze'sar supplied you with Glowcaps to trade, correct?”

“..Yes…?”

“What did he receive in return?”

Ze'sar, startled and feeling guilty for all the glowcaps he had withheld from the champion, attempted to interject.

“Many o’ de-”

“Ze'sar,” said Msshi'fn in warning. Ze'sar immediately quieted.

“Did you trade him knowledge in letters?”

The champion stayed silent.

“Did you trade him coin for our currency?”

“...”

“Did you trade him exotic finds from the lands you visit or provide him with herbs or cloth or other useful things? Protection perhaps?”

When the champion still did not reply, Ze'sar decided to act. He was extremely uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was heading. He held no ill will himself against the champion.

“Useful!” He interjected. “I be feelin’ useful.. doin’ da task for dem. Dey be given’ me a purpose outsida.. my regula habits.”

Ze'sar was grateful the elder did not interrupt him, though he still looked quite stern.

“Hmm..”

He mused for a moment before turning his attention on the champion once again.

“You never once thought to offer him something more than serving you?”

“When you put it like-”

“Ahem!”

“No. No, I did not.”

“I thought as much… Ze'sar.”

Though it was said softly, Ze'sar still flinched hearing his name.

“Your skills and presence are invaluable and we hope our trades have been fair to you since your arrival.

You were being used and in any way applicable we apologise for the actions of this ‘champion’.”

Ze'sar blinked several times, trying to wrap his brain around what just happened.

“I.. I be needin’ some time ta tink dis ova, Mon..”

“That is fair,” they replied. “As for you, ‘champion’-”

The champion’s spine went rigid.

“-we will be returning your status to that of neutral. Should you wish to barter with us in the future, you will prove your trustworthiness through your own actions instead of using others unfairly. Being in your presence is not a gift to others, but rather their presence is a gift to you. You would have no cause to champion without them, remember this.”

“Yes, elder…”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Ze'sar left the elder's hut behind the champion and cringed at the words they were saying under their breath, though he could understand their upset.

Ze'sar attempted to offer a well-meaning pat to their shoulder, and perhaps an apology, but they just smacked his hand away. It stung quite a bit thanks to their hardened armor and he cradled his suddenly aching hand.

“Look, Mon,” he tried, only to be interrupted quite rudely by the champion.

“No, don't you ‘ look ’ me! You're the reason I'm in this mess!”

“Erm.. not really, Mon. Ya-”

“Whatever. Shut up. I don't need this stinking bog or it's 'wares’ anyway. I'm outta here.”

For some reason their comments stung worse than their smack had, and Ze'sar recoiled slightly. He did not attempt to apologise again or stop them. This only seemed to aggravate them further as they mounted up.

“Don't say I never gave you anything, troll! You only made it here because I made you useful!”

With that their mount took off, creating a downdraft powerful enough to stir the damp dirt and make more than one Sporeling cover their heads or cough.

After they were gone, Ze'sar gave his hand one last rub before shaking it out. Stings faded. At least the champion hadn't done any worse.

Looking down, Ze'sar discovered the elders on either side of him. Startled, he immediately started to apologise.

Elder Msshi'fn stopped him with an upraised hand.

“A person's true colors are not always obvious. Sometimes it takes time for them to show. We are sorry for them to be shown this way with you caught in the middle, but it is up to them to one day apologise for the rest.”

Ze'sar thought for a moment before replying.

“But what about you, Mon? Da village could suffa because’a dem now, yeah?”

Both elders chuckled softly. 

“We have allies, my friend. Many whose aid we can call and rely upon should we be in danger.”

“And this is why we have let you stay in the champion’s place.. your concern is for us long before yourself. Your character is one we gladly welcome in our homes. You have never betrayed us and we trust you never shall.”

Ze'sar balked at the idea of betraying the Sporelings. They had been nothing but kind, save when they were protecting their own. Sure they had allies in the alliance, but they kept the peace and kept their focus strictly on the benefits for their people, not on e happenings of either horde or alliance, and only fought someone when they needed to protect their own. They truly were a neutral party.

“Besides, you had already revealed to us the source of the champion’s wealth. You provided it. We have not been wanting for it thanks to your generosity.”

Ze'sar blinked. “Oh.. dat be true. I not be tinkin’ of dat.”

The elders both smiled at him and gave him a pat before turning towards their respective huts.

Ze'sar looked up to where the champion had disappeared, thinking. He soon looked back down and shook his head. 

It was a shame the champion’s character turned out to be less than pleasant. He really hadn't thought of even asking for anything in return for his and his escort's hard work. His escort was paid in several ways to keep Ze'sar safe and it was in their best interest anyway, but he thought, initially, his own recognition for collecting plant and fungi alike was enough… but Msshi'fn was right. It wasn't exactly fair all around. After all, Ze'sar expended much energy to collect the materials.. and the champion did not actively return that effort. At least not in any way he could think of… not even for the camp. He hadn't heard of any return the champion gave to anyone there. They had just stopped by one day.. and never returned.

Speaking of return, the day was waning and Ze'sar sighed to himself. It would be wise for him to return to the camp. Doing so would keep his own affairs in order and being home would give him more ability to think and sort through what had transpired. 

Ze'sar checked to make sure he hadn't  forgotten anything before he stepped out of the village, gently inclining his head to the lead preserver as he left. They would notify the elders and the others for him.

Ze'sar had inadvertently discovered the Sporelings had several means of communication, one of which was sort of like telepathy that kept everything running so smoothly. It was actually a release of spores- completely harmless to everything outside of their race- that they could pick up and decipher like a language. It was the closest Ze'sar had seen to telepathy without the use of magic or spells. It was rather fascinating, and yet another reason he saw would make it very bad for anyone to treat even a single Sporeling poorly. Word traveled as fast as the wind.

Ze'sar himself traveled swiftly, familiar with the safest route back to the camp. The cloak and concealing potions from the Sporelings made it even easier, for which he was grateful. He often made it back into camp without being seen by the guards as well. As far as they were aware, he just popped up. This day was no different, his arrival undisturbed and unquestioned. He made it to his hut in record time. Only, when he got there, something was wrong. He could tell just by looking at it, his home had been disturbed.

Ze'sar approached cautiously, unsure as to why anyone would bother his hut. He hadn't upset anyone or done anything forbidden as far as he knew.

Upon closer inspection, it was even worse than he had initially thought. One of the posts was broken and some of the covering was torn to shreds. He could see inside and what he saw upset him greatly.

No one remained to take blame for their actions, but as he went inside he saw his workspace splattered with his salves, his pouches torn open, his bedding destroyed, and all his herbs and trinkets- what few he had- were gone.

He had been robbed. Panic flared, but Ze'sar forcefully squashed it down.

Leaving his broken hut, Ze'sar made a beeline for the chief's. He was as cautious as ever, but his anxiety was flaring much higher than it had in many moons. He hoped once he arrived it would quell, but he discovered he was not to be so lucky. As he entered he saw the champion and his escort standing with the chief alongside a handful of the regular guard. He felt himself pale and stopped as quickly as he had entered.

Everyone in the chief's hut stared at him as if he had just interrupted a conversation about himself. He wagered that was likely the case.

With nothing forthcoming, Ze'sar tested the waters.

“Chief... I uh.. I be comin’ from me hut and.. sometin’.. sometin’ be wrong…?”

Ze'sar distinctly caught the sleaziest of smiles from the champion.

“Ah, Ze'sar. We were wondering when you'd return.”

More silence followed and Ze'sar again felt compelled to speak in it's stead.

“I be comin’ back at my usual time, Mon… what.. what be goin’ on?”

His escort sneered at him.

“Why don't you tell us ?”

Completely thrown, Ze'sar balked at them.

“What? I be comin’ back ta me home dastroyed, mon.. bein’ doin’ nothin’ wrong, I be confused as ta why.”

“Care to explain this then?”

His escort threw something at Ze'sar's feet and it landed with a plop. Ze'sar recoiled on instinct, yet he had no idea what they had just thrown at him.

“What? What dat be? Where it be comin’ from?”

More than a few eyes rolled, but Ze'sar did not say anything further. He knew this had something to do with the champion's anger, but he couldn't fathom exactly what was going on.

Finally his escort's impatience got the best of them. 

“Your hut,” they said, spitting the words.

Ze'sar balked again.

“What? Where? Dat ting not bein’ in my hut when I be leavin’ today, Mon. I not be knowin’ what it bein’ eiter.”

“The champion found it. Said you were seen somewhere you weren't supposed to be and they had a hunch. Turns out it was correct.”

“What?! No. No, dat not bein’ da case, mon! Whateva dat ting is, I neva be seein’ it before today! ”

“Then where were you, hmm?”

“I-”

Ze'sar hesitated as he finally grasped what was going on, what the champion's plot was. Ze'sar could reveal where he had been and thus break the Sporelings’ trust and his promises to them in order to save his own hide… or he could say nothing and apparently be marked as a traitor. If he broke his word he would be saved.. but he would have to show the camp. Prove his story. Even if he managed to convince everyone to keep their distance and only see the village, he would never be able to return to it himself. 

“I…”

Ze'sar glanced at the champion. They were downright smug. They probably wagered that no one in their right mind would opt to throw themselves under-wing, or if they did they deserved the fall. He was trapped.

Ze'sar felt the words fall out of his mouth, but did not say them with regret, only sadness.

“I.. I can't be sayin’, mon.”

His escort snorted and the chief shifted. The champion seemed surprised, but no less smug.

“… Then you know what the price is.”

With a nod, many of the guards went into motion. A few had their weapons raised and Ze'sar felt panic flare. As they came closer, one steel blade gleamed off of the torchlight and Ze'sar felt himself start to freeze up. His panic flared even higher as his muscles started to pinch and lock. His breath quickened and the first of his many terrible memories shot through his head. It was happening. It was happening again and he could see his escort shaking their head. They'd expected as much. They always did… only this time Ze'sar did something he had only done once before. He twisted, stumbled, and ran.


 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Through unresponsive muscles Ze'sar ran for his life. 

Unfortunately the chief's hut was high up on a massive mushroom stalk and there weren't many places to go, but his body still carried him out. In fact, in the already panicked state as he was, it didn't seem to care about the drop to the ground at all. Ze'sar barreled through the carefully strung barricade that normally prevented people from falling and tumbled to the ground.

He heard shouting above him and, though he was winded and knew he'd sustained some bodily harm from his fall, he picked himself up to keep going. No one else was going to be stupid or brave enough to follow suit.

Ze'sar ran as fast as he could, avoiding huts and fellow horde alike. He ran until he came upon the opening in the wall. He struck the wood with all his might and, blessedly, once again found no one to be on the other side.

He continued running.

 

Ze'sar ran and ran as fast as he could, knocking a sporebat wayward in the process, but still he didn't stop. He didn't stop until his legs and lungs gave out under him and he was left splayed on the ground gasping for air. He had no idea what had gotten into him, but he didn't want to think about it right now. He didn't want to think about anything lest it be another bad memory he desperately wanted to be rid of. Now he had even more to add to the list. He'd just, inadvertently or no, made himself look like a traitor. A guilty party… he was guilty, but for nothing more than preserving a race’s way of life . But those of the camp didn't, wouldn't, and couldn't know that. He couldn't tell his escort, he couldn't tell his fellow herbalists, he couldn't even tell the chief- keeper of all secrets large and small.

Ze'sar was mentally exhausted from keeping up an aloof attitude, and so it was weight off of his mind no longer needing to, however now he was faced with an even bigger challenge… how to survive in Zangarmarsh. How to survive in Zangarmarsh alone . How to survive when every previous ally would be out looking for him. Hunting him. When a bounty would now be on his head.

Ze'sar's chest felt tight just thinking about it… but then he remembered; he still had allies left. The Sporelings.. they might be able to help. 

If they could not shelter him (and he wouldn't ask that of them anyhow), they could possibly help him escape the marsh.. Even if he had nowhere to go, it was a start. He did not want to endanger them after all. For a short time he would have to, but otherwise if he did leave they would be safe. At least he hoped.

Knowing that there may be guards sent out to follow him, Ze'sar forced himself through every pained motion to stand up and to start moving, cautiously. Thanks to his many solo escapades he knew the marsh extremely well, and so he did not need to run to be able to sneak past an enemy. He also knew exactly how to get to the Sporeling village from just about any direction. And being as he had taken off in more or less a straight line from his former home, he wasn't all that lost anyhow.

Ze'sar moved as quietly as he could despite his heavy breathing. He was still panicked but trying not to think about it. He didn't take into account that someone else might be moving quietly through the marsh for their own purposes as well. 

Just as the Sporeling village came into view, Ze'sar suddenly slammed right into another, shorter figure, knocking them and himself to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Ze'sar had landed on top of them, and even though he was still panicked and terrified of those chasing him, he could not seem to stop the apologies falling from his mouth.

The figure under him squirmed and fought to push him off as he tried to stand, resulting in more tangles of their limbs before Ze'sar managed to get his arms on the ground on either side of the other person. Something sharp nicked his wrist as he did so, and suddenly his focus returned. He froze and looked to the wound to discover it was not a blade that had harmed him, no, but a horn…Attached to the head of the female draenei he'd fallen on top of.

Following his own freeze, she seemed to have done the same. She was staring up at him sideways, quite startled and confused.

They blinked at each other before Ze'sar started spilling apologies in the common tongue and pushed himself away from her so he could give her space, and so he could stand. He hoped she understood his words as he looked down to the damage to his wrist. Upon seeing blood he grasped it with his opposite hand.

As he focused on his wrist the draenei sat up, still quite startled, but as Ze'sar looked back to her it seemed she was searching for the same thing as he- the neutral insignia. Ze'sar knew he was wearing his, as he hardly ever took it off. He was relieved to find she was wearing hers.

Ze'sar still took another step back once he found it on her armor, just to prove the point of his fall being accidental.

She gave a nod before standing herself, and brushing some of the damp from her clothes. When she did, Ze'sar suddenly realized this was the third time he had run into her. She was the same draenei woman who had inadvertently threatened him with an axe, and who's griffin he'd nearly plowed into his first time in the Sporelings’ village. He was once again surprised by this. He didn't think it was all that common to run into the same character again and again.

“It is not problem.”

Her words startled him and he ducked, but once he processed what she said, he was immediately relieved.

Ze'sar was going to nod and continue on his way with that, but something caught his eye as he looked back up.

“LOOK OUT!!”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“LOOK OUT!!”

Ze'sar dove to the side, protecting his damaged arm as best he could. He rolled and forced himself back to his feet as quickly as he could, but saw that his words had not been swift enough. The flying mount of the champion had slammed into the draenei and sent her tumbling away.

Ze'sar immediately recognized the mount because of the regalia, and had to take recovering breaths to keep from freezing. He called upon his loa to gently mend his wound as he watched it turn back towards him, the champion atop it.

They beckoned their mount to dive again and Ze'sar had to cut his healing short with another dive away. He heard the champion's frustrated cry above him and rolled again just in time to avoid the creature’s massive claws that pummeled the ground. It took off again, giving Ze'sar a chance to quickly glance at his wrist. The extra quick heal wasn't perfect, but he was no longer bleeding and was out of danger of getting an infection. He looked back up in time to see the champion beckoning their mount back towards him. 

Ze'sar wasn't quite sure what to do. He realized the Sporeling village was right behind him and didn't want them to get caught in the crossfire, but he knew it also would be nearly impossible to run and hide from the champion while they were mounted, even for as well as he knew the marsh.

They dove again and this time Ze'sar dared not to move. Instead, he called upon the blessing of his Loa once more, put his hands up and willed it to launch itself at the champion atop their mount. It wasn’t intended to do much harm, but he hoped it would distract them. 

Distract them it did and the champion pulled on the reins, attempting to shield their eyes. Their mount screeched and reared. At the same time, something slammed into it's side, knocking the champion from their perch.

The mount squealed fiercely and turned on whatever had caused it damage, but Ze'sar didn't have time to see what it was. The champion was already rising and was looking at him with seething intent.

They threw something that clipped his shoulder and Ze'sar fell backwards with a pained cry. 

“Wait!” The word just burst out of him. “Wait wait wait, please, mon!”

The champion did not seem to hear him and kept moving towards him with intent. The inent to kill.

“I be doin’ somethin’ trivial, mon! Dere’s no need ta be goin’ so fa!”

As they approached, Ze'sar started scrambling backwards. Pain shot through his shoulder as he did so, but he kept trying to put distance between them. They did not seem interested in talking at all, but Ze'sar still tried. He hoped he could say something, ANYTHING that would make them pause and then think about what it was that were doing.

“Please, I not be meanin’ any harm! I not be meanin’ fa ya ta get punished! Ya don't have ta be doin’ dis!”

The champion closed the distance between them despite Ze'sar's attempts to get away. They reached out and grasped the front of his robe, pulling his torso off the ground and nearly bringing them nose to nose. Ze'sar grabbed their wrist to support himself.

“I want to,” they shouted at him. “You dishonored me, then you ran away , and there is no going back from that! You have no honor, but I intend to collect on mine!”

Instinctively Ze'sar brought his free hand up and just barely caught the champion’s upraised arm- holding a weapon intent on killing him. The action hurt quite a bit thanks to his previous injuries to that side, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to hold them back for long. Muscles already fatigued and shaking, he did his best to think quickly.

“But- but, If I be havin’ no honor, den.. den I bein’ worth no honor! Ya can’t be gainin’ any den, mon!”

“Oh,” they shot back, “but I can! I will! I will have the honor of killing the pesky little priest that has done next to nothing for his clan, save beg for the light’s help! The honor of killing the COWARD that plagued Northrend’s finest until they finally sent him away to hide amongst fungi and rot! You couldn’t even find a place with your own kind here .”

They laughed, forcing their arm to move closer as Ze'sar tried to fight it.

“No, you disgraced the name of troll by resorting to living amongst barely sentient fungal primitives- to protecting them instead of letting them rot away and affirming your place in your clan as you should! You are a disgrace and I will be thanked, THANKED for wiping your existence from the cosmos when I return!”

Ze'sar’s arm faltered for a moment, a sudden memory accosting him at the mention of Northrend and he squeezed his eyes shut. He kept fighting though, trying to push back again as soon as he dropped it. He was not wanting to die, and now he likely would- knowing it was now just centimeters away if he couldn’t convince the champion otherwise.

“Please,” he begged, “don’t be doin’ dis, mon..”

Ze'sar heard them cackle before, quite suddenly, he was dropped to the ground. The breath rushed out of him and his eyes snapped open. To his surprise the champion was still above him, their arm in his hand, but they were being pulled backwards by sporelings.

Ze'sar dropped the champion’s wrist and scrambled backwards as he watched the sporeling’s accost them. There was a sporeling on their back pulling on the champion’s face and two more pulling at their legs. Another was off to the side, getting ready to tackle the champion’s arm holding the weapon. When they did, the champion was thrown off balance and forced to the ground. The one on their back then reared back and hurled his fist into the back of their head. The champion instantly stopped squirming and fighting then, but the sporelings did not let them go.

Ze'sar let out a breath, worried the champion was only dazed, before he saw one of the elders had approached from the village. He waved his arm and the sporelings all nodded, all but the Sporeling on the champion’s arm removing themselves. The one on the champion’s arm was attempting to wrench the weapon out of their hand. It took a few tugs, but the sporling managed it, and then they too stepped away, a gash on one of their arms. Ze'sar immediately attempted to stand so he could go and have a look at the wound, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Ze'sar winced and it moved, but he got the message. The second elder, Khn'nix was there next to him.

A sudden screech off to the side caught the attention of all and Ze'sar strained to look past the elder to see what was going on.

It looked to be the champion’s mount in the last throes of its fight with the draenei. She was heavily injured, bleeding and leaning heavily to one side, but she still managed to raise her axe over her head for a devastating blow.

The mount’s next screech cut off and it then quite unceremoniously fell on top of her. This time Khn'nix did not stop Ze'sar’s attempt to move. He and several of the sporelings rushed over to her location, and with some effort, managed to roll the corpse mostly off of her frame. She was such a tiny little thing in comparison.

Ze'sar hesitated, but could not stop his worry in seeing the state she was in. She had landed badly on top of being crushed, hitting the back of her head on a rock, and was out cold. 

Ze'sar was distinctly aware she was a draenei.. A part of the Alliance. But after only a moment more of hesitation, Ze'sar decided it was more than his duty to help her.

The sporelings helped Ze'sar drag her the rest of the way out from under the beast that had landed on top of her. Thankfully it wasn’t far and Ze'sar got to work right away checking her vitals. She had a pulse and though weak it gave him some relief. He was, however, horrified to discover she had several broken bones and fractures alongside all of her flesh wounds. And where there were broken bones, there were bruises. Massive ones. And the potential for hemorrhages.

Ze'sar asked his Loa for her blessing and directed it to the worst of her flesh wounds as best he could. The bones he would have to set before attempting to heal.

The sporelings were gathered around and a few of them, namely the elders, asked what he needed.

“Splints,” he said, already feeling sweat beading on his brow, “please. And if ya be havin’ any salves ta spare I could be usin’ some’a dose.”

One elder nodded, directing one of their guards towards the village.

Ze'sar kept his attention on the draenei, but he did offer, “I be sorry fa all a dis…” to the sporelings still present. The elder nearest him shook his head, but did not offer anything in return, presumably to let him maintain his focus.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

It took a length of time and much effort, including the removal of the dranenei’s armor, before Ze'sar was confident enough to let the sporelings move her. Even then, he was nervous. Her wounds were quite extensive and he had trouble mending them. He was not familiar with draenei anatomy and already being fatigued made concentration and learning on the fly quite challenging. He was, however, relieved that the sporelings had fashioned a stretcher and thus would cause less strain on her body. He walked alongside as they carried her to the empty hut on the far side of the village, offering any direction or support they needed.

The sporelings set her down gently once they were inside and Ze'sar kneeled down to check on her once again. Her breathing was still even, if shallow, and her pulse was still present. Ze'sar let out a breath, hanging his head in relief. Her recovery was going to be a long one, even with help, but he was grateful she seemed to be a strong one. 

Once they had settled her and brought her things, most of the sporelings went back to their business out in the village, only the two elders remaining.

Ze'sar looked to them, wanting to say something, but felt himself sway. One of the elders extended their hand, placing it on his arm for support as he more fell than sat down, utterly exhausted.

“You need rest,” they said.

“Yes, and sustenance,” said the other. “We will procure food for you.”

“Nah,” Ze'sar said quietly. “I be alright… I be havin’ some food wit me an’ I be eatin’ as soon-”

“Now would be best,” the first interjected. His tone was firm, but caring. Ze'sar didn’t have it in him to argue.

“And then you will rest. We will procure you a blanket for your comfort and you will sleep here or in Msshi'fn’s hut.”

Ze'sar paused in reaching for his food pouch. “I.. I don’ be wantin’ ta be a botha. I.. I be responsible fa-”

“Hush. You will eat, then rest, then you shall tell us anything that needs to be told, though we believe we have heard enough to understand.”

“Erm..”

Msshi'fn nodded, agreeing with his companion. “Eat. Rest. You are safe here.”

The word ‘safe’ triggered a thought that sent Ze'sar’s anxiety spiraling back up, though he was surprised he had it in him. 

“But.. But what of de champion?”

The elders chuckled softly in unison, though their expressions were grim.

“We will deliver them to an appropriate place where they can be tended to as well.”

“But,” Ze'sar protested, “but what if dey come back? What if-”

“They will not return,” Msshi'fn assured him. “We will assure as such. The marsh is intelligent, it can heed our call in this. It will not let them anywhere near our village again. It will hide us from their eyes and they will never find us. They have betrayed us-”

“and the marsh does not forget,” the elders finished in unison.

"But,” Ze'sar protested, another thought coming to him, “but I be findin’ da village by accident. I don’-”

“Dear child,” Khn'nix said gently, “the marsh knew you would bring us no harm, would tip no balance. It knew you before you knew yourself and brought you to us. You, Ze'sar, are made of more than you know.”

Hearing his name from Khn'nix silenced any further protest within Ze'sar. He nodded slightly, not entirely understanding, but believing his words. He once again reached for his food pouch and found himself something that wouldn’t cause his stomach to churn after all that had transpired.

Satisfied Ze'sar had quelled his protests and was following their directions, the elders left to fulfil their promise and left him to his devices.

Ze'sar was grateful for the moment to be alone. His head was swimming. Everything had devolved so fast and in ways he couldn’t have begun to expect, and yet.. The sporelings seemed practically unbothered. He was glad for it at the same time it seemed quite foreign. To him everything was a mess. He had, after all, just lost his home and, apparently, his honor. Two things quite important and worth fighting for. The very things the horde stood for.. At least as far as he knew. 

Most people of the horde just followed their leaders.. Just did what was asked of them. A few made their voices rise above the din, but the rest, like him, just went along and did whatever it was they needed to. Perhaps that was the difference between the champion and himself. They had eked out a name and a voice for themselves while he was content to be complacent, more or less. And yet he had impacted their world so severely they practically lost their minds.. He’d also apparently made more of an impact in Northrend than he thought if they happened to know of his time there. It hadn’t been terribly long. He’d been in Zangarmarsh much longer than he had stayed in Northrend, but apparently that time had been memorable to more than just him. And in a negative way, despite the good he knew he did do.

Ze'sar shuddered away from the memories before they turned. 

He hadn’t meant to cause issues. He really just wanted to help. Northrend just, as far as he was concerned, wasn’t the place for him and that’s why he got sent away.. Not because he had intentionally caused trouble. What a horrible rumor. But there was nothing he could do about it now.. Or ever, really, given the circumstances. If word of his meager doings in Northrend traveled this far so fast, news of what he’d just done here would do the same, and they would twist and contort until he was a monster bigger than the twin spires.

Ze'sar sighed again before taking a bite of his food. He chewed thoughtfully, grateful for its dull flavor. Trying to focus on that brought his mind back to the present and to the woman resting across from him. Ze'sar cringed and swallowed, forcing himself to take another bite. He hadn’t meant to drag an innocent party into the mess he’d made.. But he had, and she was paying the price that was all too much his to bear.

The re-entrance of a sporeling elder startled him, but Ze'sar quickly calmed himself enough to take the blanket they offered. It was woven from strands of fungi and was oddly soft and supple for it.

Swallowing his mouthful of food, he thanked them quietly. The elder nodded once before gesturing to the floor of the hut.

“Rest, and we will discuss anything that needs discussing when you wake.”

“Tank ya… I owe ya a lot, mon.. all o’ ya.”

“Nonsense,” the elder laughed quietly. “You owe us naught and remember this.”

With that they turned and left, leaving no room for Ze'sar to argue.

A bit stunned once more, Ze'sar absently finished his meal and laid down where they gestured. For the size of the hut and for sharing it with a stranger, he did not feel crowded. It was a little odd, but Ze'sar decided to take it in stride. He was quite exhausted after all.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar woke from a dreamless sleep feeling quite sore. Much sorer than he had in quite some time. Everything ached, even his stomach which he had hoped would settle with sleep. Removing the blanket from his shoulders revealed why. 

He was a mess. His robe was torn and dirtied, and he had many scrapes and bruises which he had ignored in favor of healing the draenei. When he sat up proper he realized that he likely also bore a dislocation or two as well. His adrenaline had carried him through the pain initially, but he certainly could feel it now. It was unusual as his wounds normally mended quite quickly, but still, he was grateful none of his own bones appeared to be broken.

Shaking some of the dirt from his hair, Ze'sar then moved to get up. He took it slow, not wanting to aggravate anything. He did chance a glance over the the draenei, but seeing her still sleeping and undisturbed he gingerly exited the hut after he was upright.

Outside, the village was quiet; a good portion of the sporelings recharging their energy via their own form of sleep. The few he did see up and about gave him a small nod. He nodded in return and gestured his general destination. He was after the water line. They understood and made no move to stop him.

There was a spot he had, in a way, claimed every time he visited the village, just behind a tall mushroom stalk. It afforded him some privacy as well as let him be out of the way of the sporelings' own places to collect or use the water as they needed. They were content to leave it to him too, in their seemingly endless kindness. It was quite convenient, especially now.

Once he made it to the water’s edge, Ze'sar stripped his belt, cape, and robe- the majority of his armor- off. He then did his best to shake his robe out, adjusting for his still injured shoulder. Most of the dirt shook off rather easily, but he knew the blood and other various marks would take more diligent cleaning to remove. He gave it a forlorn sigh as he saw what all remained after his shaking, but then set it aside.

Turning to the water, Ze'sar decided cleaning himself would be a good next step, especially seeing as his healing rate had gone down for some reason. He still had several scrapes and a wound on his shoulder that could be in danger of infection. His robe and other garments could wait.

The water was slightly cold, but as all of the marsh, it’s temperature was consistent. He knew what to expect as he waded a little ways into the water and carefully kneeled to where it came to his chest. He used his hands to drizzle water gently over his shoulders and arms before deciding just to dunk his head under. It was hurting too much to use his arms. Dunking was a bit of a shock, but better than staying dirty, he told himself.

He came back up and ran his fingers through his hair, as scraggled as it had become. He felt his braids and realized with a sigh that he would have to redo them. He wasn’t sure if he had the time for that.

Ze'sar turned back to shore and, after giving it some thought, decided that since it was quite early and the draenei had shown no signs of waking before he left, he could risk it. His hair would just get in the way if he didn’t braid it properly, and he really didn’t like cutting it. There really was nothing else for it. 

Ze'sar returned to shore to fish out his cleaning supplies before reentering the water- its temperature welcoming the second time.

As he worked on taking his braids out, Ze'sar also made the effort to get the rest of himself back in order. He attempted to call upon the healing light of his Loa with a prayer, nudging it towards every place he was really hurting- especially his dislocated and injured arm and apparently sprained ankle- but nothing came.  Thinking he was still possibly dazed from the day previous, he cleared his mind and tried again, using the techniques he had been taught to use since his first desire to be a priest.

Still nothing came.

Ze'sar paused in his efforts and opened his eyes to look at his reflection in the water. He could clearly see a bruise along his cheekbone and the gash on his shoulder from where the champion’s extra blade had struck him. They looked fresh, as if he had just been injured.

Instead of becoming anxious, Ze'sar suddenly felt.. Calm. He’d skipped right over several stages of grief and had gone straight to acceptance. His Loa had left him. He no longer had any power.

Ze'sar let out a sigh, but pulled the remainder of his braids out and shook his head. His damp hair fell over his shoulders and he looked at his locks with regret. The only thing he could think of in lieu of cutting his hair, since he couldn’t braid it with his arm in the state it was.. a ponytail. He pulled it back as much as he could with his uninjured arm before bringing the injured one up to help pull it through his leather wrap.

Ze'sar sighed again before leaving the water to focus on his dislocated shoulder for a moment.

Thanks to specializing in herbalism and first aid, he knew how to set injuries straight without magic, but it was going to hurt, especially without the near immediate relief of regeneration his Loa had previously granted him.

Ze'sar carefully lifted his arm to rest his hand behind his head. It pinched quite a bit, but he refrained from wincing. He then took a breath before reaching towards his uninjured arm and an unpleasant ‘ crunch ’ reached his ears. The pain subsided marginally and Ze'sar let his breath out in relief. That was one down. He’d have to be careful with it for a while, but having it reduced was helpful. Next he looked to his wrist as he brought his arm back down. There was definitely something out of place there too thanks to his fall.

Ze'sar used his knee as a rest as he carefully prodded it with his good hand. He found the misaligned ligament, and, without fineness, pushed them back into place. The pain of that reduction was much more, but he bore it with an exhale. With that in order, he set about reaching into his pouches for the materials he needed, using that arm as little as possible.

He pulled out several bandages and some of the cloth he had on hand to make a sling for his arm and to cover the worst of his scrapes. He flicked some water off of his good arm before he started, and for some reason he smiled. It took him a moment to fully register why, but when he did, his smile grew slightly wider. He was recalling the first time he had seen the draenei- she had flicked her arm to get rid of the marshfang goo as she walked away. It wasn’t exactly funny, but for some odd reason he felt it was a pleasant memory more than anything. A random insignificant thing he’d noticed that had stuck with him. 

Shaking his head to himself, Ze'sar used some of his cloth to dry off of the remainder of his frame until he was satisfied. It didn’t take too long, but he was a little anxious to get dressed, patched, and back into the main body of the camp. He carefully wrapped the worst of his scrapes with bandages and wrapped his ankle carefully to ward off worsening his sprain before getting dressed.

Looking to his robe and supplies, Ze'sar sighed. He didn’t have much in the way of armor with him and would eventually have to clean them in their entirety, but for now he opted to pull a shirt out of one pouch to cover his chest, and he quickly swapped out his thicker trousers for a light pair he kept on hand thanks to liking the feel of them. Both items were fairly loose and did not pull at any bandages.

Everything was slightly wonky when he was finished, but it would have to do.

With his armor draped over his good arm and his belt in place on his hips, Ze'sar then rounded the mushroom and returned to the hut he’d been allowed to stay in.

As he set his items down, he chanced another glance to the draenei. She was still sleeping and didn’t look to have shifted much, if at all. It made him wonder how much sleep he had gotten and if it was enough. He felt fairly rested despite his injuries, but he didn’t quite recall when he had fallen asleep. He knew it was likely after dusk considering his previous habits of returning to camp before that time. He also knew that he was generally an early riser when he went to sleep as the stars came out. Perhaps he had lucked out and had passed out at generally the same time he was used to. It would make sense seeing as the sporelings weren’t entirely active just yet- but that could also have been explained as their needing to recharge after a stressful day.

Ze'sar was a little confused about the time for sure, but something else was nagging at him as he watched the draenei sleep. Something just wasn’t quite right about it. Surely she would have shifted if a fair amount of time had passed…

As other possibilities dawned on him, Ze'sar was mortified. She had hit her head which was the cause of her falling unconscious.

Ze'sar rushed to her side, kneeling as he did so, and gently took her head into his good hand. Upon closer inspection the wound on the back of her head looked to be closed and close to being a scar thanks to his efforts, but that didn’t mean much if he hadn’t caught internal damage. The fact that she wasn’t waking even while he was handling her was a bad sign- at least for the races he knew how to treat it was. He wagered she wasn’t too entirely different.

He gently tried to rouse her, still wary of the rest of the damage in need of healing. To his worried disappointment, her breathing and state of slumber still did not change.

Ze'sar gently set her head down, and pondered what he would be able to do. Head wounds were tricky, even with the blessings of a Loa. Possibly the trickiest injury to heal next to some of the really nasty curses and poisons out there. He now wasn’t sure he had reacted in time the day previous, and it sent a dagger of ice into his chest.

As Ze'sar pondered and worried over his next course of action, over anything he could do, a sporeling came into the hut behind him. When they spoke they startled him badly enough he jumped to his feet. Luckily he jumped backwards or he would have stepped on the draenei and would have felt a million times worse than he already did. As it was with the anxiety and sudden jolt that he had already caused himself, he had to turn and ask the sporeling to repeat what they had said.

“Msshi'fn would like to see you should you still wish to speak with them.”

Ze'sar brought his hand to his forehead and nodded.

“Aye.. Dat I do..”

“They look forward to your visit.”

“Tank ya..”

Ze'sar saw the sporeling nod out of the corner of his eye and let out a quiet sigh after they left. He looked back down to the draenei and wondered just what would happen to her. He had been wanting to return to the sporelings’ village to ask for help in leaving the marsh, after all. Now with the sudden complications he didn’t know what to do, or what to say. The elders wanted no apology from him even as he was the cause of the chaos that had ensued when he arrived once more, but as he looked down to the aftermath, that’s all he felt he deserved to do; Apologize.

He couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen. Not any of it, and now it left him feeling less sure of any decision he made or would make regarding his own safety… and the safety of those around him. He wasn’t sure that he wasn’t responsible for what had transpired, even though many swore it wasn’t his fault. He felt that, in at least some ways, it was, especially seeing as his Loa abandoned him for his decisions, and they rarely did so lightly.

Shaking his head before he worked himself up, Ze'sar turned and left the hut. But as he did so, he paused and stopped a nearby sporeling guard.

“Would ya kindly watch ova da lady in dere? I bein’ mighty worried about her, mon..”

The sporeling, while surprised, nodded and moved to take a position just outside of the door of the hut.

Satisfied, Ze'sar then made his way to Msshi'fn’s hut, still unsure of what he was going to say.. Or do.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

“Good Morning, Ze'sar.”

Once again startled by hearing his name, Ze'sar stopped in his tracks.

“We are happy to see you have rested and are healing many of your injuries.”

Ze'sar nodded, gently grabbing his injured arm absentmindedly.

“Aye.. an’ I bein’ glad none o’ ya are worse fa wear eiter.”

“Well..” The elder’s tone made Ze'sar worry.

“Is somebody hurt, mon? Is dere sometin’ I can be doin’ ta help?”

Msshi'fn held up their hand in a gentle fashion. “We will be fine,” they said. “There was only one sustained injury yesterday. One of our preservers came into contact with the champion’s blade and discovered it to be covered in a toxin.”

Ze'sar felt his face pale. He had seen the sporeling with the gash in their arm. It was not a small wound and it was likely it had gone deep- forcing a fair amount of poison into their system. Ze'sar didn’t know how sporelings reacted to foreign poisons, but wagered it wasn’t pretty.

“We have sped the process of shrivelling their limb and now it is only a matter of waiting for it to fall off so it may be regrown.”

This gave Ze'sar a bit of reassurance, but the implications still weren’t pretty. That dagger had been intended for him, and a sporeling had taken it for him. It had been in protecting their village, but it had cost them greatly. Knowing their numbers were still far too low already thanks to their ongoing war with the Bog Lords, this was going to make things more challenging until that guard healed entirely.

“Are ya bein’ sure dere’s notin’ I can be doin’ ta help?”

“Always looking out for everyone but yourself,” the elder chuckled. “I assure you, they will be fine with time to recover. Time is the only thing for it.

This aside, it is not what I asked you here for. Tell me, if you will, why you came to seek us out yesterday eve. From what we understand.. You forsook a great opportunity of your own in favor of protecting us. You also nearly died thanks to this. I would hear the story if you will share it.”

Ze'sar froze for a moment, unsure of where to start. He forced himself out of it once he realized it would probably be best to start from the beginning. Ze'sar took a breath and let it out as a sigh before gingerly sitting down.

“It be startin’ a while back, mon… I not bein’ very useful ta my camp.. Before dat- de reason I be comin’ here was because I be stoppin’ bein’ useful da last place too.”

“There are rumors the marsh has carried to us, of a priest too soft for battle.”

Ze'sar was surprised, but only just. “Aye.. dat be me.”

Msshi'fn nodded, gesturing for him to continue.

“Once I be gettin’ here, I be tryin’ ta find herbs ta make me salves and ta give ta de other herb collecters.. I not bein’ let outta camp often ta do so, but I be tryin’. I be always findin’ da glowcaps though.. So I started collectin’ dem too.”

“And the champion asked for your continued collection once they discovered this?”

“Aye.. but I be keepin’ some. I be wantin’ ta be useful and ta keep sendin’ some ta dem even if I not bein’ allowed outside of de camp fa awhile. Ta keep dem happy.”

“An investment, a smart strategy.”

Ze'sar was torn between nodding and shaking his head. “It not be feelin’ very honest of me..”

“I see. This is how you had so many on hand to gift us the day we met.”

“Aye.”

“Do not think yourself guilty, Ze'sar. We understand. You had no intentions of keeping them to yourself. They were always meant for us. Your intentions were shown clearly once you fulfilled your first promise as easily as you made it.”

“But-”

“Do not dwell.”

Ze'sar stopped himself and nodded, attempting to get back on track.

“Erm.. ah.. Well ya know ‘bout da months followin’.”

“Yes.”

“And da champion returnin’ here.. And leavin’ in a huff.”

The elder said nothing, waiting for Ze'sar to continue. Ze'sar steeled himself before forcing himself to relive the relevant events of the previous night.

“I be gettin’ back ta camp like normal.. But when I be arrivin’ at me hut, it be torn ta shreds, mon.. everytin’ inside be missin’ or broken… so I went ta me chief..and dere be da champion.

I be accused o’ sometin’.. I don’t be knowin’ what it be exactly, but dey trew sometin’ at me I never be seein’ before… dey be callin’ me a traitor. Said I be seen somewhere I not supposed ta be.. And den… Den dey asked where I be if I not bein’ dat place when I denied it.”

Ze'sar took a deep breath. Msshi'fn was listening intently, but politely waited until he could talk again.

“I not be tellin’ dem.. I couldn’t be tellin’ dem. I be makin’ a promise, mon. I don’t be breakin’ dem.. I try not ta.. So it be makin’ me look bad.. Den da guards come afta me and I be runnin’. I be runnin’ away… I be meanin’ only ta stop by, ta ask ya for ya help, maybe, in gettin’ me outta da marsh if it be okay wit ya, mon.. but de champion, dey be followin’ me. Dey.. well.. Ya be knowin’ da rest, mon.”

Msshi'fn nodded before bringing their hand to their chin thoughtfully.

“So you upheld your word, even though it cost you greatly to do so.”

Ze'sar nodded.

“Why?”

Completely taken aback, Ze'sar looked to the elder in surprise.

“I.. I be makin’ a promise, mon,” he said in exasperation. “I don’t be makin’ or breakin’ dose easily.”

“You were given the chance to out the champion as a liar and out yourself as an honest person.. Yet you didn’t.”

“Aye! But it not be matterin’- I not bein’ so honest if I be breakin’ a promise!”

“You sacrificed everything for our village. You lost your home, your friends.. Perhaps your family.”

Ze’sar flinched in spite of himself.

“...Aye, but dat be da way of it sometimes, mon. Life don’t be goin’ da way we hope fa or plan all de time.. And I rather be sacrificin’ my tings and myself den be makin’ a whole village suffa. I be just one troll, mon.. you, all sporelin’s, be a community.”

Msshi'fn’s face gently formed a smile before they reached out to Ze'sar and offered a gentle pat to his hand.

“You truly are one of our greatest allies.”

Still a little startled, Ze'sar simply blinked at the elder. He wasn’t entirely fond of cryptic conversations, but he knew they hadn’t meant any harm with it.

“We will help you leave the marsh,” they said kindly. “After all you have done for us, it is the least we can do for you.”

Ze'sar went to thank Msshi'fn but stopped. He felt his eyebrows pinch and worry fluttered in his gut.

“But…”

He wasn’t quite sure how to phrase it. He didn’t want to intrude either and/or give up his chance to be able to get away from those hunting him.. But if he left now-

“But I be injured, and ya be down a guard,” he finally said, “and de draenei… if ya be tryin’ ta get her ta her own or me outta here, ya could be riskin’ more.”

Msshi'fn tilted his head curiously. “Is there something else amiss?”

Ze'sar nodded. “De.. de draenei.. She not be wakin’ up. I.. I be tinkin’ I not be healin’ her right de first time, and… and I seem ta have lost me magic.”

Ze’sar absently touched his injured arm.

“Ah.. that is troublesome. We don’t have much in the way of healing any but our own either. This could be a conundrum.”

“Be dere anyone who might be comin’ ta look for de draenei?”

The elder shook his head. Ze'sar was afraid of that.

“She also upholds our ideals. She has been a fierce champion of our cause and has brought us many trophies and young sporelings to ensure our village continues to survive, but she has not found any others who wished to aid her and us so directly.”

Ze'sar balked. He had just inadvertently played a hand in incapacitating someone extremely important. Sure she was a part of the alliance, his own faction’s dreaded enemy, but in this neutral village that did not matter. It hadn’t to him, anyway.. Despite how much it seemed to matter to his camp, and his former Loa.

“We understand you would not be able to help deliver her to a safe area anyway without risk to yourself.. She may well die here.”

“No!”

The word just jumped right out of him and Ze'sar clapped his hand over his mouth.

 Realigning himself, Ze'sar shook his head and then let go just as quickly.

“I can’t be.. She…  She be protectin’ your village fa so long. She got hurt doin’ so…”

The elder nodded. “As is the way of champions.. Sometimes sacrifices are made. It is regrettable, but if there is only so much we can do for her, then that is the way of it.”

“Wait,” Ze'sar said, feeling awfully crazy for even thinking of it, “what if.. What If I be stayin’ ta help… would ya be allowin’ us ta stay- for me ta try? I be havin’ some skills dat might help.”

“In exchange for what you have done to uphold our values and safety, yes… but Ze'sar.. Should you not focus on your own wounds? Is she not your enemy?”

“Not here.” The words just fell out of him, but Ze'sar knew they were true. They had never harmed one another and their best interest was in helping the sporelings- that had them at least on the same page.. And Ze'sar felt responsible for her injuries anyhow. Had it not been for him running into her, she likely would not have been injured so.

“Please.. I also be willin’ ta help da village any way I can too.”

Msshi'fn seemed slightly surprised, but after a moment they nodded. “If you are certain, then very well. It would be foolish to decline your help and to decline helping you in turn.”

A small knot formed in Ze'sar’s gut, but he nodded. It would not be easy, but he was determined to do all he could with what remained of himself now.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar was a diligent worker. He upheld his promises well, even if some of the requirements were unfamiliar to him.

Msshi'fn had asked him to help the squad the injured preserver was a part of, since he had volunteered and they were both temporarily down an arm. It consisted of, of course, taking watch at certain times, but also with tending to and/or collecting edible spores, reporting to and checking in with other squads, and some mild scouting. Lucky for him they did not often leave their village or actively engage the wildlife, but occasionally a territorial creature would decide to attack he was told. It would be his responsibility to see to any injuries and to get word out if others could not.

The first few days weren’t too grueling, Ze'sar being used to the sporelings’ general practices, but as each day passed, it did have his nerves on end. The draenei was still in a state to be worried about. She hadn’t woken or responded to external stimuli with any measure of improvement. He would have worried about her becoming dehydrated or starting to starve too, but the sporelings’ own designated healers had or made (he wasn’t sure which) special spores that dissolved on the tongue and replenished what the body needed. He’d been allowed to try some himself and they’d left a refreshing, uplifting zing behind. Yet still he worried. 

The longer she was unconscious the more dangerous it was. It was quite likely she had or was going to suffer some brain damage, even while he tried every salve and remedy combination he could think of with what he had on hand. Still, he hoped for the best, even as he was asked to be elsewhere. 

The sporeling preserver he had asked to watch over her took the request seriously while he was away from the hut, making sure to keep her comfortable. They also promised to notify the elders to pass along the message should she wake. It made him feel marginally better even if he could not stop worrying.

On the fourth day of being with the squad, they had a scouting mission and needed to leave the village. Ze'sar was even more nervous than he had been, not just for the draenei, but for his and the squad’s own safety since he was an injured and wanted party, but they had outfitted him with a simple staff at least to help him along. The elders were also confident that the nature of their mission would allow them enough cover to be safer still. It was, after all, a mission in which they did not intend to engage what they were scouting.

There had been rumors of bog lords and other fungal giants moving further into the marsh and, naturally, the sporelings would need to know if that was the case. It was the injured preserver’s squad’s turn to investigate the rumor, and so they did.

Upon arriving at the rumored area, it seemed, unfortunately, to be true.

Ze'sar and the others ducked behind a mushroom stalk and attempted to count just how many once they confirmed their sightings.

“I be seein’ t’ree, mon,” Ze'sar said quietly. On the other side he heard, “There’s four over here.”

“Seven den…”

The other two made an affirmative noise, clutching their spears tight.

“We best be makin’ our way back.. If we stay here dey gonna be spottin’ us fa sure.”

The same two nodded in agreement, but as they turned to their fourth, they screeched and fell backwards.

“Too late!”

One of the huge lumbering creatures barreled its way headfirst into the mushroom stalk they were hiding behind and shook it down to its roots. It was disoriented for a moment and Ze'sar took the initiative to pull the sporelings that had fallen back to their feet.

“Run!”

They followed the order immediately, heading back to the village. Ze'sar was going to try and follow, but turned towards the bog monster just as it recovered, it’s loud protest catching his attention. He got a faceful of mush breath for his efforts, even being several feet from the creature.

Ze'sar had heard of the bog lords and fungal giants, but he’d rarely seen them, and he’d never seen one so close. It was BIG. And loud. And scary.

Ze'sar felt his muscles lock as he gripped his staff. It felt more like a twig at the moment than anything, and suddenly he was wishing for his Loa’s support. He’d never felt more helpless.

One of the sporelings shouted back at him, but there was nothing they or he could do.

The bog lord lifted its massive arm, ready to take a swipe at him, and Ze'sar instinctively did the same, holding his staff high. Not knowing what else to do, he called forth a prayer for help, pouring his anxiety into it, pleading and reaching for all the was worth not to be crushed there on the marsh by a monster devoid of any thought of mercy. 

Something answered back. 

Loud, unfamiliar words echoed in Ze’sar’s mind as warmth filled his chest and traveled up his raised arm, spreading a golden glow as it did so. When the glow reached his hand, the beautiful light shot from his hand into his staff. The bog lord’s arm came down to touch it and the light burst from it, creating a bubble that surrounded Ze'sar. 

The bog lord recoiled as if it’s blow had stung, but came forward to try again with its opposite arm. The same happened again and again, and it squealed horribly.

The foreign words were flowing rapidly through Ze'sar's mind and he kept his concentration on the new sequence. He did not, could not pay attention to the bog lord until finally it seemed to have enough. It recoiled one final time before turning to run back the way it came and Ze'sar finally let the prayer fade from his mind. He stumbled slightly as the light faded, unused to the energy output, but quickly caught himself. The bog lords and others in their desperation weren’t likely to retreat for long.

Ze'sar turned and stumbled to the stopped members of the squad, rejoining them and nudging them into movement even as their mouths hung open in surprise. He was surprised too, having never heard a voice like that, but they needed to get back.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

“You should have seen it, elder!”

“He made a shield of light!!”

“Yes! It was amazing!”

“Beautiful!”

“The bog lord did not stand a chance. It kept wailing away, but Ze'sar just stood there like it was not even touching him!”

Ze'sar was gingerly rubbing his head as they rushed back into the village and met with Msshi'fn. The rest of his squad had been so excited at his accidental discovery of another place he could reach for assistance that they were practically forgetting the very real danger they had been in. Ze'sar and the elder weren’t able to get a word in edgewise par their excitement. 

Ze'sar wouldn’t have minded so much, but it had taken a lot out of him, and he had a splitting headache that didn’t feel entirely right. It was like there was an unused part of his brain that had been woken up, and it very much didn’t want to be awake.

“We’ve never seen anything like it!”

Msshi'fn was trying to calm them, they really were.

“And it was his first time too!! You should have seen it- wait, Ze'sar? Ze'sar! Can you show them?”

A little exasperated, Ze'sar shook his head, but jumped at the opportunity to speak.

“Dere be seven dat we seen, elder. Rumor’s true. One o’ dem be comin’ at us. I not be movin’ in time, but aye I.. I be makin’ a shield. Not bein’ sure if I can be doin’ it again dough.”

“Thank you for getting your squad out of harm’s way, and well done-”

“Yeah! Congratulations!”

“Ze'sar, you are amazing!”

The elder huffed in annoyance in being interrupted. Thankfully it seemed to be enough to quell the rest of the sporelings at least temporarily. They then turned back to Ze'sar and offered a pleased smile.

“We are happy you have returned with the information. It is crucial, but before you return to your duties, I do wish to inform you the draenei has awoken and you may see to her.”

Ze'sar started upon hearing the news. His heart still hadn’t recovered from their mission and nearly hammered out of his chest.

“She.. She be awake?!”

Msshi'fn nodded, gesturing to his allotted hut. “Go, Ze'sar.”

Not needing to be told twice, Ze'sar nodded graciously and slid his way around his squad. He dashed over to the hut and made sure to duck before stepping inside.

The draenei’s eyes were open and she did indeed seem to be awake. The guard was holding her head in their lap between their hands and was studying her face curiously. Ze'sar moved to kneel next to the draenei and peered at her the same, being mindful of the splints still in place on her arm and leg.

“How she doin’?” he asked softly. 

The preserver lifted their head to look at him with concern.

“She is definitely awake, but I am not certain she knows where she is.. I am not certain she knows anything, actually”

Ze'sar could see now that he was near that her eyes were glazed and her vision unfocused. She blinked, but nothing seemed to catch her eye after she did so.

“Let me be seein’, mon,” he said to the preserver, reaching to replace their hands with his good one. They moved easily out of his way, but stayed close to watch. Ze'sar peered more closely at her, but even his proximity did not cause her eyes to focus. “Hmm.. dat’s not a good sign.. But at least she be awake… We can be helpin’ her more dis way.”

“What can we do?”

“We can be talkin’ ta her and be makin’ sure she be eatin’. I be havin’ some  recipes dat might help if she can chew dem.”

Ze'sar gently settled the draenei’s head back on her pillow and looked to the preserver.

“Tank ya fa lettin’ de elder know. It be good she be openin’ her eyes, but she not bein’ outta da woods yet..”

The guard nodded.

“Ze'sar!”

Ze'sar turned his head to the voice outside of his hut. He was needed.

“Keep her awake will ya, mon? Ta de best of ya ability?”

They nodded again and placed their hand on her shoulder. “I will do my best.”

“And I be back as soon as I can be.”

Ze'sar offered them a grateful smile before he carefully stepped back outside.

“Yea?”

“We need to notify the other squads. We will need to start setting up more defenses in case the bog lords or fungal giants make it this far into the marsh.”

“Aye. I’m wit ya, mon. Lead da way”

The sporeling nodded, taking stride to the edge of the village where most of the preservers were waiting.

“We will expect them from the east most likely,” one was saying. “We will have to take stronger shifts on that side of the village. “

All nodded and agreed in unison, Ze'sar included. The fungal giants were smart, but they were also having troubles of their own. There was quite a bit of distance between where they had sighted the newest bunch, but that didn’t mean much if they weren’t able to find food in any place from there to the village.

“There will need to be shifts going out to check their movement as well. If any possible sighting or change is had, report it immediately.”

Ze'sar rubbed his head. He knew he needed to hear the plans so he could lend his hand in whatever way he could, but the throbbing in his head was getting worse. He wanted to comment an idea or two, but he was starting to have trouble focusing as well. It was like a delayed response to the stress he had gone through or something.

He tried to shake it off. Hearing new words and learning new prayers for Loa was always a bit wracking. He wasn’t sure who had responded to his plight as they hadn’t said their name, but it should have been the same as before.

Another throb pulsed through his head and forced Ze'sar to close his eyes against the pain. He pushed the heel of his palm into his forehead and took a deep breath, trying to make it stop. Another throb pulsed through his head, sooner than he expected and Ze'sar felt himself sway. He tried to turn away from the sporelings, to make sure he wasn’t going to interrupt, but he tripped. He hit the ground with a pained thud which only made the throbbing worse. He heard protests and some shouting, but it didn’t make any sense through the sudden ringing in his ears.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar found himself floating in a space unfamiliar to him. It was dark, but not oppressive. It felt almost like a dream, but something told him that the idea wasn’t entirely correct. He’d had visions before, granted to him by his Loa, Lukou, but it wasn’t quite like that either.

 Uncertain of where he was or what he was doing there, Ze'sar called out into the darkness.

“Yo?”

A sudden blinding light filled the space all around him and Ze'sar had to shield his eyes with his good arm. It was so bright it also made his ears ring, strangely, but he was still wary of moving his injured arm to protect his ears from it.

“Agh, whatchya want, mon?” He called to whatever was causing the blinding light, hoping it would understand and stop.

The light didn’t subside, but Ze'sar felt it shift and dared to peek open his eyes. What he saw through the gap in his fingers stunned him into dropping his arm entirely, even as the light threatened to blind him. 

He couldn’t describe what it was, only that it looked nothing like anything he had ever seen before. It was large and beautiful and so bright no darkness remained any place around Ze'sar’s form. He had no idea what to say or do, so just floated there in awe. It spoke to him in turn, surprising him and making him duck.

“You are Ze'sar’Fon of the darkspear tribe?”

Still startled and surprised, Ze'sar nodded dumbly. “Aye.. dat.. dat I be.”

“I am A’dal, a naaru. Do not be afraid, child.”

Ze'sar felt his anxiety flare in opposition to the Naaru’s words, but tried his best to stamp it down.

“Ah… What.. Eh, why ya be callin’ on me?”

He’d wanted to ask what the heck a ‘nah-roo’ was, but thought better of it. He didn’t feel being rude was generally a good idea when he was apparently at the creature’s mercy.

The being made a soft sound as it floated there and Ze'sar was suddenly accosted by more information than he could comprehend. It flashed through his mind in rapid sequence, flaring his anxiety while at the same time quelling it.

He saw some familiar things- his time in the marsh, several of the sporelings he’d helped, the creatures he avoided- and he saw some things he did not understand- flashes of darkness broken by the light and several creatures that appeared to be ‘nah-roo’ emerging from that light.

One thing in particular from the overwhelming flashes that stuck was his own memories of the draenei woman, but seen from an angle way past his own range of comprehension. She looked different than he saw her, but the same. She was bathed in the same light that seemed to be exuded from the naaru in front of him, but also from many directions. It followed her and lit her path in one. There was something next to her in those memories that were and weren’t his, however. A dark glow that flicked it’s energy at that light. It moved in similar ways, but seemed to be trying to crowd it out instead of being a beacon. The two went separate ways only to come close again and again until the darkness suddenly disappeared and Ze'sar saw himself standing next to the draenei and her light.

Ze'sar shook his head, trying to clear it. It still hurt quite a bit, possibly worse from the volume at which the naaru- this A’dal- spoke and communicated. He didn’t quite understand, but felt that something should have become clear with those images.

“You, who walked your own path using the light, but was shrouded in darkness… You did what any true follower of the light would do, and thus the darkness abandoned you.”

“Me Loa,” Ze'sar said aloud, uncertain of why he did so. The only thing he could think of was the knowledge that his loa had abandoned him- likely for angering her by using her blessing to heal an enemy. As his loa was usually kind and happy to provide her blessing when any were in need of aid, there was probably more to it… like the champion and his camp(s) sending words of betrayal and hurt to her, imploring Ze'sar was not worthy of her blessing.. But he wasn’t certain what it all meant- of what A’dal was trying to tell him. The Loa weren’t dark creatures.. Were they? Many did lie within the shadow realm, but a few also resided within the emerald dream- a green and benevolent place for all.

Something struck Ze'sar, and he looked to the naaru in surprise.

“Wait… You be da one who be answerin’ me prayer?”

“Indeed. You called for the aid of the light.”

“I.. I be a priest, mon.. or I used ta be.. It.. It be all I know..”

“You are the embodiment of a priest. Your skill and practice has been used to heal and aid all who had need of it. You have never strayed or felt curiosity in the darkness that lay in wait at the fringes beyond it- as so many of your kind do.”

Ze'sar blinked, staring at the naaru, still uncertain of what everything was or what was going on. He didn’t understand one bit of it.

“You will come to understand in time.. For now I have come to tell you I have granted you my blessing so that you may continue to walk in the path of the light. Use your skills to heal the daughter of the Eredar. Heal her and come to me- take the time you need, but do not leave her side. Your destiny will be revealed to you both along your journey.”

Ze'sar could feel the vision- or whatever the experience was- fading and reached out to try and hang onto it for a moment more.

“Wait! Where do I find ya, mon? Where do I go?”

“You will find me and the Sha’tar in Shattrath city… May you always walk in the path of the light.”

Ze'sar tried his hardest to keep it from slipping, but as the last word of A’dal faded, he felt himself start to fall back into himself, one question still remaining on his tongue; Who and what was the daughter of the Eredar?

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar woke slower than he wanted to. His head was still pounding and made it difficult. Fuzzy images were still plastered behind his eyelids, alongside so many questions. Still, he tried his hardest to shove them aside, recalling what he had been doing when he’d fallen.

Ze'sar reached out, but did not feel the damp of the marsh under his fingertips. Startled, he forced his eyes open to discover he was in his hut- or rather the hut lent to him by the sporelings. The draenei was there next to him and he’d almost bumped her with his long reach.

 Retracting his hand, Ze'sar attempted to push himself up only to stop and stare at his hand. It was the one he had wrapped to help heal his dislocation. The wrap was still there, but there was no pain in his wrist, and, now that he was paying attention, there was no pain in his shoulder either- which he had inadvertently slipped out of his sling.

Ze'sar forced himself up until he was kneeling. He quickly undid the bandage on his wrist and hand to discover no bruise as he expected- the wound being less than a week old last he recalled. He flexed his fingers and bent his wrist testingly. Still there was no pain. Ze'sar still shook it out absentmindedly before removing the sling he wore as well. There was no pain in his shoulder from the movement either. It was as if his regeneration abilities had returned overnight.

“Ze'sar!”

Startled, Ze'sar turned his attention to the entrance of the hut. The sporeling defender was there, open mouthed and looked to have dropped their bundle of mushrooms at their feet. 

Ze'sar waved gingerly, unsure of what to say. The preserver lifted their arm and pointed at him, stumbling over their words.

“You- you are awake!”

“Erm.. Ya? Is everyt’ing okay, mon?”

The sporeling shook their head, getting ahold of themselves. “We.. we thought you had passed. You hadn’t moved in two days!”

Ze'sar’s worry instantly skyrocketed. “Two days , mon? It bein’ a whole day and more?!”

They nodded. “Yes… You.. I heard you fell and no one could rouse you. They brought you here-”

Ze'sar ignored the rest of what they had to say and moved over to the draenei. She looked to be unconscious again. The name Eredar struck him and Ze'sar realized that it was likely the Naaru had been referring to her- this draenei in front of him. Ze'sar gently took her head between his hands.

“Is she bein’ out dis whole time too, mon?”

The preserver jumped and rushed over to the draenei’s opposite side. “N-no! I kept her awake as long as I could, like you asked… but she fell asleep eventually and I couldn’t rouse her for several hours. It’s been like that since you fell. She’ll wake, stay that way, and then fall asleep and not wake again for some time.”

“When she bein’ awake last? Do ya remember?”

“Yes- it was approximately an hour ago. I swear if the pattern had not been consistent I would not have left her or your side… But being we thought you dead we had to-”

Ze'sar looked squarely at the sporeling, startling them.

“W-well, you’re not dead now! Preparations were unnecessary! Is- is there anything I can do to help now that-”

Ze'sar nodded. “I be needin’ some ingredients for a special brew. It be ta help de draenei.”

The preserver nodded back. “What do you need?”

Ze'sar listed off the ingredients he knew, as well as a few alternatives that would work in their place- being some of the main ingredients were mostly found on Azeroth. The preserver made a list of sorts on one of their mushrooms and fled from the hut directly after with a cheerful “We will gather all we can!”

Ze'sar gave a sigh of relief. He had wanted to make it much before he had ‘fallen’ but he wouldn’t risk it without having his healing abilities. Troll’s Blood brews were potent things, and being he didn’t know how a draenei would react to one, he would rather be safe than sorry. If the reaction was bad, he’d need to get it out of her system quickly, or heal any damage it caused if he couldn’t do that.

The naaru had said he had his blessing.. Said he could heal again.. So it would be a risk worth taking. Ze'sar still squared his shoulders and closed his eyes to test the promise.

With the draenei’s head still between his palms, he called out- attempting to reach the light he needed. To his surprise, it was much closer than he’d ever felt it before and came to him easier than he’d expected. It felt different than his loa’s had, but in a positive way. He felt uplifted himself as he channeled it instead of only feeling it pass through him to his target. Its glow lit the room and Ze'sar felt a large form of relief until something unexpectedly gripped his wrist.

Ze'sar opened his eyes, still holding onto the light so it wouldn’t stop flowing, to discover it was the draenei’s hand. Her other arm was trapped by the splint and sling he had fashioned to protect her broken bone, but if it hadn’t been he was sure she would have grabbed his other wirst as well. Her eyes were closed, but her expression was pinched and pained.

Ze’sar softened the intensity of the light he was channeling into her head and her pain lessened, but she was still fighting it. Her less injured leg bent and scraped her hoof across the floor as her back arched.

With the light so easy to access and control, Ze'sar chanced talking to her through his concentration.

“It be alright, little draenei..”

She stopped moving for a moment and Ze'sar took that as a sign she had heard him.

“You be safe. We be tryin’ ta help ya.”

She still squirmed a bit, but much less than she had been.

“I know it be hurtin’,” he continued, soothingly, “but it bein’ necessary. It be stoppin’ soon too. Just be holdin’ on a bit longer..”

Ze'sar kept up the flow of light until finally he saw the flutter of her eyelids. He then gently eased it until it stopped. It took a few tries, but finally she managed to open her eyes and Ze'sar was relieved to see them start to focus on her surroundings. She was struggling to keep them open, but she had much more coherence than she’d had since she’d been injured.

“Wh.. Whe-ere..?”

Ze'sar hushed her just as he heard a sporeling step into the hut behind him.

“Ya be safe,” he said. “It be alright ta rest now. Ya gonna be alright, mon..”

She blinked tiredly, struggling to process what she could of her situation. “But.. I-”

Ze'sar hushed her again, but thought about something that might help ease her mind.

“My name be Ze'sar, Ze'sar’Fon.. Can I be havin’ yours?”

Her hand squeezed his wrist even as her eyes shut of their own accord. “Vilri,” she said quietly. It was little more than a whisper, but Ze'sar heard it. “My name.. Is Vilri..”

Ze'sar smiled though he knew she couldn’t see it.

“Vilri it be.. Rest now, yea? You be safe, Vilri.”

Her name used unfamiliar syllables- or perhaps just sounded that way thanks to her accent, but she still smiled softly and relaxed. Ze'sar knew she would fall back asleep soon, but this time there would be less danger to her for it. Now she could heal properly, and Ze'sar hoped he would be able to start the brew to help her even further after she woke up.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar gently set the draenei’s head back on her pillow and her hand slipped from his wrist. He gently moved it to rest on her abdomen before turning to the sporeling behind him. It was Msshi'fn.

“Elda, mon,” he said quietly, inclining his head.

Msshi'fn inclined their head in return. “Ze'sar, it is good to see you awake and functioning. It would appear you have regained your missing magics?”

Ze'sar nodded, flexing his fingers and wrist. “More or less. It be different now.”

“But no less effective.

You have our preserver out on a mission to collect ingredients?”

It struck Ze'sar that he probably should have consulted the elders first, but he nodded.

“Any dey can be findin’ before I be lookin’-”

Msshi'fn shook their head. “No, we will find them for you,” they said kindly. “We had thought you dead and were making preparations to return your body to the marsh.”

Ze'sar made a face. He wasn’t sure if he was grateful or unnerved by that. He understood they had limited resources and were unfamiliar with outsiders and their needs, but that could have been very bad for both him and the draenei- and possibly for the sporelings too if they were going to venture into the marsh to ‘return’ him. Especially with new groups of fungal giants wandering around.

Msshi'fn chuckled softly. “It is the least we can do for our mistakes. We have a cenarion expedition contact and she is willing to help us procure the items specified without being told of whom they are intended.”

Ze'sar was surprised. “Wow, uh.. Tank ya, mon.”

“No thanks needed. We should be in possession of the items within a day. I hear there is an abundance of trade for the marsh for the moment. Something about a threat being removed allowing for easier travel.”

Once again stunned and surprised, Ze'sar inclined his head. A day was much sooner than he had hoped to have his hands on the ingredients. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to think of what to say.

“Erm.. well, if dey- you be gettin’ all de ingredients, I may be havin’ enough ta make ya some too- ta help wit any bad injuries. I can be givin’ ya de recipe for it too.”

“That would be most generous of you,” Msshi'fn replied, “but as I stated, there is no thanks needed. We are happy to make up for our mistakes.”

Ze'sar chuckled quietly. It seemed they had reached an impasse, but a pleasant one. Always eager to help one another.

“Is there anything else you need at the moment, Ze'sar?” the elder asked kindly.

Ze'sar went to shake his head, but paused to think about it for a moment.

“Well, I be thinkin’ it be a good idea ta keep an eye on de... on Vilri while she be sleepin’ still.. Just in case.. until we be given’ her de brew I be makin’ ta help speed de healin’.”

It felt a little odd to know the name of the draenei now- especially being he had never known the name of one before and had never expected to. All in all though, it was nice to finally know the name of the draenei he kept running into time and time again. The word destiny struck him, but Ze'sar shook it from his head. Whatever that was could wait.

“Certainly. We will be happy to keep watch on her while you are.. You have need to be elsewhere?”

“Well, for da moment at least,” Ze'sar said. “I be needin’ ta change and get dese bandages off.. I be healed now too.”

“Oh! How fascinating. Your healing is tied to your ability to heal others?”

“Erm.. sometin’ like dat.”

Laughing quietly, Msshi'fn smiled before asking, “are there other places you are needing to be as well after you are in order?”

Ze'sar tilted his head, slightly confused. “Em… Don’tcha be needin’ me help still? I did promise ya ta help where I could.”

Msshi'fn laughed again, holding up their hand in a placating manner and shaking their head. “You have done more than enough, Ze'sar. We are grateful for all your efforts, but you are needed elsewhere.”

Their words were soft, but they surprised and worried Ze'sar greatly. He had made a promise and he did not want to intrude now, even if they felt they owed him for a simple misunderstanding.

“But-”

“Ze'sar.. You have helped us greatly, have offered to continue doing so, and we suspect you always shall at every opportunity in the future, but you have done enough. More than enough. You are welcome here, even with your task at hand changing in nature.”

“Changin’ in nature?”

The elder nodded, gesturing to Vilri’s relaxed form. “She was beyond hope, we were told.”

Ze'sar sat back on his heels in surprise. “Told? Who be tellin’ ya dat?”

Msshi'fn shook their head with a sigh. “While you were.. Unconscious, a traveler happened by and we asked for their help.”

Ze'sar felt his face pinch again, but tried to smooth it out. It was fair they would bring someone to see to their two injured outsiders, even if Ze'sar was a little uncomfortable being looked over by a stranger.

“They were trained in healing they said, but once they saw the state you and our champion- miss Vilri- were in, they also said there was nothing they, nor anyone could do for you. You had lost your color and they seemed wary of approaching- giving us the idea you would soon be dead, if you were not already- our version of death being different save in the case of grievous injury. Miss Vilri- being in what they called a coma for a week or more.. Was a hopeless case.”

Ze'sar’s face pinched back up and he rubbed the spot between his eye ridges. “Dey not bein’ a very good healer den…”

Msshi'fn nodded. “They may be sufficient for minor wounds and the wounds of others of their race, but it has become clear they were incorrect. 

You, Ze'sar, have shown you have more skill, promise, and ability than any in the marsh we have ever encountered before. You have healed- perhaps come back from the brink of death itself- and have mended the mind and most dangerous of injuries of one outside of your own race- outside of your faction even. We are in awe of your abilities and we will not hold you from continuing your care.”

More than a little stunned, Ze'sar simply moved his hand and inclined his head once more. Msshi'fn understood and turned to exit the hut with a wave. Ze'sar saw a preserver outside of the hut already and smiled at the swiftness with which the sporelings communicated.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

With Vilri under careful watch, Ze'sar made his own way out to the village proper and was greeted by many a sporeling with awe in their expression. Many of them greeted him with enthusiastic phrases akin to “welcome back!’ and it left him feeling a little odd. He was glad to be able to return to his quiet little spot behind a mushroom stalk at the water’s edge.

He’d brought all his materials with him, including a few of his remaining bandages, just in case, but as he stripped it became apparent he wouldn’t need them. All of his wounds- even those deep and evidenced on the old bandages he had worn were healed. Nonexistent. The only one that left even a suggestion there had been any damage was his shoulder. A fine line marked where the wound had been- so fine it was impossible to see unless one was looking for it.

Still, he felt a good clean was in order. It was refreshing as well. Even better was his finding he was able to rebraid his hair with ease and felt much more himself for it.

Ze'sar sighed in relief once he felt sufficiently himself again and returned to the water’s edge to grab his neglected armor. He had time and mobility to be able to clean them, and so thought to do so. It was with regret that he tore the sleeves from his robe as their condition was too tattered to salvage with his skill level, but the rest he managed to restore without much hassle. He left them drying on a smaller mushroom as he returned once more to the village. 

The sporelings still seemed awed as he passed, and he guessed it was going to take some time for them to view him normally again, if they ever did.  It almost reminded him of when he had first arrived, save that their positions had reversed. He had been the one in awe of them and their home. He’d always thought Sporeggar lovely though, since his first sighting. It was more peaceful and quiet than many of the places he had visited in his lifetime, and the sporelings went about their business with a certain calm even in urgent situations. It had also been fascinating that what had been hard and inedible to him was a snack for them- the glowcaps being for more than just for trading. He’d been awed… Ze'sar eventually decided it was only fair for them to be awed by him- even if he was just existing as he did.

Upon returning to the hut, Ze'sar was careful to be quiet. He set his pouches and materials down gently before seating himself in his usual sleeping place. He did his best to rummage quietly for some of his foodstuffs as well, so as not to wake Vilri. 

It again felt odd to think of her with a name as he procured something for his all too empty stomach. She’d been a neutral party at best for so long, and now she was actually a person to him because of it. She’d been neutral even when he’d discussed her and her condition with Msshi'fn and Khn'nix. They’d simply referred to her as a champion of their cause- much like they had with Ze'sar’s champion- before she had said her name in Msshi'fn’s presence. But now there was no mistaking it. She was a person. Someone with a name and story and presence. 

Ze'sar wondered if that is how she had always seen him as well, or if before Msshi'fn had said his name, that’s how the sporelings had thought of him… merely a temporary presence, a neutral party at best. It was slightly unnerving in a way he had never considered before, but that’s how it had always been.. At least when he was with the horde. He’d always felt more like someone tolerated and ignored rather than someone with feelings and presence. Now.. now he definitely had a presence, purpose, voice, and more. He was important.

Ze'sar paused in chewing for a moment. Had her giving her name to him made her.. Important to him? 

Ze'sar shook his head. She had been important before that.

Ze'sar shook his head again, surprised by the random thought, but he couldn’t dispute it. He had remembered her clearly since they had first met. He had thought it was because he hadn’t flinched, but suddenly it seemed that wasn’t the case. Perhaps he hadn’t flinched because it was her holding that axe.

The word destiny accosted him again and Ze'sar scowled to himself. Not that it was the worst thing.. But he was slightly annoyed that he was being used. He felt he had a right to be annoyed. It was not that he was going to turn his back on it, but that to find he was shoved into a situation he very much didn’t want to be in was annoying. He wagered that most people finding out their density would be similarly annoyed. To find that things weren’t just chance when it came to a particular thing, and that they had to suffer for it, and then once it was done, only THEN was their life really theirs and their actions truly random or whatnot.

He’d always wanted to be useful/important as a priest. It was too bad he hadn’t specified just how he wanted to be useful. It was also annoying to think that his desire to be a priest in the first place was likely a plot put in place for this very task, and not truly his own desire.

Ze'sar finished chewing his bite and swallowed bitterly.

It made him wonder just how important Vilri was… just what destiny had in store for her. He was going to heal her, to bring her to A’dal, the naaru in Shattrath city, and then his part would be over. She would move on to whatever great thing the naaru or some other force in the cosmos had in mind for her. She would go on for however long they needed her to die somewhere else.. They had just decided they didn’t want it to be here.

A small bit of anxiety flared in Ze’sar’s gut. What actually happened to those who fulfilled their destiny? The sporelings had said they thought him dead… did that mean that after he delivered Vilri to the naaru he would actually die? Was he living with borrowed time?

Ze’sar forced his anxiety down. He also forced down his annoyance. He knew that if he thought about it, really hard, no matter if someone had intentionally made him that way or not, he wanted to be a priest- in whatever form it took. He wanted to be useful… and now, the newest addition, he wanted to help Vilri get better.. He wanted to see her safe. He enjoyed helping others, and even if they were on the opposite side, he wanted to. That’s all he ever wanted. If it was the last thing he was ever going to do, he was going to see Vilri the draenei healed and delivered safely... as he was destined to do.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar kept careful watch over Vilri as he waited to hear word of his supplies. He knew she would need to rest for a while, but her wounds also badly needed new dressings. He didn’t want to disturb her rest for what she had gone through though. 

It was a bit of a conundrum, and so all he could do was watch and wait. Or more listen and wait. She was deserving of as much privacy as could be afforded, after all, so he kept an ear out for any shift or change in her breathing that indicated her waking. He did want to have her aware of what was going on. Surprises weren’t often a good thing for those injured.

It was several hours later, after Ze'sar had gone through and taken stock of all he had on hand, that she started to wake again.

Ze'sar dropped what he was doing to move over to her side as she sighed and shifted. He waited patiently until she tried to move her injured side (to stretch presumably). Ze'sar placed a gentle hand on her sling.

“Ey, now,” he said softly, “Try not ta be movin’ too much..”

She tensed a little, but obeyed.

Glad she had heard him, Ze'sar turned to retrieve his medicinal supplies. As he did so, she managed to blink open her eyes. He turned back to see her attempting to rub the sleep from them with her less injured hand. He let her before he moved closer once again. She looked over as he moved and her eyes went wide. She tried to move, to sit up or to slide herself away, but winced as she aggravated her wounds. Ze'sar stopped and lifted his hands so she could see them and what he held.

“I not be meanin’ ya harm, Vilri,” he said softly. “I be wantin’ ta help.. Do ya remember me?”

She blinked, clearly surprised he knew her name. Ze’sar sighed softly, setting his supplies within reach, but not near her just yet.

“I be Ze’sar... I be tryin’ ta help ya after an accident wit a former champion.”

“Accident?”

Her voice was hoarse and weak from lack of use, but she looked skeptical enough Ze’sar sighed again. He didn’t want to make her more uncomfortable than simply changing the bandages was going to be on her. If he tried now she would likely hurt herself worse in her distrust of him by fighting.

Ze’sar sat back on his heels, settling comfortably so he could explain.

“Aye… It be my fault and I be mighty sorry for dat.”

“You mean the large creature that attacked me, yes?”

He nodded. It was good she remembered. “Aye. It was da mount of da champion from me camp.. Well, me former camp.

I be makin’ dem mad, see.. By accident. It be turnin’ out de champion bein’ dishonest wit da sporelin’s and be gettin’ trouble for it. Dey went back ta de camp ahead of me and dey be gettin’ all da camp ta believe I doin’ sometin’ wrong somewhere else. 

I left me camp and was comin’ here ta leave da marsh too- ta ask for de sporelin’s’ help. Da champion be followin’ me and ya got caught in da middle… I be sorry for dat.”

She looked at him skeptically. “Accident?”

Ze’sar simply nodded again. “Ya did manage ta save da sporelin’s from havin’ ta fight da beast.. So dey be lettin’ ya stay here.. Erm. well dey be keepin’ ya here so we could look after ya.. It was bein’ too dangerous ta try and bring ya somewhere else.”

“How did…” Vilri blinked, bringing her hand to her forehead. “What happened? Why do I feel so…” She trailed off, and Ze’sar reached out to feel her forehead. She stiffened, but did not protest. She was running a mild fever and Ze’sar cursed quietly, turning to find one of the anti inflammatory slaves he carried.

“When ya got da beast wit de killin’ blow, it be fallin’ on top o’ ya,” he explained as he poked through his jars to see which label they held. “When it did, ya head be hittin’ a rock. Ya been out off an’ on for about a week.”

“A week?!”

Vilri winced, grabbing her injured arm. “I have been here a week?!”

“Aye.”

Ze’sar found the appropriate jar only to turn and have a hoof in his chest. She’d managed to turn rather quickly though it appeared to cause her great pain. Ze’sar gently reached to remove it, but she pushed her leg harder and dug her hoof into his shirt.

“Why should I trust you?”

The question was sudden and jarring, and Ze’sar let her push him away. He then sighed, shaking his head.

“I don’t be knowin’... Ya don’t have ta, really.. If ya want I can ask de sporelin’s ta help ya instead, but dey will be needin’ my guidance ta get de bandages in da right place.”

Vilri looked down and only then seemed to notice she was missing her armor. She was not nude, as she had been wearing a shirt and shorts under it, but she still acted as if she was, given the state of them after her battle. Ze’sar did the polite thing and looked away to hopefully prevent her from moving too much and hurting herself in an attempt to be modest.

“I promise I not be meanin’ ya any harm,” he said placatingly, “And I was only able ta wake ya up tanks ta de naaru, A’dal, givin’ me his blessin’.. I just woke meself from bein’ in a two-day sleep from dat…”

He sighed softly, once again shaking his head, but still did not look back to her. “I woulda woken ya sooner if I could.. But leavin’ me camp de way I did wit all da rumors angered me Loa.. I lost me li-… me magic.. De naaru be givin’ it back, but it took a while I be guessin’.”

“You.. you have convened with A’dal?”

Still not looking, Ze’sar nodded. “Aye.. He be tellin’ me I need ta be helpin’ ya. I was tryin’ ta anyway, but it be gettin’ harder when me loa left. Maybe me loa’s magics wasn’t bein’ enough anyway… I be healin’ ya after ya hit ya head, but it not be workin’... Only after de naaru give me his blessin’ it be workin’ and you be wakin’ up…”

Ze’sar wasn’t sure why he had said the part about his loa’s magic not being enough out loud. He winced. It sounded like sacrilege even to his own ears. There was no accounting for how it would sound to an outsider. It was probably a good thing Lukou had abandoned him if he was going to say things like that.

“Alright, Ze’sar..”

She said his name hesitantly, as if testing how it sounded, but it got his attention.

“I will accept your.. Help.”

Ze’sar was relieved enough he almost smiled. He caught himself, however, and simply gave a nod of his head.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze’sar gingerly looked back at Vilri. She looked to have relaxed some, if still uncomfortable. Her cheeks were a shade of deep blue and Ze'sar worried she had aggravated her fever in moving. He swiftly moved over to her, jar of salve still in hand and opened it. It had a strong smell akin to mint and they both wrinkled their nose at it. Ze'sar, however, did not hesitate in dipping his finger in the jar before swiping a large stripe across her forehead.

She seemed surprised as he did so, but Ze’sar just as swiftly closed the jar, set it down, and reached for his other materials.

“So.. you are healer?” After their small bit of silence, her words were loud.

Ze’sar nodded, trying to remember just what he had wanted to grab next. Finding it he replied with, “Aye.”

Not satisfied with that, Vilri declined to let him look at her shoulder bandage as he turned back to her by shifting away from his reach. It would have been an impressive move had Ze'sar not been worried about her movement aggravating her injuries further.

“What kind of healer? What do you know? Who have you… helped before?”

Ze’sar looked at her patiently. Her cheeks were still blue which was worrisome especially with his salve applied, but he wasn’t going to force anything.

“I be helpin’ all manner of folk,” he said just as patiently. “Lots'a tauren.. Orcs, trolls, elves.. some forsaken too, dough de forsaken be unresponsive ta me former loa’s blessin’.”

“So you heal through more than just the light?”

Ze’sar nodded, unsure of what she was getting at or what she wanted from his answers.

“Always have. Dat salve I be learnin’ from a herbalist long tima go.” He pointed to her forehead to emphasise his point. “I be knowin’ lots of different ways ta be helpin dose who need my help… Dough I not be sure why de salve not be workin’ now…”

Ze’sar reached out to her gently, testing to see if she would move again. She didn’t and he reached further to feel the side of her temple. To his surprise her head had cooled as it was supposed to under the salve. For a moment he was dumbfounded as to why her cheeks had risen in color and temperature, but when he realized the likely cause he retracted his hand and cleared his throat.

“Oh, it actually.. It actually be workin’ fine. I apologize for da false alarm.”

She was embarrassed. That explained the questions and her unwillingness to let him close. Ze’sar wracked his brain for a way to try and make her feel better under his care. He found one and tried his hardest to sound professional.

“I be seein’ all manner of tings. All manner of bodies an’ wounds and tings dat need help. Injuries in places people don’t like ta be talkin’ about, but dose people are walkin’ around alright now, no worse for wear.”

She still seemed reluctant, so Ze’sar tried, “I just be wantin’ ta help, mon… I not be makin’ it weird if I can be helpin’ it, okidokie?”

Ze’sar didn’t move while she thought about it. He could see her calculating his words and let her take her time. If he could gain her trust, it would be easier on both of them for the duration they were stuck along the same path.

Eventually she nodded, and Ze’sar let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. He was a little lightheaded for it, but shook it off.

“Okay.. I be needin’ ta have a look at ya bandages, and I likely need ta be changin’ dem if dey too deep, alright?”

“Okay.”

She said it quietly, but Ze’sar nodded all the same and set to work. He set the new bandages down at her side before moving closer to gently pull at the fabric wrapped around her shoulder. Vilri winced and Ze’sar gritted his teeth. “Sorry, dis might sting a bit, but If I be hurtin’ ya more den dat, be lettin’ me know, ok?”

She nodded once and leaned her head away from her injured shoulder to give him more room.

Ze’sar carefully peeled the fabric away a bit at a time to see how much it had been soaked. Thankfully when he had wrapped the wound initially, he had done it extremely well. It was clear that nothing had gotten in between or under the bandages. The problem with that, however, was that it had stuck in the wound as it tried to heal. Ze’sar winced at the same time she did when he pulled another bit away and realized he was going to have a hard time with the rest of her wounds as well, even the shallow ones that would be easy to heal with the blessing of the light once they were free. The solution to that was water- preferably sterile.. Just a bit to ease it away from her skin. Unfortunately the Sporeling huts weren’t built to house creatures that might need to bathe and that posed yet another problem.

“I might be needin’ ta take ya to de water’s edge,” he said softly, feeling terrible for saying it. She was embarrassed enough as it was.

Vilri turned her head to look at him with an expression that said exactly what he was thinking on the subject.

Ze’sar tried to pull more of the bandage free, but Vilri winced and her shoulder twitched. Ze’sar grimaced, unsure of what he could do in place of moving her- picking her up and setting her down- twice. He could ask for some water to be brought in, but they didn’t have much if anything to soak up the excess- and if it spilled that would be another issue.

Ze’sar paused in trying to remove the bandage and moved back so he could look at Vilri properly.

“Okay.. So here’s what we can be doin.. It’s gonna be tricky eit’er way we do dis, but we can take ya out by de water and quickly give da bandages a dunk after I get most of dem off so I can peel da last bits off, or we can be bringin’ some water in here and both bein’ careful ta not spill or get it anywhere we don’ be wantin’ it. It be a little slower, but ya be keepin’ more’a ya privacy.”

Blinking as she thought, Vilri gave him a worried look. “But what about the splints?”

Ze’sar nodded. “Dose da tricky bits, mostly. But If we be doin da dunk I can be replacin’ dem with a better wrap after healin’ da breaks a bit too. If we stayin’ here dey can wait for a while.”

“What about infections?”

He nodded again, already having thought of that.

“I can’t be cleansin’ da whole marsh, but I can be cleansin’ de water brought in or ya wounds after.”

“Oh, right. What is other ‘tricky bits’?”

Ze’sar did his best to retain his professionalism as he said, “Clot’ing,” but he knew it was going to make her cheeks blue either way.

Either way he was going to need to remove at least her shirt to properly get at the worst of her wounds.The one on her shoulder extended down her back itself, and it wasn’t the worst one. Her shorts were only a hindrance to a few scrapes and so she could keep those on if they stayed in the hut- as long as Ze'sar was really careful.

Ze'sar had plenty of patience. He was worried about her wounds, but knew that her comfort was more important than being swift at the moment. He would be happy to take the time to be extra careful with a bowl of water- it just depended on her strength and her own level of patience.

“I.. would prefer the swifter method,” she said after a moment.

Ze’sar nodded. Swift it was.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar stepped out momentarily to ask a few favors of the preserver outside the hut. They happily agreed to help and took off to do just as he asked.

Trusting the sporelings to deliver as they always did, he stepped back inside and rummaged through his pouches until he found one of his softest shirts. He pulled it out and set it aside next to his bandages and salves.

“What is that for?”

“You,” Ze’sar said without skipping a beat. “It gonna be a bit until we be gettin’ ya back in ya armor, and I be preferrin’ you have sometin’ clean ta wear while ya rest.”

The shirt was going to be quite large on her- being as wide and long as his torso was, but that was ideal. It would afford her some privacy.

Ze’sar could see Vilri blushing and slightly curling in on herself out of the corner of his eye, but let her be. He kept himself occupied by making sure everything was in order for when they returned, including having some cloth set out to set her down on to wick any remaining water away.

A knock to the entrance of the hut sounded, and Ze’sar immediately moved to see the preserver had returned, but was respecting his request that they not enter at the moment for Vilri’s comfort.

“Yea?”

“It is clear as you requested.”

“Tank ya. I be letting ya know as soon as we be back.”

The preserver nodded, going off to their next post. Ze'sar let himself smile at that and turned towards Vilri.

“Okiedoki. We be in da clear.”

Vilri looked at him curiously. “What was that about?”

Ze’sar went to his designated sleeping spot as he answered. “I be askin’ da sporelin’s ta keep a lookout facin’ away. Dey will be able ta hear if we be needin’ help, but dey respectin’ ya privacy.”

Ze’sar pulled his shirt up and over his head before setting it down near the wall where it was likely to stay dry.

Vilri sounded as if she was going to start thanking him only to let out a an odd noise. Ze’sar turned towards her with worry one of her wounds had opened up or she had hurt herself. She had her head turned away and had her hand over her eyes and Ze’sar then worried he’d missed something in healing her.

“What be wrong?” he asked, starting to move over.

“What- what are you doing?” She asked softly and Ze’sar stopped. It took him a moment before he looked down to his bare chest.

“Em.. wet clothes generally be a bad idea?”

“Oh.”

She didn’t move her hand from her eyes but Ze’sar just shrugged, turning back to remove his pants. He was wearing shorts under them so he wasn’t nude, but he still heard Vilri squeak as she presumably looked up again. Ze’sar gave it a moment before he went to his pouches and fished for an extra hair band. He then moved over to her and offered it. She peeked through her fingers before she dropped her hand, her face quite blue and expression pinched.

“What is that for?”

“For ya hair if ya like,” he said kindly. “I can be tyin’ it up for ya if ya prefer ta keep it dry.”

Her hair was quite long and Ze'sar had initially been surprised she hadn’t gotten it caught during the fight, being she didn’t have it tied back. 

Vilri nodded, leaning forwards as much as she could so he could tie it for her. He was very careful, but still managed to accidentally grab one of the tendrils that protruded from behind her ear. Uncertain as to what purpose they served, he asked, “do ya need me ta tie dese up too, or..” before going to separate them from her hair.

She reached up to gently pull it from the hair he held and moved the rest of her tendrils out of the way for him. “No, they.. they stay down.”

Ze’sar nodded. He still didn’t understand draenei anatomy and so had no idea what purpose there was for many of their features, but he was still doing his best to learn and be cautious. He tied her hair up carefully into a bun, making sure to get it out of her face as well before going back around to kneel in front of her.

“Okay,” he said, making sure she was paying attention. “We be needin’ ta get ya outta dat so I can take away as much of de bandages as I can.” He gestured to her shirt and Vilri’s lips pursed into a fine line. She nodded, however, instead of protesting.

Ze’sar reached out to take the hem of the fabric in both hands and waited for her nod to go forward. When she gave it, he pulled his hands apart and tore the fabric in a straight line. Vilri jumped, presumably having expected him to try and lift it over her head instead.

“Sorry, mon,” he said gently. “It be less painful for ya dis way and notin’ is gonna be gettin caught.”

She wouldn’t look at him, but Vilri nodded again.

“I promise ta replace ya shirt if I can, and ya shorts..”

She looked to him then, startled. Ze’sar looked back, giving her a look that was both an apology and an uncompromising one.

“Wet clothes bein’ a bad idea,” he said. 

With a sigh she nodded again and Ze'sar set to work removing the remnants of her shirt from her torso. His strength allowed him to tear the sleeves and collar with ease without aggravating her break and her wounds. With that out of the way, he gently grabbed the leg of her shorts. He waited for her final nod before he tore those as well, stripping her bare. She attempted to shield herself how she could, especially from the chill, but Ze’sar moved quickly to the bandages. He stripped them as quickly as he could without hurting her, tearing them when he got down to the bits imbedded in the wound. It didn’t take him too long and Ze'sar then gave her a small warning before slipping one arm under her knees and the other around her lower back on her good side. She had some broken ribs to be wary of higher up.

“Ya ready?”

Vilri brought her arm up to settle on his shoulder, despite still being a little embarrassed. She looked surprised for some reason as her hand settled, but offered no explanation. She pursed her lips, some of the color draining from her face before nodding once.

Ze’sar gingerly stood, being careful not to move too fast, until he was upright enough to have her hooves off the floor, but still be able to get out the door. Vilri winced, but nodded as he looked to her, signifying she was okay. He then moved carefully out of the hut, watching the edges of the entrance and slowly moving down the stairs. He looked to her again and she looked to be alright. She was a bit pained, as was expected, but managing.

As soon as they were on the damp marsh floor, Ze’sar carefully stood to his full height, letting her good side rest against his torso to offer her more support. She accepted it gladly, but suddenly gripped his shoulder tightly.

“How- how tall are you?”

Ze’sar looked down as he moved, not used to being asked that question. Vilri was slightly startled, but also looked genuinely curious. “Em… depends on which scale ya be wantin'…”

“Common, if possible.”

“About eight an’a half feet.”

“Wow, “ she said softly, “in that tiny hut I would never have guessed.”

Ze’sar chuckled softly, then apologized for jostling her. 

“Me posture be a bit stooped.”

She nodded with a tiny laugh of her own before they arrived at Ze’sar’s usual spot behind the large mushroom stalks. Ze’sar gave her a nod before nodding to the water.

“It be a bit of a chill, but it be quick, okay?”

She looked to the water before looking back up and nodding.

“I think I can handle it.”

“If not, ya be lettin me know, alright?”

She nodded again before Ze’sar stepped forward and felt the water hit his ankle. He kept going until the water was at about his thighs before he paused again. Vilri looked up to him in curiosity as he stopped.

“I gonna be bendin' down so I can be keepin’ ya supported.”

Understanding, she braced herself for the cold as he slowly bent his knees. The water touched her hooves first, but there was no reaction. When it hit her backside, however, she tensed. Ze’sar paused for a second before lowering her further- trying to avoid shocking her body too much. Vilri shivered, but did not protest as he managed to squat fully and settled the lower half of her weight across his knees under the water.

Once she was fairly comfortable, he set to work right away plucking at the bandages still stuck to her. They came away much easier than before. Vilri held onto the bits of bandages for him as he worked and she still winced as some of them came free, but it was swift as Ze’sar promised. They were done within a few short minutes, Ze’sar triple checking to make sure he hadn’t missed any. 

“Okay,” he said as he finished his assessment, “I be havin’ a small change of plan if it bein’ alright wit you.”

“What’s that?” she asked after letting out a breath.

“I be tryin’ ta heal a few of da deeper wounds while we be here, if dat’s alright, so ya not bleedin’ when we be gettn’ back.”

Vilri immediately nodded. “That is fine, if you have the energy for it.”

“Okay.. be holdin’ still now”

Vilri nodded again before doing her best to relax against him.

Ze’sar closed his eyes and reached for the light once again- finding it to be just as close and easy to channel as last time. He did his best to direct it to the deeper gashes along Vilri’s back and arms and saw the glow through his eyelids. Vilri sighed as the glow brightened, alluding to its success. He kept it up only for a short while, not wanting to exhaust either himself or Vilri, but when he opened his eyes, Vilri’s expression was that of gratitude. She seemed to be in less pain already.

Ze’sar caught himself before he smiled and gently bent to look where the worst of her wounds had been. It had closed a fair amount and likely would bleed less once it was dressed. Satisfied, he warned Vilri before he slowly started to stand. She held on diligently, being mindful of the old bandages she still held. They didn’t want to pollute the marsh’s water with those.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze’sar moved swiftly to bring Vilri back to the hut. She shivered once or twice, but seemed to be doing okay otherwise. He managed to work his way into the hut without bumping her against the entrance and was relieved to finally set her down on the cloth he had laid out.

He made sure she was comfortable before quickly ducking out to call to the preserver that had sent his message to the others for him. They turned and nodded, heading off to let the village know they were back in the hut. Satisfied once again, he went back in to start working on getting Vilri’s wounds patched.

Vilri was sitting up in the same spot he had left her and watched curiously as he ignored his supplies in favor of going over to her first. He wanted to make sure to pull all possible signs and dangers of infection from her wounds before patching them, as he promised. He looked at each carefully before calling upon a different sort of magic he’d had before his blessing by the naaru. To his surprise, the magic was just as easy to call upon as the prayer A’dal had given him and he began to cleanse Vilri’s wounds with as much ease, feeling lighter himself for it. Vilri watched silently until he was finished. It was only when he moved to grab the bandages and salves that she finally broke the silence.

“Who did you learn from?”

“Hmm?”

She almost smiled as she rephrased. “Who did you learn the art of healing from?”

“Ah, dat be a long story..”

“I believe we may have some time.”

Ze’sar did crack a smile at that, but tried to hide it behind his work. “Well, I be learnin’ stuff from a healer stayin’ wit my people when I be little. A Tauren. I not supposta be, but I always be too curious. She be kind and patient, tellin’ me all sorts of tings like how ta be careful wit de plants, how ta know when dey ripe for pickin’, how ta mush dem up right so dey be useful..”

Focusing on the worst of the gashes on Vilri’s back, Ze’sar carefully opened one of his jars and applied some of the salve inside to it. She tensed at the coolness of it, but Ze’sar quickly followed with a bandage to help ease the temperature to her level.

“Dats how I be startin’. After dat I be goin to a ‘healer’ in me next home. I not be likin’ him much.. He never be makin’ me colds go away, just makin’ me drink some weird juju dat made my belly hurt worse. But I be told dat’s what healers be. ‘Dey needed ta know da voodoo’.”

Vilri winced as he applied salve to another scrape and he gentled, wary of his fingers being too large or coarse.

“Did you learn this craft from him?”

Ze’sar found himself chuckling even as he double checked the second batch of bandages.

“Nah. He be a fool. Givin’ alcohol ta de kids and adults ta knock dem out so dey stop bot’erin’ him.”

“That’s horrible,” she gasped, trying to hold still as he applied salve to yet another wound. It had happened that the champion’s beast had managed to get ahold of her and raked its claws up her back and over her shoulder. The wounds weren’t pretty, but they were looking better than they had initially.

“Aye. I be goin ta another healer afta..”

Ze’sar had to clear his throat. As he talked, he was straying dangerously close to some extremely unpleasant memories. He wasn’t sure why he was talking so much, he usually preferred to say as little as possible, but he felt entirely too comfortable talking now. He realized that it was perhaps because he’d gone a while without actually having someone to really listen. The sporelings liked him well enough, but they had plenty more to do than to sit and listen attentively most times unless the information or story was relevant to them. He didn’t really have a true friend among them.

With that jarring realization, Ze’sar paused before shaking his head, skipping some details that were more a part of another story. 

“After I be leavin’ dat place, dere was anot’er herbalist in a city. Da priest dat be lettin’ me stay wit’ him introduced me and be lettin’ me go ta learn some more from dem.”

“Was the priest you were staying with how you started that path as well?”

Ze’sar was impressed with how attentive to detail Vilri was. “Aye, dat he was.”

Speaking of details, as Ze’sar bandaged the last wound on Vilri’s back, he realized the marks were likely to be permanent. She was likely to scar.

Ze’sar moved around to her front and took to mending her injuries there with the same care, switching out the salve for one more suited to smaller wounds.

“He be sorta kind ta me and-” Ze’sar had to force himself to pass over yet another memory, “and be showin’ me how ta call upon da loa. It be very hard at first, I be endin’ up on me own for a while, but I be gettin’ better and better. I be endin’ up in Nort’rend eventually ta work for dose out dere who be needin’ me and anoter priest who be helpin me out… dey’re still dere I tink. Den I be comin’ here.. It be quieter.”

“You’ve been to Northrend?”

Ze’sar winced, sorry he’d mentioned it. He returned to applying another bandage, however, trying to ignore the stab to his gut.

“Aye.. Not bein’ for long, but I was dere.”

“Ah.. I see.. I was told it was much more exciting than here, but I chose to come here to Outland instead.”

“Why’s dat?” just fell out of Ze’sar on reflex.

“It is historical for my people.. And a place much in need of any healing it can get.”

Ze’sar hummed thoughtfully, nearly finished with the last of her still-healing scrapes.

“I don’t be takin’ ya as much of a healin’ sort, if ya don’t be mindin’ me sayin’ so..”

Vilri laughed; a high, sweet, unfamiliar sound to Ze’sar. She winced par her still battered ribs, but kept her smile. “No.. But I do like to help.. I would rather have gone to Northrend, but my family insisted I would do better here. They said I would be softer for it, understand myself more.”

Ze’sar was struck by the parallels in both their differences and similarities. They seemed to be destined for the opposite worlds in which they had started, and had followed their paths on the whim of another. Ze’sar wondered if A’dal would send Vilri to where her heart wanted to be instead of where she was pushed to go. He had been lucky enough for it to happen to him, after all.

“Maybe ya can go one day.”

To his surprise, Vilri shook her head. “Once my time here is finished I am wanted elsewhere… my family has procured employment for me..”

Ze’sar pursed his lips as he smoothed the last bandage. “But what about what you want? Are ya wantin’ ta be miserable?”

Hearing his own words Ze’sar recoiled, holding his hands up away from Vilri.

“Ah, wait,” he cleared his throat. “Sorry, I not be t’inkin’ dat question t’rough. I be sorry for me rudeness.”

Vilri looked dumbfounded, but not offended. “No, it’s alright,” she said softly. “I have… I have been asking myself the same thing for ‘while now.”

She looked as if she wanted to say more, but stopped herself. Ze'sar filled the silence for her.

“Sometimes families be lovin’ ya too hard… even when ya lucky ta have dem... dey still be overbearin’”

Vilri nodded. Ze'sar brought his hands back down as he relaxed, looking to the splints still in place on her side. He reached for the one on her arm quietly, still reeling slightly from his unorthodox comments.

When he moved the sling from her shoulder, Ze'sar quickly called upon the prayer to heal some of the damage of her arm. Vilri’s face pinched, but she didn't dare to move until the glow faded.

In the quiet that followed, Ze'sar was very careful to unwrap her arm slowly- keeping it in place so as not to offset the bone. Vilri assisted as she could, even just by holding herself still until the splint fell away. When it did, Ze'sar looked carefully at the remaining damage. The bruising had faded thanks to his work, but the bone would still need time to entirely fuse. Ze'sar carefully reached for a new splint he had set aside- this one better prepared than the previous one. He then carefully took up and wrapped the bandage on her arm- first to keep the splint from contacting her skinand then wrapping more around the splint, carefully placing it flush and wrapping the remaining length of the bandage around it. It was sturdier and Ze’sar didn't feel the need to fashion a new sling, to his relief; he was running low on materials.

Looking to Vilri's leg, Ze'sar realized it was going to be trickier to replace that splint, but it needed to be done. He hummed quietly before placing his hands on either side of the break. He was gentle, but Vilri still tensed.

He apologized quietly before calling on the light once more. The focused healing was extremely helpful in shortening the healing process, but Ze'sar knew he would feel better once he was able to make his brew for her body to be able to right itself even faster.

He let go of the light after holding onto it just a bit longer than he normally would before starting on the bandages.

Vilri helped as she could, trying to sit in a way he could more easily access it, but it wasn't easy on her. The bone was still very much cracked even though the swelling and bruising had gone down as well.

Ze'sar would have let her rest when the old wrappings were free, but he didn't want to aggravate the injury. He worked quickly to get the new ones in place, apologizing for every wince that came out of her. It was but a minute before Ze'sar had the wrappings secure, and both of them breathed a sigh as if they had been running a large distance.

“Dat be dat,” Ze'sar said as he wiped his brow. He was a bit fatigued from concentrating and channeling the light so specifically, but was satisfied with his work. He knew one day (if he lived long enough) he would be able to mend bones in a heartbeat, but for now he was doing as well as he could to speed their healing.

Vilri seemed grateful, finally relaxing before a shiver wracked her frame.

Ze'sar quickly moved to grab the shirt he had chosen for her before offering it. Vilri looked at him a little funny before giving a sigh and lifting her arms as well as she could. Ze'sar slipped the sleeves over them gently before tugging to bring it down over her head. She winced once, but helped the material down, making sure to twist her head to avoid catching her horns. Thanks to it being many sizes too large for her, it slipped on rather easy, and it wasn't a moment too soon.

There was a knock at the entrance of the hut.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar turned to see a preserver waiting in the doorway.

“Yo. Whatcha need?”

The preserver quickly relayed their message, eager to return to their post.

“The materials you requested have been procured. Mycah is waiting for you with them.”

With that they were gone.

Ze'sar was surprised. It was now late in the evening, but he hadn't expected ALL the materials that quickly. He'd expected them in the morning at the earliest. Still, he was relieved and grateful. It would help Vilri very much if the brew he made would work for her.

Ze'sar moved over to his sleeping spot to retrieve his clothes, tugging on his pants before sliding his shirt over his head. In his haste he accidentally caught the fabric on a tusk and heard it tear; something he hadn't done in a long time.

“What did you ask for?”

Further startled, Ze'sar jumped, but he smoothed the fabric of his shirt as best he could before turning.

“I be needin’ ta make a special brew ta be helpin’ ya furter. It be for ya body ta heal faster and more naturally where I be havin’ trouble. It be called a Troll’s Blood Brew.”

“Troll's Blood?”

Vilri paled and Ze'sar immediately brought his hands up in a placating manner.

“It not be havin’ any blood in it. It just be da name for what it does.”

Ze'sar wasn't sure if was a good idea to explain more in depth sooner rather than later. The sooner he made it the better, but Vilri's comfort was still a high priority.

Sighing, he decided it would be better to try and explain.

“It be givin’ dose wit’out troll blood da same abilities we be havin’... Ta regenerate. It just be a temporary t’ing, but it can be meanin’ da difference between days healin’ or mont’s.”

“Oh.. I see.”

Nodding as Vilri seemed to regain a bit of her color, Ze'sar turned to leave the hut.

Before he left though, he did say, “I be back as soon as I can. If ya be needin’ anyting I be sending a Sporelin’ ta help while I be gone.” to try and ease her mind.

He didn't stay to see if she nodded or not. He went straight to fulfilling that promise and then to Mycah, the quartermaster. When he arrived he looked to have been expecting him.

“Ze'sar,” he said hurriedly, “I have the items you asked for.”

Ze'sar nodded. “Aye, and what be de price for dem?”

“Msshi’fn has already paid. Here.”

For some reason Mycah seemed eager to be rid of the satchel he thrust into Ze'sar's arms. Ze'sar wondered if perhaps there was an ingredient the Sporelings did not react well to, but thanked the quartermaster politely. He nodded before returning to his usual spot to await other traders, pointedly ignoring Ze'sar.

Ze'sar shrugged and turned back towards his borrowed hut. He wasn't going to be able to make the brew inside it, but he did need to collect his cooking supplies, what few he still had. He only had a little pot left in his pouches- his larger one having been in his previous home before it was ransacked by the champion, but it would suffice. He would just have to make many small batches, being extra careful to measure each ingredient.

With nothing else for it, he reentered the hut to grab his supplies. Vilri watched him quietly as he did. Neither of them said a thing and Ze'sar left the hut quickly once again feeling slightly awkward for it, but determined.

He knew the perfect place to set up his supplies where he wouldn't be disturbed- that little spot under the mushrooms by the water.

He brought his supplies over, careful to watch out for Sporelings in the process, and set them gently down by the large stalks. He then set about gathering some of the marshes dead materials to begin to build a fire. 

It didn't take him long and soon he had gentle flames going. He scooped up some water from the marsh and put his little pot over the flame to let the liquid cleanse before opening the satchel he had been given. Inside was everything he had asked for- even the alternative ingredients. The sight made him feel extremely humbled. A few of the ingredients were tricky to obtain. They must have pulled quite a few favors to get them to him. Ze'sar was certainly going to do what he could to return said favors.

Carefully pulling each out, he set them in the configuration he would need to make the brew, alongside some of his empty vials. 

It was going to take a few hours to work through all of it with his small pot, but in the end he knew it was going to be worth it. Each batch would fill an individual vial and he would be able to determine the success or failure of each based on color and viscosity. The best he would give to Vilri and the rest that were viable he would give to the Sporelings for their trading purposes. He was fairly certain they wouldn't need the brews themselves, but if they did it would also be an option for them. He would just have to warn them- and mark in the labels- to only take sips to account for their sizes. A full vial likely would be a little too potent.

Ze'sar looked over to the water he had set on the fire to find it starting to boil. With that ready, he plucked a stalk of the first herb and held it over the cauldron, waiting for when it hit just the right point- the ease from many years of practice coming to his nervous limbs.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ze'sar spent the better part of the evening and well into the night making his brews. He was careful and meticulous, and all seemed to be viable, to his relief.

When the last batch was done and he carefully sieved it into it's vial, Ze'sar then carefully cleaned his pot in the water. He was careful not to let the foreign ingredients pollute it, however, especially seeing how the quartermaster had reacted to the satchel in which they were carried. It was tricky business, but he was confident he managed to contain the bits in yet another empty vial. He promised himself that he would see to it it was disposed of properly, just in case. The last thing the marsh needed was yet another invasive species- particularly a harmful one.

With that taken care of, he dismantled his fire pit, dousing the warm coals with water before scattering them at the base of the mushrooms. It would make the soil slightly more fertile there.

Finished with that, Ze'sar allowed himself a stretch. It had been a long while since he had been up so late, but it was as worth it as his last time had been too. Both had been in efforts to heal someone. Before that he tried not to think about, but for healing he would always gladly stay up for days.

Ze'sar looked up to the towering mushroom stalks above him. Their glow was soft and pleasant- not nearly as harsh as Torchlight- and allowed him to see quite well. Had the sky not cleared and become dark, he wouldn't have even known it was nighttime thanks to their steady glow. He enjoyed that random tidbit for a moment before gathering up his materials.

He had seven vials in all, and about half of the materials he would need to make seven more left over. Most of the extras were the alternative ingredients, but they were still good to have just in case. It was the ingredients without alternatives that he had run out of, as he expected. If that was all he needed to collect to make new batches given the chance, he'd take it. 

Ze'sar absently wondered if Vilri would be interested in learning the recipe and passing it on in his stead…He still wasn't sure what fate had in store for him.

On his way back, Ze'sar suddenly stopped and shook his head. What was he thinking? Vilri was a Draenei. She was part of the Alliance. Why would he give someone on that side a recipe to speed healing? To mimic a Troll's regeneration? It was treason. Utterly. As a troll taken in and raised by the horde, it would be wrong of him.

But.. the horde had hurt him too. He'd been exposed to extreme trauma by the alliance, and in return the horde only offered him further trauma and harsher treatment.

He was the priest too soft for battle. Practically worthless because he couldn't or wouldn't fight on the battlefield- at least to those he'd encountered. To them, there was no honor in hanging back when a threat was present, even if one was more productive for it. If one wasn't fighting to the death with all they had, they may as well already be dead.

Suddenly confused, conflicted, and anxious, Ze'sar forced himself to shake his head and start moving again. He was standing there like an idiot, arms full of precious brew. It did no one any good like that.

After nodding to the preserver outside, Ze'sar was careful to enter the hut quietly, setting the vials down near the wall one by one.  He managed to avoid clinking them and breathed a sigh of relief before setting the remaining ingredients and his pot with his pouches. As he was doing so, he heard Vilri mumble something. Thinking he had woken her, Ze'sar turned to apologise. He found, however, that he had not. Her eyes were still closed and her breathing even. She shifted, but did not wake.

Ze'sar breathed a small sigh of relief. While she was obviously doing better from her near catatonic state, she still needed her rest. He did not want to disturb that.

He was going to attempt to turn in himself, but Ze'sar suddenly spotted something curious. She had taken her hair down and the tie he had shared had been gently set off to the side near his items. 

Looking back to Vilri, Ze'sar gave a soft smile. She was likely going to be nervous the entirety of the time he was in her presence, but she was still a thoughtful sort of character.

He decided to leave it there, just in case either of them would need it, before moving to his own sleeping spot.

Once nearly settled, Ze'sar for whatever reason looked to the blanket Msshi’fn had given him. It was folded neatly off to the side of the hut. It wasn't something he really needed- more of a comfortable weight than anything- being he was blessed with fine fur to keep him warm- and so he declined it's use save for when he was most anxious. He stared at it for a moment before he heard Vilri mumble quietly in her sleep again.

Looking over to her, his sleepy thoughts made a little more sense.

She looked a little uncomfortable. Like she was trying to roll onto her side out of habit, but the splints were preventing the movement. She also looked perhaps slightly chilled, her good arm hugged tightly to her chest. Ze'sar wasn't entirely sure if she was cold or not as he'd never seen a Draenei sleep before, but he had felt her skin. It was thick, but supple and smooth; lacking any sort of fur or fuzz. After having been exposed to the marsh in the nude, it would not be a stretch for her to have been chilled at any point after returning.

With that in mind, Ze'sar moved to grab the blanket and unfolded it gently. He then carefully stood to carefully drape it over Vilri's form, leaving only her head and neck exposed. She twitched, but did not wake.

Satisfied, Ze'sar returned to his designated sleeping spot to lay down. Once sufficiently settled, he let out a quiet, contented sigh.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ze'sar woke rather quickly from sleep. He felt tired, but he was too used to being awake early in the day, and was too anxious to see his charge healed to snooze. With a quick stretch he was upright and already checking on the filled vials. All of them still looked completely viable. Their colors were near identical- they hadn't faded in the few hours he had taken to rest. Ze'sar breathed a sigh of relief before turning to check on Vilri. He was going to want her to try and stomach a bit of the brew as soon as possible- but she needed to be awake for that.

At the moment she appeared to still be asleep. Ze'sar also noted as he glanced over that she looked quite comfortable as well. She had managed to roll slightly, using the blanket as support for her injured side. It returned the smile to his face, but he turned away and focused on preparing just in case the day went badly.

He still didn't know how a Draenei would react to a brew. Generally the brews were safe if not too potent, but it still paid to be careful.

He set out his remaining bandages and salves, plus a small knife he had for emergencies. He sincerely preferred to avoid using it, but it was a handy tool. He left it in its case though. There was no need to unsheath it unless it really was needed.

Once everything was set, he worked on grabbing himself some of his rations. He paused, however, realizing Viri would likely be hungry too when she woke. Ze'sar did not know what Draenei were able to or preferred to eat. He mostly had jerky and other dried meats himself. Vilri did seem to respond well to the spores the Sporelings had given her, but Ze'sar wasn't entirely sure what those were classified as. Plant or animal?

Ze'sar shook his head, shaking the potentially disturbing ideas out. When she woke he could ask. It was the simplest solution. If she needed something more plantlike, he had some options to pluck from the marsh. Mycah likely had a few things as well. It was just a matter of her waking up.

Ze'sar chewed his breakfast quietly. He could start to hear the first activities of the Sporelings for the day doing so. Their changing of the guard came first - safety being most important. Next would come some mild chatter. Gossip and greetings mostly. After that would be normal activities of any gathering or nurturing of their central food source. The Sporelings were a quiet race typically, but their activities did change the way the air felt. It was certainly more lively during the day. It was likely thanks to this energy that Vilri started to wake- just as it was getting underway.

“Mornin’, Mon,’ Ze'sar said softly once she blinked open her eyes.

Vilri yawned and rubbed one eye before turning slightly. She gave him a nod before attempting to move further. Ze'sar was by her side swiftly, ready to assist if she needed it. She managed to roll back onto her back before attempting to sit up. She used her good arm to support herself, but Ze'sar did end up placing his hand carefully on her injured shoulder to help her keep balance. She didn't wince, which he took as a good sign, but he was still sure to let her go as soon as she was sufficiently upright.

Vilie gave him a grateful half-smile.

“How ya feelin’?”

She thought for a moment, flexing her good hand before replying.

“Little sore,” she said softly, “but better than previously.”

Ze'sar nodded in approval. “Dat bein’ good ta hear. Be needin’ some food dough? Can I be gettin’ ya anyting?”

Vilri gave Ze'sar an odd look. Ze'sar ducked his head because he knew she still didn't quite trust him, but he left his questions as they were. He didn't mean anything by them.

After a few moments of silence, Vilir gave a hesitant nod. 

Ze'sar nodded back. “What can I be gettin’ for ya? I be havin’ some jerky and meatstuffs, but I not bein’ sure what ya eat…”

Vilri actually smiled at that- teeth and all. Ze'sar was a little surprised before he glanced down and realized why she had smiled. Fangs. Draenei had fangs. Had he paid attention sooner he would have known that they ate meat (at least). It struck him as a little odd considering their rumored practices, but he shrugged it off.

Before Vilri could really reply further, Ze'sar held up a finger and turned to rummage through his pouch. He knew he had a good option in there, one that would give Vilri a bit of the strength she was going to need. He didn't know if she would enjoy the flavor, but it was at least edible and gentle on the stomach all the same. Finding it, he grabbed a generous chunk and tore it off before turning back and offering it to Vilri.

She took it gingerly, looking at it curiously.

“What's this?”

“Recipe is called de Fishermon's feast… is Spotted feltail.”

“Oh!”

She immediately took a bite. Ze'sar gave a satisfied nod before turning away out of politeness more than anything. He scratched the back of his head before going over to the vials of brew and attempting to pick the best one. There were three in particular that looked about perfect. He pulled the middle vial and swirled it, attempting to catch the light. He did the same to the other two, looking closely for any differences or imperfections. They all appeared to be just fine.

“What are you doing?”

Startled, Ze'sar jumped, but was careful not to drop the vial he was holding.

“Just checkin’ ta make sure I makin’ de brew right.”

“With light?”

“Aye. De color be important.”

Ze'sar heard Vilri shift behind him. “Why is that?”

Ze'sar let himself smile softly. She sounded genuinely curious rather than skeptical or disgusted. It was refreshing from the few times he had made it for others.

Turning, Ze'sar approached Vilri and gently showed her the glimmer of the liquid in the vial.

“De color,” he said gently, “be de important factor in sayin’ just how well mixed de brew be. If dere be spots or is bein' too dark it not be workin’ so well. Can go bad easy dat way too.”

He tilted the bottle, showing her just how clear and pristine it was as the liquid moved.

“Oo. That is interesting…. Do I have to drink that?”

Ze'sar almost laughed at the redirect. The way she had said it was slightly humorous as she wrinkled her nose a bit, but more than that he felt just a tish awkward. He had been so focused on making it and helping her, he hadn't actually considered asking her if she wanted to give it a try. 

“Erm, well actually.. only if ya be wantin’ ta. And it may not be de full vial anyway, Mon. It can be potent stuff.”

“You said it helps healing?”

“Aye. Dat it does.. not de most pleasant of tings, I be warnin’ ya, but it be makin’ da process much shorta. 

Da reason I say it may not be da full bottle dough is dere be a small chance ya can overdose.. an’ I don't want ta make ya dat much like a troll.”

 

Ze'sar laughed at his own joke, unable to help it and still feeling slightly awkward as he did.

“What does overdose do?”

Ze'sar stopped and looked back to Vilri, uncertain as to whether she wanted a general definition or a specific one. Wagering on specific, he made a face and reached for the back of his neck- keeping the vial secure in his other hand.

“Erm… well it can be gettin’ ta de point of tradin’ time.. Basically workin’ too well and speedin’ up stuff ya not wantin’ ta be sped.”

“Oh.. is that something that happens to you? To trolls, I mean..?”

It was another curious question, but Ze'sar felt entirely too awkward to answer it. “Erm…” For some reason the question brought up some old memories of his younger days. A time when he was young, but taken to be much older.

Vilri reached out, gently touching her fingertips to his hand. Ze'sar flinched involuntarily and took a step back. Realizing what he had done, Ze'sar nodded his head in favor of shaking it and tried to answer her question.

“Aye.. we trolls be... be cheatin’, so dey say.. so we be payin’ de price earlier den ot’ers. 

I not be knowin’ a troll livin’ 'is way past sixty or seventy, and dat’s way old- dough I hear we can be lucky enough ta live ta eighty… unless somebody be havin’ a powerful Loa or sometin’ ta guide deir way.. den dere are rumors of livin’ longa. But den dey be sayin’ it be because of de loa we be healin’ so fast.. an’ dyin’ so soon.”

Ze'sar shrugged as he spoke. Most things were hearsay as specifics were forgotten through quick generations and war, but there was evidence of the ideas being true.

“What is… Lo-ah?”

Vilri hesitated as if she was going to stop herself from asking, but did anyway.

Ze'sar allowed himself another laugh- this one a bit more genuine.

“Ya know.. I don't rightly be knowin’. Dey be spirits some say. Or old God's only de trolls not be forgettin’ and givin’ power ta. Some be sayin’ even a troll can be becomin’ a loa somehow, but dere be so many recipes and met’ods, and so few troll loas it likely be sometin' beyond our understandin’.”

“Hmm.. they sound akin to the Naaru.. but why would- wait. Nevermind that… you said.. you said that this brew could help as long as too much is not taken?”

“Aye. Dat be true.”

Vilri made a face, glancing to the vial.

“What do you ask in exchange for this?”

Completely taken aback, Ze'sar balked at her. 

“I don't be askin’ for nothin’ in return, Mon.. you be in dis mess becaus’a me. It bein’ da least I can do.”

Her eyes met his and in them he saw a fierceness that matched his first memory of her. He did not back down, however, feeling just as guilty and desperate to help as when she had sustained her injuries- and he had put aside their factions to fix his mistake. They stared at one another for several moments before Vilri's expression changed, some of her fierceness fading.

She looked down to the vial.

“I would take risk.. of life trade for what you promise.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar removed his hand from his neck to nod and then carefully popped the cork on the vial. He then gently offered it to Vilri. She took it carefully, her curiosity returning.

“Now I be wantin’ ya ta take it slow,” Ze'sar said as he turned towards his supplies, grabbing both a small cloth and his sheathed knife in one hand, “otherwise I possibly bein’ unable ta help if it be too much.”

As he turned back, Vilri noticed the knife right away. “What is that for?”

Ze'sar grimaced. “In case ya have a bad reaction.. and I need needin’ ta get da toxin out.”

“Bad reaction?”

“Aye.. I never be givin’ me brew ta a Draenei before..”

Vilri smirked. “I am guinea pig?”

Ze'sar gave a small smile in return.

“Dat not bein’ intentional, but I be supposin’ so.”

Vilri nodded, looking back to the vial. She sighed before carefully lifting it to her lips.

Ze'sar moved closer, holding the cloth up near her chin. Vilri hesitated, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, but Ze'sar shook his head and put his free hand on the back of her head. She took the hint and tilted it back, letting the liquid spill slowly into her mouth. Ze'sar tilted her head back up just before she swallowed. A drop dripped down from the bottle to the cloth, but she seemed to have managed not to spill any more. She blinked, gauging the taste before glancing over to him.

“It be takin’ a sec,” Ze'sar said softly. They both waited several moments in silence. When there was no reaction from Vilri, Ze'sar gave a slight nod.

“Looks ta be safe ta try a bit more if ya not feelin’ not’in’.”

Vilri shot him a look and Ze'sar ducked, realizing his phrasing could be better. Still, she tilted her head back once again and took another sip of the brew, not spilling a drop as she returned her head to it's original place. She once again appeared to be gauging the taste and waited a few moments before taking yet another sip.

She nearly managed to drain the vial halfway before pausing for a fair length of time. Ze'sar did not prompt or push her to move, waiting for any sign the brew was either working, or backfiring. When she did move again to take another sip, Ze'sar was careful to watch her, and he was glad he did. As soon as she had her head tilted back and the first drops on her tongue, her eyes went wide and she started to cough. Ze'sar knocked the vial from her hand, spilling it in the process, but catching what liquid he could with the cloth after. When she spasmed and continued to cough, he dropped the fabric, shifted to catch her before she fell to the floor, and managed to pop open the knife's case with one swift motion. He did not bring it to the side of her neck, however, but he did keep it poised by his own side for any indication the brew was harming her. Coughing could be either a good or bad sign. She was leaning heavily into Ze'sar's arm supporting her, but her eyes were still open and she was able to pull air in and out. She even managed to reach out and grip his shirt tightly with her uninjured hand.

A faint crackling sort of sound reached his ears and Ze'sar felt himself tense up. He never really enjoyed that part of the mending, but it was a good sign.. so long as it stopped when it was supposed to. He kept watching as Vilri twitched and tried to get her bearings through the new sensation. It really wasn't something Ze'sar was sure anyone was prepared to experience for the first time, not even trolls. His first time had been fairly brutal in mending a broken arm. But just as it had been fairly swift, thanks to his previous mending of her injuries, Vilri's seemed to be as well. Her breathing became more normal within a few minutes, and Ze'sar felt confident enough to set his knife aside.

She coughed one last time before managing to lift her head to shake it. Ze'sar helped ease her back into her original position and once she was stable, he slowly pulled away. Vilri looked at him after blinking quite a few times, her brow furrowed.

Ze'sar looked back, his brow equally furrowed, but his was of worry. Hers seemed to be of surprise.

“How ya be feelin’?” He asked hesitantly. 

She tilted her head to the side before opening her mouth. She closed it against without saying anything before glancing down to the splint on her arm.

“I think.. I think that may have worked..”

Ze'sar glanced down to her arm as well and reached out. She offered it without protest and Ze'sar carefully started to unwrap it. As the splints fell away, he could see she was holding her arm without pain or difficulty. It was a good sign, to be sure, but on occasion there had been a few false positives. 

Pulling the last of the bandages off, Ze'sar gently prodded her skin, feeling for the bone and previous break underneath.

It felt just as a bone should- solid and without blemish. Vilri didn't even twitch at his prodding either, alluding to the injury being non-existent. Ze'sar was a little surprised, but his brew seemed to have managed to mend her.. dare he say perfectly .

Ze'sar glanced down to the splint on her leg, curious, but skeptical. That bone was much larger and needed even more mending. It hadn't been pretty to set initially either so there was a chance it could have healed improperly too.

Vilri's arm slid from his hands and she shifted to where most of her weight was settled on her opposite side. Ze'sar looked up to her curiously, but she nodded down to her leg. He took the hint and, though he was hesitant, began to remove the bandages there as well. The last splint and bit of fabric fell away to reveal perfectly smooth skin- unblemished and whole.

Ze'sar gently prodded her flesh, wary of any potentially underlying bruises. She didn't twitch. Ze'sar prodded a bit more, feeling for the bone underneath and still she held still. It too felt whole.

Ze'sar sat back, fairly surprised, yet impressed. She had responded exceptionally well. 

Vilri admired the lack of injury to her leg for several moments, turning it this way and that. Ze'sar was reminded that she was without clothing save for the shirt he had given her, and looked away so she could keep some of her privacy. He looked back only when she gave a small laugh. She was smiling.

“Well.. I am not dead, and your brew works miracles!”

Ze'sar shook his head, but had a smile on his face. 

“I be takin’ both of dose facts as a blessin’.”

Vilri gave him a curious look, but he shook his head again. “Let's be getting de rest of de bandages Offa ya, yeah? Ya bones be mended so I tink dose should be mended nicely too.”

Vilri nodded and Ze'sar moved to settle behind her.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar gently lifted the shirt from her back and Vilri slipped out of it once it reached her neck. He hadn't intended to undress her, but thought nothing of it. It would be easier to remove the bandages without the fabric in the way.

He carefully started peeling the bandages on her shoulder away from her skin. As he did so, he gently prodded her ribs and found that the fractures there seem to have healed without complication as well. It was a little strange for the brew to work so well and so quickly, but perhaps something of her anatomy allowed for it. Still, he was careful. There was a chance something could have been adversely affected.

The bandages came away to expose skin that was intact. Ze'sar still grimaced instead of smiling, however, as he saw she had indeed scarred. The brew had managed to seal the wounds, but at the cost of the tissue.

Ze'sar gently prodded the blemished flesh, before placing his hand over it entirely.

“Ah… I be mighty sorry, Mon…”

“Hmm?”

Vilri looked over her shoulder at him and he apologized again.

“Ya healed okay, but I be afraid it be leavin’ scars. Dere’s not much I can be doin’ ta help dose..”

To his surprise, she smiled at him.

“That is alright. I am grateful not to be dead. Thank you.”

Her demeanor had softened a staggering amount and Ze'sar suddenly worried that perhaps what he had healed previously had been affected- namely her head. 

“Em.. are you bein’ okay?”

“Hmm?”

Ze'sar opened his mouth but closed it, uncertain how to express his concern. Vilri's smile did not falter, but she offered, “you saved my life. It is the least I can do to start showing I am grateful. I… I am sorry for distrusting you.”

“Em.. it bein’ alright, Mon. I not be blamin’ ya for it in da least.. I be a troll, after all. And I be gettin’ ya inta dis mess.”

She laughed softly, turning forward.

“I will admit to being skeptical because of that… but you have proven your word and your heart is trustworthy.. though your blade had me nervous.”

Ze'sar grimaced again, reaching for the next bandage on her back.

“What would you had done had it not been effective?”

Ze'sar carefully pulled the bandage away before replying.

“It be an old technique.. lettin’ blood.”

“Oh.”

“Cleansin’ it be da new one.”

“How would-”

“It not bein’ an easy or pretty ting ta do. Ta draw out what be wrong and leave in da good… many be dyin’ when dat happens.. I be glad ya not be needin’ it. It woulda been takin’ a toll on us both.”

“Could you have died if it would have happened?”

“Aye, if it bein’ bad enough.. most healers stop before den.. dey just be lettin’ deir charges die.. but I not be dat sort. I'd rat’er it be me.”

 Vilri didn't say anything to that and let Ze'sar work in silence. She did shift a bit when he pulled some of the bandages off- as they had stuck a little, but she did not protest.

When all had been removed from her backside, Ze'sar leaned back to assess her. Every wound had been healed- several had scared, but there was not a spot of fresh blood in sight. He poked the ones he had been most worried about, just to be sure, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. As satisfied as he could be, Ze'sar then shifted to her front. She looked up at him and he motioned for her arm. She offered it and he removed the bandages there as well. He worked diligently, double checking every former scrape. Vilri watched in silence until finally she was free of all wrappings.

When she was, Ze'sar gave her a nod and managed to crack a small smile.

“I be tinkin’ ya gonna be alright.”

Vilri smiled back and pulled the shirt over her head. Ze'sar stepped back to give her some space and was about to turn when he saw her shift. He wasn't quick enough to stop her and she was on her feet.

Ze'sar held out his arms as she swayed and lost her balance.

She caught herself on the wall and let out a breath, obviously dizzy and not expecting the weakness of her muscles. Her stomach gave a loud gurgle and Ze'sar grimaced again.

He should have warned her of the side effects sooner. He hadn't expected her to try something so soon though. He was going to have to apologize for that.

“Easy,” he said gently, “ya be needin’ ta get ya strength back. Ya been down for more den a week, mon, and ya been hurt bad. De brew does good, but it not bein’ perfect.. ya still need ta take some time ta work wit ya muscles.”

“Oh,” she laughed. “That makes sense… oh.” 

Her hand came to her head and Ze'sar took a step closer, just in case. She waved him away.

Ze'sar made sure she was stable before turning away clean the spill and to put away his supplies.

“De water may be a good way ta get acclimated again,” he offered as he worked. “I can be escortin’ ya dere… but it will be takin’ at least a day before ya fully back on ya feet again I be tinkin’.”

“Another day?”

Ze'sar nodded, even though she couldn't see it.

“I know it not bein’ ideal..

 But de Naaru said not ta be leavin’ ya til I get ya ta Shattrath… or I'd be lettin’ ya be, or bringin’ ya to ya people.”

“To Shattrath? That is A’dal’s will?”

Ze'sar rubbed at his neck, feeling just as confused as when A’dal had sent his message.

“Aye.. it bein’ a little strange ta me.. but he be sayin’ not ta leave ya side til den. Said sometin’ about 'destiny along da path’.”

Ze'sar shook his head and sighed. It was all so strange, and yet again he got a pang of anxiety in thinking about what would happen at the end of their journey. About what would happen to a troll who inadvertently forsook his Loa and was possibly living on borrowed time/blessings. He wasn't exactly young for a troll anymore. He was middle aged- luckier than most in the terrible war ongoing between the Alliance and the Horde.. perhaps his luck was at it's end due to the nature of how he was lucky.

Ze'sar wasn't sure if he was ready to die and pass into the shadow realm just yet. It was said to be a dark place- not a place for a dishonored, ostracized, and 'cowardly’ troll to find any peace. But, it wasn't like he was going to have much of a choice.

Ze'sar turned, an apology forming on his tongue. It died as he was startled by Vilri facing him. She had turned as he was distracted and talking. Her expression was pinched and somber, but determined.

“If that is A’dal’s will, then we will travel to Shattrath… when I am ready.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Ze'sar was shocked at her acceptance of his words. He expected her to fight or at least chide and prod him verbally. He had a mind to argue with her acceptance, a bit perturbed, but before he opened his mouth he remembered his place. Loa, after all, sent some on unexpected and challenging journeys for a variety of purposes. This Naaru seemed to be the Draenei's equivalent to his race's Loa. Perhaps because he was a priest and used to being on other planes of existence temporarily, the Naaru had contacted him instead of Vilri- or it was due to the nature of her injuries.. or something. Whatever it was, Ze'sar finally gave a small nod.

“Okiedoki.”

Vilri nodded back before sighing. She looked to her arm supporting her against the wall of the hut and then down to her newly healed leg.

“How would I be... ‘acclimated again’?”

Ze'sar blinked before her question registered. He was a little surprised about how little she seemed to know of basic first aid and healing practices.

“Erm well dere be many ways, some easier den ot’ers, but all of dem are needin’ ya ta move and get ya range of motion back. If ya hold still ya muscles can be degradin’ while de brew be workin’.”

“It is sort of like ‘losing time’ you mentioned?”

Ze'sar hesitated, thinking a moment before nodding. “Aye, dat be a good way ta put it.”

A small sound reached Ze'sar's ears and he chuckled. “But first I be tinkin’ ya needin’ some more foodstuffs. De brew likes ta be burnin’ trough anyting ya eat before takin’ it.”

Vilir glanced down to her stomach and covered it with her free hand with a smile. “I think that would be wise.”

Ze'sar nodded and turned back to his pouches.

“Wait.”

Surprised, Ze'sar stopped and turned back to Vilri.

“I have some rations in my possession.”

Vilri nodded towards the small pile of her supplies. Everything was set down neatly, but didn't really have an order to it. Ze'sar glanced over before looking back to Vilri.

“Could you grab the one in the middle?”

Assuming she meant one of her pouches, Ze'sar gingerly stepped over to her supplies and found the one most central in the pile. He gingerly picked it up and turned to Vilri to see her nodding.

“Yes that’s it.”

He brought it over to her but set it down on the ground instead of handing it to her. She looked surprised by that and then even more surprised as he offered his hands to her instead.

“It be best if ya be sittin’ ta rummage and eat for now I be tinkin’.”

He said it softly, not trying to be demanding, but expressing genuine concern. He was pretty certain she was only still standing because it was going to be a bit of a challenge to sit back down.

“But... what of the water?”

Ze'sar smiled before closing his expression and attempting to be professional once again. “I can be carryin’ ya again. It be easier for ya ta try and stand in da water first before dis.. or I can be helpin’ ya stand ta try and walk dere once ya done eatin’.”

Vilri made a face and her cheeks turned the faintest color of blue before she nodded and placed her free hand in one of his. Ze'sar took it carefully and moved til they were side by side and he could wrap his other arm around her waist. She let him support her as she took her hand off the wall and as he carefully bent his knees to lower her down to the floor. Her arm behind his, her hand touched the floor and Ze'sar carefully slipped his from her waist to let her continue to lower herself down. He still kept her other hand though, letting her use his strength to prevent herself from falling and subsequently landing awkwardly.

She was sitting comfortably in no time. Ze'sar let go of her hand as she did his and he turned to hand her bag to her.

She gave him a nod before rummaging through it.

She produced something that looked like jerky and smelled gamey. Ze'sar almost smiled at that before he turned away, feeling a little awkward. He didn't really have anything else to set up, prepare for the moment, or do. He'd been through his supplies so many times he knew where everything was and what he had- so there was no use in recounting. Everything was neatly in order as well, folded or stacked appropriately- easy to be organized when he had little to his person. He decided that it would probably be best to just go and sit down to wait until Vilri had eaten.

“Would you like some?”

He was about to take a step when Vilri spoke to him, but paused. He turned to glance at her.

“Em.. pardon?”

Vilir gave a small smile, holding up some of the dried meat.

“Are.. are you hungry?”

Ze’sar felt his brow furrow as he thought.

“Em.. not particularly?”

Vilri nodded, starting to retract her hand before pausing. Her expression changed, but Ze'sar couldn't pinpoint exactly what it meant.

“Have you tried talbuk before?”

Thrown once again, Ze'sar turned back towards her, bringing his hand to his chin.

“Talbuk...? De name be unfamiliar..?”

Vilri nodded, looking slightly cheerful for some reason.

“It is ram from my people's first homeland. Delicacy we brought with us through our struggles and homes.”

Ze'sar considered for a moment more. The basic story of the Draenei was known to the many races of the horde… but small details were not important to the cause and therefore not shared. Draenei were said to come from different worlds- Outland was a broken, surviving piece of one of those worlds. Vilri's words made it sound like there was more to it than that. His conversation with the Naaru came to mind and he recalled the flashing images.

“Would you like to try piece?”

Pulled from his musings, Ze'sar hesitated. He was curious, but-

Vilri was already tearing at a piece of the jerky she had in her lap. She winced slightly from the strain to her newly-healed injuries, but did not relent. Once she managed to rip a good chunk from it, she offered it to Ze'sar.

Not wanting to be rude, Ze'sar kneeled down and took the piece from her.

“Tank ya.”

Vilir nodded and beamed at him before turning her attention to the torn strip in her other hand. She bit it and Ze'sar heard the distinct 'snick’ of her sharp teeth sinking through.

Looking to his own piece, he turned it over, admiring it's color. It was a deep purple. Curious, but perhaps not unexpected. He took a bite, rending the piece in half, and chewed carefully.

It tasted even more gamey than it smelled, with just the hint of some unfamiliar spices, herbs, and smoke.

Ze'sar swallowed.

 It was fantastic.

Ze'sar marveled at the strange meat, truly intrigued and awestruck Vilri had decided to share it with him. It was indeed a delicacy.

Before he could second-guess or let his mind go down strange paths, Ze'sar popped the remaining half into his mouth and chewed it just as carefully, gauging the flavor and texture once again.

Yep. Fantastic.

“Tank ya,” Ze'sar said with sincerity after he swallowed, wiping his bottom lip in appreciation.

Vilri smiled at him again before she tore into another chunk of the stuff with equal fervor.

Ze'sar turned away in light of the smirk that grew on his face and plodded over to his side of the hut. He hadn’t initially been sure of what to do with himself, but now he had more of a direction thanks to Vilri’s gift.

Things really didn’t have to be terribly awkward between them, and Ze'sar felt a sudden surge of elation at the fact that he had managed to help Vilri and gain her trust. Even if it was a temporary trust, Ze'sar hadn’t felt it to such a level in a long time.

Removing his shirt, Ze'sar set about recalling the therapeutic movements he should pass on to Vilri to help her muscles regain their strength. Water training always was the best direction to go due to the equal parts resistance and support it offered- and that was saying nothing of its much softer way of catching falls compared to the hard ground.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Moving was frustrating, Ze'sar could see that. Vilri was stubborn though, and tough. She wasn’t one to give up. So when she collapsed into the water once again, it was Ze'sar’s call to give her a break. She protested, fighting against his hold with her returning strength, but his pointing out her shaking arms quieted her. So they came to sit quietly under the glow of a tallshroom for a small rest.

Ze'sar had placed some fabric on the cool ground to help keep the shivers away, yet Vilri hardly seemed to notice.

Even as she took Ze'sar’s advice to sit still temporarily, she still shook her head and kept a determined look on her face, staring out at the water. Her jaw worked now and then as well, as if she wished to comment on something, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.

Ze'sar found himself holding back both sympathetic and curious smiles. She was stubborn. And proud. She would find the words in time, or she would reconcile keeping her thoughts to herself, Ze'sar knew the type. He’d helped to mend the wounds of many- her type was not unknown to him, yet she was much more patient than he had expected. Frustrated, but still patient.

“One step at’a time,” he said quietly to himself. His words, though not entirely directed at her, seemed to break Vilri out of her concentrated stare and she blinked at him, the hard set of her jaw relaxing. Her face suddenly twisted and she cast her eyes down.

“This must be incredibly frustrating,” she said quietly.

Slightly startled, Ze'sar shook his head, his hands coming up reflexively. He put them down as soon as he had them up, but shook his head again, a smirk he couldn’t hide lighting his face.

“Nah, Nah. Not at all, Mon.”

“You say that to all patients I assume..”

Unable to contain himself with his chipper mood, Ze'sar started laughing. He turned himself away, but it didn’t help. He ended up slightly curled over as he tried to contain himself, but shockingly found a hand on his back as he coughed out the last of his laughter.

“Ah, sorry about dat, mon,” he said quietly as he turned back. Vilri looked extremely concerned, but didn’t say anything in return.

“It just be dat… Nah, ya be an easy one.”

Vilri’s face twisted, and Ze'sar quickly tried to rectify his words.

“Ah.. I be meanin’ dat you be patient.. More patient den some of de peoples I be tryin’ ta help befora… Ya you be stubborn and not be knowin’ when ta give up, but ya still bein’ careful and ya at least listen when I be tellin’ ya ta take it easy.. Sorta.”

It was Vilri’s turn to laugh, her pinched expression softening.

“Oh, I see. Well… Thank you, then.”

Ze'sar shook his head, stopping any forthcoming comments. “Na worries, mon. Na worries. Ya gotta be relearnin’ a few tings today, but ya alright, mon. I don’t need ta be teachin’ ya patience or care so it be all good wit me.”

‘You have had to do that before?”

“Aye.” Ze'sar shook his head. “Dere bein’ all sorts I be helpin’ ova da years. If eva ya encounter an orc wit a broken leg.. Be ready for lotsa arguin’. Dey be so stubborn. Not be listenin’ ta ya advice and not tear deir hamstrin’s.. Den dey be gettin’ angry wit ya and.. And.. yea.”

Ze'sar let out a shaky laugh, realizing he had gone a little too far in his recollections, once again dangerously close to something he did not want to bring into the midst of their precarious trust. He waved a hand as Vilri tilted her head, forcing himself to hold an easy smile.

She gave him an odd look, but then nodded.

“I see. 

..

I’m glad this is not such challenge for you.”

She gave him her own easy smile before letting her grimace return.

“It is for me though… I have never encountered one quite like this…”

“Most not bein’ so lucky…”

Clapping a hand over his mouth, Ze'sar shook his head again before forcing himself to fix that statement too.

“I-I mean dat.. Dat most be havin’ ta heal deir own.. On-on deir own. Not bein’ easy, but not havin’ ta be so quick and.. And challengin’ dis way. Dey normally be havin’ time ta be injured, ya know?”

Vilri cast him another odd look Ze'sar couldn’t quite read, but nodded curtly.

“You are right. It is fast. And I would wager that many on battleground do not survive such injury anyway… not so lucky.”

A bit stunned she had hit the mark so hard, Ze'sar nodded dumbly, trying not to think of the implications of her words. He failed slightly, but he still tried.

Their people were still at war. They likely would be for a long while.. And this, this helping each other- or Ze'sar helping Vilri, a draenei- would mean next to nothing in the long run.. Nothing but a traitor to one side that would be dealt with.. Possibly made an example of in the typical manner of the horde.. As it should be.

Ze'sar winced at his thoughts and shook them out. He needn’t think like that. He had a job to do- of his own accord as well as by ‘divine intervention’ more or less. He would not fail that.

“Ya tink ya ready ta try again...?”

Vilri nodded eagerly, as if she too wanted a distraction from the direction their short conversation had taken.

Ze'sar offered her his hand, which she took eagerly, and carefully helped her to her feet.

“Okiedokie. Back we go.”

Vilri nodded, setting her expression into a determined grimace as she took the first of many steps back towards the softer landing of water in the marsh.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

By the time the two of them got back to the hut, they were soaked, chilled, and exhausted. Neither were in bad spirits, however, and Ze’sar was pleased with Vilri’s results. She was strong enough to stand and walk on her own back to the hut, and all that was needed was some rest to speed the remainder of her recovery. 

He made sure she was comfortable and got mostly dry before laying down himself and falling quickly into a deep, dreamless, slumber.

Sleep faded into day and Ze’sar was up and donning his armor before he fully registered being awake. Vilri seemed to be the same. A sort of haze seemed to perpetuate their morning routines, as if somehow everything was a dream.

Ze’sar tried to shake his head and clear the spell from it, but it clung fast. He could not even bring himself to speak or to chuckle. It was as if the gazes of the very gods were cast upon them, and his spirit refused to say something that could make him lose favor. Or perhaps it was as if the strings of destiny were moving his body and limbs for him… like a puppet to the whims of said destiny, and this was their assurance there would be no escape from it. It was chilling in a way nothing else could be, but still he packed and found all his trappings to be on his person, just as meticulous as ever- though significantly lighter than when he had last left the village. It was the enforcer who finally broke the spell through a knock to their hut. With it Ze’sar found his head clear and his voice returned. Before acknowledging the enforcer, however, he glanced over to Vilri to see she seemed slightly groggy if nothing else herself.

“What be de word, mon?” he asked as he looked back to the sporeling. They nodded politely and gestured to the elder’s hut across the way.

“Elder Msshi’fn and elder Khn'nix wish to see you before your departure.”

Ze’sar nodded, and the enforcer dipped their head in acknowledgement themselves before departing.

Ze'sar looked to Vilri and nodded to her as well. She nodded back even as she was adjusting the last pieces of her armor.

"Well.. shall we be goin'… den?"

Vilri's determined fire had returned to her eyes and bored into Ze'sar.

"Yes, we shall."

With that, both stepped out of the hut, Ze'sar noting she had to duck just as much as he did. They were pretty tall compared to the sporlings, after all.

On their way to the elders’ hut, however, Ze’sar declined to comment on it. It wasn’t a very important observation. It was just something he found mildly fascinating. He’d always thought Draenei were shorter and weaker than Vilri was proving to be.

“Ah, good morning and welcome,” Khn'nix greeted them when they’d arrived.

 Ze’sar ducked politely. Vilri saluted.

“It is wonderful to see you both standing and well,” Msshi’fn also greeted.

“Glad to be on my feet again,” Vilri replied.

Both elders chuckled. “An arduous task, no doubt, but congratulations to both of you.”

Ze’sar cleared his throat to try and stave off any more compliments and bowed before the elders.

“Tank ya for ya kindness, it be gettin us dis far… Please be takin’ dese as tanks fa dat.” 

Out of his foremost pouch, Ze’sar produced the six extra vials of Troll’s blood brew he had made and offered three each to an elder. They seemed stunned and surprised, both hesitating before reaching out to accept the gifts.

“What is this?” Msshi’fn asked after a moment of study.

“Troll’s Blood Brew, “ Ze’sar said matter-of-factly. “It bein’ a brew ta speed da healin’ of grievous wounds. It bein’ a mighty potent batch, so I be recommendin’ caution… but I hope dat it be usefal to ya eiter in tradin’ or in usin’.”

Khn'nix blinked at Ze’sar in further surprise. “This is… quite a gift, Ze’sar… And I imagine that you will accept little in return.”

“Ya be… Yes. Dat be correct. Tank ya for all ya be doin’. It be meanin’ more den ya know.”

“Somehow it sounds as if you are saying goodbye, Ze’sar.”

Msshi’fn tilted his head in contemplation before speaking again.

“I do not believe this will be our last meeting.”

“Nor do I, my friend,” Khn'nix added, “And that is why we send you with our blessing, for the marsh will always take care of it’s own.”

The atmosphere in the hut shifted dramatically and once again Ze’sar felt as if he was no longer under his own whims.

“Ze’sar, who came to us with nothing but everything to give-”

“And Vilri, who came to prove herself champion and did…” 

“Take with you our kindest regards-” 

“And our promise that nothing-”

“nothing of the marsh shall harm you-”

“along the next part of your journey.”

“May you both go in peace-”

“and return to tell us of your tales one day.”

Ze’sar felt his head bow further before he stood, saluted, and exited the hut alongside Vilri.

As they moved through the village it seemed as if every set of sporeling eyes were upon them, but not in judgement as Ze’sar feared. It was in reverence, as if something important was transpiring.

An odd, but comforting thought that went through Ze’sar’s head as they stepped onto the soft damp of the marsh proper was the fact that he recognized the entire village communicating amongst themselves. They had all been in agreeance; we will see you again one day.

He’d never understood their silent form of communication before, but somehow he found himself reluctant to question it. 

This had certainly been an odd morning, not at all going according to plan.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The strange feeling followed them through their journey alongside the mountains of Nagrand to the beginning of the Terokkar forest. It was as if the marsh was quieting every obstacle that would have normally hindered their progress, and in doing so, quieted them as well.

The instant the terrain changed, however, the feeling lifted and it was as if a huge bubble had burst. Ze’sar found himself involuntary gasping. The rush to his head had him bending slightly as well, his hand on his knee. Vilri seemed no less affected, but reached for a tree to steady herself.

“Dat…” Ze’sar laughed. “Dat sure was somet’in’…”

“Indeed.”

Vilri recovered faster than he did and Ze’sar shook his head. It was already becoming apparent how weak he was compared to her when she was at her best. 

He stood and brushed the front of his robe to shake the thought away.

“Might be getin’ harda from here on out.”

“Mm,” Vilri agreed, “but not terribly much so. Shattrath is big place. The forest is not so long. Just small walk from here.”

“You bein’ dere before?”

Vilir smiled slightly. “Yes.. many years ago. I was small then. I do not recall much, but my mother has family she left there.”

“Ya tinkin’ dey still dere?”

At that Vilri’s face fell and pinched subtly.

 “Yes,” she said at length.

“Ah…” Ze’sar shook his head and rubbed at the back of his neck. Family being a tender subject was not unknown to him. He should have known better than to pry. 

“Well… should we be goin’ den?”

She gave a single nod before they were moving again, Ze’sar keeping his distance, but keeping stride. 

Ze’sar took note of the trees as they walked and was surprised by what he saw. They were lush and healthy, yes, but they also sported glowing white crystals at the base of their trunks, and a few glowing higher up in their branches. It wasn’t unpleasant coming from the marsh, but it was a surprise. It was as if they were one- the rocks and the trees- and that certainly was strange.

Vilri’s sudden pause as they crested the hill startled Ze’sar into pausing as well, even though he had barely caught it out of the corner of his eye.

“Erm…?” he asked as his attention returned to her. He was quieted, however, as he followed her gaze and spotted it.

“Shattrath…”

That single word was heavily laden and Ze’sar couldn’t find it in himself to reply.

The city was old. Ancient, even. An old, devastated relic. The buildings were likely once a brilliant gold, but were now dull and incomplete. And, even atop a hill still a distance away, he could see skins and trappings peeking out near the roughest and most worn parts of it, attempting to complete half crumbled shelters, radiating light or no.

A pang of sickness hit him, but before it could further take hold he turned his head back to Vilri. 

“City of Light,” she said almost as a reply to her previous observation.

“...Light?”

His query seemed to snap her out of her trance and she looked to him as well. “Yes. It is where the Sha’tar reside- and naaru- beings of light.”

So that was what the heck a nah-roo was! Still didn’t make much sense to Ze’sar, but it was what it was.

“They are led by Ad’al here… he who saved the city and more.”

Ze’sar rubbed the back of his neck. Hadn’t he technically been saved by Ad’al? Wasn’t he in the debt of the naaru? What did it mean? Why were they summoned here?

“We should… We should continue.”

Oddly enough, she sounded just as reluctant as he felt. 

It wasn’t that he was afraid of meeting the naaru… well, actually… he was. He had felt safe and comforted in the vision he had experienced, true, but he didn’t know what would happen when they fulfilled the being’s request to meet him. Ze’sar was afraid he was living on borrowed time, and that frightened him more than anything.. Though.. If he really thought about it, he wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t as if there was much of anything he had planned to do further with his life. He had resigned to just doing what he could wherever he was sent- mostly out of the way of, well, everything and everyone… So.. What was there to be afraid of?

Squaring his shoulders before his mind could come up with something to frighten him further, Ze’sar nodded.

“Let’s be goin' den.”

He took the first step and Vilri quickly followed suit, if hesitantly. She looked as if she wanted to say something, but just kept walking.

They both made it down the slightly winding path and found themselves just a few steps away from the city’s first bridge. Ze’sar spotted a draenei guard atop an elekk on that bridge and found himself stopping. Vilri would have kept moving had they not been matching stride, but she stopped to glance at him.

“What is wrong?”

Ze’sar swallowed, not entirely sure himself. After a moment of contemplation, though, he realized why.

“Is… Shattrath be… it be an alliance city?”

Vilri smiled kindly, “A’dal welcomes all within his city. It is a place for all who seek shelter and light.”

Unsure of whether or not that made him feel any better, Ze’sar allowed Vilri to take the first step onto the worked stone. A part of him was absolutely terrified and screamed at him to turn away and never look back, but he forced it down far enough that he followed suit.

As they approached the guard, the feeling only grew and Ze’sar couldn’t keep his eyes off the draenei. The man, however, simply nodded as they crossed paths and passed one another. His expression was not kind, but neither did it appear to be disgusted at their presence. That, and only that, allowed Ze’sar to keep his anxiety down enough to keep moving.

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Lord Bronzebeard laughed. “Aye, this is the first leatter received after a spell of quiet from our little Vilri,” he said as he handed the letter to Bink. Bink poked at it then handed it to Dink. Dink waved his hand over it and then passed it to a guard to bring up to the judges.

 “She told me of her- er their - predicament,” he explained as Moira looked it over first, “but swore she was safe within the walls of Shattrath with A’dal’s blessin’. She apologized for the last leatter she had sent complainin’ about this troll, and said she was possibly bein’ made tae work with ‘im, but didn’t know the details jus’ yet.”

Ze’sar felt Vilri giggle in his arms, but thankfully she muffled it with his robe. It would likely not go over well if she were heard by the Queen-Reagent and her companion. They still looked fiercely unamused. It was amusing though… Vilri had been embarrassed of the fact that she and Ze’sar had been thrust together at first, and kept her letters abridged accordingly during that time.

“I see,” Moira piped. “She and this specific troll were the ones mentioned then?”

“Aye.”

“But tha’ leaves a period of time in which you had no contact with the girl, and she was left alone, presumably with ‘im. Does tha’ not seem suspicious? Time with which ‘e could’ve started workin’ ‘is magics on ‘er, mm?”

Ze’sar saw Muaradin pale even as he felt his own face drain of color at her tone.

Muaradin frantically ducked his head and started tearing through his massive pile of scrolls and parchment.

“Er, it’s gotta be in ‘ere somewheres…”

Moira, still coldly unamused, passed the letter to the thane, Falstad Wildhammer. He looked it over just as coldly- his face like the very stone surrounding them. He said nothing as he finished, and simply handed the letter back to the guard to return to Bronzebeard’s table.

Ze’sar didn’t think the color was going to return to his face anytime soon and hugged Vilri as close as he could.

It was stressful… having your character decided without any say on your part- relying only on what one person had held onto from another. Still, it was a chance. Ze’sar was grateful for that at least, as strange as the whole thing was to him.

Due to the strangeness- used to having to talk to defend himself- and without thinking, Ze’sar blurted, “We can be tellin’ ya of dat time ya High-”

“QUIET!” Moira’s scream interrupted him. “I’ll not be havin’ ye talk during these proceedings! Ye’re here on trial with an accusation of witchcraft against ye!”

The entire room started at her in silent shock. It did not seem to phase her or soften her murderous scowl aimed at Ze’sar. In fact, she jabbed her finger at him just as violently to drive her point home.

“So keep yer damned trap clammed up an’ I won’t be havin’ tae resort tae havin’ me mages bind yer filthy mouth shut!”

“Moira-” Bronzebeard tried, his voice somehow filled with both disbelief and shame.

She turned her jabbing finger at the redheaded dwarf. “I’ll be havin’ none of tha’, uncle,” she spat venomously. “Ye know as well as I what kind of creatures he and ‘is kin be! I’ll not be givin’ any quarter ‘til we are seein’ beyond any doubt ‘e’s anything better.”

Lowering her arm and sitting back, she looked at him over her nose. “ Fer some reason, I’m lettin’ ye give ‘im a fair stone’s chance, but I’ll no’ be takin’ any lip from ‘im. You know why. I should not be needin’ tae remind ye, uncle.”

Muaradin ducked his head, but grumbled into his beard as he did so, acquiescing.

With a satisfied nod, she turned back to Ze’sar, her face twisting in distaste. “Another peep outta ye, and I’ll let me mages clam ye up fer good. I’m sure they’d be takin’ great pleasure in making sure it wouldn’t be painless neither- so consider yer tongue tied fer yer owen good.”

Trembling slightly, even with Vilri trying her best to ground him, Ze’sar nodded. The queen-reagent didn’t even acknowledge it, immediately having looked back to her frantic and frazzled uncle.

“Ah ‘ere’s tha’ one.. And erm… and tha’... and, but where’s… hmm…”

He shuffled through his papers, holding two tightly in his right hand as he sorted through the rest with his left.

He grumbled some more, getting a little more frantic before Khadgar gently pushed one of the parchments off to the side into his view.

He noticed, looked away, and then did a double take before snatching it up as if it held the meaning life within its very fibers.

“Aha!” He laughed. “There it is!”

He eagerly thrust the two other parcels into the hands of the Bink as he read it over. She actually fell over from his excited push.

 “Yes, this canne be anythin’ else!! This’ll show ye what fer!”

He said it fairly under his breath, but unfortunately his words bounced off the stone walls and seemed to reach the bench. Moira scowled and motioned for the guard to accept the parcels from the gnomes impatiently. The guard was stuck waiting as Bronzebeard went to hand the last one to Bink to look over before snatching it back to keep checking. It was pretty funny, but Ze’sar kept his face tightly screwed into a mask. The last thing he wanted was to give Moira an excuse to punish him… well, any of them, really.

 

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They passed other guards and Ze’sar opted to keep his head down and watch his feet as they moved in the waning day. He couldn’t keep his head down for very long, however, as a familiar glow caught his eye. He looked up just as they were entering what looked to be the very heart of the city. At that heart floated the ethereal and radiant naaru, A’dal. Ze’sar couldn’t help but recognize him. 

Awe and calm filled Ze’sar the instant A’dal’s radiant light reached him. The same calm seemed to reach Vilri and was apparent on every face Ze’sar could see in the chamber. It was nothing like anything he’d ever felt before. Stranger still, he swore he could feel the moment A’dal was aware of their presence as well. The strangely beautiful creature turned towards them and Ze’sar immediately bowed his head. He also felt compelled to kneel and was surprised to find himself nearly at the base of A’dal’s platform. There were other figures there he hadn’t noticed right away- a human and another Draenei. Neither looked particularly friendly, yet they were also perfectly calm.

“You have arrived.”

A’dal’s voice was loud in his head, but Ze’sar did not wince. The calm he was feeling was too complete to allow much of anything else in. 

“I am pleased you have made it here, Ze’sar’Fon and Vilri, the Seeker.”

“We are grateful to have been blessed with a safe journey,” Vilri replied.

Ze’sar was surprised she was able to find her voice, but A’dal seemed pleased by her comment.

“A journey all the same… From which you must rest and recuperate.”

It was a strange sensation to feel A’dal’s focus shift, and a stranger one to feel something.. More as he found what it was he was looking for. If Ze’sar had to guess, he would wager A’dal was convening with another person and it was that person’s presence he was picking up on.

“When you are ready, you will be welcomed at whichever inn you feel comfortable seeking. They will be expecting you when your decision is made.”

A’dal’s focus returned fully to them and Ze’sar let out an involuntary exhale. He appeared to have been right in his guess.

“First I encourage you to walk the city before taking rest, and when both tasks are done and you are refreshed, return to me. Your destiny calls to you, children of the light.”

Something wanted to flare in Ze’sar’s gut at the word ‘destiny’, but nothing did. He was grateful to still feel calm. Vilri herself, however, seemed to break through some of the calm at the word.

“What do you mean?”

If A’dal could provide a patient smile, Ze’sar felt that he would be doing so. To his surprise, however, A’dal himself did not reply, but the human in front of them did.

“Please, could you refrain from asking trivial questions at the moment? A’dal will have time for you once you have done what he has asked of you. 

As of right now A’dal and the Sha’tar have more important matters to attend to.”

Despite his calm, Ze’sar’s suspicions that the human was not very friendly also seemed to hit the mark. He made a face, but ducked his head to hide it.

“Please do not mind Khadgar,” A’dal’s voice soothed, “though he is indeed correct; we have much to attend to. I shall provide you with what you seek when the time comes.”

Vliri’s head bowed, but Ze’sar wagered she was still just as curious and concerned as he was. She did not want to let it go as easily as it was dismissed.

A’dal’s focus shifted once again and Ze’sar looked back to him. He said nothing more, however, and it was left to them to rouse themselves. 

They were dismissed for the moment, in no uncertain terms (though it was probably the kindest and calmest dismissal Ze’sar could ever recall receiving).

Vilri carefully stood and Ze’ar followed suit. She then gave a salute and a nod to the hooded draenei across from her who returned the favor.

She said nothing as she led Ze’sar from the chamber and out into the worn walkways of Shattrath.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

As they left A’dal’s sanctum, Vilri huffed and distracted Ze’sar from his returning anxiety amidst the fading calm.
“I can’t believe we arrive and are told to wait,” she said before Ze’sar could prompt her. “I’ve spent too long just… waiting!!
I’ve waited my whole life to come back to Shattrath, to finally meet A’dal, to- to…urgh!”
Vilri threw her hands up and stomped a hoof impatiently as she brought them back down.
“He be sayin’ we should do a few tings is all,” Ze’sar interjected when he felt it was safe enough to speak, “not dat we be havin’ ta wait, really. Just be gettin.. our.. bearin’s… er..”
The glower Vilri leveled on him made him hesitate and duck his head, but he gave her a placating look.
“Just needin’ some rest is all, and recuperation.”
“Rest,” She said coldly. “Rest and relaxation. Taking it easy for few.”
Her hands balled into fists and her hoof clacked against the stone once more. “I’ve spent too much time as of late just resting. I was asleep for week before we came here! I think that is more than enough rest for- ugh!”
She shook her head and huffed once again. She did follow her mild tantrum with a sigh, though, which gave Ze’sar hope she was going to see reason. A’dal wasn’t asking for much- in fact he was generously giving them time before a major event. It was none too often that such opportunities arose when in other places in the worlds.
“I am not just going to sit idly by,” she said, calmer. “There’s too much at stake. Too much I just…”
She looked back to Ze’sar as if she just remembered he was there and offered him a dismissing wave.
“You go walk city. Take site-seeing trip like A’dal says. I’m going to track down few loose ends.”
Not understanding what she meant by that in the slightest, Ze’sar looked to her helplessly.
Her brow rose when he didn’t move and she rolled her eyes impatiently. She pointed over to Ze’sar’s left and he followed her gaze.
“Take that path. Follow all the way down and you will be in markets. It’s pretty much where stuff happens, if ever it does.”
Ze’sar looked back to Vilri, but she was already walking away and mumbling to herself.
His anxiety flared, but Ze’sar did his best to recall how he felt in A’dal’s presence and channel those feelings through himself. It was A’dal’s city after all. A’dal was kind. A’dal had saved his life... and Vilri’s, and countless more by all accounts. There was nothing to fear while within his walls- or lack thereof.
Ze’sar couldn’t stop himself from wringing his hands as he started to walk, his feet feeling heavy but working. Something about this place was making him uncomfortable, and not having Vilri’s presence in the place more familiar to her was making it worse, though it made sense she would not want to stay. He was still a stranger, after all. And a troll.
Easily enough, Ze’sar could see the markets shortly after he rounded one of the larger structures. Vilri hadn’t led him astray. The city was still just a regular city, he reminded himself. Very large and bustling with may folk, not unusual at all... but it was also quite obviously in ruins which stirred something unpleasant in Ze’sar’s gut. He tried to force it down, but his eye kept catching on too many details too eerily familiar to him.
The city had to have been ruins for a long while before being reinhabited. It was obvious that the buildings in use were the ones that had survived a span of time in disrepair. But what really bothered him was there wasn’t much in the way of repairs on those buildings despite the evidence Shattrath had also been REinhabited a great deal of time ago. The structures he saw as he further closed in on the market only confirmed his suspicions. Many were large- wood and animal skins- which would have taken a great deal of time and effort to set up, and many folk working together gathering and planning. Behind those, way off in the distance were also the beautiful spires of.. Sin’dorei architecture. The Sin’dorei used magics to build and enhance structures, but materials did not materialize for them either. Their bases and homes would have taken time to build as well.
Ze’sar’s hand wringing only got worse as he realized what his anxiety addled brain and all-too-caring self was trying to tell him.
Shattrath was a city of the supremely wealthy and the grotesquely poor- with nothing and no one in between. A city divided- nothing more than a war torn shelter.
Merchants and vendors called out to him as he walked, others nodded their heads, some even shied away, but Ze’sar did not see them. Not really. He couldn’t. He was thousands of leagues away, lost in a past that he had done everything he could to run away from, including leaving the source planet entirely.
Vendors called. Buyers shouted. Children cried. There was a stench to the air- of mud not yet clean. And even though Shattrath was clean- it’s streets did not run with yesterday’s spilled blood and ash- Ze’sar could still smell it, could feel exactly as he felt walking through those remnants all that time ago. The pain, the anguish, the suffering was everywhere. He could see it in the tired faces of the broken just as easily as he had seen it on the orcs and taurens. On the Trolls, elves, and even on the forsaken whom had no need for rest or ease as they did not feel pain. There were more of them here, there was even laughter and ease here, but not to Ze’sar; To his mind’s eye they were all the same.
Ze’sar’s breathing was coming in shallow breaths and the light fuzz on his hands was practically rubbed clean from all his wringing. He tried to calm himself, to slow his breathing and separate his hands, but his anxiety rose. He tried to remind himself that this was a different place, a different time. He tried to remind himself that this was a city of light- of a being more beautiful and kind than any he had ever even heard of. His guilt and fear would not listen.
Perhaps death waits just around the corner for a troll who forsook his own people, his loa, his own life.
Ze’sar found himself falling, but did not register it was the ground he landed on. To his mind’s eye he was still falling, still a thousand leagues away and more, still a young and weak creature caught in the middle of too much blood and violence… a troll too soft for battle.

Chapter Text

 

 

Vilri was just about at her destination when she felt the presence of A’dal reaching out to her.

She almost didn’t want to acknowledge it. She was just so frustrated. And confused, and lost. So much had happened in the last few days that was making her question much she had learned over the course of her life, and she didn’t like it.

Calming her turmoil following A’dal’s second nudge (he certainly meant no harm after all...), she paused so she could listen. There were no words as she expected, however, but a feeling. An urge to… something. Vilri tilted her head and turned slightly back towards the direction she had come from, towards A’dal’s sanctum. She expected to see the same clear path, even in the fading light, but there was actually a krokul running towards her on it.

Ignoring A’dal’s ‘feeling’ for another moment, Vilir inlined her head politely and stepped aside- her parents had always taught her to be respectful to the broken, no matter their ages in relation to hers. Broken/krokul had been through atrocities so unspeakable to have reverted to a previous evolution of draenei/Eradar kind. Their fate had not been theirs, and so ‘they should be afforded more respect than even the other draenei,’ her parents had said. Vilri had always had trouble with that ideal- not in believing they had been through much, but in that they deserved more respect than those who had come out remaining as draenei, because, after all, many of the betrayals that had happened over the years had been caused by broken… not by draenei. Something in them had broken and it made it easier for them to stray. Despite her best efforts, she still did not fully trust any she came across… and perhaps resented them even, despite her parents’ best efforts. Still.. She did not pick fights.

Expecting the broken to pass her by, and with her head still declined politely, Vilri was very surprised when his feet came to an abrupt stop in front of her. She raised her head to find him breathing heavily, but bowing respectfully to her.

“My apologies, Miss, but you arre Vilri?”

Slightly unnerved, knowing full well that if A’dal had sent him, he would have known the answer, Vilir reluctantly nodded.

“Yes. What is it you want?” Some of her irritation came through, but Vilri did not move to apologise. She was still feeling too much turmoil from also being in Shattrath in the first place. Best to see what fate had in store for her.

“The bazaar,” he croaked, “there is someone therre that may be with you?” he sounded as confused as she felt, but far less judgemental than she was feeling.

“Someone.. With me?”

It took her a moment to register what he might’ve meant by that, but when she did dread and more irritation sunk her stomach. She wondered just what that troll had gotten into. She’d trusted him this far- was even questioning her very ideals because of him- but was now wondering if she was going to regret that trust. A’dal worked in mysterious ways- even aligning himself with blood elves… but they did not seem to have much dark in their hearts. Trolls- at least ones that weren’t Ze’sar- however… Unpredictable violent bastards.

“I am told he is troll, possibly companion of yours, and he is in need much of assistance. The patrons and shopkeepers are not sure how to help- many of us have very little to offer but ourr warres…”

The broken still did not sound judgemental at all, in fact he sounded quite worried.

Extremely confused- especially from the vague explanation as to why the broken was here- Vilri reeled.

“Erm… Help?” The word fell out of her strangely. That was not at all what she had expected. Despite herself, she’d expected words of carnage, of a man needing to be contained, or of dastard deeds.. Not..

“What has happened?”

Her irritation wavered in light of her confusion and worry.

“Well… they’re not quite surre. Someone saw someone… er, you leaving A’dal’s sanctum and speaking with him, so I was sent to come find you. The Grand Anchorite told me yourr name, miss.”

Well, at least that explained why he wasn’t sure if she was ‘the draenei by the name of Vilri’ that he was looking for.

“We’rre not sure his name or intentions, orr if you are in fact companions… it’s just... he has collapsed in the middle of market.”

“Collapsed?!”

“Yes. He has lost consciousness and cannot be woken.”

Before she registered what she was doing, her hooves were connecting hard with the stone as she ran back down the path. The exertion was a stitch in her side after her injuries, but she pushed through. The broken ran along just behind her, she could hear his footfalls, but she tried to ignore him so she could sort through her thoughts.

Ze’sar had possibly collapsed in the middle of the bazaar she had sent him to. While that was strange, it did not ease her feelings of potential distrust. In fact.. Those feelings appeared to be rising within her. It was becoming increasingly obvious this troll was.. Strange… and Vilri for one did not know how to take him. There had to be some reason for all of this… A’dal seemed to be a big one, but naaru hardly ever stepped in where simple folk were concerned… and as far as Vilri could tell… Ze’sar was definitely a simple folk… unless he wasn’t and he was way more than he put himself forward to be. But if he was that, wouldn’t he, then, be no different than all the other orcs, trolls, forsaken, and elves? Wouldn’t he be one of those horrid monsters?

But.. he’d said A’dal had convened with him and granted him his blessing… which made zero sense.

Pushing that aside as the bazaar began to come into view, Vilri wondered about something else.

She hadn’t known him for long, and knew even less of him than he probably did of her, but she had run into him several times, seen him in the marsh more than that. She remembered the first time easily enough- just having killed a marshfang, he had startled her. There was someone else there with him, but she’d only remembered Ze’sar because he’d just… cowered. Had her adrenaline not been flowing heavily through her veins, she might have laughed at him immediately. As it was, once she was sufficiently sure they were gone, she did laugh. Long and hard.

The second meeting had been no different. She’d been visiting the Sporelings and, being confronted with a spear, he fell right over, cowering again . It was almost comical. He had looked honestly scared though, so she hadn’t laughed right away. Even as he’d almost run into her Griffon and his eyes nearly fell out of his head… he’d looked so frightened, so she held her composure until he was gone; her poor gryphon having to deal with her rocking uncontrollably when she finally started laughing.. 

He was no different from when she later spotted him hunting for glowcaps and sneaking out of his camp time after time. He was so cautious and jumpy, almost ready to fall over at a moment’s notice. It was curiously amusing...

The third time they had actually met… again it was at the village, but this time there was no laughter. They’d collided. He’d said something garbled as they struggled.. Then her horn scraped him, she felt it, and he’d.. Stopped. He’d looked so surprised. So startled. And he was scared, again, but this time he’d been relieved… He’d been relieved at the sight of her insignia- not surprising, she felt the same every time she didn’t have to fight a foe she was unprepared for- but also.. There was another expression that had crossed his face, and for a moment she had felt such a strange excitement. A curiosity that had stirred. It had appeared and grown stronger with each of sighting, despite her best efforts. She could almost feel it now- so much curiosity about this troll who always crossed her path, even if he didn’t know it- but then… she had been attacked. He’d called out to her- a warning… she’d fought, been hurt.. And then.. Just as she thought she’d dealt the final blow on that beast, nothing. Not even dreams reached her for so long… Yet, suddenly, she woke and there he was- that same damned troll… Talking so softly, if strangely. Trying everything he could to poke and prod at her wounds. He was like a totally different person to all the stories and her own expectations in that hut.. Reserved and quiet, yet commanding and knowing. And oh so gentle. Never once while he was working did he lash out, nor did he recoil in fear as she expected of him, but he looked at her with.. with .. so much worry .

She couldn’t, for the life of her, guess at what his ulterior motives would be, then or now.

It was possible he had lied to her about having convened with A’dal, she was well aware of that as they left the marsh… but A’dal’s acknowledgement of them both… she could deny it as much as she wanted, but she could not actually dispute it. Nothing made any sense.

It was not difficult to find just where Ze’sar was; there was a throng of people encircling an area- all talking and murmuring amongst themselves.

Slowing, Vilri squared her shoulders and calmed her breathing. She was going to need to get through to see just what was going on, that required a commanding presence, not a frantic or tumultuous one. 

Once she had sufficiently centered herself, she stepped forward commanding, “Let me through!”

The people parted before her easily enough, their murmurs shifting in confusion.

“Is she a healer?” she heard one voice question, but she ignored it, too surprised at what she was seeing.

The reported troll lying prone on the ground was indeed Ze’sar. He was on his side, out quite cold as not even the rough handling of another broken was rousing him.

Waving this krokul aside absentmindedly as she approached, she kneeled down to check on him herself. She was no healer, but she knew the basics of what was dangerous.

She reached towards him and gently took his head into her hands. His fur was, as ever, a shock- so fine and silky soft- as he nor any troll looked to be fuzzy at all.

Thankfully she found he was breathing just fine, and he did not look to have any wounds whatsoever- not even from hitting his head on the stone as hard as some of their audience was saying he had.

She tried to gently shake him, and even tried to pinch one of his ears in hopes it would rouse him, but his breathing never changed and eyes remained closed.

“Ze’sar,” she tried softly. “Come now… What’s gotten into you?”

She surprised herself with how gentle her words were, and declined to try anything further. She was not confident much could wake him at the moment, especially being she didn’t even know why he was unconscious. There was only one thing to do then, and she scowled. It was going to be awkward and probably uncomfortable.

Because he would not wake, she was being forced to pull his arm and part of his torso up over her shoulders. The crowd, thankfully, stepped back respectfully as they saw what she was doing, but she was careful to take her time. She stood carefully, concentrating on keeping her balance as she lifted his limp form. There were a few, more excited murmurs at her strength- being he was a fair bit larger than her- but she ignored them. Her body wasn’t happy with her, still recovering from her injuries, but she found she could manage.

“Move,” she said sternly to those standing in the direction she needed to go. The many people eagerly parted, letting her aside.

 She couldn’t just leave him in the bazaar or dump him on ground somewhere- not even a troll deserved to be ransacked by a Skettis- she had to get him to a place safer and more comfortable… he had done that much for her before when their situations were reversed. It was only fair, she told herself.

Being she wasn’t comfortable with blood elves, Vilri had already decided where she was going to bring him.

Her thoughts being concentrated on carrying Ze’sar carefully and not jostling him while they were also still winding, confused, and uncertain of everything, especially this new situation, it wasn’t long before she found herself at her Inn of choice. Unfortunately she also found she had herself a few followers from the Bazaar. She hadn’t thought to tell them off before she revealed where the newest talk of the market was going to be. Poor Minalei wasn’t going to have much peace if she brought Ze’sar inside. 

Vilri was going to turn before she reached the entrance, but someone standing outside of the inn noticed her and her predicament first. Someone she had forgotten was there.

“Vilri?! Vilri!!!” 

She was amazed he recognized her after so much time.

He came rushing over, frantically flailing, trying to find a way he could help her carry Ze’sar.

Annoyed, Vilri snapped at him.

“Garul!”

“Vhat? Vhat?!”

He stopped his flailing, thankfully, but Vilri was no less annoyed.

“If you want to help, would you please convince our audience to go away . Please ?” she hissed at him.

Unfazed, Garul nodded enthusiastically and immediately turned to do just that.

Satisfied for the moment, and getting tired, Vilri decided she may as well continue into the inn. If need be she could move him later, but at the moment, she just needed to set Ze’sar down.

She rushed in as quick as her burdened legs would allow, ignoring Minalei altogether in favor of the biggest empty bed at the back of the inn.

Surprised, Minalei was right behind her and managed to balance Vilri’s midsection as she shifted and let Ze’sar fall from her shoulders. He landed nearly perfectly on the bed, and the relief had Vilri’s legs giving out.

Minalei went down with her, staring in shock and surprise.

“Vilri? Is it really ju? Vhat’s going on? Hoo is zat? Vy haven’t ju visited? Ve’we missed you!! Jour mozer said ju vere in Outland, but jou’we newer come to say hi!”

Vilri continued to ignore her in favor of catching her breath as she sat against the side of the bed. It was only when Garul made his way back into the inn that Vilri finally acknowledged them with a nod.

“I am sorry for the abruptness…”

“Newer mind zat,” Garul said with an upraised hand. “Is eweryzing alright?”

Minalei started nodding her own head frantically.

“Yes! Is eweryzing alright? Vhat is going on? Are ju okay?!”

Vilri brought her hand to her head. Her cousins were more of a headache than she remembered. Time really did dull memories.

“I am fine,” she placated. “I just…”

Vilri looked over to Ze’sar, dumbfounded as to how she was going to explain everything that had happened recently when she herself did not understand it.

Garul seemed to sense her inability to articulate her thoughts, and Vilri found him carefully prying Minalei from her middle.

“Ju are vell; zis is good, yes, cousin?”

“Yes,” Vilri said at length. “Yes, that is good…”

“And zis troll is being… friend of jours?”

“Well… not exactly.”

“But he is not enemy, yes? For ze moment at ze least?”

Reluctantly, Vilri nodded.

“Good, zen zat is all ve are needing to know.. For moment. Hoo vants tea?”

“Oh! I vill make some!”

Minalei was up in an instant and headed towards her trusty little kettle.

“Good, zen ve vill hawe nice relaxing cup and ve vill enjoy some company, no?”

Again, Vilri gave Ze’sar an uncertain look. “I’m not sure that’s-”

“Vilri…”

He had said her name with such weight she couldn’t help but look over to her cousin.

Garul was calm and collected, his expression uncharacteristically serious.

“Ve know zis is sudden, but ve are not here to judge. Vhatewer jour story is, ve vill help ju through it, ok?”

She paused for a moment this time, but again Vilri shook her head.

“I’m not sure… anyone can ‘help’ me… I don’t even understand what’s going on.”

“Vhat’s…?”

Continuing to shake her head, Vilri glared at the wall.

“I just don’t understand…”

Garul stayed quiet for a moment, but his curiosity seemed to get the better of him.

“Understand.. Vhat?”

All of her emotions rushed forward- all the fear and confusion and curiosity and loss and everything else that she had felt since Ze’sar had (literally) run into her that day. She didn’t know what to do with any of it. Or how she was supposed to feel. Or what even made sense anymore.

There was the elation of running away in there somewhere- she had been so happy to have an excuse to leave the marsh and her chaperones without warning- but alongside it was guilt… With every step closer to Shattrath it grew and grew.

She’d always wanted high adventure and high stakes and excitement- and she had been given that plus an excuse to seek out more as A’dal had called her. Her! Of all ‘little people’! It was just so exciting! Except it was also tied to this troll… Ze’sar. That she did not understand one little bit. Why? Why him? Why were they both thrust into this together? 

If she was honest… she was also jealous… jealous of those who had been summoned before her, because they didn’t have another person at their side- particularly not someone of the opposing faction . Vilri wanted all the glory, dreamed of it, even as guilt blossomed in her mind… and yet, especially with this man tagging along/just as responsible, just as involved, and just as summoned as she… there was no glory to be had.

This foolish, FOOLISH, and strange man…

Vilri found herself staring at Ze’sar and quickly shifted her focus. It didn’t appear to have fooled her cousin though.

“Ju are connected in some vay…”

Throwing her hands up, Vilri finally nodded.

“Yes! And I just don’t get it . It doesn’t make any sense! He’s troll! Why would he.. Why does he- … why am I- ..? arguh!!”

Minalei came back into the body of the inn holding a steaming teapot and four cups.

Vilri saw the extra cup and looked to her other cousin in confusion.

“Why do you have-”

“Four? Vy, in case our guest vakes up ow course!”

She giggled as she set the items down and offered a cup to Garul.

Vilri shook her head and stood instead of accepting one for herself.

“Ju are not vanting tea?”

“No.. I… I.. I need to go!”

“But vhy? Ju just got here!”

She had just sprung a lot on her cousins, perhaps unfairly, and did not want to cause them further harm or injustice. But, against her better judgement, Vilri exploded.

“So what?! I just got here, just finally got to meet A’dal- got summoned by him no less, something I’ve been waiting for my whole life, and yet he tells me to wait, to go away! And i’m stuck with this.. This… this man I barely know, who I just don’t understand who is so kind and bumbling and terrified, and saved my life for no apparent reason and is yet so much troll i just don’t know how to take or deal with him!! But something is also wrong with him, he may be hurt too, and I can’t help him, so here I am!!”

Following her outburst, Vilri’s hands were shaking at her sides and tears of frustration had overflowed from her eyes. She had refrained from stomping her hooves in the presence of her cousins, as it could make her look childish and nullify her point, but she very much wanted to. She was still a child compared to her two cousins- even if she was more than of age- so doing anything to make her lose credibility was not ideal. 

Both of her family members were staring at her in shock, digesting what she had said. Their expressions pushed her to slow her breathing and uncurl her fists. When she did that, she found her chest was feeling lighter, despite the new guilt that was creeping in having yelled at them. This wasn’t their fault.

“I.. I should go…”

Before she could move again, however, Garul reached out to take one of her hands.

“Vilri,” He said quietly. Vilri winced, his kindness abrasive against her guilt. “It’s alright, Vilri… Zat is lot to be dealing vith… Ju are stressed and confused, cousin… it is ok.”

“Jes, and ve are here for you, darling… Ve may not understand eizer, but ve can help ju! In fact, I am happy to help jour friend here- if he is friend…”

“I…”

“Shh, it’s alright. Ve understand zis is hard. Ju hawe just exerted jourself too, it’s okay to let it out.”

Vilri hiccuped despite herself.

“I don’t know what to do… I don’t know where to find the answers… I just don’t understand. Everything was going so well...”

“Vell.. maybe ve can help.”

Garul guided her to the table nearby and sat down across from her. Minalei followed and sat on her other side, pouring tea.

“Now… hawe some tea.. And start from beginning, ja?”

With a shaking hand, Vilri took the full cup Minalei offered her and took a sip. The liquid was hot, but not boiling, and tasted of something she had long since forgotten. It immediately helped her ease the tension from her shoulders, though with that she slumped forward. Garul was kind enough to give her a gentle pat as she leaned on the table, and she just let it all out- right from the beginning.

“I.. I didn’t want to come here, Garul… I didn’t want to come to Outland at all… I wanted to go somewhere else… anywhere else… but-”

“Jour parents…” Minalei nodded, already understanding.

“But ju came anyvay,” Gaurl interjected, trying to give the conversation back to Vilri.

She nodded.

“Yeah.. I came anyway… They said I needed to settle down or ‘go soften’ myself... I didn’t want to marry… marry someone I didn’t know.”

Minalei kept nodding- she herself understood that battle all too well. 

“It was better option… and I know you were here anytime I wanted to be escorted for visit... but it’s all just so boring!! I am not free! I am bored!

I was always having to write letter to my parents and pen-pal every week… tell of progress.. What I was learning. How can I learn anything if all lessons are just to ‘keep the peace’??.. I was never let to help battles.. Told always told to stay inside… told where to go.. What to do.. What I COULD do... I hated it…I couldn’t see how this was any different than their other choice for me… I don’t want to be softer! I want to be strong! To fight for my home, for what I believe!.. I want glory like the others!... and then they sent word I can become guard… I was so relieved, until I saw assignment.. in the middle of peaceful Ironforge.. With all my ‘experience’ they want to send me to safest spot in all the realms… Home. I.. I was so angry, but I cannot say no- it is the only thing they’ll let me do if I don’t marry instead… I was so frustrated … trying to bore me to death..”

Garul made a face, but let the comment pass. He knew just as well as Vilri knew her parents just loved her very much and just wanted their hot-headed first-born’s safety assured. That was why they had pushed for marriage or, taking into account Vilri’s fiery personality and obvious resistance, a calm place to train/look good to the generals of their home. They loved their daughter dearly and knew where her aspirations of ‘glory’ could lead.

“So I started sneaking out…” Vilri’s expression became guilt-ridden, but she continued, “Clearing marshfangs… skinning whatever store room was short on…it was fun! No one noticed! Something so far away from “soft” and I loved it...I kept going, doing.. Then, one day... I found Sporeling…”

Again Minalei nodded. There were sporeling refugees in Shattrath, the race’s problems known to many.

“They needed help… so I disobeyed my escorts… I followed my heart and I helped them… and I kept sneaking out when my chaperones were all on their more exciting missions… I loved it.. I was getting so strong and no one knew… it was most fun I was having! …”

Right on cue Minalei piped, “But... vhat about ze troll?”

Vilri smiled. Though it was involuntary it took both her cousins aback.

“I kept running into him on my outings.. It was so funny first few times… he kept cowering. Even when I saw him in the marsh he jumped at any noise. Troll scaredy-cat! Such fun! But I vas- er was careful. Always wore neutral pin... then...”

Her smile fell.

“Then one day… week past… I saw him again… he was running and we.. we fell… and there was.. Beast.. Bad man… I was hurt.”

Before either could protest her actions, Vilri slid out of her upper armor and pulled her shirt up, exposing her back and the scars that raked up it to them.

Both of them gasped, both surprised and horrified by the marks there.

“I was strong enough to kill the beast…”

Vilri lowered her shirt, turned, and showed them the slight atrophy of her arm and the other, smaller scars there. She then she gently touched the back of her head. Strangely, the scar there was small, but she knew exactly where she had hit the rock and how bad it had been.

“But it hurt me, broke my bones, and then I could do nothing…”

Both of her cousins had looks of extreme confusion plastered on their face. Vilri couldn’t help but crack a small smile. The timeline didn’t exactly make much sense outside of context.

“Ju vere not able to move? But.. vait..  veek ago?! Cousin, zat doesn’t make any sense!”

Minalei nodded her head dumbly, wanting those same questions answered.

“I was injured further.. My head hit rock and I lost everything… I don’t remember anything from then until few days ago, when Ze’sar managed to wake me up…”

“But.. how-?”

“Ze’sar is healer… Priest. I’ll admit, at first I did not trust him. He said it was all his fault I was hurt, and that he wanted to help me get better. He said he’d also convened with A’dal…”

Vilri sighed, some of the details not entirely clear to her either.

“He never pushed and was always gentle… and never hurt anything that I ever saw... so I let him help... He’s very quiet… and he made something-  potion called troll’s blood brew.”

Both made another face and Vilri laughed quietly.

“It’s not actual blood, it’s just name for what it does. It helps people to regenerate as fast as troll does.”

“And he just.. Gawe ju zat?”

“Yes. He helped me through it too.. It’s.. strange process.”

Vilri gently grabbed the part of her arm that had been broken to emphasise her point.

“It healed my broken bones.. Sealed my wounds.. Helped me recover faster than I’ve ever seen. It was like I was being healed by A’dal’s light himself it was so swift.”

Again her cousins grimaced. Being blessed and healed by the pure light of a naaru was a wonderful blessing… but there were many times when it was too potent, which is why they prefered to guide healers in the light rather than heal directly- those guided by the light had levels and channels that could match what their respective races could handle. Very few even then could heal multiple broken bones and wounds within short periods of time.

“Ze’sar then gave that very same brew to the elders of the village… such a potent gift… for nothing…”

Looking towards Ze’sar’s sleeping form. “I almost wish he hadn’t.. Given the state of him now… I’m no healer…”

Vilri shook her head.

“I am very grateful .. It’s just…”

“Confusing,” Minalei finished for her. “I mean… he is troll .”

Nodding, Vilri continued, “A’dal indeed called to him and asked us here… I wasn’t sure until we arrived… but A’dal has given Ze’sar his blessing… it goes against everything…”

“Eweryzing ve know..”

“Yes..”

“Zat is quite story!”

“Yes! Ve can see vy ju are confused… and feel ze vay ju do… Ju don’t know vhat to do.”

“I’m sorry-”

“Not apologize, cousin. Zat is… lot to take in, and ju hawe liwed it!”

“I don’t know what to do now… going forward.. My parents… A’dal… Ze’sar…what-?”

Behind them, Ze’sar shifted and all three turned to see if he was stirring. His eyes remained closed, but Vilri swore he mumbled an apology before settling once again.

Still staring at him, Garul chuckled softly.

“Vell.. vhatewer fate has in store, ju two are indeed connected! … Ze best zing to do for now vould be to take some time.. Before A’dal calls ju again. I beliewe he may hawe forseen zis chain of ewents, but he vill call ju… He vill not keep ju vaiting long, I am sure. He vill guide ju. Hawe patience if ju can.”

“Ve are glad ju came to us Vilri… For now zough, ju had somezing you vere needing to be doing or going?”

“Yes,” she replied, remembering where she was going when she had left Ze’sar to the bazaar. “I do..”

“Zen we hawe eweryzing here, dear. Ve vill call ju should ju vant us to.”

“Do ju vant us to let ju know vhen he vakes up?”

Vilri thought for a moment before shaking her head. 

“No… let him be. He doesn’t do harm.”

“Do ju vant us to tell him vhere ju are going?”

Again Vilri shook her head.

“No… I will be back.. To sleep at least.”

“Zen I vill hawe bed vaiting for ju!,” Minalei piped cheerfully. She jumped up and immediately went to her little stock cubby.

Vilri smiled. “You do not need to trouble yourself; what you normally do is fine, cousin.”

Minalei simply smiled at her cousin.

Vilri rolled her eyes and took out a small coin purse to toss to Garul. He tried to protest, but Vilri stood and shook her head. She knew they didn't receive a lot of visitors and could use the coin more than her.

“That should be enough to cover a few nights and more- and Ze’sar’s time here… If he does cause any trouble, please let me know.”

“Okay… Ve lowe ju, cousin. Dioniss aca- Be seeing ju tonight!”

Both of her cousins waved as she exited the inn. She waved back and took a deep breath before setting off to do what she had intended from the moment A’dal had dismissed them, feeling at least a little lighter.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Falling. He was falling, but slowly. It was almost nice- as if there was a gentle springtime breeze rushing past him. He felt safe, warm and comfortable. All was right with the world… until he remembered it wasn’t.

It came in flashes and waves. Memories and feelings and more. Darker colors he’d rather not see threatened to creep into the warmth and turn it icy cold. Something, or someone, however, intervened. Ze’sar did not know what it meant, but something in him relaxed and he opened his eyes to a gentle blue glow. Such vibrant blue not being a color he was used to seeing, Ze’sar was extremely confused, but registered the blue as fabric drapery once he blinked a few times. And he registered that he was lying on a bed under which the fabric was draped. He must be in an inn… But…

Ze’sar was careful to sit up. His head was spinning slightly, and when he tried to turn his neck, a twinge made itself known in the side of his temple. The first thing he was greeted with when he was upright was a male draenei standing off to the side just outside of the bed he was in. The many empty bunks in this room attested to his observation that he was in an inn, but he was baffled at how he got there, and as to why a draenei would be watching over him.

Unsure of what else to do, Ze’sar let out a quiet cough and winced when it aggravated whatever was wrong with his head. The draenei heard and immediately turned to him. He came up to Ze’sar with a strange smile that was both curious and amused.

“So! Ju hawe rejoined us! Zis is good!”

His voice was uncomfortably loud, but Ze’sar refrained from wincing again. He did grace the observations with a nod though.

“Ve vere so vorried,” a female draenei piped as she suddenly joined the male next to Ze’sar’s bed. She’d come out of nowhere, but Ze’sar acknowledged her the same. “It vas so strange- Vilri valking in carrying ju like zat!! All out of sorts, like nothing could vake ju!”

“It vas best to let him rest..”

“Vell, jes, but I vas vorried! Normally zose who come to us are in much better condition.”

“Avake.. She means avake.”

Ze’sar still had nothing he could think of to say to the strange pair. 

Both of them blinked at him and looked to each other as he continued to decline to reply.

“Em… Vhat..?”

“I don’t zink…em.. zis may be problem.”

The female looked back to Ze’sar and held her hands up gently.

“Do ju understand us, Mister Ze’sar?”

The way she struggled to say his name almost had Ze’sar cracking an empathetic smile, but he managed another nod instead.

“Aye… Whea…?”

“Ah! Zis is good!”

Her expression turned sheepish for a moment before she regained her enthusiasm.

“Not zat I mean jour confusion is good, but zat ju are able to speak!!”

“And are curious too!! Zis is wery good!”

Ze’sar tilted his head to the side before shaking it.

“How be I gettin’ ta dis place?”

Both of them blinked at him and then each other again.

“Vilri,” the woman said slowly. “Vilri brought ju here.”

“Carried ju in on her shoulders she did,” the man laughed. “Vhat sight to behold!!”

Ze’sar ignored the man’s laughter and thought for a moment. Their accents were unfamiliar to him- most draenei he’d encountered not speaking to him for obvious reasons, and the rest he’s assumed would sound like Vilri.

Vilri.

“Vilri be.. Be bringin’ me here?”

“Jes! Jes! He’s got it!”

Ze’sar rubbed at his head and winced when he found a still-healing bruise there.

“Ah, being careful!! Ju had quite spill!”

The man moved closer to him and gently removed Ze’sar’s hand from his forehead before prodding at the area around the wound. When Ze’sar only winced slightly, he nodded.

“Ju vill be okay I am zinking. Maybe slight crack, but nozing more.”

He let go of Ze’sar’s hand and stepped away with a bow.

“Allow us to introduce ourselwes- My name is Garul- I vork as merchant here at ze inn.”

“And I am Minalei! Innkeeper.”

Ze’sar bowed his head politely. “Ze’sar’Fon.”

“Yes! Vilri told us of ju! Zough we did not expect…”

“Cousin Vilri has some strange friends, no?” Garul laughed before slapping Minalei across the back in good humor. She took it rather well, barely moving even from the force Garul put into it.

Ze’sar made a note to stay on both draenei’s good sides at that point, but he was curious.

“Where Vilri be goin’?” He asked.

“Uh…” Garul’s expression read as a guilty one. “Vilri is…”

“She is out,” Minalei interjected, “running errands only she can run. Do not fret, friend. Ju are safe here!”

“Yes!” Garul lit right back up. “Ve are happy to be doing vhatever it is ju may be needing of us to do!”

Slightly amused, but still disoriented, Ze’sar shook his head gently. “I don’t be tinkin’ dat be necessary, mon.”

Both draenei looked to him curiously and Ze’sar found himself shying away from the attention.

“I be tinkin’ I bein’ okay is all. I would like ta be bein’ on me way and gettin’ outta ya hair.. If dat be alright.”

In truth, Ze’sar was humbled and grateful the two strangers were willing to look past his race and be so friendly with him, but it was so unfamiliar and sudden he didn’t feel right in accepting it- even if it would be better for him to rest with what had happened. 

What had happened?

Ze’sar rubbed his sore head gently and then his neck.

Apparently sensing his intention, Minalei nodded and gave Garul a gentle shove. “Ju are velcome anytime! And if ju DO need anyzing, please ask! Ve can boast ze quietest inn in all ow Outland!!”

Minalei continued to give Garul gentle shoves until he got the hint and both draenei stepped away from Ze’sar’s bedside.